Questions/Comments?Contact Us

5 posts categorized "Berkley Blanc"

Friends-Giving - Spending Thanksgiving Abroad



It's safe to say that this year I am Thanksgiving-ed out, and I am sure you are wondering why since Spain doesn't celebrate the holiday. The reason is because all of my new American friends abroad were really inspired to keep our Thanksgiving traditions alive overseas. So what does that mean? A lot of Friendsgivings.  


My roommates and I decided to jump on that bandwagon and throw a Thanksgiving Potluck at our apartment the weekend before the holiday. We were excited to eat, drink, and get into the holiday spirit. Friendsgiving_1

It was a mutual agreement that a turkey wasn't possible since we all had to work that day so we decided to get two whole chickens that looked like turkeys. Because this was potluck style, we would prepare the chicken along with a few dishes and everyone else would bring something with them; Bebida o Comida :) 


The night had arrived and  I started to feel the pressure of preparing the food and and making sure the atmosphere was perfect. This was first time that I had any hand in helping out with a dinner this large, let alone Thanksgiving which is the most important meal of the year. I now have a better understanding of how my mom must feel Thanksgiving day.


My roommates prepared most of the food and I decided that I would make the communal sangria. We all cleaned and decorated the apartment, got ourselves ready, and started to set out appetizers for our guests. We prepared the bar with wine, mixers, cups, lemons, and limes and were ready to enjoy the evening.


Once people started to arrive our nerves had settled and we were ready to enjoy the night but especially the food. Some of the dishes our friends brought were a homemade pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, and apple crisp. As you can see most of the Thanksgiving favorites. Being in Spain for a few months you learn to appreciate an American dish.


Overall, the night was filled with good food, drinks, music, and conversation. Our Spanish friends who attended really enjoyed being able to celebrate an American holiday, and we were happy we were able to give back to them since all we've been doing is learning about their culture for the past two months. I believe this is what Thanksgiving is all about. Sharing experiences, knowledge, and thanks for new friends and experiences. I am especially thankful for my time abroad so far, and I am excited to continue this feeling of thanks into the holiday season. 

Salamanca and Ávila

The Journey

Jenna, Maria, and I decided to take a day trip to Salamanca and Avila through a company called Smart Insiders. The company is a multicultural organization that specializes in trips and event planning. We were to meet the group at 9:00 am and head straight to Salamanca. The three of us decided to pack some to-go champagne and breakfast for the trip since we weren't going to make any stops before arriving to our destination. Once we arrived at the meeting point and were on the bus we headed off on our day adventure and it was a beautiful drive. There were rolling hills filled with small farm houses with many animals such as cows, horses, pigs, and dogs. The three of us were enjoying ourselves chatting and taking in the sites. We arrived to Salamanca at 11:30 am, and decided to take a quick break, grab a coffee, and start exploring.

Salamanca is a pretty small city so we knew we would be able to see the majority of it in the 5 hours that were allotted before heading to Ávila. Salamanca is on a hill with a University: Universidad De Salamanca, Old and New Cathedral, good shopping and restaurants, and a beautiful plaza in the center of the city; Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is a large plaza located in the center of Salamanca, used as a public square. It was built in the traditional Spanish baroque style and is a popular gathering area.The whole city seemed a gold brown color because of the ornate sandstone architecture. 


Our first stops were the cathedrals and they were gorgeous. I couldn't believe how detailed the interiors of both were. Because we went on Sunday there were masses going on in both so it was nice to see how the church is utilized on a weekly basis.  ​​

Next, we decided to head to Plaza Mayor which is one of the most beautiful plazas I’ve seen. In Spain it is very common to have a plaza or meeting point located in the center of the city. In Madrid I live very close to Plaza Mayor, along with a few others for people to get together and socialize. Once we got to the plaza we were greeted with an old fashioned Flamenco street performance. We met some nice guys from Madrid who were also spending the day in Salamanca and we asked if they could take our picture.  ​​ ​​


At this point in the day we were really hungry so we decided to go and grab some lunch. We went to a restaurant a little ways away from Plaza Mayor called Rio de la Plata. We arrived and ordered a wine and decided we wanted to eat some traditional Spanish fare such as pork, croquettes, and fried calamari. Croquettes are small breadcrumbed fried food in the shape of a roll. Usually the main ingredients are mashed potatoes or ground meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, and vegetables. Ours were ham and cheese and they were the best I've had in Spain so far. Salamanca is also known for their delicious meat so when I tried the pork I was very impressed with the flavor. I would go back to Salamanca just to have their meat dish again. Overall, I would rate the quality of food higher than in Madrid so I am excited to venture out of the big city to find other hidden gems in other cities around Spain. 


After lunch we needed to get to the bus because we were heading to Ávila which is an hour drive from Salamanca. The city is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name, and is a city in the rolling hill country northwest of Madrid. It’s best known for its intact medieval city walls is known for it’s beautiful Roman architecture. On our way to Ávila I was taking in the beautiful rolling countryside. I thought it was even more beautiful than our drive to Salamanca. Once we arrived before we headed into Ávila, the tour guides took us to a looking point so we could take in the entirety of they city surrounded by the walls, and it was absolutely beautiful.  ​​


Once we arrived in the city everyone in the group walked to the plaza, which as I mentioned before, is the center of the city. As it was getting dark the lights were illuminating on the stone walls and it was magical. ​​ Maria, Jenna, and I were getting tired so we decided that we would walk around for a little and grab some dinner. We went to this old cafe where they had hamburgers and other American inspired dishes. Since we already had our fill of Spanish food this sounded perfect to us. Once we ordered we sat and talked with our waiter and practiced a little Spanish.

At 8:30 it was time to go back to the bus and head back to Madrid. On the walk back it was dark and the city was gorgeous since you could see the lights very well, and get to see more details of the architecture.  I was happy with Smart Insiders and how they organized the day getting everyone to two cities. I look forward to more day trips like this in the future and being able to see different parts of Spain. 

All Hallows' Eve

This past Tuesday we celebrated Halloween at school. I wasn't sure what to expect celebrating in another country, especially Spain. I was informed that in this country Halloween focuses on the haunted and scary aspects of the holiday, a lot more than in the U.S. When planning for the activities at school we were informed that most of the students will dress scary instead of picking a costume that fits into pop culture. The teachers explained that this is more appropriate for Carnival which is celebrated in late February.

In the beginning of October, all school staff had a meeting and decided to dedicate half the school day on Halloween for activities for the students. Some of the activities would include Crafting, Scary Stories, Halloween History, Trick Or Treating, and Face Painting. We also decided that the students would be allowed to dress up as well as all staff. The week before that Tuesday everyone in the school was busy decorating the halls for All Hallows' Eve, and by Monday you could feel the excitement in the halls.

Another auxiliary and myself decided that we were going to paint our faces scary since we were in charge of the face painting activity. This would be the first time I would look "haunted" for Halloween so I was excited.

The morning of, we got ready together and barely made the bus since we spent a lot of time making sure we did a good job with our costume makeup. We ran through the metro tunnels of Madrid and many people were staring at us not sure what was the hurry and what we were doing. Halloween is a fairly new concept and celebration in Spain, so older generations don't understand. When we got to school we quickly met with the other auxiliaries to take a picture before the chaos began.


The four of us were assigned different grades for the hour so all students could experience the different activities. The teachers decided to rotate between the classrooms to make it less chaotic.

The first classes I went to were 6th grade. In class the teacher went over some crafts and songs, while I was helping to paint faces. Once the teacher was done with her part, I decided to share some American culture with some Youtube videos. Most of the kids really like Michael Jackson so I played the "Thriller" video. 

Next, I went to fourth grade where I knew I would have to paint 60 student's faces in a short amount of time. I was expecting to paint a pumpkin or a spider, but all the students wanted to look scary. I thought this was an interesting observation compared to American children. The fourth grade teacher Jose put on a scary movie while I started. By popular demand all the students wanted to watch Chucky, but they had to settle for Corpse Bride by Tim Burton. I know when I was in the fourth grade I would have been terrified to watch Chucky so this made me laugh that they were all brave enough to want to watch a scarier film. I spend most of my time with fourth grade so I've gotten to know these students very well, and because of that I am more comfortable with laughing and joking around with them. Fourth is a very good age because they are older but not old enough to feel too cool to get to know you.

After the breakfast break with the other teachers I went to my last scheduled classes which were fifth graders. Again, everyone wanted to be painted scary with blood, stitches, and scars. By the end of the day I was really getting into painting the kids with costume makeup, which was not my expectation. Some of the painting was getting very elaborate and I was enjoying it a lot. This was the first time I felt I was truly getting into the spirit of Halloween; a day for the dead. Celebrating in Spain has affected

my views of Halloween, and I believe that moving forward I will try and celebrate the holiday with a little more fright.

After the half day was done and all kids were heading to lunch, the teachers met on the playground and were all relieved our planning went smoothly. It had paid off and all the students had a good time. We were also excited because November 1st is a holiday in Spain so we had the next day off, and everyone was ready to go out in the city center that night.


Overall, it was a really good experience getting to celebrate the holiday in a school environment again. Since this day was such a success, it is making me look forward to the upcoming holidays toward the end of the year. I hope to think of creative ways to incorporate American culture of the holidays, and to help the students gain a new perspective. 

Getting Started In Teaching

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 9.07.12 AM
The Tour

Before the school year started, I decided to venture to the city where I will be teaching this year, a town called Getafe. My school is about 55 minutes from where I live in La Latina, so the commute was a little longer than expected. To get to my school I have to take two metro lines and a bus. Luckily my roommate from orientation decided to tag along for the test commute since she is also teaching in the area. After two metro lines and a bus we finally made it to my school. I was a little nervous meeting everyone, but I was also excited to see what the classroom environment was going to be like.

I received a tour from the Director at the school; her name is Monste. The school is divided into 3 different buildings. One building is for children ages 3-7 and the second building is for ages 8-12. The third building is the gym and all gym classes are taught in english. After the tour I felt a little relieved in knowing where I would be working this upcoming school year. 


That evening I received a message from one of the first grade teachers; his name was Victor. Victor wanted all four auxiliaries to meet that night and get to know each other before our first day. Only two of us agreed, but we decided to meet at a very cute cafe called El Jardin Secreto, which translated in english is named The Secret Garden. This cafe is known for milkshakes, but I decided to try the Irish coffee.

In Spain you sleep a lot less so it was definitely needed. When Victor arrived we greeted each other with the customary hug and kiss on both cheeks; (still getting used to that). We went inside and met the other auxiliary whose name is Karlyn and also from the United States. The night was filled with good conversation and the meeting instantly put my mind at ease for this new adventure.




The First Day

Monday morning after my hour commute and arriving to the school I had some jitters. We were meeting with Montse the Director and Jose, who is a fourth grade teacher. His purpose for being in the meeting was to translate since Montse doesn't speak fluent english. Once we met and went over logistics the crazy day began. This first day was solely observation of the different grades to see which ones peaked our interest.

My first observation was Victor's 1st grade class. It was fun watching Victor teach in english and interact with the children. I was starting to realize how much of an impact I was going to have with enhancing their language skills. Next, I went to 3rd grade with Sergio. He is very passionate about teaching and tries to make the classroom fun. In Spain the teaching methods are more dry compared to the U.S. The reason being that parents pay a good amount of money for the student's materials, and feel it necessary that the teachers teach straight from the book. Sergio doesn't necessarily agree with this method and so he likes to think of creative ways to teach the material. I am excited to help think of new and exciting ways to make the classroom fun as well. 

After the first two classes the children go to recess and that means that the teachers have Almuerzo which is a snack with coffee before lunch. I was expecting some very light food, but when we arrived in the cantine I saw a buffet of breakfast food which is very exciting for us auxiliaries because it is traditional home-cooked spanish fare. In spanish culture it is very important to spend time with other co-workers but the problem is not everyone speaks english, so the english teachers were doing their best to translate conversation. Before the year is over I think that being exposed to spanish speakers all the time will help me to become conversational.


After Almuerzo there is one more class before the 2 hour siesta... I went with Jose to fourth grade and this class was by far my favorite. The children were so interested in knowing more about me and their english was the strongest I had seen yet. I really liked the children's personalities instantly. In class I explained to them that I was from the United States and had lived in New York City for a little over two years, and their eyes got so wide. Most of the children know about New York and it's exciting for them to meet someone that has lived there. I'm excited to be able to teach them more about the culture in America and help them gain a better understanding of how Americans live.

After lunch I ended the day with 6th grade. They are very good at speaking English as well. I was impressed that they were learning very hard material in another language, such as the different parts of the brain. This material would be hard for a fluent english speaker at both that age and education level. By the end of the day I was exhausted and realized that children have a lot of energy. I knew that I would need to rest a lot to be able to keep up with them on a day to day basis. 

The next day we received our schedules and I was placed with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. I was very excited because after spending time with all the grades I knew I wanted to work with older children. I would be teaching English and Natural Science for all three grades. I am also sitting in a few of their art classes and helping work on their english in free time. 


The End Of The First Week

At the end of the week all the teachers planned to have a get together at Victor's house. After classes on Friday we all met in the parking lot to head over. I rode with Lucia who is a 2nd grade teacher. She speaks english pretty well so we could at least talk a little on the way. When we got to Victor's everyone pitched in with getting drinks and snacks set up. We had wine, beer, charcuterie, chips, etc... it was really nice to be able to spend more time with the teachers even though some don't speak english. I feel that my Spanish is getting stronger every day being with them and hearing the language frequently. I'm so excited for this year and all the new opportunities it holds.




Moving To Madrid


I have traveled to Madrid as part of the CIEE Teach Abroad program to act as a Language Assistant in a primary school. Needless to say, it has been a whirlwind since stepping off the airplane. To start this journey, I would like to give an introduction to who I am and why I decided to start this new experience.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and spent most of my life there. I attended college at Kent State University where I majored in Graphic Design and minored in Photo Illustration. In December of 2013 I graduated with a BA in Visual Communication Design under the College of Communication and Information.

A year after graduating, I decided to move to New York City to pursue a design job at specializing in fashion e-commerce. I spent the last two and a half years there and loved the work that I was doing. To this day, I still very much enjoy this particular field.

Last year, my friend moved to Madrid, and she spent a lot of time traveling. She was always visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures. Hearing about this gave me a strong desire to start my own journey abroad.

I started researching various teach abroad programs, and came across CIEE. I applied online and within a week I was informed of my placement with Ceip Daoiz Y Velarde. When I approached my company about this opportunity they were very supportive; we made an agreement that I would continue to work for them. I now have the opportunity to work on a project basis remotely, while I am teaching and traveling, which is the best of both worlds.

Shortly after, here I am.. A week into my journey abroad. A lot has happened in the time that I have spent here in Spain. From attending the CIEE orientation, and moving into my new apartment in La Latina. I will try to make this post short and sweet.

The Journey Begins

I arrived last Monday after a red eye on Air Europa airline - I have nothing but good things to say about my experiences with Air Europa. I have flown with them twice to Madrid and both times the airline has accommodated me with excellent service. You are always well fed and hydrated along the way. Also, if you want to splurge for the extra legroom, the $40 dollar fee it's well worth it.

​​ ​​ FullSizeRender

I was anxious on my way to the airport and when I took my first step onto the airplane. I knew that I was about to step into something completely new and uncomfortable. Luckily for me, I was assigned a seat next to a girl very similar to me. We were the same age, and she also received her degree in graphic design - her name was Carly. Talking to her, immediately put my mind at ease because I knew I had someone close by who was about to go through the same experience.

We slept most of the way since it was a red eye flight. Good thing we got some sleep, because we had no idea how busy the week ahead of us would be. Once the airplane landed, I was starting to feel many different emotions. It started to hit me that I just moved to another country.

Everything that was so familiar and comfortable, would be far away for the next 10 months. Regardless, I knew that this was going to be the biggest learning experience thus far. When I walked into Terminal 4, there was this beautiful hallway of colored glass panes which instantly helped put my mind at ease. Carly and I decided that we were going to go get our bags together. Afterwards, we would make our way to the meeting spot to head to the hotel for the first day of CIEE orientation.

Once we arrived to the hotel that's when the "busy-ness" began. We checked into the hotel and got settled before the welcome dinner that evening. Here we met our small groups that we would be spending a great deal of time with over the next few days. My group leader was Paloma, a native Spaniard who was very happy and loved to sing. She would be getting us through orientation as fluidly as possible. The dinner spread was very nice. We were given a starter, main meal, and dessert which was fruit. I loved that we ended the meal with something that was both sweet and healthy. I should of savored this full dinner because I didn't know that I would only be eating small bites for the next 3 days, but when in Spain do as the Spaniards do!

Orientation Recap

Now this was a long chain of events and I won't go into too much detail, but I will give you an idea of how our itinerary ran everyday:

Every morning at 8 a.m. we received a really great spread for breakfast. There was a traditional Spanish fare such as Jamon, Tortilla Espanola, and a special tomato sauce that is served as a spread with toast. After breakfast, we had an hour to rest/prepare for informative presentations until 2 p.m. The presentations talked about getting acclimated in Madrid from opening a bank account to understanding cultural differences. After presentations, CIEE scheduled free time filled with fun events, which allowed us to go out and explore the city.



Day 1

Pictured above, is my orientation leader Paloma. She is leading us to the Flamenco show at Cardamomo - what a beautiful experience! I had never seen Flamenco before and being able to experience it first-hand was a real treat. When we walked in, we were served a vino and some tapas before the show started. I thought the lighting of the venue added a certain mood that complimented the dramatic music and dance (pictured above).



Day 2

There were scheduled neighborhood tours that hit the North, South, East, and West of Madrid. I ended up going to the West to see neighborhoods Moncloa and Chueca. It was great to get out on foot and explore the city some more. After the tours we were taken to a tapas and cider venue, where we were served many different traditional dishes. After dinner a group of people decided to go to a rooftop bar and I joined in. Pictured above is myself and a group of girls after having a cocktail and taking in the fantastic view from the rooftop.

IMG_0103 (1)

Day 3

This was the final day of orientation so the organizers and leaders decided to take us to a nice restaurant in the art district of Madrid. It was a sit down dinner with unlimited vino and tapas. A few of the dishes that were served that night were tuna, pate, and truffles. Everyone was dressed up and overall it was a really nice, relaxing environment. It was a great way to end such a busy week.


Overall, I was very pleased with how the  CIEE Orientation went. I thought that the week was packed with a lot of useful information and lots of fun. Also, I met a lot of really cool people throughout the week that I will be keeping in touch with and hearing how their teaching experiences are going. I am thrilled to begin this new chapter and can't wait to see what this city has in store for me.


Keep Me Updated