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13 posts categorized "Cleo Reiss"

The 2016 Oscar’s: Brought to You Live From Luis García Berlanga

         Five months in the making, 3 assistants, 20 students, and an entire staff support network, put on the first ever IES Luis García Berlanga Prom, Oscar’s Edition, and it certainly was a night to remember.


       Everything we had planned for the last few months was ready and organized to be set up throughout the afternoon on Thursday May 26th, a day we had marked, underlined and bolded in our calendars. Immediately after the bell rang, we gathered our three student committees and got to work. Tables here, desks there, backdrop to the right – what we had envisioned, discussed, and tweaked was finally coming together. But it was already 3:00 p.m. and in just a few hours we had to convert the volleyball court into one of Hollywood’s most spectacular nights. So for the remainder of the afternoon we got down to business: we taped down our red carpet, organized the tables, assembled the balloons, laid out all the decorations and put on the final finishing touches while managing to get dressed in about 20 minutes.

    It was 6:45 p.m. and our first guests had showed up. Upon arrival everyone received both a number and a star. The star represented each guest’s Hollywood Star of Fame and the collection of stars as a whole made up the IES Luis García Berlanga Wall of Fame. 110 stars were traced and cut by students and assistants. The numbers were given out randomly and each number corresponded with another guest with the same number, so that later in the night the two people had to find each other and dance together as a pair.




     DSC_5679After they were checked in, the guests made their way down the red carpet (which was destroyed in a matter of minutes) toward the photo section. We had an Oscar’s backdrop generously made and donated to us by a student’s parent’s company. Off to the side were silly props like mustaches, glasses and hats and we hired a student photographer from one of the older grades to take pictures of all of our celebrities.


     A2870c18-aae6-47c9-a0c8-153deb77b2feThe photos called a lot of attention toward the beginning of the night, but the action continued toward the middle of dance floor. A former student volunteered his time to DJ our prom and played the best mix of Top Hits, Raggaeton, and 80’s tunes. Students and teachers didn’t stop moving the entire night. They formed dance circles that congregated in different parts of the floor and did typical Spanish line dancing. The only time the kids weren’t smiling was when they were sitting down to give their poor feet a rest. From 7-10 p.m. exams were out of sight and out of mind and all the other stresses that come with being a teenager were put on hold. For three hours it was pure happiness and bliss.

                  A typical Spanish dinner would not have been eaten until after prom had ended, around D3c79add-36a3-4471-ab3a-c546896ba5b3 10 p.m., but we had so much food and dessert that it’s safe to say there was not much room left for dinner. We had traditional Spanish tapas made by our very own Cafeteria Chef; an endless supply of tortilla, empanadas, and pizzas. For desserts we had a chocolate fondue fountain with strawberries, and three homemade cakes by one of our students. She spent eight hours making these decorative cakes just for the prom!


                  As the sun set and feet in high heels couldn’t last much longer, the night began to dwindle down. We were given a huge amount of cleaning help from the students and staff and were able to make it out by 11 p.m. All in all, it was a perfect night planned by the perfect dream team. Planning the prom with my co-workers, Teresa and Jade, was a smooth, organized, and overall very enjoyable experience. Being able to do this for the kids and staff, while mixing it with a bit of American culture, was very rewarding. We definitely started a tradition, so we know we  have our work cut out for us next year.


Las Matas

                  The first weekend in May is a very special weekend in Spain and even more so Madrid. May 2nd, 1808, to be exact, marks the day that Madrid rebelled against Napolean’s rule and was freed from the French regime. In addition to Dos de Mayo, Spain celebrates mother’s day on the first Sunday in May and on May 1st the church celebrates the fiesta of San José Obrero (Saint Joseph the Worker) which coincides with Spain’s Labor Day.

                  To spend our day off wisely my Spanish teacher and his girlfriend took a group of 15 of us to a town called Las Matas, located in the northern part of the Community of Madrid, to get an authentic taste of Spanish culture. The day was filled with food (free food), drinks (free drinks), and bulls. After we arrived at the center of town we were greeted with chorizo sandwiches, fresh off the grill, to kick-start the morning and prepare us for the encierro and capea.


                  IMG_6698 2Encierro means “running of the bulls” and comes from the verb encerrar which means “to enclose”. People who choose to run position themselves on the path and the spectators can view the event from behind either of the fences. There are three gunshots that advise the runners and spectators the current status of the bulls. The first is to announce that the bull is at the gate and ready to begin running. Adrenaline is high and the runners are jumping up and down, anticipating the next shot. The second is to announce that the gate has been opened and the the bull has started running, therefore the people should run too! The people take off as if their life depended on it, well it actually does, and the bull follows closely behind. They run all the way down the path which leads into the bull ring, plaza de toros, and then runners disperse around the walls of the ring. The bull then gets directed by steers to turn around and makes it way back to the beginning. The third and final gunshot means that the bull run has ended.

                 The next event after the bull run is called a capea, which is like a baby bull (vaquilla) fight except these bulls do not get killed. The object of the game is to provoke the bull and not get killed. This is done by waving flags or objects of clothing at the bull, running toward the bull and quickly dodging left or right, or if you’re a practicing professional, running toward the bull and flipping over him! It was quite incredible to watch. Anyone and everyone can choose to participate in this event, but it requires quick footwork and agility skills. If the bull comes toward the outer parts of the ring there is a ledge to step on to help hoist yourself up high enough so that the bull cannot reach you. There are also a few different slots, wide enough for people to fit through, but too small for a bull to get behind. I wasn’t daring enough to go into the actual ring, but sticking my big toe in was enough of a rush for me.


        The last and final part regarding the bulls is the bullfight, which some of us opted not to stay for. The bullfighters are professionals and are supposed to kill the bulls with a clean swipe, causing the bull to die in the least painful and quickest way possible. Despite this, it still is not p a sport or activity I would like to see. Although bullfighting has a big historical ties in Spain, it is a very controversial sport.

IMG_6763            After the capea we had a typical Extremaduran dish from for lunch called migas which translates to crumbs, but is made up of chorizo, day-old bread and spices such as garlic and paprika. Two volunteers had been cooking it all morning in the biggest pan I’ve ever seen in my life. It was a beautiful day to eat lunch outside. The rest of the afternoon was well spent, getting to know one another in the group, walking around the town, or having our own botellón on the grass. 




Why Run a Half Marathon When You Hate Running?

    One of my New Year’s resolutions was to run a half marathon. My goal was to finish the race regardless of my time or my place, knowing that I trained properly and to the best of my ability. I thought it was a realistic goal, but many days throughout my three-month training process had me thinking otherwise. To me, running is boring. For some it’s a way to relieve stress and decompress, but for me, unless my music playlist is on point, I can’t motivate myself to get out the door. A 3 to 4-mile jog here and there is nice with beautiful weather or to clear your head, but, for me, running for two hours straight became more of a stress creator than a stress reliever. This experience, which I originally thought was going to a hobby that I’d enjoy, ended up teaching me a lot about diligence, determination, and myself. IMG_6493

    The main thing I learned is that I am extremely hard on myself. I subconsciously knew that all along, but this training process has taught me that the only one putting pressure on me is me. For each training week that went by, I would stress more about what I didn’t do than what I was actually able to accomplish. I was beating myself up for only running 15 miles a week when I should have run 30. I had an angel and a devil on each shoulder pulling me equally in opposite directions. One was saying, “Give up. This isn’t worth the agony,” while the other was saying, “Finish what you started. Don’t be a quitter.”

     IMG_6860The second thing I learned is that you can be as physically fit as you possibly can, but if you aren’t “mentally fit,” you aren’t going to achieve your goals. I really tried to change my attitude during the training process. After the first week I suffered from a fall that put me out of commission for a week. I let it start me off on the wrong foot and take over my mind. I would even tell myself, “Listen to your body. If it’s telling you not to run, don’t, and that’s okay.” But saying it wasn’t enough, because I wasn’t believing it. I would end up upset with the situation and myself and waste time exerting negative energy rather than moving forward. Other times, I felt so ready for the process to be over that I would constantly be thinking about how happy I would be once I didn’t have to train anymore. These mental blocks prevented me from enjoying and thinking during the training process.

    One thing that did get me through these speed bumps was talking to a friend. Whether that meant training with one who pushed you just a little harder, seeing a friend at the gym and realizing she was struggling just as much as you were, or grabbing a beer after a hard run with another friend. Whether we were running for the same or different reasons, we each had something to bring to the table and could empathize with one another. IMG_6527

  Lastly, this half marathon training process has made me question why I do things.  My dad has told me over and over again that, "We do things for one of two reasons, to avoid pain or to receive pleasure. Whichever is the greater, wins." I knew that the pain was outweighing the pleasure, but I couldn't admit it. Why did I choose to continue to suffer just to complete my goal? Am I too “Type A” and goal-oriented? Did I run to be able to say “I ran a half marathon”?  To say, “I am not a quitter”? To say, “I really wanted something and did the best I could to get it”? I think each of these are true in some way, but my motives became less important to me two days before the race when excitement and confidence started to set in.

    Looking back on the past three months, I can’t say that I would choose to train for a long distance race again, but I can say that it was worth it.  There is a combination of things I can thank for my mental and physical achievements: the expo, the 25,000 people that were running along side me, the carb loaded dinner which was filled with lots of laughs and nervous excitement, and knowing that my closest friends would be waiting for me at the finish line with hilarious signs. But above all, what excited me most was that, regardless of how positive or negative my training experience was, I did the best that I could. And running the half marathon at a faster pace than I had expected, crossing the finish line knowing that I gave that run 110%, was one of the most rewarding experiences and gratifying feelings I’ve ever had in my life. IMG_6548

When in Doubt Smile and Say "Obrigada"

    This Semana Santa, my family, my roommate’s family, and our other family friends decided to travel to Portugal and back to Madrid together. So this meant 11 people with a million ideas, many suggestions (or should I say ‘complaints’), in unknown territory. But despite the chaos, tension, and constant “Cass, Cle, where are we going next?” type of questions, we had an incredible 10 days with our families, amazing meals, great laughs, and a few scares (you’re welcome Lauren).    

    Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal. I never knew much about Portugal, but after being its neighbor for the past 8 months I figured it was time to head over there. We started off Saturday morning with a walking tour of the city. Usually my attention span can’t last more than half an hour, but its nice to (a) see most of the city on foot and (b) learn about its history by way of an expert. IMG_5730

                  After 2 and a half hours of information-overload, we went on a wild tram ride to Belém, where the famous Pastel de Nata can be found. There is a secret recipe that makes these the best pastries in IMG_5776the city; even the locals will tell you that others just do not compare. It’s a far ride just for a pastry, but
10 out of the 11 of us agreed it was totally worth it. Except for Jimmy who was shouting obnoxiously on the tram, “We’re going all this way just for cookies and coffee!” *Cue the eye-rolls*

                  We went out for dinner in the Barrio Alto area and enjoyed live Fado music performances. Fado is a Portuguese music genre in which the songs are sung melancholically and mournfully. However, in our restaurant, this somber feeling changed pace when the performers sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in Portuguese to my mom (love you Miggs). Barrio Alto is built on a hill, and its translation literally means Upper District. This neighborhood is known for being the spotlight for Lisbon’s nightlife and holding over 120 bars. People congregate in the streets from the overflow of the bars and walk from one bar to the next with their drinks in hand.


                  On Sunday, we took a day trip to Sintra and Cascais, and even though this only left us with one full day in Lisbon, it was completely worth it. For just 15€ we bought a tourist day pass that provided us with transportation from Lisbon to Sintra, Sintra to Cascais, and Cascais back to Lisbon. Sintra is a beautiful mountain town located just under 20 miles from Lisbon and is filled with palaces and castles unlike any others I´ve seen before.  We took one windy and
nauseating bus ride up to the top and got dropped off right outside the Palacio da Pena. For around 10€ we were able to enter the park and the palace terrace. The palace was painted with bright yellows, blues and reds, giving it a fairytale or even Candyland-like feel. It was designed with a combination of different architectural styles and served as it's history dates as far back as the Middle Ages.


    The following evening, we arrived in Porto, which is located three hours north of Lisbon on the Atlantic Coast. Porto is the birth place of Port Wine (hence its name), and all of the wineries can be found directly across the Douro River in Gaia. The grapes for the wine are grown and picked in the Douro Valley, 3 hours east of Porto on the Portuguese-Spanish border, but stored and aged in Gaia cellars where the conditions are nearly perfect for this part of the wine making process.


    We took a tour of Taylor’s Port Winery that lasted 30 minutes and was only 5€. Our guide, Marta, had us engaged and laughing the entire time, and we all agreed that she reminded us of a Hogwart’s Professor due to both her dress and her personality. Marta told us everything we need to know about port wine. There are four types; Ruby, Tawny, White, and Vintage. Ruby port wines are considered young wines due to their short aging process, and they have a fruity consistency. Tawny port wines age IMG_6134in the barrel between 10 and 40 years, and their color changes due to the impact that the oak has on the grapes. Whites are, of course, made from white grapes and age in the vats for two to three years. And lastly, vintage ports represent the best batch that a specific year has had. Vintage ports differ from the other three types because they age in the bottle (the longer you keep it, the better it tastes and the more it is worth), while the other ports are only able to age in oak barrels.

    Typical Portuguese food consists of cod, cod, all types of cod (bacalhau). Just kidding, it isn’t just cod, but cod is on every menu. Not a fish lover? Don’t fear. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich that originated in Porto. Between two pieces of bread you’ll find four types of meat topped with cheese and an egg. What could be better? Not a meat person? Well, now I’m out of options.


    What made our time in Portugal even more special, apart from the food and the wine, were the people. It is known that Portuguese people are really nice, but after being there for six days, I can say, “WOW! They are SO nice.” Remember, we were a group of 11 people, causing hold-ups at the metro ticket booths and taking extra long to order at dinner. But whether it was our waiters who went the extra mile to provide exceptional service or the woman who walked us 25 minutes (Sorry Kathy, we really didn’t know it was going to be that long) to the Cascais sunset just because she wanted to, everyone we met on our trip was extremely hospitable and made our stay in Portugal one to remember.


Tasty Eats in Madrid

Specific, more importantly delicious, types of food in Madrid and where you can find them.

Spanish, La Nieta – Located in Chueca (Calle Libertad, 25), La Nieta, has the most authentic Spanish food I have tasted while living in Madrid. Sometimes if you go to a bar and order food, it tastes like it has been sitting out for a while (because it was). But this isn't the case at La Nieta. The food is made fresh to order and the service is very quick. My co-workers and I split a bottle of wine as well as five or so raciones, costing us about €11 each. A ración is a portion typically shared among a group of people. We ordered traditional Spanish dishes such as tortilla, croquetas, patatas bravas, huevos rotos (Serrano ham, eggs and French fries), and albondigas (meatballs). This restaurant is the best place to take visitors to have them experience typical Spanish food that tastes like it's homemade by your Spanish boyfriend's abuela.

Mexican, Takos Al Pastor – It isn’t just the €1 price per taco that drives customers to this restaurant. It’s the party in your mouth, best moment on earth, mouth watering sensation you get when you shovel these tacos, one after another, into your mouth. In addition to tacos (all types: al pastor [pork], chicken, mushrooms, beef, etc.), they have quesadillas for a whopping price of €2.50 and other more filling options. A meal that will leave you full, but wanting more can cost just €6.00, or €7.00 if you add a beer. Usually if you get there past 8:30pm there’s a line to order food, but it’s 100% worth the wait. You order at the counter and then the waitstaff brings you your food. It helps if one person stakes out a table while you wait in line. I’ve had similar tacos at a few other restaurants and none compare to this place. Takos Al Pastor is a gift sent from Heaven above. It’s located right in the center of Madrid on Calle de la Abada, 2, 28013 Madrid and is a "must-try" for all Mexican food lovers out there. 

Cocido MadrileñoTaberna Oliveros is a Spanish restaurant located in the barrio of La Latina on Calle de San Millán, 4. One of their most famous dishes is Cocido madrileño, which is a stew-like dish. It’s most popular in the winter due to its hearty and wholesome substance, but is so delicious that I would eat it at any time of the year. First, you get the stock of the cocido, accompanied by noodles, which seems strange at first because…where’s the stew? But then out comes a huge plate of garbanzo beans, potatoes, carrots, pork, beef shank, chicken, and morcilla and you're wondering how this is all going to fit in your stomach. Don't worry, it will. Just be patient. 

ImgresHowever, one thing you must know is that eating this dish is a physical, mental, and emotional commitment. You must prepare physically by not having eaten for hours. You must mentally understand the amount of food you are going to consume and not shed tears when you realize how good it tastes. You must emotionally prepare for the aftermath of the dish (being so full that you need to push the table out, one, two, maybe twelve inches in order to get up).

The restaurant owner and waitress (the owner’s daughter) were extremely friendly and truly wanted to make this a wonderful experience for us. We splurged and ordered a bottle of the house wine, then the house dessert, and were surprised with two homemade dessert shots that the owner himself brought out. A three-hour siesta is definitely needed after indulging in a meal like this, so be prepared to hibernate for the remainder of the afternoon. A dish of cocido at Taberna Oliveros costs €18. Other places I have researched charge €35. So for a very great price, you get delicious food, wonderful service and a very happy stomach.

Columbian, Patacón Pisao – I’ve never been to a Columbian restaurant before, but after my experience at Patacón Pisao, I certainly became a fan. My co-workers and I headed toward the Delicias neighborhood during Sunday lunchtime (3:30 p.m.); good thing we had a reservation at this restaurant because it was packed. Just as we sat down, the live musicians were setting up for their afternoon performance. We started off with empanadas and fried yuka and then split bandeja paisa (a Columbian platter filled with beans, rice, ground beef, fried egg, plantain, avocado, chorizo, arepa, and aijaco). It's a platter of WOW! topped off with some OMG! Aijaco is a broth with chicken, corn, potatoes, avacado and rice which apparently takes hours to make, but only seconds to eat :/. Patacón Pisao is a great restaurant to try if you're looking for something different from typical Spanish food or if you're looking for an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday with friends. A glass of wine, the food, and coconut ice cream totaled to €17.00 which is a bit pricier than some other places, but certainly worth every penny. Patacón Pisao is located on Calle de Las Delicias, 10.

Ice Cream - Kalúa is an ice cream shop known for its 40 unique handcrafted flavors. Ranging from cheesecake, Kinder Bueno, trufa (chocolate with whiskey), to mint chocolate chip, this ice cream parlor has just about every flavor you’ll want. Not an ice cream lover? Not to worry, Kalúa has plenty of cakes and cupcakes to satisfy everybody’s sweet tooth. It’s located at Calle Fuencarral, 131 so after an afternoon of heavy shopping on Madrid's most famous shopping street, you can end it on a sweet note at Kalúa.

*Note* After purchasing your ice cream it is important to walk away from the store to reduce the risk of buying a second one.


Top Ten Most Common Spanish Words or Phrases that You Will Hear on a Daily Basis

Here's a compilation of a bunch of useful words and phrases and their explanations that are said each and every day in Spain!

1) Vale. - Pronounced bah-ley. Which means "okay". This word is used during a conversation when you want to express to someone that you agree with or understand what he or she is saying. For example: ¨Sigue todo recto y la tienda está a la derecha.” “Vale.” (“Continue straight and the store is on the right.” “Okay.”)

2) No pasa nada. - It literally means, ¨Nothing happens.” But it also means, ¨Don´t worry (about it)”. After bumping into someone on the metro, you can say ¨Perdóname.¨ And the response could be ¨No pasa nada.¨

3) Qué ganas tengo. -  Which means, "I’m excited"; "I’m looking forward to it"; "Can’t wait". This is an expression you say to a friend that has invited you to a party or an event and you want to express your interest in going. ¨¡Qué ganas tengo de ir a la fiesta esta noche! (“I´m excited to go to the party tonight!")

4) …que lo pases bien / …que te lo pases bien. - This expression is used at the end of a conversation to wish someone to have fun at some event. “No puedo quedar esta noche. Voy a una competición de baile de mi hija.” “ ¡Que lo pases bien!” (“I can’t meet tonight. I’m going to my daughter’s dance competition.” “Alright. Enjoy!”)

5) ¿Cuánto tiempo llevas aquí en España? - This literally translates to ¨How much time do you carry here in Spain?” But what it means is ¨For how long have you been in Spain?” You could respond by saying, ¨Desde Agosto.” (“Since August.”)

6) Encantado - The most common way to greet someone you just met. Encantado (when the speaker is a boy) and encantada (when the speaker is a girl). It is the past participle of the verb encantar which means "to delight". Saying encantado/a translates to “Delighted/I´m delighted to meet you.”

7) Buen provecho / Que aproveche - Spanish people love food and a majority of their culture is focused around food. So if you are about to dive into a big lunch you´ll definitely hear someone say,¡Buen Provecho!” or “¡Que Aproveche!” (“Bon Appetite.” “Enjoy your meal.”)

8) Tío / Tía - These words literally mean uncle and aunt, but they are also a way to refer to someone as "dude".’ “¿Qué dices tío?” (“Dude, what are you saying?”) However, these are only used in Madrid. Other parts of Spain have their own slang words for ‘dude.’ For example, in Valencia, the locals say, “Nano”; in Barcelona, they say, “Nen"; and in Andalucía, it’s “Killo.”

9) (Qué) guay / Cómo mola – These expressions are the most common way to say “(How) cool.” “Gané un par de entradas al partido de Real Madrid.” “¡Guay!” (“I won a pair of tickets to the Real Madrid game.” “Cool!”) / “¡Cómo mola tu Nuevo móvil!” (Your new phone is cool!”)

10) Coger – This word has several different meanings in Castellano (Spanish). It means “to take” ; “to pick up”; and “to grab”.

  • For example, “Coge mi abrigo, por favor.” (Grab/Pick up my coat, please.")
  • ¿Puedo coger un rollo de papel?” “(Can I take a roll of toilet paper?")
  • Cogí un taxi para ir al trabajo hoy.” (“I took a taxi to work today.”)

 *However, be careful using coger in certain Latin American countries because it means “to have sex”.


The English Demand

    There is a very strong demand to learn English as a second language nowadays. As more and more bilingual schools open, the demand for bilingual teachers increases. Qualified bilingual teachers are more likely to get permanent teaching positions and are more likely have job security, two very important things to have during Spain’s financial crisis. Those who do not have a C1 speaking level, the required level to be able to teach bilingually, are jumping on board to learn English. This means going to an English school at least twice a week, receiving private lessons from language assistants like myself, and doing their own self-study on top of teaching full-time, having families, children and you know those things called “lives”. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. They feel as though they are forced to do all of this because, if not, it means unemployment.

    But why are they being “forced” to learn English? As a result of globalization, English is dominating the world as a main language. We, as a society, are more connected than ever and have to communicate in some way. Over 50 countries use English as their primary language. Throughout the business and technology world, English is the primary language spoken. It is also often used as a third party language to communicate across cultures. I was on a flight back from Berlin to Madrid and the flight attendant needed to tell a Spanish couple sitting in the emergency exit seats that their bags needed to be moved. She did not speak Spanish and the passengers did not speak German. How did they communicate? English. Without this common language it would have been a very confusing situation.

    However, just because English is the global language does not mean that native English speakers shouldn’t bother to learn a second language. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world, followed by Spanish. English comes in third. There are 399 million Spanish speakers in the world and over 20 countries where Spanish is the primary language. So why aren’t we (English speakers) ‘forced’ to learn a second language? Because we don’t have to. I’m not saying that as an ignorant English speaker, but the reality is that we are very lucky to speak English. Teachers in the U.S. aren’t going to be without jobs if they don’t speak a second language in comparison to the situation I described above. We have the privilege of watching all mainstream movies and TV shows in their native language, English. We have the privilege of traveling from one country to another with ease because all airports have information in English. And we are made to feel that we are given a “hall pass” from learning a second language because it isn’t stressed at all in our public school curricula. But does that mean we should take that hall pass? Not acknowledging that fact that we are lucky to speak English, and assuming everyone does and should speak English, is ignorant. Another situation that happened in Berlin prompted my motivation to write this blog and the story goes as follows:

    I was ordering food at a café and I wanted to know if there were any breakfast sandwiches with eggs. The cashier didn’t understand my question and spoke very little English. Luckily a young man in front of me translated everything and the result was no, no egg sandwiches :/ (a shame because I really wanted one). But more importantly, I felt embarrassed. I felt that the cashier felt embarrassed because she couldn’t understand what I was saying. But shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Shouldn’t I have been the flustered one for not understanding German? After all, I was in Germany!

    Of course for every country you go to you cannot become fluent in that language. That’s not realistic.  But I do think that it is our job to try, out of respect for each other’s cultures, to learn basic communication points. That means learning the basic words like hello, please, thank you, goodbye and cheers.

    Throughout my time in Spain I have met people who only speak Spanish, but I’ve met more people who speak Spanish and English. I’ve met others who know Spanish, English, French, and more. Some of my students speak Spanish, English, Romanian, and are learning French. I’m 22 years old and can speak one language fluently and am currently working on the second. I don’t know anyone from the United States who has gone to a bilingual elementary school. I think it’s time we move away from the English-only mindset and broaden our language abilities. Just because we, native English speakers, are not forced to learn another language, doesn’t mean we should discount the benefits of doing so.


Carnaval, Cádiz

    Carnaval, one of the most enjoyable holidays that Spain has to offer, takes place during the first and second weekends of February. Spain's Carnaval originated in Cádiz, a gorgeous beach town located in the southwest part of Spain on the Atlantic Ocean. While many other cities in Spain also celebrate this ‘fiesta’, the two most elaborate festivals can be found in its birth town and in the Canary Islands.


La Playa

     Carnaval’s history has both religious influences, like all Spanish holiday, and cultural ties with other European countries. It purposefully falls right before the start of Lent, a Christian observance, in order for its celebrators to be able to indulge without remorse before a time of sacrifice. The cultural ties date all the way back to the 15th century. During this period of time there was a large presence of Italians in Cádiz, particularly Genoese merchants. Many of the typical decorations that can be seen at Carnaval today, such as masks and confetti, have come from Italian descent.

    Between the creation of Carnival in the 15th century and the year 1977, when Spain was freed from Franco’s rule, government authorities tried to prohibit the celebration or at least censor Carnval's practices, but they did not succeed. One aspect in particular that was unsuccessfully censored was the performances put on by musical ensembles, which were unfavorable to authorities because of the political satire and irony written in their lyrics. These acts make up one of Carnaval's most important hallmarks. They are divided into four groups: coroscomparsaschirigotas, and cuartetos and have distinct characteristics. The first, coros, is a choir that contains the largest number of people, around 25, and the group as a whole contains voices with varying pitches and tones. The second group sings songs filled with feeling and emotion that is displayed through their profound lyrics. Chirigotas, the most well-known of the four, sing songs with the purpose of making people laugh with witty phrases that contain double meanings and often refer to political humor. Lastly, cuartetos, are composed of four people who put on more of a drama performance than a choir show. These four groups practice year round and often do tours after Carnaval throughout the Andulusian region.

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Una comparsa

    Apart from its history, what is Carnaval like today? It’s all about enjoying life, one of the most obvious and important aspects of Spanish culture. The entire purpose of the weekend is to get dressed up in a costume, drink, eat and spend time with family and friends. There are activities to do all throughout the day and night. A typical day at Carnaval is spent hanging out in the Plaza de Minas to watch the main performances and then later wandering the streets to see what others you can find.

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Un coro with costumes representing characters from the movie "Inside Out".

As a non-native Spanish speaker it is nearly impossible to understand the songs, but lyrics aside, the costumes, energy, and atmosphere still make the experience worthwhile.

    On Saturday night there is a massive botellón in the Plaza de la Catedral. A botellón is an activity where people congregate in public areas to drink alcohol, like a park or parking lot. Botellones aren't as common as they were in the past and there are laws prohibiting them, but it seems as if during Carnival the chains are let loose and none of that matters. The plaza was filled with people from one side to the other, in the middle different vendors selling food, and around the perimeter the restaurants moved their bars outside. It’s a great chance to join the celebration, admire everyone's costumes and get to know people from all parts of Spain and even the world.

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La Catedral

    To conclude Carnaval’s activities there is a parade Sunday night. People line up on the sides while little kids fill the middle of the street, throwing confetti and firecrackers and wait for the parade to begin. After about two hours following the intended start time (remember, this is Spain, nothing begins on time), enormous floats with all different themes and intricate details come rolling down the street. Imagine: a giant rooster, a giant ram, ‘forest creatures’, etc. It’s obvious that many people dedicated a lot time and effort to make each one so perfect.

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Rooster float 
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My favorite float

    At Carnaval, the weather was warm and the ambiance was inviting. Combining history with a celebration of life leaves us with one of the most entertaining holidays in Spain. Carnaval is a true representation of some of Spain’s core values: socializing and putting happiness above all. Until next year!


The auxiliars of IES Luis García Berlanga: Giraffe - me, Lion - Tamara, Bulldog - Teresa, & Parrot - Jade.


What I Like About You, Madrid

    I believe everyone has at least one city to which he is drawn. Maybe you have been there before, seen it in the movies, or read about it, but there’s one city that’s “your city”. Whether it's the language, the culture, the beautiful buildings, or the people, there are certain aspects of a place that make you feel at home or like you belong. For me, that city is Madrid. There are other parts of Europe that I love, but something is holding me here. As each day goes by I’m figuring out  what I love about this wonderful city more and more. Unnamed (1)   A shot overlooking Madrid - Photo credit: Amanda Boccardi

    Spanish – The Spanish language is spoken with such rhythm that it often sounds like a song. It’s spoken so quickly that I can only catch a few words while eavesdropping on the metro, but whether I understand or not, it’s a very lyrical and expressive language. A Spaniard’s use of intonations and gestures is so specific to each word he says that you can tell exactly how the speaker feels or how you should feel just based off of his tone or volume alone. A conversation in Spanish is so energetic that it often sounds like a performance.

    Neighborhoods – Madrid is filled with many eclectic neighborhoods ranging from multicultural to ritzy to historic; there’s a place for everyone. I live in Malasaña, just north of the center of Madrid. It’s considered the young, hipster barrio (neighborhood), housing people in their 20’s and early 30’s, and it’s filled with bars, clubs and cafés on every corner. If you set foot in a bar you’ll most likely hear rock, funk or soul music, and you’ll be surrounded by a crowd of people looking to dance and have a good time. At night the streets flood with people, whether from the overflow from a bar or guitarists having a jam session. During the day the cafés are so full you often cannot find a seat. They are designed with vintage décor, providing you with the perfect “study” environment or a cool-looking place to get together with friends. Malasaña is also home to several vintage clothing shops and the street Calle Fuencarral, which is possibly one of the most famous shopping streets in Madrid. B476b3a3-cf07-4665-b82b-83e77c36082aTribunal Metro Stop in Malasaña - Photo Credit: Amanda Boccardi

    Culture – A Spanish co-worker told me that she felt Spaniards were always in a hurry. I laughed and said to myself, you certainly haven’t been to New York. (This is no criticism to New York. NYC is simply just a faster paced environment). I’m sure you have heard that the Spanish culture is very laid back, and it certainly is. For example, when the bell rings at school, nobody moves. We wait at least two to three minutes and then proceed to the next class. It’s like the bell is a pre-bell letting you know that you have a few more minutes to finish up whatever you were doing.

    An easy way to spot a tourist is if he’s carrying a “to-go” coffee mug. Tomar un café, to have a coffee, means spending time at a bar and drinking it there. Enjoying the drink for what it is, not to give you a caffeine burst on your way to work or class. At CIEE orientation this summer, we had a Spanish guest speaker and he said a quote that has stuck with me ever since. He said, Spaniards "don't live to work, they work to live." Americans can often be stereotyped as people who work until they overwork themselves. As an American I would say we do work a lot, as it is a very important part of our lives, and we are very proud of what we accomplish. I take pride in the fact that we are perceived as hard workers. But here in Spain, the motto means to work in order to make money so you can socialize after. The 9-5 job is supposed to end at 5, and meeting up for drinks and tapas later is no question. In addition, to the surprise of many Americans, Spaniards in their late 20’s, even early 30’s, generally still live with their parents. This is because the opportunity cost of sacrificing their independence is worth the ability to afford an active social life.

    Another thing that makes the Spanish culture laid back is the schedule. Everything starts and ends much later here. For example, most fitness centers offer classes from 8:30 AM to 9:30 PM, whereas most fitness classes in the US start earlier at 5:30 AM and end at 7:30 PM. The later schedule makes you feel like you aren’t in as much of a hurry. If you happen to get home from work late or take a later gym class, it’s okay to start cooking at 9 PM and eat at 10.

    Along with socializing, eating and drinking are very important in the Spanish culture. Lunch is the most important meal and is supposed to take 2 hours…Going out to eat is a very relaxing and much slower process than in the States. You don’t feel rushed to pay and leave because the waiters will never bring you the check unless you ask them for it. You have time to digest, finish your drinks and enjoy time with whomever. Often times, I scarf down my meal and move onto the next thing, but here you learn to slow down, appreciate each bite or sip and enjoy it. IMG_1428Comida española

    Architecture – Madrid’s historic feel comes from its buildings which follow a Neoclassical style. The structure and size of the buildings are very different from what I’m used to in New York. Although walking down Gran Via, a wide street lit up with bright shining lights, does remind me a little of Times Square, Madrid doesn’t feel as big as The Big Apple. My friend Ben, who studied architecture at the University of Michigan says it perfectly, “The modest sizes and heights of Madrid’s buildings and the compactness of its city blocks make the city feel smaller and give its neighborhoods a more intimate feel.” Another architect friend from the University of Michigan, Hillary, explains that "The stone columns, beautiful foyers, and intricate details of the buildings make you feel like you’re constantly walking on historical ground.” A majority of the streets are one-way with narrow sidewalks that leave only enough room for one person. The apartment buildings are smaller, about 8 floors as opposed to 20 or even 40 in other US cities. I live on the fourth and top floor of my building, and if I open the window, I can still see and hear everything that’s going on below, making me feel connected to this city even when I’m enclosed. Unnamed-3Palacio de Cibeles - Photo Credit: Amanda Boccardi 

            Madrid is a remarkable city in which I feel very lucky to live. The reasons described above are just a sampling of what makes this place so incredible. Above all, I would say the people are what make this place so amazing. They may be blunt, talk over one another and never be afraid to say how they feel, but they have welcomed me and other foreigners into their city with open arms. Although I’ve identified some differences between American and Spanish lifestyles, living in both places has made me appreciate both my own culture and the new culture into which I am immersing myself. I know one day I will return to the United States, but for right now Madrid is where I’m supposed to be.

IMG_0697 La Catedral de la Almudena

A Tale of Two Cities: Buda and Pest and What to See in 48 Hours

    Yes, for those of you who don’t know (I didn’t either) Budapest is actually split into Buda and Pest with the Danube river running between them. There is a third city called Óbuda, meaning Old Buda, and the three make up Budapest, but for the purposes of this blog I’m just going to discuss Buda and Pest. These cities joined together not too long ago in 1873. Considering other cities were constructed centuries ago, this is a pretty recent merge. The Chain Bridge provides passersby with breathtaking views of each city and great panoramic shots (see below). Both sides of the bridge contain completely different landscapes and ambiances.

IMG_4603 (1)The view of Pest and the Danube River from the Chain Bridge.

            Buda is located on the West side of the river and is older than Pest. It has an interesting layout with houses packed together built on hills, making it hard to navigate for both tourists and drivers. However, this uneven terrain also yields fabulous views of its partner city and the river flowing through them. On Buda's side you will see the Sándor Palace (where the president lives), the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and much more.

56e1c90f-8a22-412b-906e-c88359f44357 (1)From left to right: Mollyrose, Me, Chelsea, Jackie, Amanda, and Cassie near the Sándor Palace overlooking Pest.

            Pest is the happening side of the city so you’ll definitely want to book your hostel there, especially near District 7, the Jewish quarter, which holds a lot of the city’s nightlife. We stayed at Colors Budapest Hostel for about €7 a night. On the Pest side you can visit Parliament, Central Market Hall, and buy some paprika as a souvenir or try Hungary’s famous goulash soup, the thermal baths, and Budapest’s unique ruin bars.

            Ruin bars are relatively new to Budapest and certainly a must-see while visiting. They started becoming established bars about 10 years ago from old abandoned buildings in District 7, standing as remainders of WWII. The most famous one is called Szimpla Kert. It looks like you've walked into a consignment shop with multiple rooms containing random secondhand objects scattered around for decoration.IMG_4543 From hair dyers and bathtubs to mermaid sculptures and cars, this pub has every item you will never see at another bar. The building is very big for a bar, so it’s fun to wander around from room to room to see what weird objects you come across.

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    After a late night out and an early morning of touring, the thermal baths are the best way to relax. The Széchenyi Bath is just over 100 years old, created in 1913. It is made up of three outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools. In addition to pools, they have massages available for purchase, beer and wine, and other services. The temperature of the pool is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit and, although that isn’t nearly as hot as a hot tub, it is very comfortable for a cold winter day. You can relax in the water or get carried in a whirlpool created by jets. Either way, the baths are a fun way to meet other tourists or spend time with your friends. IMG_4659 (1)

            With less than 48 hours in the city my group certainly did a lot. With a such a short amount of time you have to be selective. Asking people who have traveled there before, reading tourist magazines on the flight, and, of course, asking the locals are all great ways to get ideas of what to do. Most importantly pick a few things and go with the flow. And if you don’t get to see all you had hoped to see, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to go back. :D


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