Questions/Comments?Contact Us

6 posts categorized "Jennifer White"

A journey to the South Pacific

Bilikiki boat pic zoom

I arrived at my assigned primary school in early October to take a tour of the campus and meet our Bilingual Coordinator. Although I felt super excited to introduce myself to the staff members and get a feel for the school, I also felt nervous about one thing in particular.

My dad and I had a vacation booked for late November, and I would be missing at least 6 days of school in order to be there. And I kept getting conflicting advice about how to approach the conversation.

Don’t tell them right away! Bad first impression, for sure. In Spain, it’s better to wait a few weeks in order to establish yourself as a trustworthy person and hard worker. Then, talk to the Deputy Head of Studies.

Just tell them when you get there. They might dock your pay, but it’ll be alright.

Whatever you do, don’t admit that you’ve already bought the flight!

After our auxiliar orientation, I began to feel anxious that the administrators at my school would be upset that my family had already committed to a trip. The vacation had been booked over 6 months in advance - before I even knew I had been accepted into the Teach Abroad program - so, at this point, it was a matter of broaching the subject in a culturally acceptable way.

I finally decided to do what felt most natural to me. That meant talking to the Deputy Head of Studies, Isabel, on the first day of school to let her know that I’d be missing 6 days of class time for a family vacation.

… and nothing really happened.

Both Isabel and the Bilingual Coordinator, Cristina, were very understanding and excited for me. Cristina simply asked me to make up the hours I’d be missing over the next several weeks during my free periods. It took me about 7 weeks to get it done, but since auxiliares generally do some presentation prep and other activities outside of class, anyway, it was a breeze.

Side note: I’m aware that the highly positive reaction of my school administrators might not be the case at all schools in Madrid, but I do feel that this reaction is more common than one would think. Moral of the story for me was to be honest up-front about this sort of thing! Either it will be okay or it won’t, but a delayed conversation doesn’t help the situation.

So, after two months working as a teaching assistant in Madrid, it was time to pack my bags once again and head to the South Pacific!

My dad and I spent a couple days diving in Fiji (where I got lucky and saw a tiger shark!) and then 10 days on a liveaboard dive boat, The Bilikiki, exploring the seascape around the Solomon Islands. Our group of 19 divers made good use of both our macro and wide angle cameras, as the underwater fauna ranged from tiny nudibranchs to 20-foot sharks. We also saw the healthiest coral I’ve ever seen, including a field of green staghorn coral lovingly named “The Rolling Hills of Ireland” by our dive instructor, Tina.

The 14-person crew worked hard to ensure that our experience onboard and in the water was enjoyable and unforgettable. Huge thanks to The Bilikiki for a breathtaking journey!



P.S. The best thing (besides the trip itself, of course) was returning to school and showing all sorts of underwater photos and videos to the kids in my classes. Check out some of the pictures below!

Group photo

Mirror Pond light purple boxy nudi

Fiji Shark Dive 1 bull shark mug shot

Bilikiki Bay brilliant red scorpion fish

Larry Jen scuba selfie

Solomons iridescent little cardinalfish

Raymond Jen and Oli

Toatolave Island coral decorator crab

Bilikiki Bay shadowy eel

Barracuda Point Jen and Wayne pre dive selfie

Bilikiki sunset

*Photos are copyrighted: Copyright © 2017 Larry White. All rights reserved.

Day Trip to Castillo de los Mendoza

Castle Selfie

November 1st is a día festivo (holiday) in Spain. Some fellow auxiliares - Andrea and Trevor - and I took advantage of the day off by busing up to La Pedriza, a geological feature famous for nice hiking trails and impressive rock formations. As we approached the final bus stop, we looked up and saw a large castle perched atop a hill to our right. Since Andrea had done much of the planning for the day trip, Trevor and I hadn't researched our destination as much as we normally would have. The only large stone structures I was expecting to see were boulders!

Castle and Tree

We got our bearings with the help of some of the castle employees, and decided that we were more interested in exploring the castle and eating a leisurely lunch than hiking for several hours. Sometimes, when you stumble upon a 15th-century castle, you drop everything and explore it. The spontaneous change of plans paid off, and I felt fortunate to be adventuring with two laid-back travelers.

The castle is located in a village called Manzanares el Real and was originally constructed for the Mendoza family, from which it gets its name. Most of the building has been reconstructed over the years due to degradation, but several of the original stone pieces are on display within the inner chambers.

The pictures speak for themselves, I think.



P.S. Trevor and I share the same landlords, and - by complete coincidence - we ran into them during lunch! We were all genuinely happy to see each other, and that chance meeting wouldn't have taken place had we chosen to trek through the mountains. Pretty serendipitous, eh?

Manzanares Lake

Manzanares Trees

Castle Turrets

Manzanares Town

Me at the castle

Castle and Lake



*This was originally posted on Pictures & Some Words.*

3 ways to make the most of your experience abroad

Madrid Sunset

Moving to Spain will be easy in some ways and challenging in others. Luckily, we humans are a pretty adaptable bunch, and we pick up tips and clues about a new place as soon as we've arrived.

I've found that, despite any difficulties I'm facing with paperwork, bureaucracy, or whatever else comes my way, a shift in attitude and perspective can make all the difference in achieving a positive outcome.

Here are 3 ways to make the most of your experience abroad:

1. Stay positive (no matter what!)

Keep in mind that you’re applying to live for several months in a foreign country. Things might go smoothly, but they might not. It’s much more pleasant for both you and everyone around you if you can take a deep breath and maintain a positive frame of mind.

Handy trick: If you hear yourself complaining about something that didn’t go your way, add an “and” or “but”  to the end of the sentence and flip it into a positive phrase. Slightly cheesy, but it’s actually kind of fun and might make you realize that you’re being more negative than you intended to be.

  • Example #1: “Man, I’m so pissed that we waited for 45 minutes at Caixa Bank and then they wouldn’t let us open an account…. AND I’m really happy that CIEE gave us the contact info for Banco Sabadell because maybe we’ll have more success there.”
  • Example #2: “I can’t believe that we were just rejected by 3 landlords! BUT I’m thrilled that Idealista exists because I’m sure we can find some other options pretty quickly.”

2. Ask lots of questions (in Spanish, of course)

Turns out that you’re not supposed to touch any fruit with your bare hands in Spanish supermarkets. To make sure that this was indeed a rule, I exposed my naïveté to an attendant by asking what exactly I should be doing. Clearly, I blew my cover as a true Spaniard, but that happens all the time anyway. I got to practice some Spanish, have a positive interaction with the attendant, and learn that I simply needed to don a plastic guante (glove) and then use that guante to pick out fruits and veggies to my heart’s desire.

3. Dare to do new things (read: get out of your comfort zone right away)

Escaping your typical routine and engaging in new activities can produce a virtuous cycle that just keeps giving. I’ve found that, once I take the leap and commit to doing something new, I’m immediately more likely to do so again. Suddenly, my calendar has filled up with a dance class, volleyball practice, and sewing workshop before I even realize what’s happened.

The stipend for auxiliares is definitely livable but not luxurious. This makes the power of sign-up fees even stronger. If you put some cash down up-front to reserve a class/tour/experience you’re feeling a tad nervous about, that “sunken cost” will get you in the door when the date of the class arrives.



Teté Café Costura

Tete Cafe Costura

“You live a new life for every new language you speak. If you only know one language, you live only once.” – Czech Proverb

I speed-walked down the street, breathing hard. Having jogged from the subway for 10 minutes or so, I was sweatier than I would’ve hoped, but there was no changing that now. I spotted the sign outside of the sewing shop from about a block away: “Tete Café Costura” had been painted in stylized white font directly above the bright red doors. Tete – the owner of the store – noticed me hustling her way, and opened the door, smiling. “Buenas,” she said, and I replied with a quick “Disculpe” for having arrived several minutes late. “Good thing we’re on Spanish time!” I thought to myself.

Before arriving in Madrid in early September, I decided that I wanted to re-learn how to sew. For some reason, I found myself determined to produce a wearable shirt, so step one would be acquainting myself with the modern sewing machine. After searching around on the internet for a bit, I came across Tete Café Costura thanks to some positive reviews from an expat blogger. When I discovered that Tete not only taught her students to sew, but also served them tea and/or coffee, I was sold. 75 euros later, I had committed myself to a 3-day, 7.5-hour sewing workshop.

One of the most beautiful things about living in Spain is that, unsurprisingly, nearly every activity requires speaking Spanish. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store, enrolling in an educational course, or attending a sports practice gain a layer of novelty and excitement that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Sewing class is certainly no exception!

Sewing machine

As soon as Tete began explaining the anatomy of the sewing machine, I found myself immersed in both Spanish language and sewing language simultaneously. Between her banter with the other ladies in the class and her detailed descriptions of sewing methodology, I was scribbling down unfamiliar terms almost as often as I was actually sewing. After all, words like hilvanar (to tack), enhebrar (to thread), and alfilerar (to pin), rarely make their way into daily conversation.

On day two, it hit me that I was actively engaging in project-based education, an approach that I champion verbally all the time. Living abroad is so full of applied learning opportunities that it can be easy to forget that it’s taking place constantly. Foreign words wash over us every day, sometimes cementing themselves in our knowledge base and other times simply familiarizing us with the tricky Castilian accent. In this case, instead of sitting in a Spanish classroom memorizing verbs from a book, I was living them; I carried them out with each pumping of the foot peddle and threading of the needle.

My main takeaway of the weekend was this: Learning a new skill – in a new language – is doubly rewarding.

And when the final product is a cute tote bag featuring happy little trains and triangles, that’s not too bad, either  ;)



Jenni with bag

Trains and Triangles Bag

*This was originally posted on Pictures & Some Words.*

Getting oriented



These last few weeks have looked a little something like this:

Land in Madrid on September 6th. Taxi to Airbnb. Buy groceries to avoid living off of tortillas españolas and chocolate croissants. Figure out what to do for cell phone service. Walk the streets looking for “Se Alquila” signs. Eat delicious paella with previous host family. Purchase metro pass. Peruse Idealista’s apartment offerings for hours. Line up four piso viewings. Achieve success with piso number 4! Sign contract the next day. Move into apartment. Purchase a bunch of home supplies at the chino shop on our street. Fly down to Sevilla for the weekend to hang out with friends. Participate in a hip hop dance class. Complete CIEE Orientation with fellow auxiliares. Get all paperwork organized and submitted for the TIE (ID card for foreigners). Attend volleyball practice a few metro stops away. Grab tapas with friends near La Latina. Meet bilingual language coordinator and other assistants at my colegio.

As you can see from the solid chunk of action items above, there’s so much to do upon arriving in Spain that it can seem a bit overwhelming! It's no small task to move to an unfamiliar, Spanish-speaking country for a year, and the first month or so can feel like a checklist of urgent to-do’s. That said, you might notice that there are also several fun activities mixed into the semi-hectic apartment searching and paperwork filing described above. Sevilla, paella, volleyball, dance, and tapas were easy to fit into the schedule because my boyfriend and I got here really early.

Originally, we simply wanted to get to Spain at the beginning of September for sightseeing and friend-visiting purposes. However, after researching the lodging situation and legal processes, we soon realized that it would be a huge advantage to have a couple more weeks up-front to get all of our ducks in a row. We wanted to avoid cramming everything into the small time window between orientation on September 22nd and day one of school on October 3rd, and we were very happy with the results.

The two of us arrived here 16 days before orientation - which was probably excessive - but if you can book a flight that lands 5-7 days beforehand, you’ll thank yourself later. The Airbnb we stayed at was $30 per night, and hostels can be found for even cheaper. In a way, you're buying yourself more time to relax, see some sights, and explore the city in between important tasks like finding housing and submitting paperwork to the Spanish government. Less stress and more play!

Whether you arrive 3 weeks early or walk into orientation just as it’s beginning, you’ll be diving headfirst into a new Spanish lifestyle. Savor it as much as you can along the way, and remember to cut yourself plenty of slack as you get oriented.





Happy to be here

During my time as a Trinity University soccer player, I was dubbed "Most Likely To Be 'Pumped' About Everything." Perhaps this was simply a hint that I should try to expand my vocabulary when expressing excitement, but I think my teammates actually hit the nail on the head. Although there are certainly some things that I'm not so pumped about, I'm almost always enthusiastic to make new friends, taste exotic foods, try unfamiliar sports, and venture to faraway places.

I feel *extra* pumped to be writing this blog post from Madrid, as I've been daydreaming about returning to this lovely city ever since I studied abroad here during the summer of 2013. Just a few days into my 7-week program, I knew I would want to come back sometime soon, and for a much longer stay. 

Private patio at our Airbnb, affectionately maintained by the hosts, Leo and Silvia

CIEE Teach Abroad provided the ideal opportunity to merge my desires to live in Madrid long-term, to expand upon previous experience in the educational world, and to pursue an unconventional lifestyle. The way I look at it, the chance to teach in Spain, part-time, for 10 months represents so much more than an English teaching opportunity.

4 awesome side effects of teaching abroad:

1. True immersion

When I studied abroad in Madrid, and also in Nicaragua, everything was programmed perfectly and curated lovingly by my professors. My classmates and I were set up with host families, internships, daily activities, weekend outings, etc. Now, I'm being thrown into life in Madrid with a bit of guidance, but very little hand-holding, which totally fits the bill for my current goals.

2. A break from the traditional 9-5

Don't get me wrong: I adored my position - and the amazing team - at my previous job (shout-out to Codeup!). That said, I didn't want to look back on my early twenties and feel that I'd settled for a more conventional path instead of pushing myself to achieve one of my lifelong dreams. So, after nearly 2 years of working in San Antonio, Texas, I said bittersweet goodbyes to my wonderful friends and coworkers, packed up my cozy apartment, and headed to Europe with my boyfriend, Tim.

3. Removal from the infamous comfort zone

New country, new language, new job, new schedule. As I gain a deeper knowledge of this distinct social, political, and cultural climate, I'll need to focus on remaining open-minded, asking many questions, speaking as much Spanish as possible, and absorbing information and ideas like a sponge. I can be fairly harsh on myself when my Spanish sentences don't come out perfectly, so this will also be a great time to practice cutting myself some slack and celebrating mistakes as a crucial part of the learning process.

4. Loads of free time

This makes me giddy! My journal is full of notes and doodles detailing various projects I'd like to tackle, as well as activities I want to participate in. So, I'm incredibly excited to explore the city and find ways to get involved in the community (most likely through dance, soccer, work, and entrepreneurship, among other things).

I'll be sharing bits and pieces of my journey in Madrid throughout the next 10 months, and I'd love to hear your feedback, as well as any questions you might have about the CIEE program, working as an auxiliar de conversación, my previous time abroad, or anything else!



Keep Me Updated