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7 posts categorized "Nicole Blachowicz"

Teaching English but Learning Spanish

Moving to Spain, I expected I would be speaking Spanish all the time even though I would be teaching English. However, I've found that you have to go out of your way to really try to learn and speak Spanish. Maybe it's because Madrid is such an international city or maybe it's because I live with Americans and hang out with a lot of CIEE people and maybe it's because I should only be speaking English at schools and my private lessons.. Maybe a little bit of everything.


Your schools tell you that you shouldn't let the kids know you speak Spanish because if they do, they're more likely the speak Spanish to you if they're having difficulties. However, if the students think you don't speak any Spanish, they are forced to try to use circumlocution to try to explain what they mean in English, which gets them using their vocabulary they already know. Totally makes sense. I had to do this in my Spanish classes and as frustrating as it was, I get the point now being on the other side. I do help them every now and again, but I do find it super entertaining when the kids hear me speaking Spanish to other teachers and they ask me if I know Spanish, but they believe me when I say no!

Don't get me wrong, I love the people I live with and love all my American friends and teaching English, but sometimes, I feel as though I really don't speak Spanish as much as I thought. There are plenty of resources to change this of course, so I decided to compile a list of apps and activities in order to inspire and motivate myself and inform other people of the things they can do.

1. Podcasts: Español Automático


With a 50 minute commute on the metro, this is an easy and convenient way to get some Spanish in and work on your listening skills. I'm usually listening to music or a podcast anyway, so I try to make it a goal to listen to these 25-30 minute podcasts once or twice a week. The host, Karo Martinez, also has a website where she offers transcripts of the pod, resources and even classes to help you with your Spanish. Her goal is to help people speak in a more natural and fluid way. She speaks really clearly and recommends habits while discussing a variety of topics.


2. Netflix Shows

We all binge-watch. Sometimes escaping reality and sitting in your room for the whole day is very much needed because I do have to remind myself that I live here, and somedays I need some American culture. But instead of turning to a show that you've already seen or watching something in English, watch a Spanish show! I recommend Cable Girls or "Chicas del Cable." It's a show — not dubbed in Spanish — that takes place in Madrid (how perfect) in the late 1920s and about four women who meet working at a Telephone company as operators and their crazy storylines: there's love, friendship, revenge, murder. The classic recipe for a drama. I watch it in Spanish with subtitles and cannot stop watching it.


3. Tandem: iPhone App


So intercambios can be a great way to meet people and there's a million you can go to. It can be a bit overwhelming and the few that I've been to, people tend to hear you speaking English and flock to you. I've met some great people from all over the world, but I always end up speaking English. Tandem is a language exchange app where you can practice speaking any language with native speakers. Some people choose to video chat, but I recommend posting that you are looking to practice in person. (You can set your location) so you can guarantee you'll be talking to people within your city limits. The one-on-one setting I find better to practice and improve.


4. Tus Clases Particulares


Just as I teach private english classes, there are private classes in Spanish. These will usually cost 15-25 euro per hour and classes can vary from conversational to more formal one-on-one classes but if you're really committed to learning Spanish, this is a great way to guarantee Spanish learning.


5. Meetup


Meetup is not only a great language resource but also a great way to find your tribe in Madrid. They have a bunch of meet-ups focused on area of interests but also have intercambios listed. Interested in something? Try meeting up with a group and see if there's any people you can practice Spanish with while doing something you love!

New Year Struggles & Halfway Mark

This year, I didn't feel this grand commencement of the new year like I usually do. This need or desire to begin anew, to have a clean slate or fresh start didn't exist . I think it's because I've gained some perspective and experienced immense personal growth that starting over wouldn't be right because this specific journey feels so continuous: rather than 2017 and 2018 being how I define my time, it'll be "the year I lived abroad."I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be - something I've never felt or can even explain. It's this intuitive knowledge and understanding. I now have this mindset that no matter where the year takes me, there will be both good and bad. My intention (cough, "resolution") for the year is to embrace this balance. To focus my energy on the good while acknowledging and feeling the feels of the bad, but not let it cloud the hope that good that will eventually come again.

With January almost over (HOW?), I find myself in a bit of a rut. When I was abroad, one of my best friend's moms told us that "bad days happen everywhere." And it's so true. While I've never been as happy as I am now, there are still going to be days when everything seems impossible, things hurt and you break into uncontrollable tears. Just because I'm living out my dream, doesn't mean each day will be perfect. It's life. It's messy. I've had a few of those this past month when I honestly didn't have any from August - December. I'm really putting my "resolution" to the test and letting myself feel how I feel and know it will pass. Easier said than done, of course

One of the reasons I think I am in this rut is that it's the second half. I went home for Christmas and it warmed my heart seeing my family just a few days. It reminded me of how much I miss my family and friends and exactly what I'm missing out on (FOMO is real people — WHY?). The thing is when I'm in Madrid living my day to day, I don't have time to really think about it just because I am living my best life. It was bittersweet coming home and leaving. When I bought my flight home for Christmas in July, it seemed so far away but I knew that would be the half way point. and here we are. About half way done and it scares me.

Time is flying by — I am no where near where I thought I would in terms of my Spanish, I have so much I still want to do and not sure I'll get to it all, and and now is the time to think about renewing. Talk about STRESSFUL. However,

I'm trying to take one day at a time and prioritize the important things. Here's what's on the list so far.

  • Trips: Florence, Prague & Croatia/Montenegro 
  • Spanish: Attend more Intercambios (at least one a week) and start taking spanish lessons 
  • Madrid Living: Go to a new bar/cafe at least once a week
  • Self care: Journal and blog once a week - still working on this one :) 




Your Sevilla Itinerary: Places & Food

It's no secret I love Sevilla, but almost every person that I have talked to that has also visited this quintessential Spanish town has told me they wished they had more time there. No one is able to escape the special feeling of it. Even Spaniards I've talked to says it has a certain, "encanto" or charm. If still not convinced by my ode to Sevilla post or my photos, I challenge you to talk to people who have been or just go and visit to see for yourselves! If you've already made the decision to visit, here are some of my must-see places and restaurants to check out!


Things to do


1. Plaza de España


This is one of those places where no photos can do it proper justice. I urge you to walk around the base and walls of the Plaza to admire each of the Spanish provinces displayed, cross the bridges and take a boat ride around the river and just take in all the details. Afterward, walk around Parque Maria Luisa (right across from the Plaza) and enjoy the beautiful gardens and pathways.  


2. La Catedral y La Giralda



The third largest church in the world and the largest gothic church, you will not be disappointed by its grandeur. Don't forget to stop by Christopher Columbus' remains which also lie here. La Giralda (the bell tower) was originally a minaret turned Catholic bell tower after La Reconquista. You can climb to the top and look out over the city — I insist though, the best view overlooking Sevilla is on top of Las Setas (See #5). 


3. Real Maestranza (Bullfighting ring)

 While the bullfighting season takes place from the end of April to the end of September, they offer tours year round. Bullfighting has become extremely controversial in Spain and some provinces have even banned it. Still, I recommend it as a cultural experience, even just the tour. If you visit and wish to see a real bullfight, go for it! I did when I studied abroad. I'm glad I went, but wouldn't do it again. It's a one time thing. But I'm going to leave it up to you.



4. See a Flamenco Show


Did you really go to Spain if you didn't see Flamenco? I recommend Museo del Baile Flamenco or Casa de la Memoria. Museo del Baile Flamenco offers more seating and while a bit "touristic"provides the audience a great show. Casa de la Memoria is also a fantastic option if you really want to see authentic flamenco: the small room gives the audience a sense of intimacy with the performers and the performances are top-notch in my opinion. 


5. Las Setas (Metropol Parasol)


For the best view of the city, go here! Las Setas (meaning: the mushrooms) is a wooden structure in the city center, you really can't miss it! For just a few euros, you get to go to the top for a drink. Tip: head here before sunset since it obviously becomes very crowded, but the view is incredibly worth it. Below Las Setas is the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains are on display in a museum.


6. El Alcázar 



For all you GOT fans, this is Dorne! For everybody else, this is a royal palace developed by Moorish Kings. If you're going to Granada and visiting the Alhambra, feel free to skip this, since they are very similar but still beautiful, or if you're really into royal palaces, go for it! 


7. El Rio Guadalquiver


If you want to truly feel like a Sevillano, take an afternoon stroll (dar un paseo) along the river while many stores shut down for siesta. It's a nice way to relax while seeing another beautiful part of the city. There's always people biking, walking and running along the path. 


Restaurants & What to Order


1. La Brunilda



Brunilda is hands down my favorite restaurant, perhaps of all time. It's a great lunch spot, but get there early to put your name in because it gets crowded! I recommend ordering the patatas bravas, mushroom riostto and the pork shoulder with sweet potatoes. Some of the best food I've ever eaten — If the wait is too long, they have a sister restaurant (with the same chef) that is called "El Bartelomeo" and is right around the corner.


2. El Rinconcillo

The oldest bar in Sevilla, which has been running since 1640, is a great place to take a quick break with drinks & tapas of course. You can't go wrong with some tinto de verano, cheese and espiñacas con garbanzos. And it's right in the neighborhood where I studied abroad :) 


3. Las Tabernas Coloniales

For the ultimate and authentic Spanish tapas, go here! Warning: portion sizes are huge! They don't take reservations, but you can put your name in on a chalkboard and order a drink outside while you wait. I recommend the chicken in almond sauce and the spinach croquettes. 


4. El Contenedor

For the foodies who want a nicer and a little more of a sit-down restaurant feel, this is the place to go! It's considered a slow-cook restaurant and the place really goes for a holistic experience from the ambiance to the food where the servers cater what you order to the order it is brought out. The service is outstanding. They recommend sharing plates as to not overeat and to try more options.I recommend the duck. Tip: Definitely make a reservation online. 


5. Bar Estrella 

Bar Estrella is on Calle Estrella, a tiny, tucked away street about a 10 minute walk from the Cathedral. It's small and quaint with its outdoor seating and the tapas are absolutely delicious — I recommend ordering the solomillo al whiskey. You will not be disappointed! 

SEVILLA: NO8DO, You Have Not Abandoned Me

Sevilla's official motto is NO8DO, No Me Ha Dejado, which means "[Sevilla] has not abandoned me, and I finally have a complete understanding of what this means. This past weekend, I decided to go back to the place I studied abroad for the first time in three years. (I went through CIEE too!) In fact, it had been 1056 days since I left Sevilla, but it felt as if it I still lived there. To be honest, I was worried about going back since my friend, Rhea, went back about a year and half ago and said it was so different. What if I went back and nothing was the same? What if all my favorite spots were gone? What if visiting would somehow taint my favorite experience, my favorite place? Rest assured, none of the above happened, and I truly discovered that Sevilla did not abandon me. A part of it has been with me ever since I left: always with my thoughts, my worries, my happiness, my thinking. Everything. Even if I didn't realize it. It has shaped so much of who I am today and just like living there was an unforgettable experience, going back for the first time was just as special. 


As soon as the bus pulled up, I knew I was in for a weekend of a lifetime. Memories I hadn't thought about in three years came flooding back. I recognized the place where we bought churros the first time we went out and wanted some munchies. I remembered the time Nicole and I took an afternoon to walk around Triana; the time after class we climbed the Torre del Oro; the time at the sangria place where we booked our first trip to Rome and Paris while eating doritos from "the Boxes" or what we would call, the vending machines.


 I'll never forget when I saw Plaza de España for the first time, I cried because of how beautiful it was and this time, I cried because it was even more beautiful than I remembered.


To put it simply, I have never felt a more overwhelming joy — I still knew the 45 minute walk from my university to my home through the windy streets. I recognized the jazz bar my friends and I went to that one time and all my favorite spots (my favorite restaurant, bar, kebab place). They were all untouched. Restaurants I would walk past were ones I had been to once or twice. I felt like I could pinpoint every moment, every memory. 


My favorite memory this weekend was visiting my host family. I had texted my host mom, Manuela, a week before coming explaining that I was living in Madrid and coming to visit and would love nothing more than to see her. I never got a text back, so I decided to bring some flowers and show up, knowing she didn't leave the house very often. After feeling extremely emotional making the walk from the plaza to my house, I rang the doorbell and opened the door to the tightest hug and Manuela's standard three kisses on the cheek. To think I was worried she wouldn't remember me! How silly of me because she remembered me AND my cute sombreros that I would always wear. My travel hats live on!


I spent the next hour and a half catching up with her and her new three-month-old granddaughter, Alegría (who is absolutely adorable). Later on, her daughter, Carmen and son, Pepe came over with the other grandkids, Manuela and Luis who were five and few months respectively when I lived here. It was crazy to see how much they have grown! Since they speak absolutely no English, my Spanish was pouring out of the mouth like I've lived here for three years. I was very impressed with myself to be honest. Manuela asked when my parents are coming back to visit since they got to meet each other last time, and this was one of my favorite memories of study abroad. Coming back and spending time with them was an experience so near and dear to my heart. Manuela kept trying to feed me, offered me my old bed to stay and packed me a Bocadillo for the road. Nothing had changed. I promised I would be back soon.

I can't explain the magic that is Sevilla. It's a charming, quintessential Spanish city that is so rich in culture and beauty. If you know, you know. From walks along the river to visiting the cathedral, no wonder it's Lonely Planet's #1 place to travel to in 2018. It's been mine since 2014. I plan on giving my top recommendations for Sevilla in another post but wanted to put my weekend into words first. Sevilla, you are one-of-a-kind. 

All the Pintxos!

All the Pintxos. That was our motto when visiting País Vasco. Unsure of what really a Pintxo was, I did some light exploring on the difference between a tapa and a pintxo. The only time I've ever heard of a pintxo was at my favorite Spanish restaurant in Chicago, Café Ba Ba Reeba. There, pintxos are just one, small, bite-size piece of a stuffed olive or chorizo wrapped date. At least, that's what the waiter told us on my last brunch on Chicago before heading here. Although small, they are delicious! I mean, everything there is, let's be real. But the tapas there are definitely meant to share since the portions are bigger.


So what are pintxos? 

Pintxos in Spain are usually small snacks eaten at northern bars so, similar to tapas, but pintxos are usually spiked with a skewer or toothpick on a piece of bread (Pinxto literally means "thorn" or "spike".) You can find croquettas or tortilla skewered onto a piece of bread as a pintxo or find more elaborate mixes of ingredients on top of it. I wouldn't consider myself a "foodie" by any means, but I am always excited to try the local cuisine of any place I visit — I was especially pumped to try pintxos in San Sebastian since this city is known for its gastronomical experience. Apparently, it has a high concentration of Michelin chefs, but you know #Ballingonabudget, so the pinxto bars would have to do. (Also, discovered what a Michelin chef was while reading and trying to curb my appetite before heading North). 



The experience 

Upon entering the bar, the pintxos are usually just lined up on the counter and you pick and choose, which ones you want to try. We really took my Dad's motto, "it's a marathon, not a sprint" to heart since we went on a pintxo crawl and hopped from bar to bar eating our way through San Sebastián. Do as the basques do, right? Well, the food did not disappoint. Some favorites included a spicy meatball, goat cheese topped with caramelized onions and walnuts and a few other ones that we had no idea what they were even after asking the waitress. We (sometimes) remembered to take some pictures before devouring and indulging. Check out some pics below (thank you to my friend, Christine, for her amazing lens!) Still daydreaming about the next time I head North to have more of this amazing cuisine. 


Off the Grid?

 How to embrace the moment in this age of technology. 


Detoxing from social media is something, I admit, I need to do more often. How many times have you said or thought "I need to stop scrolling through my newsfeed" whether that would be right before bed, or while you're writing a blog (me) or when you should be doing work/homework and you find yourself creeping back into your friend's cousin's sister's blogger friend's Instagram and #Liketoknowit page. We've all been there. I hope. Because I have way too many times.


Before I came over to Madrid, I had this notion that it would be the same like when I studied abroad...(which I'll get into in another post). I wouldn't have a data plan for my phone and just use whatever Wifi (pronounced wee-fee, because Spain) was available. I remember it being so refreshing making plans beforehand and meeting up and you had a 15 minute timeframe to arrive to the predetermined destination before your group left you (hello! The good ol days!) I lived very in the moment then. Oh, the simpler times.


Well, I have to say that is so not how it is here. I have to have a phone plan to talk with my school, make appointments, and other logistical life problems and situations that require technology for convenience and that's totally fine with me. I get it. However, I find myself being sucked into it all sometimes, way more so than three years ago. Maybe because I'm not in my own study abroad bubble anymore. I'm really living here. I do use social media now to get recommendations, connect with people, and post as a Teach Abroad Correspondent.... While still sometimes aimlessly scrolling. Honestly, it affects and triggers a lot of my anxiety. It takes away being in the moment and reminding myself I'm in Spain... and this maybe won't last forever. TBD on whether I ever move back. 

Don't get me wrong. When I'm traveling, I don't have data and since my Spanish phones dies so fast (hi, iphone 5), I do feel "off the grid" when I'm in a different country. I usually just have my DSLR camera and snap a few pictures and for the most part take it all in with my own eyes. I love it. It's when I'm at my happiest and calmest, just being, breathing and taking it in. I think we all need to do it more often. Take your quick photos but put. it. away. I look around and people at museums and at famous monuments and they are all on their phones. Selfie photo anyone? But seriously. What are you going to do with approximately 50+ photos of the same thing? Share all 50+ photos on Facebook? Show all your friends when you get home? Highly doubtful. Is it just going to sit in your icloud library, filling up storage until you get that annoying storage almost full notification??? I hope my frustration is radiating through your screen. Even from three years ago, It seems like a completely different world to me. People are just more addicted. But then, here I am when I'm not traveling..being THAT person on their phone....so I'm a hypocrite for this.


Just one of my many reflections while being here: I need to incorporate my traveling habits with me in my day to day life and stop looking at the nightmare of the screen and aimlessly scrolling when it's not needed. Communicate when necessary and put it away. We'll see how this goes and if I can follow my advice in the following weeks. Now, my advice would be to leave this page, exit the browser and be off the grid for a little awhile :) It's good for the soul. 


Home is where...

Home to me is so much more than where you simply live. To me, it's a place that welcomes you with open arms whenever you return to it, it's a place where you grow and learn about yourself, it's a place of significance, and a place that steals your heart and a place that you give your heart to. I've liked to think I've had four homes so far with Madrid, being the fourth. 

1. Darien, IL "A nice place to live"

2. Miami University, #LoveandHonor

3. Sevilla, NO8DO, No me ha dejado 

4. Madrid, TBD, Still working on the slogan.  



From the moment I arrived, it felt like I never left Spain. Keep in mind, I had never been to Madrid, specifically before, but walking in Lavapiés and La Latina along the cobblestone drinks, stopping for some tortilla española and tinto de verano (Missed you SO MUCH!), I literally thought that I have lived here before. There are plenty of differences between Madrid and Sevilla, which I'll get into in another post, but there's just something about Spain in general. I had the same feeling arriving three years ago. The air smelled of both adventure and calmness and gave me the most comforting Déjà vu (Can Déjà vu be comforting? Usually it freaks me out, but I'm going with it this time).



But it only took about 2 weeks for me to start calling it home. That happened way faster than I thought it was, but I think diving into orientation and finding an apartment on the 3rd day, things just happen at lightening speed. 


So when was the moment? I travelled to Palma de Mallorca with a group of  CIEE girls September 13-16 and while I loved the beach and exploring the island, I arrived home and I remember unlocking the door, stepping across the threshold with my suitcase and thinking, "Wow, it feels like I've been gone forever. It's good to be home." Then cue my roommate, Gianna, running toward me saying "You're back! You're back!" and me replying, "I'm home! I'm back home!" While it was a literal moment, it filled me with comfort and while I've been all over the place these past two weeks, I was so relaxed and happy.  There is something to be said about coming back to the familiar. Calle Magdalena looked a little brighter, a little warmer and Plaza de Antón Martín seemed serene, and the Kebab place looked more delicious than ever before. No lie. 


Now I guess the next step is making a list of the things the locals do, so I can actually call myself a madrileña. 

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