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Uno, Dos, Tres: Stepping into Salsa


Uno, dos, tres; cinco, seis, siete….

They say that it’s good to try new things, but that’s just not something I’ve ever been good at. I am a creature of habit who loves routine and hates change.

So when I think about it, it’s actually very strange that I have a passion for travel. Going to new places where everything - culture, language, food, you name it - is different inherently catapults me into the realm of change and trying new things.

Lucky for me, living abroad has made me less afraid to embrace change. Wanting to truly feel like a part of another country inspires me to break out of my comfort zone. I’ve now reached a point where I’m not only accepting new things, I’m seeking them out.

Salsa dancing has always been on my list of things I wish I could do, but something has always stopped me from trying it. From not having time for lessons to not being coordinated enough, I expertly pushed off going for it with excuse after excuse.

That is, until I moved to Spain. My new adventurous spirit took over and signed me up for Salsa Cubana classes.

My heart was pounding at the start of my first lesson, but as the rhythmic steps gave me something to focus on, my nerves were completely forgotten. Uno, dos, tres, I was whirling across the dance floor, spinning and turning with pure joy; cinco, seis, siete, my whole mind, heart, body, and soul were connected and living in this happy moment. I was salsa dancing!

I’ve walked out of each class with cheeks glowing from the warmth of exercise and heart glowing with a sense of pride and accomplishment. While I may only know very basic salsa steps as of now, I’ve taken a giant step in the direction of personal growth. I can confirm that it’s true what they say - trying new things is a very good thing. So go for it!


As I’m about to enter my last full week of teaching abroad I am still at a lost for words as to what I should say about my time so far. Obviously, spending three months immersed in a entirely different culture has felt as if I just stepped out of my life for a little bit with the hopes that whatever happens would help me discover more about myself. Although expected, I have experienced challenges every day working as as an English teacher, ranging from controlling a class of 20+ 13-year-olds who don’t speak the same language as me to understanding the dynamics among teachers and students. With the latter I am referring to the culture shock of a rural school where there is such a familiarity among students and teachers to the point where, to me, the way students behave can come off as openly disrespectful. However, I have been learning these past couple of months that, instead of judging everything that is different, I need to contextualize that yes, I am in a new culture that I can’t reconcile everything. Sometimes you have to use what’s new as tools for better understanding where you come from and how you can apply these differences to future experiences. Therefore I think it is best to reflect on what I have learned from my time in rural Spain in a holistic context. With that I mean considering all my experiences, not just teaching, because inevitably they all have and continue to shape me. So here I go…

Take time for yourself (aka siestas are good for you). Yes, I am taking advantage of the afternoon “break time” embedded in Spanish culture. This essentially means that in the afternoons it is common for people to not work, go home and relax (sometimes nap) for a few hours and then go back to work at night. This is perfect to avoid over-working and to keep yourself grounded instead of feeling exhausted all day, especially as I go back to being a Dartmouth student.

Time and money don’t mean everything - never stare at your watch and never base your priorities in life solely on money. At the end it’s the people and places who you surround yourself with that matter more because they are still there for you when money isn’t.

Don’t ever be afraid to open your mind and go somewhere new. I have had many opportunities to travel, whether that be to large cities or even smaller villages than the one I am living in now and am glad I didn’t just chose to stick with what I know but to see new places and new ways of life. I think it is important for all of us to make an effort to do that in our lives because if we don’t we are just going to let our bubble of familiarity mark the rest of our lives.

Always go for dessert and that extra glass of wine. The way Spaniards eat here is a little different than in the U.S., with the main difference being that eating is very social to the point where people very rarely eat alone and that large meals can last more than 3 hours. People here eat and drink to enjoy life and those around them rather than counting calories. The concept of just going out to a bar or cafe to “tomar algo” with someone also signifies the importance placed on the people in life rather than things.

Words cannot describe the beauty in nature and we should always take time away from the busyness of life to appreciate tranquility. I am still not a nature person (partially thanks to being raised by parents from NYC) but having had the opportunity to live amongst the mountains and go on a few hikes and just think, I don’t believe there’s another way to feel at peace with the world, no matter what is going on in your life.

Always listen to kids. Not only do they have a lot to say but a lot of questions and insight into the world. I have enjoyed working with the kids in my high school and have actually learned so much from just taking the time to talk to them.

There is much more to communicating than by just with words. Being that my main struggle here has been with the language, I’ve learned to read people’s faces better and that tones and expressions sometimes matter more when talking to someone and that you should always be conscious of that.

The importance of community in one’s life, whether that be your family, close friends, people you work with and interact with everyday or those that make time for you (so make time for them too)

What it means to truly love

For this post, I tried writing a Spanish version on my own so please bear with the errors :)

Mientras estoy empezando mi última semana entera de ser profesora en el extranjero, todavía no sé las palabras que debo decir sobre mi tiempo aquí. Obviamente, porque estoy pasando tres meses metiéndome en lleno en una cultura distinta, sentí como si hubiera salido de mi vida por un rato con la esperanza de lo que pasaría me ayudaría descubrir más sobre quién soy. Aunque me los figuraba, experimentaba retos cada día trabajando de profesora de inglés, como manejando un clase de 20+ alumnos de la edad 13, quienes no hablan el mismo idioma que yo, y entendiendo los dinámicos entre profesores y alumnos. Con el último me refiero al choque cultural de un instituto rural donde hay tanta familiaridad entre alumnos y profesores hasta el punto que, en mi opinión, el comportamiento de los alumnos puede mostrar una falta de respeto. Sin embargo, en estos meses estoy aprendiendo que, en vez de juzgar a todo que me parece diferente, necesito contextualizar que si, estoy en una nueva cultura y por eso, no puedo reconciliar todo. A veces tienes que utilizar lo que es nuevo como herramientas para entender mejor a dónde eres y cómo puedes aplicar esas diferencias a tus experiencias en el futuro. Entonces, creo que es mejor reflejar en lo que he aprendido de mi tiempo en Espana rural a través de un contexto holístico. Es decir que voy a considerar todas de mis experiencias, no solo las de enseñar, porque inevitablemente todas me han moldeado y continúan a moldearme. Así que aquí voy...

Dedica tiempo para ti (siestas son buenos). Si, estoy aprovechando de las horas de descanso por las tardes que son un gran parte de la cultura española. Fundamentalmente significa que en las tardes, es común no trabajar, ir a casa y relajar (a veces dormir la siestas) por algunas horas y después volver a trabajar por la noche. Es perfecto para evitar trabajando demasiado duro y para basar tu vida en ti en vez de estar cansado todo el día, lo que será importante para mi cuando vuelva a ser estudiante de Dartmouth.

El tiempo y el dinero no son todos - nunca mires tu reloj todo el día y nunca bases tus prioridades de la vida solamente en el dinero. Al final la gente y los lugares que están en tu alrededor son los que te importan más porque todavía están allí para ti cuando el dinero no está.

Nunca tengas miedo de abrir la mente y ir a un sitio nuevo. He tenido muchas oportunidades para viajar, ya sea a las ciudades grandes o pueblos más pequeños que mi pueblo y me alegro que yo no solo quedara con lo familiar sino experimentar nuevos lugares y maneras de vivir. Creo que es importante para intentar hacerlo en nuestras vidas porque si no lo hacemos, lo que es familiar marcará el resto de nuestras vidas.

Siempre come el postre y bebe la copa extra de vino. La manera en que los españoles comen aquí es un poco diferente que hay los Estados Unidos, con la diferencia principal siendo que a comer es más social hasta al punto donde rara vez se come solo y que comidas grandes pueden durar más de 3 horas. Ellos comen y beben para gozar la vida y hablar con otros en vez de comer para contar las calorías. El concepto de ir a un bar o café para tomar algo con alguien también significa la importancia de las personas que existen en tu vida sobre las cosas materiales.

Las palabras no pueden describir la belleza en la naturaleza y siempre debemos dedicar tiempo fuera de la vida ocupada para apreciar la tranquilidad. Todavía no soy una persona de la naturaleza (gracias a mis padres de la ciudad de Nueva York) pero haber tenido la oportunidad de vivir entre las montañas y dar algunos paseos y pensar, no creo que haya otra manera donde se puede estar en paz con el mundo a pesar de lo que está pasando en tu vida.

Siempre escucha a los niños. No solo tienen mucho para decir pero también tienen muchas preguntas y percepciones del mundo. Fue un placer conocer a los alumnos en mi instituto y de verdad y he aprendido mucho porque he dedicado tiempo para hablar con ellos.

Hay mucho más para comunicarse que no son en las palabras. Porque mi dificultad principal aquí ha sido el idioma, he aprendido leer las caras mejor y que los tonos y expresiones a veces valen más cuando se habla con alguien y que siempre debes estar consciente de eso.

La importancia de la comunidad en la vida, ya sea tu familia, amigos cercanos, la gente que trabaja contigo, ellos que se relacionan contigo cada día o ellos que dedican el tiempo para ti (entonces, dedica tiempo para ellos también)

Lo que significa amar de verdad

Un abrazo,


Same Adventure, Different Day

I love working as an auxiliar! AND I am really excited to continue my journey abroad... BUT I also want to be honest and, honestly, sometimes I get sucked into a routine and end up feeling stuck.  

Maybe you know the feeling?

When you first arrive in a new country or a new place (whether it is a physical place or a mental place - a new city, a new relationship, a new job...) it usually feels exciting and exhilarating.  There is so much to learn and things seem great!  Slowly, you start to settle into a routine.  You get comfortable and you start to feel less overwhelmed as you begin to look around and realize that time is passing by! 

As an auxiliar it is easy to jump in with a feeling of adventure - you may start out thinking that you are going to be the person that makes the difference in teaching the students to love English and they are going to all be fluent by the time you finish the year.  Then, one morning, you might wake up and see that, you´re tired and you aren't really feeling as enthusiastic as you started out.  The students are still antsy during morning routines and some of them still can't seem to get the difference between "yes, they are" and "no, they aren't"... You get up to the board and begin going through the activities in the book and maybe you feel a little "deja vu" of having done the same thing yesterday.  You´ve fallen into a monotonous routine and you know you can't keep living that way!

So what do you do? When life has become monotonous, how do you break that feeling that you’re living in your own personal version of "Groundhog Day"?

image from goo.gl

  1. Switch it up!  
    Talk to your teacher(s) and see if they would be willing to let you change the routine - try a different activity - play a new game.  Sometimes you need a change as much as your students do.  I think this can be said for any monotonous situation... sometimes changing the routine can bring back some of the excitement that you started with.
  2. Plan ahead...
    You know that the feeling of monotony is going to happen at some point.  The year may start out easily enough - your presence alone in the classroom is exciting, but eventually that’s not going to be enough.  The students will become accustomed to seeing you and you will lose some of the mystery that you walked in the door with.  So, plan for that.  Keep things exciting by finding or creating vocabulary games that can be adapted to the various units.
  3. Talk through it.
    Sometimes you just need someone to commiserate with - to share your frustrations and doubts after a long, repetitive, week.  But don’t get too comfortable in the complaining stage or you’ll never get to the most important step... 
  4. Be inspired :)
    Whether it’s that vent-session that leads to some new thoughts of things you can change or add in the classroom, or taking some time to intentionally evaluate how students are improving (and recogninzing that you’re playing a role in that!), or even just reflecting on what your goal(s) for your time as an auxiliar where/are; let yourself be inspired to be the best language assistant that you can be and to do the best good that you can.  


-Stephanie Moss
(1 Cor. 15:58)

Granada: Part II

Let’s talk about tapas.  Tapas in Granada are, as some would say, next level.  Tapas in Granada are when you pay 2-euros for a drink and are gifted a plate of something substantial.  In Madrid, when you order a drink, you usually will get a bowl of olives or potato chips with it.  In Granada, IN GRANADA I SAID, you may get any of the following plates with your ~2-euro drink:

  • Paella (Bodegas Castañeda - special housemade vermouth from a barrel as well)
  • Potatoes with ali-oli (Bar Aixa)
  • Meatballs with patatas fritas (La Porrona)
  • A mini hamburger with patatas fritas (La Botilleria - amazing, would eat sit-down dinner here)
  • A piece of bread with a slice of jamón, olive oil, tomato, and olives (Taberna La Tana - for wine lovers and everyone)
  • Sliced chorizo in a wine sauce (Bar La Riviera - you get to choose the tapa you’d like!)
  • Patatas caseras with bacon, onion, and a creamy cheesy sauce (Bar La Riviera)
  • A plate of fried sardines (Bar Los Diamantes, go early otherwise very crowded, one of the most well-known in Granada)
  • Tosta with guacamole and squid (El Cambalache, this was incredible)

And there is so much more!  So much more, the list goes on and on.  Moral of the story: after your beautiful day seeing the Alhambra, go on a self-guided tapas tour!  Start early to avoid crowds.  Or go late if you like the crowds!  If you see people outside an establishment with drinks and a small plate of food, it usually means you’ll get that plate of food free with your drink.

Now let’s talk about ice cream.  Helados San Nicolas, right by the viewpoint, which will seem like an outdoor party.  Vendors abound at the Mirador, people gather for the view of the Alhambra and the rest of the city.  I had a beautiful purple cone of lavender ice cream while looking at the Alhambra from a few ways away.  A bit more peaceful.  And there’s a splendid backdrop of the Alhambra in the shop for a photo-op!

The special dessert of Granada is the Pionono - a very VERY sweet little cake with sweeter sweet stuff on top named after Pope Pius IX who was supposed to come to Granada but didn’t (according to a tour guide?).  The dessert remains.  I enjoyed a spontaneous eclair from a bakery in Plaza Larga even more.  Be free with your food choices.  You never know what could surprise you.

So what are you waiting for??  Go get some tapas in Granada!  The Andalucian weather is just one of the many draws.

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The Uncomfortable Life


I’ve always lived by the quote that goes something like “life begins when you step out of your comfort zone.” This means that I like to keep the perspective that once you’re settled and feel comfortable with where you’re at in life, something ought to change. I’m aware that many people would not agree with this view and would question what kind of person would choose to get rid of the peace that she has right now in her life, namely who would choose discomfort over comfort? I am not underrating the happiness that comes with comfort - I mean, who doesn’t enjoy those lazy Sunday mornings in bed where you can allow the sound of the TV and coffeemaker to consume your world, where you can feel both physically and mentally comfortable with yourself. I am however emphasizing what I find as important when it comes to making life meaningful and interesting - and that involves opening doors that we have always imagined as being forever shut and treating each day as a new opportunity to learn and make mistakes. It’s understanding that you’ll never do anything perfect but at the same time there’s no loss in trying. It’s accepting that you’ll make many mistakes and that you never want to wake up one day thinking “I should have..” or “I wish I had…” because that would just be a waste of time. It’s instead being brave enough to let go of the normal and easy and bracing the challenge and foreign. In this sense I do not imply that latter invokes a negative outlook on life but rather makes the unfamiliar now familiar. But even if the negative comes to fruition and dominates the positive, so be it. At least I will always know I tried.

Now, what does all this abstractness have to do with teaching abroad at 20? It explains exactly why I decided to embark on this experience in the first place and to be honest, I must say that it has been uncomfortable and challenging (and it’s still not over!) and that yes, I could have done something more comfortable and easier with my time off. This past weekend my Spanish family took me climbing up a mountain with four large dogs in the cold snow. Many of you reading this know that I am not a fan of heights nor hiking nor snow but I went anyway, imagining it would be short and that I might actually enjoy it. Unfortunately, I’m not mentioning this to bring you a happy story; on the contrary I hated the hike and felt that with every step I was going to slip and fall to my doom and I wouldn’t even have cell service my last moments. Of course, four plus hours later I made it back and survived another week teaching English. 

My Spanish sister, Mónica, kept reminding me (in Spanish, of course) that I needed to trust her and there was no point in being scared of something that you have not tried yet. She told me that I needed to look at this as a new experience and that you can’t live in fear of something foreign to you. Being my stubborn self I responded by saying that I will never do something like this for the rest of my life (a promise I still plan on keeping today, says the Floridian in me). However, Mónica is 100% right. You should never choose to not put yourself out there for the sake of failure and disappointment, no matter where you are in life. Because my time here in Spain is teaching me how to live without expectations (frankly, Spaniards still surprise me everyday) I plan on continuing to incorporate this new fearlessness into every aspect of my life, from relationships to work to the knowledge I take in every day. I guess this is what is characterizing my hiatus, understanding how to change the feeling of being out of place to one of knowing you had the courage to leave your comfort zone and be there.

Un abrazo,


p.s. for those wondering, I will be returning to the U.S. in exactly 20 days :0 

To apply or not... is that even a question??

It’s March... And the sun finally came out today (after a week of rain)! I was on a run the other day and I realized that I, and all those who arrived in Madrid to begin work in October, have been working as an auxiliar (English Language Assistant) for over 5 months now. It is truly amazing to think back on where we began and where we are now.  One year ago I had yet to even apply for the CIEE Teach Abroad Program and now here I am. And I can only imagine where I will be in a few months time...

In mid-September I arrived in Madrid for CIEE’s Orientation. I was thrown into a week of information to help prepare us all for what would follow. There was information about banking, phone services, TIE appointments, housing, classroom lesson-planning and more... It seemed almost like a blur as we rushed from one thing to the next, getting ready to settle into life in Madrid. I remember getting my SIM card for my phone on day 1, deciding that communication was one of my top priorities at that moment. Later, we were given information about banking and various banks that would be easiest to work with. Another young woman and I in the program got up early one morning - before the day’s first session began - to be at the Banco Sabadell, closest to the hotel, as soon as they opened so that we could get our bank accounts set up right away and make it back to the hotel for when the session started. Everyone began the frantic search for housing, each in their own ways... some people had better (and faster) luck than others and those “others” found different methods of coping - whether staying with friends, booking an “air b’n’b” or a hostel, or widening their view of what the “perfect” place might actually look like or even considering options like being “au pairs” and living with a Spanish family.
The whirlwind of the first two weeks in Madrid is something that now makes me smile. I won’t lie, it was a little crazy and even, at times, a bit overwhelming. But, looking back, from where I am today, I’m glad I stuck with it! I have spoken to many different language assistants over the year. Some have, like me, had awesome luck with housing and have remained at their original location; other individuals have switched living situations (some have even switched multiple times).
I have made wonderful friends with the auxiliars and teachers at my school.  I have even begun looking at Master's programs with a growing interest in bilingual education.  I love the family that I live with and I appreciate the honest day-to-day immersion into the Spanish lifestyle and culture. I have travelled a bit (and still have more to see) and continue to learn a lot.

And so, as the time to apply (or re-apply) rapidly approaches, I will only say this: to spend one year (or more) teaching abroad will teach you a great deal about yourself. You may find courage you didn’t know that you had, or you may find yourself forced to face things you would have shied away from in your home country, you may find a passion for teaching or traveling or for a country and a culture that you would never have expected.
Whatever you find, it could change everything... if you are willing to try!
-Stephanie Moss
(Dt 31:6)

Where to go for the February Puente

What is a puente, you ask? A puente is a long weekend break! This year, the break fell on Thursday, February 15 and Friday, February 16. That meant four full days!

Many people by mid February are ready to escape the cold. So where to travel to? Most CIEE auxiliares decided to use this time to visit a tropical island for Carnival, like Tenerife. Others went to Morocco, and a few went to Portugal. All of these destinations are relatively inexpensive, and if you plan ahead accordingly, flights are not outrageous either. So have fun, plan ahead, and make sure you get out and see a new part of southern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula or Northern Africa!

Don't let any one tell you differently - Madrid has a long winter! I know, it's Spain, so you must be thinking, "It can't really be that cold right? After all, Spain is the land of sunshine- I mean, the center of the capital is called Sol for a reason."

I once thought this too. Coming from sunny California, I did not understand what "cold" meant. But, Madrid does get cold. Temperatures drop below 0 degrees Celsius in winter, especially at night. It also rains, a lot.

We have ten days of rain in the weather forecast this week. This is the last week of February, and Friday is the first day of March. That means umbrellas! Luckily, Spaniards have paraguas available for a few euros in almost every corner store.

My advice to you, world travelers, is to bring winter clothes on your Spanish adventure. Coats, gloves, scarves. Because what you won't bring, you will want to buy in November the moment the weather turns chilly.
Or maybe leave them at home and buy these essentials here anyway to ensure you are fashionably Spanish!

Granada: Part I

Granada is a stew of religions.  A stone-roaded, twisty-streeted, living history map.  Coca-cola signs hang above bars in circles of the signature Grenadine white-and-blue ceramic style.  Street names change at every intersection, even while continuing in the same direction.  A small archway leads down a tiny street of shops, formerly a silk market.  Around the corner is the Aljibe de Trillo, which holds just some of the secrets to the city’s genius water system.  Teterías (Arab-influenced tea-rooms) calmly await visitors.  Carmens abound with orange trees and special views of, oh yes, the Alhambra.  

The Alhambra sits atop the city, guarding and guiding it as it has for centuries through all sorts of transitions.  The complex dates to about the 13th or 14th century (though there may have been construction earlier).  Now you can visit: Generalife (palace and gardens), Palacio de Carlos V (16th-17th-century Roman-style palace with circular inside and small art museum), Palacios Nazaríes (the most well-known with incredible patios, ceilings, and the quintessential tiles sold in souvenir shops around the country), and the Alcazaba (lookout point with flags and views of the city and surrounding mountains).  Quranic ideals flood the Palacios Nazaríes and Generalife in particular with patios of ponds, greenery, and fountains, paradise in the sacred book of Islam, as well as script from text itself.   

Once the Catholics took over the Iberian Peninsula, at the end of the 1400s by Ferdinand and Isabella (los reyes católicos), they continued using the Alhambra, described to us as a “city” by a local tour-guide.  But they destroyed the Great Mosque, and, upon that exact spot, placed a church.  Our tour-guide explained that a key to understanding the city is that the shift to Catholic rule did not entail eradication of all that had come before (though there was destruction).  So when he pointed out the Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana, he noted that the tower still looks exactly like a minaret, and still has the blue and white patterns from the time of Muslim-rule--it’s mudejar and reflects the coexistence of Muslim and Christian cultures.  

Today, the main cathedral of Granada is the second-largest in Spain.  We only got a brief look inside, but it seemed like one of the more interesting cathedrals in Spain visually.  The inside is a bright white--quite a change from the usual tannish brown stone.  The outside, though, does have that tan color, which makes the inside that much more exciting.  A mosque was here before, and it was destroyed and replaced with the cathedral.  According to Rick Steves, there was a plot of land nearby that would have been more suitable for the building of the cathedral, but the new rulers insisted on using the same plot as the mosque.  Also according to Steves, the “Ave Maria” at front-and-center of the cathedral’s facade was accepted by the Muslims because Mary plays a large role in the Quran.  This is just one of many tidbits of information that make Granada unique.  Though the religion in power shifted, there were still aspects of the previous culture that remained and kept it alive with the city’s inhabitants.

Instead of paying to go further into the cathedral, we decided we couldn’t pass on the Capilla Real--the burial site of Ferdinand and Isabel.  The right decision.  Though creepy in ways, the tombs of the Catholic Monarchs (as well as their daughter, Juana, and her husband, Felipe I) are aesthetically remarkable.  Carvings surround every side of the large cubes--the eternal beds of the royals--on which the monarchs lay.  On the tomb of Juana and Felipe, each monarch has an animal for a footrest and a pillow for their head.  On the other tomb, Ferdinand and Isabel have animals at their feet, but not below them.  All of the pillows are intricately carved with patterns and tassels.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Apparently some attribute Isabel’s large impression in her pillow, larger than Ferdinand’s, as a symbol of her intelligence.   

And if visitors aren’t already bombarded with the visual superiority of the monarchs, across from their tomb is the altar.  Not just any altar.  This is a humongous gold altarpiece filled with dioramas dedicated to various saints and biblical stories.  Two deaths of saints are centrally represented, one of which I remember for certain involves a beheading--one figure holds the head up next to the beheaded body.  Most interestingly, Ferdinand and Isabel are represented at each side of the altar on their knees praying.  The whole piece looks like a toy dollhouse, figures have skin-tones, eyeballs of color, vibrant outfits, and hairstyles.  The attempt at realism is alarming, as is the juxtaposition of this altar of colors-galore with the stone-gray tombs.  I’m not used to seeing life-size color sculptures of 15th-century monarchs.

Just beyond the tombs is Isabel's art collection, including pieces by Rogier van der Weyden, Sandro Botticelli, and Hans Memling.  Just before leaving are two sculptures of Isabel and Ferdinand kneeling in prayer.  These are the originals that were by the altar inside.  Ferdinand (I believe) didn't think they looked pious enough, or something like that.  Exit the Capilla Real, and you're back on the streets of incense.  To be continued...

Illusion of Immersion


One of my personal goals for my Teach Abroad in Spain year was to solidify my conversational Spanish. What better way to immerse myself in Spanish than by living among the Spanish and doing as the Spanish do?

It seemed like the perfect plan in theory, but after a month or so of living in Madrid, I realized how surprisingly easy it is to not speak Spanish in Spain. I discovered a dangerous trap, one that I’ve dubbed “the English Bubble.”

What is the English Bubble?

It’s the fact that despite living in a non-English speaking country, I spent the majority of my time speaking in English when I first moved here. My language assistant job is in English, of course, but that was only the beginning. Unless I made a strong effort to start conversation with the Spanish teachers during coffee break, it was all too easy to just chat with my fellow auxiliares in English. Along the same lines, a lot of the friends I’d made were native English speakers, and it felt weird to try to speak Spanish with them. Many store attendants and restaurant servers recognized my American accent and would switch to English for me, making it awkward to continue speaking in Spanish, and many sources of information - menus, brochures, signs, etc - were all available in English.

At times I was grateful to not have to strain to use a non-native language all the time, but as comforting as my English Bubble was, it meant that when I finally found myself in a situation where I had no choice but to speak Spanish, I was all of the sudden too nervous and self-conscious about my abilities. I would wilt into a stuttering, jumbled mess. After several months of living in Spain, I came to the horrifying realization that my dream of becoming fluent in Spanish was still no where close to coming true.

So, I took a hard look in the mirror and decided to make some changes. I signed up for Spanish classes, as well as some salsa classes taught entirely in Spanish. I started making a very deliberate effort to speak with the Spanish teachers during coffee break at work. I chose the Spanish TV shows on Netflix and put on Spanish subtitles or dubbing for English shows, and before I knew it, I was surprising myself with how much I could understand and produce. I started picking up new vocabulary and feeling more confident with verb tenses and grammatical structures, and it felt amazing.

I had to learn the hard way that language immersion is an illusion. Just living in a Spanish environment isn’t enough to magically become fluent - language skills don’t subconsciously soak into our brains (at least not as adults!). It takes deliberate effort and active participation in language practice for immersion to be able to do its job. It’s most certainly not easy, but it’s most definitely worth it.

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