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11 posts categorized "Rebekah Anaya"

Semana Santa

If you want a truly Spanish experience, I highly recommend heading to Andalucia for Semana Santa! As teachers, we are given about a week and a half off, which is plenty of time to travel around and explore all the sights! Last time that I lived in Spain (Huelva), I used the long break to visit my cousins who lived in Moldova, a decision I don't regret since they moved back to the U.S. soon afterwards. However, having lived in Andalucia and missed this enormous celebration, I always had a desire to go back and experience what I missed out on. Fast forward a few years, I 'm now living in Madrid and voila! I have the chance to actually go experience it.

For my trip, I took the train from Cordoba to Sevilla and then took a bus from Sevilla to Huelva to visit some old friends and enjoy the beach. Each city had some amazing processions and beautiful sights to enjoy. Cordoba was perhaps my favorite for viewing the processions as it was easily to find them just by listening for the sound of the marching bands in the streets and was also less crowded than Sevilla, however, Sevilla did have more to offer.

Semana Santa is the week before Easter (the dates of which change depending on when the first full moon of spring is, so it can be either at the end of March or towards the beginning of April). Many people also have the Friday before that week and the Monday after off as well. In Spain, Semana Santa is traditionally celebrated with religious processions filling the streets. This is most popular in Andalucia where the processions can start at 5:00 in the afternoon and easily last until 2:00 in the morning. Several of the larger churches near the city centers will sponsor a procession, which will typically leave from their church and finish at the city's cathedral. Each procession is made up of penitents (people dressed up in long robes and tall hoods), a float of Jesus, which is followed by a float of Mary, one or two marching bands playing somber music, and sometimes women dressed in traditional black veils and black dresses to mourn. The floats are carried by many people underneath. All of this adds up to quite a scene flowing through the streets of Andalusian cities! 

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If you are interested in enjoying this uniquely Spanish tradition, here are some of my tips for Semana Santa:

1. Make sure you book in advance. Everyone in Spain travels during this week since they have a bit of time off. A lot of tourists also travel to Andalucia during this time for the Semana Santa experience.

2. Stay in Sevilla for at least the Thursday and Good Friday of Easter. Plan to stay up most of the night as you watch the processions continue on to dawn on these days. It's an incredible experience to hear the cries of the women following the processions and the bursts of mournful songs that come from people on the balconies. 

3. Sight see during the first part of the day and then plan to watch the processions in the late afternoon and evening. 

4. Pick up a processional schedule booklet from the local tourist information office as soon as you get into the city. This will give you all the times and locations of the processions throughout the week. 

5. Also pick up the schedule of tourist attractions as many are either closed or have reduced hours through Semana Santa.

5. When in doubt, always go to the cathedral. All of the processions will pass through the cathedral of each city, so if you can't figure out where all of the processions are, just plant yourself outside the cathedral to watch. 

6. Bring sunscreen!! It might be early spring time, but the sun is quite strong here in Spain and you can get a pretty bad burn just walking around the city. 

 7. Pack a small bag with water and snacks, especially if you plan on doing a bit of walking around or want to see several processions at once. It's easy to get dehydrated with all that sun and you won't want to ruin the processional experience by being hungry while watching. Just don't go over board or you might have trouble getting in to some of the castles and museums to visit.

8. Bring a light sweater or jacket. The temperature changes quite drastically in Spain with the sun, so you'll probably be a little chilly in the morning, evening, or sometimes in the shade too, even if it's quite warm in the middle of the day. 

9. Make sure you have a camera! This is something you'll definitely want to capture on film. 

10. Enjoy! =)


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Springtime and Easter

At school, we recently finished the second trimester and just got out for Semana Santa. I think everyone needed this week and a half break, students and teachers alike. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, which means this year it was a little bit later than usual. Since we are in Spain, the end of the second and start of the third trimesters are planned around this Easter break, making for an almost 4 month-long trimester. We still had some days off between New Year's and now, but everyone was getting a little antsy at school. Here are some tips for how to keep your students engaged until the end:

1. Get the students involved. Lectures just before a long break will put anyone to sleep. It's actually recommended for language learning that the students should be doing about 70% of the talking and the teachers only about 30%. Since a lot of people travel during this time off, we had students tell us about all their exciting upcoming adventures. 

2.  Have fun. Playing games (some of our favorites are board races, charades, mafia, guess who, etc. will go a long way to keeping your students not only awake, but also enjoying the learning process. Since it was Easter, we did an Easter egg hunt within the classroom after talking about traditional celebration differences between Spain and the US and the relevance behind our symbols. I brought in chocolate eggs for the hunt, and since quite a few students were out on a school trip, it thankfully wasn't an expensive splurge (for my private students I also made cookies or dyed eggs with them).

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3. Change it up a bit. Students get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Since it was right before break and we don't watch a lot of videos, we decided to show some Easter videos (Charlie Brown & the History Channel proved to be good resources for this). The students did have to take notes and discuss what they saw afterwards, but they were happy to see Snoopy and Charlie Brown instead of doing more grammar exercises. 

4. Encourage participation. Even if a student makes more mistakes than what he gets right, I still want him to try! You learn from trying and correcting your mistakes when you make them. If a student knows you will be encouraging and not condescending when they make mistakes, they will be more likely to try and get involved. 

5. Build good rapport with your students. This is something that started way back at the beginning of the year, but having them know that you respect and care about them goes a long way in keeping them engaged. This can be done in several ways, but with my students, I listen and respond whenever they have concerns and do my best to make sure the games that we play are as fair as possible. I might also have secret handshakes now with several students in the school. =) 

Well, I'm off to go explore Cordoba and revisit Sevilla and Huelva for Semana Santa! I'm sure I will have plenty to post about once I get back. Until then, happy Easter! 

My Top 5 Outdoor Activities in Madrid

Hello everyone! Wow, it's been a while since I last wrote. My apologies. I've been a bit busy traveling and showing family around. Life has become so normal and routine (yet still quite adventuresome) that I've had to think a little bit harder about what to write. Since some of you have either just been accepted to teach in Madrid or are seriously considering it, let me share with you some of the outdoor activities I enjoy doing in Madrid, most of which you can do year-round. 

1. Playing tennis in Casa de Campo
I had never played tennis before coming to Spain, but I've always enjoyed playing sports. Volleyball is my favorite, but with a busy schedule during the week and often traveling on the weekends, I needed something more flexible. Through the Auxiliares en Madrid Facebook page, I found a tennis trainer advertisement and decided to try it out. I love learning something new and being in the huge park where I can breathe some fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, and get some good exercise at the same time. 

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2. Reading a book in Retiro
This particular activity doesn't quite work when it's raining or a little too chilly out, but as Spain is primarily sunny and warm, it is something I enjoy doing quite often. The large park has plenty of green space to either lie in the shade or soak up some sun, as well as a few places to enjoy a coffee while you read, if you prefer.  

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3. Sipping a coffee in Plaza Mayor
To be honest, the food in Plaza Mayor isn't great, but the people watching is amazing! Coffee and people watching are two of my favorite things, and Plaza Mayor provides both. It can be quite amusing to see tourists taking pictures with Fat Spiderman (yes, that's an actual character who frequents the plaza), the headless captain, or a myriad of other people dressed up in hopes of earning some money through photos. It's also fun to try to guess who is from what country based on how they are dressed or what language you think they are speaking. 

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4. Riding a bike along the river
No worries, there are plenty of places to rent a bike for a reasonable price here in Madrid, since many of you probably won't be trying to haul yours over from the states. After successfully renting your bike, you can hop on the lovely path that goes along the river, with a view of the palace and cathedral. This path also leads into Casa de Campo, if you're interested in some different paths with more hills. 

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5. Hiking in the mountains 
If you are under 25, your transportation card can get you to the mountains surrounding Madrid for free (well, included in the 20 euros a month you pay for the card). If you are over 25 or just visiting Madrid, the mountains are about an hour and some pocket change away. So far, I've been to the Cercedilla and La Pedriza areas, both a few times each. My favorite part about hiking here is being out in nature (away from the city buildings, traffic, and noise), enjoying the beautiful views the mountains have to offer, and spending time with the friends I'm hiking with. 

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Of course, there are also plenty of places to go for a run, window shop, etc., but I decided to stick with my top 5. You can figure out your own top 5 once you arrive and explore the city for yourself, but here's a place to start. =) 

Hasta luego!

Christmas Time in Madrid

Let's talk Christmas. Okay, so this might be late, but at least in Spain it's only 2 weeks late, not 3 or 4 as it would be in the U.S! This late post might come in handy though if you are thinking about teaching in Spain next year and are wondering about the holidays here. 

While it's of course going to be different from home, I still love Christmas in Spain. I love the lights strung up all over the streets, the giant Christmas trees in the plazas made out of lights, the Christmas markets that pop up, and chestnuts roasting on the streets. I also love that Christmas lasts at least a whole week longer with the celebration of 3 Kings Day on January 6th.

For those of you not familiar, 3 Kings Day is like their Christmas Day (although they also celebrate that sometimes with a gift or two from Santa Claus). The 3 wise men leave presents for the children and put candy in their shoes. The children leave out water for the camels and treats for the wise men. There is also typically a parade the night before with the 3 wise men "arriving" to the city and throwing candy to the children watching giddily in the crowds. 

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This is my second Christmas in Spain, but my first in Madrid, which is a whole other ball game. For the month of December and the first week of January, tourists pour into the city and swarm the more popular locations. As teaching assistants, we get almost two and a half weeks off from school between Christmas and 3 Kings Day, as well as almost a week off at the beginning of December for a Madrid holiday, so I spent a fair amount of time traveling (to Austria for the Christmas markets and Thailand to spend Christmas with my sister who lives there) in order to take advantage my time and avoid the craziness of the crowds in Madrid. I did, however, enjoy the Christmas-y things in Madrid while here and even made it back for the 3 Kings parade. 

At school, all of us assistants did Christmas activities with all of our classes, which ranged from making origami stars in Art to watching The Grinch and doing Secret Santa gift exchanges with the students. On Wednesday before Christmas, the teachers invited us to a nice lunch with them in celebration of the holiday and on Thursday, a half day at school, the students took on the parents, teachers, and assistants in volleyball and basketball matches. If you are thinking about traveling early and making up some of the days ahead of time at school, be sure to check with your coordinator to make sure first that it's okay, but second, that you aren't going to miss out on all of the fun there. 

For those of you planning on being here in Madrid in the near future for the Christmas season, here are some suggestions for surviving and enjoying your time:

1. If you feel averse to crowds, avoid Sol and Plaza Mayor.

2. Watch your belongings. Pickpockets are out and about in excess during this time. 

3. If you plan on traveling or going home for break, buy your tickets several months in advance. You'll get better prices and better choices of flights.

4. Buy tickets online ahead of time for the Navibus. For only 2 euros, you can go on a bus tour of all the Christmas lights in the city. Just don't make the mistake I did of thinking you could buy a ticket once you got to the bus or of thinking that you could buy a ticket last minute as they sell out really quickly. 

5. Have fun exploring the Christmas markets, shops, and nativity scenes around the city. Don't get your hopes up too high for the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor, but it's still fun to go and people watch. 

6. Europe has some pretty amazing Christmas markets in other countries as well, which I highly recommend checking out.

7. To put yourself more in the Christmas mood, go ice skating in one of the temporary rinks they have set up for the season, grab some hot chocolate from Starbucks, or get churros y chocolote from San Gines (note: hot cocoa and chocolate are two VERY different things here in Spain! Think hot cocoa vs. drinkable warm chocolate pudding). 

8. Eat 12 grapes, as is tradition here, with the strokes of the clock at midnight for New Year's. 

9. Go see the 3 Kings parade. There's quite a crowd, but you can go early or go further up the parade route for a better view. It's worth seeing at least once. Plus, there's free candy being thrown at you. =) 

10. Spend time with loved ones and family. It's Christmas, after all. 


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Until next time, 


My Typical Work Week

Ever wonder what your schedule might be like if you decide to become an auxiliar? Keep reading to see mine! 

Through the Communidad de Madrid, I was assigned to work 16 hours a week at the school to which they assigned me. While the pay is enough to live off of in Madrid, I also wanted to have the ability to travel, so I've added another 12 hours a week in private classes to my schedule. The total hours I work per week is still under 30, which is incredibly amazing to me considering that I came from a job where I was working approximately 50-60 hours a week.

Each school is going to be different, so my schedule probably won't be your schedule if you decide to teach abroad, but it might be fairly similar. I'm at a middle school right now, which means that classes start at 8:30 am and last until 3:30 pm, however, elementary schools have a shorter day. Our English coordinator gave us the option of taking Mondays OR Fridays off, but some schools will go ahead and assign your day off (we only work 4 days a week). I chose Fridays to have off as most private students prefer to have classes Monday-Thursday and students at school are ready for the weekend by Fridays and aren't always as attentive.

10:10 am Art 
11:00 am Coffee break
11:30 am English 
12:25 am Technology (this class changed it schedule, so now I have an extra hour free here to lesson plan, etc.)
1:20 pm Lesson planning time
2:15 pm Short break
2:25 pm Art

4:15-5:15 pm Private class
6:00-8:00 pm Private classes

10:10 am English
11:00 am Conversation class with 3 of the teachers
11:30 am Lesson planning
12:25 am Art
1:20 pm English
2:15 pm Short break
2:25 pm Art 

5:00-6:00 pm Private class
6:45-7:45 pm Private class

10:10 am English
11:00 am Coffee break
11:30 am Art
12:25 pm Art
1:20 pm Art

5:30-6:30 pm Private class
7:00-9:00 pm Private classes

11:00 am Conversation class with 4 of the teachers
11:30 am Art
12:25 pm Art
1:20 pm Art

3:00-4:00 Private class
5:00-7:00 Private classes 

One thing to keep in mind is that where you live and how far away your school and private classes are can add quite a bit of time on the metro. Most people live about 40 minutes away via metro from their schools and have a 30-60 minute commute between private classes, but it's all up to you and how far you are willing to travel. I keep everything within a travel time of 30-45 minutes or less and use that time to practice my Spanish via the Duolingo app, read, check email/Facebook, or just have fun people watching. 

What's the best part of my schedule? Besides loving the students that I get to teach? Having a three day weekend every week! It's incredibly refreshing. I can take a short trip or have a weekend to rest, relax, have fun, AND get everything done that I need to. On the weekends that I'm not traveling, I usually have a tennis lesson on Friday, go hiking with friends on Saturday (the mountains are only an hour and a half via cercanillas from Madrid- which is included in your $20 a month transportation card if you are under 26 years old), and go to church and a coffee shop to work  on my blog on Sundays. 

Even better still? Spain has a crazy amount of holidays! Every month there is at least one or two days off somewhere on the calendar, which may not always affect you, depending on whether or not you have Mondays or Fridays off. With that said though, February is the only month without an extra day off for me since the holiday falls on a Friday and I don't work those days anyway (BUT I still have those 3 day weekends every week!). 

Thanksgiving in Madrid

I love living in Spain. I don't regret my decision in moving here for the second time. However, I always miss home the most around the holidays. Spain has plenty for Christmas, between lights strung up on the streets, Christmas music playing at Starbucks and various other areas, chestnuts roasting on the streets, etc. Thanksgiving though, is another story. It's an American holiday, plain and simple. The only thing that Spain has incorporated from our tradition is Black Friday (not going to complain about the sales!), so naturally, I missed a lot of the traditions that I usually participate in with my family. 

With all that said, my Thanksgiving here in Spain did not lack for celebration. My school loves having us share our holidays with the students, my private students were very curious and interested in Thanksgiving, and, where there are Americans, you can be sure there will be a Thanksgiving feast! This whole past week has been full of Thanksgiving and has made my heart happy, even if I still miss my traditional fall leaves and family in Tennessee. 

Here's how my week went:

Monday through Thursday I worked on some Thanksgiving activities with my private students, including hand turkeys, thanks chains, showing them our traditional food (and explaining what sweet potatoes were!), and having them come up with their own ideal feasts (perfect since they were working on food in school!). The students and families were so sweet in double checking with me ahead of time to make sure I was still okay to come on Thursday and wishing me a happy Thanksgiving when I did come. 

Wednesday at school every class participated in Thanksgiving presentations during the last hour and a half of the day. Each of us auxiliares got to go around with two other teachers to three different classes and judge their decorations, cooking, presentations, and skits. It was so much fun! I helped a lot of the students work on their activities the week and a half before they did them and it was so fun to see how they turned out! Some did better jobs than others, but it was great to see fall leaves, hand turkeys, thanks chains, skits about the first Thanksgiving, and the food they had prepared. I got to try everything from homemade apple pie to mashed potato croquetas to turkey with cranberry gravy sauce. I was actually pretty impressed with the cooking skill of middle schoolers. The teachers and students also wished me a happy Thanksgiving on Thursday.  (*Side note: I would have loved to have taken pictures, but rightly so we aren't allowed to take or post pictures of students without their parents' permission. Spain is getting better about their protection of minors). 

I also Skyped with my family on Wednesday to wish each other a happy Thanksgiving and catch upon the latest. So thankful for the technology which allows us to keep in touch! 

Saturday was our American Thanksgiving feast with friends from three additional countries (including Spain, Italy, and the UK). For being potluck style, we were able to coordinate pretty well in order to have most of the traditional foods: turkey (really chicken since it's Spain and the fridges and ovens are small), mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, a version of apple pie, salad, and some other random American and Spanish dishes. It turned out to be a quite yummy and enjoyable party. We even went around the table and said what we were thankful for. =) 

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, ya'll!

Until next time,

A Month and a Half in the Life

Somehow it feels like I've been in Spain for more than just seven weeks (okay, so a little more than a month and a half), but even so, time seems to be flying. I now have six weeks of teaching under my belt, have acquired eight hours of private classes per week, opened a bank account, picked up my TIE (foreign identification card), made some good friends, had fun exploring Madrid, and traveled around a bit. I've also gotten paid by my school and earn enough between that and private classes to pay for all of my expenses here and still have a little bit to travel around with. Where to you ask? So far on my list I've checked off a day trip to Toledo (an hour away), a weekend trip to Salamanca (2-3 hours away), and a longer weekend trip to Manchester, England (a two hour flight away). 

The seven weeks haven't been without struggles. As mentioned in a previous post, the apartment hunt was a bit rough. Finding a bank and private classes took me a while too (see below for my suggestions on those). Madrid is typically dry, but once fall hit it rained for almost three weeks straight. I've gotten a cold twice now. The presidential election was stressful for everyone here, even being an ocean away. I've also had to learn how to handle a couple of classes that aren't my favorite to teach. However, with that set, moving abroad is always an adventure, and you have to take everything in stride and laugh at the stories later. 

Overall though, I'm enjoying my time here in Spain. I love only working Monday-Thursday. I teach at my school from 10-2:30 with a couple breaks and then tutor from 5 to 8 in the evenings. Not working on Fridays gives me a day to run errands, relax, or get some more traveling in. I love living next to Retiro Park, which is great for a cafe and people watching, a relaxing walk, reading a book, or going for a run. I love being able to go to a pharmacist and get meds instead of having to pay to see a doctor. I love walking everywhere (and losing a few pounds as a result!). I confess that I don't speak Spanish as much as I would like to, but I'm still getting in some great practice and could find ways to speak more Spanish if I wanted to make it happen. I'm already thinking about renewing my position for next year and am excited for family and friends to come visit. 

As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions! I'm very happy to help! 

Until next time, 



Some more helpful hints on various items:

1. Spain gives us a student visa, even though we are here to teach. Use this to your advantage! You can get great discounts in Spain and around Europe if you flash your student id. They've been content with either my visa in my passport or my TIE.

2. Wait at least a full month before you pick up your TIE and then don't put off picking it up. It will make it easier travelling around Europe and doing some other things around Spain. To avoid the lines, arrive around 11 am or before. People like to sleep in (don't we all) and will start arriving in hordes soon afterwards. 

3. Private classes typically pay better than working for a tutoring center. On average, the tutoring centers might pay you 10-15 euros an hours, whereas private class will pay 15-20 euros an hour, depending on your experience. 

4. If you can't find private classes on your own (ask everyone you know), then try looking on the Auxiliaries de Conversacion en Madrid Facebook page. There are posts about a variety of things, but I found about half of my classes through that. You usually have to be the first one to respond to a post, which for me meant sitting in front of my computer for a few hours and making sure I got the notifications on my phone right away. 

5. If given the option, I would highly recommend asking for Fridays off instead of Mondays. Why? There are a few reasons. First, holidays falling on Mondays and Fridays are almost equal. Second, students typically don't want private classes on Fridays, but they do on Mondays. Having a three day weekend is amazing, so I prefer to teach and give private classes Monday-Thursday in order to maximize travelling time. Finally, students get antsy on Fridays. It's almost the weekend. Who wouldn't feel that way? You'll probably enjoy your teaching time more if you have the students when they are more willing to be at school. 

6. To open a bank account easily, go to Sol. They are used to handling new accounts with foreigners and typically only require a passport. If you try to go somewhere outside of the center, they will usually want your TIE, perhaps some utility bills in your name, etc., and you will definitely want your first paycheck from your school before you are able to get all of that in place. I had a lot of success with Bankia, which is open until 6:30 in Sol (love!) and doesn't charge any fees until you are 30 (score!). Some other friends also had success with Sabadell. Santander didn't work for me this time around, even though I tried 3 times at separate branches. =(

7. The metro in Madrid is amazing. The trains go pretty much everywhere and come every two to six minutes. I highly recommend getting your abono during the CIEE orientation (they set up the appointment for you). Getting your abono will save you so much money and you can easily reload it at the ticket machines at any metro stop. 

8. When traveling within Spain, it can be tempting to take the speed train, but double check the bus prices. The lower cost can often offset the shorter travel time. 

9. My favorite traveling accommodations are Airbnbs, when I don't have friends or family to stay with. I find that they price is equivalent to a hostel, but they are usually cleaner and nicer and don't require sharing a room with 12 other people. For me, it can even be cheaper to stay in an airbnb as you usually have access to a kitchen, where you can make some of your meals instead of constantly having to eat out. 

10. When looking for cheap airline tickets, try the following: Ryan Air, Edreams, Student Universe, Norwegian Airlines, and any others that you know to be reasonably priced. You might not get the extras, but I've found I can survive off a carry-on and my own snacks. 


An American in Madrid

I came to the sudden realization this week that I've already been in Madrid for a whole month now. Crazy! Time has been flying by so far. Since this isn't my first time around living in Spain, some things I've just taken in stride, forgetting how different some of it is. Other things I had forgotten about or had to readjust to. Since those of you reading this might be considering your own move to Spain, or perhaps even just a visit, I thought I'd share with you some of the differences that might catch you by surprise when you come. 

1. Almost everyone here smokes. No wonder they are so thin. Thankfully, the last time I was here they banned smoking in doors (to my asthmatic relief), but it's still a struggle for my lungs walking past all that 2nd hand smoke on the street all the time. Being indoors or at the park can be quite a relief, unless my window is open and someone else is smoking with their window open in the same building. 

2. This one is kind of gross, but one of the things I definitely didn't miss about Spain when I was in the U.S. was the dog poop, everywhere. Yuck. You really have to watch your step! It definitely depends on the area. The center and the parks usually don't have as much, but the more residential areas are typically worse. In my opinion it's because there isn't enough grass for the dogs to do their business on. 

3. Ham legs. Like, the full leg, hoof included. This is jamón ibérico, which is very delicious and quite common in Spain, but a little odd for Americans to see just hanging like that in grocery stores or restaurants. See below for one of the pictures I took at a friend's grandmother's house last time I was in Spain. This is a little more conservative since it was partially covered, but you get the point. 

4. Everyone walking wherever they please on the sidewalk. This can get pretty annoying and frustrating, particularly when the sidewalk is only so wide and people are walking three across. Also, there's no rhyme or reason to which side they walk on. They just pick a path and go for it. There's no walking on the right side of the sidewalk here! 

5. Piropos. The Spanish version of a catcall. These are pretty typical. If you standout as a foreigner, you might get some extra. If you do get them, just keep walking and ignore it. 

6. Pickpocketing. Okay, this is found all over the world, but with all the tourists in Madrid it can occur fairly often. Thankfully my friends and I haven't had this happen to us, but we have all heard stories of friends of friends that it happened to. Yesterday I went to the Starbucks across from the Prado Museum (known for its pickpockets) and saw 4 little thieves getting kicked out by one of the baristas, who then warned some of the Americans to watch their phones. As long as you are careful and pay attention, you should be okay. 

(If you need a taste of home, do not fear, there are plenty of Starbucks here! I only use them for their free wifi and outlets since the coffee and food is much better at pretty much any other cafe.)

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7. Things happen when they happen, and how they happen depends on the person. Spain is on a different timetable than the U.S., and trying to open a bank account or apply for government documents can be an interesting process. One person might tell you one thing, another person might tell you something else. Case in point, while trying to open an account, one bank sent me to another because of my age, one told me I needed a utility bill in my name, and another was fine with everything, except that they wanted my official foreigner card as my foreign number on my visa and letter from the government of Spain wasn't enough (note: this was the same bank, just different branches). 

8. Smaller portion sizes. I actually love this. I don't have to worry about how much of the meal I eat or trying to take the rest home with me. I've already lost 5 pounds between that and walking everywhere!  It's refreshing coming from the land of bigger. 

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9. The daily schedule. Breakfast is at a pretty normal time, but lunch is around 2 and dinner around 9 pm. Also, if you are planning on going out, be prepared to be out for the whole night! It's pretty common to head to a discotec around 2 am and not leave until at least 6 am. 

10. Hospitality. In the U.S., it's common to split the check if you've invited someone to go to lunch with you and to have people in your house fairly often. In Spain, it's the opposite. If someone has invited you for a coffee, lunch, etc., it usually means they are paying (always bring enough to pay for yourself, just in case though). It's also fairly uncommon for Spaniards to have people over to their homes. This obviously depends on the person/family, but don't be surprised if you live with Spaniards and they don't want people coming over or spending the night. 

In spite of all the differences, of which these are just some, I highly recommend living in or visiting Spain. It is a beautiful, culturally rich European country with much to offer. More on that in later  posts. 

Until next time! 

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The Apartment Hunt

Ya'll, this was rough. Even having lived in Spain before, I was not prepared for how difficult the apartment search in Madrid would be. In Huelva, I found and moved into an apartment in 5 days and had no issues contacting landlords and seeing apartments. Unfortunately, Madrid was a different story. To give you a bit of background on why the hunt was so challenging, let's start with the basics. First, September is the month in which about 2,000 auxiliares move to Madrid, not to mention study abroad students, Erasmus students, etc. Definitely would have helped to have known that before planning my flight. Second, almost everyone wants to live within a reasonable distance to the center. 

Thinking that 5 days would be sufficient again (before I arrived and learned about the chaos), some of the other CIEE girls and I booked an Airbnb for the same number of days following our orientation. One of the girls was lucky enough to have found a place right away, but she couldn't move in until a couple weeks later, so she still stayed with us. As for the rest of us, we quickly found that apartment hunting in Madrid in September is almost like a full time job. Due to the fact that there are so many people looking for apartments at this time of year, you usually have to be the very first person to contact a landlord as soon as they post and available room or apartment. We found out the hard was that even if you shorten your search to post listed within 48 hours, most landlords either wouldn't respond or would tell us that it was already rented. Some of the times in which we actually managed to book a visit, we were told upon arriving that it was soon to be rented by someone who had previously visited. 

In the end, we had to book another Airbnb for 4 days, after which myself and the other remaining girl were able to move into our new apartments (our third roommate is still waiting a few more days before she can move into hers). While stressful to go through, we came out in the end with apartments that we are all happy with and a few hilarious stories along the way. We also had the chance to get to see quite a bit of Madrid and meet some new friends along the way. Below I've listed some ways you can survive some of the stress of the hunt if you decide to move to Madrid in September as well.  

Ciao for now! 


Tips for apartment hunting in Madrid:

    1. Download the following apps: Google Maps (yes, they have everything including public transportation in Madrid already figured out for you!), Whatsapp (this is how everyone communicates in Spain), Idealista (preferred site for apartment hunting). There are other apps you can use as well, but these three at minimum are a lifesaver! 

    2. Reserve accommodations for at least a whole week while you look. It will give you a peace of mind to not have to keep moving around and wondering where you will sleep all the time. Airbnbs are my go-to since they are cheaper than hotels and usually nicer than hostels. Plus, you'll probably want to cook in a kitchen at some point. Eating out all the time is only fun for so long and then starts to get really expensive. 

    3. Don't plan on travelling until after you have an apartment set up.  Everyone wants to travel as soon as we get to Madrid since we have some time before school starts, but for your own sake, make sure everything is in place first. You will have a whole year to travel and plenty of opportunities between 3 day weekends every weekend and all of their holidays. 

    4.  Have enough financial back-up to get you through your first month and at least 2-3 months of an apartment (some places will ask for first, last, and a deposit). I mentioned this a little bit in my last post, but it's essential, especially since you don't get paid by the school until the end of your first month. 

    5. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Apartments go in seconds this time of year in Madrid. Make sure you are notified as soon as a new place pops up so that you can call/Whatsapp/email the landlord to go see it right away. Usually they go to the first person. Since you won't be the very first person every time, don't give up, just keep going. You will eventually find something. 

    6. Make yourself look good. Landlords can pretty much have their pick and Spaniards don't always love the idea of living with Americans, so do what you can to promote yourself. We found that saying we were there for the year teaching English with the Community of Madrid helped a lot! If you are a little bit older, sometimes adding your age in can also be a positive factor. 

    7. Lower your expectations. This is Europe, not the U.S. Apartments will be smaller and kitchens won't be equipped to the same level they are back home. Apartments in the centro are more popular and more expensive. You can still find some lovely places, just be prepared to not get everything on your wish list. 

Arrival and Orientation

Why hello there! It's been a little over a week since I last posted and A LOT has happened within that time: flying to Spain, orientation with CIEE, apartment search, government paperwork, exploring Madrid, etc. Basically, it's time for a new post. =) Since I'm sure ya'll don't want to read a 20 page essay, I'll just highlight the arrival and orientation process this time around and focus on the housing search in the next post. 

    This past Wednesday, September 21, I flew direct from Chicago to Madrid, an easy 8 hour flight (highly recommend going direct anytime you can). Several other CIEE members were on the flight, which was nice while we waited to board. Perks of flying to Europe? Free wine with your meal! =D The food was also better than on flights in America. Because it was a long flight, we all had screens in the backs of our seats, which was nice in order to pass the time, but also made it impossible for me to sleep with all the flickering light. Would definitely suggest bringing a sleeping mask, neck pillow, and ear buds! 

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    With the time change, we wound up landing in Madrid on Thursday morning, and also went from summer to fall in one short flight! As CIEE provided a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel, we decided to wait instead of paying for a cab. It was about a 3 hour wait  once we got our luggage, but we decided to pass the time by getting some cafe con leche and using the free wifi that Madrid Barajas offers. Several other CIEE flight groups joined us while we waited, so it was fun to get to know everyone in the meantime. Once we got to the hotel, we all checked in and then had free time until the orientation welcome dinner that evening. The phone company, Orange, was there during our free time with a special promotion for us, of which I definitely took advantage of. 

    Since I was in the Basics program, our orientation was pretty much an all-day one day event on Friday. It was very helpful as we got information about the best health care providers to use, safety in Spain, housing and teaching tips. The Community of Madrid also came in to do their orientation for us so that we didn't have to go to that on another day. We were on our own for lunch, so some of us went to 100 Montaditos, which is a super cheap place for lunch or dinner with reasonable food. For our farewell dinner, CIEE took us to a fun pincho restaurant in Madrid. There was a lot of information in one day, but most of us in the Basics program had already spent a fair bit of time in Spain and CIEE also sent us out the Power Point slides from all of the presentations so that we wouldn't forget. 

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Travel Tips:

    1. Pack light. I mentioned this in my previous post and definitely wound up bringing more than I should have, but try to keep it to a minimum. It's never fun having to lug everything around. Nowadays there are always extra baggage fees, so it's nice to avoid those as well. Plus, it's fun to go shopping once you get to Spain. =) Also, make sure you pack carefully so that you don't have to spend an hour digging for what you need once you get to the hotel.

    2. Be wise with your carry on. The best things to bring are extra clothes (in case of lost baggage), some toiletry supplies (sometimes you just need to brush your teeth or put some extra deodorant on!), snacks (in case you get hungry on the flight or waiting for the bus like we did), chargers, adapters (plugs in Europe are different from the states), and a few things to do either while you wait or on the plane (just don't go crazy and pack a lot of books as those weigh a ton and aren't fun to haul around). 

    3. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up once you get past security. Everything in the airport is always more expensive. Make sure you fill it up before you get on the plane too since they might not give you as much liquid as you would like on the flight. 

    4. Make yourself comfortable. Flying to Europe isn't a short hop. Depending on travel time, you'll probably want to sleep in order to help with jet lag. Neck/regular pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, comfy pants, etc. can be lifesavers. 

    5. Fly direct. It might be a little more expensive, but it will save you so much time and the headache of having to worry about baggage, missing the next flight, etc. 

    6. Give yourself wiggle room. Something always happens, whether it's extra traffic getting to the airport, a delayed flight, long security lines, etc. Give yourself extra time to get to the airport, don't try to squeeze in less than an hour layover between flights, and be realistic about when you will actually arrive. 

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