Friday, October 29, 2010

Disclaimer: This May Make You Jealous

The life of an Auxiliar de Conversacion (my job title) in Spain is hard work. We work 12 hours a week, get a three or four day weekend, work with the cutest of little Spanish kids, and oh yea get paid the same as working over three times as much in the U.S. Sigh, I’m tired just thinking about it. Yes I know, you all probably want to never speak to me again, but I just felt the need to gloat a little bit about my amazing experience here!

So far teaching has been absolutely wonderful. I have some amazing fellow teachers and tutors at my schools who are nothing but nice and helpful and will answer any question I have. I also have the cutest, most adorable little kids ever! Some are so adorable that I have often considered “stealing” them for the day just to play with them (and I still have a few in mind haha). For the most part the kids are great in the classroom, although sometimes they have extremely small attention spans and misbehave quite a bit. Luckily discipline is not part of my job description so that is left up to the real teacher. There have been some classes where the entire class has consisted of the teaching spending the whole class trying to quiet the kids down or just yelling at them to be quiet. It’s very different than the U.S because if you had acted how some of the kids act, you would be sent straight to the principle’s office, but oh wait they don’t have a principle here! It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been at the schools for 2 weeks each. Sometimes it seems like I just got there and other days it seems like I’ve been there for months already. Overall it’s going very well and my lessons have gone swimmingly too! I just finished up my Halloween lessons where I had the kids make their own trick or treat bags, color their own haunted house, bob for apples, and play “guess the monster part” game, all of which were big hits with the kids!

I have also found another way to supplement my (limited) grant money while over here. I have picked up two private lessons each week, which will help in the money department. The going rate for a private lesson with a native speaker is 15 euro an hour, so with two lessons a week I’ll be making an additional 30-euro a week (see that quick math there?!) One of the lessons is with a seven-year-old boy named Miguel, who I am going to start with next Monday. When I spoke with his mom, she said she just wanted to give him some extra practice so I can’t imagine that it will be too hard or grammar intensive. The other lesson is with a woman in her mid-50’s who is an English teacher herself, but who just wants to have more practice with speaking. When I asked her if she wanted grammar lessons, she looked at me with a horrified look on her face and told me absolutely not, she just wanted to practice speaking! So our first lesson was this past Tuesday, in which we walked around the city for a bit, stopped in an art exhibit, went to a bar and got a beer and just talked! She is the sweetest woman ever and has such an interesting life! She sings in two traditional Spanish choirs in Logrono and invited me to their Christmas events! Next time we are meeting at her house because she wants me to get to know her family and also so we have a quieter place to talk. So after an hour of just talking and hanging out with this woman, I was handed 15 euro! Score! So needless to say I am very excited about the prospect of making some extra cash. All in all life is pretty good here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sugartoad's Livin' the Dream

Oh what a true statement that is! Sugartoad is quite the attractive, um, whatever he is! And he is certainly living the life abroad! Although he has not met the children at the schools yet, he has had quite the adventure thus far. He has enjoyed himself tremendously over tea and a biscuit in Bath, experienced history in Stonehenge, sampled some pinchos in San Sebastian, and of course has had a sip of some La Rioja wine in Logrono! All the while looking so adorable (and creepy to some haha). It’s good to be Sugartoad!

A part of history at Stonehenge

Tea and a biscuit in Bath

Just a couple of pints at the Coronation Hall in Surbiton

Delicious pinchos in San Sebastian

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Internet is Finally Here!!

Praise the Lord Hallelujah, we finally have internet at our place! Let's just say that these past 3 weeks have been much more of a hassle than I would have liked with no internet at our place, but such is life! I never realized just how much I rely on the internet to do such simple things as talk with family and friends, check my bank account, plan lessons etc. Very typical Spanish to take 3 weeks to get something accomplished that normally takes about 5 minutes! Oh well, one of the downsides of living abroad I guess (which the positives clearly outweigh). We were supposed to have gotten internet the first week we were here, then the second week, and then on Saturday, but the guy decided that since he was already 6 hours late, he might as well not show up! Luckily our landlady is amazing and called and hassled them until they agreed to come today. So I am up and running, so to speak, with the internet. This will hopefully make it easier for me to post to my blog, upload pictures on Facebook, and Skype. Can't wait to chat with everyone!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Little Weekend Getaway

This past weekend Nell, Juliet, Sarah and I decided to take a little weekend trip to see another city besides Logrono. It was definitely a last minute decision, as we didn’t decide to go until Friday early afternoon and were on the bus Friday late afternoon. That is certainly one of the best things about Europe in general. It is so easy to travel and is very cheap as well. We took the bus (as there are very few trains into and out of Logrono) and it was a 2.5-hour bus ride through the mountains of the Basque Country. Needless to say it was one of the most beautiful bus rides I have ever taken and I was captivated the entire time! The Basque Country has so much green, something which I am not used to in Spain. We arrived in San Sebastian around 7 pm and checked into our hostel, which was right in the center of the old part of the city. Friday night it was just Nell and I (the other two met us on Saturday), so we walked around a bit, saw the beach, and headed out for some pinchos and vino! San Sebastian is known for it’s amazing pinchos and it did not disappoint in the least! We had an early night in the hopes of waking up early to explore the city a bit more.

Saturday morning we woke up and walked around the city a bit. I tried my first café con leche and loved it! I don’t like coffee at all in the States but man oh man the coffee in Europe is amazing! So Nell and I enjoyed the city just people-watching sitting outside at a café… what a life! We met Juliet afterwards and went walking a bit more. We had heard the aquarium was nice, so we decided to head over there. It was great, seeing as I love aquariums! The sharks and stingrays were great and we spent a little too much time staring at them like little kids haha. Afterwards we walked around the city some more and did some shopping. We bought some wine to have before we went out for more pinchos.
Beautiful view of the city


Sunday morning we walked along the beach and then climbed up the mountain to the castle. The views were spectacular and I only wish we were there in the summer so we could have gone to the beach. Oh well another trip to San Sebastian then! The pictures really don’t do it justice, so if any visitors come we will have to plan a trip up north!!

View from the top of the mountain

Nell, Juliet, and I at the castle

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mi Piso

I am so excited that I was able to find a place… and so quickly! Luckily it only took me one day to find a place and I was able to move in last Monday. I’m living in a great location, on one of the major streets and very close to the center. I look out at a pedestrian area, which leads to the center of the city which means that it isn’t super loud. The place is older, but still in great condition! My landlady, Pilar, is a great woman and has already helped us out in so many ways. And the best part about my place is the price! I’m paying 160 euros a month for everything, which is unheard of back home (around $300 per month). I’m living with a two other girls my age, one of which is in the same program as me. Sadie is from Manchester and has the sweetest, most calming accent ever! I feel at ease when she is talking with me. She is doing my program as well and is teaching in a school in Logrono, so it’s nice that we both have a similar schedule and can help each other out with teaching advice. Nyota is from Brussels and speaks French, beautiful English and is learning Spanish now (aka I want to be her!). She is adorable as well and is an Erasmus student at the university here. We all get along great and I think it’s going to be a fabulous year!

Our living room!


My room!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nuestra Senora del Sagrario

I started this past week at one of the schools I am teaching at. The school is called Nuestra Senora del Sagrario and is in a pueblo about 15 minutes away from Logrono called Navarette. The school is the equivalent of an elementary school with two buildings, one for the 3-5 year olds and another for the 5-12 year olds. I am only teaching in the building for the older kids. So far I absolutely love it! The teachers are all amazing and super friendly are so interested that I’m from the United States. They’ve already joked with me that part of my contract is that I invite them all to visit me in Chicago. And clearly the best part of the school is the kids! The kids are all super eager to learn English, although sometimes they are quite rowdy and don’t pay attention. The 5 year olds are my favorite, as they will answer any question you ask them and don’t care if they’re wrong. I am teaching 12 hours a week at this school so only go to the school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday which means that I have a four day weekend every week! The school is your basic elementary school where the kids learn everything and have English as their foreign language. Most of the classes are 1 hour long, although the 5 year olds have a 30 minute class. I am in the classroom to help with pronunciation, so will read things out loud, will play games with them and help out if the teacher asks. Wednesday is my longest day as I am at the school for 5 hours, but I am done every day by 2 pm so am home in time for siesta! All of the kids are very curious about me and about where I come from, so I have been asked all kinds of questions. Where are you from? How old are you? Are you married? Why not? Do you have a boyfriend? When are you going to get married? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite movie? Who is your favorite singer? Do you have any kids? It is a great feeling to be so welcome in the school and by the end of the first day all the kids, even ones I hadn’t had in class yet, knew who I was and were anxiously awaiting when I would come to their class. It’s so great to walk through the halls during the break and have all the little kids say “hola profe, hola teacher”. The level of English that these kids possess astounds me, as I think of how long I have taken Spanish and when I was their age I didn’t know that much. I can’t wait to do lessons on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ribfest, Naperville, etc to show them how the States really are. I’ve also had questions such as: “Does everyone have a garden in the United States? Are all the houses big? Is high school like the movie Mean Girls?” I have not felt discriminated against (except for the stares with my blonde hair) and have felt totally welcomed here, which is a great feeling. I am very excited for the year to come and think it’ll be a great experience!

The Story of the Vacuum Cleaner and Other Mishaps

My life would not be complete, and I would not be who I am, if I did not have many awkward and hysterical occurrences in my life daily. These do not only occur in the U.S., but also in Spain (and probably more frequently haha). Since I’ve come to accept my “dumb blonde” status, I wanted to share some of these stories with you.  As many of you probably already know, when I was in Sevilla last year, I had a small issue with trying to use our vacuum cleaner. Unbeknownst to me, you actually had to plug it in for it to work! I spent over an hour trying to figure out how to turn the stupid thing on, and never once thought that if I plugged it in it would work haha. Now in my defense, the plug was a retractable plug and was hidden underneath and in the back of the vacuum. So when my roommate came home and asked how the cleaning went, I had to explain to her that I didn’t know how to use it. She gave me a funny look, pulled out the cord, plugged it in, and bingo! it worked. So here are some more stories just like this one that have happened to me since I have gotten to Spain (and remember that’s only been a little over a week).

-       While staying in Madrid for orientation, I had to use the restroom during one of our breaks. We were having our meetings downstairs in the conference center/rooms, so there was a bathroom downstairs. I tried to open the door by pushing (as most doors open that way), but sadly did not succeed. So instead of just moving on, I shoved and shoved thinking that I could get it open. My friend Juliet just stood there laughing at me, while everyone else stared. Then the idea hit me, what if I pulled instead of pushed? Hallelujah it worked! But no, the embarrassment did not stop there. I was so flustered that I just made a fool of myself trying to open a door that I saw a stall and just walked right into it. After going to the bathroom, I came out to wash my hands and saw urinals on the wall. Then a guy walked out of one of the other stalls. I had inadvertently walked into the men’s restroom! Needless to say I booked it out of there, ran into the girls bathroom (which was in the same door just on the other side) and proceeded to wash my hands there as if nothing happened. I’m not sure if anyone saw me, but if they did I’m sure they’re still laughing about it as I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  Moral of the story: read bathroom signs before walking into them!
-       Most people think that you can only get locked out of a flat, but no you can locked inside one! When I moved into my flat on Monday, one of my roommates was there but was leaving right away so after I finished putting away my stuff and talking to my landlord, my friend Nell and I were going to look at a place for her. When we tried to get out we couldn’t! I guess with our flat, if someone is inside you can’t lock it from the outside or they are locked in!  So yes, we were locked inside my flat with no way to get out because our landlady was with us and both of my roommates were gone and weren’t answering their phones. Luckily one of my other friends was out and about so we had her come to my place, threw my key out the window to her and she was able to unlock the door. Moral of this story: don’t lock your door if your roommates are inside!
-       Washing machines are pretty self-explanatory and easy to use right?! Not in Spain they aren’t! Our washing machine has the entire alphabet on the dial and you must choose the exact letter that you want for the cycle for it to work. Easy enough?! Still no. I put some of my laundry in to wash and turned it on thinking that it was easy. Well it stopped about 5 minutes later and I knew it wasn’t done, so turned the dial to another letter hoping that would take care of it. After about 7 times of me turning the dial to another letter and praying that it would work, I thought I had got it. When I finally got the door open, water spilled all over the floor and flooded the kitchen! Apparently I hadn’t set it to the spin/drain cycle, so there was still water in it. So after mopping up the whole kitchen I figured I would know which one to turn it to. Wrong again. After that was done and I opened the door, water came spilling out again.  Needless to say after consulting with my roommates, we decided we should ask our landlady. After a frantic call to Pilar, she showed us the correct three letters (why does there need to be 26 on there I ask you). Moral of the story: don’t wash your clothes in the washing machine unless you are absolutely certain of the alphabet!
Hopefully these make you feel better about yourself and I’m sure there will be plenty more stories to come!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bienvenido a Logrono!!

Bienvenidos todos a Logrono! I made it to Spain... yay!! Luckily I had no problems with the strike, as it happened on Wednesday not Thursday. Sadly I left London and headed down to the beautiful country that is Spain. I landed in Madrid and caught a cab to the hotel where my orientation was being held. Luckily I checked into the metro before I got to Madrid and realized that if I were to take the metro to the hotel with all of my stuff it would take 1 hour and 15 minutes of walking, stairs, metro, exhaustion or I could take a 20 minute cab ride for 22 euro. I bet you can't guess which option I chose?! After I checked into the hotel I went up to my room where I met my French roommate for the weekend. She was nice, but not overly nice and so luckily I met some other people in my region to hang out with during the weekend! Friday we had the day free but I was so exhausted that after I walked around for a bit and grabbed a bocadillo de queso manchego (god I missed bocadillos and the cheese!), I just went back to the hotel and took a nice long nap before dinner. As I was walking downstairs for dinner I ran into some girls who I ended up eating dinner with and who were extremely nice. I also met several girls who are also in La Rioja and Logrono specifically so it was really nice to meet people who I would interact with for the next 9 months. Orientation was all day Saturday and was kinda boring but beneficial as well. And since it was all in Spanish, I was quite tired by the end of it. Sadly I didn't see much of Madrid as I didn't go out either night, but we all decided that we will go back to Madrid for a weekend in the near future. Not only did I meet girls in Logrono, but I also met several girls who are in Segovia, and we have already planned on doing Thanksgiving together in Segovia. Everyone is super friendly and extremely nice and it's weird to think I've only known them for several days. It honestly feels like I've known them for ages and as if they've always been a part of my life. I experienced this feeling both times that I've been in Spain and I guess the whole experience, the type of people, and the fact that you spend every waking minute with each other makes for a quick building friendship. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Logrono on Saturday and checked into our residency (the other girls were able to get a room with me). Jaime, the man who runs the residency, is amazing! He clearly can tell we are American and have no idea what we are doing, seeing as we have had to call him several times for the stupidest of reasons aka when we went down to breakfast this morning it was closed, therefore we called him "Jaime, we would like to eat breakfast. Will you help us?" So of course he loves us and will bend over backwards to make our stay comfortable haha.

Saturday night we went out for some late tapas/raciones and some wine at one of the main streets in Logrono. After getting lost (not quite the best idea to make the first walk around the city at night), we ended up at a great little cafe with outdoor seating where we could people watch as we ate. We ordered tex mex (basically chicken fingers with bbq sauce), croquetas (a ham and cheese mixture that is fried... it's heaven I tell you), and patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy mayo sauce on top... also to die for). Along with our raciones, we had a bottle of their "house wine" and let me tell you, it was just as amazing as I thought it would be! It was smooth and dry and sweet all at the same time and I was almost in tears of excitement to be sitting at an outdoor cafe in Logrono, eating tapas, sipping wine, people watching, and having a good time with new friends. It really made me happy to be back and made me realize just how much I do love Spain!

Today was more of a laid back day, as most things are closed in Spain on Sundays, however the chinos were still open and I was able to score a sweet deal on a straightener (14 euro for a good one!) and some other things. And of course some of the bars and bakeries were open, so we stopped in for some yummy, fresh out of the oven bread! But the best part about today was finding a place to live! I am amazed at how quickly I was able to find a place, but lucked out with people responding online, so am moving in tomorrow morning at 10:30! The place is in a great location and I am living with two other girls my age (who I haven't met yet but will tomorrow), one who is English and who is in my program, although I didn't meet her, and the other who is an Erasmus student who is from Belgium. The landlady is amazing and the place is really great. My room is kind of small, but the living areas are huge and I'm hoping to not spend all my time in my room. Not to mention the fact that I will be paying 170 euro total for the room and utilities a month, something that I would never be able to find in Chicago! So I will of course post pictures and such about the flat when I get in tomorrow, but I am happy to have found a place and am starting to feel like I'm settling in. And I discovered via talking with my teachers at both of my schools that not only do I, A) only teach 12 hours a week but B) I only teach Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which means that I have not a three day weekend, but a four day weekend every week! And that's not to mention when there are puentes/long weekends (like we have next weekend... hello five day weekend who wants to come visit?!). So needless to say I am very happy, excited, thrilled about everything! It certainly is good to be back in Spain and good to be me!!