08 October 2013

Little Miss Teacher

It happened y'all. My first week of teaching is now complete.

How do I feel? Excited, nervous, frustrated?


But let's roll back a bit.

All auxiliares started teaching on Tuesday, 1 October. Many people were in the same boat as me, as in, we've never once taught a class before, much less multiple ones. So I did what most control freaks would do, and I went to visit my school the Friday before I started. Good thing too because (surprise surprise) I started walking in the wrong direction for ten minutes when I got off the metro.

The administrative building (and main entrance) to my cole.
My school is located in the Puente de Vallecas area of Madrid, south east of the city center. It's a solidly working class neighborhood, and you can tell just from walking around that it's predominantly populated by immigrants. I took three wrong turns and ended up on the opposite of the highway in a shopping center. Good work. When I finally made it to my school, I found myself with three separate buildings so I kind of just hoped for the best and knocked on the door nearest me. The school angel of God decided to bless me this time and lo and behold the school secretary opened the door. She immediately knew who I was and she took me in to me the rest of the administrative staff and the school director. From there she took me to meet Lourdes, the coordinator of the bilingual program at my school. 

You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Lockhart releases the pixies and it's chaos? That's basically what the 6o of primaria class (equivalent to the American 6th grade) looked like when I got there to meet Lourdes. Despite their general rowdiness, the kids were all really excited to meet me...they had even taken bets earlier in the day on whether their new teacher was male or female. I hope not too many kids lost money...

It wasn't my first day yet, so Lourdes just gave me the basic run-down of what my time at the school would look like:

  • Work schedule: Monday - Thursday, from 10-2, for a grand total of 16 hours a week (the maximum allowed by the government of the Comunidad de Madrid). What a difficult life I lead.
  • Students: primarily 1st and 2nd year primary, which corresponds to ages 6-7. Once a week for 45 minutes I would be with the very oldest (sexto...about age 11) and then with the very youngest ("los cinco años"). 
  • Subjects: English (duh), science, and art with the 1st years. I can't even draw a stick person, but considering the kids are 6...
  • Other random thoughts:
    • Most of the kids come from really rough backgrounds (broken homes, abusive parents, etc)
    • The vast majority of the kids are the children of immigrants (mostly from Northern Africa and South America). There's also quite a lot of Gypsies.
    • The level of English is all over the place. Kind of like Spanish classes in college.
    • The 2nd years have their Cambridge exam (essentially an English proficiency exam) at the end of the year. Come February, we will be doing mock exams with them to prepare. Anyone else getting flashbacks to the IB French exam?
Oh woe is me.

And then...


The cinco años classroom
So in I came with my hot pink pants because ¿por que no? My very first class was with Lourdes and the 2o class. I'm not going to lie, the entire first day was overwhelming. My classes are not very big, so I have less than 100 names to learn (I actually only have about 85 students total), but let me tell you, it ain't easy to learn a bunch of traditionally Islamic names of which many sound essentially the same. And then there's the repeats across classes and the strange pronunciations and boom, crazy Nic.

The teachers were all SO nice. I work primarily with Lourdes and Maria (the teacher in 1o), but I see all the others at lunch. The greatest thing about being placed in such a small school is the family-like atmosphere: all the teachers get together for lunch for 30 minutes of just random but entertaining conversation. They all took the time to introduce themselves and were so welcoming; you can tell they were genuinely pleased to meet their new auxiliar.

I could honestly sit here and recount every single brilliant moment of the first week but here are the highlights:

  • I used a globe to show the 2o class where I'm from and where it is in relation to Madrid. They all got so excited about finding where they were from and showing me as well. One girl in particular is from Georgia, a country she has no recollection of since she left as a baby. I helped her find Georgia on the globe, and she kept coming back to look at it again with such wonder in her eyes. 
  • One of the girls in my 2o class asked to go to the bathroom. When she came back, I realized she had used toilet paper to give herself a headband. 
  • My 1o class is a complete riot, but they never fail to flood me with hugs and high-fives when they go home for the afternoon.
  • Truth be told, I was not looking forward to working with the 6o kids. However, they were so excited with my class and so many of them came up to me afterwards asking if I could come back more than just once a week. 
  • My 1o kids now know all their colors, all because I bribed them with candy. 
  • Stickers aren't a thing here. Whaaaaaaa...?

There really hasn't been many negatives to speak of up till now. If anything the two hardest things are dealing with all the different levels of English and having to adapt myself to British English for many of their vocabulary words (rubber, the toilets, plait, etc.). And of course, I never seem to get enough sleep..these kids all need me to be high-energy and on the ball all day because they zone out as soon as it gets boring. My miming and dancing skills have improved dramatically in just a week, and I don't think I've ever spoken this slowly in my entire life.

Full steam ahead to week 2, amigos!

02 October 2013

La vida española

Ok, so I know I disappeared for quite some time, BUT I promise it's for a good reason...I didn't have wifi.


And then Blogger deleted my post and I had to write this entire post again so there's that.

I have now been in Spain for almost a full three weeks, and I'm going to attempt to summarize my first week here by breaking it down into sections. I'll write more on other stuff (namely, school!) in another post. Let's boogie.


On the morning of my departure from the States, I still couldn't quite wrap my head around leaving. I'm not really sure if it was denial or just a general numbness to avoid feeling anything too extreme. Saying bye to my little kitty was sad, since I so enjoy cuddling with her, but it was a bit easier to leave when she scratched my arm.
I was fine at the airport. Truly, I was. Until it came time to hug my mom goodbye. I don't really know how to describe it, but there's something different about a hug from your mom, and more so when you know it will be quite a long time before you can do it again. It was so incredibly hard to let go, turn my back on my family, and walk through security to catch my first flight to Boston. I'm not much of a public crier (though I do admit I cry a lot), but I couldn't help it on the three-hour flight. I was leaving behind almost every single person I love and hold dear, and as much as America drives me nuts sometimes, it's still home.
My flight overseas was much less tearful, especially once the tiredness set in. I arrived in Paris at 7:30 in the morning and used my broken French to cross what felt like the entire city of Paris just to get to the Air France terminal. Y'all, seriously, install some trams or something.
And then of course I went to the bathroom to put on some makeup because no way I was showing up in Madrid looking like something out of American Horror Story.


Going back to my point of being a cry-baby, the opening scene of Love, Actually always gets to me. There's just something so great about arriving at an airport and having someone there waiting for you with open arms and lots of love.
In a way, my arrival in Barajas was the closing of a giant circle. In the same spot where we said goodbye so many months ago, my Novio was waiting for me with a huge smile on his face. And yes, his hair was much longer and we were both dressed in summer clothes and we had individually been through so much in our time apart, but in that moment I swear I could have been in a movie. No photographs, please, paps.
My program provided us with accommodations in Moncloa, an affluent neighborhood in northwestern Madrid. I was really impressed with our hotel, namely the shower and bathroom were rocking. I was really lucky to have a great roommate who I got along really well with. After a brief chat, I strayed outside to explore my new home for the next 9 months. I took the metro directly into Sol, the dead center of Madrid, where I proceeded to get myself some cheap wine and a new SIM card. Spanish phone number, ca-ching!


CIEE provides us with four days of orientation while the government provides us one day after we're done with CIEE's. Even if at times the information was similar to things I heard before studying abroad or even just plain dull, orientation made me really thankful for choosing to go with CIEE rather than the Ministry program.
Topics we covered include:

  • Metro passes
  • the Spanish school system
  • Phones
  • Apartment hunting
  • Banking

I promise I'll write a post on all these to try to help fellow auxies out because...it's a lot.
As for the government orientation...well, I'm just glad I brought my phone and some pen and paper.

Moving abroad might seem extremely glamorous, especially moving to Europe (anyone else remember that That's So Raven episode where her cousin comes from Paris??). In a lot of ways, it is. Spain is a wonderful country and Madrid is a large city and it's always just bursting with life. But it's not always easy. I don't know anyone here, so I'm still trying to find my "group" of friends and even people for other things like a hairdresser, manicurist, etc. I'm terrified of screwing my students up or of being pick-pocketed on the metro. The transition hasn't been easy, but I think being off the internet for a while made it easier to sort of not hold on desperately to everything at home and try to find my own footing here.

I'll update y'all on whether I'm successful or not. Actually scratch that, you'll know if I'm successful based on whether or not I write. Ha.

Hasta luego!

05 September 2013

A Good Read on Gap Years

It's not particularly common to take a gap year in the States. It's definitely rare in the transition between high school and college, and while becoming more common between undergrad and graduate school, there's still plenty of people who choose to complete all their schooling in one go.

I'm going to admit that I always was hesitant about taking a gap year. I just felt like it was just easier to get all the misery and suffering over with at once rather than in chunks. My grandbig and big, though, both take a gap year before going off to medical school and absolutely raved about it. They used the year off to gain new experiences in the medical field and to just spend some time living as a real person rather than a student.

After hearing them go on and on about the things they were doing, I decided to take a gap year myself. Sure, it didn't blow over so well with my mom, but I've been out of school for nearly 4 months now and I have yet to regret my decision. The real world is no walk in the park: a full-time job is exhausting, you're probably not rolling in money, and gone are all my pre-set social events (thanks, sorority life!). But this is the first time in a long time my brain hasn't been fried (study abroad does not count). Eighteen years of schooling can take a toll.

Traveling is a great way to fill up that year. I, of course, actually will have a job while abroad, but if I had the money to just travel all year I totally would! Instead I compromised a bit. Here's a great article on reasons to take a gap year. If you're considering taking time off after school, definitely give it a look!

04 September 2013

One week, EEK!

I promise I did not realize that the title of this post rhymed until after I had already written it. However, let's pretend I'm incredibly witty and creative and came up with it purposely.

Moving on.

I wanted to write this post and then post it exactly one week before leaving (down to the time and everything) but unfortunately, these little nuisances called personal statements got in the way. So I'll have to just compromise and post it on the special day and not the special hour.

We're now officially a mere 7 days from my departure day aka one week aka single-digit numbers. And honestly, I don't know if I'm more excited or nervous. Excited is probably an easy one to figure out: I'm moving to Europe y'all! Nervous pretty much encompasses everything else. I have no family or friends in Madrid, I've never been away from home for so long, where am I going to open a bank account, there's no good-quality cheap nail polish, etc. Even the language has me stressing! I speak fluent Spanish but anyone who is a native Spanish speaker can tell you that the following analogy is probably correct:

British English : ebonics :: Spain Spanish : my homeland's Spanish
*Note: I will not call out my homeland on this blog. Loljk I probably will at least once but it won't be now.

I digress.

In preparation for my trip, here are some things that have gone down:

Shoe shopping. The last time I was in Europe, I did A LOT of walking. I'm talking I-lost-a-whole-eight-pounds walking. Unfortunately, this also left a lot of my most comfortable shoes completely destroyed. So flats and sandals were a necessity.

I got my eyebrows completely reshaped and I will be getting a haircut and a keratin treatment this afternoon. Yes, I know my hair is straight. Can't a girl just try to look fresh abroad?

I got a new crossbody bag because it was time to retire my previous one.

I made an appointment to get my metro pass WHAT

I unlocked my old iPhone so I can use it in Spain. I promise to write a post on the complexities of getting a phone plan abroad once I actually get there. 

I downloaded a Firefox extension called mediahint. This basically allows you to access sites like Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu from outside the States. According to my boyfriend, this can also be done if you do something with your ip address, but my technologically-challenged self did not really understand anything he said. Just download the extension.

I have finalized my list of graduate schools and have begun the process of writing my 8(!) personal statements. If I get into my top-choice program, you best believe I'm not completing those later applications.

My sister will turn 18 next week, so I'm trying to cope with the fact that my sister will now be an actual adult with the ability to vote. If you know my sister, you know why this is a major cause for concern. 

I went to Michaels and was geeking out so hard over all the Halloween crafts. All the things I could do with the little ones! In the end I settled for some stickers and basic craft supplies...for now.

The suitcases have been pulled out, although I can't say if any packing has been done. (Hint: if you're guessing no, you would be correct.)

It's a little surreal. Two of my friends are studying abroad in Italy and I am currently living vicariously through them. But it's really weird to think that soon I'll be so incredibly close to them. Sometimes, I genuinely want to back out and just stay rolled up in my mom's bed forever. But then the other day while I was at the bank, I told the representative of my plans for the upcoming year. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Enjoy every second of it, because I am still so mad at myself for not doing the same thing." It just made me realize how frustrated and full of regret I would be if I didn't go.
Violet speaks the truth, y'all.

So here's to a week of goodbyes, adventure, and another blog post in seven days from the other side.

PS do any of you know how incredibly difficult it is to go back to normal writing after spending over 2 hours on your personal statement? Dang, all I wanted to do was insert "nevertheless" or "unequivocally" somewhere in here.

20 August 2013

Travel Talk: Sevilla, Spain

The largest city in southern Spain, Sevilla holds a special place in my heart: it's the city where I spent 4 months taking the last two classes I needed for my Romance Language major and was my gateway to Europe. Size-wise, it can't compare to the larger and more popular cities of Barcelona and Madrid, but Sevilla nevertheless has its own charm and even a bit of a small-city feel. While I could write an outrageously extensive list of what to do, see, and eat in Sevilla, this post will cover the highlights:

Sights & Attractions

Cathedral and La Giralda
La Giralda

  • The largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the resting place of Christopher Columbus, the Catedral de Sevilla is a must-see. Admission is 8€, but if you're a student under 25 it's a mere 3€, a bargain considering the sheer size of the place. The architecture is absolutely stunning and it's incredible to see the amount of detail that went into the construction of the church. You can also walk to the top of the Giralda, which is the tallest tower of the cathedral and in all of Sevilla. From the top, you will have a complete view of the entire city of Sevilla and the surrounding areas. It can be exhausting to walk up there (especially in the heat) but it's worth the views.

Reales Alcázares
My roommate and I in el Patio de las Doncellas
  • Originally a Moorish fort, los Reales Alcázares is now a royal palace in the heart of Sevilla.The Moorish architecture is immediately evident in all the arches and detailed walls, especially in el Patio de las Doncellas. The gardens are also breathtaking and there's all sorts of flowers and fountains. Admission is free for all residents of Sevilla, 2€ for students 17-25, and 8,75€ for everyone else. If you're a resident, I highly recommend this place for an afternoon read...but not when it's hot out.
Plaza de España
Plaza on my way to uni classes

  • Possibly my favorite place in all of Sevilla, la Plaza de España is a large plaze quite unlike any I've seen before. The fountain is enormous and its mist offers a bit of relief from the summer heat, but my personal favorite part is the details along the walls that depict many cities across Spain. All of the architecture is intricately detailed and painted. If you're looking for a spot for relaxing, el Parque de María Luisa is immediately adjacent to the plaza, and there's plenty of grassy areas and beautiful scenery for all!
Metropol Parasol
It's like a giant mushroom...
  • If you're trying to get the sky-high views of Sevilla without the exertion that comes from walking to the top of La Giralda, I recommend el Metropol instead. Located in Plaza de la Encarnación, this mushroom-shaped wooden building known as Las Setas offers views of the city that do include the cathedral. You can walk all along the top of the building, and there's even a bar up there with drinks and tapas (warning: it is a bit pricy).

This was one of the main roads!

  • Although this really isn't located in the city but rather in the surrounding areas, if you have the time to take a day trip to Itálica, go. These are the ruins of an old Roman city and it's incredible how intact many things are. The most impressive sight is the Roman amphitheater (there's even lion scratch marks on some walls if you look closely!), but there are also some mosaics that are still mostly in great shape.

Food & Drink

  • One of our study abroad professors was kind enough to send us a list of some of the best places for tapas in Sevilla at the beginning of the semester. Eslava was one of the locations on there. While there is also a restaurant, I've never been to the restaurant, just to the tapas bar. They have many local specialties and, as such, is a favorite among locals as well. It's fairly busy, and if you're going on the weekend, I would recommend getting there before 8:30 or 9pm. The best part are the homemade desserts, but in all honesty, I never had a bad tapa here so you're probably safe with anything!
  • While studying abroad, we first came upon this bar on the recommendation of a friend's host family. Color me impressed. While I found the tapas to be a bit pricier than in other places I went to over the course of term, the food was absolutely delicious! I still have dreams about the bacalao I had here, so if you're a seafood fan, I definitely recommend it!
100 Montaditos
  • This was the first Spanish cerveceria I ever went to...but I wasn't even in Spain when I did. 100 Montaditos has small little sandwiches (montaditos) that come with all sorts of fillings: salmon, jamon iberico, even tortilla de patatas. Their biggest draw is their 1 euro deal on Wednesdays: all their montaditos are 1 euro, and you can get a mug of beer, sangria, or tinto de verano for a mere 2 euro. (If you live in the States and you have one of these near you, they have $1 Wednesdays!) These are all over Sevilla, although my personal favorite was the one located directly across from the Univeristy of Sevilla's Facultad de Historia.
Plaza Alfalfa
  • For a night out on the town with the locals, there's nothing better than Plaza Alfalfa. Located in the center of the city, Plaza Alfalfa is surrounded by smaller local bars and significantly less foreigners than most other locations. The price ranges can vary depending on where you are, but it's completely possible to pay just 4 euros for a sizeable mojito! While I can't speak for any of the discotecas here, the bars all have a really friendly atmosphere that can easily make for either a chill night out or a wild one.
Calle Betis
  • Tourist central to the extreme, Calle Betis is located along the south banks of the river between the neighborhoods of Los Remedios and Triana. There is no shortage of bars and discotecas on this street, and many foreigners choose to party the night away along this street. On our first-ever venture to Betis, my roommate and I came upon the Long Island Bar, which we absolutely loved for the rnadom assortment of people there as well as the fact that they have a different shot for each of the fifty states. We also stumbled upon a Latin disco. where there was plenty of salsa and bachata to go around.


Santa Cruz
  • Barrio Santa Cruz is what my mind pre-study abroad mind conceived as inherently Spanish. There's the small cobblestone streets, the balconies, the flowers. In the midst of all the winding streets, you'll find some small artisan and local shops. While not many sell clothing, this is a great place to find some unique or traditionally Spanish gifts and souvenirs.
  • I'm going to be totally honest: I didn't venture into Triana until about two months into my time abroad. On a weekend where I wasn't traveling, some friends and I ventured to the market on a Saturday. While we personally didn't buy much, there is so much fresh food and plenty of hademade crafts and artwork along the banks of the river. The food is more expensive than what it would be at a supermarket, but there's loads of local products that are worth buying for their sheer deliciousness.
El Centro (Calle Sierpes and Calle Tetuan)
  • This area was a danger zone for my wallet. These streets are quite narrow but it is literally just shop after shop. On Tetuan, you have all your big Spanish staples like Corte Ingles, Zara, Bershka, and Mango, but you also have smaller, local stores all along Calle Sierpes that sell all sorts of traditional Spanish clothing and artifacts. The best part is that this isn't like Barcelona or Madrid where the pick-pocketers are rampant. The streets feel incredibly safe.

Sevilla is much smaller than the more popular Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid, and I personally feel like there's also less attractions and tourist areas. However, there is definitely an abundance of tapas bars and restaurants so you'll always eat well. Based on pure charm, Sevilla is well-worth a visit, although I would say you don't need more than a week to hit up all the major sites.

Happy travels!