Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comparing Winter Holidays

In the U.S. every family has slightly different ways of celebrating Christmas and New Years, but only slightly different.  However, in general, we all share the general idea of how the holidays should be: snow (for most of us), lots of family time, gingerbread houses, a big special meal on Christmas eve and day, opening presents on Christmas morning, Christmas cookies, Christmas tree with family ornaments, Christmas movies, Christmas carols, and maybe a kiss on New Years Eve at midnight.  Here in Spain, their customs are quite different.  I'll start with Christmas.

Spanish Style Waffle!
First of all, the holiday spirit is not quite as abundant here as it is in the U.S.  Sure, there are some lights and holiday decorations, but nothing on the scale of what I'm used to in the U.S.  The biggest changes I've seen in Almería include a giant Christmas tree on the ramblas, Christmas lights lining the main shopping street in the city, and setting up the temporary Christmas market.  The Christmas market is like any average Spanish mercadillo that sells scarves, jewelry, hand crafts, t-shirts, etc.  Also, the Spanish market has quite a few waffle and crepe stands set up for a holiday treat.  Spanish waffles are similar to ours, minus the toppings.  Instead of butter and syrup, they add chocolate, whipped cream, marmalade, etc.  Not exactly what I think of when I think of Christmas treats.  Also, they set up a small ice rink on the ramblas which I found very impressive considering it's still in the 60s here most days.  Moving on to how they celebrate Christmas Eve (noche buena) and Christmas day (navidad).  Families usually gather for these holidays, go to Christmas mass if they're religious and just eat and have a good time.  However, no presents are involved in celebrating Christmas.  Spanish people exchange presents on "Reyes" which is Three Kings Day on the 6th on January.  Although this may seem strange, it makes a lot more sense.  According to the Biblical story, presents didn't occur in the story until the kings arrived many days after Jesus' birth.  So, this is the day the Spaniards choose to celebrate with presents.  When kids are little in Spain, they write to the three kings instead of Santa Claus for their presents.  In addition, "Reyes" is celebrated with parades, family, etc. and is considered a much bigger deal than Christmas around here.  Back tracking to another thing about Christmas Eve, apparently for young adults it's one of the biggest party nights of the year.  After dinner, all of the youngsters go out to the clubs for dancing and drinking!  I don't even think clubs are open on Christmas Eve in the U.S., so this is a strange concept for me.  Something else I learned is that the concept of a Christmas tree is very American/English.  Only in the past 20-30 years have Spaniards begun to decorate their houses with a Christmas tree.  Additionally, the majority of their ornaments are store-bought.  The idea of decorating a tree with handmade or family ornaments is a completely foreign concept.  Instead of Christmas trees, you will be much more likely to find a nativity scene in a Spaniard's house during the holidays. Finally, I found it strange that most Spaniards have never heard of gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, Christmas cookies and other American Christmas norms.  Just a few more cultural differences to add to the list.

The delicious paella we made :)
New Years Eve is generally celebrated with family here in Spain.  Also, when I mentioned the tradition of a New Years Eve kiss to my students, they thought I was crazy.  Their New Years Eve tradition is eating twelve grapes right before midnight, one to represent each month of the year.  Additionally, for women it is a tradition to buy a new pair of red underwear and wear it on New Years Eve.  My friend, Amanda (who I will be traveling with), and I thought this was kind of funny so we bought some to wear this year.

 Some of my personal highlights of the past week included getting together with some friends here and making a holiday meal, paella. Also, my students performed the Christmas Carols we've been working on the past couple of weeks at the holiday celebration on Friday.

Celebrating the holidays in another country really opens your mind to other cultural customs.  However, I wonder what it's like to be in a country that is not dominated by Christianity, like my friends who are currently volunteering in India, Cambodia, Tanzania, and Samoa.  Maybe I'll find out one day, but until then "Feliz navidad y año nuevo" to all of my friends and family :)  Now, I'm off on my own holiday adventure to Milan, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

English is More Complicated Than I Thought

It's not until you teach English that you realize how complicated it really is!  In addition to my 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes, I am tutoring students from ages 2-40 in English.  I know this is said a lot, but I'm honestly learning just as much from them as they are from me!  First of all, my students and I hit mini language barriers on a regular basis, which usually results in us looking up a certain word or phrase in Spanish or English.  The result?  I'm expanding my Spanish vocabulary through our confusion!  In addition to that, I am constantly challenged to recall English grammar rules that I either learned long ago or learned innately through speaking it as my first language.  If you are having trouble understanding what I am trying to explain, here are some of examples of extremely challenging parts English language you may have never though of as difficult.

-The word "get" is a simple word we use on a regular basis, but what does it really mean?  Well, according to, it has 25 different definitions!  In the following phrases, get means something different in every sentence: "Can you get me that glass?" "I've got to go" "Get dressed" "Get up" "I use my bike to get around" "I need to get my hair cut" "Sorry, I didn't get your name" "Get after it."  I could keep going, but you get the idea (no pun intended).

-One of my older students asked me what the verb "scoop" meant the other day, and I was stumped.  The first example that came to my mind was scooping ice cream.  But then I thought, you can also "scoop" someone up into your arms, but how is that any different than just picking someone up?  So the only way I could think to describe it was picking up in a circular motion.

-We all know that the pronunciation of a word can change its meaning, but how confusing is it when where you put the stress on two identical words changes it from a verb to a noun.  For example:  construct vs construct, and direct vs direct just to name a few.

-Riddle me this, why in English if you say, "I'm up for that" or "I'm down for that" does it mean the same thing?  Shouldn't it be opposite

-One of the hardest things I've encountered is when you come across a word or a phrase that literally doesn't exist in English.  I have two examples.  The verb "to lean" doesn't exist in Spanish; if you're leaning against something, they would say that object is supporting you and if you're just leaning in the air they would call that stretching.  The second example is the saying "let alone."  Sometimes we say something like, I haven't even showered, let alone get out of bed; however, there is no equivalent in Spanish.  You can imagine how difficult this makes teaching these words and phrases

Well I would keep listing examples all day but I'd be here all night!  Instead, I will leave you with my favorite "English Pronunciation" poem.  As you read it, think about how similar spellings can be pronounced so many different ways!  You'll be thankful English is your first language

"I take it you already know 
Of tough and bough and cough and dough? 
Others may stumble, but not you 
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through. 
Well don't! And now you wish, perhaps, 
To learn of less familiar traps. 
Beware of heard, a dreadful word 
That looks like beard but sounds like bird. 
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead, 
For goodness sake don't call it deed! 
Watch out for meat and great and threat 
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt). 
A moth is not a moth as in mother 
Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother, 
And here is not a match for there, 
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear. 
And then there's dose and rose and lose-- 
Just look them up--and goose and choose 
And cork and work and card and ward 
And font and front and word and sword 
And do and go, then thwart and cart, 
Come, come! I've hardly made a start. 
A dreadful Language? Why man alive! 
I learned to talk it when I was five. 
And yet to write it, the more I tried, 
I hadn't learned it at fifty-five."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving and Granada

Friends from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and
Germany enjoying their first Thanksgiving!
Some of the food from our Thanksgiving dinner
 Thanksgiving is always a bittersweet holiday.  Obviously, I miss spending the holiday with loved ones from home but I was lucky enough to have a great group of people to spend it with here in Spain! In typical Spanish fashion, we didn't eat Thanksgiving dinner until 10pm, but everything else was pretty authentic.  Five of us American girls got together and provided the main parts of the meal: Roasted Chicken (no turkey here), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, green bean casserole,  dinner rolls and banana bread.  Our other 15 or so foreign guests brought salads, desserts and someone even brought mac-n-cheese! To keep with American tradition, we had each guests say what they were thankful for.  Although this is normal to us, this made a lot of our guests kind of uncomfortable; they aren't used to being that open.  Nonetheless everyone participated and we dug in!  The meal was surprisingly authentic and everyone loved it.  It was so special for us Americans to spread our tradition with all of our international guests (7 countries were represented at dinner!).  It made the holiday that much more special to celebrate.

One of the beautiful views at the Alhambra
I spent this past weekend in Granada!  It's only a short distance away (2 and a half hours by bus), so I've been dying to check it out since I got here.  I left late because I had to teach private lessons on Friday but I met my friends Amy and Hannah there.  The first night, we just went out for tapas.

Saturday we woke up and headed towards the Alhambra.  Although we didn't have a scheduled tour for the castle until 3pm, we knew there were a lot of things to see on the way.  Granada is a town that has been extremely influenced by moorish culture due to it's history, so all of the shops we stopped in had a Moroccan/Arabic flare! After some shopping, we sat down for a tapa of paella and enjoyed the incredible scenery.  By that time it was time to make the ascent to the Alhambra, which is situated on top of a hill so it was no easy task.  Finally we made it and spent three hours exploring the giant moorish castle, it's gardens, and the breath-taking views.  The castle was stunning and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Granada. Next, we headed to a restaurant in the Albayzin neighborhood (on a hill opposite the Alhambra) to buy flamenco tickets for later that night.  The neighborhood is notorious for Mirador San Nicolas which is the most famous view of Granada.  From this view, you can see the snow-capped Sierra-Nevada mountains, the Alhambra, and the entire city of Granada.  The pictures I took can't do it justice, but take my word that it was incredible.  Later that night we went to a Flamenco show (sorry, the pictures didn't turn out) which was fun because it was my first!  Flamenco is a traditional Spanish dance that includes a lot of stomping and arm movements.  Very cool.  After the show we went out and enjoyed a few more tapas before bed.
View of the Alhambra from "Mirador San Nicolas" with the Sierra-Nevada mountains in the background

Sunday, we did a little more shopping and visited a traditional Moroccan tetería (tea restaurant).  We sipped on mint tea and at delicious Moroccan food.  After that, it was time to go home.

At the Moroccan Tetería
An all around incredible weekend.  I love traveling but I need a break and I'm looking forward to just staying here in Almería this weekend :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Weekend in Dublin

Temple Bar
This past weekend I went to Dublin to visit a couple friends.  A friend of mine from Eden Prairie, Colin, has a job as a leader of a study abroad program in Dublin until December this year, so I wanted to visit him while I could.  We organized it so that I and another friend from Sweden, Sofia, could visit the same weekend.  Colin should the both of us around Dublin, and we had a great time!  We covered a lot of ground, so I will go through my trip day by day.

Kilmainham Gaol
Wednesday-  On Wednesday night I had to leave for Malaga to spend a night there before my flight.  Although there is an airport in Almeria, the one in Malaga is much bigger and had much cheaper flights, but this means I had to take a bus to Malaga and spend one night in a hostel to get the deal that I wanted!  I was FREAKING out because Spain had a national strike on Wednesday, so I thought there might be no buses going to Malaga, which would have resulted in me missing my flight on Thursday.  Luckily, there was one bus (instead of the normal seven) going to Malaga that day, so I made sure that I was on it.  I got to Malaga pretty late, found my hostel and went straight to bed!  I was exhausted.
Old Jameson Distillery

Thursday- I woke up early and caught the metro to the airport.  I arrived in Dublin at 2:30 and took a bus into town.  Colin picked me up from the bus stop.  I was starving so the first thing we did was go out for a bite to eat in Temple Bar, which is an area of Dublin known for its concentrated group of pubs, shops and restaurants.  Then, we stayed in the area because the city was having a Christmas lighting celebration.  Colin said that they had been hanging lights all around the city for days, and they were going to all light up for the first time at 5pm that night!  After the lights turned on, Colin took me back to his apartment so I could drop off my stuff and then he took me out for a traditional Irish dinner! I got delicious fish and chips and my first taste of Irish beer.  After that we went to two pubs.  The first one had traditional Irish music, which really added to the atmosphere, and the second claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, established in 1198!  That's crazy old.  We also met some friendly Irish residents that night, so the whole night felt pretty authentic to me.

River Liffey
Friday-  First we went to Kilmainham Gaol, an old and historic prison of Dublin.  The reason it's so well known is that it was primarily used to jail political leaders during Ireland's uprising against the British crown.  Also, at one desperate point during Ireland's history, people actually tried to get into the prison just so that they would receive food.  At the height of desperation, the building held 9,000 prisoners, which is 6,000 over it's capacity, many of which were children.  The history was incredible to hear and I learned a lot.  After that we headed into Temple Bar for lunch and got Mongolian noodles.  Then we wondered around the area little bit and we happened upon a candy store that actually sold Reeses! That's a rare find anywhere in Europe.  It came at a steep price though, 3.99 euros for a small bag of minis.  We also stopped by the grocery store because I wanted to see if I could find gravy and stuffing (two things that can not be found in Spain).  Luckily, I found some to bring back just in time for Thanksgiving this week!  Later we went to the Old Jameson Distillery where we got a tour and I became a certified whiskey taster!  For dinner we got Indian take out (Dublin is known for it's international cuisine) and later that night we picked up our other friend Sofia from the airport!
Christ Church Cathedral

Certified Guinness Pint Pourers
Saturday- We started the day at a cute little organic cafe just around the corner from Colin's.  Sofia and I split a "toastie" with mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, arugula and pesto which was delicious.  Toasties are basically just toasted sandwiches but they are very popular in Ireland.  After breakfast we headed down O'Connel street (the heart of Dublin's downtown), past Parnell Square and ended up at the Garden of Remembrance.  This garden was made to honor all of the lives lost in the fight for Ireland's Independence.  It's strange for me to think that Ireland's independence is only about as old as the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the US!  Next we visited Trinity College's campus, the Dublin Castle and the gardens of the castle.  By then, it was lunch time but we were still pretty full from breakfast so we decided to go to the "Queen of Tarts" for lunch.  I had tea with an apple crumble, both scrumptious.  After lunch we went to check out the two main churches of Dublin: Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patricks Cathedral.  While wondering around we happened across a very cool gypsy-esc market which had everything from a vegan cafe to hand-made jewelry sales!  Although we didn't stay for long, it's always fun to happen across little things like that.  As Colin said "You won't find that in the green book" (the green book was our Dublin tourism guide).  Finally, we ended up at the Guinness Storehouse which I must admit that I had been looking forward to the whole time!  It did not disappoint.  The storehouse is 7 floors and each one is different.  The first two floors teach you about the process of making Guinness, and what ingredients go into it.  The third floor is the history of Arthur Guinness and the tasting room.  The fourth floor was the history of Guinness advertisements.  The fifth floor had a beer IQ test and a pub where we learned to pour the "perfect pint."  Finally, the seventh floor is the sky lounge where you get to see a 360 view of Dublin.  For dinner that night we had traditional Irish stew and guinness bread.  Delicious!  After dinner we went to the smallest bar in Dublin, which was about the size of most people's kitchens.  Our last event of the night was a concert.  A band from Minnesota called "Trampled by Turtles" just happened to be in Dublin on Saturday so we went to see them live!  We even got to meet them after, and they were pretty excited to meet some fans from Minnesota being so far away from home.

Sunday- I woke up bright and early to catch my flight back to Malaga and then my bus back to Almeria.
Dublin Castle

Overall it was an incredible weekend.  After seeing Dublin, I want to go back to see what the rest of Ireland has to offer.  With each country I see in Europe, it just makes me more excited to continue to travel and see more!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Madrid and Halloween

Plaza Mayor
So it's been a while since I last updated and a lot has happened!  But today, I am going to focus on the two main highlights from my last week and a half.

We stumbled upon a kayak race in the park in Madrid
First off, last weekend I went to Madrid with my friend Hannah.  She was going there to meet her friend who is working in Pamplona this year (where the running of the bulls takes place).  They were nice enough to let me tag along :)  It was only a three day trip but we definitely made the most of it.  The first day, we had a nice three course lunch of paella, pork, ice cream and of course the Spanish staple vino tinto (red wine).  Then, we decided to go see some of the main sights like plaza mayor, mercardo san miguel, the royal palace, the basillica, the puerto del sol, and more.  Then, later that night we went out for some tapas in the centre, and went to bed early so we would be well rested for our one full day in Madrid.  Saturday, I had breakfast in my hostel and then we went to Starbucks for a coffee!  Spain has pretty good coffee, but they always have it with milk which I'm not a big fan of, so I was excited just to get my plain dark roast black coffee :)  Then, we spent two hours in the Prado!  For those of you who don't know, the Prado is one of the most famous art museums in the world.  We got to see works from Rubens, Rafael, The Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Bosch, and many more and it was FREE for students between the ages of 18-25.  Such a steal!  I'm usually not big into art, but when you get to see a painting that is so famous that it is something you have studied in history class, it's pretty incredible.  We spent the rest of the day wandering throughout Madrid and saw the famous café Gijón that Ernest Hemmingway made famous, countless monuments, central park, and the famous road Gran Via.  Later we went out for a nice italian dinner, and experienced the Madrid night life (which means we didn't get in until 6am!)  Finally, Sunday we only had time for one activity before we had to catch the bus home (plus a trip to get some Dunkin' Donuts coffee!), so we decided to go to this HUGE flea market called El Rastro that only happens on sunday.  I bought a couple of cheap souvenirs and sunglasses.  Overall an INCREDIBLE weekend!  Madrid is so full of rich architecture, history, and culture.  I would definitely recommend visiting.

Madrid at night

Some of my students in their costumes
The Halloween Party Feast!
Wednesday was Halloween and here in Spain, they celebrate quite differently.  I think it's funny because even though the U.S. basically created the quintessential halloween holiday that is known worldwide, the Spanish find a way to make it their own.  The first thing you should know is that Spanish people only interpret halloween costumes as scary.  All night I saw zombies, vampires, devils, mummys, witches, etc.  Not like in the US when you will see a broader range of costumes like animals, princesses, athletes, etc.  Also, trick-or-treating does happen here, but on a much smaller scale.  Also, when trick-or-treating, its more common to go store to store to get candy rather than houses.  All shop-owners have candy for the kids.  At school, we had a halloween party.  Every student brought something to share which ranged from sandwiches and deviled eggs to any kind of pastry you can imagine.  I explained to them that halloween in the U.S. pretty much revolves around solely candy.  Here, its anything sweet: pudding, cake, donuts, you name it!  Also, later that night my city shut down the main street and threw a huge halloween party that included marching bands, concerts, street performers, a thriller dance, and much more!  Not how we would celebrate halloween, but still a fun night!  My favorite part of the night was seeing hundreds of paper lanterns being released into the sky!  It was an incredible a magical moment.  All in all it didn't feel like the halloween that I know and love, but it was still a fun way to celebrate, so no complaints here :)
The best shot I got of the paper lanterns!  This picture doesn't do it justice 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Relax, it's Spanish time

Today is October 24th which means I have officially been in Spain one full month!  It certain ways, it feels like time has flown by and in other ways, I feel like I've been here a lot longer.  One of the biggest changes I've had to make is to what I call "Spanish Time."  This not only includes activities at different times of the day, but also the way they view time here in Almería.

I am going to start by explaining the eating schedule here.  My roommates have explained to me that it is normal to eat five meals a day (I still just stick to three).  The first meal is desayuno (breakfast), which you eat whenever you wake up.  Breakfast is never a huge meal; there are no pancakes, waffles, etc.  Usually my roommates just eat toast or cereal or yogurt, something small.  Then, at noon they have a snack (almuerzo).  This is not lunch, it's just something to hold them over until ciesta (2pm) when they actually have lunch.  Usually this second meal is a sandwich or pastry of some sort (I personally have a piece of fruit and almonds).  Finally, between 2pm and 4pm when the students get home from school and adults home from work, the Spaniards have comida (lunch).  This is always the biggest meal of the day and usually includes bread, potatoes and some kind of meat or fish.  Then they have another snack-like mealed called Merienda around 5 or 6pm.  Usually this is a sweet bread, sandwich and warm milk or tea.  Finally, the have cena (dinner), between 9-11pm.  Dinner usually is a smaller meal, more like what Americans eat for lunch: soup, salad, sandwich or eggs and toast.  I thought it would been hard to switch to this eating schedule, but its works so much better with my work day.  I don't ever have to worry about bringing a bag lunch because I have time to cook lunch once I get home.  Also, because it's also the culture, about twice a week or so, I replace dinner with wine and tapas, but I'm planning on dedicating an entire post to food in the future.

The other big difference is the way the Spaniards view time.  In the United States, we are extremely prompt and the phrase "time is money" is often extremely relevant.  Here in Spain (and especially southern Spain where I am), everyone is more relaxed about time.  Here are a few examples
  • One day, there was a problem with my bus, and I got to school 40 minutes late, and my teachers were not mad nor worried about where I was nor how late I was.
  • One more than one occasion, my bus driver hasn't even been at the bus when it is scheduled to leave.  The bus drivers often have a coffee between their bus routes, and if they are five-ten minutes late for their departure, no big deal
  • My favorite tapas bar here opens at 8pm everynight; but, when they say 8pm they really mean 8:30 because both times I have gone right at 8pm to get tapas, they were still setting up and in absolutely no hurry to set the tables and open on time.
  • Recess at my school is only supposed to last 30 minutes, yet I have seen the teacher's let it go for 40-45 minutes some days.
  • Cabo de Gata
  • Meals at restaurants and getting a coffee with a friend at a cafe last about twice as long as they do in the US.  People are never in a rush to eat a meal or drink coffee. In fact, I have yet to find somewhere that I can get coffee to go (with the exception of McDonalds).  They eat/drink slowly and enjoy the experience.
Finally, Spain is a country that naturally stays up late.  It is normal to see kids wondering the streets on a weeknight all the way up until midnight!  Although that might seem late to us, that could be just an hour or play time after dinner for them.  The nightlife here is also extremely late.  A Friday night consists of tapas or pre-drinks around 10-12, heading into town around 3am, and staying out dancing until 6-7am.  Although this is fun, it has really taken a toll on my Saturday and Sunday mornings; I simply sleep the day away so I don't think I will be going out every Friday and Saturday here.  It's just to hard for me!

Although I am still adjusting, I really do love the life style here.  It has taught me many things including patience, relaxation and appreciation for mealtime. 

Jazz Concert outside the Alcazaba
Some other highlights of my past week including going to a jazz concert near the Alcazaba (the most famous landmark in Almeria, which I still have yet to visit!), visiting the natural park Cabo de Gata (see above), which had one of the most spectacular beaches I've ever seen, and scheduling my first tutoring lessons (I went from having zero to having six in one week, my first lesson is tomorrow).  I am also planning my first few trips coming up!  Madrid this weekend and Sevilla the next, can't wait to see a little more of Spain!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Restriction turns to Freedom!

Today I am going to discuss something that I feel that many Americans will not be able to relate to.  It is how the restriction of something can turn into a freedom that you never expected.  This topic revolves around two categories for me here in Spain: Transportation and Technology
Transportation: As most of you know, like most Spaniards I have been using mass transportation and my own two legs to get around Spain.  Although I must admit that sometimes there is nothing better than getting behind the wheel of a car and going for a long drive, I have found myself not missing the convenience of self transportation at all!  I ride the bus every single day I work to get to La Gangosa (two towns away) but other than that, I literally walk everywhere in Almería.  I will say that relying on mass transportation and walking is restricting in my ways.  I have to plan my work days according to the bus schedule, which many times means I have to do a lot of waiting.  Walking is restricting because I have to plan 3 or 4 times more travel time than it would normally take to get somewhere.  Even though to most people these two restrictions may seem like a nuisance, I have found them both to be very freeing.  When you are driving yourself somewhere, it is necessary to constantly be aware of traffic signs, other cars, directions, etc.  When I take the bus ride to school, I get time to observe everything else: the people we pass, the beautiful scenery, etc.  I feel like I have observed many things about Spanish culture simply by looking out the bus window everyday.  Walking holds the same benefits; you can take any walkway you'd like which may lead you to alleyways, bridges and sidestreets you can not reach by car.  Also, I never have to worry about parking!  I just get to walk exactly where I need to be.  Walking also gives me the freedom to move at my own pace, which means if I want to stop and check something out, I can.

Technology:  Yes, I did buy an iPhone before I came to Spain, but I'm using it surprisingly little (although I am still please to have it in those moments when I reeeally need a smartphone).  I have chosen to be on a 25-euro-a-month phone plan, which lets me use internet and calling until my 25 euros runs out.  In Spain, that doesn't go a long way, but I'm not willing to pay for the unlimited plan.  Because I am restricted to only use so many minutes a month, I use my phone only when completely necessary.  This has given me the freedom to detach myself from constantly talking, texting, instragraming, and tweeting my friends, and makes me more aware of my surroundings!  I use this freedom to reflecting on my own thoughts, emotions, and views about my day, which I think is really helping me grow as an individual here.
Kite surfing is very popular here and they're very fun to watch!

That's it for my theme-related post.  In other news, here are the brief highlights of my past week!
Chipirones (mini-squids)

  • Experiencing my first true night out with the Spanish night life (I got in a 7am... which is normal here)
  • Trying two new types of seafood this week: prawns and chipirones (which are mini squids).  I loved them both!
  • Finding a tub of peanut butter in Spain!  It can only be found at international stores, so it was an exciting moment for me.  I was very excited for my roommates to try it... and they both ended up hating it.  I didn't know ANYONE could hate peanut butter!
  • Spending six hours on the beach Sunday napping, reading, watching kite surfers and hanging out with my UK friends!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Better brush up on my cursive

Today marks the official end to my second week of school!  I have already drawn a long list of comparisons of Spanish and American schools, but here are some of the most interesting things I found out

  • Spanish classrooms are nearly as diverse as American classrooms.  My Spanish students alone range from blonde hair and blue eyes to dark hair and brown eyes.  In addition to that i have at least 2-3 black students in every class and 5-6 Morrocan/Muslim students.  This took me by surprise as I did not realize how diverse Spain can be!  Also, there is a high number of Indian and Chinese immigrants in Almería.
  • The first week, I noticed that the teachers and students all wrote in cursive, however I just thought that was something they practice at a young age (like us in the US and then we eventually just never use it and forget it) in addition to print. However, this week when one of my teachers asked me to write something on the black board, I printed it and she said "Wow, that's so English of you!"  Then, she continued to tell me that they do not print in Spanish, the stick to cursive and that printing is something that is quintessentially American! The students say that I "write like the computer"
  • Currently, most of my students are learning about "Parts of the Body" but today, we took a break with my first graders and talked a little bit about autumn.  Although the leaves don't change colors here in Almería, the teachers still teach the students about leaves changing colors and falling during autumn.  We colored leaves to decorate the door with!  When my teacher was telling the students what colors to use for the leaves she mentioned brown, yellow and orange.  One of my students asked if she could use red and my teacher said "no."  When I asked why not, she said "Leaves don't turned red" and I laughed and said "yes they do" and showed her a picture on instagram of red leaves!  She was amazed and said she had never seen that before.  I guess my teacher learned something new today too!
Other highlights of this week include finally spending an afternoon on the beach, getting Chinese take-out with my roommates, sitting in on a private English tutoring lesson (so I know what one looks like before I give my first one!) and getting introduced to two awesome girls from Germany who are spending the year here as volunteers at a local church! 

We'll its time for me to go hang my laundry.  That's right!  For those of you who didn't know, most Spaniards don't own a dryer so I have to hang my clothes on a clothes line the old fashioned way!

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Week of School!

The school I work at in La Gangosa
Today is Friday which means it is officially the end of my first work week!  My technical job title in English is "Language and Culture Assistant." This means that my job is to assist English teachers in the classroom.  I am working at a town that is about a 30 minute bus ride from where I live.  The town's name is La Gangosa and has the population of about 9,000 people.  I work in a small elementary school there and I assist three English teachers!  I have 6 class between 1st and 3rd grade (2 in each grade).  The teachers were extremely nice and welcoming the whole week as well as the students!  Although they can't speak much English, they are always eagerly saying "HELLO TEACHER HELLO!"  So far this week I just kind of helped around the classroom, helped clarify pronunciation and talked with the students.  I couldn't be happier with my school placement; even though its 30 minutes away, I am actually really enjoying using the bus!  The bus ride is beautiful and it gives me some time to pop in my iPod and relax a bit.

snapshot from my bus ride to La Gangosa
The big event of the week was the language and culture assistants meeting this past wednesday.  All of the other people doing this program met up for a general meeting.  This gave me an opportunity to meet some fellow English speakers and make new friends!  There are about 75 of us in the state of Almería, so that includes about a 2 hours radius of where I am.  After the meeting, I ended up getting tapas with a group of people mostly from the UK (including scotland, northern ireland, whales and england) and there was one fellow american.  They all seem like nice people, so I'm looking forward to seeing them again soon.

I visited Almería's most famous cathdral this week!

My goal this next week is to finally set up my TIE (Spanish identity card), which is going to be a big task!  Wish me luck :)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's the Little Things

First of all, i would briefly life to follow up with my last update.  Although there was no damage directly to my city, in nearly all of the surrounding areas, the torrential down pours created floods that caused a lot of problems.  Imagine the Duluth floods times TEN!  Houses destroyed, cars picked up and carried down the river like they're made of plastic.  I feel very fortunate that nothing made happened to us here in the city of Almería, but it just makes me realize while we are not prone to tsunamis, typhoons, tornados, earthquakes or hurricanes in this area, flooding is a very real scenario.

Okay, so I am five days into Spain and everything is still going great!  I've realized that the biggest adjustments I have had to make are to the little things that make up the cultural differences between Spain and the US.
-For example, I always thought it was strange (last time that I was in Spain) that my host mom went to the grocery store 4-5 times a week.  I thought that seemed like such a waste, why didn't she just do one big trip a week?  Now, I realize it is because when you are walking everywhere, you can't weigh yourself down with multiple bags. So, this is something I'm already getting used to; going to the grocery store on regular basis.
-Another thing I have to get used to is buying my water.  The water is dirty here, but it is very hard and is the best for drinking.  I've calculated that I drink about a liter a day, which is less than I normally would in the U.S., but I have less access to it so it's just how it is for now.
-It's weird to me that one of my roommates (Ana) gets home at 2 everyday even though she is a full time teacher.  The work day here is much shorter 8-2 or so for most people.  My other roommate (Carmen Maria) works 7:30-4, but its because she works at a private school, so they determine their work hours.
-Somethings in the U.S. we have become so used to that we think it is normal, but to others, it is completely foreign.  For example, this last week I found out that my roommates have never heard of peanut butter, a bagel or a gingerbread house.  My roommates have been introducing me to things that are a part of their normal diets like gaspacho (cold soup) and salmorejo (a mixture of pulverized bread, egg, ham and milk).  Luckily, I liked both (and that wasn't my first experience with gaspacho).
-Finally you know how we eat our cereal cold in the US? Like, dry cereal with cold milk?  NOT HERE. Nope, they thought I was weird for during that.  My roommates put their cornflakes in a bowl with milk and then continue to HEAT IT UP!  Seems so strange to me, but once again, just a slight cultural difference!

Ana on the left, Carmen Maria on the right with glasses of gaspacho and a bowl of salmorejo
I'm looking forward to starting work tomorrow and to continue to meet more people and experience new things!  I'll be sure to keep you all updated.  Besos de España!

Friday, September 28, 2012

When It Rains, It POURS (literally)

So since I start working on Monday, I thought it would be a good idea to practice taking the bus to the town where I am working.  This requires a twenty minute walk to the bus station, thirty minute bus ride, and another ten minute walk to the school.  Because EVERYTHING here is unfamiliar to me, it seemed like a good idea to do a test run.  The keys to today's success were three things: intuition, courage and patience.  I found the bus station pretty easily, however it was pretty confusing once I got there.  I discovered that for some buses you buy tickets at the booth at the station and others you just buy right on the bus.  Eventually, I figured out that mine was the latter. So I hopped on the bus a quickly realized that only knowing the name of my stop was not going to help me, so I had to rely on the city names on signs to know when to get off.  Luckily, I got off at the correct stop.  Then, I realized that I have no idea where the school is, I forgot to write down directions.  I did have an idea of what direction it was from the bus stop because I had looked it up on google maps the night before, so after a bit of wandering and working up the courage to ask for directions, I found the school.  I found my way back to the bus stop and patiently waited for 45 minutes for the next bus to come. I was excited to be heading home again and everything was going smoothly until it started raining on my walk home... and not just raining... POURING.  I have never seen a heavier rain.  Within minutes, there were 3 inches of standing water on each side of the road.  Even though I had remembered my umbrella, it did not protect my bottom half of my body.

In conclusion the lesson I learned today is not to be afraid to get a little lost, trust intuition, and ALWAYS carry an umbrella.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Almería- The Cali of Spain!

Dining/Living Room
My Room
I landed in Almería almost exactly this time yesterday and I have to say that the first 24 hours have gone really well! I got to the airport in Almería and couldn't believe what I saw getting off the plane (and it was a small airport so when we got off they plane, we were immediately outside).  To my right was a bright blue beautiful ocean and a long strip of coastline.  To my left big bold brown mountains.  It was only 10am and the temperature was already in the high 70s.  All of these things put together reminded me of the California landscape and climate, but that's where the similarities end.  Almería is definitely a european city.  Although I hear it is much more touristy and luxurious towards the coastline part of town, the rest of the city is full of corner markets and pharmacies and little bars and restaurants line every street. Although Almería's population size is comparable to Madison, its much more compact (nearly everyone lives in an apartment), which gives it the hustle and bustle of a big city.

I took a taxi to my new apartment where my roommate's boyfriend met me at the flat (my roommates were at work).  The apartment is small but its so cute, I love it! The best part about my apartment though, is the terraza (deck).  It is huge!  Later that day, I met my roommates who are so friendly and nice!  They could not have been more welcoming.  They took me to the grocery store so I could stock up on food, and then later, they took me out for drinks and tapas!  Tapas (for those of you who don't know) are like little appetizers. Here, in the state of Andalucia, they come free when you order a drink.  I couldn't believe it!  I was able to have dinner (two drinks, a pork and brie sandwich and an egg dish with toast and jalapeño sauce), for just the price of the two drinks, which ended up being about 4 euro.  After that, I was ready for bed.  I only got about 2 hours of sleep on the plane. 

La Terraza
The goals for the rest of the week are to get a new sim card for my iphone so that I can use the google maps app to get around town.  That will give me a lot more independence to explore for the city on my own, so I can't wait for that!  The next goal is to master the bus system by friday, as I start work at the elementary school on Monday.  

P.S. I have to blog about the plane food... IT WAS INCREDIBLE.  I attached a picture of my dinner which included a shrimp salad, beef and rice, vanilla cake, brie cheese and a white roll, and white wine (by the way, the wine was FREE).  I also had a delicious breakfast but I gotta say, Spain knows how to do their plane food pretty well.  The U.S. should take notes

Monday, September 24, 2012

Off to ALMERIA! (my new home)

Well, it is 1:51AM and I am leaving almost exactly 12 hours from now.  Needless to say, I definitely should be sleeping but the nerves are keeping me wide awake.  Even though this is my third time going abroad for an extended period of time (2009 summer- five weeks in Spain, 2010 fall- semester in Chile), this is definitely the most anxious/emotional/anxious I have ever been.  I am not sure if it has to with the fact that this is going to be the longest I have ever been away from home (9 months) or the fact that I am going alone.  Even though I am a little scared, I always tell myself that the more scared you are going into an experience, the more you'll get out of it.  I know that this will be my greatest adventure yet, so I am as prepared as ever!  I just spent an amazing weekend with friends and family and so now I know it is time for me to go.  I've just packed my next 9 months into three suitcases, so what the heck!  HERE GOES NOTHING!