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 :)