Sunday, October 20, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons...

The saying "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" is a phrase that should definitely be taken to heart before any abroad experience. It's inevitable to run into challenges and inconveniences during a year away from the U.S., but instead of complaining (which I must admit that I do sometimes) it's better to find the silver lining of the situation.  Here are some prime examples from my first month in Madrid:

1. Long Commute- In reality, my commute isn't bad at all: 10 minute walk to the metro station, 15-20 minutes metro ride (depending on the day) and 8 minute walk from the metro station to school. Some auxiliares have the luxury of having a short commute, but I enjoy the journey. Not only does the walking wake me up in the morning, the metro ride gives me a chance to catch up on my reading (currently in the second book of the Game of Thrones series and loving it). Also, on occasion I run into fellow teachers from my school on the metro and that is always a good opportunity to speak Spanish and bond with them a little bit.  So yeah, my 35-40 minute commute is no biggie :)

2. My TWO HOUR lunch break- In my opinion, a two hours is an unnecessarily long lunch break especially when it's smack-dab in the middle of a 4.5 hour school day. Ugh. But I decided to be as productive as possible with it, so I joined a gym that's a short 5 minute walk from the school. Now, instead of having two hours for lunch, I spend an hour at the gym, plus walking there and back, changing, showering etc, which leaves me 30 minutes for lunch, plenty for me! Now, I have a workout planned into my work-day which has been pretty nice I must say.

3. Having Monday instead of Friday off at work- Okay, I'll say it, I'd definitely rather have Fridays off BUT I must admit that there are a lot of benefits to having Mondays off.  Last year I had Fridays off, which I loved because Thursday was always a lively night out with tons of local University students filling every bar and pub in Almería. However, since I usually found myself going out on Thursdays, that meant I usually slept that day away on Fridays. I.E., I got NOTHING productive done.  And on Sundays when I wanted to be productive, everything was closed, whomp. Now, I have Saturdays or Sundays to waste away and on Monday I can go grocery shopping, run errands and plan a fun day activity. Also, since I'm awake and alert I've been cooking (something I dearly miss) for my roommates on Mondays. I love trying out new recipes so that's been fun.  Which leads me to the other bonus of Mondays. I have made a friend here named Catherine (Cat for short) and she is my only other friend with Mondays off of work. So we've deemed Mondays to be "Monday Funday" and plan on doing something fun with our days off.

4. Sick this week- This week I came down with a little cold. Nothing to severe just your general sore throat, mild fever, runny-nose, etc. But my 6th graders ironically were learning about "Health and Illness" right now in science. So, I was able to use myself as an example. (Quote of the week: One of my students asked me "Teacher, are you sick?" and I said "Yes, I have a cold" and he responded with "But teacher, it's sunny outside." Language barriers can be comical).

5. Madrid is EXPENSIVE- Yes, Madrid is a pricey city to live in, but that just forces you to explore more of the city and find the cheapest (sometimes even free) events that are going on. has proved to be an extremely useful resource for me this year. I've been trying out new bars, restaurants, and neighborhoods each week to find where the best deals and promotions are and it's been a fun adventure so far.

6. Lice- This week we found out multiple students at my school carry lice..... can't really find a silver lining to that situation. I'll let you know if I do ;)

Something else that is unrelated to the theme of the week that happened this week was the "Holi Run," Spain's version of the Color Run. I participated in the Color Run this summer in St. Paul, and new I had to do it again! The run consists of 5 kilometers of running or walking and at each kilometer mark, there is a different color that you are painted with. The paint is a eco-friendly powder that (for the most part) won't stain. The biggest differences I noticed between the Color Run in the US and the Holi Run here is that it is MUCH cheaper here (Only 10€ as opposed to $35) and that in the US there are volunteers that thrown paint on you where as here, you have full access to the paint and throw it on yourself. The self-painting was fun, but a little brutal. Some people would steal full buckets of paint and run off with them, and some people would lay and make snow-angels in the powder (hazardous). But we had a blast at the race and I'm looking forward to the next time I have an opportunity to do it :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

First Visitors of the Year!

Being in Madrid has given me SO MANY topics I want to blog about, but I'm going to resist blogging about them all at once because I have 10 months to write about them, and I want to do each topic justice. So this post I'm going to dedicate to the most relevant topic of the week which was my visitors!

The first visitor was Charlie Crocker, a family friend who I've known my whole life. He's currently studying in London and decided to come to Spain for his week-long fall break with friends. Unfortunately, he visited on a Wednesday and Thursday which meant I was busy with work from 9:30-4:30 (plus private lessons on Wednesday), but that didn't stop us from having a blast with the time we had! Wednesday night I met Charlie just outside Plaza Mayor where he was sharing a bucket of beers with his friends. His friends needed a nap, but Charlie was determined to power through so the two of us ventured on. I took Charlie to the Museo de Jamón and despite it's name, it's not actually a museum. It's a chain of bars that offer a wide variety of cured ham to try as well as beer and cheese. I treated us to a platter of jamón serrano (dry-curred ham), queso curado (cured cheese) and a pitcher of Spanish beer. After munching on that and catching up I took him down Gran Vía to the Templo de Debod, which in addition to visiting the Egyptian temples from 2nd century BC, you get (in my option) the best view of Madrid. At night you can see the Palacio Real, Basilica and Cathedral all lit up as well as the entire river valley of Madrid. It's pretty amazing, definitely something everyone visiting Madrid must see! Afterwards, we went and got more tapas (I was helping Charlie eat his way through Spain), and then eventually met back up with his friends for a beer.
On Thursday night we met up again. I was with two friends from work when Charlie & co met us in Chueca, a hip neighborhood of Madrid. We enjoyed some tapas and mojitos together and then we walked them to one of the most famous clubs in Madrid, Kapital. However, it was a school-night for me so that's where we had to say goodbye. It was great getting to visit Charlie, even though brief it was a good time.
Just two days later I was graced by a second visitor. Antonella is my mother's best friend and our former backyard neighbor. I grew up with Antonella's family, including her children Daniel and Chantal. They moved away when I was seven-years-old but we've always kept in touch and last year I was lucky enough to spend Christmas with them in Italy, where they currently live! Well, coincidentally, now Chantal is studying abroad in Madrid so Antonella came to visit and I got to spend time with both of them. We spent the morning at the Rastro, a notorious flea market that happens every Sunday in La Latina, just a short 15 minute walk from where I live! After browsing the clothes, jewelry, and other knick-knacks we went to Plaza Mayor for a coffee. Then for lunch we visited my favorite place in Madrid, Mercado San Miguel.  This time I indulged in various tostas including smoked salmon, Galician-style octopus, creamed codfish, and muscles. All delicious! Then we moved on for a little treat, frozen yogurt from Llaollao. Frozen yogurt has become a HUGE enterprise in Spain within recent years, and Llaollao is notorious for being the best-quality chain. After fro-yo we tagged along while Antonella and her friend did a little shopping. Chanti, her roommate and I chatted and enjoyed each other's company while occasionally being asked to weigh in on shoe purchases. It was a lovely afternoon. But eventually, it came to an end. Thankfully this won't be that last time I'll see them this year! I am planning on seeing Chanti much more in the near future and Antonella not only is planning on a second visit to Madrid but also invited me to spend Christmas at their house for a second year. I'm so lucky to have such wonderful family-friends.
Anyone who has lived abroad knows how special it is to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. Not only is it comforting to have a little piece of home, but it's fun to play tour guide! However, this week as made me realize how much I still have to see in Madrid! I still have a lot to learn about this giant metropolis. Looking forward to all the adventures to come!
And now, I have a couple of plugs. First of all, for any of you who follow me on twitter, instagram or facebook, I am going to be keeping track of all of my big moments this year with #MadridMilestone . So for all the haters who think hashtags are pointless, I'm proving that they can be properly used. Simply type in the hashtag and follow along! Second, this week I was honored to have one of my pictures from my Chile study abroad trip chosen to be featured on Ellen Degeneres' blog! Feel free to check it out.
Love from Madrid <3

Monday, October 7, 2013

New year, new school!

Another week down and I'm still loving Madrid :)

Last Tuesday was my first official day of work. I made sure to get there a little bit early because it was my first day, but I ended up beating all the teachers there! And I was only 15 minutes early. That's Spain for ya! But once all five of us auxiliares were there, they gave us a tour around the school. It's a comparable size to my school last year; three classes per grade, K-6 rather than 2 per in Almería. Then we got our schedules, and I began to realize my work schedule is going to be very different this year. Last year I worked 12 hours a week, and the school day ran 9-2pm with a 30 minute recess and I had Fridays off.  This year, I work 16 hours a week, the school day is 9:30-4:30 with a 30 minute recess and 2 hour lunch break from 1-3pm and have Mondays off. The lunch break is not my favorite, way too long in my opinion, but other than that I think this school is better in every way than my school last year! I'm really liking the staff. They're all pretty young and super friendly. Furthermore, not only can the English teachers actually speak very good English, they also make an effort to ONLY speak to their students in English.  Last year, that was not the case, haha. I work with 4 different teachers a week, but specifically one for 9 of my 16 hours. She's a brand-new teacher and young like me. Her English is really good and we get along great. She found out that I have my teaching degree in the US, so she even let me create a lesson and have a few classes to myself last week!

Another big change for me this year has been my students. Last year I taught 1st-3rd graders and this year I am teaching 5th-6th graders. At first, I admit that I was a little disappointed that I didn't have the adorable little kids, but I've really liked having the older kids so far. They're better behaved, they're easy to joke around with and their English is really good! I can hold simple conversations with most of my 5th and 6th graders! They've really impressed me so far, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them more this year.

Besides getting adjusted to my new work schedule, I've had a pretty exciting week! The highlights include purchasing my first plane ticket of the year. Alexa (one of the other auxiliares from my school) and I planned a long weekend trip to Porto, Portugal. We're headed there in just a few weeks, so I'm very excited. Also, on Saturday 4 out of us 5 auxiliares at my school went to Día del Mercardo, where for 2 euros we got to do quite a bit of wine sampling. In addition, there are free samples of cheese, olive oil, marmalade, honey, liquor, and more. I was also shocked to see that they had beer tasting! I didn't even know they did craft beers in Spain, but apparently they do in Madrid, so that's exciting. Later on Saturday night we all went out to a concert and got to listen to some local music as well as covers of American classics. We had a blast. On Sunday Alexa and I explored Casa de Campo, the biggest park in Madrid and we covered a LOT of ground.

I'm realizing more and more how much there is to do in Madrid! It's truly a city full of life and adventure. I can't wait to see what the rest of this year has in store for me.

Below I've added some pictures of my apartment. Its small but I love it. Amazing location, within walking distance to everything! And also in a young, hip neighborhood.  Visitors welcome :)
Itty-bitty bathroom

The kitchen, washer included 

View from my balcony!