Two steps forward, one (and a half?) steps back.

You know that phrase above? Over the course of my life, I’ve realized time and time again that it’s often true. For example:

  •   When I used to work on my round off handspring tuck in high school…I’d do fabulous for a few weeks, then fall on my face once and not be able to do it for months.
  •   During my experiences teaching, you feel like you’re really making a breakthrough with a child or they finally understand…and then they come to school the next day making the same mistakes all over again.
  •   Right now, in regards to speaking the language here in Spain—the first couple days were awful. Then I gathered confidence because I started to actually differentiate some of the words in conversations and catch the gist of what they’re saying. And I was starting to get comfortable enough to respond. Now I feel like I don’t understand hardly anything again and I can’t seem to speak worth a damn. It feels a bit like a roller coaster, however, and I’m guessing that I’m going through the next phase of understanding and sometime (soon?) it will all click even better than the first time. Plus, I’ve noticed that people don’t speak as slowly around me anymore, unless they see I look like a lost puppy dog and try to repeat it more slowly.  Pues…vamos a ver. (“We will see.”)

Highlights of this blog post (since I usually write unnecessarily lengthy posts and you can scan to what you want…or read it all if you love me! Haha):

  •   Life Accomplishments in Pobra
  •   The School System and Schedule (and information about substitutes in Spain!)
  •   My experiences in the classes thus far
  •   Food/La Comida
  •   Highlights/Awkward Moments
  •   Photos 🙂

Life Accomplishments in Pobra

  1. I have somewhere to live!! After seeing about eight different flats with R., the other auxiliar from Massachusetts teaching in the primary school in Pobra, and one of her teachers, M., we decided on the flat that I actually saw online on It was the only one listed in Pobra and I had emailed the person posting it asking questions. In the end, it was adorable, in an incredible location, and a great price! We are the only ones renting right now….there’s also a flat on the top floor and the elderly woman who owns the place lives on the bottom. She’s an adorable woman who loooooves to talk about her grandchildren. So far I’ve only spoken with her a couple times and I’ve already heard the same story twice. Could be interesting. Oh, and we don’t have heat….so lots of extra blankets and sleeping in sweats has already occurred. We were warned that winter will be brutal without heat, but I’m going to do my best to not complain. Pictures of the flat are below in the gallery!
  2. I have a phone! I bought the cheapest, most basic Samsung flip phone that you can get and have a prepaid card in it, which you can recharge nearly anywhere. It’s so simple that it doesn’t even have a camera….goodbyeeee T9 texting and BBM. It’s kind of nice at the moment for no one to be able to get ahold of me right now…I even ran down to the supermercado (supermarket, aka: grocery store) earlier and forgot my phone. I would never have forgotten it in the states! Ha. In 2 months, however, I’ll probably be hating my life.
  3. I have a bank account! With the help of the secretary from the school, this is all set up and I changed all my dollars to euros. Stupid exchange rate.  Also, please see Awkward Moments for something I stupidly did concerning the bank.
  4. I have a NIE and am waiting on my official TIE in the mail…the NIE is the number that makes me legal here in Spain and the TIE is the card, which I will have to carry. I have a provisional one for now.

I actually just realized I don’t know my address yet. As soon as I ask M. for it (the elderly woman downstairs), I will post it and perhaps I might receive mail??? Please please! And I will send postcards, too!

  1. I do NOT, however, have internet in the flat yet….it’s quite frustrating! That’s the reason it’s taken me so long to post all of this. Going into the shops to ask questions was quite difficult…my technological vocabulary in Spanish is not up to par. Hopefully we’ll get internet figured out in the coming weeks. I’m getting more sleep without it though! haha

The School System and Schedules (and info about substitutes):

Schools are set up a bit differently here and it’s taken me the last week and a half to figure out how it works (somewhat) via states of confusion and incessant questioning.

  •   “Kindergarten” – 6 months to 3 years (our equivalent of nursery/daycare)
  •   “Nursery” – 3 to 5 years (our preschool)
  •   “Colegio” – 5 to 12 years (our primary/elementary school)
  •   “Instituto” – 12 to 16 (or 18, depending….see explanation later) (our secondary/middle/high school)
  •   “Universitario” – 18 to 22 years (our college/university)

School is only compulsory until 16 years of age. The “instituto” (middle/high school) is split up into ESO (Escuela Secundaria Obligatoria) and Bachillerato. So they have 1 ESO (primero ESO), which is like our 7th grade, 2 ESO (Segundo ESO) which is like our 8th grade, then 3 and 4 ESO’s for our freshman and sophomores. At this point, students can choose to be finished, go into vocational schooling (which are offered at my school, Pobra, for dietetics, informatics, and something else), or head into Bachillerato, which is two more years of secondary school (1 BAC and 2 BAC) to prepare for university. There are more details, but it just gets complicated so I won’t go into it.

Structure of the school day:  Technically 6 periods of 50 minutes each straight through the day with two “recesos” or simply breaks of 15 minutes and 20 minutes. The school day is from 8:45 am to 2:20 pm. No passing periods since teachers switch classrooms and not students usually, unless necessary…interesting huh?! I was surprised at first, and to be honest, I don’t like it at all because the classrooms cannot be decorated (or as Professor Leana would say, they aren’t productive learning environments) and they’re depressing.  There are also afternoon classes on Mondays and then optional extra English classes in the afternoon on Tuesdays (which I help with).  So all students leave school at 2:20pm, go home for lunch…the big meal of the Spaniards and during which EVERYTHING in town closes except cafeterias and restaurants….then those students with afternoon classes return for two more periods from 4:20 to 6pm. It’s nice to have all the classes at once and get them done, but going until usually 3pm without food is hard! I have to focus to make my stomach not growl in class. Haah

 Substitute Teachers out there….get this—They do not call in a substitute unless a teacher is generally gone more than 15 days in a row. 15!!!!!! So even if a teacher is going to be gone for a week or two weeks on vacation or sickness, another teacher will watch their class (they have “guard duty” penciled in their schedules). I was asking L., the teacher I was living with before I moved into the piso, how they were able to teach a subject they didn’t know. She responded quite simply, “We don’t.” Basically a class will watch movies or screw around until the teacher comes back, or if necessary, a substitute is called in from anywhere in Spain. Also, as a teacher, you do not get to choose what school you teach at…you are a government official (and have governmental protection), but they dictate where you go when they want. A bit insane!

My Experiences in the Classes Thus Far

So what the heck am I doing here?!?! Good question. Not exactly sure yet…most of the teachers have pretty much told me they do not know the best way to take advantage of me. The students struggle to understand me, especially with the American accent since they’re accustomed to the British accent, and even when they do, they don’t know how to answer. Additionally, apart from the English classes, I am supposed to be teaching in classes that I don’t even know all the content. For example, in biology/geology this week, we’re discussing tectonic plates, continental drift, the Great Underwater Rift, etc…things I don’t think I’ve thought about in minimum 5 years, probably more. I also am teaching in Physics/Chemistry, along with Music, and several different English classes.

My schedule is awesome though…I’m working about 15 hours per week (I have no idea what I’ll do with my free time yet). Unfortunately, I’m spread amongst so many classes that I have two weeks of alternating schedules, so each class will only see me once every two weeks. I’m not sure how helpful I can be if I’m in there so rarely!! But we’ll see…hopefully I can make some sort of difference. It’s most been conversational classes so far, where I introduce myself, they (kind of) ask questions, I ask about them, and so on. It’s funny because the first question I always get is “where are you from?”, second is usually either “How old are you?” or “Do you have a boyfriend?” Sometimes that’s all I’ll get! Especially the older classes…they never seem to want to talk as much.  As for the boyfriend topic, I’ve taught them all the phrase “Mind your own business!” hahah, they liked that.  One more thing…alcohol is a common topic in these classes! With the 15 and 16 year olds even…I was positively blown away when a teacher in the English class asked the students what they did the previous weekend…one kid said “I drank water”, or so I thought…when she wrote it on the board, she wrote “vodka” instead of “water” which was, in fact, what he had said (their accent is hard to decipher too!)  But it’s accepted here, much more so than the states.

Food/La Comida:

I can’t do it….I’ve now tried many types of seafood and it’s just not happening. I’ll continue with basic fish like cod, salmon, etc….but not if it has its head on it! I went to lunch with the girl who is now my roommate, R., one day and it’s the “menu del día” type deal, where you pay a certain amount of euros and it comes with water, bread, first course, second course, and a dessert (postre). You get a ton of food, get to try different things, and it’s usually pretty good! However, R. got basically fried sardines for her first course….the whole fish had been fried and you were supposed to eat the whole thing…I couldn’t even bring myself to try it. I thought I was being safe by ordering “callos”, which the waiter described as garbanzo beans with meat. I WAS WRONG. Food comes out….a bunch of garbanzo beans (yum) in a sort of light broth and this meat on a bone that basically looks like uncooked chicken with a bumpy skin…..and it was squishy. I couldn’t decipher what it was, so I figured I should try a bite. SICK. The texture, the taste, especially the texture…nope. I ate the garbanzo beans only. I decided to look up callos later that night….found out it was COW’S FOOT AND TRIPE (AKA: STOMACH LINING).  Never. Again.

Last week on Sunday when I was still at L.’s house, we had a big lunch with two of her best friends’ families. We made traditional paella in a giant pan over the awesome barbecue. I can totally do paella, which is basically rice with vegetables and meat….depends on what you have/where you live as to what you put in, but ours was mainly seafood. They did put some other chicken in for those of us “kiddies” though! Haha. But there were clams, crabs, those giant shrimp, some sort of the shrimp with pincers (can’t remember what they’re actually called), and squid. I did okay with the squid and clams….I can’t bring myself to touch anything with eyeballs or legs. We did have these “razor clams” (as the kids call them) and some other thing as appetizers (picture below)…I did okay on those, minus the fact that the razor clams reminded me of giant white tubular worms or maggots. You see why I can’t eat these things??!?!?! I can’t turn my imagination off! Meh.

As for food on my own now, I’m somewhat failing. Having to walk home with everything from the grocery store is a bit of a pain, so I’m essentially living on bread, chorizo, cheese, yogurt, plátanos (basically bananas), strawberries from L.’s garden, cereal with milk, andddd Nutella.  Hopefully I’ll expand my options shortly.

Highlights/Awkward Moments:

H—Having a traditional Spanish lunch on Sunday with all of L’s friends and their kids while sitting on the porch looking out into the bay…it lasted nearly 5.5 hours.

AM—Trying to enter the bank, La Caixa, after they had closed at 2pm for the day…I set off the alarm, thinking it was a buzzer to enter.

H—Having students wave at me and say hi in the hallway already and being told that “Jose loves you!” the first day I was in a 1 ESO (like 7th grade) class.

AM—Setting off the alarm at the supermarket at the doors.

H—Going up to the top of the mountains overlooking the Ría Arousa and seeing everything around…giant windmills, eucalyptus forests, the open sea, lots of mussel farms in the bay, wild horses and cows roaming the mountains….complete silence and serenity (a couple pictures below…couldn’t capture it well though)

AM—Not knowing how to grocery shop!!! I couldn’t even figure out which were salsas and which were tomato sauces. Then the meats and chorizos….oh goodness. I had no idea what the woman at the counter was trying to tell me, so I just asked which was the best chorizo and then told her I wanted a little bit. It’s quite good!

H—Moving into the flat and feeling like a real adult! Stepping out onto our mini terraces and hearing the church bells right down the street while the sun was shining!

AM—Having the weakest stomach and nearly getting sick on the bus to Santiago de Compostela…I had to ask the bus driver when we stopped in another town if he had any bags (in case I did get sick…I wanted to think ahead!) and I had to run into the bus station there and ask another woman. Talk about embarrassing. I will not be forgetting to take my motion sickness pills anytime I go on a bus from here on out…I learned my lesson the hard way in Ireland!

H—Wandering Santiago and checking out some terrific shopping (but resisting by not buying anything…yet!). Then finding a library sale in the center of some plaza…the elementary school teacher in me couldn’t resist buying several children’s books in Spanish! I was able to resist shoes, but not children’s books? Uhh…

AM—Getting lost in the town twice within the first week….still not sure how I achieved that and no one else understands either. We essentially have one main street. I’m just incredibly skilled at getting lost!

Continue reading

“Lo probaré….”

Well…I have arrived! On Wednesday, I packed up 9 months worth of belongings into one medium-sized suitcase and a backpack (go me!) and was on my way to the O’Hare airport. I bade farewell to my mom with a kiss and hug while the train pulled away to Terminal 3. The adventure began.

The flight was uneventful for the most part. My suitcase weighed 22.2 kg and the limit is 23 kg….so it was close. When I found my seat on the plane, I was in one of the middle sections (set up 2, 4, 2). I prefer the window because I can lean against it and sleep. Luckily, the couple in the 2 seats against the window were having problems because the seat in front of them didn’t stay up. They wanted to stay together, so I offered to trade them (there was an extra next to me as well). But when I sat down in the new seat against the window, the flight attendant comes up to me and says I can’t sit there for safety reasons! Of course, she began rattling this off to me in spanish and the older man goes, “English, I think”. I was simply trying to understand what I could of it in preparation. 🙂 But it all worked out and I simply had to move during the take-off and landing (during which I sat next to a wonderful woman named Sharon from a suburb of Chicago, retired 2nd grade teacher of 35 years, and off to visit her son who studied in Spain and then married a woman there and has lived there 10 years…she shared teaching ideas and anecdotes about her son’s experiences and wedding).  The stewardesses continued to speak to me in Spanish, though…apparently I looked spanish?? I wanted to say….¡No soy española! But it was fun and good practice, too.

The layover in the Madrid-Barajas airport wasn’t too bad…I sipped on a “café con leche” (coffee with a lot of milk) and did some people watching. However, the airport was sooo spread out. I walked for hours to get anywhere, it seemed like. Upon arrival, I thought my luggage was missing as I watched everyone else grab theirs from the retrieval thing and then the belt stopped moving…..I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as I was the only one left standing there. Luckily, it ended up coming on a different plane and all was okay!

The view from the plane...we are over Spain and you can just see the sun starting to come over the land. Beautiful.

Ana, one of the ‘bilingual’ teachers from the school (she teaches biology and geology combined), picked me up and we grabbed a Galician lunch in the new part of Santiago de Compostela. She told me it would have to be quick…..I ate zucchini with potatoes for the first course, some sort of fish, rice, and green pepper for the second, and chocolate mousse for the dessert (“postre”….yes Mom, my favorite thing ever. It was “riquísima”…delicious.). And of course, Ana explained, we have to end with a coffee. An hour and a half later, we departed from our “quick lunch”. haha. We did some other things and picked up a teacher, then headed to Pobra for a Parent’s Meeting at the school that night. By that point, I was still wearing the same clothes from the plane, had only brushed my teeth once, and looked a complete wreck, but I met the others and the four administrators of the school and sat through an hour and a half of a meeting where I didn’t understand anything. It was in Galician. Entirely Galician, which is a mixture of spanish and portuguese. When I read it, I can discern some things, but when they speak, it all runs together so much!

By the time we arrived at Loli’s house in Boiro, a nearby town, at 10pm, I was beyond exhausted. I met her kids, Pedro (10) and Alicia (7), along with her husband, Toño (short for Antonio). At school the next day, I went with Angel, the secretary who basically runs all the financial stuff and knows the technology for the school, to Ribeira. Ribeira is another nearby town where we went to the police station for some legal things and set up a bank account, etc. Angel doesn’t know English too well, so it was good practice for both of us! In the evening, I went with Loli to the kids’ activities (taekwondo, guitar, swimming…and then ballet class on Saturdays!), but the moms all go to a “cafetería” during the activities. I sat with her and her friends sipping on a drink. At the cafeterías, you do not eat usually, but just get a drink…and then they bring you free tapas, which are basically small snacks!

Forewarning…gross part ahead:  Loli’s husband is a veterinarian, so we stopped by his clinic while in the centre of town. He was castrating a cat….I watched. Well, I should say I watched only half before I felt sick. I’ll spare you the details, but it was….[shudder]. They slice open the balls and cut off whatever part it is and then have to tie the strings of the reproductive system into a knot. And blood. Ugh. Then I left.

Finally, we’re heading home on Friday and it’s again 10pm. We ate dinner at a restaurant where one of the tapas they gave us were “mejillones” (or in Galician, “mexillones” and you pronounce the “x” like “sh”). What are “mejillones”, you ask? Mussels. Well, a lot of you know I do not care for seafood (“mariscos”), but per my life philosophy, I told them “Lo probaré”….”I will try it.” And I did. I tried two, but nope….do not care for it. And I tried tuna in a sandwich. Nope. And then we got “calamares”, which is squid. I didn’t necessarily like it, but it had a light batter so it was not too awful. I’ve also now tried “empanadas de mejillones”, which are like mussel pies, but nah. However, I never used to like sushi either, so I’m going to continue trying different things. Especially because this area of Galicia is known for the “mejillones”. In the bay of Boiro, you can see the “bateas de mejillones”…mussel farms where the mussels grow on ropes! It’s neat.

Tomorrow we are going to have paella, which is a traditional Spanish dish. But when we were in the plaza today, Loli got many of the main ingredients for it…..allllll seafood. And get this–they’re ALL ALIVE. It’s a market of mainly seafood items and some other meats (and a couple stalls of breads and produce). The crabs are giant and crawling over one another. The shrimp were moving their giant eyes and legs (remember my reaction in Dubrovnik, Katelyn? And those were dead.). All were ALIVE. I was so grossed out that I wanted to puke, also because of the smells. And Loli bought a variety of these living animals, we put them in a plastic sack and then I had to carry them around the city….I made sure to hold the bag away from me a bit. :/ I’m interested to see how I do with the paella.

Speaking of food, the Spanish eat at very different times than the United States. They have a small breakfast when they awake, usually coffee and a piece of toast. (Loli puts olive oil and jam on hers.) Then they don’t eat again until “la comida” around 3pm…I’m usually SOOO hungry by then because breakfast is usually my biggest and favorite meal. Then they eat “la cena” about 9:30 or 10:30pm. It’s an adjustment from my eating habits, for sure.  Today we had a wonderful comida though….lots of different types of meats, bread made from corn, a salad of endives, corn, and carrots, and roasted red peppers. ¡A mi me gusta!

This is my type of barbecue! ("Una barbacoa")

Well, enough about these details….if I’m being honest, it’s been hard so far. Really, really, really hard. My spanish comprehension is horrendous and then I keep forgetting words when I try to speak. Plus, I think in English and then it comes out wrong and I have to fix my comments….needless to say, my speech is stuttered and I often don’t understand. I will sit in the group of Loli’s friends and have no idea what is happening. It is even worse because they so often speak in Galician. However, I know they are making an effort to speak in the castellano spanish for my sake sometimes. Even after a few days, though, I’m starting to feel a little bit better. I understand the accent of Loli’s family more and since she is pretty much bilingual, she helps me out and I help her with words and pronunciation! No one is fully bilingual here though…even with the teachers, it is a term I use loosely. I have to speak very slow….I feel like I am speaking slow, but they still tell me to slow down. Pues, I guess it is an inherent problem I have already! And I’m constantly needing them to repeat or slow down…usually I still don’t understand. I just try to get the gist. Hopefully in a couple more weeks, I’ll be better and have a larger vocabulary. I am using the little tiny notebook that my sister gave me before I left as a personal dictionary….to write down words and phrases that I don’t know.

I brought many brochures about Indiana and IU and Warsaw here….I was showing them to Loli and Toño tonight. They were blown away by the cost of college in the states, even at a public university like IU. The thought of school loans was foreign to them…college here is almost free.

All in all, it’s been a good start….even if I panicked at first and it was truly, positively awful. I can’t complain. This family I’m staying with it wonderful. They have a beautiful home. We went to the beach today and I kayaked with the kids. I’m trying new foods, even if I don’t like them. My spanish is improving. It’s a beautiful place. Yep. I’ve given too many details already (such is my nature), so I’ll quit. I’m going to look for a “piso” (flat/apartment) on Monday and get a Spanish prepaid phone. Loli and I already compared the prices of all the different stores. 🙂 Here are the only other pictures I’ve taken so far: (You can click on them to make them bigger.)

Time for a new adventure

In just over a month, I will be back on a plane across the Atlantic Ocean…this time headed for A Pobra do Caramiñal, España. As I mentioned during my time in Ireland, I accepted a grant to become a teaching assistant of English through the Spanish Ministry of Education.  I’m placed in a secondary school in the small, coastal town of A Pobra do Caramiñal in the Galicia region, and it’ll be for the whole school year (which for them begins October 1st). I know nothing about it, but I guess that just means I’m forced to go into it with an open mind. I must admit that after training for elementary/primary levels of education all these years, I’m more than a bit uneasy about working with the “big kids”, but it’ll give me more experience in the long run!

Here’s the link to the school’s site…good luck trying to figure it out though, even if you know Spanish since it’s in Galician. That should be interesting since my spanish is sub-par at best!

After all my traveling before, I was quite ready to stay in one place for awhile and quit living out of my backpack and sleeping in hostels. But now that I’ve been in Warsaw working constantly to save money, I’m bored and itching for another adventure so it’s perfect timing.  Feel free to join me along the way via this blog…hopefully I’ll do a decent job updating it regularly! Also, I’m trying to figure out the whole slideshow deal and pictures with this new theme, so bear with me. I did figure out how to create a slideshow within a post, though…see below for a few highlights from backpacking!

33 days! Probably should start packing now, so I can cut down 10 months worth of clothing/shoes into one suitcase…eek.

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