A Year in Review

This is impossible to do….as I sat on the beach one evening with some friends (at 10pm and it was still light!), we were discussing the things we were going to miss and the others that we were happy to leave. It is quite difficult! You’ll see that many of mine are on both lists, indicated with ** and an explanation at the bottom when necessary.

Also, let me mention that this is a list of the insignificant things. I obviously am going to miss all of the people here that have made this experience what it has been. It’s weird saying goodbye to my students for the last time, knowing I literally will never see them again. (Though I thoroughly enjoyed having them sign a Galician flag…some of the messages are hysterical, some are inappropriate, some make no sense, some are chants for sports teams or celebrities, and they cover four different language: English, Spanish, Galician, and Chinese from one girl…it’s awesome). It was even weirder to say goodbye to the teachers, though I DO hope to see some of them again someday. Pobra do Caramiñal has become my home this year. It wasn’t only a temporary thing like in Ireland, where the end was always in sight. This has occupied a special place in my heart and taken a year of my life…I’ll never forget it.

Things I Will Miss:

  • Pimientos de Padrón
  • Buying my produce at the weekly market or little local fruit shops
  • Hanging my clothes out to dry**
  • The friends I’ve made
  • Going to the only Chinese restaurant in 50 km with other English-speakers and having the owner pull out 3 extra bottles of wine to chill when we walk in (no joke. She did this last time we went….probably because the previous time we accidentally went through 4 bottles between 3 of us….)
  • Cheap, good quality wine
  • Free tapas with every drink
  • Speaking Spanish**
  • The teachers I’ve become close to
  • Seeing my students around town every single day**
  • The proximity to the beach
  • The beautiful view and walk to school every morning**
  • Walking everywhere**
  • Greeting people with a double kiss on the cheeks…seems so much friendlier than a handshake
  • Baby Café’s con leche
  • Nutella being cheap**
  • My private lessons and watching them grow
  • Learning how to be patient and help people communicate, celebrating when we finally succeed
  • Being forced to speak slowly (I think you’ll all be interested to see that I DO speak more slowly now…Hillary noticed it when she came to visit, even when I was speaking with just her…a necessary change for me, the ole ‘Motor Mouth’ as my family used to call me when I was little J)
  • Looking out the window of some of the classrooms at school and seeing cows, mountains, the port, and water
  • Going for a run up to the mountain and visiting my dog friends I’ve made
  • Children and people running around the centre and sitting outside of all the café’s just soaking up the atmosphere
  • The laidback-ness of Spanish culture** (sometimes it made me frustrated)
  • My beautiful apartment with huge windows, hearing kids outside playing in the street, and constantly having them open to let in fresh air and sunshine**

Things I Won’t Miss:

  • Rain and humidity…all winter, I never felt completely dry.
  • Awful Internet
  • The lack of peanut butter and hummus
  • Hanging my clothes out to dry**
  • Speaking Spanish when I can’t communicate exactly what I want**
  • Being unable to wear yoga pants or Nike shorts around town without getting looked at strangely
  • Seeing my students around town every single day**
  • Walking to school every morning**
  • All the shops being closed on Sunday and every single day from about 2-4
  • Eating bread with every meal (not so good for the figure, but it’s a staple here…you even use it like a utensil to help you eat)
  • Walking everywhere**
  • Spanish public transportation
  • Listening to American music from last year and being behind on new hits
  • Nutella being cheap**
  • The laidback Spanish style**
  • My apartment with no heat

** — I enjoy hanging my clothes out to dry when it’s a beautiful sunny day and I’m not in a hurry. I do NOT enjoy hanging my clothes out to dry when it’s a shit day (more common), especially since it’s my only option, and I end up with clothes hanging all around my room for the next 3 days waiting to dry.

** — I realized I love speaking Spanish around town…it makes me feel accomplished and it’s more exciting when it’s a challenge! I know I’m going to miss having to use it everywhere I go. With that being said, it will be nice not to have to try so hard to understand everything and to get looked at like a fool when I pronounce something wrong.

** — At first, I hated seeing my students everywhere I went since it’s a small town, nowhere for them to go except the centre, and we all walk everywhere. But after awhile, it can be fun to embarrass them and say hi if they don’t say anything, or just to have groups of kids saying hi to you everywhere you go.

** — Some days I loved walking to school along the water…other days, when it’s windy and rainy and I feel like Mary Poppins about to get blown away while my shoes are getting soaked….not so fun.

** — I’m going to miss walking everywhere because it can be nice…sometimes…other times, I just wish I had my car! Especially so I could have explored more and not relied on our awful buses!

** — Nutella: My waistline is going to thank me for returning to normal eating habits again after a year and a half of traveling and a summer of working in a restaurant all day, every day. Intense summer diet, here I come!

** — I love how relaxed the Spanish are…it’s a “Don’t worry, be happy” type of culture. However, there are some days when it is more than a little frustrating when there isn’t consistency or nothing gets accomplished (this isn’t near as bad as it is in the south of Spain, from what I’m told…I can’t even imagine now how I would have reacted down there!)


Ultimately, this year has been a 9 month long roller coaster. I’ve had times where I felt lower than ever before and times when I’ve felt higher than ever before. In the end, the ride has ended at the top of a hill….I’m getting all sentimental and am now sad to leave. I hate goodbyes, but got through them, though if I’m being honest, as I reread some cards from teachers and my students messages on the flag, I did cry a bit. Now it’s time for the next chapter….

Anyways, I made this list about a week ago and meant to keep adding to it and editing it, but now I’ve run out of time!!! I’m waiting in my apartment all packed up and everything cleaned, waiting for a phone call from my teacher to go to her house. I’m spending the night at her place and my flight leaves tomorrow at 9am! (Saturday)…I go from Santiago to Barcelona, Barcelona to Vienna. Once I find the hostel and everything, I’ll go wait at the train station for my mom and grandma to arrive and then begins the tri-generational Eurotrip 2012. I’m sure it’ll be a great time, even though it’s bound to be a completely different experience from backpacking last year! I will try to update my Facebook status and post pictures off my iPod from time to time throughout the trip, so stay posted. 🙂


Dear USA, we meet again for good on June 23rd. Get ready! Love, Courtney

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 idealista.com. 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!

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