Thursday, November 25, 2010

Little moments

Just a few of the little moments from my day today that are the reasons I love what I do:

Prior to making hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, I was explaining to my six year olds, in a mix of Spanish and English, "Tomorrow there is a holiday in the United States that we don't celebrate in Spain. It's called Thanksgiving, and there is a big dinner with lots of food." At this point one of my more outgoing students, Ana, interrupts me with (in Spanish), "I can't go, I'm busy tomorrow." What a shame, I had bought her a plane ticket to go to my parents' house and now she can't make it.

Fast forward to a private lesson this evening with a 27 year old. I'm telling him a much more accurate version of the story of the first Thanksgiving than I did with any of my kids, and I find myself explaining the meaning of the phrasal verb "to freeze to death." I explain that this is when you get so cold that you die. He exclaims, "Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic!" Yes, yes indeed. That is just what happened to dear Jack. He then flails his arms in the air, pretending to slowly sink as Rose lets go of his hand. He was now making fun of me because I had previously divulged just how in love I was with Leo when the movie came out when I was ten. Mission accomplished? Yes, he now fully understands the meaning of "to freeze to death."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Call me crazy...

I'm going to run a marathon. There. I said it. The words still sound crazy to me, but I'm going to do it. La Maratona di Roma on March 20, 2011 to be specific.

This race looks absolutely amazing, and it's just the excuse I need to go back to where I studied abroad. The course goes through the entire city, passing the Colosseum, Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Circus Maximus, you name it. I could not think of better scenery to keep me going for 42 kilometers. Check out these pictures from previous years:

Since being in Spain I've been gradually getting back into running, made easier by my new gym membership. For the past two weeks I've been to the gym five days a week (It's amazing what you have time for when you work less than twenty hours a week between two jobs) and I plan on sticking to that schedule. As my runs get too long to do on a treadmill I'll start taking them outdoors. Málaga is definitely lacking in running trails, but it does have a beach with a walking path that continues down the coast far enough to meet my needs.

One way that Spain has changed my running is how I measure my runs. The treadmills at my gym use kilometers, not miles, so I have adjusted. The metric system, of course, makes much more sense, but beyond the practicality of it, I really prefer kilometers. I feel much more accomplished having run 12 km than 8 miles.

I was a sprinter in high school, so getting serious about long distance running is new to me, but there's nothing that a good training schedule and a bit of determination can't tackle. I'm not looking to make some fabulous time, my goal is simply to finish and to not walk. I'm confident that I can do that.

If anyone would like to join me either in running the marathon or just for a weekend in Rome, all are welcome! If you need a little inspiration to get in the running mood, watch this:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I don't want to live in Spain

When I was in elementary school my best friend owned and rode horses. I went with her quite often and the two of us had a blast riding together. However, she and her mom always told me that I wouldn't be a real rider until I survived my first fall. Fortunately (unfortunately?), in all the time I went riding, I never fell off, so I guess I never truly became a rider.

I now find myself in a parallel situation. I am living in Spain, or so I thought. I have an apartment, two jobs, a gym membership, a cell phone, a bank account, and I'm even a legal resident. But a Spanish friend recently enlightened me that contrary to appearances, I'm not really living in Spain. He says that you haven't really lived in Spain until you've stepped in dog poop. Walking in the streets here is often quite an obstacle course, navigating your way around the lovely remnants that dogs leave behind, and that their owners don't think to clean up. I've been diligent thus far and have managed to avoid stepping in one, but if I must do so in order to really live in Spain, I guess I don't want to live in Spain. I'm perfectly content keeping up my facade.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I spoke too soon. I was just bragging about how fantastic my three-year-old is and today she didn't want to be in the same room as me. It's very difficult to teach a "class" consisting of one three year old. Most English classes for kids anywhere close to that age rely on games and the kids interacting with each other as much as the teacher. For the past few weeks since the class started it's been just me and Maria. I guess I was really lucky up until today that she was entertained by the games I managed to come up with for one person. But today was the the last straw. I think she was probably woken up from a nice siesta to come to class because she was tired, cranky, and clinging to her mom from the moment they walked in the door. We finally detached her from her mom's hip and appeased her by joining the class next door where her older sister was.

Unfortunately this wasn't my first crier either. There's a boy in my 5-6 year old class, Angel, who has been getting progressively worse. It started one day when his mom was about five minutes late to pick him up. All the other kids had gone and it was just him. He and I were still playing a vocabulary game, having fun (or so I thought), when he burst into tears because he thought no one was coming for him. Another teacher and I of course immediately began soothing him, assuring him that she would be there any minute, and telling him that everything was okay. My hypothesis is that this gave him a taste for the attention one receives when throwing a tantrum, because in every class since then he has started crying in the middle of the class saying his head hurts, his arm hurts, his whole body hurts. We're talking huge crocodile tears and pitiful wails. Normally when kids do this, if you ignore them and continue like normal they will stop, but not this one, and to make it worse he completely disturbs the other kids in the class to the point that they stop everything they're doing. I have to stop class, take him out of the classroom, get him a glass of water, or turn him over to his mom, who gives him a lecture, tells him to shut up, and sends him back in. He'll come back in, still sniffling, sit down, and start all over again, to which the other kids exclaim, "¡Otra vez!"

So the little ones have been an adventure lately, to say the least. I have Angel's class again tomorrow evening, so we'll see how that goes. I can't help feeling that I'm the problem because there's so much of this happening to me, but my director insists that these kids have developed an allergy to English, not to me. I'll take the other smiling faces in my classes as proof that he's right, because my self-esteem needs the boost.

At least things are going well in the day job. I have a class of 6th graders that I get to do a lesson with once a week. It's a nice change because they're several years older than the rest of my students, and it's also fun because the teacher allows me to completely write my own lessons and do whatever I want. Today we did a lesson on typical American food. Everyone wanted pancakes by the end of the class, but I don't think I sold them on the idea of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

On a completely unrelated note, my flatmate and I finally got gym memberships today, so that should make running much more convenient. There aren't very many places to run outdoors here, and there just aren't many people who do it. Five and a half kilometers today!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

So, what do you actually do?

I recall a conversation I had with a friend not long after I came home from studying abroad in Rome. She asked me a very general question about how the experience had been; something along the lines of "So, how was it?" I paused to reflect briefly and decide how to best summarize what the experience had been like without talking her ear off. My response, at least to start, was something like "Well, I went to class a lot, I read, I wrote a lot of research papers, but I loved my classes." I chose to talk about the "study" part of "study abroad" first. I think this is very unusual for an American's experience studying in Europe, but very typical of me. Most come here for a semester or a year to drink, party, and run around the cultural capital of the Western world. I did my fair share of that, but if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a huge nerd, and I love school. That was by far my favorite part about Rome; I had class in the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and all over the streets of what still stands as my favorite city. My study abroad experience, therefore, had a very strong "study" component, not just an "abroad" one.

Fast forward two years to present day, and I am now teaching abroad. Just like I was in Rome, I am abroad. I am in a foreign country, speaking a different language, adapting to a different culture. But this time the other part of the experience is teaching, and again, I absolutely love it. Some of my fellow language assistants are here more so to live in Spain, and have no plans to pursue a career in teaching, which is perfectly acceptable. The program I'm in doesn't operate on the assumption that all its participants are born educators. We are assistants after all, and our responsibilities are not overly demanding.

Others of us, myself included, are here just as much for teaching as we are for Spain, if not more. I am a teacher. I couldn't not be a teacher if I tried really hard. I even have a fancy certificate from the University of Cambridge saying that I'm pretty good at teaching English as a foreign language. This is all to say: I LOVE MY JOB! Not everyday is perfect, but a lot of days I come home smiling at the thought of doing this for the rest of my life. If I had one wish for everyone in the world, it would be for everyone to love what they do as much as I love what I do.

Now, to answer the question that many have asked: What do I actually do? What is this job that I knew so few details about before leaving home? I have two jobs. The first, which I was contracted for before coming to Spain, is as a Language and Culture Assistant, or in Spanish (not a literal translation), Auxiliar de Conversación. I work in a bilingual elementary school, meaning that many of the subjects are taught in both Spanish and English. The teachers I work with are all "certified" to teach in English and supposedly speak the language well enough to teach it. This is not the truth at all. Unfortunately many of them lack basic grammar and their pronunciation is so horrible that the students don't understand me when I talk because they're used to their teacher's pronunciation. My job here is to assist the teachers with their bilingual lessons. What I actually do in class varies greatly. Sometimes I simply sit in the corner, helping the teacher with pronunciation while she teaches. Other times when I walk in the teacher hands me the English workbook, points to the pages for that day, and goes and sits in the back of the class while I take over the class, pulling a lesson out of thin air with zero preparation. I'm definitely using trial and error to find out what works and what doesn't for a group of 25 eight year olds. To give some other examples of what my days are sometimes filled with: last week I spent one lesson helping second graders make flowers out of tissue paper, making them tell me the color of the paper before I would help them. Another day I read aloud a story about a witch for Halloween, while running around the classroom (I almost just typed 'aula' if that tells you how much Spanish is invading my vocabulary) acting out everything the witch did. Much to my students' amusement, this involved 'tripping' over imaginary black cats several times.

My second job is at a small private school in the evenings. I have classes of 3 year olds, 5-6 year olds, 12-14 year olds, and a 27 year old engineer who I tutor. These classes are entirely mine, each meeting twice a week for an hour or so. I decide what to teach, what games to play, and what worksheets to use. It's a lot of fun and I think this experience will really help me develop as a teacher. My teenagers love hangman, my 5-6 year olds love Simon says, and my three year old loves arranging flashcards of numbers from 1-10 in order on the floor. If you didn't notice that, yes, I only have one three year old. Luckily she's fantastic, incredibly sweet, and has only cried for her mom once, very briefly, before I distracted her with a teddy bear game.

So in a nutshell, this is what my jobs are like. I hope this has answered any lingering questions about what exactly I'm doing in Spain besides eating and taking siestas.