Thursday, January 26, 2012

Adjusting to being unadjusted

A question I often get from friends when I'm back in California is if it feels weird to drive after having not driven for so long. Here in Spain, I walk or take buses or trains just about everywhere I go. But when I'm home, you bet I drive. Otherwise I'd never make it out of my parents' house.
In Spain, my trips in cars look more like this
 After my semester in Italy, and being home for Christmas during my first year in Spain, driving felt like a whole new sensation. The power of the gas petal under my foot was invigorating, as if I was fifteen again and experiencing it for the first time. Flying down the freeway was a new joy. On the flip side, sitting in southern California traffic was a new nuisance.

However, the past couple times I've been home I noticed that driving felt different, in that it felt exactly the same. In fact, this past Christmas, I was ten minutes down the freeway on my way to a friend's house before I realized, "Hey, this is my first time driving in months!" It didn't feel like anything different. It was more of a "Oh, I'm driving again. Meh."

My only conclusion- I've become adjusted to being unadjusted. Whatever muscle memory is involved in driving a car, mine can apparently now be turned back on without me even realizing it. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is debatable, but I think it's indicative that bouncing back and forth between continents is normal for me. Such is my life.

However, coming up very soon on my to do list- learn to drive a manual transmission. Working on becoming more European by the day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My little secret

I have a secret. Believe it or not, I speak Spanish. Not a surprise to you? Oh, well I guess it's not a secret I keep from everyone. In fact, this is a secret kept only from a specific group of 200 individuals- my students at the colegio. My school last year wasn't explicit about it, but this year I was clearly told on day one: in front of the students, I am not to utter a word of Spanish. As far as they're concerned, I know nothing but English.

This often creates some entertaining situations. A student will come to ask me to translate something, only for another to remind him, "¡Ella no habla español!" Duh. I stand there and smile, pretending to have no idea what they're saying.

For the most part, the fact that my kids think I only speak English is fantastic for their education. Since I started with these kids in October I have truly seen them develop in their communication skills. If they know that they can't revert back to Spanish to get their point across to me, it is much easier for me to encourage them to be innovative and think more critically about how to make themselves understood. When Carolina didn't know the word tangerine, she described it as a tiny orange. When Manuel wanted to tell me why his arm is in a cast, he used a combination of gestures, drawings, and the vocabulary fall, pain, and doctor to demonstrate exactly how he fell off a stair railing and landed on his arm, while I corrected his verbs to past tense. It's amazing to see what these kids are capable of (linguistically, that is, not breaking bones). They might not be using grammatically perfect sentences, and they might not know all the vocabulary for what they want to say, but they can get their point across, which in the end is what matters.

There are also some draw backs to not being able to speak to my students in their native language. The above examples of kids stepping outside the box are great, but it only really works for the more outgoing students. They are aware that they're making oodles of mistakes, but these particular ones have decided that's okay, they just want to participate in class and communicate with me. Unfortunately not everyone is that brave. As a language learner myself I can sympathize. You have to set aside your pride and put yourself out there, willing to makes mistakes and potentially embarrass yourself. For some students, this means recoiling into a shell and not talking to the English teacher at all, because the safety net of Spanish isn't there. For many, calling on them to read aloud is just about the worst punishment I can give them.

Keeping up this secret is sometime difficult. When there are no students around I speak to the other teachers in Spanish, and we sometimes find ourselves forgetting to switch to English when students come around. But what can be even more difficult is hiding my understanding when I'm surrounded by Spanish. I can't help the way I react to certain things, that I laugh at something funny, that I gasp at something shocking. A few students are slowly catching on to my secret, and some have even called me out.

"So you do speak Spanish!"
"No, no," my coworker assured the clever eleven year old, "Amy's just nodding her head and pretending like she understands."

One thing I've learned for certain, bilingual life is never boring.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How not to eat a Reese's peanut butter cup

A bit of advice: If you ever come across someone in your life who has never tasted peanut butter, never experienced the joy that is contained in a Reese's peanut butter cup, and you decide to enlighten them, make sure you tell them about the paper on the outside of the cup. You know, the dark brown one that looks an awful lot like chocolate?

On second thought, don't. It's pretty funny to watch.
Also, if you bring a two pound bag of Reese's back to Spain with you, get a gym pass to go with it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


This year was probably my best yet. It was the first, and hopefully not the last, that I spent more time outside the United States than in it. Nine of the twelve months living in Spain, ten countries visited, and twelve new stamps and one new visa in my passport. It was also my first full year keeping this blog. The themes of the year- Spain, traveling, teaching, and blogging- are all things I plan to keep up in the years to come.

Enjoy some of my favorite pictures from the year.
Málaga, January 2011
Sierra de las Nieves (Ronda), February 2011
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, February 2011
Sierra Huétor, Granada, March 2011
The Alhambra, Granada, March 2011
Buckingham Palace, London, April 2011
Newcastle, April 2011
Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, April 2011
Playa las Salinas, Ibiza, May 2011
Antequera, May 2011
Paris, June 2011
Salzburg, Austria, June 2011
Amsterdam, June 2011
Disneyland, California, July 2011
Fiesta de la Cerveza, Málaga, October 2011
Talamanca de Jarama (Madrid), November 2011
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, December 2011
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, December 2011
Considering I saw all these things with my own two eyes this year, I'm pretty grateful for this life I live.

Happy 2012!