Friday, February 24, 2012

5 Things to Consider Before Working Abroad- Tripping guest post

By far the most common responses I get from readers are questions about moving overseas, finding work, and setting up a life. I had many of the same questions before I came, so I understand perfectly.

The folks over at Tripping recently asked me to write a piece answering these very questions, so without further ado, here it is. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to ask me any other questions you might have.
Photo credit:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In which my body becomes a classroom prop

Last week I was teaching my students vocabulary for physical descriptions of people. Lesson learned: Spaniards are not shy and do not sugar coat, especially when it comes to the human body.
Example 1: I was explaining the slight difference between skinny and slim (flaco y delgado). The other teacher decided to help me out. "For example," he said "Amy is slim, but she's not skinny." Twenty five pairs of eyes turned to me, looked me up and down, analyzed me from all angles. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think actual humans, present in the room, would be used as real life examples of body types in the U.S. We're a bit more sensitive.

Example 2: With their new vocabulary students had to write a description of a celebrity and the class had to guess who it was. I don't remember all the details nor the exact words, but want to take a guess who the red-headed, overweight singer was?
Maybe I'm a little worked up in Adele's defense because of this, but really? Look up at the drawing they had as an example for "overweight" and compare (contrast!) to Adele. Maybe it's my fault for not giving my students vocabulary for body types between slim and overweight (read: normal, average, beautiful), but I had no desire to argue with the student and draw any more attention to the debate.

Spain definitely doesn't take any shame in describing people, on both ends of the spectrum. Men can freely call other men handsome without accusations of being gay. When someone thinks you are good-looking, they generally tell you. This can be in the form of a coworker telling you you're especially guapa today, or random men on the street shouting at you as you walk by (aka piropos, but that's for another post). Here, it's just a part of life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On not drinking coffee

There´s one little reason why I can never be Spanish. Some would even say I´m not quite fully human. I don´t drink coffee.
Is this in my flat? Yes. Do I use it? No.
It´s really quite simple. I don´t like the taste. Countless friends here and at home have insisted, "Here! Try this. There´s so much chocolate/cream/caramel/hazelnut/you-name-it in here you can´t even taste the coffee." I oblige, take a sip. Nope, all I can taste is the coffee.
Vocabulary that has not been added to my Spanish
I know it would be easy enough to acquire a taste for coffee. I could start with sugared down drinks and work my way up. But I have absolutely no desire to begin a potentially very addicting habit. I survive just fine without all that caffeine and sugar in my diet, and I keep a few extra euros in my pocket everyday. Here in Spain it´s not near as expensive as the $5-at-Starbucks-twice-a-day trend back home (a café con leche runs about 1.20€-ish).

Both in Spain and in the U.S., drinking coffee is a huge part of the culture. How many times have you heard, "Let´s go grab some coffee" as a euphemism for "Let´s go to some little place where we can sit and chat and also happen to have a drink in our hands." Okay, so maybe it only sounds like that to this non-caffeine addict. I so badly want to take part in this social activity. I want to hang out with my friends when they all meet up for coffee. Especially in Spain, this is an excellent way to while away the evening, or to stall until it becomes an acceptable time to eat dinner (never earlier than 9:00pm).

Luckily for me, there are alternatives that still allow me to take part in this coffee shop/cafetería tradition. Back home I have tea, iced tea, and my usual preference, cream-based frappuccinos. Here in Spain, it´s all about Cola Cao.
 It's basically the Spanish version of Nesquik, readily available in any proper establishment. Do I feel like a child when a group is all ordering coffee and I chime in "Oh, and one Cola Cao!"? Yes, I definitely do. Do I care? No. I'll take awkward stares over drinking coffee any day.
Although only a simple glass of Cola Cao, it will always taste better when your grandma makes it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A little bit louder now

Spain is a loud country. No if's and's or but's about it. If you've ever been here you undoubtedly agree. If you want to be heard, you simply speak louder than anything and everyone around you. After a year and a half in Spain, I still sometimes have to remind myself that two people shouting at each other is not necessarily an argument. That's just a normal conversation, which is perfectly acceptable to have on the bus, at the supermarket, or in a restaurant.

What does that mean for classrooms in Spain? Definitely not this:
Hand raising- a concept I've had to teach my students
Spanish classrooms are quite like the rest of the country- loud and disorderly- at least in comparison to those in the United States. Obviously this isn't true of all of them, but based on my experience in two primary schools and that of my friends, it doesn't seem to be an unfair generalization. Working in schools here at first was a huge culture shock for me, and I spent quite a while wondering how, or if, anything was ever accomplished in schools. Students don't ask to leave their seats and are often wandering around the room. Interrupting someone because you have something to say is completely normal. And there is shouting. Lots of shouting. I feel like I spend half my class time trying to get my kids to shut up and listen. But just like everything in Spain, it's a bit different from what I'm used to, but it seems to work for them.

Case in point: last week a particularly soft spoken girl was beginning to read aloud from a book. It immediately became evident that there was just too much chitter chatter going on.

"Why are you all talking?!" my co-teacher demanded of the culprits, "Catherine is reading aloud and I can't hear her!"

"Well, she just needs to speak louder," a member of the guilty party explained matter-of-factually.

I literally burst out laughing because this comment illustrated the Spanish mentality perfectly. It wasn't her fault that she was talking out of turn, it was Catherine's for not being loud enough.

Oh Spain.