Friday, November 29, 2013

European Thanksgiving

I am aware that this post is late, but I have too much to be thankful for not to share. So, better late than never, right?

I also decided that I had too much to be thankful for so it couldn't merely be a Facebook post. It had to be a blog. About my (European) Thanksgiving.  

Things I am thankful for this year:

1. Snow
My day started out with a walk along snow-lined streets to the metro. It was the first day it snowed in the city and it made me super excited. I didn't get a picture of the snow covered palace on my way to school, but I did snap one on the way home (although most of the snow was melted). Nevertheless, I was so thankful for the snow - my first white holiday. 

2. Thanksgiving Meals
I can feel my loved ones back home laughing about this post - I am not a fan of Thanksgiving food. I'm not the greatest fan of white potatoes of any sort, turkey, yams, etc. But I knew I would miss it anyway. My school made this amazing feast for Teacher Appreciation Day. All with food that is usually not traditionally eaten in Spain. They even put marshmallows (my favorite part of Thanksgiving) in the yams! They even had pumpkin pie! This was an amazing thing that made me so incredibly happy. 

My plate of turkey, green beans (with ham), stuffing (with ham), mashed potatoes, yams and marshmallows, gravy and cranberry sauce. Yes, my school is that awesome!

3. My coworkers/my school
I work with amazing people who have made my transition to Spain an easier one than it could have been. My school does amazing things (like Thanksgiving feasts, complete with decorations and a traditional American meal). Also, the students are such a joy. I couldn't ask for a better place to work.

My fellow Valdebernardo Auxiliares, our bilingual coordinator and myself. 

4. My CIEE Family
These are the first people I met in Spain. In two and a half months, I have been with some of them through the thick and thin of adjusting to life in Spain. I couldn't have better people in my group and am so appreciative that I got to meet them first. Because of CIEE, I have people in Spain I can call anytime of the day or night if I ever need anyone. I always have someone. 

Also, I would like to take this space to say that I am thankful for the time I got to spend with Stephen, a member of my CIEE family. He unfortunately had to go home early. On behalf of your CIEE family, we miss you and hope you can eventually make it back to Spain. Feel better soon, man.

5. My friends (yes, Brett, even you)
I couldn't have a better support system of people back home. Yesterday, when I got home from work, as I was missing my family because I'm in Europe for Thanksgiving, I discovered a Christmas card from my friend Erin and her adorable family. It made me so happy! 

I'm thankful for all of my friends. I know we have been through a lot together this year (and in years before), and I am thankful that you have stood by me through everything. Thank you for supporting my dreams and for being there for me while I am in Spain. I know we have our differences (yes, Brett, I'm looking at you, haha), but I couldn't ask for better, more loyal, more supportive people.

Here is a picture of three people who have been there for me a lot this year. 

Andrew and I.  Andrew, my best friend, we have been through so much together and you are an amazing person. I am so thankful I have gotten to know you and not a day goes by where I don't miss you.

Sorry for all of those who aren't in the pictures. I miss you guys just as much, maybe even more.

6. Chico's English Department
I have no picture for them, but I want to let everyone in the department, students and professors alike, that I love them and I am thankful for them. I miss my long, literary discussions with you guys. 

7. Char 
Char. What can I say about Char? I have no photo of her either, but without her, I wouldn't be in Spain. In my freak out moment about post-graduate life and grad school, she was the bright light that convinced me to get out of Northern California and go to Spain. I guess I owe her my life right now. Without her, I wouldn't even want to know where I would be. Thank you, Char.

8. My family
I am so grateful for them. So, so  grateful. Thank you guys for supporting my spontaneous decision to completely change the direction of my life and move to Spain. I appreciate all that you have done for me. Miss you guys so much!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ruminating On Words

As my friends here will tell you, I have the hardest time with the fact that strangers don't smile at you when you make eye contact (unless they are creepy old men). I miss that more than anything else. 

The purpose of this post
As I'm sure many people (if not everyone) have experienced when moving to a new country, I have ran into some cultural and language barriers and differences that have made me long for home. Getting closer to the holidays, it has been especially hard. 

But, as I was missing home and looking at photos today, I was reminded of someone and something very important to me.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading some of my late Aunt Kathy's (my dad's cousin, but so close to being my aunt) journals. Today, I was reminded by some of the words she had said in there. But first, let me tell you a bit about the similarities I share with my Aunt Kathy.

1) She lived in Europe when she was just a bit younger than me, something that most of my American born family members (most of my mom's family was born in Europe) never experience. (Her and her late husband (my dear Uncle Jim) lived in England and my late but so great Uncle Ron lived in Germany. If I'm forgetting anyone else, I'm sorry, I have a lot of family members).

2) She had a great love of books. Although her and I had different taste in literature, it's so rare when you find someone with such an appreciation of the written word. I knew whenever I saw her she would have some new book to talk about (even if it was usually a Nicholas Spark's book).

3) We both love this time of the year. So much! Aunt Kathy had one of the most caring hearts out of everyone I know, she definitely exuded the Christmas spirit that so many people don't have. Plus, her house was always the best decorated with hand painted Christmas villages, a beautiful tree and everything. 

So, like I said, a few months ago, I got to read some of her journals. In her journal from earlier this year (from before she knew she was sick), she had written that she was going to choose a word for the year and live out the meaning of that word. She chose the word trust. Her and I may have different visions of what the word trust means, but, in that moment, I decided that I was going to finish the year out for her and be the example of trust. 

I realized that I've been falling short, so, from here on out, I'm going to be more trusting and more trustful even when times get me down. I trust that I will be okay, that my Spanish will improve and that people will smile at me when I get back to the states. I invite you to do the same and to pick a new word for 2013. Don't be skeptical for the remainder of the year and trust people that you should and trust that things will fall into place. 

Okay, now a work story about trust
Working with kids have made me experience trust firsthand. They are some of the most trusting people. Them trusting me after not really knowing me and not speaking the language that I do should be a sign that I'm doing something right. It should also be a lesson on how I should trust.

One day, when I was still felt like my students were quite skeptical of me, I heard one of my kids say "Brittany! Ayuda! Ayuda!" and come running to me with another one of my kids. The boy he was with was crying and they started rapid firing Spanish at me.

Although I had know idea what they were saying (although it turned out to be something to do with slingshots), they trusted that I would know what to do. They trusted me through language barriers. They knew that even though I had no idea what was happening, I would take care of it.

I need to trust that even though sometimes my poor Spanish skills elude me, I can convey what I am saying.
I need to trust that this experience will better my life.
I need to trust that I will be okay if I don't eat at TBar for a year. 

I just need to trust that everything in the end will be okay, like it ended up being for the boy who got hit in the eye with the slingshot because he trusted me.

I need to trust.

If not for myself, then for my Aunt Kathy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

TIE, Traveling, Snow, and Celia, or, Why I haven't been a loyal blogger

I'm sorry to all of my religious readers out there - I have not been a good blogger. But this girl is back and here to explain why I have taken such a leave of absence. It's all been for (mostly) good reasons. 

Wait, I'm Still Not Legally Here?: The TIE Process

Okay, so, the visa process was hell. And I mean HELL. And that's me being nice. An understatement. But I made it to the Spain end of that process, knowing that my visa would expire 90 days after it was issued. Ough! I thought it would be a simple process, but, seeing as this is Spain, nothing is simple. I had to get an Empadronamiento from the government, collect paperwork, make a bunch of copies and go somewhere in the middle of nowhere to get fingerprinted. But now that harrowing process is done and I pick up my official TIE card in two weeks.

Oh, the Places You'll Go: El Escorial and Segovia, Traveling and Snow

The last few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to do a bit of traveling around Spain. I visited El Escorial last weekend and today I went to Segovia. I loved both of these and you can see pictures of them here.

In El Escorial, I got to experience snow. Now, I've seen snow before - kind of. I've done the requisite ski trips and such and, once in fifth grade, the teacher let us outside for 5 minutes because it was "snowing," which means slush in Northern California. But I'd never seen snow come down in flurries like it came down in El Escorial. And it was amazing. It stuck to the trees and made everything beautiful. And, all though my parents may argue this point, I can say that my first real snowfall that I will always remember happened in Europe. I got to see snowfall in Europe and take pictures of it - all while wearing the wrong outfit since I'm a California girl, of course. 

In Segovia, I got to see a lot of super cool, super historical buildings and structures, such as the Roman Aqueduct of Segovia. I also got to see Alcázar, which provided some inspiration for Walt Disney's Cinderella Castle (which I didn't know - I always thought Neuschwanstein was the sole inspiration - another castle on my bucket list). I also got to try Cochinilla, which is a famous Segovian dish of baby pig. Yum! (Apologies to my best friend, Andrew).

The Hanged Man Was Well Hung: Nightmares of Private Lessons due to Celia and Ruben

While all of my other friends are jumping for joy at the fact that they get payed to sing songs and play games for money, I have to deal with nightmare children. Two in particular, Ruben and Celia. 

Ruben is a hand full. He is very creative and very active and very smart, but he wants NOTHING TO DO WITH ENGLISH. This makes my job difficult. He doesn't want to play games or sing songs. He doesn't want to write anything or say anything. He doesn't want to. And his mom mostly wants me to help him with his homework and prepare him for tests. One day, right before I got there, he lit his textbook on fire. So, that was fun. Then, last week, he wouldn't listen to me at all. He kept saying "English BOOOO!" over and over again and me trying to punish him by making him copy and telling him to sit down was not working. I eventually opened the door and told him he had to stand by it, which of course made his mom curious. Thankfully, his mother was pissed at him and took away his soccer privileges for the week. This was a moment of pure satisfaction, which makes me sad - I have lost the ability to feel sorry for an eight year old in trouble.

Now, the really fun stories - Celia. I learned the hard way that this girl likes to cut people's hair. That was my first run in with her. Apparently, she does this a lot at school. She also ran around like a crazy madwoman that day (her sedated grandfather lazily read on the couch) tearing up my flashcards and breaking crayons. The next day she was the perfect angel, giving me hugs and writing "Celia loves Brittany" on all of her papers. She continued to be angelic, but refused to speak English, insisting that she didn't understand anything, while repeating everything I said in English in Spanish because she thought I couldn't understand her. "Only in English at this table, Celia." "No entiendo. Sola en ingles en esta mesa. Vale." She still continues to do this, so, I mostly work with her brothers while she draws and scribbles and says things in Spanish. To her credit, she always tells me her colors in English. This past week, during a game of hangman with her brothers, she was drawing the hangman game we were playing. All of a sudden she taps me on the shoulder, giggles and points. She had drawn a penis on her hangman stick figure. And not a small it-could-be-something-else type one. This was clearly a penis. I was a bit mortified and she kept giggling. This girl is 6 -  I don't even think I knew what a penis was when I was 6.  So, that happened.

So, there you have it. I have been ignoring my blog due to the Spanish government, cool trips, and nightmare children. Tomorrow, I will try to write a blog on language barriers and the use of the Oxford comma, which I am clearly a fan of. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dining With Hemingway and Playing Virginia Woolf: Literary Moments in Spain

Sorry for the morbid game in the title, I lost - obviously - and the pictures later will explain it.

I am writing this post because literature is my favorite thing and I miss my bookish friends a bit and need someone to nerd out about literature with, so, a blog will have to do. (Ali - I'm looking at you. You're close. VISIT, DAMMIT! I WANT TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS! IN ENGLISH!) I have not had a worthy literary conversation in a while. So, my non-literary friends, bear with me.

I stumbled into this museum in Retiro and they had this at the front of it. It was an indoor dock that was very beautiful and really cool to see. It also had really melodic tones playing in the background while I walked down the dock.

Walking down the dock made me think of Virginia Woolf and other early 20th century female writers. Thinking of them and how much I love studying/reading their work definitely made me want to go somewhere and sit with a book and a pencil and a notebook and really take some time and analyze feminist literature. I'm a nerd - I know this. 

It was a fun game of Virginia Woolf, but I lost (I know, this is a good thing).

So, then it was back to playing Fitzgerald and living like I'm part of the Lost Generation. Or Wilde and engaging in indulging activities. So, here are some pictures of Botin. It was frequented by Hemingway! It is also famous for serving the full pigs you see in the picture below - an indulging delicacy of sorts.

This was the table where Hemingway used to sit. I totally nerded out a little bit when I saw it. It was definitely a "loss for words" type of moment. 

Oh, it also is the world's oldest restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness' Book of World Records, which makes it even cooler.

So, there is my little literary rant. I fully expect people to Skype me to talk about books now.

Just kidding.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Anticlockwise: The First Few Days of Work

I have officially started my job as an Cultural and Language Assistant at CEIP Valdebernardo in Vicálvaro, Madrid, Spain. I've only been there three days, but I absolutely love it! The kids, the other language assistants, the teachers. It's great. I feel so welcome there!

The first day, the other language assistants and I sat in the English lab and kids would either come by and say "Hello, what's your name?" or come by to look at us and hurriedly leave, giggling as they skipped down the hall with their friends. 

That day, we started to work on posters about ourselves and where we were from that we will hang in the halls for parents to see and such. There is a whole board in the hallway dedicated to us and we can decorate it however we like. We decided we would make posters about ourselves about where we were from. I decided to decorate my poster with pictures of beautiful Northern California. I also decided to go with Chico over my actual hometown (Roseville, which is really close to Chico) because the name makes Spaniards, children and adults alike, laugh and because I feel like Chico is the place where I really did my growing up. 

I put a picture of my campus, Mount Shasta covered with snow, the highway going to Lake Tahoe, my siblings and myself. I will put a picture of the final result of the assistant's board when it is finished.

Here is my poster:

We got to have breakfast with the rest of the teachers. I felt immediately welcome into their world even though with quite a few of them there is a language barrier. They all respected me and accepted me as one of their own.

The next day I got to attend classes. The students go to class at 9, switch classes at 10, have a half hour break at 11, class for an hour at 11:30, then a two-hour lunch and then two 45-minute classes. Even the little ones switch classes. They are always with the same students though and some teachers teach more than one subject. It's quite an interesting concept.

The first two hours, I was with a fourth level class for both their English and Science hours. The teacher spoke perfect English with a flawless Scottish accent (which even has our British language assistant thinking he had to have been raised for a while in Scotland) and immediately made me feel welcome. The imagination that guy has while interacting with his students is incredible and reminded me of Johnny Depp's portrayal of J.M. Barrie (okay, it might have been the Scottish accent, but I was waiting for this guy to say, "Write about the whale that's stuck in your head and dying to get out"). He let me jump right into his class. The students asked me questions and then he quizzed them about the answers I gave, which prompted them to ask more questions ("How many siblings does Brittany have?" "Three." "What do they do?" "She didn't say." "Well, then ask her!"). He really got the kids to use their imagination, which was awesome. It was so like watching Johnny Depp talk to Freddie Highmore in "Finding Neverland." They were upset to hear that I hadn't gotten the proper amount of sleep the night before (They asked me how long I had slept and I responded 6 hours without knowing they had gone over the sleep cycle in science). We then went over some English grammar and he told them that next time I visited, we would get to work from their favorite workbook (Spellbound) and that every Wednesday while I was there, we would work from it. Then we moved into Science and talked about nutrition. It was a great class, but the same four girls were repeatedly raising their hands and not allowing the other students to answer, which made me reflect on my own days as one of teacher's pets.

Next, I had sixth level with a female teacher. Boy, was that different. The first question they asked me was "Do you speak Spanish?" which I had to reply "No" to, and they immediately started talking about me in Spanish (most of which I at least got the gist of). They were immediately more difficult. They asked me similar questions about myself as the class before had. This teacher had a different teaching style, but it was interesting to obseve. She was a lot more strict and a lot more concerned with her students staying on task. They went over careers that had difficult vocabulary, like underwater photographers and sideshow performers. I stayed after class to talk with her for a little bit in which she explained to me her struggle with some of the students and their problems with the English language. She explained to me that there was a small population of gypsies at the school who don't have a lot of support and aren't really motivated to do well. 

My next class of the day was third level, with a teacher who I absolutely love (okay, I love all of them!). The students also asked me questions in this class, but they were younger and didn't quite grasp a lot of things, like that I was an American, so, they were concerned about where I slept at night. They were relieved to hear that I had an apartment. One girl then raised her hand to tell me I was very beautiful. It was sweet and a much needed compliment. An interesting observation I made was how forward this teacher was with her students. (The teacher before was quite blunt with her students as well). She kept telling her students that they were being disrespectful and that it was probably making me not want to come back to their class (which wasn't at all true). She was saying that she was really frustrated that they didn't do their work (only a quarter of the class had done their homework) and kept making threats to them about having to copy whole paragraphs out of the textbooks. The students who were actively participating were really awesome at English and super excited to have me there. I got to read them a story about the Unfriendly Giant and then they had to explain to me what happened. When I had to leave, they wouldn't let me go and kept asking if I was coming back next week for sure. They kept giving me hugs and thanking me. It was very sweet. 

The next day (today), I had different classes. My first class was actually in the class of the coordinator of us language assistants. It was a sixth level English class and it was a much easier and quieter environment than the sixth level class I had before. Since my coordinator knew that I was really into poetry and had studied Creative Writing in college, we did poetry in class. Next week, she said she might even let me teach a lesson on rhymes and couplets! They had learned about cinquain and diamond poems. However, when it came time to share, they were silent. The same people kept answering, but it was reluctantly, and probably only because they were annoyed that no one else was raising their hand (because I've been that annoyed person, multiple times). The teacher eventually got very annoyed and asked every student who hadn't participated (which was all of them but 6 or 7) to stand up. They were not to sit down until they participated. At the end of it, there were still five students standing and she asked them, one by one, why they weren't participating. There was this one boy who wouldn't respond to her question, wouldn't even look her in the eye and she eventually gave up and let him sit down. Then they got to work silently on revising poems. I walked around the room to read what they had written and help them brainstorm ideas and proof their grammar and was shocked when the boy who wouldn't even look the teacher in the eye asked me question after question about how he could improve his poem. That made me happy. I also read a really impressive diamond poem about superheros, which used some hard vocabulary. The teacher then taught them about alliteration. I was definitely in my element in that class. 

Then I had fifth level science, in which I got to read the lesson and present it to the kids. It was on the different levels of the atmosphere. I learned what the ionosphere was. He kept telling me that if I knew anything that wasn't in the text book, I could add it into the lecture. He overestimates my knowledge on the ionosphere. This teacher was great (but a bit impatient), but his confidence level with his English was quite shaky. He kept asking me if he was saying things right when he was saying them perfectly and it made me realize just how much of our own worst critic we actually are. (Maybe my Spanish is a little better than I think). This class was a lot more active and willing to participate, although maybe a little to talkative, which was testing his patience. One student even got moved to a different seat because she was being too talkative. Before science, they did get a few minutes to ask me some questions about myself. They asked me if I spoke Spanish and, since I said I didn't, they asked me if I would say "Hola!" so they could hear my American accent. 

My last class of the day (and the week) was another 4th level science class (not with J.M. Barrie, but with someone equally as cool). This one had an exam today, so, I didn't do much. He had me work with students who were at a lower level and, therefore, not taking the exam. They were quite difficult to work with, so, I slipped and used Spanish and then they were completely responsive and did everything I asked. They were able to do the entire exam in English with very little help, which loops back around to the "own worst critic" thing. This isn't always true, I guess. Sometimes, it's fueled by those who don't believe in you. That's a lesson I have learned over and over again working with "remedial" students (who don't deserve the title of "remedial" by any means) in the United States.

Overall, it was a great way to start the school year.

Monday, September 30, 2013


A few months ago as I Google-searched things while I was supposed to be working, I started typing in some of my favorite musicians names to see if - by chance - any of them would be playing in Madrid. I had been searching for concerts in Madrid and nothing exciting or reasonably priced had come up. I typed in Jay Brannan, who just happened to be who I was listening to at work and I found out he was coming to Madrid on September 24th. I couldn't be more stoked.


Me and too much wine? Whoops....

Warm welcomes to Madrid from the artist himself!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spanish Apartments

What a crazy adventure this apartment search has been! There have been tons of frustrations, tears and chocolate, but all of that is finally over and I have an apartment.

So, how does this crazy story begin? Let me tell you.

I looked at one apartment on Monday that I really liked, but it was a bit expensive. Meanwhile, a friend of mine was looking at an apartment that was much cheaper. I looked at that one on Tuesday and really liked it. We made a plan to go back the next day with another friend and possibly sign the lease. Therefore, I gave up the apartment I saw on Monday. So, we go back to the apartment on Wednesday and we tell him we want to sign the contract. He brings it and we have the contract in our hands, but we don't have money for the deposit. We tell him that we will run to the bank and he tells us that tomorrow will be fine. So, we leave. Thursday, about an hour before we are supposed to meet with him to finalize everything, he texts my friend and says we can't meet today and he will call us later. Then, after a wild goose chase, we find out that they have rented the apartment to someone else. By this time, there is less than 48 hours until I'm homeless in Madrid. So, I go to Starbucks and start sending out mass emails through Idealista, Easypiso, Fotocasa, etc. Friday morning, my friend, Taylor, and I break down and go to MadridEasy and, let me tell you, I could not have been happier. They put us right at ease and we had seen, loved and finalized a contract on an apartment within three hours of walking into the office.

Here are some pics of my place! Enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Parques y Libros

Over the last few days, I have had the chance to fall in love with Retiro. I have also fallen in love with a few bookstores and a library (big surprise?). 

A fear I had about moving to the city was losing all of my greenery and shrubbery. I have never lived in what I define as a "city" and I consider myself a small-town girl for the most part. (My college town of 80,000 was too big for me! Needless to say, moving to a city was a big, crazy step for me.) For most of my life, I have been surrounded by trees and agriculture, but have seen pictures of places that are sparse in the plant department. Finding all of the parks and plants and trees and labyrinths in Madrid has changed my perception a little bit. The trees have even begun changing a little bit for the fall! I could not be more excited by all of the outdoor beauty in the parks around here!

So, Retiro. I have been there, discovering its many trees and its beauty, everyday for the past three days. It houses the Palacio de Cristal, which is an amazing sight, as well as a pretty creek and lots of trees. Reminds me of Bidwell, except with a crystal palace and alcohol... 

 ...I got a margarita... I'm such an American girl sometimes, it's not even funny. Me and my tequila.


Palacio de Cristal

Another fear I had about moving to another country was not being able to have easy access to bookstores. Actually, my fear was broader than that. I was mostly afraid of not being able to access old-fashioned, paper, bound books. They are literally my favorite thing in the world. Set me in a library for all of eternity and I will be happy! I have found that books (although not necessarily English books) seem to be easier to access than my hometowns in California. 

First of all, there seem to be librerías on a lot of street corners, like these ones:

I also bought a book in Spain for the first time (a week. I lasted a week.). I bought Ted Hughes' Gaudete. It has it in both English and Spanish, so, I can get my Ted Hughes fix while practicing my Spanish.

And, today, I found my first biblioteca.

EEEE!!! I FOUND THIS FITZGERALD COLLECTION AT THE LIBRARY! The sad thing is, I was able to translate all of the titles, not because I knew the words, but because I know Fitzgerald's work that well!!

Mansfield Park! In Spanish!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Youtube Ads in Spanish and Walks through Labyrinths

A lot of crazy things have happened over the last few days, so, I thought I would share. First, though, I thought I would share that while listening to some very American music (Little Big Town's "Boondocks" - don't judge) there were actually advertisements in Spanish. For some reason it didn't occur to me that this would happen, so, it was a bit of a shock when someone started talking in Spanish while I was trying to listen to a song about being raised in the American Boondocks. Just a laughable moment.

Then in Spanish class, I was trying to explain the difference between "gusta" and "gustan" (in Spanish) to other members of the class who didn't quite get what was going on. I made it all the way through, using only Spanish, and was actually able to explain it. Fifteen minutes later, I realized that I had mixed up "adjectives" and "verbs," so, there goes my English degree! For shame!

Another thing to laugh at happened in Plaza del Sol today. I heard these clearly American boys talking about Spanish stereotypes and I stopped to ask them (in my clearly American English) where they were from. Their response? The United States...
Ya, got that. Thanks. Me too... It turns out they were preps from North Jersey.

Yesterday, I found Labyrinths near the Palacio Real. My Aunt Suzanne loved Labyrinths while she was alive and I took an instant liking to them. It was perfect timing to. I recently lost my Uncle Ron, who had been married to my Aunt Suzanne, and his funeral is this coming weekend. I am sad that I can't celebrate his life with my family, but I feel better knowing I found a place where I can celebrate his life from Spain. This will be my new journal spot. I wrote a poem to go with it. I have decided to do something like UrbanSketchers with poetry since I have poor drawing skills and need to keep up with my writing. I will share it here, but keep in mind I haven't written in a while and it is a really really rough sketch of a poem (like before first round of a workshop rough).

Labyrinth near Royal Palace
Madrid, Spain
Sept 10, 2013

For Aunt Suzanne

heartstrings pulled forward
towards a future
towards you  
towards the past

the past

a place you wouldn't want me to be

but here I am
wishing I could share this sight

a garden
similar to yours

memories of a future
I have yet to encounter

I was meant to find this
I was meant to be in a place
when the pain of losing you 
grew stronger
with the loss of your husband

I was meant to be in a place
you would call


Monday, September 9, 2013

On Bettering My Spanish and Making Friends and On El Corte Inglés

On Bettering My Spanish and Making Foreign Friends

I have officially made it through a day using Spanish in most of my conversations with Spaniards. Ironically, the only place I found myself completely unsure of my basic skills was in a Starbucks (although I do have to give a shout out to Taylor for helping me buy stamps) where I spoke in English the entire time. To buy After Coffee Mints. Because I am utterly, disgustingly American like that. I have to say that I am getting much better even if I have only been here for a few days.

It also helps that I started Spanish class today. Although they put me into a basic class, I was happy to be back in a classroom setting. I immediately got to jump back into annoying girl who never shuts up and was able to lead a team to victory in Spanish Pictionary. Plus, I felt really great being in a classroom where I understood every single word that was being spoken - and it was all in Spanish. I have a great teacher, Fede, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and tomorrow I will get to meet Amelia.

After class, I got to meet up and grab lunch with some fellow classmates. I met one girl from Britain and one girl from Australia and brought them to lunch with a few people from my exchange program. It was awesome getting to talk with them about other cultures!

On El Corte Inglés

This store has everything! Literally it has everything I will ever need while I am in Spain. It can only be described as Macy's+Target+OfficeMax+Barnes&Noble+Safeway - and I didn't even make it to every level!!

Here are some pictures I snapped in the Market part of El Corte Inglés:

Translates to "monkfish," but couldn't resist sharing:

This ice cream made me laugh:

Yum, brains:

Fingers of Mozerella, anyone?:

Friday, September 6, 2013

First Impressions of Spain

Although I haven't even been here 48 hours and I am stuck in the American bubble, I have noticed a few things about Spain that I thought I would share.

1. The food! It's good, but they eat a lot! After being served this paella, we were served another pork dish. It was delicious, but no one at our table could hardly take a bite. The waiter came by and asked, "No gusto?," so, we tried to eat more. And then they brought dessert...

2. When you are with a group of Americans and they are all saying "Thank you" to the waitstaff and hotel folk and you answer with "gracias!" the waitstaff and hotel folk will automatically think you can understand Spanish and start rapid-firing it at you. Oops. 


3. The architecture. It's pretty. And different. For example, this is Madrid's royal palace.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mi español no es listo, but I am!

Today was the last day of a stream of summers at my job with Vector Marketing. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously concluded his speech 50 years ago today (no coincidence), "Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"

Next week, I will begin on my adventure to Spain and be the best Language and Cultural Assistant that I can be.

In anticipation of my adventures abroad, I have been doing a lot of researching and a lot of planning. I have been reading almost everything about Spain and European travel that I can get my hands on. In doing so, I have begun to make mental lists of the things I am excited about versus the things I am nervous about. So, here goes:

5 Things that I am excited about, Part 1: Living in Spain

1) I get to live and experience a new culture. I have always tried to be open-minded about different cultures and experiences, but, the truth is, living in Northern California for the last 22-years has left me a bit more ethnocentric than I care to admit. I went to college in a small town in the middle of Redneck County, California. (No, it's not actually called Redneck County, but it is.) When I hear things that I perceive as different or out of the norm, but perfectly acceptable elsewhere (i.e. people in France eating frog legs) I still think "Oh, that's weird. Why would people do that?" I know a lot of people feel similarly to the way I do, but why? We eat cow, which is considered weird (and sacrilegious) in other countries. I want to overcome my perceptions of other cultures and I think exposure to them is a good start.

2) Food. I am excited about the food. I want to say that I have tried everything I could (even frog legs, but I will have to build myself up to that) including things that Spain is famous for: different types of ham, dried octopus and rabbit stew.

3) Not only will I only be working 16 hours/week, I will be making more than what someone who works full-time at minimum wage is making in America. Add tutoring into the mix and I'm pretty good. Better than most recent graduates in America are doing. If I stayed in America, I would be in grad school losing my money and my sanity. Or I would still be working at my 24 hour/week job making a little bit more than minimum wage, sitting behind a computer and daydreaming of the day that I can start a career.

4) Public transportation. In Northern California, you drive. Everywhere.

5) Travel. It is so easy to travel to different places throughout Europe. And cheap. And I have so many places that I want to see. Castles, churches, places rich with history, cool bookstores, etc. I have the whole continent in front of me and plenty of time on my hands.

5 Things that I am excited about, Part 2: Things I Have Planned

1) One of my best friends from college is coming to visit me! We will be meeting in London for New Year's, which is something that has been on my bucket list as far back as I can remember.

2) A Jay Brannan concert. I love Jay Brannan. He has such a unique style and an amazing voice. He will be playing at a cafe in late-September in Madrid and I could not be more excited. If you haven't heard of him, stop reading this and go check him out. Go!

3) Visiting family. I have family in Switzerland and Italy and I am definitely excited about visiting those two places. I don't actually have this planned yet, but I cannot wait.

4) My program is setting me up with a five day orientation followed by a 2 week language and cultural immersion. I will get to meet people and live with a host family during my immersion. It will definitely make the transition into a new culture a bit easier.

5) J&J's bookstore. I found this store in Madrid. They have a good selection of English books and different events. On Fridays, they have a trivia night that's all in English and, on Saturdays, they have a Spanish/English Group where you can practice your language skills. Needless to say, I know where I will be a lot of my weekends.

5 Things I am nervous about:

1) Packing. I know that I cannot take everything with me. I know that most of what I want will have to stay here. I know that I cannot take all of my books, not even the 200+ I have decided I cannot live without (OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration). Also, cats who like suitcases do not make the packing process easier.

2) The language barrier. Mi español no es listo. This makes me nervous.

3) Getting there. This will be tough. I leave my airport at 5:45 and have about 20 hours of travel ahead of me. I have two layovers: one in Denver and one in Newark. Newark does not have WiFi. Denver does not have Starbucks. They both have bookstores, which makes it a little bit better.

4) Saying my goodbyes. Two of my best friends are staying the night on my parents couch so they can get up early and go to the airport with me. They will be hard to say goodbye to. Also, my parents and I are very close. My mother is one of my best friends. I think I'm more worried of what they will do without me than what I will do without them. Plus, I'd like to believe that my cat will miss me, but he won't.

5) Being stereo-typed because I am American, but this is deeply rooted in my fears due to me being more ethnocentric than I'd care to admit. I am going over there partly to get rid of this, right?

And there you have it. My excitements and my worries.