Spain Weeks 2 & 3
The actual reason I came to Spain in the first place– and maybe what I failed to make specific in my last post– is to be a language assistant in a Spanish public school. Officially I am an auxiliar de conversation, or a language assistant. (Also referred to as a cultural ambassador which I think sounds more official and badass.)
School is something that is familiar to me. I’ve always thrived in school and becoming a teacher made sense to me. I love kids and I love to be creative. Everyday is different and not every office job can say that. There is routine of course but every class, every lesson, and every student is unique.
But last spring there was one question I got asked above all else: “Are you applying for jobs?” It was overwhelming. Everyone was stressed and nervous about finding a job. But once you find one you are stuck. At least it seemed that way to me. Once you are in the system so to speak it’s hard to get out. When you get a job you have to start paying student loans, then you need a car, then insurance, then rent, then, then, then. The list never ends and you accumulate more and more. Of course one can save and travel but it’s hard to hear some of my friends talk about only having so many vacation days… It seems like they have to decide which 10 days of the entire year they are going to take off in January. I digress. But for me my instinct was to get the Hell out.
So when a teacher I worked with casually said she taught in Spain it was perfect. Spain has always been a country I have wanted to visit ever since taking Spanish classes in High School. And in university last year I took Spanish 3. My Spanish professor (from Andalucía as it happens) talked about the amazing places of Spain plus it’s interesting culture. And when I mentioned to a family friend about going abroad all he said was: do it.
Maybe it’s a bit drastic not just visiting Spain but actually moving there for almost a year… Well I am a person that tends to act on impulse. It’s not exactly spontaneity but a drive to do the adventurous thing. I do things based on emotions. Of course logic comes into play too but that initial impulse is pure sentiment.
I applied. (Now I can and probably will write another post about my program specifically and the frankly bad system they have.) I waited. I got in. I’m not even sure when I told my parents that I applied to teach in Spain. I think it was only a couple days before the application was due that I told them: “Hey I’m applying to teach English in Spain!” I think they were just happy I wasn’t joining the Peace Corps.
I came to Spain a week early to get settled before my first week of school. I went to my first day on Tuesday (sending my mom off on Monday) and it was rapid: loud children and swift speaking Spanish teachers. Wide-eyed and dazed, I drank in my surroundings stuck in the spot. But my school was very prepared and with what I’ve heard of other schools it is definitely not the case. They had all the information to help me get a piso, open a bank account, get my NIE card, everything! But since I was also prepared they had me get started that day.
Since August I have been emailing with the Bilingual coordinator. I emailed her about starting but never heard back. Well, as it happens she got into a car accident while driving to school! She is okay but is out of school for about three weeks (maybe more). She hurt her head and my Spanish is not good enough to fully comprehend the specifics. (Likely a concussion.) Life happens and I’m just glad she is recovering.
Without my coordinator there to help me on my first day, I was communicating to the director in with my lacking language skills. About half the time, teaching comes down to improvisation. Teachers are flexible and quick thinkers. But even with all my “practice” I felt a little like I was thrown in with the wolves. But these wolves were nice and they took me into their pack without blinking an eye. Even in this new territory, los maestros were kind in this land.
All to the teachers were accommodating and friendly. I doubled kissed many a cheek and forgot all their names almost instantly upon hearing them. I was escorted from class to class and during recess I got a proper tour of the school. All the students were happy to have a new English teacher. I help teach English, Natural Science, and Social Science in first through sixth grade. What a change from teaching high school! A new challenge to make me simplify lessons and make them exciting. No more will it be hour discussions on classic literature.
Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte
Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport
I had one day in my elementary school and then the next day was a meeting in Córdoba for auxiliares and coordinators. My program is run through the Spanish government and there are around 5,000 auxiliares throughout all of Spain. There are 1,000 in Andalucía alone. This is one of the first times that the program has had a meeting at the start of the program. An attempt to make the transition better for everyone.
The morning was spent sitting through power point presentations about the expectations, an hour debate about our health insurance, and some tricks learned from past/renewed language assistants. The meeting ended with returning auxiliares up at the front answering questions. This was the most helpful and reassuring part. They gave sound advice and stories of their own unique experiences. Because the bottom line is that everyone has a different experience, each exceptional in their own way.
I asked a question of some of the past assistants and I figured that there was probably an auxiliar that was also a teacher back in the states. I asked them as educators what was the biggest difference working in a Spanish school and in this position compared to being a teacher in America, the biggest challenge. Of course my question was not worded eloquently or efficiently when I asked it but here we are. One auxiliar said not having the run of your own classroom and having to work and collaborate with someone else was something she had to adjust to. The other teacher said the biggest challenge was the discipline (aka classroom management, the buzzword for educators). And with only one day in a Spanish school I could see she was right. But the Spanish culture is more relaxed altogether. And especially in my small town it’s a community rather than an institution.
And if we are being honest the discipline wasn’t all that bad really. Never having taught in an elementary school in the states I would say it’s hard to compare. But they are eager and energetic. Kids want to learn if you’ll let them. And the bottom line– wherever you are teaching it is always about the students.
The next part of this meeting was a siesta lunch meet and greet. An awkward yet heartening hour of mingling. Awkward because you are like a freshman at the first day of college orientation. The conversation: you introduce yourself, ask whether they teach elementary or secondary, ask if they live in a pueblo (small town) or in Córdoba, and then ask where they are from. But this meet and greet was also heartening because we are all in the same boat. A boat that is slowly drifting at sea. Supplies float by and you grab them before they disappear. Snatching opportunities. There is an underlying thrill because we made it. This is the start of the next great adventure.
Did I mention there was free sangria? It was almost sickeningly sweet, laced with cinnamon and a touch of lemon. I had two glasses. At meetings such as these people tend to cluster. I meet some amazing ladies and we exchanged numbers and then said heck with this and went to get food. Tucked away in a small corner of central Córdoba, we went to an Arabic cafe. Conversations over crepes and coffee flowed. We shared where we have traveled and where we wish to travel.
My mom and I spent two days in Córdoba when she was here. I took 500 pictures in just 2 days! I will write a post just about Córdoba full of pictures that won’t do the divine city justice. I’m in love with it already! It’s quaint and full of so much history. I ended my day trip to Córdoba with a stop at a book store. I am still kicking myself that I didn’t buy a Spanish cook book that I saw. Just means another trip to the city.
I am absolutely blessed with my flat and my landlady. My landlady has been so welcoming and helpful. It’s comforting knowing that she also lives just downstairs– a comfort to my mom too! Rosa, my landlady, has three daughters close to my age. One lives in town with her husband and young son, one lives in Córdoba, and the other in England. So she definitely knows a little bit about daughters living far from home.
Her youngest daughter surprised her family by coming home for the weekend. And they asked me over Saturday night for cake. What a treat! I practiced my Spanish and ate so much food. Because it’s never just cake. It’s sandwiches, ham, cheese, chips, and obviously olives. Maybe it’s just every grandmother’s job to lay a spread to feed an army. We enjoyed food, some laughs, and entertainment from Rosa’s four year old grandson. Since autumn doesn’t come until later in the month, we all sat outside on the street in front of their house.
What I thought would have been a boring– yet relaxing– weekend turned into a true Spanish weekend. Saturday evening the family was talking about them going to el campo or the country the next day. It sounds just like Pennsylvanians going to the mountains for the weekend. And with all this talk they invited me along! I asked what time and they said around 11:30. Because this is Spanish time, 11:30 might actually be 11:30 but most likely it means 12:00 or 12:30. So around noon on Sunday we left for their house in the country.
We ambled along a dirt road a short distance from town. We passed idle farms and fields. Arriving at their house, dogs ran to the gate to greet us with tails wagging. I thought we almost ran over the dog it was so excited to see us. And it had two small puppies each only a month old. Even my severe allergies couldn’t keep me from holding the cute pups.
I was shown around the small farm they were running. A coop of chickens clucked at us as we passed the gate into an orchard of olive trees. Up and down the aisles we meandered, trees perky with of sage colored, slim leaves. Every tree was brimming with olives. Olives dangled from every possible branch, fat and just ripe for the plucking. Knowing little of olive production, even though they looked ready you can’t just eat them off the tree. The olives are best left on the tree to ripen until December. And even then they have to be soaked and prepared.
Back inside for the hottest part of the day (around two o’clock) we sat down for lunch. Again a huge spread of homemade Spanish food had my mouth watering. Ham, cheese, mussels, and my first experience of tortilla de papa. It’s criminal to leave food on the table. And even though I was stuffed to the gills, cheese cake (different than American cheese cake) was piled on a new plate.
It was now time for a proper siesta. Their house has six beds but no naps were taken. The daughter from England brought her English boyfriend along and he was more than happy soak in the gorgeous weather. Short shorts, on he said having to return to gloomy, rainy England made the sunburn worth it. I was inclined to agree but thankful my fair skin doesn’t burn quite so easily. Like a cat sunning itself, I lounged on the steps of the front patio embracing my extended summer.
They also have a pool. And it was so nice that we decided to take advantage. Pulling back the cover we sat on the edge of the tiled tub and soaked our feet in the chilly water. The sun to my back, I just closed my eyes and dipped my head back thankful. Rosa brought a table and chairs outside and set them in the shade. When we finished soaking our toes, we air dried and we draped our limbs over the sides of our plastic chairs.
Chips we opened and lay on the table tempting us. Rosa’s husband and grandson picked all the ladies lilacs, a small sprig for each of us. I held it up to my nose and inhaled my favorite scent. I wished I could trap that smell and keep it in a jar for later. But that wasn’t the end of the gifts we would receive. Then a fat bunch of heavy grapes was cut from the vine. The bunches were covered in bread bags to protect them from bugs and dust. After the bag was removed, only succulent grapes remained. I felt like a Greek goddess as we passed around the bunches and ate handfuls of juicy grapes. Nothing was artificial as I accidentally crunched on seeds.
With a stomach full of grapes and chips, we now had work to do. We all went to the orchard and picked two brimming buckets full of olives. I could practically just run my hand down a branch and a whole handful of olives fell into my palm. I balanced handfuls against my stomach before dumping my efforts into the bucket. Determined, all nine of us surrounded the tree and gently besieged it. The boys took their shirts and filled them with olives. Rosa took the buckets home and told me she would soak them in water for a couple days then soak them with salt, garlic, pepper, and surely other ingredients to make what we know as olives. Rosa’s own mother, who also lives on my street, loves olives.
After a day and a half with the family, Rosa’s grandson warmed up to me. Towards the end of the evening on Sunday he just wanted me to play with him. He took me by the hand and gave me his own tour of the olive trees– something he was mad he could not do earlier since his grandpa did it instead. He showed me around. He talked rapidly in Spanish and his cute, high pitched voice was hard to fully understand. But if you play along and smile, give them attention, they eat it up. And then we were running. Down and down the rows of trees. My cheap sandals filled with fine dust. To the end of the fence we saw the adjacent farm, the sun turning rosy. And then we were running back towards the house. Warm air streamlined past my smiling face. Past the gate with the clucking chickens we took an expedition around the house. He pointed out plants and different odd objects laying around. Eventually I snuck inside to snatch my phone to take pictures of the velvety setting sun.
I’m a big believer in things working out the way they are supposed to. Some call it God, some call it fate, some call it luck, and even if I don’t know what to call it, life happens. Sometimes I’m ready for what life throws my way and sometimes I’m vastly unprepared. How could I have predicted having an amazing weekend with a Spanish family? They embraced me with open arms and were excited to give me a taste of real Spain. No tourist traps here, just good people. How could I have predicted meeting amazing worldly people? And I definitely didn’t think I would feel so comfortable in such a short time.
Something that I learned these past two weeks is that sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Let your hair down and let it blow in the breeze. You can’t question it, you just have to embrace it. Especially when a four year old tells you to run, you run.