A Travellerspoint blog

A Week of Despedidas

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It has been a long week with many despididas, the Spanish word for farewell. We’ve been busy saying goodbye to co-workers and students, roommates and neighbors, friends and their dogs, our favorite plazas and cafes, and overall our simple life in Vera as language and cultural assistants. I’ve been saying goodbye too much, so I thought I’d take a minute to remind myself that I will soon by saying hello again to all of you that I had to say goodbye to about eight months ago before I left for Spain.

As long as Eyjafjallajoekull, every European traveler’s favorite volcano, stays quiet this weekend, I’ll be heading home this Monday. Matt will be back soon too, but first he’s taking advantage of some stoppage time (fútbol term) at the end of our time in Spain to travel around with his family.

We have to apologize for not updating the blog as much as we would have liked to especially in the past month or two, but I feel like I can put some of the blame on the Spanish culture. Spain is just not a good place to be productive and get things done. Plus, the Siesta really eats up your day. Yes, Siesta is the three hour break in the afternoon when everything closes down and everyone goes home to relax and do nothing for an hour, but when you follow this custom strictly you really can’t be spending your Siesta doing things like writing blog entries.

So, here we are ordering our last few rounds of tapas and drinking our final cups of café con leche. Even in our quiet corner of Southeast Spain, the past two months seem to have disappeared like the last few letters of most Spanish words spoken in an Andalucian accent. The past weeks have been filled with bilingual poetry performances from our students, bicycle rides to the beach, the end of the fútbol season, the beginning of bull-fighting season, end of the year field trips with our students, and as always plenty of Iberian ham.

This summer Matt will be back home in Chicago and I’ll be in Kalamazoo looking for jobs, or available for hire I should say. In the fall we’ll both be starting graduate school in Chicago and looking forward to integrating ourselves into the Spanish-speaking community there to continue learning the language. Since I fly home tomorrow, I’m turning No Spain No Gain over to Matt as he is the only one left travelling. While Matt has really embraced the blogosphere and will likely be updating the blog daily while he travels around with his family….it is possible that this may be our last entry. Thanks for following along with our travels and stories through the blog. When we return, please excuse our cravings for queso manchego and other Spanish food, the tendency to be late to everything (I’ve always had this problem but it’s even worse now), and the moments when we accidently slip into speaking in Spanish. Finally, be sure to join us in rooting for Spain in the World Cup!

Hasta our next adventure in a Spanish-speaking country….
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Posted by staley 12:04 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

How many Harry Potter references can you put in a blog entry

before your readers stop reading.

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Likely due to the sunshine and beaches, we’ve found that the British love to holiday in Southern Spain. We like Spain’s climate as much as anyone who has spent most winters in a place like Michigan or Illinois, but since we now live here already, we followed something like a reverse migration pattern and headed to the British Isles for our spring vacation.

Spanish houses don’t really have fireplaces, so we couldn’t travel by the Floo Network. Even worse, since Matt’s Firebolt got hit by a rogue bludger on the beach the other day, we had to resort to flying in a commercial plane. So, after over six hours of bus rides to the airport (have we mentioned Vera is remote?) and another two hour bus ride from the airport our discount flight landed in, we arrived in London and the trip was afoot! And... we were almost done traveling for the day.

Knowing less about London than Uncle Vernon knows about magic, finding our hostel in London proved to be perhaps even more difficult than finding the Sorcerer’s Stone. Sara had received an email saying that the hostel’s staff would leave at 10pm, meaning we would be locked out if we were to arrive any later. We made it to Victoria Train station by 9:30pm, but we knew that according to the intense London public transportation system website it would still take at least another 30 minutes to get to our hostel. As Big Ben ticked closer and closer to 10pm, we grew more and more nervous and might as well have been looking for Platform Nine and Three-Quarters since we had no idea where to go or even where to look inside of the train station.

Of course, our initial reaction to the situation was to simply send an owl to the hostel with a message saying that we would be arriving a little late. Unfortunately however, our owls hadn’t made it through airport security, so we had to telephone the hostel instead. We could only conclude that the phones had been enchanted, because call attempt after call attempt we just kept getting a horrible buzzing sound.

Finally, thanks to the help of a family with a cluster of red-headed youngsters, we found the correct platform, boarded the Hostel Express, and were on our way. O.K. so that last part was stretching the truth, but we did eventually find our way to the hostel, which actually turned out to be more of a pub than a hostel. Either way, we were very happy that the hostel’s staff turnout out to be a bartender who was still around and therefore able to check us in (and serve us a butter beer!). After the 15 hour travel day, we climbed the steps to our room in the Gryffindor tower of the White Lion Hostel were rocked to sleep by the music blaring from the pub just one floor below.

As for the rest of our trip to London and later Edinburgh and Glasgow, we had a very nice time sightseeing, adventuring, brushing up on our British English, and working on our Scottish accents. There’s a lot more to write, but quite frankly we’ve run out of Harry Potter references, so we’ll let some photographs tell the rest of our stories.

If you’re still reading, it looks like one can safely put at least ten HP references in a blog entry, with a Sherlock Holmes reference sneaking in there somehow too…Merlin’s Beard!
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Posted by staley 12:54 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Have you ever taught Sex Ed. to bilingual teenagers?

Warning: This entry is rated PG-13

I have.

People often ask me what I do exactly as a cultural and language assistant. While my job can vary a little sometimes, most often I act as a lectora, or reader. Meaning, I go to classrooms of bilingual students, the teacher hands me the day’s text or worksheet, and I read it in front of the class. To explain this in further detail, I thought I’d share a recent experience during a particularly interesting class.

As soon as I walked into class with the terceros (15-16 years olds) and the biology teacher told me that we would be starting the unit on the Reproductive System, I knew it would be an interesting hour. My job as a lectora is usually quite simple and straightforward. Normally, I read through the text paragraph by paragraph, stopping each time to ask a student to reread the paragraph and to check if there is any vocabulary that they do not understand. I write the words that they don’t know on the whiteboard, try to explain them using other words in English, and then eventually translate them into Spanish. Finally, I read each word on the board out loud a few times and have my students repeat after me to ensure that they know the correct pronunciation.

Like I said, this is pretty easy when the topic is something like Rocks and Minerals, the Stone Age, or the Circulatory System. However, when I had to go through this process with words like protuberance and spermatozoids things got a lot more interesting. At one point during the class while attempting to respond to a student’s question about a particular male reproductive organ, another classmate helped me out by yelling out, “The Balls!” That certainly cleared things up and confirmed that at least we are successfully teaching them colloquial language too.

While this class was a little wackier due to the fact that this topic with teenagers, let alone teenagers learning it in another language, is always in danger of provoking giggles, it’s a pretty good representation of some of the adventures a language and cultural assistant in a Spanish secondary school faces. As for the rest of the unit with my biology class, a review activity I have often used for other topics is Simon Says. For example, with the Skeletal System, Simon would say: “Touch your patella, touch your fibula, touch your metatarsals, etc.” Unfortunately, with this unit I think I’m going to need to come up with a new review activity.

Posted by staley 12:20 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Where do turtles go on vacation?

Hint: The Spanish word for turtle is tortuga

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To Tortugal of course!
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Following the turtles, we went on a trip to nearby Portugal a few weeks ago. When we got back from the trip I told Matt, te toca a ti, or it’s your turn to write a blog entry. However, it was looking like health care legislation would get passed sooner than Matt would write the entry, so here I am again. But, Matt did come up with that turtle joke so I guess he contributed a little too.

On the way to Portugal, we had our first night train experience on the Madrid-Lisbon Trenhotel. We found out the hard way that when you decide not to pay the extra ten Euros or so to book a sleeping couchette, a trenhotel turns out to be a lot less like a hotel and much more like a normal train where you spend a long night trying to sleep in your chair. Either way, we arrived in Lisbon nonetheless and used our expert Siesta-skills to gear up for our weekend in the Portuguese capital.

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Highlights of the trip included riding a creaky old cable car up a ridiculously steep hill, stumbling upon a hole-in-the-wall wine bar serving only Portuguese wines, getting stuck in street car traffic jam six cars deep, taking a three hour tram ride to find a castle we never found, lounging in a park overlooking the longest bridge in Europe, and playing the giant instruments in an interactive percussion public art display.
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Perhaps our most adventurous moment of the trip came during our day trip to a town a few kilometers out of the city called Sintra. In the picturesque little town of Sintra a castle sits atop of a steep hill. Wanting to climb to the castle but not wanting to pay four Euros to take a bus to get there, we set out to follow the signs leading up the hill. About halfway up the path it started raining, but wanting to make it to the top we trudged on. About five minutes later, it began pouring. At this point we figured the best option would probably be to just continue going up in hopes of finding the bus stop at the top, so again we pressed on. When we finally made it to the top we were absolutely soaked and the rain was coming down just as hard. With the wind whipping the rain in our faces we barely managed to climb to the top of the castle walls, but once there we were treated with an amazing view. So, after taking a very brief moment to ponder the notion that for centuries this view was what Europeans thought was the edge of the world, we headed back to the bus stop that turned out to be right by the spot where we earlier decided to keep going up in hopes of finding the bus stop at the top.
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Here in Vera life has been as exciting as ever. A couple of weeks ago you could see snow on the mountains which are visible from Vera, an event that proved to be a conversation starter for days.DSCF6852.jpg Furthermore, just last week we experienced a regional holiday known as La Vieja, or The Old Woman. While this holiday marking the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter isn’t an official Spanish holiday, it may as well have been as all but five or six students at each of our schools skipped that day. To celebrate La Vieja, most of the city heads to the beach and has a barbecue with their family and friends. The main event of the party occurs when everyone throws stones at a piñata which looks like an old woman and is filled with sweets and candy. We tried to document this peculiar tradition with the photos below.
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As for our next adventure, in a week we will be heading to Britain where we plan to spend Semana Santa exploring London, Edinburgh, and maybe a few places in between. In preparation for the journey, I’ve started reading Harry Potter y la Orden del Fénix. This way, in the likely event that we run into any dementores or mortífagos and they happen to speak Spanish, we’ll be ready.
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Posted by staley 15:18 Archived in Portugal Tagged seniors Comments (0)

Life in Vera

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In the spirit of the Olympics, last week I finally became a member of Veraqua, Vera’s finest and most esteemed fitness center. After joining, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the television in the workout room has indeed been showing non-stop Olympics coverage even though most Spaniards seem to give a triple salchow whether the Russians are beating the Canadians in the four-person bobsled competition. Still, I’ve found that there’s nothing more inspirational than watching a riveting round of curling while I’m huffing and puffing my way through a stationary bike workout. Earlier this week, Matt and I also checked out the gym’s “Stretching Express” class (pronounced eh-stretching in Spanish) where we enjoyed ourselves even though we clearly stood out as the clumsy Americans amongst the limber and suave Spaniards. We decided we weren’t quite prepared for it yet this week, but next week we’re even considering taking on the notorious Spinning, or eh-Spinning class.

In truth, it’s amazing we find time for leisure activities like stretching classes considering all of the crazy things we’ve been up to here in Vera. For example, maybe it hasn’t made it to the spotlight in the United States yet, but Matt, my roommate’s dog, and I have all been cast in leading roles for the first major motion picture ever to be filmed and produced in Vera. While we may have had an in to get casted for the movie considering that the director is Matt’s roommate and the producer is my boss’ husband, we take the project very seriously and are expecting to be in the running for a few Oscars in 2011.

In between the acting gigs, we’ve also become very serious players of a Wild West themed card game introduced to us by a Spanish friend. The game, called Bang!, is translated into both English and Italian, meaning that we are learning crucial vocabulary in case we ever find ourselves in a draw with an Italian-speaking cowboy. Additionally, our weekend social lives have improved immensely since we’ve found a few places in Vera that stay open past 10pm on weekends. The hot spot seems to be the bar with a foosball table. However, whatever bar we choose to go to, we inevitably end up seeing our students who also hang out at the same two or three places that stay open past 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Furthermore, it’s been an exciting time in Vera lately because we’ve had quite a bit of on and off rain and drizzle, equating to a week or so of torrential downpours here in the desert region of southeast Spain. The worst part about the grey skies is that I haven’t done my laundry in two weeks because there is no where to hang it to dry, but the best part is that the snails always come out when it rains. Although my roommate let me in on her grandmother’s secret snail recipe- send the children out to go snail hunting, keep the snails alive for about a week while feeding them flour in order to cleanse them, cook in a bit of olive oil, and serve with a side of Iberian ham- Matt and I usually just enjoying looking at the snails.

As for work, we try our best to limit that to the 12 hours which are spread throughout our four day work week every Monday through Thursday. In fact, one day last week when I tried to stay just a few minutes after our school day ended in an attempt to recover a document that a school computer’s virus had eaten, I found myself locked in the building as literally the entire staff had emptied out less than ten minutes after the final bell had rung. Spaniards take siesta, the mid-day lunch and nap break, very seriously. So, even though there are always more snails to catch and more Italian Wild West vocabulary to learn, we’re doing our best these days to keep our priorities in sight and carry on with the rhythm of the siestas and fiestas which so profoundly drive the Spanish culture.

Posted by staley 07:25 Archived in Spain Tagged foot Comments (3)

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