Friday, August 14, 2009

Lo Ultimo

This is a couple of months overdue, but it’s something I think is important in order to complete this blog. I wanted to write down my final thoughts about my experience in Madrid and now that I’ve had some time to reflect I am ready to do that.

I think anyone who has kept in touch with me while I was away knows that it wasn’t an easy year for me. It was much more challenging than I expected and as a result, really taught me a lot about myself. My first month was a big adjustment and in addition to simply learning to live in another country I was studying for the LSAT. At first, everything was hard. Grocery shopping was hard, using the metro was hard, Spanish was hard. I had lived on my own before, but not like that. Right after the LSAT I got pneumonia, although it took several doctor’s visits and tests and nearly two months to figure that out. I’d say that’s the sickest I’ve ever been so to deal with it on my own and over there was pretty tough. After those first couple months I think I was somewhat disillusioned. I had imagined my Spanish life would be something pulled from a romance novel or an adventure movie, and it hadn’t really shaped up that way.

Things took a big turn for the better after Thanksgiving. My biggest challenge after that point stemmed from a bad relationship with the administration at my school. I have never really had a job where the employer didn’t love me and appreciate how hard I worked. That wasn’t the case at our school. Pretty much all the English Language Assistants had problems with the administration. But they all agreed that I was mistreated the most. I left on a really bad note with the administration which is unfortunate. I think the positive aspect is that I learned a valuable lesson. I didn’t present problems early on as they occurred and so by the time issues were addressed they were much more complex. Additionally, I’m going into the legal profession so I guess I should get used to working with jerks, right?

Towards the end of the year, as I mentioned, one of our fifth graders, Diego, died in a tragic accident. Telling his classmates what happened and seeing them grieve at such a young age was one of the more painful things I've experienced.

So there were struggles. But there were joys as well!

It’s hard to even summarize all the wonderful things and places I experienced.

First, I never thought I would enjoy teaching elementary school as much as I did. I talked about them a lot in the blog, but the kids were truly a joy and really cheered me up when things were bad. I could see myself teaching again in the future.

I was able to travel during my year and see a lot of beautiful places. I think favorites include Granada, San Sebastian, Munich, Dublin, and Paris. I look back on the trips I took and think of how unbelievably lucky I have been. A year and a half ago I had never been outside the US and now I have gotten to see so many beautiful cities and cultures.

Most importantly, I made some invaluable friends in Madrid and I really couldn’t have survived without them. They know who they are. We have been keeping in touch since we all left and I know at some point we’ll all see each other again. Right now I miss them more than I miss Spain!

Living in Spain taught me things and changed me in ways I didn’t foresee. I appreciate my family more than ever. I couldn’t call home whenever I wanted. I faced problems my family couldn’t help me with or talk me through. I missed them more than I ever have and was so happy to see them again at home!

I learned to appreciate being born an English speaker. English is a very highly valued language around the globe and so often foreigners told me, “you are so lucky English is your first language.” Having taught it myself, I know that it is a difficult language that often doesn’t make sense and is hard to pronounce and write. Did you know we have like 25 vowel sounds?! We do! Spaniards have five that never change. So be grateful you speak English.

I also have a new appreciation for my country. I think a lot of people who go abroad experience two things: They learn areas where America has room to improve and they learn that America is an enviable place to be. I absolutely experienced this. I saw that America has work to do. Our public transit, public education, and especially our public healthcare (or lack there of currently) are somewhat of a laughing stock around the globe. Spaniards would ask me about these things and were often shocked at the way things are over here. On the other hand, I learned America is an incredibly special place and I feel SO blessed and privileged to be born an American. I appreciate my freedom, my vote, the warmth of Americans, American efficiency, the American work ethic, the American dream! These truly are things that are uniquely American. I feel so inspired to work to improve my nation I’m so proud of.

Mostly, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had. Not everyone gets the experience I did and with all of its ups and downs I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I’d like to thank everyone who read this blog throughout the year. It was a really fun and rewarding experience. I’m so glad I will have a permanent record and reminder of the amazing year I have had. Without everyone’s encouragement I might not have continued so I thank you for that.

I’m starting an entirely new chapter of my life which is sure to be every bit as thrilling and challenging as the last. I’ve just had my first class at Berkeley Law. I’m nervous but also excited for what lies ahead. I think I have the opportunity to make some positive change in America. While I would love to continue writing, I think it’s somewhat unrealistic to think I will have time to keep a blog in my first year of law school. Second or third, maybe. But the first year is pretty rough. I really do love writing creatively so I would like to pick it up again in the future.

Thank you again for reading and for your continued encouragement and support!

Hasta pronto, un beso!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Alicante: Playa, Pool, Repeat!


Last weekend I went on a really fun beach vacation with 7 girlfriends! It was just what I needed. We arrived Thursday very early in the morning and we left late Sunday afternoon, giving us four full days to enjoy the beautiful beach. We rented an apartment for the weekend which was perfect for resting between pool visits and cooking dinners together. Thursday we arrived, settled in and headed for the pool in the apartment complex. We noticed right away the sun is much stronger in Alicante. Actually, the sun is much stronger in Spain in general. I tried to be vigilent with the sunscreen and spend a good amount of time in the shade, but I still got a little sunburnt after the first day. That night we went to a little bar across the street for some fruity cocktails, sparklers included.
Friday was spent at the beach. The beach in Alicante (actually, Santa Pola, a town just outside) was really beautiful. The Mediterranean is in a league of its own. The water was crystal clear and refreshingly cool but not cold. I forgot how much I love swimming in the ocean! I spent a lot of time at the beach for vacations as a kid and I felt like it was just as much fun jumping waves this time.

The beach in Spain has a really different ambience than in the States, and I really liked it! Of course, there is the nudity thing. There were lots of people not only laying around topless but walking up and down the beach sin camisa also. I hardly noticed. But what I really liked was that it was a much more relaxed environment in general. Something that I don't like about California beaches is that there's a lot of pressure to be perfect and put on a big show of how fabulous you are with your fantastic ocean front property and your killer body and your dark tan. There's none of that at the beach in Spain. People aren't there to lay out and look beautiful. They're there to enjoy the beach, the sun, their friends and family. There are people of all shapes and sizes and all ages. It made for a very casual and fun scene.
Saturday and Sunday saw more beach, more pool, and more home-cooked meals enjoyed on our terrace. One fun highlight was on Saturday night when we headed over to Bailey's Bar for karaoke. We were definitely the best singers that night. (We beat out the bartender and Penny, a nice Irish lady). I sang Nsync's "Bye, Bye, Bye" with Kristen and Toby Keith's "I Should've Been a Cowboy" with Blair. Other winning performances included Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" and Will Smith's "Miami". Who knew that Blair was an undercover gangster rapper? We do now.

Sunday night we flew back to Madrid and now here I am, in my last weekend in Spain! It's incredible. My friends and I are doing some fun things this weekend to really celebrate our last few days. Thursday we went to the opening night of the "hipodromo" which literally means race track. In the summer there is a horse track which becomes an outdoor bar/club at night. So we got dressed up and checked it out. It was a really cool environment and a nice Spanish crowd. Hip, but not snoody. We had a lot of fun! Last night we went salsa dancing in Sol which was a blast! Of course, we had no idea what we were doing. But we made it up and even had a few people give us mini lessons. I even loved just sitting and watching the really good couples dance! They are amazing! I don't understand how they know what step to take next and which way to spin, but I love to watch it! Tonight we are having one last party to celebrate our going away. Should be fun!
I fly home Wednesday and could not be more excited!

I plan to write one final blog entry in the next few days summing up the big things I've learned here.

Disfrutad el fin de semana! (Enjoy the weekend!)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Travels and Descansas

So as I mentioned before, I was able to go on two really fun trips in May. First, my roommate Liz and my friend Eimear and I took a bus to San Sebastián, a beautiful town in the northern region of Spain, País Vasco.

País Vasco has a very interesting story, and while I’m not able to tell it all, I’ll tell you what’s important. The Basque region is really, really old. I mean really old. There’s a saying we read in our guide book that is popular in the region: “Before God was God and rocks were rocks, the Basque were Basque.” The language spoken in the region (besides Spanish) is Euskara, and it’s so old that it has no ties to Greek or Latin. It’s like nothing you’ve heard before.

As you can imagine, with such a history the Basque are a proud people and work hard to keep their culture intact. Every sign is written in both Euskara and Spanish. Basque people often have names that are distinctive from normal Spanish ones like Aitor, Iker, Eneko, Aitana (all names of students I teach!). And everyone we met was very proud of their city and region and happy to tell you all about it.

But unlike Cataluña where virtually everyone speaks Catalan and in fact prefers Catalan to Spanish, I didn’t really hear that much Euskara while I was there. That’s probably because not everyone speaks it. The language was strictly oral until a few decades ago when it was finally written out and given grammatical rules. Furthermore Euskara faced a big set back under Franco, who outlawed all languages other than Spanish. Most people estimate between a quarter and a third of people in País Vasco speak Euskara, though a friend of mine from the region says it’s really a higher number.

Another interesting thing many people might know about the Basque region is their problems with ETA, a terrorist organization that fights for Basque independence but does so using violence. While I was in San Sebastián, I saw one graffitied wall with a man hoisting a Basque flag that said “Independencia ahora”. But what I saw far more of were signs that said down with ETA and posters with pictures of those killed by ETA and just general anti-ETA sentiment. The vast majority of Basque Spaniards consider themselves just that – Spaniards, and they want know part of the radical independence crowd.

More than this, San Sebastián is known for its beautiful beaches, friendly people, and delicious pintxos. Pintxos are sort of like tapas, but they are made continually and put on display on top of the bar, so you can browse and pick up whatever looks good. We really liked this system and took full advantage. The nice thing about it was that we didn’t have to deal with a menu and could just grab whatever seemed yummy looking (and had ingredients we recognized). Then when you are finished, you tell the bartender/server how many pintxos and drinks you had and he rings you up. It’s an honor system and one that everyone seems to follow.

Speaking of food, we also had some simply delicious seafood paella one day for lunch. The thing about paella is, if it’s really good, they make it when you order it and it takes a long time. So we sat and munched on bread for at least half an hour before our paella was served, but when it was… it was worth the wait!

We didn’t see a lot of “sights” in San Sebastián but spent a lot of time just walking around the city. The beaches are truly beautiful, with teal blue water and cliffs on either side. The streets are small and cobblestoned and cute. The whole town isn’t very big and we easily did everything on foot. I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but I found the people in San Sebastián to be much nicer than Madrileños! The lady at the post office smiled and helped me warmly. The man at the pintxo bar cracked jokes. The salesperson at the store asked where we were from and chatted us up. All things I rarely experience in Madrid!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend in San Sebastián. I would love to go back and I highly recommend it to anyone who spends time in Spain!

The very next weekend I was off to Munich with my friends Eimear, Blair, and Anna. I really didn’t know much about the city and to be honest I didn’t have that much desire to go, but two of my friends had been before and insisted I would love it. We arrived on a Thursday night and got to bed early so we could take a bike tour the next morning. The bike tour was so much fun and the perfect way to get a feel for the city! We rode beach cruisers all over town for about four hours, stopping here and there for bits of information, as well as stopping at a beer garden for a German sausage lunch!

I was immediately impressed by how beautiful the city was, but in a really different way from other Western European cities. It was very green and wide, with fewer high buildings and more sky to be seen! Everything was impeccably clean. Way, way, way cleaner than Madrid (which really isn’t a dirty city minus all the dog crap). I was also pleasantly surprised to see so many tall men and women! I felt right at home other than not being blonde.

Highlights of Munich include the Marienplatz, Residenz, and English Garden. Marienplatz is a big square that contains the old and new town hall. Residenz is a beautiful museum/government building with lovely courts we were able to ride our bikes through. English Garden is a simply beautiful, very large park. It’s bigger than Central Park in Manhattan and I loved it because it was much more natural than a lot of parks in big cities. It was much like a forest with paths throughout. We spent a lot of time at the park since we were lucky enough to have wonderful sunny weather all weekend. There was also a really cool part of the river that runs through the park where they somehow created an artificial wave and people go surfing! Who knew!
We also went to the Hofbrauhaus which is a big beer hall that's pretty famous. It's just like you would imagine, with long wooden tables and benches and women in tight frilly dresses who serve you big jugs of beer. A fun experience.

I really enjoyed Munich and can see why my friends wanted to go back! It was also nice to have two weekends filled with nature!

The following weekend I spent in Madrid and had some fun meals and nights out with my friends. We realized it was one of the last weekends we would all be together in the city.

This weekend is a funny story. I had tickets to go to Mallorca, a very beautiful island in the Mediterranean and home to one of my favorite athletes, Rafa Nadal. But on Thursday, I was so tired and the thought of another trip was so draining that I decided I wouldn’t go. I realize I might never have another chance to see Mallorca, and I’m sure I would have had a nice time. But traveling, even when for a “relaxing” beach weekend, is tiring. And I needed a weekend to relax and do very little. And that’s just what I got!

On Thursday I went to sleep instead of heading to the airport. Friday morning I went for a run in the park, and then realized I had a whole weekend ahead of me with no lessons, no plans, and no commitments. How fabulous! Most of my friends were out of town except my roommates and Blair, so on Friday we did a little shopping and grabbed a tapa or two in La Latina, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Madrid. On Friday night I came home with grand plans of watching a movie and writing this blog. As soon as I got to work, the power shut off! It was very dark at this point, especially because our apartment gets little natural light anyway. So we scrambled for some candles and matches. We called our landlord but got no answer. There was really little that could be done at that point, so I just took it as a sign that I should go to sleep early! And that I did.

Saturday the friend of our landlord came over to take a look at the problem. We had already found the breaker and tried several times to switch it with no luck. When the gentleman friend arrived, he looked at the breaker, flipped the same switch we had flipped a hundred times, and voila! LIGHTS! He looked at us and said, “Ya esta.” (That’s it.) Of course.

My roommate Melanie had already purchased several candles since we thought we would be without power all weekend. So we decided to have a candlelight dinner anyway! Blair came over and the four of us had pasta and salad and wine and it was very fun.
This morning we had a big American style brunch with two friends, Meagan and Theresa. We ate our weight in pancakes. We came home to find the power was back off and flipping the switch worked for about five minute increments. So I spent the day cleaning, reading and taking a walk in Retiro. I love parks!

I’m writing this blog in a café near my house and some sort of soccer game is on, making for a fun environment. With no electricity I’m going to take refuge at Blair’s house so I can take a shower!

One thing my roommates and I were laughing about is that if this had happened to us in October, we would have been flipping out. We would have been angry and frantic and upset. Now our reaction is, well they’ll send an electrician sometime this week. Maybe. And in the meantime we have books and candles and non-perishables. See, Spain may have just changed me for the better!

Next weekend I am going to Alicante, a beach town, with 7 girlfriends. This is a trip I won’t miss!

One last thing. In my last blog I said I had finally decided on a law school and I was going to NYU. Surprise! I had a change of heart. There are too many reasons to mention, but I’m happy to say I’ll be attending Berkeley Law in the fall. I’m so happy and excited and I know I did the right thing. Only good things ahead!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

You can call me Hannah

Hello everyone! I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been very busy fully enjoying my last bit of time in Madrid!

The fickle weather has finally decided to permanently welcome spring, although the Spaniards are still having a hard time letting go of their coats, scarves, and boots. I am not sure what kind of delusional world they live in, but personally when it’s in the 80s (Fahrenheit) you aren’t gong to catch me wearing sweaters, pants and wool scarves. I’ve been coming to school in shorts for the past couple of weeks or so (not very short shorts of course) and at first, when it was still in the 70s, I always got the same reaction from the older teachers: “Ay chica no haces fríoooo??? Que fríoooo!!!” Rough translation: “Holy crap aren’t you cold??? It’s so cold!!!” At first I just chuckled and ignored it. Now my reaction is this, “NO I’m NOT cold because it’s 80 degrees outside!!!” How am I the crazy one in this situation?!

Thanks to the sunshine, a couple of friends and I were able to enjoy a really fun weekend in País Vasco (in the north of Spain) in the coastal town of San Sebastián. It is a new favourite town of mine that I highly recommend anyone see if they are in Spain. But since I don’t have pictures uploaded from that trip just yet, I will talk about it in another post.

Lately I’ve been splitting my focus on school and soaking up Madrid. In the school department, everyone has been very busy gearing up for the big Trinity exam which is happening today. I have been training my second graders (who I’m with the most) for this stupid test for what feels like ages and I am SOOO ready for it to be over.

The test is given by the Trinity College of London and it’s more or less a way to assess the English level of ESL students. I don’t like the exam at all. I understand it’s important to get an idea of where the kids are at. But I can tell you that just based on class time. The test consists of a British examiner coming to school and having a four minute “conversation” with each student. The problem is that it isn’t so much a conversation as it is a series of questions which the children have been asked ten thousand times (by me) and have memorized simple answers to. For a couple of months now, each class I have been taking the children in a small room in groups of three to practice all the questions. For example:

Me: Isabel, have you got any brothers or sisters?
Isabel: Yes, I have one sister.
Me: What’s her name?
Isabel: Her name is Lidia.
Me: How old is she?
Isabel: She has four years old.

This has to be the most common mistake of little Spanish kids learning English. In Spanish you use the verb “to have” (tener) to say how old you are. So I would say, “Tengo 21 años.” (I have 21 years). Obviously that’s not how we do things in English. But something that fundamental is hard to change in the mind of a seven year old who has said their age in Spanish 500 times in their life. Sigh.

I can sense the nervousness among the kids and their awareness that this thing is a pretty big deal. I try to keep it light and make sure they know it’s just like any other conversation. The other day I was talking to a couple of them about what the day would be like and one of the girls in the class raised her hand and interrupted, ¨”Profe, estamos perdiendo el tiempo!” (Teacher, we’re wasting time!). Yeah, they’re affected.

You can imagine how bored I am of this constant line of questioning. But the one question I NEVER tire of asking is this one: Who’s your best friend?

The boys give it to me straight up. They don’t care who else is in the room or what they have to say about it. And their answer never changes. I can ask Jose Luis 100 times who his best friend is, and EVERY time the answer will be Rubén. Víctor will always pick Juan. Adrián will always pick Alejandro.

The girls are another story. First after asking who their best friend is, they look at the one or two other girls who are sitting with them anxiously, take a deep breathe, and respond, “My best friend is.... Salma, Laura, Adriana, Beatriz Diez, Beatriz Fiestas, and Isabel.” Wow. Way to cover all your bases there. But then I inform them that for the purpose of the question, they have to pick one. OH NO. What’s a seven year old girl to do? Well, if there is one other girl in the room with them, they will without a doubt say their best friend is that girl. And then the other girl will grin and whisper a little thank you. If there are two girls, things get tough. It’s decision time, baby. And someone ends up a little peeved. But of course, when you’re seven you let things go pretty quickly.

Then they have to describe their best friend, which is actually a bit of a challenge since pretty much everyone has the same features (brown eyes and brown hair). “Rubén has brown eyes, brown hair, and......” then I usually instruct them to say something different like “he’s funny” or “he likes basketball” or “he’s smart”. I think three adjectives is plenty for second grade.

I love my students. When everything else is weird or not going how I want, little kids help make the world make sense. They are so sweet, so fun, so honest, and have such big personalities. They never fail to say something everyday that makes me happier.

The other day in Trinity questioning, Celia interrupted me mid question to say (in Spanish), “Audrey! I saw the Hannah Montana movie this weekend!” I said, “Wow, Celia, that’s super cool. Did you like it?” “Oh yes it was phenomenal. And profe, you look just like Hannah Montana!!!”

Hahahaha WHAT?! Do I really? Now I could be put off by the fact that Hannah Montana is a 16 year old pop star who I happen to think looks nothing at all like me, but I’m going to take this for what it is: the BIGGEST compliment you could ever receive from a second grade girl. I would argue that Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus is bigger here than she is in the US. Miley backpacks, pencil cases, stickers, DVDs, hair bows, lunchboxes, I swear I’ve seen it all. So you know what? Thanks Celia. I’ll take it. Then Celia followed up, “Yeah and she’s from England like you! But she lives in New York City.” Oh no. I’ve tried to explain this concept a lot. “No Celia, Hannah Montana is from the United States like me.” “Oh but she speaks English.” “Yes we speak English in the US also.” “Hmmmm....” One day they will understand. When I got back from the States even my fifth graders asked me how England was. Yikes.

Speaking of Hannah Montana, I had a fun private lesson with two sisters I teach yesterday. The younger girl just got the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack so right when I got to her house Tuesday she said, “Audrey, que significa ‘hoedown’?” Excuse me? Turns out there were quite a lot of lyrics the girls wanted to understand, so we spent the class translating Miley Cyrus lyrics. She’s not so bad.

Equally as hard to master as the idea that America and England are separate countries, is that tricky concept of time. I don’t remember learning how to tell time, but I’m going to guess it was rough. Of course, we teach the British way. Meaning, it’s half past nine, it’s quarter to one, it’s twenty five past eleven. That’s pretty wordy. Especially when all those words are in your second language. It seems I can go over time on my fun clock a thousand times and there is still confusion. Beyond reading a watch, a lot of them just don’t get the big picture. For example:

Me: Laura, what time do you go to sleep?
Laura: Nine o’ clock.
Me: Great. What time do you have dinner?
Laura: mmmm half past ten.
Me: Oh dear.

But for all their struggles, these kids are really smart. I feel pretty confident that all or nearly all of them will pass the test.

First graders don’t have to take the Trinity. So they get to do fun stuff. Yesterday we were talking about things they can and can’t do. I can ride a bike. I can’t fly. Etc. Visi asked one boy named Mateo if he can sweep the floor. He said, “No, I can’t.” Fair enough. Then I heard another boy, Iker, say to him in Spanish, “Yeah because that’s for women!” Oooooh boy you should have heard the Spanish tongue lashing I gave him. Keep in mind, he’s six. Where do you think he acquired that concept? Parents!

I’m sure you can tell that I love the kids I teach. I only wish I also loved my school. Throughout the year I’ve had a lot of conflict with one of the teachers I work with as well as with the principle and vice principle. I won’t go into detail but I disagree with a lot of things that take place here and I’ve had a pretty difficult work experience. Really it’s my own fault for waiting so far into the year to voice my grievances. But I’m happy to say that I did, and better late than never. I think I’ve learned a lot about how to work with people you don’t like, or in less than ideal circumstances. And after all, I am going to be an attorney right?

I’ve recommended this program to some USF students who have asked me about it but with a lot of caution and honest criticism attached. The program is terribly organized, somewhat dishonest about the requirements, and a huge part of your experience is based on which school you’re assigned to: dumb luck. I know plenty of people who work far less hours than I do, have less responsibility, more benefits, friendlier co-workers, and generally love their school. I know I also could have done worse. I know one girl in the program who works at a school where the kids are frequently physically violent with each other and with her. I’m grateful for the great kids I have and the experience I’m taking away.

Beyond school I’ve been spending a lot of time enjoying Madrid with the great group of friends I’ve established here. We’re trying to squeeze in visits to restaurants and bars we’ve been meaning to try all year, and we all enjoy quality time soaking up the sun in Retiro. With just over a month left, I’m having a lot of fun, travelling, and more and more feeling like I’ve really gotten to know Madrid (and Spain) well. I’m also very excited to go home!!!

For anyone who I haven’t told, I ended up choosing NYU for law school. It was a very hard decision but I’m looking forward to the next adventure before I (hopefully) permanently set up camp on the West Coast.

I’m leaving for Munich, Germany tomorrow with my friends Eimear and Anna and it’s sure to be loads of fun! My next post will be about my weekend travels and I swear it won’t be so long!
P.S. pictures are random ones of my lovely friends and me having a good time in Madrid!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Madrid, NYC, Ann Arbor, LA, SF, SLC, Idaho, phew I'm tired!


What a long time it’s been. When I last wrote I was heading off for my long awaited return to the USA. It was quite an adventure! Coast to coast, 5 states, 3 weeks, and lots of friends and family to be seen. Oh yeah, and tons of good food to be eaten!

I left Madrid on March 26th and was headed first for New York City. The flight west really isn’t too bad (6-7 hours) but especially when you are very lucky like I am and get to sit in business class thanks to wonderful family friends who work for Delta. The first signal that I was once again surrounded by Americans was this: The flight attendants served dinner and I dug in. About three minutes in, the flight attendant comes back to say, “Are you finished?” I looked at my plate (which was 75% full) then looked back at her with a face that hopefully read, “Does it look like I’m finished?” I said no and she left me alone. About two minutes later she was back with the same question. Once again I said no. At that point I looked around and realized most of the other passengers were on the next course. So unless there’s some new prize on airplanes for who can eat the fastest, I’m going to guess Spain has changed my eating habits.

When I landed in JFK and picked up my bags I immediately got a taxi and headed for NYU law campus. As we merged on to the highway I noticed one thing, “Man these cars are HUGE!” I’m not just talking about the big SUVs. I mean, clearly those are enormous. But even our “compact” cars seemed big to me. Example: early in my time here I met a Spanish guy who was quite proud of his “big American car”. He was bragging about how he has the biggest car of all his friends but also lamenting that it was nearly impossible to park. The car? An old Ford Taurus. WOW… HUGE!

Anyway, I got to NYU and headed in for day 1 of an admitted students weekend. All in all the school was great. I met lots of awesome students, was wowed by the faculty and the programs, got to see the tiny, exorbitantly expensive student apartments, and was really impressed by the whole thing. I was definitely excited about it. I was lucky enough to have a friend, Ryan, from USF who lives in Brooklyn who let me stay with him. It was great to get to see the Brooklyn side of NYC also. I had all day Saturday just to explore the city so Ryan played guide and took me on a walking tour. We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge through China Town and Little Italy. We took the subway up to Times Square, got a cupcake (or two) at famous Magnolia Bakery, and then explored Central Park. We also had a slice of pizza (or four) from a place that got voted “Best Pizza in NYC” by Food Network (though best pizza in New York is a huge debate I don’t want any part of). It was great! I had a really amazing time in New York and while it’s not somewhere I would want to live forever, it’s a pretty awesome experience.

After a fun weekend in NY, it was time for the next stop on the tour. I jumped a plain to Detroit, Michigan, where our old family friend, Steve was nice enough to pick me up. I got to hang out for a bit with his ridiculously cute children who were so sweet. I used to babysit them but they were really little so I figured they wouldn’t remember me. But when I got there Hailey (age 7) ran and gave me a big hug and said, “I really missed you.” I love kids.

That day we drove through Ann Arbor (the town I came to see) and I spent the night catching up on some sleep. The next day I walked to the University of Michigan campus where I had a little day of activities planned. I met with an admissions director to get some of my questions answered. I wandered around the cute college town and got a great deli sandwich for lunch. I sat in on a transnational law class that was pretty interesting. And finally I took a private tour of the law campus with a second year law student. The Michigan law campus is unbelievably beautiful. The law quad is part of the main campus but its four walls keep it quiet. All the wonderful things I heard about the school were true.
From there I got on yet another plane, this time going to LA. My good friend from high school, Ryan (another one!) was my gracious host. My first day in LA I had a day planned to visit UCLA law. My situation was interesting in that I was staying near the USC campus but had to get to the UCLA campus. I decided to save myself a lot of money on a cab ride and take the bus. I’m a pro with public transportation at this point, right? Well, let’s just say it was an epic journey. According to Wikipedia the campuses are 10 miles apart and the bus ride took a little over TWO HOURS! What fun! It was also a nice opportunity to get the scenic tour of some of LA’s less picturesque neighborhoods. But once I hit Sunset it was a pretty nice drive. We went through Beverly Hills and finally landed at UCLA.
At UCLA I met with the Dean of Admissions, sat in on a class, had lunch with a student, and took a tour of campus. It was a warm, sunny day and it was amazing to see students studying outside! The campus is beautiful and just what you would imagine of a campus in southern California.
The next day I was free to do fun things in LA. Ryan and I had lunch at In N Out (my request), walked down Santa Monica Pier and a cute shopping area, and later went to a concert in Hollywood. We also went to one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to, The Standard. It sits on top of a hotel, is surrounded by skyscrapers and has incredible views. So fun!

After a great few days in LA it was time to go back to the city where I left my heart almost one year ago, San Francisco! It was a great weekend :) I stayed in my old apartment with my old roommates which was such a blast! I was lucky enough to get to meet up with soooo many wonderful friends on this trip that I won’t mention them all. But it was really great to reconnect with everyone I love in the Bay.

But I didn’t just go for fun! I went to visit Berkeley law. This was another admitted students weekend planned by the school. It was a pretty packed day which involved a mock class, student panel, tour, lunch, student organization fair, and reception.
Unfortunately there is a pretty major construction project going on that won’t be finished until my third year of law school. But the inside of the law school is state of the art. I met some cool people and enjoyed the sunny, relaxed atmosphere.

After some days of just having fun in SF, it was finally time to go to the most important leg of the trip, HOME! I ended up staying a little longer than I planned and enjoyed every minute of it. The older I get, the more I love home. It was so fun to hang out with my family. If you haven’t spent time with my little brother lately, you should because he is hilarious! I loved having family dinners and just relaxing at home.
I also got to see my closest friends from Utah. My best friend, Stephanie, even flew in from Spokane just for the weekend! She, Megan and I took a spontaneous road trip to Idaho to take a dip in the hot springs. (They were really hot).

Hanging out in Utah was the perfect ending to the trip.

Finally it was back to Madrid! After some set backs due to tornadoes in Atlanta, I made it back safely to Spain. I'm usually pretty good with jetlag but I made the fatal error of sleeping for seven hours my first day back. Therefore I was nocturnal for about a week.

It was so wonderful to be back in the States. I have learned so much during my time here in Spain and one of the greatest things I think I’m taking away is a new appreciation for America and my home. There is definitely something special about the US and I know it now, more than ever. I’m already looking forward to coming back in July!

But that’s not to say I wasn’t happy to be back in Madrid. I definitely felt like my time wasn’t finished here, and I had more things to see and do. The weekend I got back all my closest girlfriends met for a reunion dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Chueca! It was really fun to hear about all the exciting things people did during the Easter break. And the nachos weren’t bad either!

Now I’m back in the swing of things at school and with my private lessons. The highlights of the teaching week included trying to help a student understand Beyonce lyrics (“Boo stop trippin” is when… “Shawty got swag” has to do with…) and making Mother’s Day presents in first grade (a popsicle stick recipe holder of sorts).

Tomorrow two of my friends here, Blair and Kristen, are running the Madrid Marathon! A bunch of us are going to go support them at various points of the course. Oh yeah, and out of 11,000 runners there are only 500 women!!! WOW!

I have some exciting trips planned for May and June! More details to come…
I wanted to say thank you to all the friends and family I was able to see on this trip! Thank you for everything from rides to lodging to meals to just your company! I feel so blessed to have loved ones on every corner of the earth.

One last thing! If you’re wondering where I decided to go to law school… well, it’s a tricky thing. I’ve narrowed it down to NYU or Berkeley but it’s a pretty agonizing decision. I thought I settled on NYU, then had a mild panic attack and reversed my choice, then thought some more… so I’ll let you know for sure in a week or two. Either way, I feel extremely lucky to be stuck in a win-win situation.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

picnics, polpo and the huelgas

Where to begin!

In my last post I promised myself (and anyone reading) that I would do a better job of taking advantage of my remaining time here. Based on the fact that I had to organize an outline of all the fun things I did in the last two weeks, I'd say I'm doing pretty well!
A couple of weekends ago I decided to organize a little outing in the city inspired by a cool article a friend sent me (thanks Jenna!). The article suggested some really awesome things to see in the city which remained undiscovered by tourists (for now). The best of the bunch was Plaza de la Paja.
The Plaza is a few blocks from Opera but tucked up in a neighborhood. It sits on a big hill and at the bottom there is a very small gated garden. The garden remains from the Spanish court. All around the Plaza sat cool restaurants, bars, and cafes. The most popular cafe, Delic, was too crowded to get a seat. We got a coffee at an equally cool spot and then browsed. Another find was a cute little shop that was like a mini Whole Foods, but Spanish and reasonably priced.

The next day Blair, Eimear and I decided to enjoy the warm sunshine and have a picnic in Retiro. We each brought some grub and I brought a giant blanket and really that's all you need! I am so thankful it's sunny and nice out finally. I think we earned an early spring after the winter we endured.

Mid-week we decided to try a new Galician restaurant our friend Cristina has raved about. Galicia is a region in northwest Spain and it's famous for its killer seafood among other things. There were six of us at dinner which allowed us to get a whole bunch of things and try them all. We got the usual croquetas, some really yummy steak, salty green peppers, calamaris, and... pulpo!! I have been wanting to try pulpo for a while since so many Spaniards have told me I must. Any guesses? Octopus! I have to say that while it's not my favorite seafood dish, I did really enjoy it! Tentacles and all :)

Last Saturday was my last volleyball game with the Spanish team I've been playing with. As for the game, we got absolutely destroyed. It was ugly stuff. But I think that's because we were all distracted and looking forward to the team dinner afterword. To celebrate the season we went to a local Italian restaurant. It was fun to hang out with my teammates outside of the gym. I also sampled THE best sangria I've had in Spain. And let's just say I've had a few glasses of sangria in my time here. The secret ingredient was a hint of cinnamon. Yum!

Last weekend we had another puente. Spanish quiz! Do you remember puente? If you said bridge or four day weekend, you are correct. I stayed in Madrid for the puente for a number of reasons. But on Thursday I was able to take a day trip to Segovia. After a short bus ride we landed in this very cute town. It's most famous for it's aquaduct which was built in 50 b.c.! We walked around a bit and I even got to see the home of my favorite Spanish author and the namesake of the school where I work, Antonio Machado. I also splurged and got cochinillo for lunch, which is suckling pig and something Segovia is famous for. I may have ragged on pig products in the past, but let me tell you, this was some good pork.
The next day my friend and teammate from USF, Linzy, came to visit from Paris where she currently lives. We had a really fun weekend together. We went out Friday and Saturday night and had dinner at a cute place in La Latina on Saturday. It's famous for fries and eggs. I didn't really get it. I asked the waiter, so what is it? He looked at me like I was stupid and replied, "it's fries...with eggs on top." Ok then. We decided to see what all the fuss was about. Gotta say this one wasn't my favorite. Kind of a weird "I really need to go grocery shopping what can I possibly throw together" sort of a dish. But I'm glad we tried it nonetheless.

On Sunday we went to the Rastro, somewhere I've been meaning to check out. The Rastro is a giant street fair of sorts that extends many blocks in the La Latina neighborhood. Vendors sell everything from jewelry to tapestries to my personal favorite, rubber by the kilo. It was really fun and I even picked up an item or two.

Finally, I'd like to tell you about some exciting happenings here in Madrid. On Monday we read in the paper as well as heard announced on the metro that there was going to be a "huelga" of metro workers on the 24th and 26th. A huelga is a strike, btw. The huelga would make all metro trains run at 50%. This annoyed me for two reasons. One is I already have a pretty dreadful commute at 100%. Second, the 26th I was to go to the United States and getting to the airport via metro seemed impossible. So the 24th I got up early, walked to a farther metro to avoid a transfer, and got there early preparing myself for the worst. And then, I walk up to my platform and what's this? There are less commuters than usual, the train pulls up immediately, and I get a seat which never happens. Could this be? The strike scared off a lot of passengers and in the end the metro union decided to postpone it for the 30th. Nice! So no need to worry about that any more.There was also a huelga of all public teachers today. It was a big one. We had a lot of teachers from school stay home and go to the protest. I, however, don't qualify to participate in the huelga since I'm not technically a teacher but an auxiliar.

Ok, well I'm off to bed because in the morning I am heading to the good old USA! I am so excited. It will be an adventure to be sure.


Thursday, March 5, 2009


Hello! Hope everyone’s having a nice week. Just to taunt me it's been really sunny and beautiful and the next day rainy and freezing cold. Spring's coming! No wait... Spring's coming! Nooo..... Everyone keeps telling me it’s been an unusually horrible winter this year. Just for me! The last couple of weeks were both very nice and very eye opening.

Aprovechar is one of my favourite Spanish verbs (and one that is often used here). It means “to take advantage”. It is also used to mean bon appetite. It’s custom here that when anyone enters the dining room they say “que aproveche” (take advantage, used more or less to mean "enjoy your meal") to EVERYONE. And you respond, “gracias”. When you all start eating at different times this can get kind of tiring. It’s like a constant call and answer song during your lunch.

But beyond meal time, aprovechar makes its way into my life in many other ways. When I’ve talked to Spaniards about the places I’ve been and the many more I’d like to go they always respond, “Well yes of course. You have to aprovechar your time here in Europe.” When I tell them how I’d like to improve my Spanish more they respond in the same way. “Aprovecha!!!”

Last weekend it was sunny and dare I say it, borderline warm. My roommate, Liz, and I decided it was a must to aprovechar the good weather so we went for a walk and a Diet Coke in Retiro. I loooove Retiro. When I was really sick in November and didn’t leave my apartment for a week, I started to go a little crazy, and on the last day I said, I don’t care how sick I am. I’m going for a walk in Retiro. It was better than medicine. Anyhow, it was an absolutely beautiful day. There were lots of families having picnics in the grass, and students doing homework and couples having coffee dates. It made me pretty excited for Spring and Summer.
I recently passed the half way point in my time here in Spain. It was really shocking. The first few months went by soooo slowly. They were rough. But since Thanksgiving, I've enjoyed Madrid more and more and time has flown by. I have exactly four months left now. It’s weird to think about that.

I’ve decided that I really must make more effort to fully aprovechar my time here. I speak way too much English and I’m starting to get angry with myself. I live with two Americans so I speak English at home. My two closest friends here, Blair and Eimear, are American so I speak English with them. I teach English from morning to night. So to say the least it’s a little frustrating. It’s not like I never speak Spanish. I do a lot and I have definitely improved a huge amount. But I see lots of opportunities for me to aprovechar further. I’m reading the paper on the metro to work. I’m making an effort to speak Spanish at school with the teachers who don’t speak English. I’m speaking lots of Spanish with my volleyball team. I’m going to try to spend more time with the few Spanish friends I have here. And I’m going to get back in the habit of doing intercambios (that’s where you meet with a Spaniard for an hour or two and spend half the time speaking in Spanish and half the time in English). I improved so much in the first five months, so I can get even better in the last four!
Last Thursday we got terrible news that a fifth grader in our school died. It was a very tragic accident in which the cover of a soccer bench (like a dugout but above ground) collapsed on him. He was 9 years old. I teach fifth grade but not his class. Anyway, we got the news and then I immediately had class with my fifth graders. It was one of the more horrible hours of my life. There are 50 fifth graders in total and they’ve gone to school together since the age of 3. So needless to say they were all very close. By ten years old you understand these things, so to see them so upset obviously made me very upset.
In talking with other teachers about it, the universal response (other than being incredibly sad) was that life is short and we have to aprovechar. And I do agree.
The incident definitely made me re-evaluate my priorities, how I behave, how I treat myself and others. I realize how lucky I am to have this life of mine, so I don’t want to waste it. I’m trying to improve in a lot of areas.

Anyway, on Sunday, Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona in a shocking upset. Atletico was the club that our fifth grader played for (but in a younger age group obviously). So they had a minute of silence at the beginning of the game which was really nice. I read in the paper on Friday a quote from the captain of the team saying they were going to try to win for Diego (the boy). But from everything I had read and heard on TV, there was no chance Atleti would win. But they did :) The paper said it was a “milagro” (miracle).

After the game I went to church. It’s cuaresma (lent) which fits right in with the new self-improvement kick. I’ve gone to church pretty often here and let me tell you, there aren’t too many of us attendees. Spain is more or less a universally Catholic, and universally non-practicing country. An interesting combo. But this Sunday there was a much larger turnout. I’m guessing it’s a lent thing. The differences between Mass here and in the States are pretty striking. Obviously the language is different. But for one thing, mass here generally runs 30 minutes, maybe 40. They start right on time (the only thing to start on time here) and there’s no big entrance precession. The priest just walks up to the podium from the side of the church and gets the party started. Although mass starts on time, that doesn’t mean anyone gets there on time. A lot of people roll in around 15 minutes late. Mind you, that’s about half way through. They don’t quietly slip in the back though. They march all the way up to the front, high heels clicking and all. There are no songs, no music, no announcements. But what they lack in ceremony, they make up for in sermon. I don’t know how it’s possible in such a short service, but the homily is much longer here. It’s good listening practice anyway. When it comes time for communion, there’s no pew by pew line business. Lines aren’t really popular here. It’s just a free for all. If you’re in the last pew but you hustle to the front, good for you. Anyway, it’s efficient. And I can truly say mass is the ONLY place I’ve seen in Spain where efficiency exists.

Well that’s all for now. My volleyball team beat the undefeated first place team in our league last Saturday. It was really fun! We have two more matches and then I’m free. I’ve really liked it, but it will be nice to have a little more time to do other things.

Also, completely unrelated. Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire?! I saw it last night and it is incredible. I laughed, I cried, I got my 8 euros worth. I highly recommend it. The soundtrack is great, too.
If you're wondering what the deal is with the cow pictures, there is an art exhibit of sorts going on with hundred of these cow statues placed all over the city! They are all painted or decorated in different ways by Spanish artists. It's pretty fun to see a new one everyday!
I may be making a trip to the good old USA soon to visit law schools. Pretty exciting!

Today I'm going to do some city exploring, so I’m off to aprovechar!