Monday, December 10, 2012

End of the Year

It's of course only when I'm sniffly and in bed that I find time to write an entry. I've been really busy this past month! I had to work more than usual to make up the hours I'm going to miss by going home early for Christmas. Yeah, I can't believe it. I'm going home this Sunday for three weeks! I'm honestly really excited. I've felt out of sorts this past month: really burnt out on work and other things. I'm just happy that with actually being paid I was able to travel more frequently.

I also dyed my hair successfully!

I went to Salamanca one weekend in November. Absolutely amazing town! I'll definitely be visiting again sometime soon, especially since it's only an hour and change away. I met a lot of great people, and due to it being a university town, everything was incredibly cheap. Like, a beer, a small portion of patatas bravas, and tortilla for 2 euro. Good beer too!I had one of the most amazing church experiences of my life. After being in Spain so many times, it's easy to become used to cathedrals and even quite tired of them. But the one in Salamanca is, of course, gorgeous, but there's also a way where you can go up into the towers and even walk along balconies high up in the main sanctuary. We did that on a Sunday, and literally no one was in the church besides us! I was just standing there in the church reeling from vertigo, gripping the railing in front of me, and I had the most incredible urge to sing and fill the space with a bit of my presence. I did...once my friends were out of earshot.

Plaza Mayor, from our hostel!

Just me in there. Amazing.

Art Deco Museum café

I had my first Spanish Thanksgiving. Well, I had two: lucky me! It's great to see how creative people can be here in trying to recreate traditions from home. We had whole chickens instead of turkey, mini pecan pies, savory bread pudding, even a cranberry chutney! I made mashed potatoes that I think mom would've been proud of. Not fancy but surely delicious.

Just this weekend I went to Belgium for the first time. Found a pretty cheap round trip flight through RyanAir. I had such a good time. All the Christmas decorations were up, and the markets were in full swing. It was pretty magical. When the plane was landing we exploded out of the clouds to see the entire countryside covered in fresh snow. It was beautiful. I ate so much good food: liege waffles covered in chocolate, cones of french fries with mayonnaise on top, bratwurst, gluhwein, lambic beers... I even made it to Bruges for a couple hours. I'd love to go back in the Spring.


I think I ate 5 waffles in 2 days. Not enough, I know.

Grand Place in Brussels with its weird post modern Christmas tree (used in a light show at night)

It's crazy that this year is almost over. I've done so much. I mean, this time last year I was just graduating from UGA. Talk about a perfect holiday season. Since then I've had a lot of great experiences as well as many difficulties: my first trip to Germany, a tonsillectomy, teaching in Brazil, taking the GRE, working at the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta, breaking up with Dustin, a trip to Mexico, hearing about Grandpa's cancer... the list goes on. It's been one hell of a year, probably the least organized and most hectic one I've had to date. But here's to moving forward stronger and to starting next year off on more stable ground.

Remember to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve! It's evidently lucky!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lessons (no planning needed)

I've learned a lot in the past few weeks. For instance, when Spaniards dress up for Halloween, they only wear "scary" costumes. My mentioning of people dressed up as bananas or President Obama didn't resonate. For them, that's carnival; not Halloween.

Me teaching on Halloween.

I learned that I enjoy planting trees. I went on an excursion an hour or so outside of the city with a group of middle aged professors and scientists to do an experimental planting project to help Spanish soil. Check back in 50 years. There might be a forest! After 5 hours of freezing to death in the middle of nowhere, I felt really satisfied and good on a deep level. I guess that's manual labor for you?

I learned that deep down I'm a mess of a girl who acts entirely her age, in that the future and "the rest of my life" are daunting, abstract concepts that I can't swallow just yet. But at least I did the hard thing and was honest. When I wake up in the morning I have that, at least.

Still trying to keep it classy though...that and pale. :P

I learned a lot about Spain's economic situation. With the general strike (14N) looming tomorrow, I asked as many people as I could their reason's for participating or for being scabs, like me. No, I'm not going to participate. As many qualms I have with the government (still have not been paid!), I feel like my concerns are of a different stuff than, say, a math teacher that drives me home periodically. She claims the country is losing basic, essential things that Spain fought for so desperately in the post-Franco, democratization era. So, the 80s. Things like education for everyone, healthcare for everyone are for the first time in 30 odd years coming under attack, things that here are basic human rights. Definitely a change of perspective from thoughts back home.

I learned that Valladolid indeed does have a lot of culture! During its Seminci international film festival several weeks ago, I saw maybe 12 different films in 7 days. There were movies from Spain, Mexico, the US, Poland, name it. I think the best part of the festival was the walk home after each movie. I couldn't go to the showings in the mornings or afternoons because of work, so I always found myself walking out of the movie theater around midnight. Especially on nights like Sunday or Monday the streets were more or less deserted. Maybe a few stragglers were still at the bar, finishing a drink, but most people were no where to be seen. Having immersed myself in a whirlwind of cinema, I couldn't help but feel like the buildings, the streets, and the lampposts that I passed were all part of a movie set that stretched out into the night. It was so surreal.

One of the theaters used for the festival

Excellent nose-bleed seats
I re-learned how essential travel is for my personal well-being. In the worst, most dark mood I found myself discovering again what it's like to be happy: the absence of routine, the new faces, getting repeatedly lost, finding treasures where you least expect them, unforgettable vistas, realizing you're much more than what you give yourself credit for. And this weekend I'm going to Salamanca! Here's hoping that the travels continue.





On the road to Santander

I also learned how hard distance can really be. Sounds silly coming from me, I know. But it's one thing to keep a romantic relationship going, which I've now failed (not quite miserably, but failed regardless) at twice. But when a family member is sick? When someone really needs you, and all you can do is send emails and Skype. It's a nightmare. My grandpa is sick, and we're still not sure what's going on exactly. I feel so helpless and far away! As if the mind-numbing waiting that you experience in any medical situation is only exacerbated with each physical mile put between you and those you love.

Family love...and old haircuts.
Miss you all!

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Trying to kick an old hobby back into gear and shake off this mood I'm in. All in one! I really need to get my hands on a tripod.




Saturday, October 13, 2012


 Sorry to have dropped off the radar for so long! I got really busy all of a sudden with work and private classes, and I've been too tired to write anything. I did have a long weekend in the mix, so I took the opportunity to visit Dustin finally! Anyway, I'll back up a bit.

So, the week before visiting Dustin I started my private classes. I only have 3 at the moment, but I'm hoping to add a few more. It's pretty good money, I'm getting 20-30 euro for an hour to teach small groups of 2-3. I've been putting a lot of effort into lesson planning for them, maybe too much, so I'm trying to find that sweet spot between workaholic and slacker. I have one class with two 13 year old girls. They are really sweet and are only shy about speaking English around their parents, luckily not me. Another class is with three 18 year old guys. Their English is amazing, especially one who spent a lot of time in the US, so I try to prepare a lot of cool activities for them. They suggested we play poker or video games. Sounds perfect. My third class is a complete nightmare. It's with three kids, two 5 year old girls and one 6 year old boy. I think individually they'd be great but together 2/3 of the kids are complete demons. They shout in my face that they hate English, and they fight and normally just run out of the room. If things don't improve I might ditch the class. Especially after talking to a few friends with similar age groups, my story always seems to shock people. It's not normal, thankfully!

So, Dustin. I hadn't seen him in two months since he had moved to Germany. We've had a whirlwind of a summer due to me being in Brazil. I barely got back in time to see him off to Germany. It's been crazy. So, with that in mind, I took the first chance I got to go see him. Mojados, where I teach, had their annual town festivities, so lots of bull related activities (even jumping over them?), and I had Monday October 8th off! So, I left Thursday after work, and it was an insane day spent running to meet trains/connecting flights. Every one of my trip segments was late, but I managed to arrive in Nuremberg at 10:30pm.

But at least I found out KLM is awesome and gives out stroopwafel. Look at the Dutch design on the cup!

Dustin lives maybe 30 minutes from Nuremberg in a smaller town called Amberg. It's a cute town with amazing food and great little cafes. He lives right in the heart of downtown in a place that used to be a palace or something. Think 15 ft. high ceilings, extremely decorative crown molding, hard wood floors, and well, of course everything has been replaced and modernized. It was a dream! I got to meet a lot of his friends, and even his landlord invited us over for dinner. A dinner that turned out to be a four course extravaganza of German cooking. I don't think I've eaten like that in months. We started with prosecco, then had a spiced pumpkin soup, a salad with walnuts, pears, beats, and cheese, chicken and spaetzle, and a pear and apple tart of course followed with a latte macchiato (my favorite coffee beverage of all time). God I'm hungry. I had weisswurst several times and as much sweet mustard as I could get my hands on.

Perfect fries

Best breakfast!

It was such a nice weekend. We saw a change of command military ceremony right in Amberg's main square. It was crazy: flags flying, their Air Force's band playing, me eating bratqursts on the side trying not to be scared to death by the muzzled dogs. Can you imagine the US military walking down the streets of Peachtree City? I also discovered that maracujá juice is all over Germany. Dustin had a bottle of it in the fridge, and when we went out for drinks with his friends I always ordered a vodka maracujá. I experienced the autobahn for the first time! I can't say it was scary at all after the experience of driving in Brazil. I got to see Vilseck, where Dustin works, and we visited the PX and commissary. It was really exciting to be in an "American grocery store" again, even if just to gasp and point, "OH! LOOK AT THE REESE'S! THE PEANUT BUTTER! THE CAPTAIN CRUNCH!"


Fall colors

Window shopping for cats

We explored, we drank, we ate, we played video games, we ate more, we went shopping, we kissed... I didn't want to leave. I love Germany, and despite never having studying German I think I got along pretty decently. I can't wait to go back. Unfortunately Dustin is now in the field for two weeks straight playing war. It's like laser tag on steroids. We won't really be able to talk unless he can sneak off a few What's App messages here and there. I miss him. I miss living in the same goddamn country as him.

I also miss German coffee.

I would have bought this if the shop had been open.

Life in Valladolid is good I think. Work is great, besides that one private class, and I like where I live and the people I live with. I'm eating better than I have been. I'm not as worried about money, even though I still haven't received my first official pay check. My main problem so far is that I really don't have many friends. I've heard the social scene here is difficult to break into, but I'm hoping with more intercambios or even me joining a choir I'll be able to feel like I really live here. For now, I'm pretty lonely.

But, as promised, photos of my room! Finally!

As you can see, I don't like maps.

Yeah, my closet doors are green leather.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Creating a Space

This is the first truly independent, long-term move I've ever made on my own. Mom and I  moved a lot together, and I've relocated several times temporarily: to Indiana for my pilot's license, to Valencia for a study abroad, to Brazil, obviously. But this time around, I'm all on my own. No real support network to speak of besides a makeshift Facebook group; no instructions. I was one of the few people in the program here in Valladolid to receive an email from my job before actually showing up the first day! So I count myself lucky. But, still, in terms of applying for a residence card, opening a bank account, finding an apartment...that's all open to interpretation.

With so much to do, it's hard to appreciate what I've already accomplished. I mean, in just a week here I've created a new life for myself. When I look at it that way I feel impressed and more or less content. But normally I'm always thinking about the next thing to do: run errands, buy things before everything closes for siesta, prepare for work, be social, clean house. I mean, just the idea of building a kitchen from scratch is a heroic task in and of itself, let alone figuring out all the other aspects of my new apartment and, even bigger, my life here.

Apartment projects: like installing a new light fixture

My own kitchen drawer. I even bought a cheapo French Press!

One funny thing to figure out was laundry. I knew from my time in Valencia that it's typical here to dry laundry on lines outside. In Valencia though they were on this really nice rooftop terrace. In my apartment, the lines are strung out a window over this no man's land between apartment buildings. It was hilarious, but I basically had to lean out as far as I could out of a window and close pin various towels and sheets onto this tiny line. It's on a pulley system so I can move things down the line, but it's so squeaky I'm afraid something is going to snap at any second. It's been out there for hours though, and nothing has gone wrong. So far so good. :p

Laundry madness! And new Ikea buys. ;)

I have to say though, as exhausted as I am, I'm pretty happy with things. My job is great! I love where I work. I teach outside of Valladolid in a small village of maybe 2000 people called Mojados. I carpool with Javier normally to get there, and it only takes us about 15-20 minutes. Several of the other teachers have offered to give me rides as well, so I really lucked out. The school is small, just 100 students, but it's incredibly modern and nice. Every class has a computer, white board, and smart board. There's a small café and even a nice lounge for the teachers where I now have my own locker and mailbox. There are even more computers there to use! Huge 180 from Brazil!

Ok, so the place has a really shiny appearance. That's great and all, but it wouldn't mean anything if the people in it were terrible. Luckily, the faculty is awesome. There are about 15 teachers, two of which teach English. They have all been extremely nice to me. I work with maybe 4 of them.

Official mail box!

I thought I would just be helping with the English classes, but this institute has a whole line of bilingual education. So I also help in PE (with a world championship winning basketball player as the teacher! surreal?), music, and computer classes. It's a lot of fun, and it's very easy work. I mean, my second day of class was spent playing tag and translating stretching techniques into English. Ha! Also, *drum roll!* I don't have to work Fridays! Not to mention, I only work 13 hour weeks. Vacation?

Given, this is all at school. Most people who work on a part-time grant like this also give private classes to make some more money. I've been receiving a lot of requests, so I think I'll schedule a few hours a week for that as well. If I could make an additional 100 or so euro a month, that'd be stellar. At the same time, I don't want to burn myself out. I think with my 700 base stipend and a bit more from lessons, I can live just fine. I want to sing again, take kick boxing, travel, and go to language exchanges. I want to have fun! But we'll see, things might be tighter than I'm imagining in the coming months, and I still have to wait until mid October to even receive any money at all! Such a strange program.

I'm just so glad I work at a nice place. I feel valued and useful. My first day I dived right into classes, basically teaching the English classes half and half with Javier. People seek me out for help with lesson planning, vocabulary, or just to have coffee. It's been a good first week, I'd say. I'll post pictures of my room next entry! I'm sure by then it'll be a lot homier and not so stark.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

First Impressions

I haven't even been in Spain a week yet. That's so hard to believe considering all I've been doing. I really hit the ground running. Getting to Valladolid was a lot easier than I had anticipated, even the cab ride from the Madrid airport to the Chamartin station was cheaper than I had planned. I had ample time to spare, so I had a small snack, at least as much of it as I could stand in my sleep deprived, jetlagged, and otherwise foggy state.

Breakfast at the train station

View from the train...flat!

My boss Javier, one of the teachers I'm going to assist here in Spain, let me crash at his house until I found an apartment. Considering a few days stay in a hostel would have cost me over $100, I agreed. I took a taxi over there, and his kids welcomed me. I was nervous about the situation, but I'm glad I did it. They were all so nice to me and helped me feel more acclimated in my first few days here.

My first task was to find an apartment. I spent 2 whole days running around the city to look at places. I called loads of people and ended up seeing about 8 different apartments. It was so exhausting. I didn't think I could stand another day of the stress, so I chose a place. It's in a great location for me since if I don't carpool to work with another teacher, I'll have to go to the bus station, and the station is 2 blocks away. It's not too far from the Plaza Mayor and the more happening "centro:" just a 15 minute walk. Not bad, not bad. Here's a map!

I have two extremely nice, Spanish roommates at the moment, and there are still two other rooms available. It's a pretty big place with a lot of windows and even two bathrooms, which was oddly very hard to find. My main criteria besides location was having an exterior window in my room. So many of the rooms I saw were dark and had windows that looked out into an enclosed dead space between buildings or even worse, the laundry room. My room, albeit small, is very light all throughout the day and has some pretty weird furnishings, like green leather closet doors and a marble topped desk and nightstand. I blame my mother for my decorating taste.

My building (on top of a bakery!)

Another difficult task was applying for my temporary residence card. It was a wild goose chase of a day. I walked to one end of the city just to be told I had to go to the other, but I did find the right office in the end. I've been told to return in one month. I met two other people in the same program there, and I've hung out with them both since. Everyone I've met from the program (maybe 4 people?) has been really nice, thankfully.

Valladolid is a pretty city with lots of trees and parks as well as cool buildings. About 300,000 people live in the city, so it's a bit smaller than I thought. It feels like it's a good size though. When I'm out exploring I don't feel overwhelmed, and the layout seems pretty user-friendly. Have yet to lose my sense of direction entirely. 

Plaza Mayor

I start work tomorrow, but I think it's more of a introductory day. I don't even have my schedule yet, so I think I'll just be shown around and maybe sit in on some classes. Javier is going to drive me, which is nice. I didn't want to have to fool around with the bus commute until absolutely necessary anyway! I'm a bit nervous because I have no idea what to expect. It's like Brazil all over again except I won't be the "head teacher" this time around. I guess that means I should relax? That's what everyone has been telling me, that work is literally the last thing I should be worrying about.

On that note, I'm going to take a nap!