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! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Moving, again!

Well, today is the big day. I'm moving to Valladolid, Spain for 10 months to work as a teaching assistant. I'm honestly really nervous about the whole thing. I wonder how I'm going to get settled this upcoming week, but I'm mostly worried about the job. I'm getting more and more qualified to teach with every job I land, but this one seems like a step backwards almost. In Brazil I was the English teacher. I made the curriculum, the lesson plans; I had no oversight. It was really difficult at first, but I rose to the challenge and came back with extremely relevant experience. I attended an ESL workshop in Athens several weeks ago and all that hard work was validated as I talked with professionals of all ages. I was the most qualified, experienced teacher my age at that workshop, and my insights put me, in general, in the top ranks of attendees. I was really surprised by those two days, by how far I had come from just starting as a volunteer at the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta a few months earlier to...well, knowing my shit!

I know I'm worrying about something I know little about, but what if this time in Spain isn't as fulfilling of a professional experience as Brazil was? Of course I'll be securing my Spanish and I'll have the opportunity to travel a lot, but, lately, I've just been thinking more and more of work, careers, and figuring out what I actually want to do. I want to feel productive and useful, not replaceable or underestimated.

And maybe this next year in Spain will be incredibly enriching professionally! I can't say I'll find out until I start on September 17th. I just thought I'd voice some of my initial concerns to be able to draw a, probably amusing, comparison later down the road.

I only have an hour or so before I  have to head to the airport. I'm trying to take out things to reduce the overall weight of my luggage. I'm not over the limit or anything, I'm just personally not that strong! Should have kept up that weight lifting routine... Anyway, wish me luck. I'll definitely need it the next 20 hours or so.