Sunday, February 25, 2018

Teaching Abroad Interview on Korbay Delay

Last month I was contacted by Megan Haskin of Korbay Delay to be interviewed for her Teachers Abroad series.

It gave me a chance to reflect on teaching/life experiences that happened between seven and four years ago (teaching in Madrid and teaching in South Korea), which both feel like different lifetimes now.

Update June 2019: The interview is no longer live, so I'm going to post Megan's questions and my answers below:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself - who you are, where you’re from, your teaching experience and where you previously taught. 
I grew up in Wisconsin and have lived in a variety of places since college, my most recent home base being Flagstaff, Arizona, where I’m serving on ACE’s conservation corps via AmeriCorps. I'm currently in the fifth month of my six-month term and don’t yet know where I’ll live/work next, but I’m continually guided by my values (growth mindset, kindness, creativity, mindfulness, gratitude) and my personal compass.

It’s been about a year and a half since I first got into watercolors and travel sketching, which I do alongside hobbies of art journaling, blogging, reading, snail mailing, solo slow traveling, and wander walking. I first taught English abroad in Spain (2011-12) and then again in South Korea (2013-14). I’ve lived in France as well (2015-16) and have taught English to adults in my hometown as a volunteer at a local non-profit.

2. How is it that you ended up teaching in these countries?
I studied abroad in Madrid my junior year of college and loved it. I actually chose the year-long program in Madrid for financial reasons, as tuition was about the same as a year in Madison, but luckily during the year Madrid grew to feel like a second home.

While staying at a hostel in Valencia one weekend, I met some people who had studied abroad in my same program just a few years earlier, and who were at that time teaching English through Spain’s auxiliaries program (North American Language and Culture Assistants). I tucked that nugget of information away and applied on a whim the following year, two months before graduating from UW-Madison. I was moving forward with a Peace Corps nomination when I received an email that summer saying I’d been accepted to teach in Spain. I had three days to accept or deny the offer, and ultimately I chose to go back to Spain.

While there, I discovered a few blogs of people from my university who were teaching English in Korea and read them regularly. That possibility entered my radar, but far away at the periphery. After that second year in Spain I returned to Wisconsin and worked for a year to pay back my student loans at a faster pace. That spring I applied to teach English in South Korea through GEPIK, and I moved there in the fall of 2013 to teach at an elementary school.

3. What do you love most about teaching and living there?
In Spain I love the sun, vibrant culture, friendly people, beautiful language, relaxed lifestyle, affordable wine, and rich history. As an atheist who had to hide my lack of belief for much of middle and high school, I like that Spanish people are more open about certain topics, religion being one of them. I like the proximity to Western Europe and the idea of working to live—rather than living to work. In 2014 I walked the Camino de Santiago across Spain, and every subsequent visit to Madrid feels like a homecoming. I also like that there are such distinct areas in the country—so much so that after two years living in Madrid and traveling around the country, I still have places I’ve yet to visit. 

In South Korea I most loved the delicious food, my adorable students, and the fantastic mountain views in all directions. Although it was a very challenging year for me, I enjoyed learning about a culture I’d been completely unfamiliar with before arriving. I also got to experience learning to read at age 24 when I learned to read Hangul, which was quite humbling.

4. What is the most challenging aspect of teaching in this part of the world?
In the program I taught through in Spain, it was challenging because I felt underused and powerless to change the outdated teaching methods at my particular schools. I taught at two vocational colleges where my upper-teen/adult students were required to take one or two years of English, but weren’t necessarily personally motivated. One of my co-teachers couldn’t hold a conversation in English and would give out irrelevant, boring translation exercises as classwork and homework. To keep myself sane, however, I taught several private lessons in the evenings and they were fulfilling for me. I could see my students' progress and had total control over designing and teaching each lesson. I also played on Madrid’s ultimate frisbee team Quijotes+Dulcineas during the year, which gifted me with friends, travel, and fun.

In South Korea the most challenging aspects for me were the language barrier (and subsequent isolation) and cultural beliefs that differed from my own (i.e. collectivism, the social hierarchy, family pressures, demanding schooling, high presence of plastic surgery). I’ve written in more detail about what I will and won’t miss from South Korea in this post.

5. What advice would you give to someone wanting to teach in these places?
If you want to teach in Spain, keep a hefty dose of patience in your front pocket at all times. Patience will be required for any bureaucratic business, but living in Spain is so worth those hassles. I have a collection of practical resources and how-to posts about teaching/living in Spain here.

If you want to teach in South Korea, I would check out the EPIK and GEPIK programs, though teaching in a private Hogwan is definitely an option as well. Here is where I have a huge batch of information about teaching English in South Korea.

6. What would you tell someone who is considering teaching and living abroad?
Go for it! Even in my most challenging year abroad, I learned and grew so much—I wouldn't trade it for anything. My years teaching and living abroad have had such a profound impact on who I am today, and they continue to shape my life.

If you have any questions or need some encouragement, email me! I love encouraging others and providing information that makes living abroad more accessible.

And here's where you can read more:

Current blog: Rebecca Rose Thering
Spain blog: Oh No She Madridn't
Korea blog: Rebe With a Clause (This blog spans ages 23-28—including a year in France—so it's not a "Korea blog," but that's where you can read extensively about my year there.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Refugees Welcome in Madrid

While walking to Malasaña yesterday after coming from Paseo de Castllana, I noticed this fantastic "Refugees Welcome" sign on the CentroCentro building in Plaza de Cibeles.

I wasn't sure how long it had been there, but it was a very welcome, hopeful sight after the first week of Trump's presidency.

I shared the above photo on Twitter, and Matthew Laffer quickly responded, showing me it had at least been there since this past summer:

Museo Arte Público en Madrid

Yesterday I walked to the Museo Arte Público en Madrid from Pueblo Nuevo—yet another Madrid "site" I had yet to see!

There was much nostalgia on the way there, as I walked past an old English student's apartment (Pablo) and then near my very first apartment from 2009, just behind the Plaza de Toros. From there, I continued to pass many other spots I'd almost forgotten about.

The tiny plaza with water spurting out of the ground, where I withdrew my rent from Santander when the ATM closest to my apartment was out of order. The first doctor's office I ever went to here, when I had a bad cold and lost my voice for several days. The apartment where I had the quickest haircut of my life in 2012, no thanks to multiple gushing recommendations on the auxiliares FB page, and then disappointingly handed over 20 euros.

And then I ended up at the free outdoor public art museum—a new place now added to my Madrid repetoir.

If you're coming from c/ Juan Bravo, as you get closer to Paseo de la Castellana you'll want to look for these stairs and go down, underneath the overpass. That's where the sculptures and statues are.

The "museum" has 17 abstract sculptures made by Spanish artists, and its official inauguration was in 1979 (though it's been open to the public since 1972).

I sat and ate my lunch at a nearby bench where the sun was hitting—a nice afternoon in the mid-upper '50s for this Wisconsin gal. (Everyone walking around these days is bundled up in thick winter coats and scarves.)

Just around the corner, only two buildings away, is the ABC mall—which is worth a look if you're already at the Museo Arte Público.

I sat outside and sketched it in pencil (today I'll add color), and then I used the mall's bathrooms inside before heading down Castellana.

I passed a Hard Rock Café on my left, which I'm sure was the same Hard Rock Café where Asad, Becca, Sam, and I had eaten seven years earlier for Becca or Sam's goodbye dinner.

After passing the Plaza de Colón, I stopped into the Biblioteca National de España (National Library of Spain), another building I don't think I'd ever entered.

On the bottom floor (not up the stairs pictured above—enter on either side of the main staircase, ground level) there are exhibitions and a museum, all free to enter. So I really quickly walked through those to make it back out into the daylight for some more wander walking.


What: Museo Arte Público en Madrid
Where: Paseo de la Castellana, 40, 28046 Madrid
Hours: Any time, but you'll see better in the daylight ;)
Cost: Free!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Museo ABC Madrid

Following my theme from October's visit of "new sites," today I checked out the free Museo ABC de Debujo e Illustratión (ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration). ABC is a daily Spanish newspaper, first published in Madrid on January 1, 1903.

As you're walking up c/ Amaniel, go past the tiny triangle plaza and you'll see a big, vertical "MUSEO ABC" sign just outside the entrance on the left:

There were two security guards sitting at a desk inside near the entrance, but you don't have to get tickets or anything—you're free to walk in and start exploring! (If you have a backpack, though, they'll ask you to leave it with them.)

I loved lots of the creative pieces on that first wall (above), many by the currently featured artist Javier Sáez Castán.

I can't remember if the below was by him or someone else, but this was an interactive installation where you could pick a head, middle, and rear to create your own creature.

Here's a closer look at the one I made:

Downstairs there's currently an exposition on Serny, a painter from Cádiz who began his artistic life illustrating for magazines and newspapers.

All of the signs and explanations were in Spanish, so just be aware that this is the case if you don't speak the language.

Now that I've been sketching and painting with watercolors for a few months, while looking at these pictures I'd look for the shading and light. How did Serny create the depth here, which details did he paint in this work, and so forth.

In this next one I liked how there was just a hint of glowing blue in various places—her dress, the book, and around the lamp:


What: Museo ABC
Where: c/ Armaniel 29, 28015 Madrid
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.; Monday closed
Cost: Free!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Parque de Berlín

On my final day in Madrid—a Sunday—before my flight back to the U.S. (after a year living in France), Damien, Gregorio, and I strolled around in Parque de Berlín (Berlin Park) after lunch.

I had never been there before, nor remembered hearing about it the years I lived in Madrid. A pretty standard Madrid park, it's up in Chamartín, just east of Bernabéu Stadium:

Berlin Park Madrid - Map

The main fountain features three parts of the Berlin Wall.

We saw this bear statue, representing Berlin, and apparently the park also has a Beethoven statue—but we didn't go past it on our stroll.


What: Berlin Park
Where: Av. de Ramón y Cajal, 2, 28016
Metro: Concha Espina (Line 9)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Matadero Madrid

I was also surprised to discover that I'd never gone to (nor really heard much about) Matadero Madrid during my two years living in the city. So on my most recent visit last month, it was a must-see destination.

Located near the Legazpi metro stop (lines 3, 6), Matadero Madrid is a free cultural center that used to be an old slaughterhouse. There are many buildings and outdoor areas that make up the complex, and is well worth a visit in my opinion.

You'll find movies (in the cineteca), galleries, exhibitions, workshops, libraries, work tables, food stands, local artists selling work, and more.


What: Matadero Madrid
Where: Centro de Creación Contemporánea; Plaza de Legazpi, 8
Metro: Legazpi (Lines 3, 6)
Hours: The plaza and Matadero street are open for pedestrians every day from 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. However, many exhibitions and activities are in the afternoon: Tuesday to Friday, 4 - 9 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday, and holidays, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; closed Mondays 
Price: Entrance is free. Cineteca tickets are 3.50 euros each.
  • Check for the day's events on the website (on the right side, underneath the calendar, where it says "Hoy [date]").
  • Here's a map of the various spaces and entrances.