Friday, October 28, 2011

Un torneo en Rivas-Zaragoza

You may want to read Part 1: Ultimate in Madrid before continuing with this post.

Two Thursdays ago after our second game of the fall league, I was told the driver of the car in which I'd be going to the tournament, and the location/time of our car's departure from Madrid.  An email went out that night with all of the cars and passengers, and locations/times of their departures.

My car was to leave at 6.20pm on Friday afternoon (2.30pm - 7/8pm is afternoon in Spain, then night.  Yes, that means at noon and even at 1pm you would still say "good morning").  I found my driver and his car at the predetermined location.  There was another car going to the tournament that was also waiting in the same spot.  At about 6.30 our car was waiting for two more people.  The other car had all of its passengers and decided to leave, since someone needed to arrive before 10.30pm to do the check-in at the hostel.

A few minutes later the other two passengers in my car had arrived, and we start driving out of the city.  About five or ten minutes after leaving, our driver received a message via Wassap (an online messaging service that many Spaniards use in place of text messages, since you only have to have monthly internet on your phone instead of paying for every text that you send).  Our driver let out some curses, and something about an accident.

Then I noticed the traffic slow down and we were nearly to a stand-still.  Thirty seconds later two police cars with their sirens on attempted to make their way through the tight, slow traffic.  I heard our driver say to the front-seat passenger something about how he had told the first car to leave Madrid that we needed to hurry to get to the hostel by check-in time.  The front-seat passenger told our driver you can't think of those things, that it wasn't his fault.  What wasn't his fault?

As more messages were received via Wassap, and through conversation between the driver and front-seat passenger, it sounded more and more like something had happened to the first car that left Madrid.

And then we drove past the accident.  Sure enough, there were five of our players standing on the side of the road next to the car that had left Madrid five minutes before us.  There were two other cars involved - one in front and the other behind our teammate's car, in the far-left lane.  Behind the third car were the two police vehicles that had passed us earlier.  Our driver pulled over to the far left lane in front the first car for a few seconds, but then decided not to stop for fear that the police wouldn't allow it.  

So we pulled back into traffic and took the next exit on the right off of the highway.  We waited at a gas station for over an hour in total, calling the other cars and trying to figure out what to do.  Our car had room for one more person, as did another car that eventually joined us at the gas station.  We also had to figure out who was already in Rivas, and ask them to do our check-in.  In the end, two of the girls from the accident-car each joined one of the two cars waiting at the gas station.  The other three from the accident went back to Madrid and decided to drive in early Saturday morning.

I guess what happened is that the car in front of them braked for no apparent reason on the highway, so our teammate braked as soon as he could and only slightly tapped the first car.  However, the car behind our teammate's car didn't slow down soon enough, and rammed into the back end of their car, which caused the majority of the damage.  (Don't get worried parents, I always wear a seat belt -- especially while in Spain, and I rarely travel in car here.  You should wear your seat belt too, Andrew!)

It was a very unexpected and unfortunate beginning to our trip, but everyone was okay.  We ended up leaving from that gas station located a few minutes outside of Madrid near 8pm.  The car ride felt longer than I'd expected.  We got to Rivas sometime between midnight and 1am and quickly dropped off our bags at the hostel.

I was really excited when we first drove up to the hostel and I saw this sign, since I worked at a Hostelling International hostel in Madison a few summers ago.

We then ate dinner at a place where the Zaragoza ultimate team was eating.

Dinner in Rivas-Zaragoza
We drove back to the hostel after dinner, and I was super tired and ready to sleep; I would need the energy for the games the following day.  But alas, this is Spain!  Mostly everyone was going out for drinks, and thanks to team bonding (or playful threats from the captain: "If you're on this team, you will come out!") I went with them.

Melanie (Germany), Maria (USA), Hannah (Canada), Me, Caroline (USA)
I only had one drink, and left with the group that returned to the hostel the earliest - yet this didn't happen until 3am.  

We brought two teams with us from Madrid.  The first team had a game at 10am on Saturday, and my team didn't play until 11am.  This didn't really matter though, as we all woke up around 7:30am to eat breakfast, pay for our beds, and check-out of the hostel.

It was great to play on grass instead of our usual Madrid fields of sand/dust.  I had no idea how many games I'd end up playing that day, nor the schedule.

Rather than play to 13 points, the games in this tournament were 40 minutes long with no halftime.  Halfway through the Quijote - Almudena's game at 10am, my team (Quijote - Aluche) started warming up for our 11am game.  Since I was so tired from lack of sleep, that first game left me even more physically exhausted.  I was not expecting to hear what I did when we finished our first game: Our second game began immediately.

Look, grass!
We were running low on water, but we started and somehow I made it through another game.  After that second game both of the Quijote (Madrid) teams had a break for lunch.  We refilled our water bottles from sinks in the bathroom and ate bocadillas de jamon and fruit.  Each team got a homemade tortilla española.

Quijotes - Aluche eating lunch

More Quijotes eating lunch

After lunch my team had another game.  Then another.  And then our final game.  Three games in a row with no breaks!  It was exhausting, but nicer to go into it blindly.  Had I known I'd be playing so many consecutive games from the beginning, my mind may have played tricks on me.

Quijotes (Almudena) vs. Quijotes (Aluche)

In my first frisbee post, I wrote about how we forced "grafiti" or "árboles" where we play on Saturdays.  At the tournament, we forced either "pueblo" (town) or "río" (river).

Most of the post-game routine was similar to what I'd experienced at our fall league games in Madrid, minus an unexpected addition.  After our first tournament game that morning, players walked around to shake hands (or so I thought).  A guy from the opposing team stuck out his hand, so I shook it, and then he leaned in for some besitos -- the kisses on each cheek.  I was not expecting this at all, so my first couple hand shakes and sweaty besitos were a bit awkward, not sure where to put my hands on them while besitoing.

After all of the besos, we got in a circle like we do after fall league games, and each captain spoke.

Post-game circle
Then each team forms a circle, one inside of the other, in order to give hand-fives by walking in opposite directions in the circles.  Sometimes we'd play a short game afterwards too.  For example, after we played the other Quijotes team and finished our post-game rituals, we played the looking game.  Sitting in a circle, everyone stares at the ground and someone counts 1, 2, 3.  On the count of three everyone looks up, staring at someone else (but not the person directly to your left or right).  If the person you decide to look at is also looking at you, you both dramatically "die" and fall to the ground.  This repeats until there is only one person left.

 Near the end of the day, there were some spectators from Zaragoza to support the hosting team.

Spanish spectators

After our fifth and final game, someone from our team informed Hannah (a Canadian and fellow auxiliar) and I that we would be representing our team in the "wine race" after the award's ceremony.  What?!  We had no idea what this would entail...

A little after 8pm, once all the games were done, came the wine race.  There were two lines of orange cones, maybe 7 yards between the two lines.  Four people from each team lined up behind their orange cone.  Sitting at the orange cone 7 yards away from each team was a plastic bottle of wine (though I feel like it might have been sangria?  There was no time to look at the bottle, just time to taste it... though I think it wasn't as strong as normal wine).  

Someone has to tie a bandana around the first person's head, and then they run to the wine.  He or she has to do a little dance, singing something about la señora de guadalupe -- I don't remember the song at all.  Then you click your heels together and drink as much of the bottle as you can.  Then you have to spin around five times and run back to your team.

You take off the bandana, and once you have tied the it to the second person's head, then they can take off and do the same thing.  The first team to finish the wine and run back to their cone wins.  

At first, I thought we just keep rotating until the wine was gone.  Right before we started, I realized the fourth person in line had to finish what was left -- that each person only went once.  Poor Hannah, she was last.  I was third.

When it was my turn in the relay, I ran and tried to remember the song.  Did the weird dance/shoe clicks.  Then I drank as much as I could, but you're trying to go fast, so after I thought I'd drank enough, I spun around 5 times and ran back to put the bandana on Hannah.  We left too much for her, and she was still drinking when the first team finished.  Oh well, we had some good laughs.

Then the winners of the tournament were announced: Quijotes Almudena took first, and our team was third.  Winners of the wine race were announced as well -- Quijotes Almudena!

We left around 9pm; it was really chilly and we were all exhausted.  Luckily I passed out and slept for the last 2-3 hours of the car ride, and woke up just as we were getting to my part of Madrid.  I got dropped off right outside of my apartment, showered, ate something, and slept a good night's sleep.

More photos from the tournament can be seen here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Best roommates ever

This afternoon (6:45 pm) I got home from a long day, hungry, with only a half an hour before I needed to leave for frisbee practice, and what do I find on the kitchen table?

A 2-course lunch and some mail!

Translation: Rebe this is for you... we hope you like it.  Bon appetite!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ultimate in Madrid

Doing a quick google search of "ultimate frisbee" and "Madrid," I discovered the Quijotes + Dulcineas, an ultimate team/club in Madrid.

On Saturdays they have pick-up where anyone with any skill level can come and play.  So three Saturdays ago I went and played ultimate for a couple of hours, which got myself out of the apartment and meeting people -- double plus.

During the beginning of the game, I kept hearing people shouting "árboles, arboles!" (trees, trees) and "grafiti, grafiti" (graffiti, graffiti).  I thought it was a name of a play or something, until someone else asked about it 15 minutes into the game.  It was how they were calling the force!  (In ultimate, you often choose to force the opponent to one side, either "home" (the sideline where your team and all your teams' stuff is) or "away," (the opposite sideline) while playing defense.  The field where we were playing had trees on one side, and a wall of graffiti on the other side.  This was interesting to me.

That Saturday, there was mention of a fall league on Thursday nights.  If you were a socio (a paid member) of the group, you could play in the fall league, which started that Thursday.  Wednesday night practices and Saturday pick-up are technically open for anyone, socio or not, but the team has to pay to reserve the fields, so if you regularly come they'd like you to become a socio.

I thought it'd be fun and good for me to join the fall league, so early that week I signed up and on Thursday I played my first game on team Río Aluche.  Here's a summary of the first week's games (My team played in the Partido 1 -- the first game).  There are four teams in the league (much, much smaller than MUFA.  Not even comparable), so there are two 40-minute games each Thursday night.

At the end of an ultimate frisbee game in MUFA, the teams line up on the field and we walk in opposite directions towards each other, giving high fives and voicing "good game."  Then, the teams have the option of doing a cheer for the other team, all part of the Spirit of the Game.  In past teams, sometimes we do cheers at the end of games, sometimes we don't.  If we do, it's usually a play on the opponent's team name, or something notable that happened during the game.

At the end of our first game that Thursday, we kind of walked around and gave unorganized high fives, and then the captains called us into a circle.  Both teams mixed up so that everyone was standing between two people on the opposite team.  Then everyone put their arms around each other, standing in a circle.  The captain from my team spoke for a little bit, making comments about both teams, how we played, thanking everyone for a good game, that sort of thing.  Then when he was done talking everyone clapped, then put their arms around their neighbors again while the other coach spoke.  And then everyone clapped again.  Then one team entered the circle, the other stayed on the outside, and by walking in opposite directions we were able to high five everyone.  And then we played a quick game together, ninjas or something, which concluded my first fall league game.  

Between that game and the next, there were emails going around about a tournament the weekend of the 21st in a small town an hour from Zaragoza (total 3.5 - 4 hrs from Madrid).  It was a tournament where all levels could play, and the Quijotes wanted to bring as many people as they could.  It wasn't clear how we would get there, when/where we would leave, nor the tournament schedule; but I decided to go.  It would be a good way to meet more people on the team, a break in routine, and a good way to keep improving at ultimate.

To be continued with Part 2: Un torneo en Rivas

Friday, October 21, 2011

La huelga continues

Since I bet you're all dying to know how the lesson went yesterday morning with the big class of talkative boys, I'll tell you:  it didn't.

Only two students showed up in the class of 29.  So I chatted with both of them in English for a bit, and then Paloma put on Simpsons: The Movie (it was the Monday group that watched it two weeks ago). The rest of the students were on strike yesterday.

Here's an article from El País with the latest on the huelga (strike).

For those of you who don't speak Spanish, here is the strike, in pictures.  Just keep clicking on the arrow to the right to flip through them.

I've gotta get going, catching a car out of town in an hour.  Where am I going and why am I bringing cleats with me?  You'll just have to wait for the next blog upon my return on Sunday!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Confusion in vagueville

Classes with Elena at IES M have been a bit confusing and frustrating.  I still haven't met any of the classes on Wednesday, and here's how Tuesday went this week.  There are two classes on Tuesday: A class of secretaries (all girls except one, varying levels of English -- from fluent to barely any), and then a class of nine boys, maybe they study electronics.  The secretaries' class goes for an hour, then there's a half hour break, and then they come back for another hour of English.  I haven't yet met the group of boys.

Last week, Elena had said I could "prepare something" about Halloween for today.  I had already printed pictures and been working on a booklet about the holiday, so I finished and brought that along, as well as some questions for conversation practice/discussion.

I told them about Halloween in Wisconsin, from haunted corn mazes to Freakfest, while writing many words on the chalkboard and using the pictures from my booklet.  Then, we talked about Halloween in Spain, and how it's different from the holiday in the U.S., as well as many other topics (scary movies, costumes, etc.)  While I talk with them about Halloween, Elena sits in the back and watches.  I didn't know if she wanted this to last the whole two hours, the first hour, a half an hour -- no idea, because I was never told what else was planned for the day.

While the students were discussing some of the questions in small groups, I asked Elena how long she wanted this to go for.  So she asks me, "Well how long is it planned for?" I could have stopped the discussion at any minute, but I also had some back-up activities in case she had wanted it go longer.  The Halloween lesson/part ended up going another ten minutes until their break.  

During the break Elena told me it was good that I wrote some words on the board (she told me to do this last week after I met the class for the first time last Tuesday and talked without writing).  She said she had found lots of it interesting, but there were at least 8 girls with very low English levels who didn't know what I was saying.  Also, there are some girls in the class from other countries who speak English nearly fluently.  Many of them had spoken during our class discussion of Halloween.  Elena then tells me that some of the students in class said they could understand me better than those nearly-fluent classmates, since those girls talked faster -- as if this is my problem.  

After the break, we split into two groups (Elena took the lower-level English speakers, and I took the advanced students) to go over some photo copied pages from a textbook.

Oh, that's the other part -- no one has a textbook yet.  I'm not sure what the hold up is, if the school orders them and students can purchase them through the school, or what, but no one has them yet.  At least with this group they had some photocopies to use.  This is the first I've seen of any textbook materials, so I'm given a copy and work with the advanced group in the back.  That goes well.  

Then Kay joined us for the second class of nine boys.  There's a gap between the secretary class and the nine boys' class, so Elena went to eat something and said Kay and I could work up in the classroom.  What exactly were we supposed to work on?  Keep in mind, I have never met this class before. I don't know their level.  There's no textbook.  I don't know what Elena has planned for class, or what she expects Kay and I to have ready for class.  This information would be helpful but no matter what I ask, we never receive it!

Kay is at IES M Monday-Thursday, so she's spent more time in classes with Elena than I have.  She suggested we plan what we're going to talk about for the boys' class, as Elena will probably want us to present something to them.  Kay's from NY and had made a poster about it, and I had my poster about Wisconsin, so I thought we could each tell them about where we're from. 

We also decided to put a mini-comparison on the board between my university: public UW-Madison, and hers: a small private liberal arts college.

The class went alright.  It's shorter than the secretary class (only one hour), so Kay and I shared information about our states and colleges, and then the boys could ask us questions if they had any.  Very basic, beginner level of English in this class.

After class, Elena told Kay and I that the students would be on strike Wednesday, and that she would be striking on Thursday ("but I'm not going to tell the students because it's my strike, not theirs").  I asked her if we should still come to class on Wednesday, not wanting to make the trip in to school if we wouldn't be doing anything.  "Yes, of course -- the students are on strike, not the teachers."

Alright.  So I went to class today (which started at 11.40), and no one was upstairs outside the classroom. (Sidenote: The classrooms are always locked, so after the 30 minute break every day from 11:10-11:40, students wait around outside their classroom until the teacher opens the door).  Then Kay came upstairs, and we both waited outside of the English room until Elena got there a few minutes later.

As we could see, she told us no English students had come to class for that hour.  She showed Kay and I the library where we could potentially work downstairs, and then I asked if there were a place to print in the library.  If we need to be in the school when we're prepping, it would be pretty inconvenient if we had to go elsewhere (and pay) to print, too.  In my other school, IES P, we can print in the teacher's lounge, then take it to the consejería for them to make copies.  Elena said there wasn't a printer in the library, and she didn't know where we could print -- that she doesn't know where she should print. (what?) 

Kay asked her if we were all going to plan together now, since all three of us were there at the same time with no students to tend to, and Elena said she was going upstairs to the classroom. She didn't know what we should do -- we could stay and work down in the library or we could go, she didn't care.  And then she started walking up the stairs.


Kay wanted to plan what we'd be doing for next Tuesday with me, since I wouldn't see her again until then.  We quickly worked out a rough plan between the two of us, but I still couldn't get past the fact that we had no idea what the lesson plans would be for next week anyway.  What Elena wanted to get accomplished in each class and what she wants from us auxiliares is still a mystery.  How do you prepare a lesson or activity when you don't know the level/topic/purpose!?

Hopefully things will get clearer as time goes on, and if these students ever get textbooks.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

¿Hoy quieres dar clase tú sola?

I finished my Wisconsin poster over the weekend, and brought it with me to class at IES P on Monday.
When you say Wisconsin...

I came an hour early so I could leave an hour earlier (Monday afternoons are two hours of class (4.20pm - 6.10pm), followed by two hours of prep work).

When I went to Paloma's office to tell her I was there, she asked if I wanted to just teach class by myself that day. Ummm it explicitly states in our "contract" that auxiliares are not to be alone with the students; a teacher must always be present in the classroom.  We're not supposed to take the place of teachers (nor are we being paid what a full teacher would make).  Rather, we're supposed to assist.

So I told Paloma that we're not supposed to be alone with the students, and she said she would be close by.  I didn't know if close by meant in the same room or down the hall, but in the end I said okay, I'd try it.  This was the older group of students, smaller, and well-behaved.  We have a textbook to follow, so I knew what concepts had yet to be taught.

The 1 hr 40 min class started with a vocabulary list of electronic devices that the Thursday group received last week, but Monday's class had not.  Paloma was sitting at a desk in the front row but off to the side, listening.  Then, I talked a little bit about Wisconsin, using the poster I made this weekend.  Here are a few close-ups:

The deer got added for you, Chamwick

And this got added for all you crazy cheeseheads!

And then we went to the textbook to finish learning the last couple of grammar concepts in the first chapter:
  • a/an/some
  • some/any
  • there is/there are

In Spanish, the same word is used (hay) to express that something exists, regardless of the quantity.  For example: 
  • Hay diez estudiantes en la aula.  (There are 10 students in the classroom)
  • Hay una ventana en la cocina.  (There is one window in the kitchen)
So it was a bit confusing for the students since they had to choose between two different phrases in English when just one word is used to express the same thing in Spanish.  Also, since "there is" is used with singular countable nouns and uncountable nouns, students had to grasp the concept -- that words like coffee, tea, water, and money are uncountable.

Although class is usually given in Spanish and some of these students (especially the ones older than 40) have never taken English before, I tried to only speak in English when I gave the lesson.  It's what we were instructed to do at our auxiliares orientation, and I think it's best for them to hear as much English as they can (they only have class once a week).  That being said, I did lots of pointing, writing on the chalk board, and talking slowly.

A majority understand what's going on.  However, when they had to try an exercise in the book, I walked around the classroom and saw that one man hadn't written anything.  He was just staring at the book.  I came over to ask him how it was going, and he said he didn't understand anything.  This is after we had covered all three new grammar topics, one at a time.  So I helped him start the exercise, by explaining things to him in Spanish, but I'm afraid he'll fall behind or feel overwhelmed the further we get in the book.  I'm looking online to try to find explanations in Spanish of what we learned on Monday in class, to prepare some additional resources to give him next week.

Even though I don't think we're really supposed to be giving entire lessons ourselves, I really enjoyed class on Monday.  I didn't spend time planning it, as I didn't know I'd be giving the whole lesson until an hour before class, so it didn't take extra time.  The students are mature enough and the material is basic enough that I could wing it.  I like the freedom and casualness of each class with Paloma at IES P.  I want to slowly incorporate more activities and conversation practice throughout the weeks.

In every Spanish and French class I've had, we were always talking with different classmates, playing games, doing activities, standing up, and moving around the room, so I'd like to make English classes more dynamic here.  Currently, they seem to follow the model of every other class, like what I experienced two years ago at the Complutense: lots of sitting and listening.

As for now, I don't think I could give the same lesson to the Thursday morning class.  Those boys have so much energy and would talk through the whole explanation.  We'll see what Paloma wants to do Thursday morning!

Friday, October 14, 2011

We are gardeneres.

Wednesday was a holiday -- no classes, but Thursday morning I finally met the other class of students at IES P.  This group is all boys, ages 16-20 would be my guess, and boy do they love to chat.

At some point during the class, they received a two-page vocabulary list of different jobs.  The teacher, whom we're calling Paloma on the blog, told them to write a sentence for each profession, rotating between the different forms of the verb "to be".

For example:
I am an accountant.
You are an artist.
He is a barman.
You are cooks.
We are gardeners.
They are hairdressers. 

And then they start over with I, continuing down the list of professions.

They haven't yet learned how to create plurals of English nouns, so someone raised their hand to ask Paloma the rule.  I believe she said something along the lines of, "Add -es if it ends in a consonant and add -s if the word ends in a vowel".

I didn't completely hear what she told the student, but I knew it didn't sound right to me.  I walked around to see how the sentences were coming along, and saw words like: "artistes," "priestes," and "gardeneres".  When I saw mistakes like these, I told the boys it was only an "s".

They wanted a rule based on if the word ended in a consonant or a vowel, but I knew pluralization wasn't that black and white.

There was one word on their list that ended in a "y" - "nanny," - so I told some of them about changing the "y" to "i" and adding "es" (know that rule by heart).

But for every other profession on their two-page list, I only saw words that require adding an "s" at the end.  So when is it "es"?  I couldn't think of a rule to tell them that would explain every situation.  Since I had so many words in front of me that didn't require -es, it was hard to think of some.

Then the words "church" and "bush" popped into my head.  So I showed one kid in back that, for example, you add "-es" to write the plurals "churches" and "bushes," but it really bothered me that I didn't know a rule to teach them.

After class, I went to the library for my two hours of prep time, and the first thing I did was look up English pluralization.  No wonder I didn't have a clear, easy rule in mind -- see for yourself!

"If words end in -ch, -x, -s, -sh, -z or s-like sounds", that's when you add the -es.

Now take words that end in "o".  Sometimes you add "-es," like for the word potatoes.  But sometimes it's just an "s," like for the words pianos and photos.  There are rules for if the word ends in a single "z," and don't forget about the words that end in "f"! (leaf - leaves).  To read the whole mess, visit the "see for yourself" link above.

So I spent the first chunk of my time creating an informational sheet about pluralization in English which I'll show to Paloma next week and see if she wants to make copies of it.  We could at least hand it out as a resource...

I'll leave you with a picture of the library at IES P where I've been working during prep time.

IES P library
It's small, quaint.  I'm not sure how it works if you want to check out a book though, because every time I've been there so far the library is locked.  I have a key that opens it, so I can get in and work.

On Thursday at one point there were two kids "being punished" that were sitting at the table you see on the right.  However, there was a teacher sitting on the other end of the table to supervise them.  It seems like you can't be in the library if there isn't a teacher present.

Next Monday I'm going to teach the older (20-45 yrs. old), well-behaved IES P class a bit about Wisconsin!  They just began learning English, so I'm making a poster to have visuals.  What should I be sure to tell them?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Surprise behind the curtains

Let's set the scene.  It's about 8:30pm, I just got back from my afternoon at IES P, so I grab something to eat from the kitchen.  I know Jacqui doesn't get back from work until closer to 10pm, and the rest of the apartment is dark, so I assume Alex is out somewhere too.

I bring the plate of food into my room, slide open the window for some fresh air, then see from an email that my friend Chad is callable at this moment.

So I sit down, call him from my computer, then begin talking as I'm munching on my dinner.

This is the standard view of the wall and window from my desk:

I start telling an animated story about my Sunday lunch with Gregorio.  Right now I can't remember why I did it, but halfway through the story I reach over to tuck the white curtains back behind my desk.

Pulling the curtains back, as I normally do

I completely forget about my story and jump back a foot when pulling back the curtain reveals this little guy:

A lizard in my room!
Chad asks what's going on, because I had stopped my story mid-sentence and gasped, followed by an "oh my gosh, oh my gosh"

"There's a lizard in my room!" I frantically let out.

I had been at the peak of all the action from my Sunday-story, so I try to finish telling it, as I stare intently at the little lizard, making sure he doesn't go anywhere.

Lizard staying very still
After my story is done, I realize that I need to get rid of this lizard asap.  I do not want him still running around my room when I'll be ready for bed in a few hours.  I wonder how long until Alex gets home.

Chad suggests I take a folder or something and move it towards the lizard from the bottom, and maybe he'd back out of the window.  After all, about an inch of his tail isn't yet in my room.

So I grab a newspaper, and just as I start to get up from my chair, the little guy goes running down the wall but to the left, behind my desk yet still behind the curtain (the curtain goes all the way to the floor).
He was a lot faster than I'd thought.

So at this point I don't know where he is, because he's behind the curtain.  I run into the kitchen and grab a square plastic blue tub thingy and another plastic bag.  Adding this to my newspaper and other bedroom items, I'm not yet sure how I'll use everything to get rid of this creature.

When the critter ran down towards the floor, I had hopped up on my chair, looking at all the places he might run to.  Please don't run under my bed. Please don't run into the closet.

Then out of nowhere there's movement, and he runs past the corner to the other wall, under my desk.

Fierce square bucket.  How do I get the lizard in?
Chad tells me I should get him in the bucket, or throw the bucket over him... but the bucket I found has a huge open area on top, so it would be hard to trap him inside.  Also, that little guy can clearly scale walls, so he'd climb out of the bucket in .2 seconds.  Finally, he was in an inconvenient location, with part of his tail between my desk and the wall.

So I decide to try to chase him back to the window.

I grab the newspaper and bring it towards him, and he scampers away.... to the ceiling.

Get down from there!
So he's up in the corner, and starts to turn himself facing my other wall, not facing the window.  So if I try to chase him again, it looks like he'll start moving towards my dresser/closet wall, and not towards the window.  Of course.

I move my computer off of the desk to my bed, as I'm freaked out he's going to fall and land right on my desk.

Then Chad asks again, "Are you sure none of your roommates are home?"

I said, "I don't think so," since there was no light on in their room and I hadn't heard any noise, and I knew Jacqui was gone working.  But I go over and quietly tap on their bedroom door, and to my surprise (and joy), Alex comes out!

I ask him if he'd help me get rid of this lizard, and show him where it is, up in the corner near the ceiling.  He goes to another part of the apartment, then returns to my room with a broom and a plastic bag.

I had thought he was going to sweep it down, then somehow catch it in the bag and toss it out the window.

He looks like he's ready to make a move, but keeps looking down at my desk, which is right below where the critter is.  Then he moves my desk back away from the wall a couple of feet.

Next thing I know, he throws the broom up to the corner and had trapped the guy underneath the broom.  He holds it there, pushing hard, then when he moves it a little something drops to the floor.

The lizard runs towards my dresser, but Alex sweeps it back with the broom.  Then he bangs it with the plastic part of the broom, yet the critter keeps running around my floor really quickly.  Alex pushes it back again with the broom bristles, then bangs it again (ask Chad if you want to know what all this commotion sounded like).

Finally he had hit it enough that it stops moving, and Alex scoops it into the blue bucket.  Then he turns around to show me, and notices that I had taken many steps backwards during the whole process, and was now out of my bedroom door into the hallway.

I slowly come forward and look at it, then he tosses it out the window.

He said that's the first time he's ever seen one come inside, but I won't be sleeping with the window open again any time soon.

I close my window, then proceeded to put my bedroom back in order.

You all know what I'll dream about tonight.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Institutos de Educación Secundaria: M & P

Here's a brief rundown of my understanding of Spain's public education system:
  • Educación Infantil (similar to our preschool)
    • Not required
    • Students are 3 - 5 years old
  • Educación Primaria (required, similar to our elementary school)
    • Attendance required by law
    • Students are 5 - 12 years old
    • Schools are called colegios
  • Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (required, kind of like our high school)
    • Attendance required by law
    • Students are 12 - 16 years old
    • Schools are called institutos
At this point, after completing the country's required education, students have a couple of options:
  • Bachillerato
    • Takes 2 years to complete (Usually age 16 - 18)
    • Not required, only necessary if the student wants to go on to educación universitaria when they're 18
  • Formación Profesional
    • Similar to our technical colleges
    • The type of classes they take/degree they're going for depends on whether or not they got a bachillerato after their ESO
  • Trabajar
    • Get a job, start working
Why am I telling you this?  Well, before I came here I had told some friends and family that I thought I'd be teaching in two high schools, but that I wasn't sure.  Good thing I added the uncertainty, because I was wrong.  I'm actually in two schools that fall under the formación profesional category.  So these students are studying for a very specific career - maybe electrician, secretary, nurse assistant, etc.  Here is a list of the degrees offered at IES M, and here is a list of those offered at IES P.

As I mentioned earlier, last Friday morning I went to both of my schools to figure out where I would start working on Monday.  I went to IES M first, and they gave me hours on Monday and Wednesday, telling me to report to work Monday morning.  Then I went to IES P, where I found out they only have two English classes, one on Monday and one on Thursday.  If you're split between two schools, you're not allowed to go to two different schools on the same day, so IES P called the jefe de estudios at IES M and told them they'd need to change my schedule.  IES M told the jefe de estudios at IES P over the phone that I should report to IES M on Monday at 9:30 to re-figure out my schedule, but I'd be working at IES P on Monday afternoon.

Monday morning I go to IES M and find another auxiliares participant, Kay, trying to figure out a schedule with the jefe de estudios.  After about an hour, we had determined that I wouldn't come on Monday to the previously assigned classes, but rather come for four hours on Tuesday.  The English teacher had to go start class with Kay, and said she would see me on Wednesday, not Tuesday, because she would be on strike on Tuesday.

That afternoon I went to my first class at IES P, where the English teacher (let's call her Paloma) told me she actually got her degree to be a Spanish literature teacher.  But most likely due to budget shortages and what not, since she had some English background, she also got assigned to teach English this year.  She gave me a copy of their textbook and workbook, and explained to me that many of the students had never had English before.  Also, many didn't plan on using it outside of the required English classes to graduate, so they had little motivation to learn it.  That day in class (which was mostly taught in Spanish), we watched the Simpsons Movie in English with Spanish subtitles.  Then Paloma went over a page out of the textbook with the class before letting them leave.  The students ranged in ages from 20-45.  She told me the group on Thursday morning is younger, but will be doing the same things as the other group.

Hopefully I'll be able to plan some activities and games to break up the class time and make it more fun for the students.  Making some posters to brighten up the empty white walls is an idea that has also crossed my mind.

Tuesday I didn't have class at IES M since the English teacher (we'll call her Elena) was on strike with many other teachers in Madrid.

This morning I got up, got ready, and walked to IES M for classes, yet quickly learned from Elena that there was another strike today, so we wouldn't have class.  She apologized for forgetting to let me know, since she had to leave in a rush on Monday when I last saw her.

So I haven't yet had any classes at IES M, but tomorrow morning I'm assuming I still have class at IES P with the younger group.  I wonder if we'll just watch the Simpsons Movie with them, too.

Elena asked I prepare something to share with the IES M classes about life in Wisconsin.  All I brought with me as far as materials is a map of Wisconsin, since we had little information before we got here about the age-level we'd be working with, type of things to bring.  I'm thinking visuals will be a must, since these kids know only about a week's worth of English.

I'll be able to print off pictures at the kodak picture-printing shops, and can go to a locutorio to print on regular paper, maybe a map or a picture of Bucky or something.  If anyone wants to send me a local or state newspaper, campus map, postcards, beer labels, a brochure (the Dells??), Great Dane menu, something about dairy or farms, picture of a cheesehead, anything, email me and I'll send you my address (and I'll send you a piece of mail in return!)

Also, since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought I could make something - perhaps a booklet - about Halloween traditions.  Carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating, and of course Halloween on State Street.  I'll try to get some pictures printed tomorrow to work on it this weekend.

If you have ideas about things I should share about life in Wisconsin, leave a comment!

UPDATE: One student showed up today (Thursday) at IES P, the rest were on strike.  I emailed my high school's newspaper this morning to see if I could get copies of the Sage throughout the year, we'll see what they say.  I also emailed the WI Tourism Department today -- they're going to mail me stuff!  Awesome!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Super Nanny in Spain!

She might not be JoJo, but tonight I discovered Super Nanny on channel cuatro, that you can watch online here.

If seeing Spanish kids misbehaving is your thing, or for real life examples of mandatos, check it out!

Tour of my piso

My bedroom

Other end of bedroom

Why look! A mirror! #WillProbablyNeverUseIt


Living Room

Other side of living room


Other side of kitchen

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Piso News

As you know, this week I've been searching for housing.  My previous roommate Gregorio graciously let me stay in his piso while I'm apartment hunting.  On Tuesday at one of the pisos I went to see, I ran into a British girl who was already looking at the room when I arrived.

She, like many others in this program must be, is staying in a hostel until she finds housing.  Therefore, every day that goes by without an apartment is another night she has to pay for.  She told me that she's getting tired of eating out and having to go to a coffee shop to use internet.

So I was fairly well off, not having to worry about those types of things.  After returning from the first two pisos  I looked at on Tuesday, I found an apartment on Easy Piso that looked really good.  The price was low: 240 euros/month plus around 15 euros/month for gas.  It was near both of my schools that I'll be working at, and the pictures showed an organized, well-decorated living room; and a bigger-than-normal kitchen (by Madrid's standards).  The description said it would be living with a young (30-35) couple in a zona tranquila (calm, quiet neighborhood).

So I used the website (this is website where you make a profile) to send a message to Alexander, the person who had placed the ad, and asked for his phone number to call.  Later had an e-mail from Easy Piso saying my message had been read, and that I had a new message on the site.

I went to the website and saw I had a message from Alexander, but I could only see the title, "Me interesa!".  Then the website kindly notified me that since Alexander and I are both basic members, I can't read his message.  One of the two people needs to be an premium member (aka pay) in order to read what the message said.

Before I realized this, I think I tried sending another message to him.  I don't remember how many messages went back and forth, but all I could see were the subjects of the messages - which you select from a list of prewritten subjects.  "Me interesa!" I was interested in their room.  They were interested in having me live there.  But I had no means to contact them.

I checked the other sites to see if they had posted the ad anywhere else.  At some point I found it on one of the other sites, but when I clicked "Show me their phone number," it took me back to the profile on Easy Piso.

So I let it go and kept hunting.  Went and saw another one on Tuesday night.  I liked the bedroom and the roommate I met, but it would be a little longer commute to my schools than I wanted.

I spent Wednesday afternoon/night at my program orientation, followed by a not-so-pleasant metro ride back to the other end of the city - thanks to digestion issues.  After having the orientation, I realized I was running out of time to find a place, as I wanted to be settled in before we started classes on Monday.  Also, I still had to contact my schools and figure out a schedule.

So I didn't sleep too well Wednesday night.  My cough kept me up lots, plus everything else I still needed to do.  On Thursday morning after breakfast, Gregorio told me that my phone had rang while I was in the bathroom.  I looked at the number and didn't recognize it.  I was just going to ignore it, but with his persistence, saying it might have been my program calling about our NIE/TIE appointments or one of my schools, I called back on our fijo.

It was Alexander from Easy Piso!  He had become a premium member to be able to see my contact information.  I asked when I could come look at the apartment, and he said his wife wouldn't be home from work until 10pm that night, but it wasn't too late I could come then, so that I'd meet both of them.

After that call, I called both of my schools until I reached someone on the other end, and made arrangements with both of them to visit Friday morning and figure out when I'm working.  I had been so worried that no one would answer, or that the school I never heard back from via e-mail wouldn't know that they were getting an auxiliar de conversación.  But they both knew, and I had plans to see each the next day.

At this point I had a good feeling about the day.  I was able to relax that afternoon, and at 10pm I arrived at the apartment from Easy Piso.

The couple (Alex and Jaqueline) are from Venezuela, and are incredibly kind and welcoming.  We sat in the living room for a while, before looking at the piso, to chat about what they were looking for.  They don't rent out the room to make money off of renters, just to help pay the rent.  They had rented out the room the prior year to an American, Samantha, and really enjoyed getting to know her.  Her boyfriend came and stayed with them for a couple of weeks, and maybe her parents at some point too.

They said that they like living with someone from another culture, that they can both learn things from one another.  They were looking for someone with whom they can convivir -- to share the space so that whoever rents out the room feels like it's their house.  They said, for example, if I didn't come home when I normally do, or they don't see me for a few days -- they'll call.  So, they'll look out for me.  They understand that I'm here without any family or many connections.  They also said, but if you want to sleep all day - you sleep all day, we won't come wake you up.  You do what you want to do.  If one night you want to go out with your friends, you can come back at any hour, it's okay.

So they were really friendly, and big on the idea that we'd all live here together.  If you want to come out and read in the living room, or fall asleep on the sofa- they told me-then sleep out here, sin problema.  They also said that they'd have to agree on the person who ends up living there (obviously); before offering anyone the room.

Then I got the tour of the apartment.  And then we sat down again and they asked me my thoughts.  I told them I really liked it.  They told me I had the "green light" from them, so did I want it - final?  Yes! There were no doubts in my mind.  So we made plans that I would move in this afternoon (Saturday), so that was a huuuge weight off my shoulders.  It's not exactly what I had envisioned (this time around, I wanted to live with some Spanish girls my age) but it's better than I could have imagined.

The next morning (Friday) I went to both of my schools, which I'll write about tomorrow, but for now I'm all moved in to my apartment!  It's so nice to finally be done living out of a suitcase and settle in somewhere.  Stay tuned for piso pictures.

How to find an apartment in Madrid

When I studied abroad in Madrid, one of my biggest worries was the apartment hunting. We would be in dorms for two weeks, during which we'd have to find - on our own - an apartment to live in for the year. How am I going to find an apartment in this big city that I've never been to before? And do it in Spanish?!

Well, I did it! I found a great, affordable apartment that I was happy in all year. And you can, too! Here are some tips and information to help you on your apartment hunting. Get excited, because you're going to find a great apartment and have an incredible time living in Madrid!

How to find an apartment in Madrid

Piso vs. habitación

When looking for housing, you can either rent una habitación (a bedroom) from people who already have the piso (apartment), or rent a whole piso with others.

I would recommend not renting your own apartment as a new expat, because the contract would most likely be for at least a year, and you would have many legal obligations by having the apartment under your name.  Rather, I suggest renting a room from someone who has the apartment in their name; there are tons of these types of rooms for rent in the city, and it's what most expats (and many Spaniards!) do.

The habitación might be in an apartment of students, workers, and sometimes even families or widows will rent out an extra room in their flat to help pay the rent.

Neighborhoods of Madrid

If you're completely new to the city, first you need to familiarize yourself with Madrid and its many barrios (neighborhoods).

Barrios de Madrid
Map by Kelly Crull

Start by taking a look at some of these links: Madrid's Neighborhoods by (Interactive map, thanks Shaheen for sharing the link!)Madrid's Districts (Ail Madrid), Districts of Madrid (Wikipedia), Municipalities, Districts, and Barrios (Madrid-Uno), and then hop on a bus and start exploring! (The bus "C" has a circular route through many barrios of Madrid -- so you won't get lost!)

My first apartment in Madrid

Two years ago I lived near the metro Ventas, in the barrio Salamanca and absolutely loved the area.  Calle Alcalá is my favorite!

My apartment was an exterior, which means that it is on the outside of the apartment complex, so the windows look out onto the main street.  An apartment can also be an interior, which means it's on the inside of the building, so any windows will look to an inner patio where the laundry lines usually are.  Regardless of the type, make sure your room has a window!

It wasn't until after I had moved into my piso that I found out Salamanca is apparently the wealthy neighborhood of the city.  I couldn't believe it, since I'm so frugal, but I had found a great rent price for where I was living (320 euros / month, all utilities/internet included).

Looking for apartment ads

If you're out walking around while soaking in the different barrios, keep your eyes peeled for "se alquila" signs -- which are everywhere.

Many people put up signs with phone numbers when they're renting a room.  Rip off a number and start collecting them!

Sometimes apartment doors themselves will have a "Se alquila" sign with a phone number posted up next to the building number, or up on a balcony.  If you like the area, you can call the numbers while you're there to find out more information.

Websites with Madrid apartment listings

I would also suggest using the interwebs to enhance your search.  Here are some websites that you may find useful while looking for housing:

Segunda Mano - You can browse by district.

Idealista - You can browse by district.

Easy Piso - This one lets you make a profile, where you write what kind of apartment you're looking for, tell a little bit about yourself, and upload a picture.  It's actually nice though, because you can be sent e-mail notifications when new apartments are posted that are in your price range/location of choice.  Also, people renting rooms can contact the room-searchers they want to live with, so you will probably have a better chance of finding roommies you'll get along with.

Loquo - Unfortunately not organized by district, but you might find something on here that's not on the other sites, so I still used it.

Campus Anuncios - Select "habitación en alquiler" and you can set your maximum/minimum monthly price.  Don't forget to select Madrid as your location!

Making your first phone call

The next step is to call places you're interested in to get more information.  You will be amazed at how little some people write in their posts.  Don't send e-mails -- the people who call will beat you to it and get to look at the piso before you ever receive a response via e-mail.

If it's your first time doing this, here's a tip to make the calling easier: Find a piso you absolutely hate.  Somewhere you would never want to live.  Then call the number associated with that anuncio and ask them a bunch of questions about the place.  This way you get pressure-free practice, because you don't want the apartment anyway.  After each call you make, it will get easier and easier.  And to ease the nerves even more, here are some questions from my WIP Madrid 2009-10 handbook that you may want to ask over the phone:

La habitación y el piso:
1. ¿Es individual o doble? (Is the room a single or a double?)
2. ¿Cuánto vale?  (How much is the monthly rent?)
3. ¿El precio incluye los gastos? (Are the utilities included in the price?)  ¿Cuales?  (Which ones?)
4. ¿Hay calefacción?  ¿De qué tipo?  ¿Es central o individual? (Is there heat?  What kind?  Is it central heating or individual)  If it's individual, ask ¿de gas o eléctrica?
5. ¿Hay fianza? ¿Cuánto?  (Is there a deposit required?  How much?)
6. ¿Hay contrato?  ¿Por cuántos meses? (Is there a contract?  How long is it valid?)

El sitio:
7. ¿Dónde está? ¿En qué metro?  ¿Cómo se escribe el nombre de la calle? (Where is the apartment? What metro stop is it?  How do you spell the street name?)
8. ¿Hay teléfono fijo?  ¿Para llamar o sólo recibir llamadas?  (Is there a telephone?  Can you make calls or only receive them?)
9. ¿Hay lavadora? (Is there a washing machine?)
10. ¿Soy de los EE.UU., hay más norteamericanos en el piso?  ¿Hay más extranjeros en el piso?  (I'm from the United States, are there other North Americans in the apartment?  Are there other foreigners in the apartment?)  Things I would be sure to ask ahead of time if you're looking to live with Spanish speakers, which is highly recommended to improve your language skills.
11. ¿Hay más habitaciones libres?  (Are there more open rooms?)
12. ¿Cuántos personas viven en la casa?  ¿Estudian o trabajan?  (How many people live in the apartment?  Do they study or work?)

Find out as much as you can on the phone before you decide to so visit a place.  Seeing an apartment does take a decent amount of your search time, so only go see the places you're really interested in, that meet your top qualifications.  This means make sure you've asked about all of your questions or concerns before you go see a place, so you don't arrive and find out there's no window, for example.

Don't be afraid to ask the person to repeat or talk slower: Por favor, ¿Ud. puede repetir lo que dijo más despacio?

If you want them to spell you a street name or other information, ask ¿Cómo se escribe?

I would write all your notes from piso-hunting in a notebook.  It gets quite confusing with all of the different ads -- some you'll find on multiple websites, others you'll see only once, and some will get re-posted every couple of days.  To keep track of which places you've already called, which were already rented, etc., write it all in a notebook.

Questions to ask when seeing an apartment

Finally, from the same handbook, here are some questions to ask when you're seeing a piso:
13. ¿Cómo se pagan el alquiler y los gastos? (How are the monthly rent and utilities collected?)
14. ¿Puedo cocinar?  ¿La cocina es eléctrica, de gas butano o de gas natural? (Can I cook here?  Is the kitchen electric, butane gas or natural gas?)
15. ¿La cocina tiene todos los utensilios (platos, vasos, cubiertos, etc.)? (Does the kitchen have all the utensils (plates, glasses, pots, etc)
16. ¿Hay ropa de cama (sábana, mantas)? (Is bedding provided -- sheets and blankets?)
17. ¿Si hay alguna averia, ¿A quién hay que llamar? (If there is some problem with installation or something inside the apartment, who do we call?)
18. ¿Cómo funcionan los aparatos eléctricos?  ¿Hay que tener cuidado especial con alguno de ellos, o con la instalación eléctrica de la casa? (How do the electronic devices work?  Should special care be used with any of them?)

And remember to go with your gut!  This is where you'll be living every day, so you want to feel comfortable and have an honest/helpful landlord.  If something doesn't feel right about the apartment, keep looking! You'll find a great fit!

Buena suerte!