Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest blogger from Wisconsin: Chad

Guest Blogger: Chad

I can't keep my eyes open because I've been up for 36 hours.  For some random reason my plane was delayed in Chicago (despite having beautiful weather), which backed everything up.  I originally had a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam, but because of the delay I ended up only having a half hour to go through customs and security, so my bags didn't make it.  

Then I came out of the baggage claim in Madrid and Rebecca was standing there waiting for me, which was a big relief because I didn't know how I would find her.   

Chad arriving in Madrid's Barajas
Rebecca was well-prepared with the camera...

This is Rebecca now.  Chad's just fallen asleep (understandably) mid-sentence on the couch.  Seriously.  So I'll take over and finish up the day's summary.

We took the metro from the airport to my apartment, during which Chad explained his baggage status to me.  The airport in Amsterdam took down my cell and landline numbers here in Spain, as well as my address.  Chad said they told him they would deliver his luggage to my apartment here in Madrid within the next day or two -- sweet!

My amazing roommates had left us lunch, so we ate before heading out to explore the city.

We first walked to one of my schools that I work at, and then we took the metro to Retiro Park.

Retiro Park

While in the park, we stumbled upon a weird art exhibit near the crystal palace.

On our way out of the park, we stopped for photos in front of Puerta de Alcalá, one of Madrid's landmarks.

Puerta de Alcalá

We continued walking down calle (street) Alcalá until we reached downtown Sol.  We stopped for some cañas and jamón (ham) at Museo de jamón.

Museo de jamón

We walked through Plaza Mayor and had sangria at a market before reaching the Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral), which has a much more colorful ceiling than I remembered.

Catedral de la Almudena

Catedral de la Almudena

We walked past the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and through its gardens before checking out Plaza de España.   We were both tired from all the walking (and sun -- Madrid's high was 95 today), so we took the metro back to my apartment.

At some point during the afternoon I received a text from Chad's airlines that said his luggage was being put on the next flight to Madrid.

Chad's now stirring.  He woke up and we ate dinner around 9.45.  It's now 10.40 and we're heading to bed because tomorrow we plan to take a day trip to Segovia.

Quijotes spring league finals

Last night were the finals for my ultimate frisbee spring league.

The first game was between the two teams that had lost at last week's semifinals.

I played in the second game; we were playing for first and second place.  Like many previous weeks, I was the only girl from my team who came.  Luckily, Hannah and Jess took turns playing with me throughout the game so that my team would have at least two girls on at a time.

Mary keeping score and recording stats

It was exhausting, as I played the whole game without subbing, but in the end we won! Yay Nardos (my team name)!

If you notice in the pictures above, we were playing on the nice turf fields again this week.  This is due to the fact that there continues to be a carnival on our dirt fields where we normally practice.

Terrible photo of the carnival in Aluche
On our practice fields!

So to celebrate the end of spring league, we walked through the carnival to the food tents for some food and drink.  I didn't stay too long, as Thursday would be an early day of teaching, followed by PICKING UP CHAD FROM THE AIRPORT!

Hannah and Max at the Aluche summer carnival

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Calafell beach tournament: Sunday

I wake up after a night of drug-induced sleep with no pain in my ears, but they're still plugged and I can't hear so well.

Since I'm wide awake, I head down to the fields with Hannah and Herm for his 9.30 game, even though I don't play until 11.

There's no fog today. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous playa (beach). 

Our first game was very close.  We ended up playing to a cap, and won 9-8.  I think we took our team picture after that game.


Our last game was not as close and we lost, ending in 8th place overall!

Guess what team made it to the finals?  (Look for the yellow)

Finals: Quijotes vs. Fendisc
My team from Madrid, the Quijotes & Dulcineas, made it to the finals!!  The other team, Fendisc, is from Santander.  When we played against Fendisc at G-Spot the other week in Belgium, we didn't score any points against them.

I loaded up two plates for lunch and sat in Herm's sun-tent (beach-tent?), anxious to watch the finals.

Q&D circling up before the finals

But before the final game began, there was a quick dog-frisbee show thing.

Okay, back to the game.  Some pics:

Nice defense


Time out

Quijotes were in the lead I think the whole game, and they won!!


Post-game circle

Post-game balloon game

And then it was time for the awards ceremony.  Here are the Quijotes & Dulcineas receiving first place!

It was quite exciting because I don't know the last time the Quijotes have won a whole tournament -- and it was a beach tournament on top of it all!  (We get zero practice playing on beach, living in Madrid).  And I got to witness it happen.

There were four of us from Quijotes (myself included) that played with other teams at this tournament, so they called us over to take a group picture with everyone, which was nice:

#1: Q & D 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Calafell beach tournament: Friday & Saturday

If you recall, this weekend I went to Calafell, Spain to play in an ultimate frisbee beach tournament.  Although the team I practice with here in Madrid (Quijotes & Dulcineas) did go to the tournament, I played with Penultimanos (a team from Granada) since they were short on girls.


I felt a lot better on Thursday in comparison to Wednesday, so I thought I'd be nearly 100% by Friday.  False.  When I woke up on Friday I was tired, still had a bit of a sore throat and was stuffed up with a runny nose.

For that reason I was more of a listener and less of a talker during the car ride to Calafell.  Since we were in no rush, we stopped for lunch in Zaragoza and ate alongside the river with a gorgeous view of Zaragoza's Cathedral.

Picnic lunch in Zaragoza

Cathedral in Zaragoza

We arrived in Calafell around 6pm and checked into the hotel.  We had some time before dinner, so we took a walk along the beach to see where we'd be playing the next day.

The rest of the Quijotes arrived later that night, as we were eating dinner.  All of our meals were included in the player's fee: buffet breakfasts and dinners at the hotel, and lunches on the fields aka beach.  Although most people went down to the lobby after dinner to watch a football (soccer) game and have some drinks, I went to bed because I wanted to make it through the long day Saturday of four games and the tournament's party.


On Saturday morning when we got to the beach there was this ridiculous fog; we could barely see from one endzone to the other.

My team played our first game at 9.30.  It was against a French team that only had two girls, and we won.  Our second game was against Quijotes, and they creamed us.  For their post-game game after our circle, Mary had brought little balloons on string to tie around everyone's ankle.  Then it's every man for himself and you try to pop everyone else's balloon while protecting yours.

I accidentally stepped on my own balloon during the game... oops!  Hannah was one of the last two still in the game, though I don't remember who won:

Hannah and Taran

At this tournament it was very common to take a picture after every game with the other team (after your post-game circle and post-game game, that is).  Here's the picture of Penultimanos with the Quijotes:

Quijotes (white) and Penultimanos (blue).
Do you see me?  I'm in the front row, second from the right with a red/white hat.

Later that day we won our third game and lost the fourth, meaning on Sunday we'd be playing for 7th, 8th, or 9th place.  The Quijotes won all of their games on Saturday.

After all of the games were done the wine race was held at 6pm.  Luckily, I wasn't picked to compete with my team, so I could photograph (until my camera died), and save my ribs from having to layout.  Poor Hannah got picked to compete for Quijotes (with three others).

The Quijotes preparing for the wine race

In this wine race, each team of four first had to drink three glasses of sangria (together).  Once the sangria was gone, they had to one by one turn around two times, then run out and catch a layout.  The people on the sidelines would judge the layouts by giving thumbs up, thumbs down, cheering, booing, etc.  If your layout wasn't good enough, you'd have to do it again.  The first team to complete four successful layout catches would win.

Mary's layout

Another layout
Photo by: Lidia Ramírez Photography

Guess which team ended up winning the wine race?  The Quijotes & Dulcineas!

At the tournament party later that night, each team would perform a dance to whatever song they had picked (and practiced... some more rehearsed than others).  Penultimanos would be performing the song Shout, as performed in the movie "Animal House" (at a toga party).  I had brought some white leggings and shirt, with a white scarf to pin around me like a toga.

But first we had to go back to the hotel, clean up, eat dinner, you know.  The party wouldn't start until midnight.

So I gather up my stuff from the beach and start walking back to the hotel with Hannah and Herm.  Then all of a sudden, it feels like my ears need to pop.  I ask out loud, "Is there any reason why my ears would all of a sudden need to pop? Are we in the mountains?"

"We're on the coast, Rebecca" they replied.  Right.

I started pretending to chew gum, I yawned really big, anything to make them pop.  No success.  We arrive back at the hotel and take turns showering.  By this point, my plugged ears have now become extremely painful plugged ears.  Please no, not now.  Felt just like an ear infection - in both ears.

I've occasionally had ear infections growing up; every now and then they're double ear infections.  So I know what they feel like.  A super strong pain directed at a small point inside the ear.  Pressure. The need to pop.  By the time we were ready to go down for dinner, I was crying because my right ear hurt so bad.  But by golly, I was going to eat.

So I went down to the hotel's dining room and loaded up my plate.  Penultimanos was planning to meet for a "rum circle" after dinner, where you say nice things about everyone on the team as you pass them a shot of honey rum.  We were then going to  practice the team's dance.  As I'm eating downstairs with my ear throbbing of pain and me unable to stop crying, I realize there's no way I can sit through a rum circle (or the dances/party for that matter).

When I finished eating, the pain was so bad I couldn't sit down there with all those people anymore.  I went back up to our room (where I could burst out crying before the roomies came back) and then tried to lie down.  I couldn't even sleep, the ears were that bad.  I imagined having to lie awake during the next twelve hours with two infected, painful ears.  This thought upset me even more.

Luckily, since I hadn't told my team about my current situation (Basically I couldn't stop crying and I didn't want them to see me like that so I just went straight to my room after dinner), they called my Quijotes teammate Chelsi, looking for me.  This was around 10pm, so Chelsi knocked on our hotel room door and I explained to her what was up.  She then offered me some drugs, saying she had ibuprofen and some motion sickness pill that she takes for every bus ride.

Now I'm not one for unnecessary medicine, especially within the last two years.  I think the body can heal itself naturally in many situations, but we don't give it the chance; we jump straight to medication.  I don't usually take ibuprofen for headaches or cramps, and I'm very weary of antibiotics due to the damage they cause our stomachs.  But this was unbearable, I had to try something.  So I took one of each, and climbed back in bed.

When I opened my eyes, it was Sunday morning.  I could hardly believe that I'd missed everything: my team's rum circle, the dance contest, the party.  But for now the pain was gone; I was just left with two plugged up ears (sore throat, and runny nose).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Badger Blogging Blitz: Days 6 and 7

A few weeks ago I saw on a LinkedIn group that some UW-Madison alumni would be blogging every day for a week about their lives as English teachers in South Korea.  It was called "Badger Blogging Blitz."  This week I'm doing the same, but blogging about my days as an auxiliar de conversación in Madrid. 

Today is the last day of Badger Blogging Blitz.  As you know, I'm currently out of town, playing at an ultimate frisbee beach tournament in Calafell, Spain.  I'll blog about the tournament after I return to Madrid on Monday. (Though I'm taking a night bus on Sunday and arriving in Madrid at 5:50 Monday morning.  I could be tired on Monday.  Just saying.)

Question - Days 6 and 7

How has blogging about Madrid changed the way you've experienced it?
Blogging about Madrid has made me experience more of the city.  Sometimes if I'm in the mood to stay home when something's going on, the fact that it'll be something to blog about is enough of a nudge to get me going (if Hannah hasn't already animated me to get moving!)

Blogging has also helped me feel more helpful and useful, which I haven't always felt at my job this year.  I have experienced coming to a foreign country and not knowing how anything works, from things as simple as mailing letters at the post office to finding an apartment.  Thus, this year I've tried to write more of two types of posts: how-to's and Madrid events.  (Okay, so I realize now that I only wrote three "how to" posts in the fall, but I've got Madrid advice sprinkled all over this blog, it's just not tagged!) I'm hoping the former will aid other foreigners coming to Madrid for the first time, and that the latter will help expats living in Madrid to learn about and experience all that the city has to offer.

And thus ends my week of Badger Blogging Blitz.  What did you think?  Do you still have questions I haven't answered?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 5

A few weeks ago I saw on a LinkedIn group that some UW-Madison alumni would be blogging every day for a week about their lives as English teachers in South Korea.  It was called "Badger Blogging Blitz."  This week I'm doing the same, but blogging about my days as an auxiliar de conversación in Madrid. 

Well, if you read Day 4, you know where I am right now: In a car on my way to Calafell for an ultimate frisbee beach tournament this weekend.

Map taken from

Some of you may be asking yourselves, "Why Rebecca, do you have the day off?  Or is this just another one of those Spanish holidays you seem to have every week?"

Neither.  In my program we never work on Fridays, which is utterly awesome.  The reason for this is that in addition to teaching your language and culture in Spain, Spain also wants you to learn about its culture and spread that knowledge to your homeland when you return.  The best way to learn about a country is to travel within it.  The easiest way to travel is to have a 3-day weekend.  Every weekend. Woo!

Hah, Hannah and I were actually just talking last night about how we'll never be able to go back to "real" jobs: the 40+ hour workweeks, the 2-day weekends...  : )

Since you'll see my day's summary when I post about the tournament next week, I'll head right to Day 5's questions:

Questions - Day 5

1. If you had to teach in another country, where would you like to go?
I would teach in France, in order to learn French.  Thailand and Taiwan are also popping into the head, though I've heard the latter pays much better than the former.

2. What was your most memorable lost-in-translation moment?
Hmmm.  This isn't me, but it was funny and happened on Wednesday night.  There's this new guy Chris, from Michigan, who arrived in Madrid last week and started coming to frisbee practice.  At the bar on Wednesday night after semifinals, he wanted a beer with lemon (very common here, they mix lemon Fanta with beer).  What he wanted is called cerveza con limón.  When the waiter came by, Chris ordered "cerveza con leche" (beer with milk).  He caught himself right away, but we all had a good laugh.

Most of my lost-in-translation moments happened when I first arrived three years ago, as a junior in college.  Ah, like this one - when I was trying to buy a water bottle and an umbrella and the shop owner got really confused because of my Spanish.

Well that's it for now.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Image taken from

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 4

A few weeks ago I saw on a LinkedIn group that some UW-Madison alumni would be blogging every day for a week about their lives as English teachers in South Korea.  It was called "Badger Blogging Blitz."  This week I'm doing the same, but blogging about my days as an auxiliar de conversación in Madrid. 

Well, the purpose of my BBB is to show what it's like to work as an English auxiliar de conversación in Madrid.  But today I didn't go to my Mon/Thurs. school, so I'll try to keep the post short.  

Why didn't I go?  On Monday, the teacher told me that the students had a field trip this Thursday so they wouldn't be here for class.  She followed with her usual ambiguous, "Entonces si no quieres venir... *shrug*" (so if you don't want to come... *shrug*).  If it were earlier in the year, I might have still showed up Thursday morning and sat in the library for four hours.  But I know the teacher doesn't really care, and I know that I put in my time outside of class preparing things for the students.  The fact that I was feeling sick and needed extra sleep also played into my decision.

So I slept in then did lots of errands today.  My Tues/Weds school always pays me in cash, and last time they paid in 100 euro bills instead of 50s.  This morning I took two of them to the bank to get smaller bills for this weekend's tournament.  Then I took some photos to get printed.

A photo-printing place near my apartment

Next I stopped at the huge chino in my neighborhood for a few items.  It was a really nice day, with a high of 31 (= 87.8 F), so I walked all the way to the grocery store that's next to my Tues/Weds school.  Yes, I saw students on the way to and from said grocery store.  I got home between 14.30-15.00 and had hot soup for lunch.  Then I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom before I had to leave for Natalie and Ellie's private class at 17.00.

At 19.00 I went to pick up the photos I had ordered this morning.  The rest of the night I'll be packing for tomorrow, memorizing plays, and finishing preparations for classes next week.  Tomorrow morning I'm leaving at 10am for a beach tournament in Calafell (southwest of Barcelona) this weekend.  I'll be playing with a team from Granada, since they were lacking girls (I think that with me, we're three girls total).

Before I jump to the questions, I'd like to note that one week from today, my friend Chad will be IN MADRID!  He'll be staying with me for two weeks.  Next week will be here before I know it, and seeing him in Madrid will probably feel surreal (as it did when my mother and grandma visited two years ago).  I'll make him post as a guest blogger, no worries.  And without further ado, Day 4's questions:

Questions - Day 4

1. How has this experience changed you?
It's made me appreciate the public education I received in Wisconsin even more than I did before.  My year as a student here in the Complutense University of Madrid made me appreciate UW-Madison, but teaching in the public schools this year turned my attention back to my middle and high school years.  Yes, there are many changes that still need to be made to the U.S.'s public education system, but in comparison, I feel lucky to have received U.S. public education growing up.

It's also made me seriously consider becoming a "real" teacher in the future.  The dynamic between the teacher and auxiliar was sometimes awkward this year, but I feel like if I had total control over the class I could really enjoy being a teacher.

2. What will you tell your kids about Spain in 20 years?
I'll just link them to the blog ; )

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 3

A few weeks ago I saw on a LinkedIn group that some UW-Madison alumni would be blogging every day for a week about their lives as English teachers in South Korea.  It was called "Badger Blogging Blitz."  This week I'm doing the same, but blogging about my days as an auxiliar de conversación in Madrid. 

8:32 - I wake up (before my alarm), again feeling terrible.  Consider going to the doctor today.  I sleep a bit more.

9:52 - I get out of bed, feeling alright, but the throat kills.  Don't really want to go to the doctor because the last time I went I had to wait over and hour and a half until I was seen.  What a waste of time.

10:14 - I throw in a load of laundry and make a cup of tea.

10:54 - I'm out the door and head to my bus stop.  I only take the bus a few blocks and get off three stops early, then walk to the post office to mail some letters before class.

On my way into the post office (correos)

11:40 - Bell rings, recreo has ended.  I'm sitting out in the hall with the students, waiting for the teacher.

11:42 - English teacher comes and opens the classroom.  She counts the students and tells half of them to go with me to the other classroom.  Then she shows me in her book what she wants me to do with them.  Normally I do the speaking activities with them from each unit, but today she wanted us both to start the next unit on simple past tense, regular verbs (liked, called, lived, etc.).  So I taught the parts she asked me to.

I don't have a copy of the book, and I don't find out what we're doing in class until the teacher tells me after she takes attendance.  I adjusted to this at some point in the fall, but coming from a place where you've got a detailed syllabus for every class (that tells you what you'll do every day of the semester, when homework is due, when exams are, etc.), an adjustment definitely needed to be made.  At least the material isn't too difficult, so I can easily "wing it" every class.  It would be nice to have a head's up though.  Or my own copy of the book, so I don't have to look over students' shoulders when I'm teaching them.

12:30 - Bell rings, class is over.  I stop at the grocery store near my house on the way home to pick up a few items to fight my cold: juice, lemons, my ramen-like noodles.  Bananas for my tournament this weekend.

13:25 - I remember that I'd put laundry in the washer this morning.  I hang my clothes out on the line as I heat up some water to make those noodles.  Eat lunch, have tea, read blogs, chat with Hannah, study French.

14:55 - Leave to head back for my afternoon class.  This week and next week the afternoon English teacher at my Tues/Weds school will be gone due to her mother's hip replacement, then later medical tests of her own.  So she's written a couple pages of activities that the students need to complete while she's away.  She told me to pass out a sheet (if anyone came) for students to sign in on.  Since she's gone for two weeks, she's asked the other auxiliar and I to prepare certain materials for her.  So I kept working on those at the computer in the front of the room while the students (in the end there were five) texted worked on what they were supposed to.

16:34 - While at the bus stop waiting to go back home, the old man waiting with me started telling me about two of his grandchildren.  One is studying English, and the other is living somewhere in the UK.  He also told me that for about 30 years he was a bus driver here in Madrid.  Have I mentioned yet that I love taking my neighborhood's bus?

16:55 - When I got home, I had another cup of tea and an orange.  I finished my first lecture in a class I'm taking on MIT's OpenCourseWare (Intro to Computer Science and Programming).

16:05 - I tried to nap in the hour I had before I'd need to get ready for frisbee.  Since tonight are semifinals of our spring league, I went.  I really wasn't feeling well though, and probably would have stayed home had it been a regular practice.

19:29 - I leave the house, a bit later than I usually do for frisbee.

20:22 - I arrive at frisbee.  There is a carnival setting up on the dirt fields where we normally practice, so we got to play on the good fields (artificial grass) today.  I'm the only girl who showed up from my team.  I kind of suspected this would happen, which is mainly why I went.  Luckily two girls from other teams took turns playing with me throughout the game.  In the end, we won! Maybe the score was 8-6? So we'll be playing in the finals.  I stayed and watched the second game, then we all went to the bar afterwards.

Forgot to bring my camera to semifinals, but luckily Maximilian has got a smart phone so he took pictures for me!

12:29 - I get home. I heat up some soup, eat it, then go straight to bed.

Questions - Day 3

1. Which student has had the most impact on you and why? 
If this question applies to all students, then probably my two thirteen-year-olds that I give private lessons to twice a week.  This is probably because I know them the best.  I see them more often than any of my other students, and we talk with each other for a full hour.  These girls also have a higher level of English than many of my school students (even though the girls' level is low-intermediate), so they can tell me more about their lives. And they do.  More than once, one of the girls will precede a story with, "But Rebecca, you have to promise not to tell my mom.  Promise?  You can't tell anyone."  So, since I've seen these girls twice a week for a whole school year (which is more often than I've seen many friends), they've had the most impact on me.

2. Do you think you are making an impact on the students' English ability?
Well, er, umm - yes.  I think my presence in both of my schools this year has had a positive impact on the students' English ability, but not necessarily a big impact.  In fact, I don't think I made a notable difference at all on the students' English ability.  I hope they've at least learned something from my presentations about various aspects of Wisconsin/U.S. culture.  I think the beginning of the year was a bit frustrating for me because I knew I could have made a bigger impact on the students' English, had the teachers used me differently, or had the structure of classes been different.

If I were answering this question about my private students, the answer would be a definite yes.  I see each of my private students minimally once a week for an hour, and I have seen their progression throughout the year.  I plan each lesson based on my observations of what each individual student needs to work on, so yes I'm making an impact on their English ability.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 2

A few weeks ago I saw on a LinkedIn group that some UW-Madison alumni would be blogging every day for a week about their lives as English teachers in South Korea.  It was called "Badger Blogging Blitz."  This week I'm doing the same, but blogging about my days as an auxiliar de conversación in Madrid. 

6:31 - I wake up.  No, my alarm did not go off (it's set for 9:10).  I open the window and grab a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea and turn on the news.

7:10 - Try to fall back asleep.  At some point I do, but it took a long time.

9:10 - Alarm goes off. Super tired.  My head and throat feel like I'm getting a cold. Nooooo!  I reset the alarm for 9:20, then get up and get dressed.

10:00 - I arrive at the bus stop on my street; hope I haven't missed it.

10:03 - Bus arrives.

10:09 - I get off at my stop and walk a minute to my Tues/Weds school.

This is kind of hard to see because the trees are so dark, but see those dark red prison-esque bars surrounding the entire buildling?  Yup, that's my school.

10:15 - The bell rings, which means their French class (that they have in the same room with the same teacher before English) is done.  Nobody opens the door like they usually do to let me in, so after two minutes I unlock the door with my key and go in.  The students are all separated and quiet; looks like they had an exam in French class.  The teacher is at the computer and doesn't say anything to me, so I just sit down in front and wait.

10:20 - The bell to start English class rings.  A minute later, the English teacher says to the students (in Spanish), "If you're staying, you're here.  If you're not staying, disappear."  Then most of the class got up and left, but six students stayed.  I assume this is due to the huelga (strike) today.  She then had me take the six students into another classroom and talk with them about food for the hour.

11:10 - When I came back to the main classroom at the end of the hour, the English teacher told me she forgot about the strike when she scheduled the French exam for that morning, but she didn't understand why some students stayed after French for English.  She thought they should be striking because the cuts in education are an important issue.  From 11:10 - 11:40 is recreo, a morning break, so I stayed in the classroom.

11:18 - English teacher leaves for a coffee, so that frees up the computer for me to work.

11:40 - The bell rings to start the second hour of English, and now four of the students have left and only two remain.  Also, the other auxiliar Kay is now here; we overlap during this one class every Tuesday.  So it's one teacher per student, and the English teacher sends the four of us to another classroom to talk about whatever.

12:30 - When the bell rings, Kay and I head back to the main classroom to say goodbye to the English teacher.  Kay's father and sister are visiting her in Madrid this week, so the teacher asks her about it and suggests places to go.

12:52 - Reach the bus stop.  A minute later two older men come and sit down at the bus stop.  I really love the old people at my bus stops and on the bus from my neighborhood.  The old man today greeted me with, "Hola, buenos días, ¿qué hay?"  At least once a week one of the elderly people at the bus stop will start a conversation with me.  A second man sat between us and he wasn't as cheerful, so the talking stopped there.

13:02 - The first, more cheerful old man comments that it's taken a long time; it's already been 12 minutes he says.

13:04 - Bus finally arrives, with a second bus right behind it.  They must have somehow gotten off the normal schedule.

13:11 - Since I'm still not feeling too well I make a pack of ramen-like noodles (chicken flavor), which is my comfort food when I have a cold (since you can't buy chicken noodle soup here).  I bring it into my room and work on some pages of a Spanish expressions book.  I'm in unit 3 today: money.

14:00 - Finish four pages of Chapter 3.  Half an hour later I decide it's nap time.

16:15 - I wake up, still feeling terrible and tired.  I start planning my two private lessons for that night.

17:00 - I leave the house and walk to the same house as yesterday, this time for a class with Rodrigo's sister Natalie and her friend Ellie: my two thirteen-year-old girls.

17:15 - Class officially starts.  The girls start telling me about their weekends, then Natalie begins talking about her birthday party next Friday, June 1.  Her birthday is this Sunday.  (Lots of birthdays this time of year!  Pablo's birthday is June 1 (my other student), my mother's birthday is May 30, my brother's birthday is June 2, Hannah's is on June 7, and Hermann's is June 19 -- haven't forgotten yet Herm!)

My two thirteen-year-old students

17:46 - We're in the middle of a grammar exercise from Natalie's book when Ellie out of the blue asks me what "shot" means.  I tell her, "Well first, it's the past tense of to shoot," and I make a pistol with my hand.  "It's also what you might get when you go to the doctor's office," and I take a pen and do the action of giving a shot so she knows what I'm talking about.  "No, no, Rebecca.  But it's in a song - " I cut her off because I realize the third meaning I'd forgotten is probably what her song was referring to.  "Oooh, well if it's in a song it's probably a shot of alcohol," then explained the concept to her.  She was searching for a song on her phone but I didn't want her to play it because Natalie's mom was still home, and she'd probably wonder why Ellie was on her phone listening to music.  Anyways, so I thought I knew what song it was when she first told me it was a song, so I start singing "everybody, shots shots shotsshotsshots shots shots shots..."  "Yeah!" she says, "That's the song!  You know it?"  Yup...

18:14 - My alarm goes off and I pack up quickly, since the sooner I arrive at my next lesson, the sooner it's done (what logic).  I walk to the metro, ride it for about 15 minutes, change lines and ride for another 15 minutes.

19:00 - I'm up in Pablo's apartment and class starts.  He's beginning to learn the past tense of some verbs, so I ask lots of questions beginning with "Did".  He knows how he's supposed to answer, but at one point he answers one of my questions, "Yes, I didn't," while giggling a bit.  I make a funny face and ask in a confused voice, "Yes you didn't? But that doesn't make any sense!"  "No, no, Rebecca," he continues, "No, I did!" and he laughs again.  At least I know he knows those are wrong, so even though he keeps saying them I'm not worried.

19:52 - Pablo's younger brother Sergio joins us for the last bit of class.  He only knows a handful of English words (he's 4 years old), so I grab a few books and some toys and we play while I keep speaking so he hears the English.

A street near Pablo's house that's always got two lanes of cars parked on one side of the street, hence many are parked in.  When you hear repeated honking in the city, it's usually because someone's been parked in.

20:47 - I arrive home, still feeling super ill (what a fun week to blog about my days...).  I collapse on my bed, write some letters, start blogging, check emails, that sort of thing.  I don't really feel like eating anything.

23:15 - Going to tackle today's two questions, then I'm off to bed whenever I finish blogging.

Questions - Day 2

1. How does your own school experience at the age of your students compare to that in Madrid? 
When I was 16-18, I had lots of work outside of school.  Homework, papers, group projects, orals, quizzes/tests to study for, etc.  At least in my English classes here in Madrid, the students never (or rarely) have homework, they don't do group projects or skits, and they never have quizzes, only exams (not as often as I had tests).  They just come to class (if they come) and their level of engagement varies.  Another difference is that when I was 16-18, attendance was mandatory at my high school.  Now I teach at an FP (Formación Profesional) which is kind of like a technical college, but it's public.  As is common in Spanish universities, in many of my classes there are 30 people enrolled but only 10-15 will show up for class (on a good day).  Also, at that age I had a job after school,and I also was involved in a ton of clubs/orgs/sports: manager of the girls' basketball team, peer tutor, copy editor of our school paper, cross country, vocal jazz, show choir, solo & ensemble, student council, FBLA, and probably other things I've forgotten about.  There aren't extracurriculars at my schools (that I'm aware of), and this is normal in Spain.
2. If you had the opportunity to change 5 things at your school, what would they be and why?
In no particular order...  
  1) Computer lab - I would add one (though obviously budget restricts this), because I think there are so many great interactive sites and activities that an English class could do in a computer lab.
  2) I would add bulletin boards or put up some posters or something.  Our English classroom is quite dull and the walls are bare (except for a U.S. map I brought, and the state posters Kay and I made at the beginning of the year.  The rest of the school looks like this, too.

  3) I would make the students have to pay some sort of fee to attend this school.  I mean, after all this is post-high school.  And maybe if they had to pay something for it, they would only enroll if they actually wanted to learn and would come to class.  Earlier when I said there were 30 enrolled and 15 that come to class, I think it's more likely than not that there were students #31, 32, etc., that couldn't get in this year because the class was full.  Yet the classroom is always more than half empty.
  4) I would add extracurriculars.  I learned a lot in all of my extracurricular activities throughout high school.  You become better at time management. You meet new people.  You gain skills that aren't taught in a classroom.  The benefits are numerous.
  5) I would make the students buy the textbook and bring it to class... somehow.  At the beginning of the year we didn't have a book.  Once it was chosen? purchased? some students bought it and others purchase/made a binned photocopy of the book (Oh yeah, Spain violates tons of copyright laws.  When I was a student at the university people would photocopy entire books all the time).

So from the top of my head, those are five things I would change in my schools.  I'd really like to have some sort of power to change the whole education system over here and make it less about memorization and more about hands on learning and problem solving. But that's an issue for another day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 1

I'm now realizing, after announcing to write about what I do every day this week, that my wake up time today is going to be embarrassing.  My sleeping schedule kind of got messed up this weekend, and since I don't work until the afternoon on Mondays, I take advantage of being able to sleep in!  (And I stayed up too late last night...)

10:45 - My alarm went off.  At some point I went back to sleep.

11:35 - Second alarm went off.  Wait, second alarm?  When did I set this?

12:32 - Finally got out of bed and took a shower.  Yawning lots; why am I tired??

13:03 - A friend called on G+, and we talked until I had about ten minutes to leave for work.

13:51 - Head to the kitchen and eat a quick lunch of gazpacho and a tuna empañada. 

14:04 - Left the house and walked to the metro, on my way to my Mon/Thurs school.

14.38 - I arrive at my Mon/Thurs school and head to the library where I worked on writing the exam that I'm giving to my Thursday morning class this week.

La biblioteca (the library)

The computer I work at

14.45 - A math teacher comes into the library and asks if it's okay if her class comes in there.  For now it's just she and one other student.

16:44 - I finish writing the exam, so I go across the hall into the teacher's lounge to print it.  Turn on computer.

16:46 - Computer still turning on; can't click anything on the desktop yet.  This computer is so old!

16:47 - My flash drive finally pops up as a folder on screen.  I double click on the Word document.

16:48 - Microsoft Word begins to open.  I start doing powers of 2 in my head to pass the time: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024...

16:49 - Finally get the document open.  File - print.  Document does not print.  I check the printer, and to my surprise see that they've gotten a new one since I've last been in there.  (Which is a while, because there was always something wrong with the old printer.  For the last couple of months I've just been printing at my Tues/Weds school)

16.52 - I don't find anything wrong with the printer, so I go back into the library to ask the math teacher if we have to print from the other computer or something.  There are now about six students in the library with her.  She says that yes, now we have to print from the computer sitting next to the printer.  It looks super old (I've never used it) and apparently only runs linux.

16.53 - I plug my flash drive into the old computer and open my document.  File - print.  Document does not print.

16.54 - I open up the printer and see my document in the queue.  Status column says "processing".

17:08 - Headed back to the library empty handed.  I'll print the exam at my Tues/Weds school sometime this week.  I spent the rest of my time preparing activities for Rodrigo's private lesson tonight.

17.36 - The math teacher says something to her students about class tomorrow, and they say they're not coming tomorrow.  Why not? she asks.  "Mañana es huelga," they respond.  (There's a strike tomorrow).  Good to know; I won't worry so much about having something prepared for my class tomorrow at the Tues/Weds school because if there's a strike, it's probable that not many students will show up.

18:10 - The bell rings and I pack up my things.

18:12 - I run into the English teacher on my way out (was going to stop in her office to say bye anyway), and when I told her I'd finished the exam for Thursday she told me that the boys were going on some field trip this Thursday, so no class.  We'll push the exam back to the following week, she says. So I don't have to come on Thursday if I don't want to...

18:30 - I come out of my metro and head to the nearby alimentación shop to get some gum for my 9-year-old student Rodrigo.  His birthday was yesterday, and we have class tonight, so I made him a card and wanted to give him a little something with it.  He loves gum.  I hope his mother doesn't mind.

My chino - alimentaciones

18:38 - I reach my apartment on the fourth floor and heat up some leftovers as an afternoon snack.  Open the computer. Check emails, facebook, twitter.  Start blogging my day thus far.

19:14 - I leave my apartment to walk to Rodrigo's apartment.

19:30 - English class starts.  I give Rodrigo his card and gum.

19.35 - After he shows me the box to his MP5 player that he got for his birthday, I ask Rodrigo "So how old are you now?"  And he responds, "I'm fine, and you?"  English students here get "How are you?  I'm fine, and you?" drilled into their heads so much that they'll often respond with "I'm fine" when you ask them something else.

20.29 - My alarm goes off and I pack up my things.

20.30 - His mother comes out to pay me.  She asks Rodrigo why he was chewing gum during English class.  Oops...

20.32 - I leave the apartment building and walk home.

20.47 - I arrive home and grab a snack.  I'll be in for the night at this point.  I start blogging, emailing, reading blogs, and chatting with some friends.

Questions - Day 1

1. What has been your most surreal experience thus far in Madrid?  Without putting too much thought into this question, I'd probably say being a part of my ultimate frisbee team and playing in tournaments with so many international players/teams has been the most surreal experience thus far.  I'm talking about playing in the hat tournament in the Canary Islands, or the G-Spot tournament in Belgium the other weekend, for example.  Why is this so surreal to me?

I am not an athletic person.  As a child, gym class was something I feared rather than enjoyed.  Skills tests were the worst, as was picking teams.  My siblings and I have just always had it in our brains: "We are not athletic. We are not good at sports."  My first school sports team I was ever on was Cross Country my senior year of high school (that's the last year, Hannah).  That same year is when I was first introduced to ultimate.  I have undoubtedly improved since then, especially with all of our practices and direction from teammates I've received this year, but I'm still not great.  Maybe average.  But since ultimate still isn't well-known in Spain, I'm able to play with the Quijotes.  Ultimate is a lot more popular in the United States, so the level is a lot higher.  I would never make it on to an ultimate team in the states that travels to competitions.  But here in Madrid, I'm on a team that regularly has tournaments throughout Spain, and some in Europe.  If you would have told me five years ago that I'd be playing on an ultimate frisbee team in Madrid and traveling to tournaments, I wouldn't have believed it.  Hence, this is surreal to me.

2. What would you tell yourself before you got on the plane in Chicago, given your experience so far? If I hadn't left for Chicago yet, I would have told myself to leave my yoga mat at home and take my cleats with me instead!  Umm, I mostly knew what I was getting into as far as the city goes, since I had already spent a year living in Madrid as a student.  I guess I might tell myself not to have such high hopes for my teaching job.  This past summer I had envisioned engaging, creative lesson plans and playing games/doing activities that I've done in my past Spanish and French classes.  I had even though about setting up a pen pal exchange with some of my mom's students, or with students in a Spanish class at my home town's middle or high school (depending on the age of my Spanish students).

But I quickly learned that in this program, you are not the teacher; you are the auxiliar (assistant).  What you will be doing as an auxiliar depends greatly on what school you're placed in.  This year was the first year that both of my schools have had an auxiliar, so they weren't really sure what to do with me at the beginning.  There have been many-a-times when I've felt underused, wasted, or powerless.  (But that's not true for all; I've got friends who are auxiliares and they are overworked and taken advantage of.  Like I said, it completely depends on your school)

I wasn't a fan of the Spanish education system after attending university here for a year, and teaching in the public schools this year has only strengthened that feeling.  This whole answer is becoming longer than I'd imagined, so I'll try to bring it back:  I would have told myself that the English classes I'd be assisting in are nothing like my Spanish and French classes that I've had in the states.  The classes I'd be assisting in aren't engaging, they're heavily textbook-based, and games/partner activities are unheard of.  Again, this is just at my two schools; I'm not saying this is how it is in the whole city/country.  But it would have been nice to know ahead of time, just so I wouldn't have been so disappointed.

For now I'll keep using the daily questions that were used in the South Korea English teachers' Badger Blogging Blitz, but if you have a question you'd like answered this week, leave a comment!