Thursday, October 30, 2014

Decathlon: Sporting goods in Spain

In preparation for walking the Camino de Santiago, I took a trip to Decathlon in Madrid back in September to pick up a few items I'd need for the trek.

Image Source

Decathlon: Sporting Goods Store in Spain

Decathlon is a sporting goods store of French origin, whose chains are found around Europe and in a few other areas of the globe. Think of it as your Spanish equivalent to Dick's Sporting Goods.

The prices are affordable, so these aren't top-of-the-line super expensive sporting goods, but the quality is good enough to warrant purchases.

Decathlon Departments

So what can you find at a Decathlon in Spain? Tons!

Here are the sporting departments listed on their website, with handy photos in case you're unfamiliar with a word:

Decathlon departments - in Spain

For those who can't see the image, here are some of the included departments:

  • Gimnasio, Yoga (Gymnastics, Yoga)
  • Ropa de Fitness-Danza (Dance/Fitness Clothing)
  • Ciclismo (Biking)
  • Running, Atletismo
  • Natación (Swimming)
  • Kayak-Surf-Deportes Agua (Water sports)
  • Buceo, Submarinismo (Diving)
  • Esquí y Snowboard (Ski and Snowboard)
  • Deportes Montaña, Camping (Mountain sports, Camping)
  • Tenis, Ping poing, Bádminton
  • Andar, Caminar (Walking, Hiking)
  • Golf
  • Fútbol (Soccer)
  • Caza, Pesca (Hunting, Fishing)

Basically any sport/outdoors/athletic thing you're looking for, chances are they've got it at Decathlon. You can browse their website to have a look (if your Spanish isn't great, you can still browse by looking at the pictures and prices of items).

Decathlon Stores in Spain

With 99 stores in the country, Spain currently comes in second to France for the most Decathlon stores per country (France has 260).

Here's a Google map of all of the Decathlon stores in Spain.

Map of Decathlon stores in Spain

Decathlon in Madrid

Most of the Madrid region Decathlon stores are in suburbs, outside of the city.

Map of Decathlon stores in Madrid

The one you see in the center of the map (right near the words "Ciudad Lineal"), is in Nuevos Ministeros. It's actually called Decathlon Golf Castellana, and specializes in golf, running, and fitness. So they only have a tiny selection of the departments I listed above.

That being said, you'll probably have to venture to one of the bigger Decathlons for a worthwhile trip.

When I've shopped at Decathlon in Madrid, both this fall for the Camino and years ago for some athletic clothing for frisbee, I've gone to the branch in Usera, which is on the south side of Madrid.

The first time I went via public transportation, and the second I was lucky enough to be driven by a Spanish friend. If you're taking public transportation, the nearest station is actually a Cercanías station, Orcasitas. You can also check for buses from your location, using this Google map (click "Cómo llegar" and then type in your address as the starting point).

If You Go...

What: Decathlon (Usera branch)
Address: Avenida Rafaela Ybarra SN, 28041 (294) Madrid (SN = sin número, meaning there's no "house" number)
Cercanías: Orcasitas
Hours: 9:00 - 22:00 Monday through Saturday, 10:00 - 22:00 Sundays
Phone: 913.410.080

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back in Madrid: Spain is no Korea

I'm back in Madrid and it feels so great!

After a year teaching English in South Korea, I had to pop back over to Madrid for a visit before I return to the states to see my family. I'm actually going to walk the Camino de Santiago for about a month while I'm here in Spain - we'll see how long it takes.

As my first day back in the +34 goes on, I keep remembering those tiny differences that were once second nature. They still feel natural, but did take a second for me to recognize these Spanish life basics before putting them back into action.

Some of the thoughts I've had today include:

"Oh right, I must leave my shoes on in the apartment." - In Korea, shoes always come off at the door - and that's at home, at school, and often in many restaurants too.

"Ah, I can't use my card for tiny purchases!" - I didn't have cash yet and wanted to pay for Gregorio's coffee after lunch, but he was not keen on the idea of me paying with a card for just a few euros. Paying with some sort of card is done in Korea for everything, no matter the amount. Two dollars at the convenience store? No problem. I really got used to doing that, but quickly remembered that people will take the time to count out exact change here in Spain - especially at grocery stores.

"Is this where I need an ID to use my debit or credit card?" - I had left the house without it when we were heading to Decathlon this afternoon, but asked Gregorio in the stairway if this was the country where you needed to show an ID. Bingo. After two years without needing to do so, and taking on the Korean habits of a quick line for an electronic signature, that detail was a bit fuzzy.

And of course, "Yikes, I'd better be careful with my purse/phone/wallet!" At a Starbucks in Seoul I actually left my laptop out at a table while I went to the bathroom. That type of crime just isn't an issue in Korea, but pickpocketing and petty theft is huge in Madrid.

It's also been super refreshing to understand what people are saying around me, and to be able communicate with others! I ordered my own lunch without a second thought. I didn't need time to slowly read and translate the menu, nor practice what I was going to say. And it was such a relief when I put in a load of laundry tonight because I could actually read the washing machine! It's the little things.

Now I'm sitting here eating some simple jamón serrano with pan, and it never tasted so good.

Thanks for welcoming me back with open arms, Madrid.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Alcalá de Henares: That time I got locked in a bathroom

Every now and then I find myself in awkward situations.  When these situations occur in my non-native country and language, they're even more entertaining.

My last spring in Spain, Gregorio and I took an afternoon trip to Alcalá de Henares to get more information about the Franklin master's program.

Chilling with Don Quijote and Sancho in Alcalá de Henares

After the university meeting was done, we got some lunch in town.

We were late for lunch, even by Spain's standards, so we could no longer order the menu of the day.  We stayed anyways and were seated outside on the patio, since it was a gorgeous day out.  After ordering, I ran inside to use the bathroom quick.  Didn't need anything from my purse, so I left it at the table.

It was quite dark inside the bar/restaurant, and empty too -- just a bartender standing behind the bar.  It wasn't quiet though, since music blared in the background.  I really had to pee and wanted to wash my hands before eating too, so I found the women's bathroom in the back of the restaurant and went in.  There was only one stall, and since no one else was in there I could go right in.

As soon as I closed the stall door, I realize there wasn't a door handle on the inside of the stall door.  It looked broken, not how a handle is supposed to be.

This is what the handle should have looked like:

Image source
But the door roughly looked like this on the inside (it wasn't the same type of door/stall, though):

Image source

My mind flashed for a split second to the worst that could happen - that I would be locked in here - but I knew that wasn't probable. Of course I could get out, it was a bathroom stall. So the thought left just as quickly as it had come, until it was time to actually exit said stall.

I tried moving whatever was in the circle on the door. The door did not open, and the inner door handle pieces did not budge. Oh gosh.

I looked below the door, but the stall door was too low for me to fit underneath.

Okay, what to do, what to do. I tried again with my hands to move the inner workings of the door to release its latch. Didn't work. If only I'd had a credit card, or a screwdriver or something!

I looked around and sized up the materials I had with me in the stall. It was pretty bare, but I did notice an empty toilet paper tube on the upper roll holder. And then I had an idea: I was going to MacGyver my way out of this stall!

I ripped the toilet paper tube from the holder, and proceeded to bend it into a flat rectangle. Perhaps this would work in place of a credit card. I tried opening the door with the new tool, but it wasn't sturdy enough. The tube material kept bending whenever I applied pressure.

I couldn't call Gregorio because I didn't have my phone with me. "How long have I been in here?," I wondered. Over five minutes for sure.

Maybe it was time to attempt to get someone to hear me. Why was that music in the bar so loud?! I could hear it - and nothing else - from my stall. But I had few other options, so I decided to try making some noise.

But then I got all caught up in what to say. What does one say in Spanish when they're in this situation? Should I say hola, hola (hello! hello!)? Should I shout for help (ayuda, ayúdame!), or is that too severe? What's the word for lock? How do I say I'm locked in? If you lock a door, you say "cerrar con llave" (literally: close with key), so do I use that term? Or is it encerrado? Wait, encerrada because I'm a female? Ah!

So, I'm not exactly sure what I shouted in the end, probably a combination of all of the above. I've tried to erase that from my memory because I was really embarrassed and felt silly during the whole thing.

"How could I make more noise?," I thought. Could anyone even hear me above the music? How long have I been in here now? How long before Gregorio comes looking for me?

So then I started to knock on the stall door - from the inside. While trying to shout things in Spanish to get someone's attention. I felt so ridiculous.

Sooo ridiculous.

As soon as I would hear footsteps or one of the bartender's voices, I'd be my loudest.

But no one came in.

I knew I wouldn't be in there forever - Gregorio would inquire about my well-being after an abnormal amount of time spent in the bathroom. (Though hadn't it already been an abnormal amount of time?!) I wanted out now! I didn't want to wait any longer in this tiny stall!

These new desperate thoughts made my knocking and random shouts even louder. Now that I'd been doing it for so long, I didn't feel nearly as foolish as at the start.

Finally, around 15 minutes since I'd first entered the restroom, some lady came in to use the bathroom. I got her to open the stall door from the outside and let me out.

After washing my hands I rushed back out to our table on the street and saw that both of our plates had been brought out ~10 minutes ago, based on what Gregorio had eaten already.

I immediately began recounting my tale to Gregorio, and also asked why he hadn't come looking for me.

He knew that I'd been struggling with IBS for a few years, and said that he thought I just needed extra time in the bathroom... Whoops!

Relieved to be out at last, my lunch tasted extra deliciosa that afternoon.

And that incident, my friends, is the memory that always comes to mind when I think of Alcalá de Henares. Not the neat Cathedral-turned-bar that we visited afterwards, nor the first time I visited with my study abroad friends and drank wine by the river.

Nope, I now associate Alcalá de Henares with that time I got locked in the bathroom.

Have you ever gotten locked in a bathroom stall? What other embarrassing situations have you found yourself in while living/traveling abroad?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Spanish siesta, as taught in Korean students' English books

I'm currently residing in rural South Korea, where I teach English at a public elementary school, but something that happened in class today that needed to be shared here. Yes, it directly involves Spain.

Near the end of a fourth grade class we had a few extra minutes to fill. So my co-teacher played the unit's "We Are the World", a short video clip from the textbook's CD-ROM that teaches various topics about world culture.

I hadn't seen the clip before we watched it in class. Although the speaking was all in Korean, I could tell what was going on by following the visuals and the brief English phrases interjected every now and then.

World culture lesson

It began with this family:

The boy says in English, "I like Spain". That's when my ears perked up. Oh cool, this will be about Spain!

All of a sudden the children are hungry, obvious because of the red squiggly lines coming out of each child's stomach area. 

The boy goes to tell his parents of their predicament. Then a clock appears on screen showing the time. It's one in the afternoon.

Next a picture of paella pops up in the top left corner. Time to eat lunch.

But when the family gets to the restaurant, they all have shocked looks on their faces! Oh no!

What could possibly be wrong?

Is the restaurant closed? 

No, that's not it.

Is everything in Spanish and the family doesn't know what to order? 


Perhaps they're vegetarians and are therefore shocked by all of the hams hanging from the ceiling.


What is it then?  

Oh right, the chef is sleeping. (Gasp!)

He's taking a nap because, as the pie chart next to him clearly shows, Spaniards take siestas (naps) from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. every day.

(*eye roll*) Ah!

I was waay more shocked than the family ever was when I saw what was happening in the video clip.

Once it finished my co-teacher turned to me and said, "Oh wow, so in Spain they nap every day?"

"No!" I said immediately. I didn't care if it was best to keep it simple for the children's sake - the children whose English level is very basic. I was not going to let this misconception be spread to fourth graders in Korea! (Though for every other fourth grade class in the country, I wasn't able to stop it. My apologies.)

Here's what I'll say about the often misunderstood Spanish siesta.

The Spanish "siesta"

Now, most shops and stores do close from about 2:30 to 5:00 every afternoon in Spain. Why? Go to Madrid in July and you'll see one reason: it is so incredibly hot. Hardly anyone will be out in the streets because the heat at that point in the day is simply unbearable.

The other reason is that it's Spanish tradition to eat meals together as a family in a calm, relaxed fashion, which usually means a long meal. I'll never forget the day in Madrid that I met a friend for lunch at three, and we had to be asked to leave by the owners because it was six thirty, and they'd closed a half hour ago!

If businesses close during that late afternoon break, workers can return home for a lunch together with their families. If they're lucky perhaps they can catch a few minutes of shut-eye afterwards, but that's really not the case for most Spaniards nowadays. The number of people who go home for lunch is also declining, as many businesses are adopting the half-hour or hour-long lunch break.

Why Spaniards eat late lunches

But why do Spaniards eat lunch so late in the first place, usually at two or later?

I just read a great post earlier this week by Erik at American in Spain, that answers this very question. Surprisingly, it has something to do with Nazi Germany. Erik's explanation is fantastic, so go there and read it first, then come back here.

What it comes down to is that Spain is in the wrong time zone. Spain eats lunch the same time as other European countries do, but for the Europeans the time is one o'clock, but in Spain's time zone it's two o'clock.

This also explains why Spaniards on average get the least amount of sleep among European countries. They're up just as early as everyone else, but dinner isn't until nine or ten at night, with prime time television following.

There has been recent discussion to change Spain's time zone back to what it once was. Here are two articles published within the last year about attempts to change Spain's time zone and "end" the siesta:

"Adiós, siesta? Spain considers ending Franco's change to working hours" (The Guardian, September 26, 2013)

So the next time you find yourself teaching a class of Korean fourth graders, and their English book teaches that Spaniards sleep for three hours every afternoon, you'll know what to say!

Had you heard of the Spanish siesta? Did you know the real reasons behind the afternoon "break"?

Friday, June 20, 2014

New king in Spain: King Felipe VI crowned on June 19, 2014

Spain's King Felipe VI and Queen Latizia
King Felipe VI and Queen Latizia
Photo Source: J.C. Cárdenas (EFE)

Pictured above is Spain's new King Felipe VI, crowned on Thursday June 19, 2014, with his wife Queen Latizia. Didn't know who the last king was? Here are the basics:

King of Spain

  • King Juan Carlos, age 76, has been king of Spain since two days after Dictator Franco's death in 1975.
  • In the 1978 constitution, he gave up all powers except ceremonial ones.
  • King Juan Carlos's abdication was announced on June 2, 2014.
  • On June 19, 2014, his son Felipe (46) was crowned king of Spain.
  • King Felipe VI is married to Queen Latizia and has two daughters: Leonor (born 2005) and Infanta Sofía (born 2007).

Photo Source: J.J. Gullén (EFE)

What does the king of Spain do?

Spain is actually governed by the Prime Minister, who has been Mariano Rajoy since December 2011. The king of Spain holds a more symbolic role, with much less power. Some duties include: 
  • Head of State
  • Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish Armed Forces
  • President of the Ibero-American States Organization
  • Represent Spain in various international organizations

King Juan Carlos and King Felipe VI of Spain
King Felipe VI with father King Juan Carlos
Photo Source:

News Articles About Spain's New King

Here are a few news articles to read if you want to learn more about Spain's new king, Felipe VI.

Articles in English

Articles in Spanish

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How much Spanish do I need to know to teach English in Spain?

Here are some questions from an email I received last month:
I have read many blogs discussing how the Assistants sometimes you ran their own classes. Did you have to converse frequently in Spanish with your students - Was it essential to converse in Spanish to teach classes? Or was it primarily English in the classroom?


So I guess my question is, while I do have a “decent grasp” on understanding the language but some difficulty communicating back in Spanish, would I essentially be “ineffective” teaching classes? Or is English the primary language in the classroom during your sessions. Is it possible to always have the main teacher by my side?

And my response, in post form:

How Much Spanish do I Need to Know to Teach English in Spain as an Auxiliar?

Speak in English to the students

Most schools will ask that you only speak in English to the students. A friend of mine had to pretend that she didn't speak Spanish at her school, even though she was fluent. It benefits the students to hear your native English and to be forced to communicate with you in English. If you can understand some of their side chat or confusions when they speak in Spanish, added bonus for you - but try not to let on that you understand them.

My auxiliares teaching experience in Madrid

Now I'll tell share my personal experiences about what level of Spanish was needed, and then tell you that situations vary greatly by school/level.  So my teaching experience was a bit unique, I think. I was split between two public vocational schools (post high school) with students who were studying things like secretary/electronics/pharmacy assistant, but needed 1 or 2 years of English to graduate. The English teacher at one school was older and had studied to be a Spanish literature teacher. Her English level was low, pronunciation being the biggest trouble. She ran the class in Spanish, as did some teachers at my other school. In my case having a high level of Spanish was really great for communicating with the teachers (since their English level was so low).

At one school (where the teacher had a low level of English), she started having me teach class by myself at some point during the year, while she stayed downstairs in her office. This meant using lots of Spanish to teach, as she had done, explaining grammatical concepts to them because the English level of these students (ages 16-24, with a few adults) was so low. I was fine doing it because I was more comfortable when she wasn't there - I could run class a bit differently (how I wanted to), and didn't have to worry about discipline much because of the students' age. Had I not been comfortable at that point, it would have been totally okay to say so, and show that the contract states we will always be with a teacher. (Yup, technically language assistants should always be with a teacher when working as an auxiliar de conversación). I think she knew I'd be all right on my own, which is why she suggested it in the first place.

At my other school, occasionally I'd be sent to another room with half of the class to work on certain speaking activities from the book while the regular teacher worked on something else with the other half. Sometimes in the other room I'd have conversation time with half of the group about a topic previously assigned for me to prepare and run. Again, this is technically against the contract, but I was more than okay with the arrangement. I liked running the class alone, not being watched by the teacher, and being able to do things my way. Again, discipline was not an issue due to the students' ages. My situation came about because of the higher age and lower level of students. Also, it was the first year that both of these schools had an auxiliar, so they weren't sure how best to use me.

Experiences depend on placement

So that was one specific situation. At primary and secondary schools I've heard of much different situations. The teachers know how to use you, you're expected to only communicate in English with the students, and you're not left alone with students. Some placements require much more prep work than others. But I'll just say again that it varies greatly depending on location, school, teachers, etc. My best friend - also an auxiliar the year I was - had multiple auxiliares working at her school, whereas I was the only one at mine.

Contact past auxiliares

When you do get your school placement (which wasn't until much later in the summer for me, if I'm remembering correctly), you could try to find a previous auxiliar at that same school - through the Madrid auxiliar facebook group. That could help you get an idea of age/level of the students, and what the teaching environment looks like. I went into it blind, since no one had taught there before and I didn't know what level the students would be. But it all worked out -- and it'll work out for you!

Don't worry

The first couple of weeks could be uncomfortable depending on communication with the teachers and culture shock (but they could also be amazing and wonderful!), so once you learn what's expected of you and how the school wants to use you, you'll fall into a routine and feel comfortable in your role. You could work with teachers that have amazing levels of English, such that they always communicate with you in English!

Should something be terribly amiss (I wasn't satisfied with how I was used in the classroom and how classes were run) keep in mind that it's only 16 hours a week, so make the most of your remaining time. (I enjoyed getting to know the students when I was alone with them, and being able to help them. Outside of those hours I was highly involved with an ultimate frisbee team and taught private English lessons to stay satisfied and feel like I was making a difference).

Your Spanish will improve while living in Spain

You will be great! There's still plenty of time this summer to work on Spanish, and keep in mind that you will be living in Spain for at least 9 months. While there: watch TV, read the news, go to intercambios to make Spanish friends, live with Spaniards, etc. Your Spanish will improve so much while you're living in Spain! So whatever your level is today, it will only get better from this point forward. And that can help with teaching.

Also, keep in mind that the auxiliares program doesn't help you get settled when you come to Spain. You'll have to find an apartment, open a bank account, get a metro pass (abono), and all that jazz on your own. You'll need to speak in Spanish to do so, which is one reason why this teaching program requires that you have "basic communicative skills in Spanish".

With a grain of salt

And to go against everything I've just said, take everything with a grain of salt. It's easier said than done, but from my experiences so far (including a move to Korea) - you can't really know what to expect until you get there. Especially with a move and new job in a foreign country. The mind likes to wonder about every situation, but after a certain point you'll really just have to see what it's like once you get there. There's no way of knowing exactly what it'll be like ahead of time - even if you can get someone else's take on the exact same experience. I've interpreted my surroundings/situations based on my thoughts/past, but anyone else in my same place might have had a completely different opinion/experience.

So put on some confidence and know that you can be a successful English teacher in Spain! You shouldn't be expected to teach in Spanish, so your developing Spanish language skills will only embarrass you out at the grocery store or at your neighborhood's chino shop for the first few months, not in the classroom in front of your students.
: )

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Advice on moving back home after living/studying abroad in Spain

I've written about my struggle with reverse culture shock after coming back to the USA from Spain, but what can be done to ease the transition? How can you keep an amazing study abroad experience alive without annoying the heck out of your friends and family? Or return home after having worked in Spain and use your experiences to better your community?

Last month I got an email from a reader who was feeling some hesitancy towards his inevitable return home next month.  He asked more about my return to the states after my second year in Madrid, which touched on all of the above questions. I'll share some of his email below, and then reproduce my answer.

" ...did you end up keeping up and maintaining your close friendships with your friends back in Wisconsin after you returned from Madrid, or did you just feel like you had changed too much?" 

"I think the thing that's going to be most killer for me is I know that most people aren't going to be really interested in my trip, and just knowing all of the wonderful things that I love about Madrid I am going to be leaving behind. It is truly a wonderful, wonderful city!" 

"How long did you stay in the US before you left again to Korea?"

"Do you have any suggestions on what I could do to somehow make things easier on myself?" 


Since I taught in Spain right after graduating from college, many of my college friends moved from our University's city and started jobs/lives in new states the same time I left for Madrid. I kept in touch with just a few friends from home while I was away (and am still friends with them today). So part of what was difficult with my return is that the number of friends I had to hang out with in Madison after Madrid was very low, since so many had left Madison after graduating. 

I was back in the USA for a year (working to pay back most of my student loans) before I left for Korea. But I made many friends during that time, and made the most of it once I got out of my reverse culture shock funk. So I do have some recommendations, since you asked:

Feelings are temporary

Something to keep in mind is that feelings are temporary. I did in fact cry myself to sleep some nights after returning! But know that you won't always feel how you feel right now. It took me a few months to get out of the grey cloud, but since that fall I've experienced many highs and some different lows.

Your present is unique

Remember that no matter where you are, the present is the only time you will be in that particular place with the same people who are there right now. Once I had that realization after returning from Madrid, I started a "Thankful Thursday" post every week on my blog to keep myself focused on gratitude. This helped me appreciate my time back in Madison (and now my time in Korea, away from my close friends and family). If you really want to go back to Spain, you can figure out how to make that happen. But while you're home in the USA you're in that particular city. Take advantage of the things you can do there that you can't do elsewhere, and take advantage of being around the people who are also there. (Here's how I took advantage of my time in Madison).

Join a Spanish conversation table

Check craigslist community, facebook groups, and to see if a Spanish conversation group exists in your city. If not, you can always start one! My university (UW-Madison) has a weekly conversation table that I went to in the fall and spring after returning from Spain. Since it only ran during the semesters, I volunteered to lead the Spanish conversation table for the summer so that we could continue meeting. Each week I'd send out an email to current participants and put posts on craigslist and Facebook so others could join. It was a great way to keep up with Spanish, meet people, and during the school year I could encourage young students to study abroad (and meet others who had studied/lived abroad like me)!

Give back

All the years I've spent as a foreigner abroad really make me sympathize with foreigners back home. I know how it feels to be away from family and friends, and to be afraid of everyday interactions when you don't speak the language (in Korea where I currently reside...).  My first year back from Spain (after studying abroad for a year) I volunteered at Literacy Network in Madison, tutoring ESL to adults in our city.  I also joined a UW-Madison group BRIDGE, a friendship program that paired Wisconsin students with foreign students at our University. My second year back I volunteered for a bit as an English conversation partner at the Wisconsin ESL Institute (WESLI) in Madison.  So, you could use your experience to help other foreigners, through volunteering or joining (or starting!) a Meetup group with an international theme. Volunteer experiences can help you make friends, be connected to your community, feel good, and possibly turn into a future opportunity.

Pursue your interests to make friends

Sounds like you do have some friends at home to return to, but by getting involved in your interests you can make more friends (some who might understand more of what you're experiencing). I really love ultimate frisbee, so I played on a spring and summer league when I was back in Madison. I also started going to a French conversation table because I'm learning French. Staying busy and getting to know people through these activities was so beneficial for me -- and fun!

Give yourself some time to feel down 

If you noticed above, I didn't start those Thankful Thursdays until January, but I returned to the USA at the end of September... so it took a few months for me to turn things around. Writing that post on reverse culture shock (in November?) was so helpful for me. I didn't know it would have that effect until after I had written it, but I felt so much better after letting it out somewhere. If writing's not your thing, maybe there's someone you can talk with, or some other way to work your way through the reverse culture shock feelings. And everyone's experience will be different -- the first time I came back from studying in Spain I experienced virtually no reverse culture shock. Many of my friends from the study abroad program returned to Madison with me for my senior year, so we continued to hang out and could talk about Madrid memories with each other whenever we wanted to.  If there is reverse culture shock, know that it will wear off over time. When you're feeling rushed at a restaurant or can't get over the ridiculous amounts of water in the toilets, make note of it, because in a few months it won't have the same effect.

For former expats who have returned home, what helped you re-establish yourself back home after living abroad? How could you share/make use of your international experiences?

Monday, April 14, 2014

FAQ: Teaching private English classes in Spain

Many native-English speaking expats in Spain tend to teach private English classes for a little extra cash, whether they're studying or working abroad. Here are some FAQs to help new arrivals get started teaching private English lessons:

Teaching private English classes in Spain - FAQ via Oh No She Madridn't

How do I find private English lessons to teach? 

What types of private English classes can I offer?

You'll want to specify in your advertisement what type of classes you're offering. Based on your experience and preference, that could include any of the following:
  • Conversational English
  • Business English
  • Grammar-intensive classes
  • Cambridge Exam preparation (Specify which: PET/FCE/CAE/CPE)
  • Level: Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced
  • Grade/Age: Primaria / ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria) / Bachillerato / Universidad / Adult
... or whatever other area of English that you can teach!

How much should I charge for private English lessons in Spain?

I don't have an exact answer, as rates depend on your experience and the "going rate", but I'll share my experiences. When I first started giving private English classes in 2009, I didn't have previous experience tutoring ESL/EFL. Our study abroad program advertised private English lessons for 15 euros/hour, so when I got my first student via my study abroad program, that was my rate. I also taught five siblings from a family of eight who lived rather far outside of Madrid (Las Rozas). They paid 18/hour plus the 5 euros it cost me to get out there and back by bus from Moncloa. It really was a hike to get there, but the family was so great I would have done it for free.

I attended a 2.5 hour Introduction to TEFL Workshop put on by Canterbury English once I started giving those private lessons, and taught for the year.  Partway through I added two more students to my weekly classes (cousins of my first student).  Back in Madison I volunteered as an ESL tutor at Literacy Network the summer after graduation. So with all that as my experience, I upped my rate to 16/hour when I returned to Madrid in 2011 to work as an English teacher in the public schools. I also taught a student from my first year, so we kept the rate at 15 for him.

That was my second year of private classes, and first year teaching English in public schools. I volunteered as an ESL conversation partner back in Madison for a few months when I was home and completed a 100-hour TEFL certification course online early in the summer of 2013. When I finish my current contract here in Korea I'll also have a year of full-time EFL teaching in an elementary school under my belt. So with that experience, plus the quality of lessons I'd guarantee, if I returned to Spain today to teach I would start my rate at no less than 20/hour.

You'll hear all sorts of opinions and debates about what to charge for private English classes in Spain. I knew a girl who found a play class from a flyer (play with two young girls in English for an hour) that paid 25 euros. Other people think you should charge higher if you're a native, regardless of experience - but I think experience is important.

Feel free to offer discounts for number of students (For example: 16/hr/student - 1 student, 10/hr/student - 2 students, etc.). That way if friends want lessons together it's more affordable for them (10 euros instead of 16 euros), yet you can make a little more because you've got to pay attention to and work on strengthening two different students' English skills.

I recommend browsing some native English teachers' postings on Tus clases particulares or Lingo Bongo to get a general idea for current rates, too. Looking today, in April of 2014, I saw a range from 10 euros/hour to 22 euros/hour between all the posts I looked at. The high of 22/hr was posted by a 37-year-old with over 10 years of ESL teaching experience.

What factors should I consider while choosing a rate?

  • Your ESL/EFL teaching education
  • Your ESL/EFL teaching experience
  • The quality of lessons you will provide
  • The location of the lessons (Your apartment? Their apartment? How far are you willing to travel?)
  • The status of Spain's economy

How do I get paid for teaching private English classes?

I always got paid in cash at the end of each lesson, and think this is the norm. One time a family asked if I preferred to be paid every week or once at the end of the month, but I chose to get paid weekly.

What tips should I know to receive payment smoothly?  

Decide with the student (or his/her parents) how often you'll be paid before you begin tutoring.

Since I charged 16/hour my second year, which isn't an even 5 or 10, I always made sure to have change on me. Make it easy for the parents/students and be prepared to give change for a 20 (or whatever bill makes sense in your situation).

Also, be sure to keep track of each payment you receive -- write it down in the same place every week. Every now and then some situation would arise where the parents forgot to leave money with their kids, or they wanted to pay for both Tuesday and Thursday's classes on Tuesday. Regardless of the reason, I always jotted it down in my private lessons notebook. That way I never got confused if I'd been paid or not.

How do I time the lesson?

I always set an alarm on my cell phone before class so that I wouldn't have to constantly be looking at it during the lesson. (Speaking of cell phones, make sure to silence your phone ringer while teaching class!).  I set my alarm to go off 2-3 minutes before time was up so that we could finish whatever we were in the middle of and end class calmly. Most of my lessons were an hour long, though the year I had five students from the same family, each kid had a half hour with me.

How do I keep track of multiple students?

I had a small "private lessons notebook" with a section for each student I taught.  I took notes during and after every lesson, which I highly recommend doing.  What should you write down?  I'd write new vocab words or the grammar unit they were currently studying at school so I could prepare related exercises for our next class. I'd write down common mistakes I heard, or things the student had difficulty with, so I could create activities to work on those particular items next time. The notebook was also a good place for me to jot down personal details I'd learn during lessons (Birthdays, interest, likes/dislikes), which helped me personalize classes and develop better relationships with each student.

I've never taught English before. What should I know?

The answer to this question could be a whole post series in and of itself, so I'll be brief and just hit a few key points: Speak slowly and clearly with your students.

You should most likely be able to understand and explain grammar to your students, depending on their age/level. If you've studied a foreign language before, you'll probably have a better idea of direct/indirect objects, transitive/intransitive verbs, verb tenses, and other grammatical topics.  Be prepared to explain, for example, the English rule about when to use how much vs. how many (Why we say "How many people?" and "How many shoes?",  but "How much water?" and "How much money?").  If you're scratching your head, look up "countable and uncountable nouns" online. You'll be seeing those again and again in various grammatical rules, so it's a good idea to learn it now.  Purdue's Online Writing Lab might be a good place to start if this is all new to you. I'm sure you can work your way through a Google search to find other helpful information to learn about English grammar.

Please make sure you know the correct usage of the basic (but way too often confused) "their/there/they're", "it's/its", and "your/you're". (Hint: "It's" = it is, "its" is possessive).

If you're American, keep in mind that most Spanish students are taught British English in school, and there are some spelling/vocabulary/grammar differences you'll come across. Here are ten differences between British and American English that left an impression on me from teaching in Spain.

I'd consider attending a short TEFL/TESOL training in your city, or see what sorts of free TESOL/TEFL training you can find online.  Something you will learn quickly is that compared to any other language, there are huge amounts of free English-learning materials available on the web (games, worksheets, flashcards, songs, lesson plans, exercises, etc.). Here are a few of these sites:

Did you find this post helpful?

I share all of my Spain how-to posts and guides for free! If you'd like to return the favor, consider tossing a little love in my tip jar:

What other questions do you have about teaching private English lessons in Spain?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where are you today?

Just play along and see which category applies to you, based on your current location:

If you're in Madrid...

Go to the Parque Quinta de los Molinos to see the almond trees in bloom. When?  Now! Today! Maybe tomorrow. They're in full bloom right now, according to photos from my friends in Madrid, so be sure to visit this week.

La parque Quinta de los Molinos
La Parque Quinta de los Molinos, Madrid 2012

If you're not in Spain...

The application deadline for the 2014-15 North American Language and Culture Assistants program (Auxiliares de conversación) is April 1, 2014. So apply now for the chance to live and and work in Spain for 9 months, teaching English. Your only regret will be not applying, I promise!

If you're not in Spain anymore...

Don't forget that you can always return for a visit.  Hopefully in 6 months I can look back and see the foreshadowing of this statement. ; )

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How to receive packages in Spain without fees

Receiving packages in Spain - How to

Picture this: Your birthday is tomorrow and you've been expecting a package from the USA to arrive any day now. You return home from some afternoon tapas with friends, only to discover a slip of paper on your mailbox. You make out that a package for you has arrived, but you must go to Barajas airport to pick it up. What?! Yeah, all the way to Barajas.  Oh, and by the way, you have to pay 70 euros to get it.  Happy birthday!

To increase your chances of never experiencing this scene, keep reading.

So why the fee?  It's an import duty and/or tax (VAT).  When the sender mailed the package, he/she had to fill out a customs form listing the contents of the box and their value.  That description is used to determine the duty/tax.

Now, I am not advising that anyone lie on this form, but I'll share what has worked well in my experience (I never had a package held for me at Customs):
  • If family is sending over some of your personal items, make sure they write "used ~" and/or "personal items" on the form.
  • If it's a gift for you, make sure the "gift" box is checked.
  • Generally, if the contents of the package are worth less than $20, you won't have to pay tax/duty on it.
  • If you must have something new sent over from the states, have your sender remove the packaging before mailing it to you.
  • An insured package will most likely be held at customs, but then again, if it's insured it must be valuable and therefore should be charged duty/tax.
So pass along this information to your family and friends before they mail something to you!

Successful Kindle delivery

I ordered a Kindle Touch while living in Madrid, but had it shipped to my home address in the USA.  My mom then put it a different envelope and sent it to me. She wrote that it was a book with a value of $19, and the envelope was delivered to my door, no problem.

If you like surprises...

One final tip about receiving packages from the USA in Spain: If you like surprises, don't read the green slip taped to your package when you receive it!

I remember the first time I got a package for my birthday when I was studying abroad in Spain, and I immediately saw what was inside via the green slip.  I had no idea that's what the green slip would contain, but it was too late by the time my eyes found it. No element of surprise at all!  For future boxes I made sure to look somewhere else and cover up that slip of paper with my hand while opening the box. I recommend doing the same: tear it off, cover it up - whatever works for you.

Any other tips for your friends/family when they send mail to you in Spain?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Oliva: Day 1 - Castillo de Alarcón

[This post is the third of my recounting of the trip I took to Oliva with Gregorio in early December 2011.  Part one, Uclés, can be read here and part two, Segóbriga, can be read here.]

With the Roman ruins of Segóbriga behind us, we were on the road again.  We pulled over maybe an hour later just outside of Alarcón.  Remember now, Gregorio and I were on our way to his parents' house in Oliva (near Valencia) from Madrid.  It should have only taken between 3-4 hours by car, but we were en route the entire day!

That's because Gregorio had many stops planned that I was never made aware of, but it was a fantastic day with gorgeous sights in this country I love so much.

So we parked the car near the entrance to Alarcón.

The car looks a little out of place, no?

We ate a picnic lunch outside of the car, with a gorgeous view of the town's 8th century medieval castle, el castillo de Alarcón.

Alarcón's castle

The blue-green body of water just outside of the castle's town made the enchanting sight ever so pleasant for the eyes. 

Picture thanks to wikipedia

While driving into the small town to get a closer look at the castle, Gregorio decided he wanted to be the driver and the photographer.  The picture I captured below was a common site throughout our drive.  Although this was taken on a quiet street, he did this on the busy highways leaving Madrid too!  (It's okay parents, I survived)

Multitasker?  I think not.

The castle was converted into a Parador hotel in 1963.  Parador builds hotels throughout Spain in buildings that have historic, artistic, or cultural significance.

Parador Alarcón Spain

Parador Alarcón Spain

We went inside the hotel for a coffee and tea, and then it was back to the road.  Next destination? I had no idea.