Monday, February 22, 2016

Una guiri Rubia

"Guiri" is a term used in Spain that means "foreigner." It usually refers to Anglo-saxon Europeans and their descendants. It is similar to the Mexican "gringo."
Everyone has biases. We make assumptions about people based on their looks and even on the clothes they wear. These are just a few of my personal experiences with people making guesses, largely based on what I was wearing at the time and the fact that I am a blond, as to where I am from.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Semana Santa y Pascua

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a week long national holiday in Spain. Students a free from school for as much as two weeks, depending on how the calendar falls, and businesses are closed for as many as four days in a single nine day period. Festivities start the Friday that comes a week before Easter and do not stop until Easter Sunday.

The highlights of the the celebrations are the processions. A series of parades with people dressed in the clothes of priests and monks while carrying wooden statues of events in the life of Jesus, per catholic biblical tradition. The most famed are those that take place in the Southern cities, especially Seville, where the procession participants carry the statues directly on their shoulders, carrying weight that can cause them to bleed. People walk together, crying. In the Northern half of Spain, people are a little less dramatic in their dedication to the tradition. However, they are as colorfully celebrated. I attended processions in Santander and Palencia.

 Many of the traditional clothes are startling and disturbing to anyone from the US, due to the resemblance to the racist group, the KKK. However, these hoods have a much older history and tradition than any group founded in the US. They are worn as a way to keep one's identity secret while giving penitence.

 The robes come in a variety of colors, which are associated with the particular procession taking place. Some people bear crosses, some bear flags, and others just walk, barefooted.

The statues on Holy Thursday in Palencia represent the eleven phases of the crucifixion, including everything from the last supper and the washing of the disciples' feet to the crucifixion itself and the tears of the Virgin Mary. 

Spanish Catholicism reveres the Virgin Mary as one of the most important biblical figures. Often art pieces and statues dedicated to her are the most gilded and elegant. In the processions of Holy Thursday, she was the climax point of the march, carried as the second to last figure, the largest carried statue in the whole batch. Fresh flowers surround the bejeweled, mourning mother. As this one passed our eyes, I listened to the crowd murmur about how beautiful she is.

Semana Santa is one of the most important celebrations in all of Spain, but brings interesting challenges for travelers. If you arrive by car, or even on foot, to a place where a procession is taking place, you may have to wait a full hour before you can pass. If you think you're going to eat out or do some shopping during these festivities, think again. Especially in smaller towns and cities, holidays mean that everything, except emergency services, closes. Most cities have mandatory closure of stores on national holidays, Sundays, and during lunch hours. Some restaurants and bars can be open, but many close voluntarily.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boys Will be Boys

 Like the common cold, there are certain games, hobbies, and products that catch on at elementary schools like a wild fire. Quickly spreading in Spain right now are these simple rubber-bands that the children weave into bracelets, necklaces, rings, and other objects. One of my 4th graders gave me this one. There is scarcely a child in the school that I haven't seen with a handful of rubber-bands or a bracelet made of them. It is like a rhyme or a song that students can't get out of their head, they chant it all day long, distracting them from class. With these, the kids in the back hide piles of rubber-bands under their desk as the deftly weave their little trinkets. Teachers chide "Not in class!" Students don't hear them. Or choose not to listen, at any rate. It is far worse, and far more distracting, than the forever hobbies like collecting football (soccer) cards or using jump-rope rhymes, because it is a fad.
What is most curious to me about this particular fad is that making craft-jewelry seems to the American mind incredibly feminine. And yet, there are at least as many boys with these as girls. It was a nine-year-old boy that gave me this one. One of my private students, a thirteen-year-old boy, also offered to make me one. The teachers say nothing about this curious situation, and I realize how biased my mind is towards what boys are 'supposed' to do as a hobby. There isn't even a major difference in color choices between girls and boys with their rubber-band jewelry. Although, a great deal more of the boys seem to pick colors based on a football team than do the girls.

Now, it is not to say that there are no differences between the boys and girls, especially in fashion. Although I suspect a great deal of parental influence in those aspects, because the older they are, the less difference there is among elementary students. Most girls in 1st and 2nd grade wear blouses, skirts, and tights with ballet flats or boots. Most boys wear jeans or trousers with a t-shirt and sneakers. In 3rd, 4th, and 5th, some girls wear skirts or dresses, but a good many wear track-suits or trousers with sneakers. In 6th, there is once again a strong difference, as the young ladies attempt to express their individuality and maturity. Puberty is a complicated age, after all. But, I have yet to see a boy in this school in a dress or skirt. Some gender barriers are still taboo to cross.

At the very least, adornments and accessories are no longer just for girls. The handful of boys at this school with ear piercings should be enough to show that, considering that many girls in Spain are given ear piercings at birth to help distinguish them from their male peers when dressed. I am curious to see the shifts in society as traditionally 'feminine' behavior and fashion becomes normalized for boys and men.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Feliz Navidad

On Friday we celebrated the beginning of Christmas break with an all day pageant that included performances from every grade, even the pre-schoolers, and some of the teachers.

The three year-olds danced to "Que lloverรก" "May it Rain" in rain boots and coats. The four year-olds sang and danced to a Spanish Christmas carol. The five year-olds sang a song about the vowels of the alphabet.

Our first graders sang "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" while wearing antlers and red paint on their noses.

"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and another Spanish carol were performed by the second graders, in mumbling, shy voices, and enthusiastic dancing.

The third graders danced to a rendition of "All I want for Christmas is You." They danced some and shouted out "baby" each time the end of the chorus came around. They also told a short story, with me reading in English and them translating to Spanish, about an elephant of different colors who showed the other elephants how to have fun.

Both fourth grade classes told short stories about friendship, sharing, and tolerance.
 In one group, they told a story about Aquarius the fish, who was a beautiful golden fish that all the others adored. When another fish asked for some of her golden scales, she told them no. Because she did not share, the other fish ignored her and did not adore her anymore. A wise crab told her that if she wanted to make friends, she should share her fortune with the others. She then gave away almost all of her golden scales to other fish. Once she was done, every fish, including Aquarius, had two golden scales. They were all happy and let her swim with them.
The second group told the story of Susan, a young girl confined to a wheel chair (yes, that is an office chair with hoola-hoops.) Each child had a piece of paper that read a difference activity, such as: play basketball, rap, beatbox, draw, and read. As each child's turn to speak came up, they and two others stood in the middle of the stage and the child would say "Susan likes to rap" or "she likes to play basketball," and then they would act out the hobby, either through miming or, in the case of the rapper and beatboxer, they gave us short performances. At the end, they introduced the girl in the wheel chair as Susan and explained that while she was different in some ways, she still liked to do the same things as any other child.

These two stories were my favorite of the day, as they had great morals for the kids, and the children did marvelous jobs telling them.

The fifth graders put on a short play, which one half of the children performed in English, and the other half performed in Spanish, that told the story of how Santa Clause is unhappy at Christmas because he has to work. In the end, the children invite him to have Christmas dinner with them, and give him a present.

The sixth graders performed "I'm going to be a mighty king" from "the Lion King" with marvelous costumes and flashy dance moves.

Their version of Zazu was quite beautiful, and performed elegantly by two of the girls. Each of the main characters was represented by two children, making a curious mirrored effect as they danced.

During the songs, some of the teachers waved pompoms to the beat. Everyone had a good time, but no one more so than the kids.

It was a wonderful experience, and I was happy to be a part of it in the small way that I was.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanks giving is not a holiday celebrated in Spain. It is, of course, a national US holiday, and is not recognized anywhere else. But, as a cultural and linguistic teaching assistant, I decided to show my students some of the things we do.

With the fifth graders, we held a little mock thanksgiving dinner. They were all asked to bring a snack to share, and we broke bread together.

 We gave each of the children a picture if a native American and a pilgrim to color and put in their notebook.
 Some kids brought homemade desserts, while others brought cookies or chips from the store. I gave the head teacher a recipe for apple pie, and we both brought our own versions.
 There were several homemade versions of Quesada, a sort of cheesecake.
 They were all excited to share and try all of the food, and when there was food leftover, they were happy to share it with other classes...
 Children from the first grade came to visit the class and try some of the snacks, taking part in our little holiday.
Teachers came by to take part as well. Later, before the end of class, some of the fifth graders took the snacks to the sixth graders across the hall.

I will take the end of this post to express my thankfulness to be a part of this program. On a personal level, it is allowing me to be close to loved ones that I would otherwise not be able to live near to. On an intellectual and growth level, I am learning things about myself, children, and people in general that I do not think could be learned in another social dynamic. Seeing the differences in ages, attitudes, and mental development is quite eye opening. It is humbling and enlightening to be among the clever little minds of youths, who are so unconstrained by adult realities and able to imagine things so far beyond what we know to be true as adults. But, I am frightened by the trust that these innocent minds place on the authority of adults. We know so little, yet they look at us for all of the answers.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Planning a Trip

My younger brother and my parents will be coming for Christmas. While I'm looking forward to spending time with all three of them, I am very excited about taking a trip with my bro and my SO.

We are going to take a road trip down to Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. It will be my first time in the South of Spain, and I am very excited to see the difference in culture and hear the difference in accents. I am told that there is a distinctive accent and in some cases even dialect in each city, town, and village in the south. My bro is excited about the mixture of architectural styles that come from the remainders of the Moorish reign and the Catholic Spanish reestablishment.

For the time being, we are still working out exact plans, and of course it is still more than a month away that we'll be taking the trip.

Traveling with people you know can be trickier than traveling with newer acquaintances and can cause rifts in relationships if you are not careful. It is important to take into account the needs, wants, and interests of everyone going on the trip.

I have found that is it easier to find common interests with people I barely know than with some people I have known all of my life. Last year, when I went to Italy with some other students, we were all content to go to the main tourist traps and marvel at the paintings and buildings. However, when I travel with my parents, their interests and choices of places to visit are far from what I would choose.
Now, planning a trip for myself, my boyfriend and my little brother, I find myself wondering if we will get along during an eight hour car ride, if we will enjoy each others' company as we visit ancient sites and buildings. Or, will we hate each other at the end because of the manufactured close proximity?

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Let's talk for a second about the Spanish school system.

From ages 6-16, an education is free and compulsory. Many schools offer a pre-school for ages 3-5, but parents have to pay a small amount. For students ages 16-18, there is a form of university preparatory education, offered at public secondary schools. Parents also have to pay a small sum for this. After this there are trade schools, universities, and so on, just as in the US. While in Palencia, I have the challenge and honor to assisting with English and bilingual classes at a public primary school.

To be completely forward and honest, I never had a primary or secondary school education. I did not go to grade school, middle school, or high-school. I was home-schooled up until I started college. And it was a very particular brand of homeschooling, which I refer to affectionately as 'unschool.' As an unschool student, I never had class time or a set time for studying or learning. My classmates were my brothers and sisters and we learned by living, by doing, by being little people in the world our parents had made for us. Our parents would read to us, helped us learn to write, and taught us basic mathematics. Beyond that, our education was entirely by osmosis. We made weekly sojourns to the library and had playdates with other unschool and homeschool families. We learned the subjects we chose through PBS and the books we read. Sometimes we took private classes on subjects that could not be learned through books alone, such as for music and language, but they were generally individual classes or small group sessions that took place on the weekend. In short, I was isolated from the reality of a public education.

To summarize my personal understanding of what a typical primary school child would be like, we have no further to look than the cartoons of the 90's that depicted school children in their daily lives. That is to say, my impression of what school children act like and learn like came from Arthur, the Magic School Bus, and Recess.
No, I never believed that public school children were aardvarks and rabbits (don't be silly), nor that children took field-trips every day and would shrink or turn into animals. But I admit most honestly that I assumed the children of 3rd Street School were an accurate portrayal of children aged 5 to 11. I assumed there would be little cliques and groups of children, that there would be a boys against girls attitude and a teachers against kids attitude. I figured that there would be children of all walks of life with home-life problems that would interfere with school work. I have been quite relieved and annoyed at times to find that all of this is true. And the older they get, the more problems there are. But I digress...

Let's get to some specifics about my kids.

At my school I am working with children as young as six and as old as twelve. The six age groups are divided into two groups each, making a total of 12 classes of about 12-18 children.

1st Graders
Sweet faced, full of energy, and slightly confused, these six year olds love to sing. In general, the only problem with these little ones is that they don't understand instructions given in English. Which, in part, is why I am here. I speak with them only in English and try to help them gleen accent and vocabulary from me. We'll see in time if I am making any significant differences.

2nd Graders
These curious seven year olds are anxious for class to end so they can play and frolic. Most especially one little girl. A precocious, bright child. Perhaps, I sometimes think, too bright. She never listens to the teachers. And when she does, she intentionally follows instructions incorrectly. My heart goes out to her, wishing she could be home-educated and given the freedom she needs to go at a faster pace as not to become bored with the tedious work of second grade.

3rd Graders
Eight is a wonderful age. I remember this age for myself with great fondness. I spend the most time with this age group, about an hour and a half with each of the two sections each week. The subject I attend is science. They are just like little sponges, soaking up all of the information we give them. Getting it back out, then, is the problem.

4th Graders
Excited and energetic, I am truly challenged to keep up with them. This group is particularly enthusiastic about learning, and are generally more attentive to the teacher than other groups. In one of the sections is a young boy with a learning impairment. But he is sweet, and the other children seem to accept him as one of their own. It is wonderful to see the caring acceptance that children show before they are corrupted by bias and the hateful realities of adulthood.

5th Graders
Perhaps the most enthusiastic class that I have  the pleasure of assisting with, these ten and eleven year olds are so attentive that I could spend an hour telling them about my socks and the majority of them would be asking me which pair was my favorite. This age group is of course on the edge of entering adolescence. This means that they are all quite curious about one particular thing with me. One of the first things they asked me was "Do you have a boyfriend?" There is one student in this group that concerns me. A pretty girl that seems to think an education is superfluous. She does not listen to me, the teacher, or even her classmates. This week, during my hour with her class, she spent the entire time chattering away with whoever was sitting next to her, ignoring everything that was said, as each person described his or her self. When it came to her turn, she could not even manage to say "I have brown hair and brown eyes" even though the exact phrase was said at least a dozen times by her peers. If it were not for moments like these, I would find this the most enjoyable job I have ever had.

6th Graders
Puberty is perhaps the most frustrating thing about group education. With so many things about their bodies changing, putting attention to the development of their minds is a struggle, even for the bright ones. I was a horrid tween, constantly causing problems and concerns for my parents, and so really cannot blame these twelve year olds for being so easily distracted. They are noisy, cannot follow instructions, and require me to repeat myself a lot. In class, they are a true challenge.

I find that adolescence is not a good time for group education. During the ages of 12 to about 18 there are too many awkward phases and the youths seem to have too much to prove when among their peers. I prefer to handle children of this age on an individual basis. Individual teens and tweens are manageable, intelligent, and interesting people. Sometimes you have to work for it, but one can draw out the amazing developing adult and see for oneself as their opinions of the world develop and form. But in a group, they are like an angry, confused stampede. Uncontrollable and unwilling to listen to reason.