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.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Forward Population of Palencia

Castille and Leon is the largest autonomous community in Spain in terms of geographic space. Land-locked, it is a dry region with hot summers and freezing winters. Rain, snow, and wind are rare occurrences in the local weather. Despite being such an enormous province, the population per square acre is very small.
Palencia is a small city, located nearly equal distances from Burgos and Valladolid, two other cities of the region.
I have been assigned to an elementary school on the southern side of the city as an English language assistant. I'll talk more about this job in another post. For now, we'll talk about the city.
 La Calle Mayor (Main Street) is filled with enchanting old buildings, with a shaded passage supported by pillars, to protect shoppers from the hot sun during the afternoon. In some places, through art and architecture, the old meets the new with traditional buildings and contemporary art.

  It is a beautiful place with a lot of gardens that are full of trees and grass, despite the low humidity.
A coworker told me that they say the people of Castille and Leon are like the weather here. They can be warm to you, or cold to you, but they will most certainly be dry. I am not sure yet how true that is, but in general I do not have issues with living among serious, dry, people. Thus far I have not found anyone particularly cold.

The Spanish in general are a very friendly people. They are open and good listeners, despite being VERY good talkers. And shouters. They are also good lookers. Not necessarily in the sense that they are pleasing to the eye (they are not displeasing, however they certainly don't look Hollywood), but certainly in the sense that they like to look. Spanish men, especially those of older generations, stare. Passing glances for a Spaniard feel like a long, awkward moment of checking-out a stranger to Americans. There is also a serious lack of personal space and boundaries, as compared to what an American is used to. Greetings and conversations with strangers and acquaintances are more intimate than those I have with my closest friends and family back home. My first day at the school, upon meeting one of the teachers, I was grabbed by the hand and pulled along like a child as she showed me around the school. Although it is just briefly on either cheek, I am kissed by more people in one day in Spain than in an entire year in the US.

Later in the week, I went to the train station but arrived too early, and found myself sitting and enjoying a park nearby. I sat down on a bench to read and was approached by an older gentleman who asked if I was passing the time by myself. I told him I was waiting on my train, and he said that I should wait for him on the bench, and he'd find out exactly when my train would leave. He came back to tell me I had an hour to wait. Then elected to sit beside me and tell me all kinds of things. I cannot say that Palencians are unkind in anyway, but they are more forward, perhaps, than other Spaniards that I know. He spent the better part of our talk flirting with me. He caressed my arm and recited a poem, and then confessed his undying love for me. Something that would paint him an audacious and disgusting old man in the US. In Spain, they might call him a 'viejo verde' or 'old green guy.' In all seriousness, I now feel the need to avoid the park side of the train station just to avoid him. Rana of course says that it is a simple fact of life in Spain, and I either need to get used to it, or be bold enough to tell off creepy old men.

Although it is a charming city, Palencia is not meant for heavy tourism. It would not be advisable for a tourist to go out of their way to stop in Palencia. But if one was taking a trip through the region, and needed a place to stop and stretch their legs, it is a good place for taking walks or having a refreshing drink. It has all of the basic living essentials, and even sports a bowling alley (a true rarity in Spain, and something I missed dearly last year).

I'm looking forward to sharing more experiences and photos with you all.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A New School Year, a New Adventure

I am very excited to announce that I will be returning to Spain in just ONE WEEK to be an assistant English teacher in a bilingual grade school!

The city I have been placed in is Palencia, a pleasant, land-locked, regional capital, near the top of the autonomous region of Castilla y Leon. Expect updates throughout the coming year as I explore the small city, surrounding areas, and beyond!
In the mean time, this coming week I am doing a road trip through Oregon, California, and Nevada with my parents and younger brother. It is essential to be aware that a global perspective includes one's own country and even one's own family. This will be my first trip to Nevada and I am looking forward to observing the regional differences between the three states as we make our way through.

There are so many wonders to see and think about.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

This odd turn of phrase is something you are told about over and over before going and before returning from a study abroad. I have been home for over one month now, and am not sure that I can say I've truly experienced it yet.

I would argue that culture shock itself is no that different from any social or life transition that we make. Your first day of school as a small child is, at the time, an enormous transition and causes many emotional upheavals. The same thing happens when we first move away from home, when a family member or friend passes away, or when we go on our first date. Clearly some transitions are more uprooting than others, but they all have a similar element.

What makes returning after being away so long so different is that all of those people that would have normally been a part of your transitions, have not been there. Things have not only changed dramatically for you, but also for everyone who once made up your previously much smaller world. The struggles you face are attempting to talk to a friend who you once could talk for hours with, and finding you have very little to say at all. Awkwardly you try to answer their questions about your adventures abroad, but find it is like telling your friend about a painting that you've seen. You can describe all that you want, but no one will ever understand the depth and wealth of Las Meninas without actually standing in the Prado and staring straight at it. So you describe and explain, and they smile and pretend to understand. Then you ask about their adventures over the year, and they cannot find anything to tell you. Although more than 365 days have gifted them with new knowledge, new experiences, new joys, and perhaps new sorrows, they can't find anything they want to tell you. I cannot see that in the span of one year so much could have changed for me, and so little for my friends.

For me, my transitions have been new almost once every four months. From January to April of 2012, I experienced Barcelona and being on my own for the first time. I spent time with a cluster of other students. I learned what it was like to go out to bars with other college students, how much fun it can be to dance at clubs, and how quickly a friendship can be forged with total strangers when you feel isolated.

From May until August I learned a whole other social aspect that perhaps I deprived myself from up to that point. For the first time in my life I let romance be a leading point for me. I also learned to swim fearlessly in the ocean, what it means to teach, and how much I could love British baked goods.

September until December was a time of struggle in a whole new way. I forced myself to speak in another language nearly ninety percent of the time. I discovered that helping someone else feel good was the fastest way to make myself feel good, that losing a pet hurts just as much if you haven't seen them in nine months as if you were holding them as they died.

In all, a year abroad is a year to grow, to learn, to experience and explore, to mourn, and to make friends.

Now that I am back on the other side, I already am making plans to leave again.
Perhaps that is the way in which reverse culture shock is effecting me. I do not feel a dislike for my own home, but I feel a strange homesickness for Spain and Europe.