Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Here are some photos of my apartment! It's a great little place, except for the cockroaches. I'll write another post updating you on that...

Our little street!

View of the street from the terrace

Our little kitchen

The living/dining room

My closet and the door leading to the terrace

My bed

My desk and shelves

Hasta pronto,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More or Less

Every Spaniard that is learning English seems to use the phrase ‘more or less’ like it’s their job. Now I’ve caught myself using it. I keep picking up on the various expressions they use. The thoughts in my head are in English, but in a Spanish accent. I’m going crazy! Since they learn British English they obviously use British expressions and words. I’ve been surprised with some of the expressions and pronunciations. The thing I’ve been most surprised about is the fact that I’m not already familiar with these sayings, etc. For instance, the British say zed for the letter z. The first time I heard that I had no clue what was going on. Another funny thing about letters is how they try to remember them phonetically. In Spanish our English letter “g” is phonetically spelled like “dzi.” That really threw me off. I can’t look at how they write the letters phonetically because it just confuses me. Then there are the familiar differences between British and American English like pants vs. trousers, gym shoes vs. trainers, etc. I still have a hard time remembering the British words. Not that the kids understand anything I say to begin with.

Speaking of not understanding what I’m saying Antonio and Antonia came over last night to try and fix my blinds. They’re the typical Spanish blinds that block out light. Unfortunately, mine broke in the down position. Most homes here are built to get a lot of natural light, because electricity is so expensive. It’s been a week now that my blinds have been broken and I’ve been forced to use my overhead light. Last night they still couldn’t completely fix them, but at least it’s three quarters of the way up so I don’t need to use my overhead light all of the time. Yesterday it was getting late so I asked them if they wanted to stay for dinner. They accepted, but only after asking what we were making. We had decided on stir-fry earlier in the day, so making enough for two more wasn’t a big deal. I’m not sure how much they liked it though. While I enjoyed most of the food Antonia cooked, I had to laugh because now it was their turn to try something new. Antonio looked like he was going to throw up most of the meal. Briana and I, however, thought it was a job well done.

When we were at Antonia’s house last week Antonio asked how to say buenas noches (good evening.) He had a really hard time with the pronunciation, so every time I see him I test him on it. I kept saying it really slowly and breaking it up by syllable. Guh-oud. He just kept saying gou-eff. Then last night he was telling me I was saying goor. I politely responded by saying that I am the one who speaks English and that I know how to say it. He didn’t have as much of a problem pronouncing it after both Carmen and Antonia said it. I’ll never understand that. The same thing happens in class. I’ll say something and I get 20 blank stares from the students. The teacher will repeat exactly what I said in English and all of the students are like ayyy vale, vale. (Ohhh, ok, ok) I guess I’m just going to have to keep quizzing Antonio.

Last week when we were over at Antonia’s Antonio asked who was going to wash the dishes. He still tries to get out of it every night. You’d think he’d be used to it by now. We decided we’d flip a coin. In Spanish he quickly said, “heads I win, cross you lose.” He flipped it and it landed on the cross so he said I lost. I thought about it for a minute and realized what he’d said. It had even passed by Antonia. Regardless, Antonio ended up doing the dishes.

Our neighborhood is starting to feel a little more like home. We even stumped the fruit guy who was messing with us last week! We were out doing our grocery shopping and like we usually do, we left it until the last minute. It was a Saturday, right before siesta. Many store don’t bother opening after siesta on Saturday and then they’re closed Sunday, too. We wanted to make sure we had enough time to go to the grocery store and to the fruit stand so we asked the fruit guy what time his store closed. He said, “uhh…two..uhhh..ay, dos y media.” (2:30) Maybe that will teach him to stick to Spanish. It’s just frustrating that everyone wants to speak in English. Especially since we’re here to learn Spanish. Either way, his answer meant we had enough time to go to both places. Point being, we’ve established a relationship with him. Every morning when I walk to school I say hello. He told us that he’s also from America, but South America. Argentina to be exact.

I’ve also started to look for Enrique every time I walk by his block. He’s the homeless man that lives a block away. I’m not sure what his real name is, but Briana and I named him Enrique. He’s always on a different corner and typically takes over. He’s recently accumulated a ton of new furniture. Yesterday he even was wearing a cowboy hat. Pretty nifty. He’s a couple fries short of a happy meal and often talks with people from the neighborhood…and to himself. I can’t understand his garble so I never know if he’s talking to me or just to himself. I think I’m going to continue to monitor Enrique from a distance. Another neighborhood character is the guy who lives in the building across from us. Our living room looks directly into his office. He is always there. I really mean always. There have been about 5 times when I’ve looked across the way and he’s not there. He’s there when I wake up, at lunch, when I go to bed…All. Of. The. Time. We have no clue what he does, but clearly it involves him working long hours. The internet network we’re “borrowing” from our neighbor is named Thomson, so we’ve deemed the man across the way who never sleeps Thomson. Oh and by the way, thanks for the internet, Thomson.

Since my last post I’ve started several new clases particulares (English lessons.) I meet with a girl from one of my classes at school once a week. I started that last week and it went really well. This week I started with two new families. For one of them I’ll be meeting with one of the daughters twice a week and the son once a week. I was pretty nervous about going to this clase particular because I didn’t know the family and it was pretty random how I got connected with them. I gave Briana all of their contact information before leaving and told her I’d call her as soon as I got out. While I think it was important for me to have my guard up, it made me realize a big difference between Americans and Spaniards. We are bred to have our guard up. Spaniards on the other hand tend to trust you until you do something to break it. Fortunately, everything went very well. Turns out they live in this beautiful 4-story mansion. I wish it would be appropriate to take pictures of this house. It was amazing. The last class I currently have set up is with a mother and son. They even came to my apartment! Not only did I not have to go anywhere, but I also am able to charge more since it’s two people. Cha-ching! I’m still hoping to set up a few more lessons. With all of the traveling I’d like to do I might have to set up more than a few more. I’m also really hoping to buy a traditional flamenco dress for fería, a festival in May. You only live once, right? Goodness knows if I’ll ever be back here again, so I might as well take advantage of it. As the Spaniards say, aprovecha!

One thing I don’t want to aprovechar is the cockroach situation in our bathroom. The song La Cucaracha has never been more appropriate. Saturday night I heard a startling scream coming from the bathroom. Briana ran out and into her room to grab her gym shoes to use as gloves/cockroach swatters. I joined in suit with appropriate cockroach killing foot attire. Briana described the cockroach as the biggest cockroach she had ever seen and said it was the size of her palm. Yeahhh, I wasn’t about to hang out in the bathroom after hearing that. We searched everywhere for it and couldn’t find it. Since then I’ve been sure to wear shoes in the bathroom. Tonight a similar scream came from the bathroom. This time from Carmen. The cockroach resurfaced. Apparently they’re climbing out from a crack between the bathtub and the tile surrounding it. These cockroach scares conveniently seem to come right before I’m about to shower. Today, I had to grin and bare it. Luckily it didn’t join me in the tub. Tomorrow we’re off to find cockroach repellent and we’ll need some suerte (luck.) I still don’t know where to buy a god damn thing in this country. I am, however, looking forward to a full day of singing La Cucaracha.

Hasta pronto,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trying to Adapt

This week there’s a lot of progress to report. I joined a health club and it’s only about five minutes away on foot. It also happens to be the nicest club in town. They have so many different class options—it’s great. Last Friday we tried a class called G.A.P., which is equivalent to glutes, abs and thighs. It was quite the challenge and my muscles are still feeling it today. Last week I also scheduled my first clase particular (English lesson) with a girl who is in one of my classes at school. We’re meeting on Wednesday and I’m not exactly sure how I should go about preparing for it.

There are two ways I’m familiar with that native English speakers, namely Americans, can teach in public schools in Spain. One is working directly with the Spanish government and the other is going through CIEE. CIEE is the study abroad organization I was on the first time I was here. Using them gives you the ability to preference your top location choices. Since I was only willing to come and teach here in Sevilla I thought it made most sense to go through them. The other American girl at my school is working directly with the Spanish government. Renee, the woman who was in her place last year, had actually been at the school for three years. After three years the government won’t allow you to continue teaching in that capacity so she was forced to leave. Renee is still living in Sevilla and recently got a job at a cultural center. I met with her last week to learn a little more about clases particulares. She gave me some great ideas of what I can be teaching the kids. I should probably look through that material so I have something prepared for my first meeting with Rocío. The problem is I don’t know what level she’s at or even what she needs help with. Hopefully, a getting to know you session will be appropriate, especially since we don’t have school tomorrow so I can’t ask her teacher and because I’m not sure what time I’ll be getting there on Wednesday. I have my appointment to apply for my tarjeta de residencia (residency card) on Wednesday and I don’t know how long that is going to take. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will leave my enough time to make it to school and ask María Jóse what I should be working on. Vamos a ver (we’ll see.)

Friday night Briana and I headed to the centro to meet with some other girls in our program for dinner. We stumbled upon a yummy little Italian place. I’ve already had enough Spanish food…this could be a problem. We met at 9:30, sat down for dinner at about 10:00 and didn’t leave until we closed the place up after midnight. Much to our chagrin, the weather gods were not in our favor, which made us all decide to go home. After some confusion about whether or not there was a taxi line and sopping wet clothes we made it into a cab. Saturday was a relaxing day and I really didn’t do much of anything. On Sunday we went over to Antonia’s and she showed us how to make lentejas (a lentil stew.) It was one of my favorite dishes when I was living with her. I’m looking forward to mastering it on my own so I can make it at my apartment and also when I get home.

Everyone seems to use ollas rápidas (fast cooking pots) here. I’ve never seen them before, so I don’t know if they even exist at home. Basically, it has a lid that seals the pot shut and drastically helps speed up the cooking process. Normally what would take four hours to cook only takes 30 minutes. If these magic pots don’t exist at home I might need to buy one here and send it home with the rents.

After lunch at Antonia’s, Briana, Antonia, Antonio and I played a fun card game called mentiroso (liar.) Antonio was far too good at the game. He was putting his primo bullshitting skills to use. After mentiroso we played Parcheesi. I’ve never played it at home, so I don’t know if it was the same game. Either way, it was a lot of fun. Before we knew it, it was already 8pm so we decided to head home.

This morning we woke up bright and early, by my standards at least, and went to Sato Sport (our new health club.) After some cardio we decided we’d try out a Sevillanas class. Sevillanas is a very typical dance. For someone who doesn’t know a lot about dance, I’d describe it as an easier version of flamenco. We had been told it was just basic, intro classes so we thought we’d fit in. Wrong. Before the class even began we knew we were in trouble. Several of the women were wearing dancing shoes. We stood in the back, hoping we wouldn’t be noticed. Wrong again. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that embarrassed. I had absolutely no clue what we were doing. To make matters worse the dance would often switch directions leaving Briana and me at the front of the class. That was when several other participants noticed our subpar skills and told us we should move to see the teacher better. I’m afraid my sightlines weren’t exactly the problem. It had more to do with being born with two left feet and the class going waaaay too fast. There were even several times when we had to pair up with partners. Oh goodness. I would try and look at the person to my right and just mimic their steps. Let’s just say I need to find a dance studio with a beginner’s level class before I step back into the Sato studio. I might ask Carmen or Antonia to show me the basic steps even before going to dance lessons.

Yesterday we were reading the CIEE handbook they gave us from when we studied abroad. They classified culture shock in four stages. The first being the honeymoon stage, the second is hostility, the third is humor and the forth is the home stage. There is no doubt that when I was here last time I was in the honeymoon stage the entire time. This time around both Briana and I decided we’re more in the hostility stage. This is when you’re really exposed to the culture and forced to adapt to it. We’re no longer living in our fantasy study abroad worlds when our host moms do all of the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. Now it’s our turn to be adults. It’s not that I’m not ready for that, but being a grownup at home is kind of different than here. I’ve faced far greater challenges here. Aside from the language barrier there are many other cultures barriers and differences that I didn’t notice the first time. This year we’re going to have to try and figure them out to help ourselves adjust. I’m very happy to be here. There’s nothing at home I’d rather be doing, but at the same time it’s been kind of difficult to adjust. I realize this is to be expected and I’m hoping we’ll move in the humor stage soon. I also find it somewhat comforting that many of the kids in our program seem to feel the same as we do.

Here’s an example of why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling. After going to the grocery and bread stores this morning, we stopped at the fruit and vegetable stand to make some additional purchases. It makes more sense to do it like that because the grocery stores simply don’t have as many options as the fruit/veggie stands and also the stands are significantly cheaper. So Briana and I walked up to the fruit stand. When I went last week I asked if I had to buy things by the kilo or if I could ask for a certain amount. He told me I could do whatever my little heart desired. Naturally, I thought it made more sense to ask for a certain amount of onions rather than buying an entire kilo. Frankly, I don’t even know what a kilo weighs so I could have ended up with half an onion or about 40. I figured since last time he told me I could do whatever I wanted, I’d try the same today. We walked up and I asked for 5 onions, 3 tomatoes (although we got 6. I guess tres and seis sound alike when coming from an American’s mouth), 2 peppers, 1 custard apple and 4 carrots. The storeowner and his other patrons seemed to find this very funny. I quickly learned the norm is to order by the kilo. I guess the choice is mine; I can continue to be made fun of and get the exact amount I need, or succumb to the Spanish way of life and guesstimate. For now, I think I’m going to continue to do it my way. They’ll just have to deal with it. ☺

Last week I signed up for a costume jewelry making class with Antonia. It starts in a few weeks and I’m really looking forward to it. It meets Mondays from 5:00-8:00. It’s through the Junta (government) and it was pretty cheap considering it begins in two weeks and goes all the way through May. I hope I’ll be able to meet some other people in the class and I’m also looking forward to spending the time with Antonia. Briana is taking an embroidery class. I think that sounds really interesting, too. Hopefully she can teach me how to do it at home.

At the moment I’m just trying to kill the time. The internet we’re “borrowing” from our neighbors isn’t working. This seems to happen daily, however today it’s a little earlier and a little longer than normal. Briana showered 45 minutes ago, but the light is still on indicating the water is still heating up. I guess I have to wait a little longer to shower myself. Distracting myself in the third book of “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” series doesn’t sound too bad.

Hasta pronto,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Time is it? My name is Mary.

Tonight I’m feeling very Spanish. I went over to Antonia’s house at 6:00pm for our first English lesson. We had a slight communication error. I went to Antonia’s house and she came to mine. Quickly 6:00pm turned into 9:00pm and 9:00pm into let’s go get a cervecita (beer.) I agreed and Antonia, Antonio (Antonia’s boyfriend) and I were off to a restaurant just down the street from my house. It was lovely. We sat outside and enjoyed the outdoors. A cervecita quickly turned into dinner. It’s now 11:45 and I’m just getting home. It was a fun night.

On Sunday Briana and I traversed the city, not entirely by choice. We were in search of El Mercadillo, an outdoor market Briana had gone to with her señora when we were studying abroad. It wasn’t exactly where she remembered, or perhaps it moved. We asked several people for directions when we thought we were getting close. Two women pointed us in the right direction and said it was at least a 20-minute walk from where we were. This was after already walking for an hour. After about an hour and a half we found the Mercadillo! It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Scratch that. It wasn’t what I was expecting in the least. I was thinking along the lines of a Florida flea market. Boy was I off. Just to get there we literally walked through piles of garbage. Maybe we should have seen that as a sign.

I have never seen so much junk in my life. Picture the dirtiest place you’ve ever been and multiple the filth by 5. As we were walking in there was a man walking in the opposite direction carrying a tiny little puppy. I jokingly asked Briana if he bought it there. Turns out he did. The Mercadillo is set up like a flea market in the sense that there are booths with individual vendors. Booths may not be the appropriate word considering most of the vendors simply laid their belongings on the dirt floor. Items ranged from old, dirty tools to saddles to puppies to birds to antiques to used clothing. The list goes on and on. I completely understand why someone would want to buy something used, but there was absolutely nothing there that I could understand purchasing. The condition of the items were laughable. I brought my camera, but I was too nervous to take it out of my bag to take photos. This place was a dump.

Walking through only a small section of the Mercadillo was more than enough. After this little adventure we went to Antonia’s house for lunch. She taught us how to make soup. Delicioso! Now we just have to try it at home. Sunday was the first time I saw Antonio since I’ve been here. Let’s just say nothing has changed. He was still trying to tell me about Chicago’s history. Perhaps buying that book about Chicago for them was a bad idea. I’d have to give it a read myself, but I’m pretty sure he was getting some of the information wrong. We spent most of the afternoon there and returned home only when we couldn’t stay awake any longer and needed to take naps. It’s a tough life.

Tuesday was my first day of school. Por dios. I don’t know if it was just cause it was my first day or if the classes I have on Tuesdays are with the “troubled” kids, but when I left Tuesday I didn’t think I was going to make it through the week. I introduced myself to several of the teachers. I said I was from Chicago and one of them made a gun hand gesture and said, “bang, bang, bang.” After I realized what was going on and what she was referring to I laughed. It often takes me a little while to understand what’s going on. When someone speaks in Spanish I have to absorb and process it. When a Spaniard speaks in English I have to try and decode what they’re saying. I feel like I’m in a weird place between both languages. I find myself tripping up on simple sayings or words in English. Trying to process both languages at once proves to be challenging.

The day started out with a bit of rude awakening. A siren resembling a tornado siren sounded. I had no clue what to do. They have tornadoes in Sevilla? I thought to myself. I still don’t know the answer to that. Turns out the tornado siren was just the class bell. It might as well have been a tornado siren signaling the chaos that was about to begin in my classes.

Carmen has been telling me and Briana that education in Spain is “shit.” I now understand what she meant. From what I’ve seen, the blame isn’t completely on the teachers. I think it stems from the homes. These kids were out of control. It’s hard for me to remember back to elementary school, especially the early years, but I don’t remember any of my classes ever being similar to the chaos I experienced on Tuesday. The kids stood and talked the entire class. They wouldn’t listen to the teachers when they were told to sit down or be quiet. It was a shit show. Also, it is important to note that ADD and ADHD are not diagnosed conditions in Spain. The teachers explain the hyperactive kids as nervous. That seems to be how it’s explained everywhere. Briana said that the teachers in her school said the same thing. While every kid obviously does not have ADD/ADHD, those that do aren’t really getting help for it, or the learning disabilities that are often associated with it. I guess this school, or maybe even all of Spain, isn’t equip to deal with students with special needs. It’s really sad. Yesterday I left the school feeling defeated. Today, however, was much better. The kids were calm, sat down and listened most of the class. Hopefully it will get better day-by-day. As for now, I don’t think being a teacher is in my future.

So far the kids haven’t had any funny mistakes. There was one kid that said he was wearing pizza, but that’s the only slip up I’ve heard. Frankly, I’ve been a little surprised with the English skills, or lack thereof. Maybe they just need to get used to my accent. While I haven’t heard any slip ups from the kids, there is a TV show that demonstrated what I was expecting. The show is really popular with kids my age. In this particular episode 3 of the characters are learning English. One asked to be quizzed, so the guy she was talking to asked, “what time is it?” she replied with “my name is Mary.” Hopefully I’m not doing the same in Spanish!

Here’s another clip from the show.
This is kind of how my classes have been going so far.

Bueno, there’s hope for next week. Tuesday is a holiday so I don’t have to go in until Wednesday! Thank the lord for small favors.

Hasta pronto,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Back home Sevilla

There is really something to be said about the Spanish lifestyle.

After what seemed like forever, I’ve finally arrived in Spain. Getting here and orientation (if you can even call it that) was a whirlwind. I arrived Monday morning, took the shuttle provided by my program to the hotel and started to absorb the fact that I’m finally back in Sevilla.

I tried to call Antonia (my host mom) and Carmen (my Spanish roommate and former speaking partner,) but to no avail. Briana and I decided we’d try and get settled. Getting settled involved a trip to Vodafone to reactivate our Spanish cell phones. After hours of waiting we found out it was cheaper just to buy new ones. Es la vida española. (That’s the Spanish way for ya.) After getting back to the hotel I found out my new móvil (cellphone) didn’t even work. Oops. We were able to get in touch with Antonia using Briana’s functioning phone. She was a dear and had us over for lunch. It was strange to be back at my old homestay. Nothing, but also everything had changed. I was comforted by the fact that the man who cleans the building recognized me. It made me like it was just yesterday that I left. After lunch Antonia drove us to the hotel to pick up our bags. Bags might be an understatement. Perhaps, enormous, overweight suitcases would be more appropriate. Briana had to sit on my lap so we could squeeze them all in the car.

We were off to our new apartment! It’s really great. We still stayed at the hotel Monday and Tuesday nights, but we wanted to bring our bags over here for safekeeping. I’ll have to take some photos of our piso (apartment) to post. It’s a quaint little 4 bedroom, 1 bathroom place. There are only three of us so we even have a guest bedroom. My room also has a pull out bed. I’m itching for visitors, so please come and visit!

Orientation wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, it was much shorter and less informative. I was expecting a similar hand holding experience from study abroad. I quickly realized this is not study abroad. While CIEE is there to help during emergencies I am really here on my own. That being the case, it’s so comforting to have Antonia, my second mother here. And Carmen and Briana, of course.

Orientation ended Wednesday, which was also conveniently the day of a nation wide strike. Students traveling to other cities had the option to leave Tuesday or wait until Thursday. I don’t know the full extent of it, but many businesses and some of the universities were closed. What affected most people was public transportation, which was pretty much stopped. Thank goodness our apartment is relatively close to the hotel because we had to walk with our giant backpacks. It was great to move into the apartment and to see Carmen. We drew straws for rooms and began to unpack. Well, not really. I just moved my bags into my room and thought about unpacking. Carmen made us lunch and then I took a nice little three hour nap. I’m fully embracing the siesta. When in Spain, right? Carmen also made us dinner that night. She’s a doll. And hell, I don’t mind being cooked for. I struggled at home and now we don’t even have an oven, so I’m kind of lost.

Thursday was even less productive than Wednesday. I wouldn’t have thought it could be possible. I did unpack though. It feels great being in my own space. My goodness, I have my own Spanish apartment. Unbelievable. Briana’s back was hurting thanks to the strike and having to walk 30 minutes across town with our heavy backpacks. That meant I was on my own. Sadly, I didn’t seize the opportunity to explore. I walked to my school for a test run. I thought I knew how to get there and I didn’t want to take my map out. Well, I was wrong. Ended up having to take the map out, ask a few people for directions and walk like an embarrassed American tourist. I followed the map so I could go home in a more direct manner. My school is only about 10-15 minutes away. I really lucked out. With everything.

I didn’t leave the house again until 9:30 when we headed to Los Coloniales for dinner. It’s a famous tapas bar that I never ventured to last time. It was my first time since being here that I saw el centro. We walked past our old school. All of it brought back a lot of memories. My breath was taken away yet again by La Giralda. It’s even more beautiful than I remembered. The tapas were great. Now my stomach just needs to get used to this type of food. Ay, dios mios.

Today I went to my school for the first time. I think I’m really going to like it. I met with Olga, the bilingual coordinator, and Jan, another American girl teaching there. I got my schedule, which completely rocks. I teach Tuesday-Thursday from 9:00am-1:15pm. Did I mention I love my Spanish life?

Today I have to be more productive. My goals are to print out flyers advertising English lessons, look at some gyms and do some errands. Tonight Carmen invited us to go out with her friends. We’re going to go to a local pizzeria and then out to the discotecas (clubs.) I’m looking so forward to seeing Rocío. She was my other speaking partner and is Carmen’s friends. I also can’t wait to meet their other friends. Hopefully, we can speak more Spanish than English. It’s always difficult because they often want to practice their English with us while we want to practice our Spanish. I guess it’s a good dilemma to have.

All in all, I am so happy to be back here. Minus the food, I really do love this country. Sevilla is such a special place.

Besitos a todos.

Hasta pronto,