Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Leaving Spain

Right now, I am sitting in the Madrid airport waiting for my flight to Philadelphia. I can’t believe my European adventure is coming to end. It seems like I just arrived in Spain. Lately, I have been spending a lot of time saying goodbye to other fulbrighters, and it feels like the beginning again when we would hang out in big groups and explore the city together. I still remember living in the residencia and having to do the housing search. Yesterday, I had a déjà vu moment. I had to go to the atm to take out money for a cab ride to the airport and the first Citibank I went to had the door to the atm vestibule locked. It wasn’t that I needed to insert my atm card in order to get in but the door was physically locked. I couldn’t believe it, so I went to another Citibank and luckily that one had the vestibule open so I could take out money. However, I feel this is a fitting way to end my time in Spain, being frustrated with banking.
These last few days I have been feeling a mix of emotions which I guess is normal. I am sad to be leaving Spain, my apartment, way of life, and all the amazing people I have met, but I also quite excited to see friends from college and be back at home. I have two weeks to adjust to life back in the United States before I begin TFA. Lately, I have been on the TFA website a lot and I am getting super excited. I am still waiting on an actual placement and I would really like to know whether I am teaching middle school or elementary but I am trying to adopt the Spanish way of life and realize everything will work out and that I will get a job eventually.
As I look back on year, my memories are filled with tons of amazing events, people I have met, and funny/awkward experiences. Here is a summary of the highlights and things that stick out in my mind.
• Running around Madrid, having to go to five different citibanks in order to open my account and take out enough money to pay my landlord
• Hosting a huge thanksgiving dinner for about 35 fulbrighters in our apartment, not to mention plucking the feathers out of the turkey
• Organizing prom for my students. The concept of a long dress has not hit my students yet. In their minds the shorter, the tighter the better.
• Giving my students peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and having them actually like it
• Seeing a double rainbow outside my kitchen window the day before I left
• Hiding my purse under my jacket in order to avoid the ryanair checkin fees
• Having my students confuse the word sheet and shit and having to explain the difference
• Hiking in Cinque Terre along the Mediterranean
• Seeing my students compete in the Model UN conference and having them win top honors
• Stumbling upon an 80% off Salvador Bachiller outlet sale, ie running around the entire store and grabbing every purse in sight and figuring out after the fact if I even like it
• Having it be sunny until 10 pm in the springtime
• Taking my parents to my favorite Chinese restaurant which is located in parking garage
• Receiving the sweetest goodbye cards from my students and getting a standing ovation as I left the classroom
• Taking a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi with my mom clutching onto me for dear life
• Seeing my landlady trying to unclog our sink after pouring four bottles of drain-o down the sink by using a coat hanger and plunger (she was unsuccessful and finally agreed to call a plumber)
• Spending the weekends in the park reading, relaxing, and napping
• Staying up all night to watch the presidential election results

Friday, May 22, 2009


Prom was a huge success. I could not have hoped for the night to go any better. We had 220 students out of a possible 300 students come to the event. Parents and Fulbright grantees helped pass out boutonnières and corsages as the students arrived. We found a florist in Spain who caters to the American international schools in Madrid who was able to make the corsages and boutonnières, and surprisingly they were really cheap. We only paid 30 cents for each boutonniere and 1.10 euro for the corsages.

This way all the students got a souvenir from the dance.
At the dance, the teacher seemed to have as much fun as the students. They were dancing to all the songs, and in a way it was their prom as well. Their main focus was not chaperoning the students but rather to have a good time, and luckily the students behaved themselves and there were no major problems. One thing I really enjoyed about the prom was seeing the teachers dancing with the students. This was not awkward. It just seemed so natural. I could never imagine teachers in the states dancing at a high school prom.

In addition to the teachers dancing, there was a couple of other only in Spain moments.
The prom was held on a Thursday night from 7 -10 pm, and we did not serve dinner. There were snacks but the students were sent home to eat after the dance.
The students were allowed to leave the dance area and go off the school grounds in order to SMOKE. My school really enforces the no smoking on school grounds rule but you have to be 18 to buy cigarettes and none of the students in attendance were 18 years old.
We used sheets to decorate a photo booth area, and our principal who really got involved in the event offered to do the ironing of the sheets in her office. What American principal would be this hands on? She also stayed to help set up and clean up!
We served some snacks and drinks including non-alcoholic beer.

One of the best parts of the dance was that a really nice but punk and alternative girl won prom queen. She came to the dance with a bandanna wrapped around her head.
I got to relive the music of my middle school days. The dj played a mix of Spanish and American music including grease lightning, ymca, wannabe by the Spice girls, and So Kiss Me. The only thing that was missing was some backstreet boys or nsync.

While the dance definitely had a Spanish flair, there were still some classic prom moments.
My friends and I started taking joking pictures with us the standard prom poses by the photo area such as the guy hugging the girl from behind and then the students started imitating us.
I witnessed one break up complete with tears, a girl storming away from a boy, and the boy throwing the corsage at her. I found the event hilarious now that I can appreciate how dramatic high students are.
The girls wore high heals and their feet were aching by the end of the dance.
The prom king and queen shared a dance.

Picture of the principal grabbing a student and dancing with him.

The next day at school, the teachers were more excited about prom than the students. In the teachers’ room, everyone was comparing photos and commenting on the clothing. They are already talking about prom for next year which means Jim and I did a good job. I am so happy the event was a success and we were able to expose the students to a fun part of American culture.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Prom Preparation

Prom preparation at San Juan Bautista is in full swing. Next Thursday we will be holding prom. Out of a possible 300 students, 212 have bought tickets! I am really happy with the turn out considering about a month ago my students had never heard about prom. In order to get the school excited for prom, Jim and I gave “All About Prom” presentations to all the English classes. Some of the serious questions the students asked were whether beer would be served at the prom (the drinking age is 18 and the students are 15, 16, and 17 years old), how short could the dresses be, do I have to have a date, and why is the prom on a Thursday. I responded to the students no alcohol would be served at the dance, your dress does not need to be ankle length but must adequately cover your body while you are dancing, you do not need a date, and Rosa, principal of the school, chose the date because she didn’t think teachers would come if it were on a weekend.
This past week we have voted on the prom court and king and queen. When asked what the criteria was, the first thing that came to mind was popularity. Clearly, this is not the message we wanted to send, so Jim and I decided to tell the students it was based on leadership, dedication to the school, and someone who you would want to represent the school. After the prom king and queen are announced, the king and queen will share one dance. We asked the court to select a slow song, and get this they picked the Titanic song (My Heart will go on by Celine Dion). I truly feel like I am back in middle school reliving the awkward school dances. I am expecting a lot of cologne from the boys, girls going to the bathroom every five minutes to fix their makeup, awkward slow dances, and tons of laughs.
The prom will be held this Thursday, from 7 – 10 pm in the outside patio of the school. One thing we did not take into account is that it is going to be light out the entire dance. I guess that means the dancing will be a little tamer. Another only in Spain thing is that the students are going to go home and eat dinner after the dance. We are serving snacks but only in Spain can you get away without serving dinner for an event scheduled from 7-10 pm. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the weather stays nice and we do not have any rain otherwise the dance will be moved inside.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Leaving Spain in Less than 1 Month

It seems like yesterday that I arrived in Madrid daunted by the fact that I would be living here for the next nine months. The time has truly flown by which I guess is a sign that I have had a good time.

Since my computer died, I have not been blogging and I thought about recapping the past two months but that just seems to daunting, so I decided to just start up with I feel right now. One of my roommates is leaving in about 1 week and I am leaving in four weeks, so lately I have been thinking a lot about going home and what lays ahead. Here is a running list I have compiled of things that I will miss and things that I am looking forward to at home. I am sure the list will grow as I spend more time thinking about it, but these are the obvious things that came to mind.

Things I Will Miss About Spain

• All the plazas and cafeterias where one can order a coffee or cheap glass of beer or wine
• All the fountains, arches, roundabouts
• Being able to walk or take the metro everywhere I need to go
• Having a grocery store less than a minute away
• Three day weekends
• Having sunlight until close to 10 pm
• Cheap produce, 1 kilo of strawberries only costs 2 euros (ie 2.2 lbs of strawberries for about $2.50)
• Being able to travel on the weekends and find really cheap flights. So far the best deal I have received was 30 euros with all the fees included on a roundtrip flight from Madrid to Porto, Portugal
• All the amazing fulbrighters. Everyone has such an interesting story and background. It truly is an amazing group of people
• Going to retiro park on Sunday and having no homework to complete over the weekend
• Not watching tv, This year we barely have a functioning tv, and it has been nice to take a break from tv. However, my guess is that once I am home I will get back into my old habits
• My roommates and my apartment. For my first apartment out of college, I feel totally blessed. I have a great place with lots of light, plenty of space to entertain, and quirky oven that keeps things interesting.
• The fresh squeezed orange juice that my school serves. It is delicious.

Things that I am looking forward to
• Having a dryer so that my jeans are no longer stretched out
• Eating dinner around 7pm instead of 9 or 10 pm
• Being able to go non-smoking restaurants, sporting events, concerts
• Eating bagels, and good Mexican and Japanese food
• Seeing my cat
• Having a bank that is open past 2 pm and that has hours on Saturday

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

new post coming

About a month ago my computer died but I have a new (well new to me, actually very old) computer and will start posting shortly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Global Classrooms Follow Up

After the global classrooms conference, Jim and I gave our students questionnaires regarding their preparation, the conference, and their thoughts on global classrooms. I have copied some of the quotes the students wrote because they really moved me and illustrated the importance and effectiveness of the program.

One girl wrote, “I think it was a good opportunity to learn new things and to learn how to listen to different points of view.” Another student said that “we learned how to speak and reach agreements with other delegates.”

One of the most poignant comments came from a girl who participated in the conference for her second time. She wrote “what I had learnt this year is the huge problem of disease in all societies and the main that I’d learnt is that what seems to affect only specific people at the end you realize that the problem is also affecting you some way.”

If only we could all realize how interconnected we are and that we have a responsibility to help all people around the world. I am now a firm believer in Model UN and global classrooms because it makes the students think critically, learn to respect others’ ideas, use English in a useful manner, and teaches them public speaking.

Based on the success of global classrooms, the secondary Fulbrights in Madrid are starting to organize fundraising efforts with our students related to the conference topic of malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Most of our students are really interested in the topic and we did not want their enthusiasm to go to waste. We have decided to support an organization called Nothing But Nets ( which is an organization dedicated to providing bed nets to people in Africa. One bed net only costs $10, so even if each school only raises a little money students will be able to see direct results related to their hard work. Currently, we are thinking of organizing a basketball tournament between the ten schools and selling tickets to the parents. In addition, if our school makes a profit off of the prom we are throwing, the proceeds would also go to support Nothing But Nets. However, we are very open to fundraising ideas so if you can think of anything let me know.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Model United Nations

On Wednesday, we had our global classrooms model United Nations conference. Global Classrooms is a relatively new program sponsored by the United Nations to bring the Model United Nations experience to disadvantaged public schools and spread the program throughout the world. Therefore, Global Classrooms allows students who would not normally participate in Model United Nations get exposure to international relations and diplomacy. Currently, Global Classrooms operates in 24 cities around the world.

The main idea behind the project is that students are grouped in pairs and are forced to represent a country. The topic of this year’s debate was malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. The students must research their country’s stance on the topic, the current measures that are being taken to combat these diseases, and solutions to these problems. Furthermore, the students must write a position paper articulating these ideas and defend their ideas in a debate format. Needless to say this is a difficult job for any student, let alone a student who has to do it in their second language, English.

In preparation for the conference, Jim and I first started teaching parliamentary procedure which basically means the rules of debate. At the conference, the language is very formal and there are specific rules that must be followed. For example, the way in which a question is asked depends on the type of question. If a student cannot hear a speaker, then they need to say “point of personal privilege” can the speaker please talk louder but if a student has a question regarding something another delegate stated they need to say “point of inquiry” can you please clarify what is meant by educational programs.

After teaching the rules of debate, Jim and I had to split the students into countries. Each school was allowed to bring 22 students representing 11 countries to the conference. However, Jim and I were working with two third year classes. In total we had close 50 students from which we had to select 22, so initially we assigned four to six students per country. In January, after reading sample position papers and hearing the students present opening speeches we had to cut almost half of the students. This ended up being a very difficult task because for a couple of countries we had three really motivated students who were doing solid work and could have really benefited from the conference. However, I kept reminding myself that it was a good thing that so many of my students were well qualified and excited about the program.

With the cuts made, we continued teaching about debate, revising position papers, and working on opening speeches. This took a lot of time and effort. Students in the Spanish school system students are not required to write papers and do a lot of critical thinking. For most of my students, this was their first research paper (it only had to be one page single spaced) and they are equivalent to sophomores in high school. While some had trouble finding reliable sources, most of our time was spent teaching basics related to writing mechanics such as having an introduction, transitions between paragraphs, and citing sources appropriately. I spent multiple nights grading papers, and while doing so I gained a greater appreciation of why grading strong papers is easier than weak papers. Some of the drafts that were turned into me were so incomprehensible I wouldn’t know where to begin with revisions and suggestions. Plus, the definition of plagiarism seems to be a lot looser so I found myself writing is this your own words on almost every paper that was turned into me. In the end, the papers improved a ton. In fact, we had four very strong papers and had to select one to turn in as our best paper from our school. The paper we selected ended up winning the Best Position Paper award in comparison to the 9 other bilingual schools who participated in the conference.

The conference was split into two days. On Tuesday, we had the opening ceremony in the Asssemblea de Madrid which is the Communidad de Madrid’s government building. This would be comparable to holding a conference in the state legislature chambers.

Assemblea de Madrid

All of my students went home after school, ate lunch, and changed. I was completely surprised by how well they dressed after seeing them in their normal everyday clothes. Almost all the boys wore ties and sport coats and the girls had on skirts and dresses with heels.

My students all dressed up

At the opening ceremony, all of the sponsors spoke and a student from my school who participated in the conference last year spoke as well. Afterwards, our director (equivalent to a principal in the US) took all the kids out for soda. I thought this was such a nice act that the kids will remember for a long time. Instead of calling for the bus to pick us up right away, she marched the kids into cafeteria restaurant and ordered 22 cokes for the kids. This reinforced the idea that doing something small can really make someone’s day.

On Wednesday, the conference began early in the morning. The students were split into five committees depending on region. I was the secretary for the Eastern European committee and I got to see two delegations from my school debate. One of the delegations completely surprised me and actively participated which I was not expecting. Overall, my students felt pretty comfortable and enjoyed the debate. They told me that they were glad they participated in the conference and felt proud that they could debate in English.

After five hours of debating, there was an awards ceremony. There were 30 awards that were given for the ten schools. My school won 8 awards!!! I felt so proud of my students. While it is not fair to compare the number the awards each school won because the students come in with different levels of English, this is still a huge accomplishment. It reinforced to my students that hard work does pay off and that English is a useful skill.

at the awards ceremony

Overall, I am really glad I got to participate in the global classrooms program. It provided me the opportunity to lead my own classes and design the lesson plans and handouts. Furthermore, it teaches the students critically thinking, research, and paper writing skills that are often lacking in the Spanish school system. In addition, it makes the students more aware of global issues and it lets them use English in practical situation instead of focusing on verb conjugations.