Tuesday, December 30, 2008

India Part 1

Saturday December 20th – My day started early. My flight left Madrid at 5:50 AM so I left my apartment at 2:15 in the morning. The night before I got about and hour and an half of sleep, so needless to say, I was destined to be jetlagged. In order to get to India, I flew KLM, a Dutch airline, to Amsterdam and then flew to Delhi. I was presently surprised by the food on KLM. Everything tasted pretty good and there were enough snacks to keep me happy. The airport in Amsterdam almost felt like a mall. There were large travel stores, chocolate and tobacco stores, in addition to book shops, clothing stores, restaurants. After a 7.5 hour flight from Amsterdam, I arrived in Delhi. After going through customs, I claimed my baggage and then was met by my tour guide and went to the hotel.

Currently, the Delhi airport is undergoing renovations. After leaving the airport, you have to walk about a quarter mile on uneven and sometimes unpaved road to where cars are parked. The second after leaving the airport facility it was quite clear that I was India. By this I mean, on the road (the main highway leaving the airport) there were people walking, people on bicycles, people riding in auto rickshaws (aka as Tutus in Thailand which are small three wheel motorized vehicles), motorcycles with 2 to 4 people riding on one, and regular cars. My driver was constantly weaving in and out of traffic to pass the slow moving bicycles and auto rickshaws that take up one of two lanes on the road.

When I arrived at my hotel, the gate to the hotel was closed and there was security outside. They checked under our car using a mirror to check for bombs, in the trunk of our car, and confirmed my name before letting us onto the premises on the hotel. When checking in, I had to provide my passport information as well. It is clear that many check in procedures have changed since the attacks in Mumbai and one can no longer walk into a hotel at whim. Guests would have to be announced and I think non-western looking guest would have a hard time getting through security.

December 21st
On Sunday morning, we met our tour guide and headed out for the day. First we went tot he Jama Masjid Mosque which is India’s largest mosque. The structure is made of red sand stone. Before going in any mosque, it is necessary to take off your shoes. The mosque was built to hold 900 worshippers with each person taking up one tile square. Muslim mosque are generally adorned with flower patterns because they don’t believe in creating idols which is in contrast to Hindu temples that are decorated with carvings of their gods which often are portrayed as having animal qualities. In order to call the Muslims to prayer, a blind man was employed to climb up the minaret. The reason for using a blind man was to protect everyone’s privacy because the mosque is located on a slight hill and the minaret goes up a couple of stories so they didn’t want anyone looking into people’s homes.



After visiting the mosque, my mom and I took a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. The roads are very narrow. They were not built to accommodate cars and tour buses. While on the rickshaws, cars narrowly squeezed by us as we weaved our way throughout the traffic of bicycles, motor cycles, and pedestrians. The buildings are close together and there are a lot of stands selling goods on the sidewalk. The power lines hang low down between buildings and twice we saw water buffalo in the middle of the road. This experience really let me see the “real” India which cannot be experienced when riding in a private car. The sights, the sounds, and the smells were overwhelming. Throughout the entire ride, I don’t think my mom loosen her death grip on my leg and I just thought the experience was comical and something my friends and I would have done on term abroad.



candid shots taken during the rickshaw ride, trying to capture the pandemonium



at one point i looked up, and there was a cow blocking our way. i soon learned this quite typical to have cows in the middle of the road.

After the rickshaw ride, we went to see the sight where Gandhi’s ashes were scattered. Hindus believe in cremation so there is no cemetery or burial site. The spot where Gandhi’s ashes were scattered is in a public park. Our tour guide reminded us how incredible Gandhi’s accomplishments were. Much of what Gandhi preached can still be applied today, and the world would probably be a much saner and safer place if we all lived by the principle of non violence.

For lunch, I had my first Indian food in India. The food was really good and similar in taste and flavor to dishes I had in the States. In a way this surprised me because the Chinese food in China is a lot different from Chinese food in the US. One new drink that I enjoy is fresh lime soda in which they bring a glass with fresh lime juice, a smaller pot filled with sugar water, and a bottle of club soda and you add as much soda and sugar as you want. In India, nothing comes with ice because it is recommended for tourists to only drink bottled water. In the major cities, I think the water is safe but our bodies are not used to the bacteria however in rural areas I don’t think the water is even safe for locals.

In the afternoon, we went to see Hamayum’s Tomb. This building was built in honor of the Moghul Emperor Humayun by his widow. Many of the architectural principles seen in the Taj Mahal were first used in this building. Great emphasis is placed on symmetry, gardens, the use of arches, and fountains.




To end the day, we went to the Qutub Minar which is known as the 7th wonder of Hinduism. The tower is 234 feet tall. The site is a mix of Hindu and Muslim architecture because the tower commissioned by a Muslim emperor on the site of Hindu temple.




Random facts:
In India, people drive on the left hand side of the road. There are very few traffic lights rather there are some round abouts or triangle interchanges in the road which force you to bear left or right and merge with oncoming traffic.

The poverty is overwhelming and like nothing I have ever seen before. There are a lot of people begging on the streets and children will bang on the window of your car and motion to their mouths that they need something to eat. It is very hard to watch but we have decided to make a donation to a reputable charity when we return instead of giving money to the beggars. Many of the children on the street are part of organized begging units.

Delhi is actually divided into 7 towns. The first Delhi dates back to the 12th century. No one currently lives there. All that is left is the ruins from this period of time. New Delhi got its name around 1850 when the British decided to move the capital of India from Agra to Delhi and thus rechristened the city as New Delhi.

December 22, 2008

On Sunday, we took an early morning train from Delhi to Agra. The train was a high speed train that took two hours. The train station in Delhi is like nothing I have ever seen before. In order to make our way to the train, our car had to fight through a large crowd of beggars, bicyclers, vendors, motorcycles, and other vehicles. There are tons of people everywhere. I don’t think I have ever seen this extreme of poverty before. Children carrying babies would come up and knock on our car window making motions to their mouths indicating that they were hungry and needed food. Many slept outside the station or in the waiting area. They clearly did not have any food and it felt like we were invading their personal space. Porters carried large amounts of goods on their shoulders while others manipulated large hand rickshaws.

The train ride was pretty pleasant but at parts the amount of poverty was quite evident. From the train, I could see people doing a bucket shower, cooking their food in fire outside, and others going to the bathroom. Very few people had any privacy and their houses were merely brick shacks that were falling apart. In many villages, it was obvious that there was no plumbing, electricity, or sewage system. I was quite struck by the number of people I saw walking presumably to school or work and others going to the train station with many carrying large loads with them as they walked.

In Agra, we saw the Taj Mahal. We had a lovely guide who showed us around. She is one of eight female tour guides in Agra out of 1000. The Taj Mahal took 20 years to complete and 22,000 workers. The amount of intricate work is astounding. Not only is the architecture and engineering of the building impressive but so is the fine detail. The Taj was built as a mausoleum to honor the wife of one of the Persian maharajas. On her death bed, while giving birth to her 14th child, she requested that the king build a mausoleum to honor their true and everlasting and unique love. The Taj Mahal is supposed to represent heaven on earth which is why white marble was chosen. The white is supposed to remind people of cloud, peacefulness, and purity. The taj was well designed and engineered, even 350 years after it was built it has not been retrofitted or repaired. The four towers that surround the taj are built at a slight angle so that if anything ever goes wrong, such as an earthquake, they will fall away from the taj.



Luckily, on the day we went, the crowds were not that big. We were able to walk around freely and the weather was nice. I could not imagine doing this tour in the sweltering summer heat where it often reaches 120 degrees.

After visiting the taj we went to Agra fort. Once again, I was impressed by all the intricate detail. The building is made of red sandstone with many columns and screens carved into the stone. Many of the palaces in India do not have walls. Rather there is a series of pillars and from them they used to hang rugs. One interesting thing about the Agra fort is that at one point the builder of the Taj Mahal was under house arrest in there. His son had arrested him after taking the throne from his father because the father wanted to build a replica of the taj across the river in black as mausoleum for himself. However, his son who was now already king refused to spend another 20 years building and wasting tax payer money on a mausoleum for his father. As a result, the son had the former king arrested and placed under house arrest until he died. For this reason the taj mahal is not perfectly symmetrical. Everything on the grounds is symmetrical. There is a temple facing mecca and identical fake temple was built on the opposite side of the grounds in order to maintain the symmetry but the King’s tomb throws the symmetry of the taj off. His wife’s coffin is in the center of the taj mahal and he is buried slightly to the left instead of having the wife and husband’s tomb balanced with one on the left and one on the right.



monkeys outside the red fort, turning over a trash can looking for food

Friday, December 19, 2008

Paris!

This past weekend I went to Paris. I had an amazing time despite the rain and wind. The main reason for my trip was to visit two of my good friends from college. Megan was in Paris for three weeks on a mini-term through Union studying art in the Louvre and Hilary is doing a masters in French in Paris.

I arrived Friday night and took the metro into the city. My flight was late so I was worried about meeting up with Megan. I had called some of my friends in Madrid to send an email to her letting her know that I would be late because she did not have a cell phone with her in Paris. As I boarded my flight, I hoped that Megan would check her email before going to meet me. While on the metro into Paris, I realized that I had forgotten to write down the name of the café I was supposed to meet Megan at instead I had just printed out a local map showing the neighborhood I was supposed to meet her in. Luckily, when I got out of the metro (which has about 10 different exits) I went to the correct exit and found the café I was supposed to meet Megan at. This was definitely peer luck that she checked her email before going to meet me and that I figured out where to go after leaving the metro station. This experience left me feeling quite lucky and gave me a better appreciation of how difficult it was to coordinate meetings before everyone had cell phones.

On Saturday, Megan and I went to the Arc de Triumph and then walked along the Champs Elysees where there was a Christmas market.

By this time, it was pouring outside but Megan and I decided to take our time and look at the booths. Some of the stalls were really commercial with stuff that could have been sold in a department store and other booths had homemade goods that reminded me of art and wine festivals. I was able to find a couple of presents there.

Along the way, Megan and I had crepes from a street vendor. I didn’t realize that crepes were equivalent to a New York hot dog or pretzel stand. They are sold on many major streets and they are wrapped so you can walk and eat. My first Persian crepe (nutella and bananna) was delicious but a little too rich.

After walking for two hours, we ended up at the Louvre and Megan showed me around. It was so nice to not have to look at a map and to have someone to show me the important pieces in the museum. We spent about three hours there until the museum closed.

Picture of me by the Mona Lisa

During the night, we went to the Eiffel Tower and saw it all lit up. Currently, it is lit in a blue light with yellow stars at the base to honor Sarkozy as the EU president. I enjoyed seeing the monument up close and from various angles.





On Sunday, Megan and I went to Notre Dame and walked around Paris. We got more crepes and spent time in a cute café catching up. It was so nice to see a familiar face. I have decided that most of my travel will probably be dictated by where I have friends instead by the locations because no matter what happens on your trip it is always better if you are with good friends.

Sunday night I met up with Hilary. We went out to a delicious dinner. Once again, it was nice to have a local to show me around and take me to an authentic restaurant instead of a tourist trap. As a rule, I try not to go to places with English menus. I figure I will get cheaper and better quality food at these restaurants and it will always be an adventure deciding what to eat.

On Monday, I went to the Holocaust memorial museum. One interesting thing about the museum is that it is technically the Shoah Museum. In France they don’t use the word holocaust and it was unclear whether there was no direct translation or whether this was an attempt to mask the truth such as the Clinton administration calling the Rwandan genocide ´´ethnic cleansing¨ instead of genocide. Either way, the museum was really well done. One part of the museum chronicled the Holocaust in France and the collaboration of the Vichy government while another part of the museum covered the Holocaust in Europe and the Nazi participation. The memorial to the children who died in the Holocaust was very moving and well done.


Children's Memorial at Holocaust Museum

After the museum, I had lunch with Hilary. Luckily she was with me because the metro line I needed to take to the airport was on strike but she was able to take me to a shuttle bus pick up location. Otherwise, I would have been completely confused on how to get to the airport.

Overall, I had a great weekend in Paris. I definitely would like to go back at some time and spend more time getting to know the different neighborhoods. On Saturday, I am off to India for two weeks. I hope everyone has a great holiday season!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Spanish Education System

I have spent over three months working in the Spanish schools. Some of the things that I have encountered have really impressed me while other things drive me crazy. Most of the teachers at my school and the Spanish educational system seem to value rote memorization over creativity and critical thinking. The students in my history and geography class had to memorize all the major oceans, seas, rivers, and mountains in the world, yet they lack the skills to write a persuasive essay nor do they know how to look up information in a library or on the internet.



One thing that I really like about the Spanish educational system is tutorial system which is similar to having homeroom. Each class of about 25-30 students is assigned to one teacher who is their tutor and the whole class meets once a week for one period to take care of official business, make announcements, and answer questions. In addition to this time, the tutor is responsible for monitoring all the kids in his/her class and if the parent has any questions they call the tutor. This means the parents have one point person to contact if there are any problems. Parents come in about once a month to meet with the tutor and discuss how the student is doing in all of their classes. The tutor is responsible for talking with all the teachers that the student has before meeting with the parents so that they can discuss the overall performance of the student. I think this a great idea because many students in the United States slip through the crack and there is often little communication between teachers regarding an individual student. This way, if there is a major change of behavior the tutor will probably know about it because they have to be in constant communication with all of the teachers that a particular student has.



One thing that is different from the United States is that the teachers move from class to class instead of having the students switch classes. This has both positive and negatives associated with it. First the students don’t have the opportunity to leave the classroom in between periods so sometimes I think they get restless from sitting all day. Second this means each class (25-30 students) stays together all day instead of switching classes and being with different students every period. As a result, the students feel comfortable around each other but they often adopt class personalities such as the class clown and the nerd which can be hard to change.



One thing that drives me crazy is that most of the teachers do not write the homework on the board or pass out a handout explaining the homework. I have been in many classes where it is unclear to me what the students are supposed to do so I can only imagine how the students feel especially considering they are listening to directions in a foreign language. Furthermore, great emphasis is placed on taking neat notes and having everything in the correct format with little attention paid to the content. Sometimes it takes my students five minutes to get out a piece of paper and title it because they all use rulers to underline the heading and they are obsessed with making everything pretty. However, this is due to the fact that the teachers value work that is neat rather than the ideas expressed by the students. For example, I have had multiple teachers show me students’ exams and comment that there is no way the student could have done well on the exam because the hand writing is too messy. This frustrates me because I know that many of the students have good ideas but have messy handwriting.



The students at my school just finished their first trimester (it made me think of Union except they don’t get a six week long break). The students are enrolled in 10 classes but they don’t have every class everyday. Some classes like English are five times a week while history and biology are three times a week and some such as citizenship are only once a week. Most of my students failed at least one class and some failed up to as many as 8. Grades are out of ten with five considered passing. I understand there is a different grading policy but what bothers me is that the teachers don’t care that their students failed. No attempt at extra help or attention is given. Rather the teachers write the students off as lazy or unintelligent and do not bother to try to help the students learn the material. Multiple teachers have commented to me that certain students are disasters and that there is no point trying to help them. This goes against everything I believe in. I think everyone can learn and you just need to figure out how to capture their attention and motivate them.



Overall, while I may not incorporate a lot of the methods the teachers in Spain use, I am learning a lot about education and how to be an effective teacher. Hopefully, I will be able to take what I have learned and apply it when I return next year and have a class of my own.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Part 2

My Thanksgiving dinner was a success. On Thursday, my roommates and I had to work so we did not start cooking until about 3 pm. After picking up our turkey, Liz and I quickly realized our turkey had feathers! Unsure what to do, we looked online but found little advice as this is not a normal occurrence, so we spent the next twenty minutes plucking feathers off of our turkey. I found this quite gross and I don’t like thinking about the meat I eat in animal form.


Some of the feathers from our turkey


One successful pie and one not so successful one

At 3 pm we realized our turkey barely fit into our roasting pan so I went out to see if I could buy a disposable pan. The problem I encountered was siesta. The stores that sold disposable roasting pans were closed which I found ironic because in the states everyone tries to avoid going to the grocery store on thanksgiving to avoid the last minute rush while I couldn’t find a store that was open. After stuffing our turkey, we placed it in the oven at about 4 pm with the oven on number 3. Thirty minutes into cooking our turkey we realized the skin was getting dark too quickly so we tinfoiled the entire turkey. We cooked our turkey on number 3 most of the day and by about 7 pm the meat thermometer said our turkey done.

our beautiful turkey

The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning the apartment, laying out the furniture, and mentally preparing for hosting so many people. I ended up carving the turkey which if anyone knows my dad’s turkey carving skills and my mom’s culinary abilities would find this hilarious. I think I did a pretty good job although I had to keep the pieces pretty small so that as many people as possible could have a taste.

People starting arriving around 8:30 and kept coming until close 10. When they arrived, we took their dish, heated it up if necessary, had them a plate and told them to start eating. The food was set up as a buffet and after people got their food they could sit down and eat. As more people came, those who had already eaten would get up and mingle with others so that the newcomers could sit down and eat. We had so much food! Everyone’s dishes were amazing and it was so nice to be surrounded by such great company. At around 11 pm we went around and said what we were thankful for. Everyone gave great answers including skype, the small things in life, Uncle Fulbright, our students, and having found a great group of friends. At this point, I counted there were 35 people in our apartment but somehow it all worked out.

the buffet spread

everyone crammed into our apartment

This was definitely one of my most memorable Thanksgivings. I feel so lucky to be in Spain this year, to have made amazing friends in Spain, and to have great family and friends back in the United States.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Part 1

This year my roommates and I decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner because we have one of the bigger apartments that can hold a lot of people. We initially invited twenty people, however over the last week the list has grown to almost forty people! Most of the people who have been added are people in the Fulbright group that we know but now we definitely do not have space for everyone. The problem is that we are all friends and we don’t know how to say no to someone. Currently the plan is to have a buffet and when someone comes they put their dish out and they can start eating whenever they want. There is no way everyone will be able to sit down at the same time so we will probably end up eating in shifts. One of our friends is bringing an extra folding table she has and we have asked those with folding chairs to bring them as well, however very few people have any.

Everyone is expected to bring at least one dish. We are cooking a turkey on Thursday which we had to preorder because the supermarkets do not normally carry them. When we went to order the turkey, the butcher told us they would kill the turkey on Wednesday and we could pick it up on Thursday. I don’t think I have ever had a turkey that is this fresh. However, we are all quite nervous about cooking it. Our oven only has numbers 1-10 with no temperatures listed. I have looked at other ovens in Spain and they have actual temperatures listed. Our oven is about thirty years old so there is no hope of finding a manual online to explain the numbers. Because we have no idea how hot anything is, I will try to find a meat thermometer in order to ensure we cook the bird enough, however because most apartments do not have ovens they can be hard to find.

In order to prepare our Thanksgiving feast, multiple trips to Taste of America (an American grocery store) have been necessary. They are the only place that sells cranberries, pumpkin pie filling, stove top stuffing, and brown sugar.
Tomorrow, (ie Thanksgiving Day), I will get off of work around 1 and go straight home. We will cook for the next six or seven hours and people will start arriving at our apartment around 8 pm and we will start eating around 8:30 pm. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Veterans Day and Volunteering

This past week I had a discussion with my students about Veterans Day in the United States. In Spain, they do not have an equivocal holiday. After talking with some of the other teachers and thinking more about Spanish history, I realized this makes sense. The only recent war in Spanish history is their civil war (1936-1939); however, considering that this is still a contentious issue of debate, Spaniards do not often bring this topic up in conversation. As a result, Spaniards do not have a holiday that celebrates those who have fought in war to defend their country.


My discussion on Veterans Day also included topics related to national pride and service. When I asked my students if they are proud to be Spaniards, they sorted shrugged the question off and yes but who cares. My students did not take that much pride in being a Spaniard nor did they have much regional pride (in areas such as Basque Country, Galicia, and Catalonia people have a lot more regional pride than Spanish pride). My students’ response surprised me at first because in America children are taught to be proud of their country even if they don’t quite understand what it means.

When discussing the military with my students, I asked if they thought every young person should perform some sort of national service or volunteering. I explained that most people would not fight or be in the military but that the majority would help in the social sector. Their jobs could include tutoring younger children, helping the elderly, feeding the homeless, taking care of national parks, or providing disaster relief. Some of my students thought this was a good idea, but in general they didn’t think national service should be mandatory. Only two of my 28 students had participated in a volunteer activity in the last year. In Spain, volunteerism is not very prevalent. There are fewer organizations and one has to be proactive and seek them out. At the school, there is no key club or volunteering group. Therefore if students decide to volunteer, they have to contact the organization on their own and figure out what help they can provide and when. As a result, only a small percentage of students are engaged in volunteer work. Part of the reason for the low rate of volunteering is that the Spanish government does provide a lot more services to needy than the US government. However, I think it is important for everyone to learn about helping others so I have decided to organize a canned food drive at my school and have the different grades complete to see who can bring in the most food. I have yet to work out the logistics of this plan but I will keep you updated as it moves forward.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night Parties


While in college, I never pulled an all nighter. On election night, I did. I spent the night watching the election results come in at two different parties. The first party that I went to was hosted by the American embassy. Everyone in attendance had to have an invitation. All of the fulbrighters were included on the guest list. When we went to sign in, the lady working asked immediately if we were with Fulbright. She was able to tell because we were the only attendees under the age of forty. Everyone else working for the embassy or had close ties to someone at the embassy. Below is a photo taken at the American Embassy party. I made sure to find the California state flag.



The party was pretty low key, so we decided to go to the Democrats abroad party. The majority of people in my program are democrats and we wanted to be able to cheer and express ourselves as the results came in.


Even though I had bought my ticket to the democrats abroad party, I still had to wait in a big line. The problem was that there was not separate lines for those who had already purchased tickets and those who had not. As a result everyone was trying to push their way in at the front door. I was stuck in a massive group of people and for about twenty minutes they stopped letting people in which angered everyone. The group was so tightly packed and everyone was trying to push their way in even though they weren’t letting anyone in. At one point, it felt like it was two or three pushes away from being a stampede. Luckily, I got in soon enough without any injuries.


Once inside, the party was amazing. It was held at the Circulo de las Bellas Artes which is normally used for an exhibition hall but can be rented for private parties. I would estimate that there were close to 1,000 people at the party which took place over four floors with each floor having a bar set up, a large projection screen and one or two plasma flat screen tvs.

Below is a picture of the crowd on the fourth floor. Clearly the building was quite crowded.




The whole night they showed the CNN broadcast which I thought was pretty good but I got sick of watching the commercials. I got to the party around 1 am (7pm eastern) when the first polls were closing. We would all get really excited when any news came in but then there would often be a lag for about thirty minutes before next polls closed.



At the party, I hung out with about 12 other Fulbrighters in a jammed packed room. The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was really excited, energetic, and optimistic. As the results started coming in, we started sharing bottles of champagne. In our group of twelve, we probably went through about 8 bottles of champagne which started to make me feel sick because there was no food at the party and I had not eaten anything since 9 pm. As things started to go Obama’s way, I considered going home but decided this was a once and lifetime opportunity and that I wanted to stay up all night.. Shortly after 4 am, after the mountain states results had come in, it was clear Obama was going to win but I wanted to see them call California and see how they would announce Obama as president. At 5 am, when the west coast polls closed, CNN did not call the individual states, but rather flashed on the tv that they were calling the election for Obama.
Everyone was so excited and happy. People started jumping up and down and cheering. Some started crying and at one point, the room started chanting “si se puede” (yes, we can) which is an Obama slogan but also the Spanish version was also used by Cesear Chavez when campaigning for farmers rights in California.



Below is a picture of us celebrating Obama's victory


After watching McCain’s concession speech and Obama’s acceptance speech, I took the metro home around 6:15 am, slept for one hour, and then went to work. However, I am fine with sacrificing one night of sleep for all the change that is supposed to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

This post was written the day of the election before I knew any of the results. The other post regarding the election describes going to hear election results live at 6 AM Spanish time and the reaction of the outcome.


Being away for the election has been an interesting experience with some positives and some negatives. While I am sad that I have missed some of the Saturday Night Live Tina Fey skits, I do not miss being bombarded with negative political advertising. However, as a result of not watching American television, I am not very in touch with California politics. I would have liked to have read and heard more about the propositions related to the ban on gay marriage, the humane treatment of farm animals, the renovation of children’s hospitals, renewable energy, and high speed commuter railway.

Since my first day of work back in September all of my students have been interested in my political views. During the first week of school, after giving a presentation about myself, my students asked me who I was voting for. I felt comfortable telling them that I was an Obama supporter but their teachers tried to step in and explain that people are not as open in the United States as in Spain. In Spain, it is normal to know everyone’s political views, how much money they make, and the grades they get in school and it is not considered rude to ask about these topics with strangers.

Almost everyone here is an Obama fan, based on my informal conversations I would guess close 90% of people support him or rather oppose Bush, McCain, and Republicans in general. I am sure how much they know about Obama; however they are clear in their hatred for Bush and about one month ago McCain made a comment that he would not sit down with the President of Spain (lumping Zapatero in with leaders of terrorists and non-democratic countries) which clearly annoyed many Spaniards. Perhaps Spain's obsession with Obama is best represented by this 2.5 acre depiction of Obama on the beach front of Barcelona. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, a Cuban American, created this portrait over the weekend with the land donated by the city of Barcelona. The portrait is 445 feet by 264 feet and is made up of gravel, stone, sand and soil.


At the school, Jim and I have been discussing the election with our fourth year students. We have tried to present some of the key issues and discuss how Obama and McCain have varying viewpoints in order to provide some substance to the conversation. This week I will end the discussion on the election by discussing the outcome and explaining how Americans vote.

One thing that many people have commented to me about is that despite being a very advanced country our system of voting is very ineffective. In Spain, elections are held during the weekend which means everyone has the chance to vote regardless of whether they have time to take off work. (The teachers at my school were shocked that election day is not considered a national holiday). When I studied abroad in Costa Rica, I learned elections are held on a Sunday and starting on the Friday before election Sunday no grocery stores, bars, or restaurants can sell alcohol in order to increase voter turnout and prevent people from being too drunk or hung over to vote.

Not only have people commented to me about the specific day in which we vote, but many are surprised to find out that there is no national identification card for the United States and that the elections laws are governed by each individual state which results in people using different mechanisms to vote. Most importantly, Spaniards cannot believe that there is no paper trail for many of the voting machines and that you do not receive a receipt or copy of your ballot. After talking with the teachers at my school, I began to wonder why our voting system was so complicated and why we do not mandate a paper trail of some sort.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Two Month Update

Today marks my two month anniversary in Spain. It is quite fitting that today I picked up my residency card and I am now a legal resident for the next year. For the most part, I feel very well adjusted to living in Madrid. I know my way around the metro and I am beginning to connect different parts of the city in my head. I have learned which grocery stores have the best prices, the location of the best bakery in my neighborhood, and have discovered a new clothing store called lefties that similar clothes and prices to H & M.
Below is a list of my goals I created before leaving for Spain, and the ones in italics I have completed. Others, I am still in the process of completing such as trying new foods and learning to be more laid back about being on time.

Goals
1. Find an apartment!
2. Become fluent in Spanish
3. Try lots of new foods and learn how to cook some authentic Spanish dishes
4. Visit at least six countries and go to Africa once, get lots of passport stamps
5. Learn to navigate the metro system in Madrid
6. Become familiar with the neighborhood I live in and explore other neighborhoods in Madrid
7. Become a better teacher and teach my students to be better people
8. Stay in contact with friends and family
9. Take lots of photos or learn a new craft/art form
10. Volunteer and get my students involved as well
11. Go to a concert, theater, and flamenco performance
12. Learn to be more laid back and not have everything planned ahead of time
13. Visit a temple, mosque, and church

14. Make friends with Spaniards
15. Do something natury like rafting, zip lining, hiking
16. Host a dinner party
17. Enjoy reading an entire book in Spanish - I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but I am hoping to move on to adult books in the near future
18. Buy a piece of art from my travels
19. Find intercambio partner
20. Have no regrets

In addition to the initial goals that I set, I have added a couple more now that I have been here for a little bit.
1. Rent a rowboat at retiro
2. Go to Bilbao and see the Guggenheim Museum
3. Have someone stop me on the street and ask for directions, and for me to be able to understand the question, know the location they want to go to, and provide proper directions


Some of my highlights of my time in Spain including spending two beautiful afternoons in Retiro park loosing complete track of time and falling asleep while reading, sharing a delicious Rosh Hashanah dinner with friends, seeing an amazing free flamenco performance in the metro, teaching an entire lesson by myself, and traveling to Seville and Cordoba.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Acting Like an American

Today, I acted like an American, but not in the bad way that makes me cringe when I see obnoxious tourists around Madrid. First, I went to the American embassy so I could vote. I have yet to receive my actual ballot so I filled out a write in ballot. I doubt my vote will actually matter but after discussing the election with my students and going to a democrats abroad meeting, I felt obligated to voice my opinion. The embassy was actually quite helpful. After showing my US passport, I was given a write in ballot and a ticket number. Luckily, there is a separate line for US citizens trying to vote which is quite short and is not the same line as everyone else who is applying for visas and green cards. After filling out my ballot, I talked with the representative who provided the address of where to send my ballot and was able to tell me whether I needed a witness to sign my ballot.
After the embassy, I walked to Taste of America, an American grocery store. I was expecting some over the top grocery with an overabundance of products from the states. The store was actually pretty small and mainly had baking supplies (many kitchens in Spain do not have ovens, hence the lack of baking supplies in normal grocery stores), Halloween candy, Pop tarts, oatmeal, pasta sauce, and BAGELS! I initially went to the store to see what products they had related to Halloween because my school informed on Friday we are celebrating it in our classes. The Halloween candy was too overpriced, close to seven euros for a small bag of candy but I did buy four bagels for three euro at the store. I had the first bagel today and it was actually pretty good. While the price is high, I am willing to pay it once and a while.
My third and final stop today was at Al Campo, the Spanish equivalent of Walmart. At Al Campo, I found more reasonably priced Halloween candy (ie fun size bars of candy), decorations, and a costume. I am going to be witch this year. I was able to buy a hat and face paint for pretty cheap and I have enough black clothes to complete the outfit.
On a side note, the other American thing I did this weekend was watch NFL football. One of my friends paid to watch the NFL games live on his computer and we had an American Football party. It was so much fun to get into the games and talk football with people who actually understand the game and have intelligent things to say. The only bad thing about the football was that we had some trouble connecting to the site and at times it would replay parts of the game that we had already seen, and because we could not get the full screen option to work we were unable to see the game clock without looking closely. As a result, we watched the same three minute section three or four times before we noticed anything was wrong. During this time, we thought Cassel, the New England quarter back was playing horribly because it kept showing him getting intercepted. Once we realized the problem, we paid closer attention to the game clock and enjoyed the rest of the game.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Indian Embassy

Yesterday I went to the Indian Embassy to apply for a tourist visa to India because my family and I have decided to go to India during my winter break. I am super excited to see a completely different culture, travel around the country and most importantly visit my friend Emily is volunteering in an orphanage in Mumbai.
After reading the Indian embassy website multiple times, it appeared that the application was simple enough. Anyone going into India needs a visa, even if one is just stopping over on layover. In order to apply for the visa, you need to fill out the simple two page application, provide three passport photos, have your passport and pay the corresponding fee. This seemed simple enough. I did not need additional documentation, no appointment was required, and I did not encounter any horror stories on the web about transactions with the Indian embassy in Spain.
When applying for a visa, you must relinquish your passport for one week and because I will need my passport for travel and to finalize my paperwork to get a residency card I wanted to get the visa application over. You must apply between the hours of 9-12:30 so I can only apply on Mondays when I have my day off. I got to the embassy at 9 am and figured I may have to stand in line for a while but that the process couldn’t be too difficult. Boy was I was wrong!
When you arrive, you must take a number. There are two separate numbering systems: one for Indian nationals and one for everyone else. The problem is that there is only one person who helps all non-Indians so if someone holds up the line with a complicated application no one moves forward. Twice while I was waiting, an individual took over forty minutes to file their application.
The nice thing about taking a number is that you don’t have to stand in a strict line, instead you are able to mingle and wait inside or outside which is key because I think some people would start a riot if they were not able to smoke while waiting for their number to be called.
After waiting about an hour and realizing the only seven people had been seen I began to get nervous and realize my number would probably never be called. I had number 78 and they were only on number 14 by 10:30. Furthermore, posted on all the walls are signs saying they stop taking applications at 12:30 and that the numbers are not good for the following day which means you can wait all day and never be seen and have to start all over the next day. At this point, I started talking and listening to other people’s conversations. Multiple people informed me that the consulate only sees about 40 people a day and that they realize the process is inefficient but they do not care because the Spanish consulate in India is so bad they are trying to get back at the Spanish government by running a horrible embassy in Spain.
When I asked what time one needs to arrive at the embassy to get a “good” number and to be assured one will be seen, I was told to arrive by 4 am and that the person with number 1 had arrived at 6 pm the previous night. While I have heard crazy stories about people having to camp out at embassies in order to get their visas, I was shocked and not looking forward to coming back a second time.
To make matters more complicated, there are companies that will apply for the visa for you. They charge a large fee but you don’t have to deal with the hassle of going to the embassy. This complicates things because with each number a person can bring up one visa application for themselves or he/she can bring up 100 applications for others. This means that one person can hold up the line for a long time and it also leads to a lot of side business being conducted at the embassy.
While waiting in line, I met 5 different people who worked for companies that helped individuals get their visas. While these employees had been given a set number of applications to apply for, the employees also conduct side business in which they inform those who are waiting what number they have and that they are willing to take their application up with them if they pay an extra fifty euros. Because all of these transactions are conducted in Spanish and I did not know any of these employees, I did not want to pay someone some extra money and give them my passport. While I knew what was going on, I was nervous about losing my passport and I didn’t want to pay any extra money.
The employees who take on the extra applications pocket the money but they also ask for the ticket number of the individual. This leads to black market for the numbers. Because no one is standing in line, it is hard to tell if anyone cuts and no one enforces any rules stating the person who takes the ticket must be the person to use it. Thus, I saw one man walk in around 10 am but he either knew someone or paid someone to get a low number ticket.
By 10:30 I realized my number was never going to be called but I didn’t know whether I should leave. I had nothing else to do all day and I was not sure when I could come back to the embassy. I decided to stick around to see if maybe someone would give up and leave and possibly give me their ticket.
At 12:30 the embassy was still packed and there no way they could close without having a riot on their hands. Each person who was seen after 12:30 breathed a sigh of relief that they had been helped. By this time they were serving number 50 but still very far away from my number 78. At this point, I had waited almost half a day and decided that I was going to stand and wait until someone would help me or until I was removed from the building. This strategy paid off. A nice lady with number 55 told me I could go up with her. Luckily the agent at the window did not care that this lady was applying for a work visa and I was applying for a tourist visa and that we were clearly not connected. Thus, at 1:30 an hour after closing, I submitted my application. Now all I have to do is go back next Monday to pick it up in the afternoon. I have been told the pick up process is a lot smoother and that you do not have to wait long but I am not holding my breath.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Smoking, Siesta, and Sunrise

In Spain, three of the things that bother me the most are smoking, siesta, and the sunrise.

1) Smoking - Almost everyone here smokes. It is almost impossible to find a bar or restaurant that is smoke free. Last weekend I had to leave a bar because it was so smoky my eyes started watering. I have cordoned off a section in my closet for smoky clothes so that they do not contaminate the rest of my clothes. Every time I come back from a smoky place, I douse my clothing in Febreeze and hope the smell will go away. Worst of all, when I leave my school, I have to walk through a cloud of smoke from students and standing next to my students are the teachers smoking. I just want to remind everyone how bad smoking is for their health.
On a brighter note, I am feeling even better about my decision to live with American Fulbrighters because multiple Fulbrighters have been placed in difficult situations because they have been told their Spanish roommates do not smoke when in fact they do, thus forcing them to confront their roommates or possibly move to a smoke free environment.

2) Siesta - I love the concept of siesta and taking a break in the midday. However, the reason it drives me crazy is because there are no standard hours businesses are open. Some places such as banks open at 8:30 while others tend to open around 10. Some places close at two and remain closed all day while others reopen at five and stay open until eight and those that remain open for seista close at five or six. This makes it difficult to know when anything will be open and because I am teaching most of the day and have to run most of my errands during siesta or the early evening I end up wasting time going to closed shops.
Also, because everyone has different work schedules, I have found the best time to ride the metro on weekdays is between 10-12 in the morning. Any other time, the metro is somewhat crowded because people are constantly going to and from work and almost any hour can be considered the rush hour.

3) Sunrise - Sunrise is really late in Madrid. Right now, the sun does not rise until close 8:30. Therefore, when I get up, it is really dark and hard to get out of bed. I am nervous that I will not want to get out of bed in winter when the sunrise is even later. The reason the sunrise is so late is that Spain is on the same time zone as France, Germany, Italy, Hungry, Austria, Sweden, and Norway. However, Great Britain is one hour behind Spain even though it is more east than Spain.



As the map shows, it would make more sense for Spain to be on the same time zone of Great Britain. Although because the sunrises so late, sunset is really late as well which works with the Spanish time schedule. It does not feel like you are eating dinner that late (around 9)when the sun does not set until 8 pm.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Zoo photos

I am a sucker for zoos and went two weeks ago. Below are some pictures I took when I went with my friend Stephanie. Overall, the zoo was pretty good. It had lions, tigers, panda bears, elephants, camels, zebras, and giraffes. Some of the enclosures seemed smalled but all were well maintained and clean. Surprisingly there were not a lot of high fences or moats around the exhibits and the whole time I was there I kept thinking about the tiger incident in San Francisco. Luckily, there were no issues the day I went to the zoo.




One of the signs explaining the penguin exhibit cracked me up.



Elephant - I heart elephants!



Stephanie and I went inside the gorilla exhibit to escape the rain and we found a momma gorilla holding her baby. How cute!

Taking Care of Business

Last week I was very effective. This is a phrase that is rarely uttered in Spain because Spaniards do not seem to value efficiency and getting things done quickly. Last Monday, I had to go to the bank to request a bank a new bank card because after activating my bank card when I tried to use it, the ATM would not spit it out. This made quite nervous and upset. During our Fulbright orientation, we had been warned about various ATM scams in which criminals jam the machines or try to record your PIN number. Therefore, I feared that someone had purposely jammed the machine and was going to try to steal all my money. After returning home to cancel my ATM card, I was told I could not order a new card because I was not given an ATM phone PIN. So while I was able to cancel the card, I was not able to request a new one over the phone or be told any information about the activity on the account. As a result I had to wait one week until my day off in order to go to the bank to order my new ATM card and to confirm that there was no unauthorized activity on my account. Luckily, everything on my account was in order and now I am hopping that my new card comes without any issue.
As you are reading this, I am sure some are wondering why I am choosing to use Citibank Spain. Aren’t all my troubles an indication that I should open an account elsewhere? Well, it turns out Citibank is one of the better banks here in Spain. Other banks charge foreigners 20-30 to open an account and some charge fees for depositing checks that are not from the bank they belong to. Thus despite all the issues that I have had, I did not have to pay to open an account, I can deposit any check (ie my paycheck) written within the Communidad de Madrid without any fees, and if I use my American account, I do not get charged conversion fees.
In addition to taking care of my banking issues, I was finger printed as part of the second step in applying for a residency card. Luckily, the Fulbright commission is helping us with this process by filing our initial paper work and setting up our appointments to be finger printed. This is a major help because it saved us a trip to the police station and often times the customer service representatives are not helpful and just tell you to talk with someone else who is not responsible for the problem you have. The concept of asking to speak to a manager does not exist and most likely if one asked to speak with an employee’s boss one would be told the boss was not there or the boss would not listen nor be helpful.
As I reread this, I want to clarify I am impressed how smoothly everything went this week and do not want to sound like I am complaining too much. Rather I have come to expect the worse (ie it taking 3 days and over 8 ATMs to get the money to pay my landlord) and I have been pleasantly surprised when things go as planned.
While the first part of my week was spent doing official business yesterday was very effective on a personal level. I was walking to my Spanish class and had time to kill so I decided to stop in Corte Ingles grocery store. My roommate, Liz, loves to bake and had gone to over 5 grocery stores looking for vanilla extract but could not find it. Most stores only sell vanilla beans which cost close to three euros for just one bean which is quite expensive. On a whim, I decided to go into the Corte Ingles grocery store and not only did they have a large bottle of vanilla extract they also had spice mixes. All other grocery stores sold individual spices but I just wanted to buy a premixed jar of spices for either chicken or something comparable to Italian seasoning instead of having to buy five or six jars of individual spices. To my amazement, I was able to buy an all around seasoning and a chicken one as well.
To make my day even better, I stopped in FNAC which sells similar merchandise to Amazon, that is books, cds, dvds, and electronics. In addition to these items, they also sell Moleskine notebooks. I have recently become a Moleskine fan after seeing one of my friends using one. If you are unfamiliar with them, google moleskine notebooks. Moleskine makes traditional notebooks for jotting down notes but also has a line called Citiseries. These notebooks are very compact about 3 in x 5 in and ½ inch thick. Inside they have great detailed maps of the city and when you look at them you don’t look like a tourist because the book is so small and it looks like you are just looking at notebook. After seeing my friend use her Moleskine on a daily basis, I decided to get my own. However, most of the stores in Madrid don’t carry the Madrid Moleskine but rather other European, Asian, or American cities. As a result, when I found my Madrid Moleskine I was quite excited because this was probably the fifth time I had checked in FNAC to see if they had the Madrid edition.
This week I also started Spanish classes. I have them every week night from 7:15-8:15. My teacher is little boring but it is good to be hearing more Spanish and to review grammar rules.
At my school, things are going well. I am getting to know more of the students. So far, I prefer working with the younger students because they are less inhibited and concerned with what their peers think. Most of the 1st and 2nd students genuinely want to learn and are excited to have an American in their classes. The 3rd and 4th year students are harder to control and there are often side conversations in Spanish that are taking place. In the English classes, my main role is working with the reading groups. Most classes have around 25 students and the teacher and I will split the class in half. I will take one half of the class, and the teacher will take the other half. We read between 3-6 pages a period having the students practice pronunciation by reading out loud and going slowly to explain the vocabulary. Each page usually has 4-7 vocab words or expressions that the students have to learn for their exams. The books we read are used mainly to teach vocabulary, and the students are not used to discussing, summarizing, or predicting about the novels. I enjoy working with the reading groups because I have total control over my section of the class and I feel like the activity is useful for the students.
On the other hand, I am not being utilized very well by one of the social science teachers. She thinks that my job is to translate a Spanish textbook into English. Last week she had me translate a chapter from the book because the students were taking diagnostic tests. However this week, the social science teacher gave me four more chapters to translate and told me I should not come to her classes but should spend the time translating. This is quite frustrating because my job is to interact with students, to help with pronunciation, to be an ambassador of American culture, and actually assist in the classroom. After spending all of Wednesday translating in the teacher’s room and not speaking with a single student, I was quite upset and have decided to talk with my coordinator about this situation and I hoping we can come to an agreement about how to use me more effectively.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One month down

Today marks my 1 month anniversary in Spain. The past two weeks have gone pretty well. I am beginning to feel like I have routine and can visualize how I will be spending my time. The only frustrating part is that in the last two weeks I have had to miss three days of schools for Fulbright obligations. Two days were spent attending an orientation for all the English TAs who are not just from the US but England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. Currently Madrid funds over 550 TAs to work in their public schools of which 40 are Fulbrights. The only problem with the orientation was that it was complete repeat of the orientation I had received from Fulbright which bothered me because I would have preferred to spend the time getting to know my students. Tomorrow I will have to miss class again in order to be fingerprinted for my residency card. According to our program director this process should not take long but I am not holding my breath as I have learned that the word efficiency is not part of the Spanish vocabulary.

Overall, things at my school are going very well. I am very impressed with the level of English my students speak. I am realizing the difficult part about my role is going to be defining my purpose. As part of my contract I am supposed to assist in 16 periods of week. 8 periods are spent with English classes and 8 are spent with social science classes. Because there are two sections of bilingual classes for all four grades, this means I spend one period a week with each English class and one period a week with each social science class. I am struggling with this set up because I am working with 7 different teachers and I feel like a visitor in the classes rather than a permanent teacher. Many of the teachers do not have lesson plans or syllabi they can provide me so most of the time I find out what the class is doing when I walk into the classroom. However, I feel awkward about taking charge because I don’t know how the teacher generally runs the classroom, what material they have covered in the previous week, and I don’t know the students that well so I don’t know how to make them learn most effectively. I am sure this will improve with time but right now I am overwhelmed trying to learn the students’ names and figuring out the different norms and rules each teacher insists upon.

Two Saturday, I went to Avila which is an old Spanish town which about an hour and half away from Madrid. The old part of the city is surrounded by a large wall that was built around 1100 to protect it from invaders. For many years, Avila was a battleground between Christians and Muslims and changed hands many times. We ended up having really nice weather which was great because Avila has one of the highest elevations in Spain and it often rains and can even snow there. In Avila, I walked on top of the wall that surrounds the city, got to go into a beautiful cathedral, and went inside a museum dedicated to Saint Theresa of Avila. While seeing this historic site, it finally sunk in that I am in Spain getting to experience and see things that I could never do in the United States. The whole time I was in Avila I kept thinking to myself that the wall we were visiting was built long before Columbus “discovered” America and that Spain’s history goes back so far.

This Saturday, I went to a screening of the presidential debate. While it aired on Friday night in the states due to time change issues, the rebroadcast was not until the following evening. The rebroadcast was held in a building called Casa de la America (American House) and was put on by Democrats Abroad. At the event, there were also representatives from the US embassy passing out absentee ballot requests in addition representatives from a group called Spain for McCain. While the majority of the audience was Democrats, there were some Republicans in attendance. Furthermore, I also met a couple of Irish and English people who were interested in seeing the debate in the original format instead of watching dubbed clips on the news. Overall, I had a great time watching the debate though it drove me crazy when both of the candidates would side step questions and instead deviate toward preplanned talking points. I must admit I am really excited to see the VP debate which should be very interesting.

Last night, I went over to one of my friend’s house for Rosh Hashanah. In my program there are five other Jewish girls (overall there are about twice as many females than males in the Fulbright program) and no Jewish guys. One of the girls found a synagogue that we could go to for services. This was actually pretty difficult. Most of the synagogues do not have websites, and they do not list their addresses online out of fear for security. When we arrived at the synagogue we had to enter in groups of two so that we could be screened by security. We had to have our actual passport, no a photocopy and they questioned us about why we wanted to attend services. After passing inspection, we were asked whether we wanted to attend the Ashkenazi or Sephardic service and had to pay 20 Euros in order to attend the High Holy Day services. We went to the Ashkenazi service which was conducted in a Conservadox manner. Men sat in the middle section and women were on the left and right side separated by a piece of lattice. There were many American students studying abroad at the service in addition to members of the synagogue and there was a range in clothing styles. Some women wore pants and blouse while others were in skirts and one girl was wearing a strapless dress. The service was conducted by a Chabbad rabbi and only lasted 40 minutes. The prayers were done in Hebrew but the announcements were done in Spanish and English. There was no sermon, just an update on Temple activities. As we left, we noticed even more security outside the building. The temple is located on a dead end street and the police had barricaded the street off so that no one could enter it once the services had started. I am not sure whether all of this security was necessary and maybe I am a little naïve in thinking that the temple should be more welcoming and accessible for visitors.

After services ended we went to my friend’s house for dinner which was delicious. Everyone had made a dish and we had plenty of food. There was salad, apples and honey, potato kuggel, chicken, fish, challah, and apple crisp. We sat around discussing our experiences in Spain and kept eating and talking until all the food was gone. I had a great time and it was nice to feel part of a community after just arriving one month ago. I ended up leaving my friends house around midnight feeling fully satisfied and looking forward to a good new year.

Friday, September 19, 2008

First day of school

Today was the first day I spent with the students. I taught in the 3 classes today and gave a presentation on myself which showed pictures of me, my house, college, and California and New York landmarks. I was very impressed at the level of English the students understood. I tried to speak slowly but most of the students had a high level of comprehension and were able to ask follow questions on my presentation rather than asking me to repeat something because they did not understand it. This is quite a relief because earlier in the week I had talked with some of the primary school TAs who said despite the fact that some of their students were in the fourth or fifth year of bilingual education they still did not understand basic questions. One story that stuck in my head was that after going over vocabulary relating to the classroom, the TA asked what is this pointing at a desk and the students responded “This”. It appears the students in the primary program are used to just repeating what the teacher says and are not really comprehending that much English. On the other hand, the students I have in the secondary program feel pretty comfortable in English. While they make mistakes, I am able to figure out what they mean and they are able to listen very well.

Most of my students thought it was very funny that my cat was named Kittie and that I live in a town called Los Altos which means the talls in English because I am clearly not very tall. This year I will be working ESO (educacion secundaria obligatoria) 1, 2, 3, and 4 which is equivalent to grades 7-10 in the US. At my school, there are also bachillerato grades 1 and 2 (US equivalent grades 11, and 12) but I will not be working with the older students because bachillerato does not have a formal bilingual program. Today, I was with ESO grades 1, 2, and 4. It is quite interesting to see the differences in demeanor between the students. The younger ones shout out questions and are not afraid to make mistakes while the older students are more reserved and think things through. Almost all the classes asked me if I know any celebrities because I am from California and if I have experienced an earthquake or hurricane. Students in Spain are also interested about sharks and school lockers because they have seen them in American movies but are not familiar with them in Spain. I was also surprised by how interested my students were in American politics. They asked me who I was planning on voting for and when I asked them who they preferred the overwhelming majority like Barack Obama.

Today, I also received my bank card in the mail. This was very exciting because I have heard horror stories about them getting lost in the mail and it taking months in order to receive a replacement. Plus banks are only open until two so if I have any issues it will be hard for me to get to a bank because they are only open when I would be a school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beginning of School and Ikea

Yesterday, I went to my visit my school again. School officially starts tomorrow, Wednesday, but Jim (the other Fulbrighter who I will be working with) and I went to meet the director of the bilingual program. We received school calendars, which is helpful however we have not received our work schedule. It turns out they have not even finalized the teachers schedule so they cannot assign Jim and I to classes until this complete because we will be assisting specific teachers. Jim and I are considered English teaching assistants (but it is not abbreviated ETA because that is the name of the Bosque terrorist group in the north of Spain).

During the meeting, I learned more about my school. There are 800 students and about 70 teachers. Each grade is divided into 4 or 5 classes/sections of which only 2 participate in the bilingual program. The bilingual program in Spain only started 10 years ago with a small group of schools and has recently expanded. As a result, only a small percentage of current secondary students received bilingual education in primary school. Therefore, only part of the school is prepared for bilingual secondary education. Jim and I will both spend 8 periods a week with the bilingual English classes. Jim will spend 8 more periods in the bilingual science classes while I will spend 8 more hours with the bilingual social science classes. In the bilingual program, only science, social science, art and English are taught in English while math, Spanish literature, music, and PE are taught in Spanish.

While discussing the teachers I will be working with, my coordinator casually commented that there are normally two bilingual social science teachers, but that as Monday (two days before school begins) they had only hired one teacher. I am trying to go with the flow and think everything will work out but this definitely going to be a last minute hire. In the Spanish school system, it is normal for teachers to be moved from school to school every year until they are placed permanently. However, there are not many teachers who are qualified to teach bilingual social science so it may be a difficult spot to fill!

After meeting with my school, I met up with my roommate Liz to go to IKEA to buy stuff for the apartment. IKEA is located in the suburbs of Madrid but is still accessible by metro. The comforter that my landed provided looks like something an old lady would have (no offense) so I wanted to buy a new one. I figure if I am going to be here 9 months I need to make the place my own, plus Fulbright does give us some money for start up costs. In order to get to Ikea, I took the metro out into the suburbs. Once you enter Ikea, it feels like you are in the States. The layout is pretty much the same. There are two stories with furniture one level and household items on the other. While there, Liz and I bought more than we expected because as we walked through the store we would realize more stuff are apartment lacked such as measuring cups, bath mats, hangers etc. By the time, Liz and I checked out of Ikea we looked like gypsies but still took the metro home. Both of were carrying our purse and a huge blue Ikea bag.

Currently, I am posting this blog post a trendy ice cream shop that has white leather chairs and all the décor is in brown, pink, and white. Right now, my flat mates and I are stealing internet from our neighbors, but it is unreliable and we can only get skype to work so in order to use the free wifi internet today, I had to suck it up and buy some ice cream.