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 na├»ve 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.

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