Friday, September 5, 2008

Piso Hunting

Things are still going well. Each day new people arrive and it has been really fun to meet them. It is also really interesting how a person goes from being a new person one day and the next day they are showing the latest arrival around town. Everyone is really nice and fun to hang out with. I get the sense that last years Fulbright group was not as integrated but almost all of the people I have met so far seem like people I could develop close friendships with. Everyone has such diverse interests ranging from law, medicine, environment, teaching, and public policy. Tonight we all met up for dinner at the risidencia and then we went out for sangria. The sangria had a hint of nutmeg or cinnamon which tasted delicious but was different from the sangria I have had in the states.

Currently I am staying in what is considered a college dormitory. All the rooms are singles and it is great that they have internet access because it would be extremely difficult to find an apartment without it. Furthermore the rooms have a sink in them which at first I thought was kind of unnecessary. However I have come to enjoy it because I can brush my teeth and wash my face without having to leaving my room.

Right now I am in the midst of my piso (apartment) search. While I have not signed an agreement yet, currently I am planning on living with Americans. Initially I thought it would be great to live with Spaniards to practice my Spanish but many of the shared living situations end being with a family or a group of friends so you end up feeling like a guest in your own apartment and it can be awkward using the common spaces. Therefore, Liz and I have mainly been looking at furnished apartments that are for rent. The process is a little overwhelming considering I have only lived in college housing and my house so I have never been through this process before. Plus it is hard to figure out a budget because at best I am taking guesses about what utilities, food, and travel costs will be. Some important questions I have learned to ask are whether the apartment has heating. It can snow here yet not all places have heating so this is high on my priority list along with being close to the metro. I don’t mind if I have slightly longer commute as long as I feel safe walking to and from the metro at night when I go with friends. Other things on my wish list are sitting room or area where I can have friends over and where potential visitors could crash, an elevator, a quiet street (they seem to pick up trash at 3 in the morning on the street my residencia is located at), and good windows/sunlight. I am not going to discuss any specific apartments until I sign a lease because I don’t want to jinx anything. But once I have housing, I will post pictures and tell more about the process.

Today I went to visit my school. I think I was quite lucky to be placed at San Juan Bautista. It is a secondary school which is comparable to our junior and high school system. The first four years are considered mandatory (educacion secundario obligario) while the last two years (bachillerato) are optional for those who want to go to university. The school is really well maintained, probably better than 80% the schools in most urban areas. It is newly painted, has lots a windows, two computer labs, a library, dedicated classrooms for science labs. I will be teaching English and social studies (in English). I am definitely going to have to learn more about Spanish and European history as that is the main focus of the curriculum. I have been told I need to speak only English to the students and there is a weird mix of Spanish and English between the faculty. The Spanish teachers who teach classes in English want to practice their English with the Fulbright teachers because we are native speakers but in large groups it is easier/quicker to speak in Spanish.

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