Tuesday, October 7, 2008

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.

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