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.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Holy crap, I can’t believe I am writing this blog post on March 1st. I officially have three months and 1 week left in Spain. I don’t know where the time has gone. There is still so much I want to do and so little time.

This past week has been a whirl wind. I spent Friday through Monday in Granada and Sevilla (see previous post) and then came back to Madrid on Monday. I worked Tuesday and taught a couple of private English lessons and then Wednesday morning I left for Andorra. I was in Andorra from Wednesday until Saturday evening for a Fulbright midyear conference.

The conference and the location were amazing. Andorra is a landlocked country in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. Andorra does not have a commercial airport, is not a member of the European Union, and is entirely duty free. Other interesting Andorran facts are that Andorrans have the second longest life span at 83 years, their official language is Catalan, and it is the 6th smallest country in Europe following Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino (in Italy), Lichtenstein, and Malta. Andorra gained independence in 1278 and its borders have remained practically unchanged since then. Before the introduction of the euro, Andorra accepted Spanish pesetas and French Francs because Andorran currency was very rare and it currently uses the euro. The population is 80,000 people, and there are about 90 Americans living in Andorra. Therefore, when the Fulbright group of 80 Americans arrived, we almost doubled the American population. Its main industry is tourism and there is Andorran university. Students have the option of attending French, Spanish, or Andorran school systems. If a family wants their child to attend a French or Spanish university they generally choose that school system. The Andorran school system is multilingual which means classes are taught in Spanish, French, and Catalan and English is taught as a foreign language.

Andorran Landscape, set in the Pyrenees Mountains

As for the conference, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other Fulbrighters who are living throughout Spain and to reflect on my time in the country. Unlike our orientation, the mid year conference was for the most part helpful and productive. We were able to discuss our concerns and try to come up with solutions. Plus, it was interesting to learn about others research and challenges they have experienced. We also had time to visit some of the Andorran tourist attractions and many representatives for Andorran government were present at our opening and closing ceremonies. One of the best parts about the conference was the weather. It was sunny and warm. Everyone in Spain told us it was going to be freezing but when we were there it was quite warm and we only needed our jackets at night. We also stayed at a really nice hotel with a great lunch and dinner buffet, and by the way we ate you would think we were starving in Spain. Most of us have gotten sick of our cooking and we rarely go out to eat, so having multiple main course options in addition to tons of desserts to choose from was quite a treat. The first day we arrived I think everyone went up to the buffet at least three times but by the second and third day we cut back.

Turn Left for France, Turn Right for Spain

Enjoying the Mountains

Next week is the model UN conference. I am really excited for it because my students have been working really hard and I think they are going to do a great job. The model UN project is great because it forces my students to use English in a real and practical setting, teaches them how to do research, and it makes the think critically. After the conference I will be sure to write up an article explaining how everything works in more detail.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Becky and Qtym come - Granada and Seville

This past weekend, I spent I spent in Granada and Seville with two friends from university. We took the bus from Madrid to Granada on Friday night. Granada, like Porto and Lisbon, is a very hilly city. The Alhambra is built on the top of one hill and the old Moorish neighborhood is on another hill with the main plaza in the valley in between. Despite my pension for planning ahead, I did not read the section about Granada in my guide book until we arrived. Well, that was a mistake. It is highly recommended to buy Alhambra tickets ahead of time. They only allow a certain amount of people in every half hour and in total they pre-sell 6,000 tickets and sell 1,800 day of with the box office opening at 8 am. Considering the main reason we went to Granada was to see the Alhambra, my friends and I decided to get up early on Saturday to be there when the box office opened.

The Alhambra is a complex of gardens, two palaces, and a fortress. We spent about 6 hours touring the entire site. The main palace is gorgeous with tons of Moorish architecture. Unfortunately, I am in Arabic architecture overload and while I really enjoyed the Alhambra I was not in complete awe. The carvings are beautiful and I love the way arches frame everything. One of my favorite parts about the Alhambra was a hot air balloon that we watched in the country side. At one point, it was really well framed by one of the arches. In the Alhambra, there were a lot of stray cats which were pretty friendly and fun to watch. In addition, I really enjoyed the gardens.

The Moors (muslims from north Africa) really value water because in northern Africa and Spain water is a scarce resource. As a result, they have tons of fountains and gardens with flowing water which is really relaxing. In one of the patios, the moors built a fountain with twelve lion heads. The fountain also functioned as a clock with one fountain head going off each hour. The funny part is that the Christians disassembled the fountain when they reconquerred Granada in 1492 and tried to figure out how it works. However, they were unable to put it back together properly so it has worked since then.

On Sunday morning, we did a really cool walking tour through the Moorish neighborhood. Our tour guide was a twenty four year old from Oregon who had moved to Spain and started his own walking tour company. He lived off of the tips he made and ended up working about two hours a day. Granada is also known for amazing tapas. With a beer or glass of wine you get a pretty generous tapa for free. Two to three tapas can definitely fill you up and only cost 6 or 7 euros and include two to three drinks.

On Sunday afternoon, we took the bus to Seville. I think Seville is my favorite towns. The weather is warmer, people seem friendlier and more laid back, and there are orange trees everywhere. We didn’t do much in Seville because I only had half a day on Monday to explore (but I had already been there so it was okay). We spent the morning in Plaza Espana and walking around by the river. It was just so relaxing I had no urge to return back to Madrid. However, I guess I can’t complain, I only worked one day this week and I currently in Andorra Wednesday – Saturday for Fulbright conference that is paid for.

As I was sitting on the bus back to Madrid, I came to the startling conclusion that I basically have three months left in Madrid. I leave June 7th and February is practically all gone. In the next couple of months, I have trips planned to the north of Spain, Munich, Barcelona, and Italy. Plus there is still a lot I want to see in Madrid. I am definitely going to be pretty busy these next couple of months.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Feeling Blessed

Even though I sometimes get depressed/fed up with my school and job (see the previous post), I want to express how blessed I feel to live in Spain. No matter how frustrating my job can be, I try to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job in this economic climate. Furthermore, who else gets to work four days a week, have health insurance, and have enough money to travel?

Recently, a friend of mine was in car accident. Her car was totaled, but luckily she is okay. When I heard this news, I was so surprised and felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This reality check made me take a step back in my life and think about how lucky I am and realize how quickly things can change. It reminded me not to waste my time in Madrid but to really take advantage of it, and do and see as much as possible. Who knows when I will ever come back to Spain?

These past few weeks I have been feeling antsy, wanting to get out of Madrid and travel. Unfortunately, my plans have fallen through a couple of times. However, today I was able to find a cheap ticket to Lisbon so next weekend I will exploring Lisbon by myself. While I am slightly nervous to travel on my own, the prospect of traveling solo kind of excites me. I won’t have to compromise with anyone and I can do whatever I want. Over my winter break, I went to Porto, Portugal for five days and loved it. It was very relaxing, had an historic charm, tons of wine cellars, and was pretty cheap. As a result, I decided I wanted to see another city in Portugal.

Over the past couple of months, I have slowly been refining my list of places I want to go. Up to this point, most of my travel has been influenced by where I have friends and people I know. So far outside of Spain, I have been to Paris and Toulouse, France, Porto, Portugal, and India. In the next couple of months I have travel plans to Lisbon, Munich, and Andorra (a tiny country between Spain and France) and would like to go to Morocco, Greece, Turkey, and Italy if possible. Within Spain, I have gone to Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Cordoba, and Seville. Before I leave, I hope to see Granada, Barcelona, Valencia, Santander, and Galicia. Clearly, I am going to be quite busy these next couple of months! However, because my list of places to go is constantly revolving based on recommendations I would love to hear your suggestions on places to visit in Europe.

It must be my dad’s interest in airplanes and airlines that sparked me to list all the airlines I have flown on since I started my journey in September: United, Air Canada, Easy Jet, Ryan air, KLM Royal Dutch Airline, King Fisher, Jet Airways, and Northwestern. I cannot believe I have been on eight different airlines and how connected/small the world really is. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to live abroad, see new places, and meet amazing people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back at it

For the past three weeks, my life has been relatively quiet after all the travel I did in December. Things at my school are going pretty well. I have come to accept my job as just that a job and nothing more. Some days are really great and others I feel completely worthless. The problem that makes this challenging is that I don’t have much control over the tasks I am given so it is difficult for me to improve the situation. For example, on Wednesdays, I pretty much spend the entire day translating a textbook from English to Spanish. Now, this seems like a waste of my time for multiple reasons including the fact that history textbooks quickly go out of date and are no longer used, I could compile the equivalent information from doing a couple of google searches, and most importantly I am not spending any time with the students. A large part of the reason I am here is to help students with their accent and oral comprehension and to teach them about American culture. These areas cannot be addressed if I don’t see the students. Thus, on Wednesday I often feel like a mouse on wheel spitting out translations that I don’t think the students will ever see or really use.

However, not all my days are like this. Some days are great. Last Tuesday, inauguration day, I walked into a class and my students started cheering Obama. Because the actual teacher had not arrived yet, I started a discussion about Obama and what they knew. When the teacher arrived a couple of minutes later, she let the discussion continue for the entire period. It was so nice to see my students enthusiastic about a topic and also quite knowledgeable. Many of my students mentioned that they hoped Obama would close Guantanamo and I found myself thinking how many 7th graders in the US even know Guantanamo exists.

Right now my school is gearing up for a model UN conference. Bilingual students from all over Madrid will participate in the conference. It is a lot of work for the students and the teachers. The students are assigned a country and must research their country’s opinion on the given issue which is TB, malaria, and infectious diseases. They will need to be able to discuss and defend their country’s position which is not easy considering English is their second language. For the teachers, it can be quite difficult because if the students do not do the research it is impossible to help them.

Currently, the students are writing position papers regarding how their country views TB, Malaria, and infectious disease. During this process, it is becoming quite clear that the students have never really been asked to write a research paper or for that matter a regular composition before. Most papers completely lack organization but what bothers me the most is that the students don’t understand what plagiarism is. Not only are they copying other people’s work, it is clear they do not understand all of the concepts in their paper and do not actually understand the material. Therefore, the next couple of weeks will be devoted to helping the students improve their position paper and teaching them how to research more effectively.

Outside of school, things have been pretty low key. I have started to tutor a four year old girl in English. Basically, we play games, and I read to her. The other day I was doing an alphabet puzzle with her and she told me it was missing pieces, that the ñ was missing. Then I had to explain that in English there is no ñ but I thought the girl was pretty perceptive to notice its absence.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

India Part 3

December 27 – Udaipur
Udaipur is known as the city of lakes. There are five small man made lakes that surround the city. The city like most of the cities in India is composed of an old city and the new city. The old city is composed of old streets that are not meant for cars or modern life and a newer section with wider roads and more modern homes. Generally we have stayed in the new city and then go into the old city to see the famous locations.

In the morning we stopped at an active Hindu temple. People were immersed in prayer and everyone must take off their shoes to enter. This temple had a guard for the shoes which I had been wondering about because due to the extreme poverty in the country I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to steal the shoes outside the temple. Its not that I don’t trust the locals, but I could understand them taking shoes out of necessity.
lady selling marigold flower chains, to use as offerings outside a hindu temple

As we were talking with our guide, he reiterated a fact that we have heard many times. Most of the marriages in India are still arranged. I have heard between 60-80% of marriages are arranged for Hindus and Muslims. In contemporary times, the children have the right to refuse a spouse but generally the children accept who their parents have chosen with them. A large percentage of children continue living with their once they are married. It is traditional for the girl to go and live with her husband’s family and for all the males of the husband’s family to live with their parents. Thus, many homes have three generations living together. While the caste system is technically outlawed, in the smaller villages I get the impression that it is still followed and that marriages are within one’s class and that it can be difficult to obtain a prestigious job if one is from a lower caste. With regards to marriages, the bride’s family still pays a large dowry to the husband’s family and as a result, India has more males than females. The government has outlawed embryonic testing in order to find out the sex of the baby because many couples were aborting female embryos. We were told the male to female ration was between 1000 males to 800-920 females depending on t he state in India.

After visiting the Hindu temple, we went to see the City Palace. It is the largest palace in Rajastan which is a state in Northwest India. We only saw a portion of the palace. Part has been turned into two different hotels and one section is still occupied by the royal family. India’s economy is largely based on tourism and many former royal palaces, hunting lodges, and other buildings have been converted into high end hotels. One day I was one the street looking at pashimas and was bartering with a man. Once the price had been reduced significantly he said please buy it, since November 26th my business has been down greatly, please help me. I felt so terrible I bought the scarf even though I probably could have bargained some more but it is quite evident that there have been major chances in India since the attacks in Mumbai. Most of the hotels are in compounds with private fences surrounding them. Before entering hotel grounds, the cars are stopped and the use a mirror attached to a rolling cart to check if there are any bombs on the underside of the car. In addition sometimes they inspect the trunk, and engine of the car in addition to confirming our names before letting us enter the premises. All of these regulations are new since the attacks.

The city palace had beautiful views of the Lake Pichola. There were separate quarters for men and women with interior patios. Unfortunately at this point in my trip I have seen so many forts, palaces, and mausoleums that they all blur together. In everyone, the intricate detail is amazing. There is a lot of hand carving of marble and sandstone to produce beautiful screens and columns.
view of Lake Pichola
After lunch we went to the Garden of the Maidens where members of the royal used to spend their time and relax. During the 18th century, men were not allowed to enter the garden which featured a swimming people for the women. My favorite part about the garden was people watching. Currently, most Indians have off from work this week (Christmas week) so most of the sites are overrun with Indian tourists rather than foreigners. In the garden we saw one dad place his son (about 2 years old) on the top of a five foot fountain in order to get a good picture. This made me crack up because the kid was close to tumbling yet the father seemed unaware.

While taking a moment to enjoy our surroundings, my mom and I saw a group of school children. They were all well dressed and behaving very well. As they walked by our tour guide asked them where they were from and if they attended a private or government school. The girls were from a neighboring state and attended a free government school. After pausing for a moment, the girls about 40 of them asked to take a picture with my mom and me. I don’t think they had met or seen many foreigners before. It was cool to be able to make someone happy by just taking a picture. The girls instantly clamored around trying to be in the center of the photo and then some of the girls with their own cameras (film, not digitial) took individual pictures as well.

December 28th Saturday
On Saturday, we flew from Udaipur to Mumbai and then Mumbai to Trivandrum. From Trivandrum we drove one hour to Kovalum. The entire journey took about five hours. Trivandrum and Kovalum are located on the southwestern coast of India in the state of Kerala.
The feel in Kovalum is completely different than the feel of the other cities. Kovalum and Trivandrum are beach communities and the feel Caribbean or Hawaiian in feel, as opposed to the cities in the north that feel more religious and more “Indian”. In Kovalum there are a lot of palm trees and it does not a typical urban center. There are no large multistory buildings but rather a lot of single family homes. I did not see any apartment buildings and the main industry seems to be tourism. In the northern cities, tourism was definitely important but so was agriculture, handcrafts, and merchant shops. In Kovalum, I have not seen any cattle standing in the middle of the road and the temperature is about ten degrees warmer and more humid.

Our hotel is a series of bungalows located on hill that overlooks the ocean. It is gorgeous and really secluded. To go down to the beach, there is an elevator that goes down about three stories to the beach level. It is really interesting the mix of tourists that come to India. There are people from all over the world. There are a lot of European, Australian, American, Chinese, and Japanese tourists in addition to the large number of Indian national tourists. I love hearing the mix of languages spoken and trying to guess where someone is from.

I am definitely getting used to Indian food and finding more and more dishes that I like. Some of my favorite drinks include fresh lime soda and lassi, a yogurt based drink. The fresh lime soda is a mix of pure lime juice, with club soda, and then you add in as much sugar as you want. The drink is very light and refreshing. I also enjoy lassi which helps me cope with the spicy Indian food. As for food, I really enjoy garlic naan, most chicken dishes, and tandori.

December 31st – good breaks, good horn, and good luck
On December 29th dad arrived. He started his journey from Beijing on the 28th and flew to Delhi, however due to fog dad’s flight was delayed 8 hours and he didn’t arrive in trvandrum until 1 am. He tried calling us on three different cell phones but because we were on vacation my mom and I did not have them on so luckily I saw an email from him.

The hotel we are staying at, the Travancore Heritage is quite quirky. The land is beautiful but some parts of the hotel remind you are in a developing country. The power outlets in our room only work if the switch next to them is turned on. Its like having a light switch by each outlet to ensure power isn’t wasted. The weird thing is that after you unplug something you can’t replug anything in unless the outlet is reset. I was having trouble with the outlets so I took the plug out of the tv because I new that worked. However, when I tried the plug the tv back in, it wouldn’t work. When we called the reception to let them know about the problem they sent someone from maintenance. He has a metal device that looks like a screw driver which he sticks into the outlet in order to reset so that something new can be plugged in. I freaked out the first time I saw this because he was sticking metal into the outlet but after the fact I realized he had used the switch by the outlet and turned off the power before doing so. The outlets at the hotel are not very stable so off times to get a connection you have to wiggle the outlet for a while to find the correct angle to plug things into. Then my dad jimmy rigged a contraption to maintain the angle.
sunset view from our hotel

Yesterday we went to Kayakummari. It is at the southern tip of Indian where the Arabian Sea meets the Indian Ocean. The drive there and back was the most frightening ride we have had. The lane road is a two lanes one in each direction but cars are constantly passing and making a third lane in the middle of the road. On the way there, I had fallen asleep and I heard a distinct thud, now this not something you want to hear while riding in a car. I am not sure what we hit but I think it was a telephone poll. We only hit the side view mirror and are driver did not hestitate and kept driving. On the way back we were forced into the shoulder about 4 times when oncoming traffic that was passing other cars came into our lane. Let me tell you, it is frightening to see a big bus coming directly at you.My dad and I at a temple in Kayakumari which is the southernmost tip of India.

Yes you have to pay to use some bathrooms. When traveling in India it is essential to carry small change and toilet paper with you at all times.

January 1-3rd
The rest of the time in Kovalum we spent relaxing by the poolside and down by the ocean. New Years was very low key. There was dinner by the beach but I ended up going to bed around 10 pm because I didn’t know anyone and my parents had already left the party.

On January 2nd, I started my way back to Madrid. I flew from Trivandrum to Mumbai but because I had a 10 hour lay over my parents arranged for a driver to take me into the city. The only problem was that I arrived around 3 pm and didn’t get into the city until close to five so not everything was open. First we stopped at Dhobi Ghats which is where over a thousand workers wash laundry in stone troughs. At first my tour guide said we were going to Laundry which I think is the most literal translation of Dhobi Ghats and I was quite confused wondering if he was taking me to do my laundry or if I just wasn’t understanding him. Despite the fact that all of our guides spoke English, some had quite thick accents and at times, I could barely tell they were speaking English. I would just nod politely although a couple of times I said yes and it was clear that they had not asked us a yes or no question.

At Dhobi Ghats, there were a lot of beggars. It was heart wrenching to see, and I am sure for as long as I live, the words “Madam, baby” will make my stomach turn. I hate ignoring the beggars because I don’t want to treat them like they are no human beings, but there are many organized begging rings which I don’t want to support.

After Dhobi Ghats, I toured the Gandhi Museum which is located in what used to be his house in Mumbai. The museum was really interesting and informative. Then we drove to the Gateway of India which located right by the Taj Hotel. The entire plaza around the Taj was blockaded off and only official guest staying at the Taj can enter it.

Afterward, I got an amazing garlic tiger prawn meal before returning back to the airport. At first my tour guide tried to take me to McDonald's in an attempt to cater to my “American” palate, but I kindly asked to go to a normal Indian restaurant. Although, I currently wish I had gone into a McDonald's to see the menu because I am wondering if they serve hamburgers considering almost no restaurants in India serve pork or beef. The ride back to the airport took two and a half hours. Luckily, I had plenty of time because my flight was scheduled to leave at 1:50 in the morning but we didn’t end up leaving until close to 4 AM. As a result, I missed my connecting flight in Amsterdam and got back to Madrid after 36 hours of travel.

All in all, I had a great trip in India. When people ask me to describe it, there is no one word. It was exhausting, but at the same time relaxing. It was beautiful and gut wrenching. There are incredible palaces and forts which are juxtaposed next to endless slums. To get an idea about what idea is like I recommend reading White Tiger which won the Mann Booker prize or watching Slumdog Millionaire. While they don’t’ compare to seeing it in the flesh, they provide a pretty accurate depiction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

India Part 2

December 23

The next day we drove from Agra to Jaipur stopping in Fatehpur Sikri along the way. Before entering the site, we saw a snake charmer sitting outside. Tourists can take pictures and give him a small tip. After the fact, I learned that the snakes are usually venomless but it was still cool anyways.

Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of India for fourteen years under the rule of Akbar during the 16th century. The emperor Akbar who ruled had three different wives: one who was Muslim, one Hindu, and one Christian. As a result he was able to able to bring the entire region under his rule.

December 24 jaipur

In Jaipur, we visited the Amer fort and palace. The city used to be along the silk trading route so large wall was built to encompass the entire city in order to keep the traders and merchants protected. The fort sits on the top of the hill and while we drove up to the entrance, in olden days people used to ride elephants up the hill. While this is still option, we decided against it, because some of the guidebooks mentioned that the elephants are treated poorly.

As I mentioned, it is normal to see four people crammed onto a motorcycle. Here is a photo I took after our tourguide made a funny face at one of the girls.

In addition to seeing the Amer fort, we also saw the largest sun dial in the world. The park had about 15 different sun dials which were used to figure out a person’s horoscope. Because most of the marriages in India are arranged based on people’s horoscopes matching, it is critical to know the exact time of birth when matching horoscopes.

December 25th jodhpur

On Christmas day, we flew from Jaipur to Jodphur. In Jodphur, we visited the Mehrangargh fort and the Jaswant Thada marble crematorium.

The crematorium had excellent views of the city and is where many members of the royal family have been cremated. Traditionally, their ashes are then scattered, often times in the Ganges River but the crematorium acts as a burial site in that people can build monuments and return to the site to honor their loved ones.

photo from the Mehrangargh fort

kids enjoying a camel ride

December 26th

Today we drove hours on hectic Indian roads from Jodphur to Udaiper. I have come to the conclusion that the most dangerous part about driving is the animals. On every road there are tons of cows, water buffalo, sheep, dogs, and boars. Cows are the most common animals and sometimes they will just stand in the middle of the road and some even lie down. This makes driving really crazy because there is no way to predict whether an animal will be crossing the street or which direction it will go. As a result we came to a couple quick stops when cows decided to stop midstream and stand in the middle of crowded busy roads.

On the other, the other drivers seem to have a controlled chaos system going on. Most of the roads we have been driving on have been two lane roads with one lane and in each direction. As a result, cars are constantly going into oncoming traffic to pass the rickshaws, autorickshaws, and bicycles. This systems works pretty effectively except on curving roads in which case in order to pass a car one must honk their horn before going around a corner to ensure no one is coming in the opposite direction. Occasionally it looked like were going to hit oncoming cars but at the last minute are car would finish passing another car and go back on the correct side of the road (which is the left side, a remnant from British imperialism).

Along the way we stopped at a Jain temple. The temple was made of white marble. Inside is an interesting mix of being inside and outside there are no walls just pillars and over hangs so there is an interesting play of light. No leather is allowed to be worn inside the temple and shows must be taken off. In addition there is a sign that says women who are menstruating should not enter the temple. Again, the temple was intricately carved with fine detail along the columns, interior walls and ceiling. I was entertained by two boys who were racing their match box cars along the walls of the temple.

One interesting thing is that you often have to pay to use a camera. The fee is not large only a dollar or two but this different from the other traveling that I have done. The money goes to restore the and maintain the buildings so I don’t mind. When I saw these signs, I was surprised that the Chinese have not started to charge to use a camera.

When we left there were tons of monkeys on the road. Someone had recently fed them and they were eating carrots. Monkeys seem to be pretty common in India but I am still fascinated by most of the animals they are not disturbed by cars or people and are scared by the noise they make.