A General Update on Life

So, I think I am long overdue on giving a general update on my life.  I have spent all of my time so far writing about my weekend travels that I’ve failed to acknowledge my favorite city of all: my new/not-so-new-anymore home, Madrid!

I am quickly approaching my 3-month anniversary with Madrid (yes, it’s an anniversary because I am, indeed, declaring my eternal love for this city).  I can’t believe it’s been [almost] 3 months already! I especially can’t believe that it was exactly a year ago that I decided to redirect my life and move to Spain.  If you had asked me in October of last year where I thought I would be right now, my answer would have been in grad school for Speech-Language Pathology.  But I’ll always remember that one day in November when I realized I needed to postpone grad school and pursue my dream of returning to Spain to teach English.  After strong determination to make it happen, I find myself here, living in Madrid, exactly one year later.  I couldn’t be any happier with this decision!  And now I know just how important it is to follow your own intuition and to take action if you find your life going in a direction that you don’t approve of.

The transition period of moving to a new country is long gone now and I am happy to report that it was pretty much smooth sailing!  I’ve been very lucky in regards to that. I would say that I am very much settled into my life here to the point where I don’t do much during the week except work.  I’m living a pretty normal life except that it’s in a foreign country, so maybe it’s not so normal after all.  Once you move somewhere new, there comes a time when you cross over from being a tourist/visitor to being a resident.  It’s a great feeling, but it also means that every day isn’t filled with quite as much excitement as when you first arrived, which is only natural.  Don’t worry, I may be boring during the week catching up on sleep, planning lessons, and watching the newest episodes of Nashville, but I promise I make up for it on the weekends!

View of Gran Vía from the Círculo de Bellas Artes Rooftop.

View of Gran Vía from the Círculo de Bellas Artes Rooftop.

My job here, like any other job, has its pluses and minuses.  The minuses are the early mornings and my out-of-control, extremely chatty [but loveable] students.  However, I would definitely say there are more pluses than minuses.  I co-teach with 5 different teachers for 15 different classes during the week and all of these teachers are amazing.  The entire staff at my school has been so welcoming and endearing towards me.  They enjoy speaking to me in English but I also try to make an effort to speak to them in Spanish.  In the afternoons I teach 3 classes to some of the other professors that want to practice their English.  Although I’m realizing that teaching adults isn’t my favorite thing to do, I’m still glad I’m doing it because it has given me the opportunity to get to know the other teachers better and I get to learn so much more about Spain since we talk about topics they can relate to.  On Tuesdays I give a 2-hour private lesson to one of my students and her 6-year-old brother.  I usually help my student with her homework and then I play games with her younger brother in English.  Private lessons are an easy way to make extra money and  I plan on picking up more ASAP since my paycheck went way too quickly this past month.  Whoops!

The highlight of my job, though, is definitely my students (even the ones that are out of control).  Although it appears nearly impossible to keep Spanish kids quiet during class, which results in major aggravation and headaches on my end, they are still the constant reason this job brings me joy and they continue to melt my heart week after week.  Here is a list of reasons why:

-My older students told me I’m so much better than last year’s English assistant because they are actually learning from me.  Such a rewarding feeling!

-Some of the parents and older siblings of my students tell me how their child/younger sibling can’t stop talking about how nice, beautiful, and funny I am and about how much they love my class.

-Whenever I walk down the halls, all of my kids say “Hello Samantha!” I seriously feel like a celebrity in that school.

-Even after I yelled very badly at one class, they still shouted “Samantha, you’re the best!” when I left.

-One time I walked into my first of secondary class only to find out they all rehearsed beforehand to shout “SAAAAA-MANTHAAAAA!” when I walked into the room.  I couldn’t stop smiling ear-to-ear after that!

-When the bell rang at the end of class one day, all of my students simultaneously shouted, “Noooo! We don’t want you to leave!”

-Some students are starting to ask me if I’ll be back next year.  It makes me never want to leave them knowing that they’re already asking about next year when it’s only November!

My students also never fail to make me laugh.  For example, last week I gave a speaking exam to my 3rd of secondary class (my 14-year-olds).  I asked them to get into pairs and one person had to be the doctor and one person had to be the patient.  They had to come up with a scenario where the patient was sick and the doctor had to give recommendations for a treatment.  One boy said that he had a headache and couldn’t breathe.  His partner, who was the “doctor”, responded with, “It sounds like you’re constipated.”  I busted out laughing!  I said, “Why do you think he’s constipated???”  It turned out he mixed up the words constipated and congested!  I then explained what constipated meant (in non-graphic terms) and my student said, “NOOOO!! Not that!!” hahaha it made my day.

In recent news, the trash strike in Madrid ended last week!  For a couple weeks, the street cleaners and trash men went on strike because the city started making budget cuts that were impacting these workers’ jobs.  As a result, the city looked like, for lack of a better word…shit.  Mountains of trash surrounded the dumpsters and I had to walk around with my head facing the ground in order to avoid the dog poop that was left in the middle of the sidewalks.  But an agreement must have been made because Madrid finally looks like a presentable city again!  But to add to Madrid’s filth one day during the strike, I was on my way to work and I passed by a woman who I thought was letting her dog pee on a nearby tree in the middle of a busy sidewalk.  I had to do a double-take because I suddenly realized it was her naked 3-year-old son!  Just letting it all hang out, peeing on the tree like a dog.  I definitely was not expecting to see that at 9:30 in the morning!  And keep in mind this was also in Madrid’s richest and cleanest neighborhood.  She probably thought that Madrid was already dirty, so what’s a little bit of urine? Haha.

Trash Strike = Gross

Trash Strike = Gross

So besides getting incredibly lucky with my school, I am still so happy with my living situation.  I love the location of my apartment: still walking distance to many things but far enough away that it doesn’t feel touristy.  It’s also just 7 metro stops away from my school- can’t beat that!  And I cannot say enough good things about my roommates.  They are 2 awesome Spanish girls who are my age and who, like my co-teachers, have made me feel so comfortable since day one.  I also love how much Spanish I’m learning from them.  My Spanish may not be anywhere near where I would like it to be, but at least I have roommates that are always willing to practice with me and answer any questions I might have.  Unfortunately they still end up translating a lot of what they say for me but it’s OK.  I’ll get there with time.

A view of my street.

A view of my street.

Out with a couple great friends and awesome roommates!

Out with a couple great friends and awesome roommates!

I have also been fortunate enough to travel a lot already.  I have been to Segovia, Sevilla, Logroño, and Salamanca (all cities in Spain) as well as Porto, Portugal.  However, I don’t plan on traveling for a while because it’s tiring, expensive, and honestly, I’ve missed Madrid!  But I have some very exciting trips this year to look forward to!  Over our 2-week winter break, Lindsey and I have an incredible trip planned:  4 nights in Budapest, 3 nights in Vienna (including Christmas), 3 nights in Prague, 4 nights in Berlin (including New Year’s Eve), and 3 nights in Hamburg.  Then in March I’ll be getting my Irish-ness on in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day!  After that, my parents will be visiting me over Easter Break in April, and after a few days of showing them around Madrid, we’ll go to Munich, Salzburg (Sound of Music Tour!), and Ireland!  THEN as one last hoo-rah, Kristen and I are going to London for the One Direction concert in June!!!  Which will be a perfect way to end the year.  I’m sure more trips will come about, but these are the ones I’ve planned so far.  This year is shaping up to be pretty damn awesome.

Don’t worry, I know I’m making my life seem like it’s all rainbows and butterflies, but we all know nothing in this world is that perfect.  I still have to pay rent (among other responsibilities), pay off student loans, wake-up early and work 5 days a week which leaves me feeling exhausted every single day.  I also have to cook for myself for the first time which has been interesting.  I’ve always done the easy stuff like eggs, sandwiches, soup, etc.  Basically anything to avoid real cooking.  But tonight I made my first REAL meal.  I cooked raw chicken and veggies- yeah baby!  Growing up!  Basically, I’ve been leading a mostly independent life here (I still have my program advisors to contact if something goes wrong), but I’ve been doing it in a foreign country where I have to communicate in a second language, which comes with its own set of struggles and frustrations.  But difficulties such as these are what make these types of adventures that much more rewarding.  And of course it’s hard not having my friends from home and family here with me, but I’m not worried because I know that we will all be reunited again in no time.  For those of you reading this, I miss you all!  But for now I’m just trying to enjoy my time here because I’d be lying if I said that this isn’t turning out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I am so excited to see where the next 7 months take me, I just hope they don’t go by too fast!

Overlooking my new home.  Not my literal home.  That would be Madrid's city hall :)

Overlooking my new home. Not my literal home. That would be Madrid’s city hall 🙂

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Studying Abroad Vs. Teaching Abroad

Anybody who knows me knows how much I rave about the semester I spent studying abroad in Sevilla. It was such a highlight of my life and when I left, I knew I wasn’t quite done with Spain and that I needed to return. When I announced I was moving back to Spain to teach English, I think it seemed like I was just trying to relive my semester abroad and have a study abroad experience: part 2. The truth is, no matter how much I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t recreate that semester, so I prepared myself for the completely different experience that was to come.  As it turns out, there are actually a lot of differences between studying abroad and teaching abroad.  But in reality, these differences are turning out to be for the better.

 

1. INDEPENDENCE

Teaching abroad is a much more noticeably independent experience than studying abroad. Study abroad programs do a lot of handholding for their students. I arrived to Sevilla and had literally everything taken care of for me. My program set up my housing, my cell phone, my courses at the university, orientations, and they even gave us walking tours of the city. Also, my host parents cooked all of my meals and did all of my laundry. Teaching abroad hardly provided any of that. I am fortunate enough to be part of the BEDA program which took care of our bank accounts and NIE. But besides that, I’ve been on my own. I had to set up my accommodations for when I first arrived, find an apartment, set up a phone plan, and set up everything with my school. It hardly feels like I came over here with a program since I’m essentially living on my own. However, with this independence comes unwanted obligations. I am in charge of paying my rent, utilities, my phone bill, my metro pass, cleaning my apartment, cooking my own meals, etc.  Although no one ever enjoys these obligations, they are all a part of growing up and a part of life, and a little independence is definitely a good thing.  I definitely felt more independent when I left Sevilla, but this year is going to take it to a whole new level.

 

2. FREEDOM

While studying abroad, I wasn’t able to make many of my own choices. My program decided where I lived and who I lived with. Furthermore, my host mother decided the way I lived. She controlled what I ate everyday, the TV that I watched, the temperature of my showers, and even the amount of blankets on my bed. Come March, when it was still freezing in my room, my host mother decided it was time to take away the space heater and the heavy blanket from my bed. I remember being so angry! Teaching abroad has allowed me to decide where I live, who I live with, what I eat, how long I can take my showers for, and the temperatures of my showers and bedroom. I can even watch Spanish MTV! Something I was never able to do in Sevilla. Also, since I don’t feel obligated to be home for meals anymore (because for study abroad, my meals were already paid for so it was smarter to eat at home), I have the freedom to explore more of Madrid’s restaurant scene. I have eaten out a lot more than I ever did in Sevilla which I’ve enjoyed because it feels like I’m experiencing much more of the Spanish culture.

 

3. FREE TIME

During study abroad, I felt like I had a lot less free time during the week because I had a ton of homework and studying to do. My courses were surprisingly demanding (at least more than what I expected from my study abroad courses) and I remember spending many late nights writing papers or creating study guides for exams. What I love about working abroad is that I rarely take my work home with me. Yes, I research lesson plans and gather ideas, but it never takes all night like some of my homework in Sevilla did. I can use my afternoons for doing whatever I want. It gives me the chance to pick up more private lessons for some extra cash and if a friend texts me at 9 pm asking if I want to get a drink, I normally can unless I have something else holding me back, but it has never been because of something work-related.

 

4. CULTURAL IMMERSION

I have met soo many more Spanish people through teaching abroad than I did during my time in Sevilla. I felt like study abroad was very Americanized. In Sevilla, I felt like you needed to branch out a lot more if you wanted to meet Spaniards, and I honestly never made that effort. The only Spanish people I knew were my teachers, host parents, and my intercambio. All of my classmates and all of my friends were American. Here in Madrid, I sometimes go days with only interacting with Spaniards. For example, on Tuesdays I go from seeing my Spanish roommates, to teaching Spanish children and working with all Spanish teachers, to having a conversation with the Spanish cashier at the grocery store, to a Spanish family’s home where I give 2 Spanish children private lessons. And all of this occurs without one interaction with a non-Spaniard and I love it! It is the complete opposite from my study abroad experience–in a good way.

 

5. MONEY

I had absolutely no income during study abroad, so whatever I saved before going was what I had to spend. Now, the whole reason I’m here is for a job. I’m actually getting paid to live here and it’s awesome!  Sadly, my paychecks don’t last as long as I would like them to and in the end, I will have lost money rather than saved money.  But what’s the point of saving all that money if you don’t spend it on an experience like this?

 

6. SOCIAL ASPECT

I felt like my friends were just handed to me during study abroad and I knew that I was so lucky because that is not normally the case. We all got so close during those 4 months because we often saw each other at school and we all lived in the same neighborhood. Like everything else, you’re pretty much left on your own with this while working abroad. Although I am here with a program, it is a lot different because we haven’t been given many opportunities to meet everyone in our program. There are still a ton of people that I haven’t met, and I probably never will. We are all placed at different schools and we live in all different parts of the city. I feel so fortunate that I lucked out in the friend department for the second time.  For the most part, I always have someone I can hangout with, but I can definitely see how making friends while working abroad might not work out for a lot of people.  It definitely takes more effort on both ends.

 

Both teaching abroad and studying abroad definitely have their own pros and cons. Study abroad was an absolute blast and I love looking back on those fond memories. However, I would say teaching abroad is a much more rewarding experience. I am making a difference while becoming much more immersed in the Spanish culture as well as becoming much more independent. The fact that I can still go out and travel just as much as I did during study abroad adds even more of a bonus! Although I wouldn’t trade my semester in Sevilla for anything and it was undoubtedly one of the best times of my life, I have to admit that I like teaching abroad better. I have much more freedom, I don’t have any homework or studying to do, and I get paid! In the end, though, I’m so happy that I have been given the incredible opportunity to experience BOTH teaching and studying abroad.

My Weekend in Salamanca

Last weekend I checked a city off my Spain Bucket List!  My friends Maury, Brittani, and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Salamanca fairly last minute (we booked our hostel and bus tickets just a couple days beforehand).  It has been a city at the top of my list of places I want to see this year for a long time and I finally got to see it!  We left Friday afternoon after work and arrived to Salamanca that night.

Salamanca is a university city about two and a half hours from Madrid in the Autonomous Community of Castilla y León.  It is home to the oldest university in Spain, which is also one of the oldest in the world.  Therefore, this city has a very youthful vibe since a good portion of its population is made up of students.  It is also a popular study abroad destination for Americans and other students in the world.  I know a handful of people who have studied abroad there.

Fortunately for me and Brittani, Maury studied abroad in Salamanca so she knew where to take us around the city.  She found us the most amazing hostel that was INSIDE the Plaza Mayor!  The Plaza Mayor is the social center of Salamanca and it is absolutely stunning!  It was definitely my favorite place in Salamanca.

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The Plaza Mayor! Absolutely beautiful.

During the days, we walked around and admired the beautiful architecture.  Most buildings were the same beige color.  The whole city has maintained its historic feeling very well, which is what I really liked about it.  We also walked around the area where the university is and we even spotted the famous frog figure!  On a façade of one of the buildings, there is a huge cluster of different figures.  One of these figures is a frog sitting on top of a skull.  It is very difficult to find, but it is said that if you can find it, you will have academic success, so students like to try to find it before an exam.  Unfortunately Maury had to point it out for me, so it looks like academic success is not in my future :/  If I don’t get into grad school, I’m blaming it on that!!

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The façade.

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Found the frog!

Since Salamanca is a university city, it is also known to have a really good nightlife.  I can vouch for that.  Both nights we were there were so much fun!  And since there are so many Spanish students, we got to practice our Spanish a lot which was really cool.  But unfortunately staying out until 6 in the morning took a big toll on my health.  A couple days before leaving for the trip, I felt a little cold coming on and it got progressively worse throughout the trip to the point where I lost my voice on Saturday night and didn’t get it back until the following Thursday.  It also didn’t help that it was FREEZING all weekend.  So although all these factors would of course lead to poor health, it was so worth it!  I had a blast in Salamanca and I definitely want to try to go back at some point this year.

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My Pouring Puente in Porto, Portugal

This past weekend was my very first puente since working in Spain!  “Puente” is what Spaniards call their long weekends because it literally means “bridge”, so the holiday is connected to the weekend like a bridge.  We were given off of work on Friday for All Saint’s Day.  In order to take advantage of this long weekend, my friends Kristen, Erin, Kelly, and I decided to take our first international trip to Porto, Portugal!

Porto is the 2nd largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, located in the north of the country, and is an easy 1 hour flight from Madrid.  I traveled to Lisbon 2 years ago when I studied abroad and loved it!  And this past summer when I came across pictures of Porto, I knew I had to go at some point this year.  I was reunited with the infamous budget airline, Ryanair, which is notorious for being a horrible experience.  However, I noticed that their customer service has greatly improved!  The employees were so nice and actually smiled!  It was so different from how I remembered them.  Their strict baggage allowance was still in tact but luckily I packed very lightly this trip and fit it all into my backpack.  We arrived to Porto on Thursday night and got settled into our awesome hostel.  We stayed in the Pilot hostel and I highly recommend it if you ever go to Porto.

The next morning we woke up to some unpleasant rain.  And it proceeded to rain the entire weekend.   It’s ok because we made the most of it and didn’t let it stop us from exploring the city and having fun!  As a way to stay out of the rain, we signed up for a great tour bus deal:  for 15 euros we were given access to 2 tour buses that took us all around the city for both days.  We were also able to use the buses as our form of transportation all weekend.

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Still having fun in the rain!

Our first stop was the beach!  Fortunately it stopped raining when we got there so we walked on the beach.  The waves were crazy!!  One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when Kristen sat on a rock for a really nice picture.  Erin, Kelly, and I were all taking pictures of her and saying, “We love it!  We all have to take one just like this!”  Then out of nowhere a GIANT wave came up and attacked her!  We all started screaming and running like lunatics.  Kristen was DRENCHED but luckily made it out alive!  Afterwards while we were walking, another wave came up and my boots got soaked 😦 But I suppose I had nothing to complain about after what happened to Kristen!

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Just a little montage that tells the story of when the Atlantic wanted to give Kristen a big hug!

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Having some fun with our umbrellas.

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Crazy waves!

After the beach, we got some delicious seafood for lunch.  I had salmon for the first time in 2 months!  (It’s one of my favorite foods to eat at home so I was obviously very happy).  We walked around after lunch and came across a random castle that we explored for a little bit.  Then Kristen and I went to the river which was my favorite area in Porto.  It was so picturesque!  We took a fun cable car ride to the top of the bridge that looks down upon the river and colorful houses.  That night we had a traditional Portuguese dinner at the hostel (cod and rice) and then went out to a Mexican restaurant for amazing blue margaritas and nachos! Mmmm

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It was raining even harder the next day so we hopped on the tour bus for a couple of hours.  Even though it was raining, Kristen and I still thought it would be fun to ride on the uncovered roof of the double-decker bus.  It was a blast!  A lot of Portuguese people walking around seemed to get a lot of enjoyment out of waving to us from below.  We were soaked by the end of it so it was definitely time for some coffee and hot soup!  That evening, Kristen and I explored one of Porto’s wine “caves” (that’s what they call their wineries but they’re actually just  buildings).  Porto is most known for its Porto wine, a very sweet and thick wine.  We bought some mini bottles to taste-test and I really liked it!  The cave was also so much fun!  There was a woman walking around singing songs in Portuguese and the crowd was clapping along and having a good time.  She came over to us and wanted us to sing along with her into the microphone.  After saying no a couple of times, I finally just caved in and did it.  Since I don’t know Portuguese, I tried to just follow her rhythm but it didn’t work out too well haha so the entire place could hear my Portuguese singing fail.

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Making the most of the rain on the uncovered top of a double decker tour bus!

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Porto wine tasting.

Since our flight was at 6:30 am on Sunday, we called a cab for 4:15 am.  Our original plan was to stay out all night but I wasn’t feeling well and we were all just so tired that we decided to sleep a couple hours instead.  It was miserable being at the airport that early but the flight was a lot cheaper and it also gave us a full day of recovery in Madrid which was much-appreciated.

After having traveled to Portugal twice so far, I’ve noticed that it tends to be an interesting experience because it’s so similar to Spain, yet so different.  Portugal seems quieter and more “untouched” by tourists, perhaps because it seems to be the forgotten country of the EU.  The language barrier is also a bit difficult to overcome.  Since Portugal feels so much like Spain, we just kept wanting to speak Spanish!  But then we would realize that we weren’t in Spain and would therefore just not say anything at all.  We definitely experienced some culture shock traveling from Spain to Portugal.  As much as I loved Porto, I was excited to return to Madrid, something familiar and a language that I understand.  Overall it was a really fun trip!  It sort of sucks that we had such crappy weather but I’m glad that we didn’t let it ruin our fun!

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Porto had beautiful blue and white mosaic murals on the side of some buildings called “Azuelos.”

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Porto is home to the fanciest McDonald’s you will ever eat in. It had stained glass windows and chandeliers!

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J.K. Rowling used to live in Porto. She used to go to this bookshop and it was actually one of the things that inspired her to write Harry Potter. Now it is a popular tourist destination for this reason.

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This is my Porto advertisement haha.