December-May Snapshot

Back when I made my first couple of general updates about my life over here in Spain I told myself that I would continue updating every few months (mostly just for myself because I’ll enjoy having this blog to look back on a few years down the road).  Well…that obviously didn’t happen.  Now I only have 20 days left of being here before I go home for the summer (insane!) so I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to give an update on what my life has been like since November.

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I think I should start by saying that I am still having the most incredible year and I am in disbelief that it is almost over.  As incredible as it is, I still feel the need to make it clear that it’s still life therefore it’s definitely not perfect.  There are really good days as well as some bad ones.  Some of these bad days, for example, were around the holiday season.  I like to refer to this time as the “winter blues” period of this year.  Don’t worry, I wasn’t depressed, it just wasn’t like I was frolicking through the streets of Madrid or anything (not like I normally frolic, but you get the point).  Thanksgiving was when my first real spurt of homesickness sprouted.  I had never been homesick before, including during my semester abroad, so when it hit it was an unfamiliar and terrible feeling, as I’m sure you can imagine.  It was hard skyping with my family as they were all getting ready to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner without me or hearing about all of the moments my friends were having that I was missing out on.  As much as I love living abroad, it’s definitely easy to feel like I am missing out on things at home.  It’s times like these that being able to be two places at once would be an excellent super power to have.  But I remind myself that this isn’t a permanent change, so I try to take advantage and just enjoy the limited amount of time that I have here.  All of that aside, I spent Thanksgiving surrounded by all of my American friends here at our extravagant pot-luck dinner which helped ease the sting of being away from home for all of us, and it was so nice sharing this holiday with a great group of new friends!

Our Spanish Friendsgiving!

Our Spanish Friendsgiving!

My friends were able to make it through our family-less Thanksgiving a little easier though because they knew that they would be traveling home just a few weeks later for Christmas.  I, however, made the choice before leaving for Spain that I would spend Christmas break traveling around Europe.  I won’t lie, I was definitely second-guessing that decision by the time the holidays came around but I had already made travel plans so there was no turning back.  As hard as it was being away from home during that time, I couldn’t have chosen a better way to spend my holidays.  My friend Lindsey, who instantly became one of my closest friends after we met studying abroad in Sevilla, and I planned the most epic trip around Central Europe.  Over the course of 17 days, we covered four countries and five cities:  Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and Hamburg.  We celebrated Christmas by eating Chinese food and seeing the Nutcracker at the Opera House in Vienna and New Years’ Eve avoiding getting hit by fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.  It was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will remember for the rest of my life.  If you’d like to read more about our trip:  here’s a link.

Lindsey and I at the Christmas showing of The Nutcracker at the Vienna State Opera House.

Lindsey and I at the Christmas showing of The Nutcracker at the Vienna State Opera House.

Christmas was the hurtle to get over, but once we got past that, everything started to look up.  Since there wasn’t much to do in Madrid when it was cold, my friends and I booked weekend trips every other weekend from the end of January until Mid-March.  That definitely helped occupy us and got us through the monotonous winter.  It was perfect timing because by mid-March, Madrid started seeing some early spring weather and started to really come back to life.  The days were getting much longer, the temperatures were rising, outdoor cafés were filling up with people, and the “Almendros” or Almond trees were blooming and it was like springtime heaven.  It was impossible not to fall back in love with Madrid during this time.  For the most part, we have had summer-like weather, but every now and then we get the chilly and/or rainy days.  I guess the Spaniards weren’t kidding when they say, “Hasta el cuarenta de Mayo, no te quites el sayo.”  This basically means don’t put your jacket away until early June because the weather often changes.

You know Spring has arrived when the Almendros are in bloom!

You know spring has arrived when the Almendros are in bloom!

So I should probably talk about the whole reason I’m here: my job.  Work has been really good!  During that aformentioned “winter blues” period I was getting frustrated with my job, the early hours, lack of sleep, and my students who would just Not. Stop. Talking.  I woke up every morning dreading going to work (I feel like I just sound like every other American but really, I was sick of my job).  But things have been much, much better lately.  Over time, I finally got my rhythm at my school and in the classroom (since let’s remind ourselves that I had NO teaching training before this) and I got to know my students much better which has tremendously improved the vibes in the classroom.  There was a period of time when I was having serious problems of disrespect with a group of my 15-year-old boys but there’s nothing like a visit to the principal’s office, a letter home to their parents, and an assignment of translating a lengthy Spanish article into English to get them to act like angels around me.

Even though everything is much better than before, in no way is teaching my passion or the career that I want for the rest of my life.  But for now, it’s a great way for me to live in Spain.  A common question that I get from people is, “Do you feel like your teaching is making a difference?”  My answer to that used to be, “Not really.”  It’s sad, but true.  But recently, I have had other teachers that I work with and the parents of children whom I give private lessons to  tell me that they have all seen great improvement in their students’/children’s English.  I have also noticed a great difference in the other professors at my school whom I have been giving lessons to all year.  I remember  they used to look at me like I had five heads when I spoke during our first couple of months together.  They didn’t understand a word I said.  But now, 8 months later, we’re having hour-long conversations with one another!  The most rewarding thing about this year has been watching them improve right before my eyes.  So overall, it’s nice to know that my time here has been worthwhile and I’m making some sort of difference.

I've posted this picture before but here is my school again.

I’ve posted this picture before but here is my school again.

One of my favorite moments this year that involved my students was when I got to introduce some of my favorites (I know I “shouldn’t” have favorites but hey, it happens) to my sister when she came to visit for the week.  I could tell they were a little shy to speak English but they spoke very well.  I loved it because they all had big grins on their faces and I could tell they were intrigued to meet one of my family members because I’m the only American they really know and talk to.  This was such a short moment in reality, but for me it was a big deal because it made me so happy to see my two worlds come together in front of my eyes.

Speaking of my sister’s visit, I am so lucky to have a family that will fly over here to visit me.  My parents came over just before my spring break in April and I got to show them around Madrid for a few days.  I loved playing tourguide and showing them my new city!  Seven months was the longest I have ever gone without seeing them so it was so nice being reunited.  After Madrid, we traveled to Salzburg, Austria where we did the Sound of Music Tour!  After that, we went to Munich, Germany where my brother flew in from Philly to meet us.  Our next stop was Ireland where we rented a car and drove all around the country hitting Cork, The Blarney Castle, The Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and Dublin.  It was hard saying goodbye to them again but just a short couple of weeks later my sister and her friend, Carla, came to visit!  We met in Paris for the weekend and then they came back to Madrid with me for the rest of the week.  It was so great having my whole family over here with me.  I loved being able to show them what my life in Spain is like and they got to see first-hand why I love it so much.  If you’d like to read more about my trips with my family, here is a link to my trip with my parents & brother, and a link for my trip with my sister.

With my parents and brother at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

With my parents and brother at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

In Paris with my sister and Carla.

In Paris with my sister and Carla.

In most recent news, this past weekend in Madrid was one of the most (if not the most) exciting weekends here yet!  Saturday night was the Champions League final in Europe and for the first time in history, two teams from the same city were up against one another for the title.  This city happened to be Madrid!  The whole city was torn between Real Madrid fans and Atlético Madrid fans.  I honestly don’t follow football (neither American nor European), but I was cheering for Real Madrid.  I guess you could say I was one of those people who hopped on the bandwagon for the weekend, but after this experience I might just have to follow it a little closer.  This game was a big deal for both teams but especially Real Madrid because it would be the long-time coveted 10th time they would win this title, also known as “La Décima.”  My friend Erin who you could say is Real Madrid’s ultimate fan (to say the least haha) was able to score tickets to watch the game at  Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.  Since the game was played at the pre-determined location in Lisbon, both teams’ stadiums here in Madrid filled their seats that surrounded giant four-screen cubes in the middle of the fields.

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Parading around the field with the trophy.

Words can’t describe being in that stadium surrounded by ONLY Real Madrid fans during that game.  The game itself was so intense because for the first 93 minutes of the game, Atlético was unexpectedly winning 1-0.  I looked around the stadium and everyone just looked devastated; Many were praying into their Real Madrid scarves.  But suddenly Sergio Ramos scored a last-minute goal that sent the game into overtime and Real Madrid ended up making a huge comeback and won 4-1.  The whole stadium ERUPTED in cheers and even tears.  Then a giant trophy rose out from inside the cube and the whole crowd sang “We Are the Champions” in their Spanish accents haha.  Afterwards it was time to go celebrate at Cibeles!  This is a statue outside the city hall where everyone goes to celebrate a Real Madrid win.  There were sooo many people there but luckily we still had a view of the statue.  We stood there for four hours because we knew the team was flying in from Lisbon and was going to meet everyone at Cibeles for the tradition of wrapping the Real Madrid flag around the statue.  They didn’t arrive until 6 AM but there were still a good amount of fans there waiting for them, including us.  The celebrations continued the next night at the stadium again.  Once again Erin got us tickets which was awesome (thanks Erin!) and this time our seats were SO CLOSE to the field.  We had a great view of all of the players entering the field and when they walked around with the trophy.  There was also an impressive fireworks show.  As a whole, it was such an exciting and definitely memorable weekend.

Here’s a video of the ceremony the night after they won.  Sorry that I suck and I filmed it vertically.

So in case it isn’t obvious, I am very, very happy here.  So happy, in fact, that I’m just not ready to say goodbye to Spain quite yet.  So, back in February I made the decision to stay a second year definitive and I couldn’t be happier about this decision.  I could easily go into so much more detail about this, but I’ll quickly sum it up.  Basically, the way I look at it is that I’m blessed to be young, healthy, free, and have a job that allows me to live in and work in Spain.  It was my dream to come back to Spain to teach English since the day I left Sevilla three years ago and with the amount of time, energy, and money it took to get myself over here, I might as well stay and enjoy it a little longer!  I know it’s cheesy, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you have dreams, make them happen now (or at least start working towards them).  Tomorrow is never guaranteed, let alone 30 years from now, and you can never be sure what may arise in the future.  I still intend to go to Grad School once I’m finally back in the States for good, but for now that life can wait.  Right now I’m just trying to do what makes me happiest and it’s turning out pretty well.  As for you all back home, I love and miss you and another year away will be very difficult but starting in a few weeks we have a solid two and a half months together and I can’t wait!!  I’ll be seeing you all soon 🙂

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Deciding to Stay Another Year

So, back in February I made the decision to stay in Spain for a second year definitive.  The way my program works is that you can renew as many years as you’d like, and it’s not uncommon for people to stay two years or even more.  I knew about this once I was accepted into my program and it was always in the back of my mind.  Last summer, I had a feeling I would stay more than one year but I knew I needed to wait until I got to Spain to see how I felt before making any decisions.  It didn’t take very long for Spain to win me over again.  By mid-October I was already starting to think about that second year- so early, I know!  But as the year progressed and we got closer to the deadline when I had to renew with my program, I couldn’t stop freaking out.  It was all I could think about and my mind flip-flopped back and forth literally 10 times a day.  I wish I was exaggerating.  Pro-con lists were made, long conversations with friends were had, and yet no decision was being made.  Until one day, I finally made a decision that I for once felt 100 percent sure about.  I was going to go back to the US.  Well, I think making this decision final is what put everything into perspective and made me realize that that’s actually not what I want at all.  So I changed my mind one last time and I haven’t looked back since.

Although I don’t need to justify my reasons for staying, I still feel some judgement and disapproval coming from some people, so I’ll try to give a quick layout of why I made this choice.  For starters, it goes back to why I came here in the first place:  I am young with absolutely nothing tying me down.  I am so blessed to be young, healthy, and free, so why wouldn’t I take full advantage of that?  Travel is so important to me and you really never know what can arise in the future, so it’s best to do as much as you can now.  With that said, there is still so much more I want to see and do in Spain and Europe.  I might as well do it now because I highly doubt a spontaneous weekend trip to Paris is in my future!  Another big reason is because my Spanish still has a LOT of room for improvement.  I hope after another year I will improve even more.  Also, if I become a Speech Therapist one day, bilingual (especially in Spanish) SLPs are highly coveted and are paid much more, so that’s definitely an incentive to stay as well.

But most importantly, all I’m doing is following my heart and doing what makes me the happiest.  It’s cheesy, but you really do only have one life to live, so why not live it exactly the way you want to?  In my heart I know that I would be devastated to leave Spain right now.  I put in so much time, effort, and money to get myself here in the first place, so I just want to enjoy it a little longer.  I’m doing what’s right for me at this point in time.  Grad school is still on the agenda for when I finally come home, but for now I am absolutely loving having a job that allows me to live and work in Spain.  That was my dream the day I left Sevilla and I am so thankful that it all worked out.

So next year I will be at my same school and I am so excited!  I love my students and I just can’t imagine saying goodbye to them just yet.  I think next year will be even better because I have this first year under my belt and I’m more experienced this time around.  I know all my kids and they all know me, so everything should run much smoother next year.  Since the school year is starting to wrap up, I’m starting to realize that these are the last classes I’ll have with my students for the year.  But since I’ll be back next year, it’s a great feeling being able to say, “Have a great summer, I’ll see you in September!”  instead of having to say final goodbyes.  God knows how difficult those final goodbyes will be when they actually do happen.

Obviously spending another year away from home, my family, and my friends will be difficult, but I fully intend on coming home for Christmas which should help split up the year and make it a little easier.  And before then, I have an amazing 2 and a half months at home to look forward to this summer and I cannot wait!! 🙂

Paris, Versailles, & Giverny

I feel like each one of my posts begins with “Spain had a holiday so-and-so weeks ago so the schools were given a long holiday weekend.”  This post is no exception.  For the first weekend of May, we were given off Thursday and Friday which meant all of us Auxiliares knew we had to take advantage of this rare 4-day weekend!  I spent my long weekend the best way I know how:  in Paris with my sister!  My sister and her friend Carla had been planning to come visit me in Madrid over that first week in May but when I found out her visit fell over a long weekend, I suggested we go to Paris since she had never been and I always wanted to see it in the Spring.

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I arrived to the Paris Beauvais Airport (an hour outside of Paris) on Thursday evening.  I figured out how to take the shuttle bus for 17 Euros into the city and from there I navigated the metro which was pretty easy to get the hang of.  I arrived to my hostel for the night which I booked alone because my sister and Carla weren’t scheduled to arrive to Paris until Friday morning.  Lucky for me, there was also a nice American girl traveling alone who was staying in my 4-bed dorm.  I met her as soon as I walked in and after talking for a while, she asked if I wanted to go grab some dinner.  I was so relieved because I was starving but didn’t want to eat by myself!  I’ve never done a full trip by myself, but I have done bits and pieces of trips alone and they’ve made me want to plan a solo trip, just for a weekend or something.  Each time I’ve done things alone I’ve had no problem meeting people and it’s a nice excuse to talk to people you probably wouldn’t normally talk to if you were with friends.  So the girl and I walked around the Montmartre area where our hostel was and found a nice café where we ordered French wine and French Onion Soup!  It was soo good.  The next morning my hostel served a delicious breakfast:  orange juice, Café au lait, a baguette with jam, and a warm, melty chocolate croissant.

French Merlot & French Onion Soup!

French Merlot & French Onion Soup!

After breakfast I was ready to tackle the first of my two day-trips.  Since this was my second time to Paris, I knew I wanted to do things that I didn’t do before.  Seeing the Palace of Versailles was one of the big things I wanted to do this time around.  After the easy train ride getting there, I arrived to Versailles and was shocked to see the huge line for tickets.  I ended up just paying 5 Euros more for a bus that took me to the Gran Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Estate.  The logic behind their advertising was that everyone starts at the palace first so that by working backwards from the Grand Trianon, we would avoid a huge line to the palace since it would be later in the afternoon.  After exploring the Grand and Petit Trianons, I walked through the MASSIVE gardens.  Over our winter break trip at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, my friend Lindsey told me that those gardens weren’t nearly the size of Versailles’- and she was right!  They were so big that when it started to DOWNPOUR on me for a good 10 minutes, I had nowhere to hide.  It wasn’t like a tree or a bush was going to protect me, so I just trudged right on through.

After the gardens I got into the long line for the palace.  Yes, there was STILL a long line because apparently the day before was Labor Day and therefore the palace was closed.  The line went pretty quickly, but inside the palace was packed with people and it was a little hard to enjoy.  Plus it had been a very long day and I was exhausted and damp from the rain.  Also by that point I had already seen the palaces in Vienna and Madrid and they all seemed to resemble one another.  I did really enjoy Versailles and it has an incredibly interesting history but I think seeing it just the one time is enough.  I’d love to see other Châteaus in France.

The Palace of Versailles.

The Palace of Versailles.

I returned to Paris a lot later than expected but it was time to finally see my sister, Shaun!  It just so happened that Shaun and her friend Carla booked our hostel literally five minutes walking from my hostel the first night so it made for an easy transfer.  Although she was beyond tired from jet-lag, we still went out for a nice dinner together and called it an early night so that we could all get some much needed rest.  The next morning (and every morning for the rest of our time there), our hostel had a delicious breakfast buffet with ridiculously strong coffee (just what the doctor ordered!) which took a ton of milk to water it down.  If you travel to Paris, I strongly recommend booking a hostel that serves you breakfast.  With the amount of food you get, it’s definitely the best option economically.  Not only that, but their breakfasts are automatically good because you’re in Paris- the land of pastries!

That day (Saturday) we split up again because I had one last day trip I wanted to take and we decided it would also be a good time for Shaun and Carla to do a lot of the things that I had already done.  I got to the train station JUST in time to catch the next train headed towards Giverny, AKA the famous painter Claude Monet’s house and gardens!  In 4th grade, my class did an art project where we had to choose a famous painting and recreate it.  I chose one of Monet’s water lily pieces with the Japanese bridge.  My painting looked nothing like his (obviously) but he became my favorite painter due to that project and that painting of the water lilies in particular was my favorite.  Since I was young when I learned about him, I always assumed his paintings were images from Japan since it was a “Japanese bridge” in his paintings.  I later came to find out that Monet bought a house in Giverny, France and constructed a garden and pond area used for his paintings.  I also found out that Giverny was an easy day trip from Paris so seeing these paintings come to life was actually a possibility!

Monet had many variations of this painting but this is one of my favorites.  Source.

Monet had many variations of this painting but this is one of my favorites. Source.

I took a 45-minute train from Paris’ Saint-Lazare train station to a little town called Vernon.  It was so nice seeing the French countryside!  From there, I caught the bus to Giverny that waits right outside the Vernon train station for all the tourists and it takes about 15 minutes to reach Giverny.  Again, there was a HUGE line to get into the gardens but fortunately I read online that it’s best to buy your tickets online ahead of time.  So that’s what I did and it saved me over an hour and a half of waiting.  I walked right by everyone in line to the front and the guy scanned my ticket and I got in!  It was great.  From there I walked around the beautiful gardens which were full of flowers of every color!  The day was sunny, warm, and absolutely gorgeous.  I couldn’t have asked for a better day to explore Monet’s gardens!  The path I was on eventually led to the pond area with the bridges and water lilies.  It was like a dream coming to life seeing my favorite paintings in person!  There were a ton of people in a tight path area so it took away some of the pleasure, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.  My recommendations are to definitely pick a sunny, Spring day to go, try to avoid holidays or weekends, get there early, and buy your ticket online ahead of time to avoid the line.  I’m so glad I made it to Giverny and now whenever I look at Monet’s paintings I’ll be able to say, “I was there!” which is incredible.

Monet's Gardens

Monet’s Gardens

The Japanese bridge and water lilies!

The Japanese bridge and water lilies!

That evening I met up with Shaun and Carla at the Trocadero for the best view of the Eiffel Tower and after that we walked along the Champs Elysees.  We also climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (free for students under 26 which was a pleasant surprise!) and saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour, both of which were on my Paris to-do list because I didn’t do them the last time.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

The next day, our last full day in Paris, was finally time to enjoy Paris with my sister!  I tackled the day trips I wanted to do so now it was time to focus on Paris.  The weather was perfect!  I couldn’t have asked for a better Spring weekend (with the exception of the downpour at Versailles) for the entire trip.  I always wanted to see Paris in the Spring and I’d say I got it!  My sister and I actually got a little burnt.

On this day we walked around the Latin Quarter and saw Notre Dame, ate ham and cheese crepes at an outdoor café that overlooked Notre Dame, my sister put a lock on the famous love lock bridge (another thing that was on my Paris to-do list!), I took a small nap on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, then we ate Nutella and banana crepes as we watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle one last time.  It was a perfect day.

Carla, me, and my sister in front of Notre Dame.

Carla, me, and my sister in front of Notre Dame.

The Love Lock Bridge.

The Love Lock Bridge.

Banana and Nutella crepes- yes please!

Banana and Nutella crepes- yes please!

Before our flight the next afternoon, we checked a couple more things off of my Paris to-do list:  go to the Moulin Rouge and eat macarons!  I’ve never actually seen the movie Moulin Rouge (shocking, I know), but since the theater itself has a longer history than the movie I still wanted to go see it.  After looking around and reading about its history I’ve decided that the next time I go to Paris I’d love to go see a show which includes a dinner (which means the next time I go to Paris I’m going to have to make a damn good salary to pay for it).  After that we stopped at a café where I finally got my long-awaited macarons!  We hiked the steps to the Sacre Coeur and joined the rest of the people in Paris on the steps that overlooked the whole city as I ate my delicious macarons.

The Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge

Eating Macarons while overlooking Paris at the Sacre Coeur.

Eating Macarons while overlooking Paris at the Sacre Coeur.

I know I say this a lot (more like all the time) but I was honestly so sad to leave Paris!  Yes, I know I had to leave it to go back to my home in, ya know, Spain (oh hey, reality check), but that doesn’t mean I don’t get attached to other cities I visit and wish I could stay just a few days longer.  These weekend trips go by so fast, just as I’m getting my feet wet.  I think that’s why some of my favorite trips this year have been to places that I have already been before.  The more time I spend somewhere, the more I like it (not always, but a lot of the time).  My first time I was in Paris was with my parents for three nights and this time I was there for four nights, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time there and have been able to see and do a lot.  But after this trip, I’ve realized that Paris is the kind of city that I can keep going back to and always find something new to do.  I already have my new Paris to-do list ready for the next time I go back!  So yes, there will be (at least) a third trip to Paris in my future.

The Eiffel Tower sparkling on the hour.

The Eiffel Tower sparkling on the hour.

 

MADRID WITH SHAUN & CARLA

Our time in Paris may have been over but Shaun and Carla’s visit wasn’t!  They came back to Madrid with me and stayed in a hotel right down the street from me for the rest of the week until Saturday morning.  It was so nice having them in Madrid and being able to show them everything!  It was annoying that I had to work while they were here, but luckily they had plenty to keep them occupied until we met at night.  We did the typical things such as Plaza Mayor, Sol, Retiro Park, ate at some of my favorite places (Cien Montaditos and El Tigre), showed them my school and my apartment, etc.  But we were also able to do things that I’ve been wanting to do in Madrid which was a lot of fun!  I finally had my relaxing cup of cafe con leche in Plaza Mayor, saw the rose garden in bloom in Retiro Park, and finally returned to the same restaurant that I went to with my friends when we visited Madrid during our semester abroad.  While there, we had delicious paella and sangria!  Saturday morning came way too fast and it was sadly time to say goodbye to them.

It was such a great week with my sister and Carla!  We started in Paris and ended in Madrid.  Their visit really moved this year along faster than it was already going because by the time they left it was almost mid-May and I’ll be home in mid-June!  Where did the time go?!?

Starting in Paris, ending in Madrid!

Starting in Paris, ending in Madrid!