5 things Spain is doing right

Awhile ago I posted about some things that I missed about America.  This is the follow-up post talking about some things that the US could learn from Spain.

  1. Jamon.  Need I say more?! Rumor is that God didn’t rest on the 7th day, he created jamon Serrano.
  2. Walking.  Everywhere. This is why everyone in this country is so skinny. It helps that I live in a small town and I walk to every one of my private classes, but I average 8 miles a day.
  3. Commercial breaks during television. They don’t occur every five minutes or every change of scene; however you will have a 5 minute break halfway through the show. It’s the perfect break during a show to run to the bathroom or grab an ice cream from the freezer.
  4. Dryer racks in the cabinets. I don’t mind washing the dishes but I really dislike drying the dishes. Spain genius engineers have designed cabinets above the sink where you leave the dishes to dry on their own. I guess we don’t need this in the US if we have dishwashers, but it’s one of my favorite things about my apartment.

hidden-kitchen-storage-08

And possibly the most ironic thing about this country is the division between old and new; modern and old-fashioned. This is best demonstrated through chip-pin-credit cards and bank books.

  1. Europe is more advanced than the US with their credit cards. Every card here is chip-pin, which means that you insert your card in a machine and enter your pin. Cards like these are now just being introduced into the US. On the contrary, when I go to the bank to make a deposit or transfer money for rent, I have to present my bank book. It’s a little book that tracks all the transactions from my account. Also there is one man who works at my bank. ONE MAN. Talk about old fashioned-he knows me by name when I walk in. Now that’s customer service.

bank book

So, there’s a glimpse into my simple happy Spanish life. Come on over and visit anytime

#auxiliarprobs

We love our job–most of the time–but there are certain things that I’m sure every auxiliary in Spain has experienced.

  1. Our little robot students. – I walk into class everyday and ask, “How are you?” and they respond in unison, “I’m fine thanks, and you?”  I’m pretty sure emotions and feelings are taught in primary, so in secondary they should be able to respond independently and have original responses by now.
  2. Estuche (pencil case).  –Spanish children’s most treasured possession is their sacred estuche/pencil case. It’s not only a pencil case but also a weapon that they use to constantly hit their partner, or their favorite object to play hide and seek with. This isn’t just an average pencil case with pens and pencils, but it’s filled with glue sticks, scissors, rules, protractor and compass. It’s a constant distraction as I consistently ask my students and myself why they are playing around with scissors during a conversation activity. Ni idea.
  3. Tipp-ex (white out).  –Note taking in class takes an eternity and a half. The main reason is because they are obsessed with their tipp-ex or white out correction tape. Student A spells a word wrong, they take their white out tape, cover the error, wait for it to dry, and write over the tape. Now that process takes about 10x longer than just crossing out the word or writing over the mistake would take. And it’s a big game when someone finishes a roll because they use the ribbon as a jump rope, handcuffs, necklaces, you name it, I’ve confiscated that garbage and thrown it in the trash. Or as my students would say, “the rubbish bin”.tipp-ex
  4. British English.  –So we are teaching British English to the students and I’m not exaggerating that I have to rely on some of the pictures in the book to let me know what the word means.  Like what is candy floss? At first I thought they had invented a new fun and tasty way to floss your teeth.  But then a student showed me the picture in the book.  It’s cotton candy FYI.  I can’t even describe my shock and how appalled I was when the male teacher asked me for a rubber??!! He was looking for an eraser for a pencil.  We then went into a cultural explanation of what a rubber means in American English.  He then understood my surprise.
  5. Common Spanish/English translation errors.  –Learning a second language is hard, I know.  But there are some things that make me cringe as a teacher when I hear them.  For example, “I have 13 years old.”  or “You can write it on the board?” And if I hear the word “interesting” one more time, I’ll go loca.  It’s their favorite adjective; How was your weekend? -Interesting.  How was the movie? -Interesting.  Describe your best friend. -Interesting.  Well, I guess their lives are very interesting.

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    the “be” verb is difficult.

  6. Awkward compliments from your students.  –14 year old boys are pretty suave.  Between trying to keep your social media a secret so they don’t find you and rejecting them every chance you get at school.  You do have to admire their effort.  “Gabby will you be my girlfriend? I love you.” I respond, “Umm how old are you?”  His response, “Love knows no age.”
  7. Oh you’re American, so you know everything about American pop culture?!  –I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked about Route 66.  It’s like Spaniards have some weird obsession with it.  They hate driving more than 4 hours in car but for some reason a multiday road trip across the country sounds like a good idea.  Also I try to avoid saying, “What do you mean?” in class because then they will erupt in unison singing Justin Bieber’s new song.  Also stay away from saying, “What else?” because then they will tell you that’s what George Clooney says in his nespresso commercial.  george-nespresso

 

At the end of the day, I just can’t help but smile and think that these little spaniards are changing my life.  And I hope I’m changing theirs too!

 

Alright auxiliars, what are some other things you have encountered?? No matter who I talk to in Galicia, Madrid, Sevilla it’s like we are all having a similar experience in the classroom.  El mundo es un panuelo.

 

American luxuries

That song lyric that says, “you never know what you got till it’s gone” has never been a more accurate representation of my life until I moved to Spain.  Big picture: my Spanish life is perfect and I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been, but there are some American luxuries I miss on a daily basis.

1.) Family and Friends.

DUH.  But thanks to technology, it’s still pretty easy to connect and keep in touch.  As long as they don’t mind being woken up at 5:00am because you forgot about the 7 hour time difference.

2.) Dryer.

Have you ever dried your body with a piece of sandpaper? I have, and my skin has never been so exfoliated in my entire life.  No amount of fabric softener has left me with a warm, fluffy towel.

Have you ever made a laundry schedule to allow enough time for your jeans to air dry? I have, and my research shows that it takes approximately 3 days for a pair of jeans to dry.  And then I feel like a stick figure when I put on my starchy, stiff pants.  Actually quite similar to Ana in Frozen when her dress freezes.

Frozen-Anna-cold

3.) Someone bagging my groceries.

Have you ever tried to hand the cashier your card, get your change, and bag your groceries all at the same time while there’s a Spanish grandma behind you trying to shove your stuff out of the way? I have, and I almost break into tears every time because, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN”.  I actually might have missed some Spanish seminar for Spaniards on how to pack grocery bags in record time without breaking your eggs.  I’ll be googling that after this post is finished.

4.) Peanut Butter.

Have you ever paid 7€ for a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from an American store that caters to rich tourists? I have, I also have zero regrets.  FYI: I’m currently saving up for my another bag to last me the next couple months.  Furthermore, the majority of my students think it’s disgusting and are appalled that I ate a pb&j everyday for 18 years during school.

5.) Cereal.

Have you ever bought Special K cereal and then sprinkled sugar on top because the store doesn’t sell Frosted Flakes? I have and although it’s probably quite unhealthy, it does do the trick.  Just close your eyes and say, “They’re grrrreat”

 

Fellow expats, what do you miss most from America? Is it the cherry pie, big cars, or dishwasher?

Look out for my next article on things Spain is doing right.

 

change in latitude, change in attitude

Without a doubt the biggest difference between the US and Spain is the daily schedule or routine.  I was hesitant at first, but now I really enjoy it and think it allows me to be a lot more productive.  So here’s a general breakdown of a normal day in Spain

9:00 School starts, stores start to open, the day begins.  This is all after a nice, morning cup of cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and a small breakfast.  Breakfast could be a bowl of cereal; toast with jelly; or a ham sandwich.  It’s pretty much acceptable to eat ham anytime of the day.  And don’t even think of eating yogurt for breakfast, they consider it a dessert here.

2:30-5:00 Lunch and sobremesa.  Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Spain.  All of the shops close during this time and nothing is open.  Run out of milk and need it for lunch? You better be friends with your neighbors because all of the grocery stores will be closed.  Lunch can be anytime between 2 and 2:30, a big meal with meat, chicken, or fish with vegetables and bread.  Break the bread up into pieces and use it like a sponge to soak up all the juices from the plate.  After lunch is family time.  Sobremesa is a spanish word that doesn’t have an exact english translation, but it’s the time after a meal where everyone just talks and catches up.  Spaniards love to talk.  After sobremesa, it’s time to do things around the house, spend time with family, or take a nap (siesta).

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Mama Ana and I love our afternoon siestas

Around 5:00 or 5:30 the stores and businesses open again and then close around 8:00 or 8:30.  This is when the majority of people do their shopping and run errands around town.

9:00-10:30 Dinnertime.  Dinner is a small meal, maybe a sandwich; a salad; or a small plate of meat with veggies.  Again this is family time, where families eat all together.  The importance of family time in Spanish culture is evident by their daily schedule and in everything they do.  It’s a normal day when I receive about 3 phone calls and 5 messages from mama Ana, mostly just checking up to to tell me about the tv show that I missed.

11:30-12:00 Sleep and repeat.

It did take me about two weeks to really adjust myself to the new routine, both the time schedule and the eating schedule.  But I really love it now and enjoy the break in the middle of the day to relax.  I feel very productive as I get a lot done at school in the mornings and then in the afternoons with my private english classes.  It’s been a very exciting 1.5 months in this wonderful country.

stop, drop, and roll

As much as I am an organizational guru and tetris master, packing my bags for a year abroad sounded more difficult than the crossword puzzle of the Sunday Tribune newspaper.

For everyone that’s ever told me to not over-pack, I’ll be billing you all the clothes and shoes that I had to buy abroad because I didn’t pack them.  However, thanks to pinterest and about every blogger out there, I found the most efficient way to pack all my clothes in one large suitcase.  Just a few easy tips to remember: stop, drop, and roll.

Stop and take the time to plan what you are packing, try to stick to a neutral color scheme.  Your bright canary yellow tank will only look good for about 1/4 of your trip.  My plan was to list out everything I was going to pack, then lay it out on my bed and take a visual inventory of what I was going to pack.  Take some time to look around the internet for what’s trending in your country of destination or pinterest for multi-use wardrobe items.  Do some research about the weather for your destination and decide if you need outerwear or beachwear, rain-gear or sunglasses.

Drop anything you don’t think you’ll use more than 5 times.  This is by far the most difficult task and only you can do it.  As much as I wanted to bring half a dozen sundresses, I know that summer is coming to a close and that precious space would be much more needed for a jacket.  Don’t forget that you are going to want to buy clothes abroad that are much cuter than what you already own.  My mantra these past months have been, “hmmm, do I want these sandals or would I want an authentic pair of leather ones from Italy?!” I dropped everything but the basics.  Layering pieces work really well to transition with the seasons.  A variety of tanks, short sleeve tops, long sleeve tops, and cardigans should allow you to use all your pieces in every season.

Roll everything.  I thought it was a hoax, but I’m driving the bandwagon now.  Roll your shirts, roll your pants, roll your sweaters.  This is the reason I was able to fit so much and be able to overpack a little bit.

A few extra tips

  • Pack as many of the heavy items in your carry on so the weight doesn’t count against you
  • Stuff your shoes with socks, scarves, or gloves to make some extra room
  • There is absolutely no good way to pack shoes, so just play around with different positions.
  • Throw a dryer sheet in your luggage to keep things smelling fresh

Now I am crossing my fingers that some cute Spanish taxi driver will pick me up right outside the airport and offer to carry all my bags.

What are your packing secrets?  Have you ever had to pack for a year? What couldn’t you leave home without? 

the good, the bad, the ugly: Applying for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

The first hurdle in my impending Spanish adventure was the visa application process.  And I’m not referring to the credit card applications that I get in the mail every other day.  The first piece of advice I’m going to give is to “not get your panties in a knot”.  Yes, this little sticker in your passport is your key to getting to Spain, but it can be easily broken up into parts and then you’ll be on your way to Spain!

Part 1: Gathering documents

Visit the Chicago Consulate website and download this pdf.  I don’t think I’ve ever loved a pdf file so much.  This became my checklist of documents to get in order before the visa appointment.  So let’s go through each one:

  • Visa application form (you need to fill out #21, 28)
  • Passport and ID
  • Passport photo (attach it to the Visa application form)
  • Original hardcopy acceptance letter
  • Evidence of funds: depends on the program, but since my stipend was listed in the acceptance letter, I didn’t have to show anything else.
  • Proof of health insurance: my school provides insurance for me and I only had to show the email of my specific coverage plan
  • Criminal history information/Police background check.  This was the most annoying thing EVER.  I requested a background check from the state of Illinois, verified by fingerprints.  Then you have to wait for the form to be mailed to you to submit your fingerprints.  After taking your fingerprints, send the form back to the state and wait to hear back that you aren’t a criminal.  This document that you receive needs to be notarized.  Then it needs to get an apostille.  This is a fancy term for a stamp that verifies a document in all parts of the world.  Think of a notary on steroids.  You can either send in the document with the apostille request form to the secretary of state’s office or go to the downtown office for the SoS walk in hours.
  • Medical certificate: this can be a super simple note from your doctor that says you “have been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005” and signed by a M.D.
  • Second proof of health insurance: again I am covered by my school and didn’t have to show anything else.
  • A self addressed, prepaid express USPS envelope.  This is for them to send you back your passport with the visa attached.
  • Money order with payment

Bring copies of EVERYTHING just to be sure.  🙂

Part 2: Make appointment

At the bottom of this page click on the link to schedule the appointment.  Remember that it takes about 4 weeks plus 10 days to ship your passport back to you.  Schedule in advance!! This website reserves specific appointment times and they book quickly! I would say to book an appointment as soon as you can and this might be before you have all your documents ready.  For me the thing that took the most time was the background check/notary/apostille document.

part 3: The appointment

I was walking proud down Michigan Ave in downtown Chicago with all my documents and copies and entered a building.  I was guided to take the elevator up to the 15th floor and it was on the left.  There was no red carpet on the ground floor so I was sure once I got up to the 15th floor it would be there to greet me with a giant portrait of the King and Queen and possibly a Spanish coat of arms.  *ding, doors open* NOTHING. NADA. ZILCH. I walk through a glass door labeled with sticker letters saying “Spanish Consulate”.  To say it looked like a doctor’s waiting room with three walk up windows would be completely accurate.  So unimpressed, albeit there was a small portrait of the King and Queen.  I wait there for a man behind the window to call me up.  I hand him all my documents and copies.  He says it takes about a month to get the passport back. and YA, tan FÁCIL?! It took me longer to write this paragraph then the actual appointment.

part 4: the waiting game

Besides greeting the mailman everyday to see if I got any mail, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with planning trips, finding accommodation in Spain, and watching Spanish TV shows online.

suerte! <<good luck>>