Check out the guest blog post I wrote for the Fulbright Commission in Spain.
Friends and Family,
For the past three months, I have worked to put together the first-ever English-language online-based newspaper at the Institute in which I work. The WhatsApps Times is brought to you by high school students at IES José Luis Sampedro. Feel free to view and pass it on to your friends: http://www.joomag.com/magazine/whatsapp-times-feb-2013/0278991001359974244.
Spring has not quite yet begun. Punxsutawney Phil thinks that it is coming soon but I do not know if a groundhog in Pennsylvania has much authority on Madrid cold spells. My favorite football team lost the Superbowl Sunday. Madrid seems to be getting awfully cold but there is still a good amount of sun. These words sound emotionless as I put them on paper and I think this is a good sign that I have adapted to life here. Finally.
After five months, I feel like I am at home in Madrid. My Spanish level is decent. I have a nice schedule going on. I have started to take a strong interest in my job here. In my art classes, I have started teaching the students to be art critics in English. This week, I will teach them vocabulary to talk about texture, shape, etc. In music class, I am more of a participant, playing drums and guitar along to pre-recorded music. At times, I give presentations on partially relevant music ideas, such as national anthems, rhythm, dynamics, etc. In Global Classrooms, I have seen many of the kids show growth and some not. We have our big conference in a few weeks and I am stoked. So are the kids. The only day I really fear is Friday where we will pick twelve out of the sixteen kids to go to the conference. Four will not and it breaks my heart. I have also begun to start an exercise regime, going to the gym last week. All of this stuff is pretty old stuff, things that I started a while ago or things that I just picked up.
The newest thing was that I got a new room. It is beautiful and big. My friend Pietro from Italy left last week and gave up the biggest room in the house. I pay 75 euros more but it is well worth it. I have twice as much space. I have a balcony which I have bought an aloe vera plant for. I also am planning to start an herb garden in a planter off the side. I have some beautiful rugs where I meditated this morning. I have a functioning heater and a large wardrobe/dresser. Things could not be better. I am getting broke since I am now on a shopping spree to make my room more and more comfortable. I just added a chair to my room. And tomorrow, I will go to Ikea to get another chair for my balcony and a large room lamp. Boy, am I spoiled.
These past two weeks have been really fun. Two weekends past, I went to Barcelona with Dylan and Adriana. We stayed with our friend Mike in downtown. During that time, I ate many lentils, saw Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (wow!), walked around Barrio Gotico, and heard many Lady Gaga jokes from Hector. The best part of our time was on Saturday when we went to a traditional Mallorcan fogata (bonfire) in the center of Barcelona. There were flames as tall as the beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk. We cooked our food over the fires and listened to Catalonian music. It was a fantastic night. The time flew by fast as Dylan, Adriana, and me ate the best breakfasts on Ana’s balcony. The breakfasts were that much awesome with the brilliantly-shining sun. On the last day, we took a walk down to the beach (pictured below).
Dylan, Adriana, and Ana at the beach.
A self-potrait at the beach in Barcelona.
Another awesome thing happened this past Saturday. Mari, my roommate from Rota, and I went to a sushi cooking class in barrio Salamanca in Madrid. It was great. We created red pepper sushi, salmon nigiri, and a sushi roll of Spanish omlette. It was delicious. The only weird thing is that so many people left food on their plates (they did not eat any of their sushi!). My sushi is pictured below:
My sushi up close.
Now, I go off to the Spanish academy and then maybe a spinning class (I don’t think I even know what a spinning class is). Until next time.
(This is a picture of me in Lisbon at Plaza del Comercio, thinking about similarities between Portuguese and Spanish.)
When teachers give outlines to their students about five-paragraph essays in the United States, many suggest the use of dictionary definitions to begin these papers. The Webster-Merriam dictionary says that language is defined as “words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.” While a dictionary can tell you how the academic community considers a word, oftentimes it is incomplete or mildly incompatible with the way that it used within one of these communities. For example, one could spend their entire life learning language through a dictionary or a textbook or one could live in a place that speaks the language and learn from their friends and acquaintances. Albeit, one could argue that these actions are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, language learning tends to fall in one of these categories. Either a student spends their time studying a foreign language in their home country or the person spends time “abroad” immersing themselves in a language. Contemporary thought suggests that a combination of the two is ideal. Although I do not necessarily agree that starting an essay with a definition is the most intelligent way to begin a conversation, I do think that contemporary thought hit the nail on the head with a combination of classroom learning and then cultural immersion through study abroad in order to acquire fluency in a non-native language.
My first experience with the Spanish language came in the 3rd grade. My friends Emerson and Yessica are of Mexican descent and used to teach Spanish to me. At the time, I did not take much interest of the study of a language other than English. I was more concerned with passing my vocabulary test on words like “different” or “similar.” In middle school and high school, I exclusively studied French and a little bit of Latin. I even went abroad to Biarritz, France during high school to study this language, but only for two weeks.
During my second year of college, I had a language requirement at Pitzer. Instead of returning to French, I decided that Spanish would be the best option since there were ample opportunities to practice it in California. Also, it was very practical since I relished in the thought that I could speak in another language at my favorite Mexican food joints in Pomona, like Lily’s or Santana’s. I also wanted to study in Costa Rica and learn more about ecology so I needed some Spanish practice. After two semesters of Spanish, I spent 3 months in Costa Rica living with two families that could say no more than “hello” in English. Total cultural immersion served as a vehicle to language learning.
While in Costa Rica, I learned an important lesson about how to augment language confidence abilities. Many people simply translate the meaning of an unknown word to their friends. However, I learned the skill of using words in Spanish that I knew to describe a word that I did not know in the language. This has served as my secret to success throughout my time with the language. Simple translation between languages does not provide the psychological mechanism necessary for lasting comprehension. This methods values the repetition of the translated word in order to secure reenforcement. A far more successful method is to practice association of a new word with something you already know. The ability to describe unknown words in words you already know leads to greater reinforcement than the simple repetition method.
In the aftermath of Costa Rica, I longed for opportunities to practice the language. I participated in a community-based program at Pitzer that allowed me to eat dinner with a family in Ontario, a city next to Claremont with a large Hispanic population, and practice my Spanish. Additionally, I spent the following summer in Claremont with a friend of a friend named Eleazar from Cadiz, Spain. He paid rent and stayed for two months at my house with me and my friend Nick. During this time, I learned a plethora of new Spanish vocabulary. During my senior year of College, I practiced Spanish with some of my American friends.
All of this history helped me eventual transition to not just studying abroad but living abroad in Madrid. For the last four months, I have immersed myself in the culture as well as I can. I attended many intercambios, meetups at bars where English and Spanish speakers take turns practicing their language skills. I also live in a shared apartment with four others – two Spaniards, one German, and one Italian. This has provided me the opportunity for new language learning. At the end of the day, language has been one of the greatest art forms, opening up my eyes to the beauty of communication. Previously people that I could never talk to have new insights to offer me. One question I still must ponder, “Is language simply artistic, or is language simply a manifestation of art forms?”
“luved it! try adding some basil for an extra “punch” —- thanks christine! we had fun making it in madrid: two americans and one german. we also added some ginger for a little extra pizzaz” -Elena, Dylan, and me reviewed the Roasted Butternut Squash soup we made on January 6, 2013.
A customary tradition is to give thanks and praise to people who helped you create something delicious. For us, this was food. Food gives us life and life gives us food. This kind of reflective thinking is especially prominent at the beginning of a new year. A new year is a time where people reflect upon the last year and make new promises they intend to keep for the new year. Either the promises reflect something they wish had happened or a habit or something they want to change.
For me, 2012 was a year of music, fun, and growth. During college, some of my friends and I started a band called Dr. Nudel. Dr. Nudel was a real music venture but it lacked some of the seriousness of other bands. Rather than getting caught up on image and pride, the band was more of a band of friends for fun. The most serious thing we did was to record our music with Don Peake, Ray Charles’ first white guitarist in Los Angeles (check out nudel.bandcamp.com if you are interested). My new years’ resolution might be to play more music now that I have been reunited with my silver trumpet (prior I have been playing on my worthless pocket trumpet in a city that makes it difficult to play music indoors).
Another landmark of 2012 was the end of college and the start of a new education. I graduated from Pitzer College with a bachelors degree in American Government, an honors thesis on presidential history, and a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in Madrid, Spain. It was also the end of Camp Pitzer, by far one of the most interesting experiences of my life. While at Pitzer, I met people from all interests and many walks of life. I was exposed to different ways of thinking. A liberal arts education gave me the skills to be a critical thinker and a social activist. Many of the things I learned at Pitzer were academic but many enriching activities were extracurricular. As a member of the Kohoutek Arts and Music Festival Committee, I gained experience in being a team player in selecting bands, operating a festival, communicating with appropriate people, and coordinating activities. As the President of the Student Senate, I learned about college governance and community organizing. As a writer for the Student Life and the Orange Peel, I kept the community informed about current events at the Colleges. I made many relationships and friendships that will last for the rest of my life. As a customary Pitzer student, I applied for a Fulbright and received a wonderful opportunity to live, work, learn, and teach in Madrid for ten months.
So far, this experience has challenged me and exceeded my expectations in many respects. I have found that teaching is incredible. I have realized that my Spanish can improve and language competency is possible. I have found out that I can live in a big city and be relaxed. It is stupendous. Today is the last day of Christmas break. Tomorrow I go back to school. All of the friendly faces of students will return and the teachers as well. This month will be the first month of the WhatsApp Times, a student newspaper I started last month at my school. The first issue should be out at the end of this month. I may also switch out of my art classes and get some geography/history classes. I will keep you all updated about my newspaper. Also to look for are possible mushroom foraging activities and a future trip to Barcelona. Here’s a new year’s promise: to spread education and to new experiences. Corny, yes but achievable as well.
When you talk to most seasoned teachers, many of them will tell you that classroom management is one of the toughest problems they face. Either the kids talk too much or they don’t follow instructions or one kid becomes the center of attention. If you fail in valuing the importance of classroom management, you will lose the battle pretty fast. Since i have been in Spain, I have found that it is easier to manage classes as a young person since it was not that long ago that I was in their place, as a complacent ninth grader. In high school, you care about a few things: the biggest thing is being cool. If you create a culture in your classroom that being a good student is cool, then you have won half the battle. If that fails, sometimes you have to use alternative measures. Classroom management has provided me with a curious discussion in my brain that never stops. How can you be a more effective teacher? How do you balance being a friend and being a teacher? It’s a hard balance to strike and one that is consistently evolving. My students are generally pretty friendly to me, especially the bad ones. Enrique and Victorino asked me the other day to join their MindCraft tournament. Gracian pressured me unsuccessfully to buy raffle tickets for his sports team.
All in December in Spain has been pretty relaxed. It has seemed like it just started but its already the middle of the month. This is the weekend of Christmas dinners. I had one last night with some cool Spaniards that went to a camp in Maine with a friend of mine from the program. Tonight, I go to the Club de Campo, a prestigious golf course in Madrid for a very posh dinner with Fulbrighters and ex-Fulbrighters. They only serve wine from 2001. Not much else to report. Until next time.
It is hard to remember when I last wrote on the Baucebeat. The internet connection at my home in Madrid not only lost me hours of precious email reading and Facebook time, it also lost me the chance to speak with all of you. For that, I am deeply sorry. The nights I would spend trying to load Google or thinking that a photo would load after my toast finished in the oven make me greatful for fast Internet connection. It also showed me how me (and all of my roommates too) depend so greatly on this connection to the World Wide Web…But now, I am back. With internet stronger than ever.
Since my last post, I have done some personal reflection and I believe that I have entered a new phase of cultural assimilation. With regards to teaching, I feel completely natural. When I enter a class, I feel comfortable speaking in front of thirty or forty kids. I have embraced lesson planning and understand the importance of handing back papers in a timely fashion. My attempts to read students´handwriting seems like a punishment for my poor penmanship at a young age. In regards to the Spanish language, I feel like I have hit a slight roadblock. I can communicate normaly with other people and understand. This new interest in learning new words and understanding better has hit me. Because of this, I will sign up for Spanish lessons, paid for by the Fulbright program, three hours a week. Living has been the biggest challenge. Being in a new city is tough. After three months here, I have grown content with exploring less. When I first came here, every day involved ravish outings that ended with a full blog post. I am trying to fight that and get back on track. I have also found that cultural isolation is a possiblity that I must avoid. Here, in Spain, I have found some friends from America and some from other European countries. I have also many Spanish acquitances or friends of friends. But I have found that the next phase of cultural assimilation requires meeting Spaniards. This is something that is not only requires that I leave my comfort zone but it also requires that I find places with people with similar interests. There lies my plans for the weekend.
November has been a fantastic month. It has been a month of great gains and a little homesickness. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. As I told my dad last week, this was the first Thanksgiving away from my friends and family. I am so lucky to have had not one, not two, but THREE celebrations of the holiday. The first was with complete strangers, all of whom were teaching assistants in Madrid, for a Vegetarian Thanksgiving. It was great and fun to meet new people. My second was with some of my Fulbright friends and their roommates. Whereas my first celebration, everyone had celebrated Thanksgiving before, this second one was a first Thanksgiving for many. It made it really special. My third celebration was at the house of my friend Dan. A couple Fulbrighters and many of Dan and Juan´s friends from their camp in Maine attended. It was awesome since it was the only of the three where Spaniards outnumbered Americans. For that reason, it may have been one of my favorite. I had the opportunity to celebrate and experience of my favorite holidays away from home with new people who had never had this day of giving thanks. I had some great conversations over great food with fantastic people.
Today was a big day in Global Classrooms (my model UN class). We gave our sixteen kids their country assignments and partners. To my utter surprise, every student was happy with their pairs. Seeing them work together on the matching country exercise was phenomenal. And two of the kids who have more problems with English were the first to finish the exercise with all correct answers (yes, they knew that people in Mozambique speak Portuguese!). My talk about plaigirism and how important it is to write things in your own words prompted one of my students to ask me for my email in case he had questions about what plaigirsm was. A very satisfying class.
This weekend holds a few festivities. My roommate heads off to Moscow, while I prepare for my trip to Barcelona on Thursday. I will write soon! I hope you appreciate the brevity of November since December is coming fast!
It was time for a change. No more tapas, no more siestas. I wanted something new. I had almost been in Madrid for two months and I was itching to experience one of the varied cultures in Europe. What did I know about Amsterdam? Not very much. I knew that they had very relaxed laws on drugs and prostitution but there had to be more. I knew that Anne Frank lived in the Netherlands but was she the only important person? I knew that there were giant canals, but what did they look like? My questions about Amsterdam remained unanswered and when I awoke on the first of November, I was more determined than ever to answer them.
Prior to our trip, my friend and I had discussed where we would stay. For some reason that we could not understand, almost every hostel in the city was booked. So what did we do? We used our Pitzer education to think out of the box: CouchSurfing.org. My last and only experience with couch-surfing was pretty wild: During my orientation adventure prior to freshman year, we stayed with a college student named Katie Funk who attended Santa Barbara City College. Me and five of my friends stayed on the trampoline of Katie Funk. It was no ordinary trampoline. Situated in her backyard, it was the size of a swimming pool with the weightless comfort that the water may have provided had it been a pool. We sunk into the padding and slept side to side. In the morning, we had a dance party. To say the least, it was pretty untraditional. My experience in Amsterdam was even better. We stayed with a 25-year old psychologist named Roderick. Unlike my last experience, we actually slept on couches (no, we did not surf on them due to weather). The first night we rode on bicycles through the city of Amsterdam along the beautiful canals with the cold air kicking us in the face. It was spectacular. Later, I would take a canal boat ride through the city and I could see the path we had ridden on bikes that dark, cold night. At first, I thought that the canals were a good landmark to find our accommodations. Little did I know that there are canals everywhere and that it is the worst landmark to use (instead, I used the tallest church in the city). For the next few days, we explored the city seeing the red light district and the varied architecture. The most exciting event was Museumnacht (museum night) on Saturday. During the event, over 40 museums opened their doors to visitors. Upon entry, you would enter the museum with a little twist — it was also a giant dance party with eloquent warm drinks and posh snacks. First, we waited one hour in line for the Rijksmuseum which specializes in Dutch art from the Golden Age. One of the specialities of the museum was its attention to smell. The paintings were placed in rooms that had smells intended to replicate the time period. It was really interesting. We also visited the Anne Frank House and the Secret Annex. It was really well-done and quite sad. I ordered the diaries to learn more about her life. And so, the night went on with more and more museums.
As I am still playing catch up, I am going to stop here but feel free to email me with any questions about my trip. Hasta ahora!
Are you fired up? Ready to go! The Monday before Election Day, Obama delivered the last speech of his presidential run inspiring millions with a candid account of this phrase uttered by local resident Edith Child from Greenville. Obama woke up tired and angry since it was raining and drove several hours to reach this rural town. Upon entering, there were only ten people there that seemed not too happy to see him. Edith said, “Are you fired up?” and they said, “Ready to go.” Without tie in the blistering cold of winter in Des Moines, Obama challenged his supporters to not lose hope and be ready to go. So much conviction and so much passion. It is hard to believe sometimes that he does not write his own speeches. His speechwriter deserves a raise. This story that he shared with the American people would be very applicable to my post-election excitement.
Last night, before I went to sleep, I prayed that the American people would re-elect Obama. Obama has actually done a good job. He has delivered to many of the promises that he made in 2008: he ended the war in Iraq, he is ending the war in Afghanistan, he has killed Osama bin Laden, he has passed universal healthcare. Although he has compromised on certain things, such as the preservation of entitlements and his support for the Bush tax cuts in the middle of his first term, he is doing his best to satisfy liberals and also work with Republicans. Although many standing Republican senators have said that their number one objective is to make Obama a one-term president, they have now failed. I think that while Obama should not be quick to claim a mandate, my sincere hope is that the president and Congress will learn to work together. We have many challenges facing us. Living in Europe, you realize that the majority of the world could not fathom the possibility of a Romney administration. For this reason, Obama’s re-election was huge for the world image. Obama’s most important accomplishment to this date is improving the United States image abroad. After the reign of the Bush administration, it smoothed many sore wounds and pulled our friends closer.
My father tried to dissuade me from pulling an all-nighter to watch the election returns. Shortly after midnight, I entered my slumber but it was hard to stay asleep. Every dream turned into a race. My brain started to race and could not enter REM sleep. Three times during the night, I awoke and googled “Election 2012.” At 7 a.m., my prayers were answered as the headline read “Obama wins 303 electoral votes” and “Romney calls President Obama to congratulate him in victory.” I had to hold back everything in me to not scream and awaken not only my roommates but also the entire apartment and street of Calle Léon with excitement. Perhaps all of Madrid would have heard me. Instead, I clapped. The excitement was not lost. I was fired up AND ready to go.
Now, as I write this, I sit on a railway train leaving Madrid for my school. The sky is overcast, the buildings are tall, people appear as usual: tired, unenthused about work, listening to their ipods, talking to loved ones. Everything is the same. It looks just like any other day, the train was a little late. Last night, the big event was the Champion’s League where Real Madrid played against Borussia Dortmund. But today is different. Obama returns to the White House with a renewed energy. It is hard to believe that one of the most important elections of a major country in the world has just taken place. As I write this, I sit across from a young college student that looks more enthusiastic about the Cheetos wrapper on the floor of the train car than the thought of going to economics class. The election has brought me a lot of excitement and hope for the next four years. Many of my peers were energized in 2008 with Obama’s message of hope and change. Much of the media has concluded that young people have lost their zest for Obama. The Huffington Post reported that young people, defined as those between ages 18 and 29, made up 19 percent of the electorate, one point up from the election four years ago. So, do not believe what they say. The youth helped boost Obama’s re-election last night. But, most importantly, let me be clear: Am I fired up? I am ready to go! No sleep, ready to lecture.
Thank you, thank you. The United States of America, I am proud to call you home.