madrid (30)

Adiós Madrid!

Well amigos, I’m officially back in Calgary! I can tell you it won’t be easy getting used to the cold again, especially with it being 30 degrees colder right now than in Madrid (and soon to be even colder I’m sure!)

I’ll be honest, it’s strange to be back home. It’s incredibly bittersweet as a big part of me wishes that I could stay in Madrid. I absolutely loved the students that I was working with and felt as though I had just gotten to the point of having established relationships with all of them, so it was very hard to leave. Because of this experience I’m very hopeful that one day in the future I will teach abroad again! For the time being though, it has been wonderful to see my family, my friends and of course my cat Yubi as I truly missed all of them.

Although I didn’t come out of this experience fluent in Spanish (if only!), I’m happy that I did pick up enough for basic conversations and to understand the majority of what others were saying. Conversational Spanish was the easiest to learn just by hearing it all the time and through speaking it myself. It’s been interesting as a lot of the theory that I’ve learned about teaching French back in Canada (like the Neurolinguistic Approach and the specifically the literacy loop) has translated both to me learning Spanish as well as to teaching English! A few of the things I’ve personally learned include greetings and goodbyes that are often shortened (such as saying ‘buenas’ instead of ‘buenas días’ for good morning and ‘luego’ instead of ‘hasta luego’ for see you later). With our weekly Spanish class we got to explore aspects of the language we were curious about. For example, Alon wanted to know what ‘falta’ meant because he kept hearing it. We learned that it has a vast number of meanings but is often used when something is missing or lacking. After we talked about this in class I started hearing it everywhere and in so many different contexts! I got into the habit of speaking basic Spanish with everyone, and so coming back I had to be careful not to accidentally say hola or perdón to everyone!

I want to end my final blog post by mentioning some of the biggest cultural differences I’ve noticed over the course of my two months in Madrid, though keep in mind that this is by no means comprehensive and this is based on what I experienced personally:

  • Schedules in Spain are nothing like ours! Many cafés don’t open until 9am. Lunch often isn’t eaten until around 3pm and dinner isn’t eaten until 9 or 10pm. I tend to eat pretty late anyway, so luckily I already fit in! Buses also don’t run on the same schedule. As my school was outside of Madrid, I had to figure out how to take transit there. My first week involved trying different bus routes because buses consistently wouldn’t show up or would show up 30 minutes late. In the end I ended up taking the school bus with the kids, eventually figuring out the closest stop to my house by Plaza Castilla.
  • Spanish people don’t stress about time. In other words, if you’re late because 2 buses didn’t show up or you miss a day because you’re sick, well no pasa nada (aka no worries)!
  • Don’t expect everything to be planned out like it is in Canada. You may find out your schedule last minute or be asked to teach a class spontaneously. The best thing you can do is be open to it and adapt!
  • Spanish people are very passionate! They show more affection and emotion. For example, it’s not at all unusual to see teachers give their students kisses on the cheeks or to say “I love you.” This also works for reverse scenarios and so they can be very direct and blunt. Upon first seeing this you might interpret it as rudeness, but in reality it isn’t, it’s just the how they communicate!


One final picture of our whole group in Madrid! 

Thanks so much to everyone reading. This has been an absolute blast and I’m so appreciative of the chance to experience this program. To anyone interested in participating in Teaching Across Borders in the future, I highly recommend going to Madrid! I have learned and grown so much from this experience. I wish all future TABers all the best and look forward to reading future posts!



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Back Home

It's a chilly return! 

Returning home from a trip is never easy but it's definitely much harder when the place you're leaving is having average temperatures of 17! My way home was less than direct with a 7 hour stop in Portugal, to a 14 hour stop in London and finally a 4 day stop in Toronto for Halloween  to visit some old friends (some I haven't seen in 5 years!). Finally ending up in Calgary on the 4th my jet lag is catching up to me and I've been sleeping from 8pm onwards (which is very unusual for me!) 

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I was asked to prepare a presentation to university level students with the University Camilo Jose Cela, and I decided to talk about interdisciplinary education and Indigenous education during my presentation. I embraced narrative learning to talk about my experiences as a preservice teacher in Canada. Since my audience members were preservice teachers who were completing their last year of education, they were engaged and even voluntarily stayed longer for our TAB presentation. The Spanish university students were very interested about the topics that were presented. The director of the international program was also present at this presentation and she demonstrated great interest about Indigenous women in Canada because of her interest in feminist theory. We had a great conversation after the presentation; the next day, she asked me to write in their blog about my experiences with their schools. Since I had collaborated with the nursery department in assisting one-year old children, singing songs, feeding them, playing, and supporting the staff while also working with elementary students for the duration of the placement, and also presenting to university students, my volunteering perspective was full of rich experiences I could share, while engaging with different students.  



Isabel Morales and I after my Presentation with Education Students in the University Camilo Jose Cela



My Nursery Students!

My grade two partner-teacher has suggested that she would like to keep in touch with me, and she would like to engage in an international collaborative project with my students and I during my placement III in Calgary. I was thrilled to hear this idea and suggested we develop interdisciplinary international projects to connect our two classrooms. Her students need to practice English and my students in Calgary will need to practice Spanish. There is much potential for future projects with San Estanislao de Kostka, SEK schools.  The grade three teacher also gave me permission to have full access to his own online materials that he has designed over many years. These resources will be very useful for my field experience placement when I teach Spanish. He is the same teacher who trained me about the subject of Religion; if I work for the Catholic School Board, this teaching experience will be very beneficial for me.



Melissa and I in the Elementary Facility

It is time to say goodbye to the SEK schools, but I honestly do not want to leave the school. I feel so good and productive in the elementary SEK school Castillo. I know all of my students’ names and I have made more connections with teachers beyond the elementary school. Some children have made drawings for me to take back to Canada and one child even composed a song for me, which I found super cute and touching. During my last day of school as I was saying good-bye to all the children, I saw many sad faces and I received many hugs and kisses. I will never forget that as I was leaving, the toughest boy in the grade two class hugged me to say good-bye and he just could not let me go. He hugged me as hard as he could and I felt his tears on my shoulder. I would never forget his beautiful face. Thank you, SEK schools! It has been a truly wonderful experience—one I shall never forget.


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I am teaching English Language Arts, Spanish, Math, Social Studies, Ethics and Morals, and Religion to grade two students. I am very comfortable in the two grade two classrooms. I am a strong believer in authentic and positive teacher-student relationship so learners can feel listened to, connected, respected, and nurtured at the human level first, so they can actually focus on learning academics. My relationship with our learners in Madrid is rooted in love for them and their well-being is essential to me in my role as a teacher. I connect with learners every day when we engage in casual conversations on the school bus that travels from Madrid to Villa Franca del Castillo, which is about a 40-minute drive from Madrid. Once we are in school, I make sure to exchange a few words on a one-on-one basis with learners before the school day starts so I can then start talking about the day activities or discussing with my partner teacher about the specifics of the day’s agenda. Knowing learners has been key to helping me identify areas of strength and growth in students. I particularly dedicate extra time to students who need some classroom differentiation. I have also noticed that those learners who need more emotional attention work well in the classroom once they feel listened to in a fast-paced environment that offers many extra-curricular activities on top of the normal classroom environment. I recall one student who was not able to work in the classroom and kept distracting peers and getting into trouble with his teacher. I asked to spend some time with him. After we connected for about 15 minutes and talked about his troubles and challenges at home, he integrated back into the classroom and focused on his schoolwork.


I take the school bus from Madrid to SEK-Castillo daily and I have a good time!


I have spent a great deal of time preparing lessons that support the learners’ emotional development and learners have responded very well inside the classroom and at recess time. My partner teacher is very supportive of my ideas and has implemented several strategies I have suggested. Specifically, my partner teacher has always referred to me as an experienced teacher, not as pre-service teacher, and demonstrates this positive attitude along with her many supportive confirmations of trusting my work. For example, she has offered me higher responsibilities within the classroom and extra projects and this environment has been perfect for launching my creativity, which I believe is one of my assets. Moreover, my coaching-relationship with grade 6thstudents has produced positive results because they are incorporating productive learning habits and strategies that are serving them well in their daily work projects. I have been bringing to their attention that I will soon be leaving for Canada and the children have told me they don’t want me to leave. The grade two students are very cute when they suggest that I should move to Madrid.


Coaching Grade 6 Students


The other day, my grade six partner teacher and other fellow teachers were chatting at lunch-time when she began talking about the “amazing project I am coaching with her students.” She told her fellow teachers that the children were captivated with my teaching style and the students are developing the largest sheet of paper with wonderful research. She spoke about the project design and she mentioned that she was impressed with my contributions in the classroom with those students who needed extra support. The truth is that I feel so good when I work with students who need support. I believe they are so capable and bright, and I only need to say one or two things for them to bring who they are into the project. I love working with learners who think they cannot do the work because they are the learners who surprise themselves. When they find them are capable, their beautiful faces and expressions of surprise motivate me to keep learning about Universal Design for Learning and differentiation, which is one of my favourite areas of study. This placement has truly shown me the value that teachers bring to a classroom and the feeling of satisfaction that we as teachers receive from our students as we see them learn and grow.



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Ready to go Home, Not Ready to Leave

Disclaimer: I apologize if this blog feels like the 6th season of a tv show. 

 I'm ready to go home, but I don't want to leave.

What you hear about TAB, and what you learn in the workshops is true. You will learn a lot, and if you maintain a positive outlook you will learn more.

Time flies and just when you start building relationships and getting the hang of the whole teaching thing it will be time to go. You realize you'll miss working at your school and the students as much as you'll miss that restaurant where you've become a regular, and the eatery where the owner calls you "guapa" like it's your name.

3699488779?profile=RESIZE_710xJust when you're ready to call Madrid home, it's time to go.

There's a statue of a bear in the city center (Sol), and if you touch it's foot that means you'll come back to Madrid. #touchedit


The Bear and the Strawberry Tree

 (The bear and the strawberry respresents RESILIANCE ) #yaaassss

            I learned many things on a free walking tour when I first arrived in Madrid. I highly recommend - free walking tours. One because their free, two, you get your steps in, three, you learn a lot of history, and four, you're attention is brought to beautiful things you might otherwise have missed if left to your own devices.

           You should learn to take note of things that you want to do, and make a plan, schedule it, make a list (remember how important lists are?) because as soon as things get going you'll be one assignment and lesson plan too late to make it to a Real Madrid soccer game.

           Tranquilo, your time at an SEK school will be well spent!

SEK Schools

I found that SEK schools have a holistic view of teaching. The goal is to create learners that want to change the world and have the tools to do so. The schools value openess and the classroom designs represent this with open entry ways, clear wall classroom dividers, and plenty of windows. The princhipal of "being open to the world" is represented through the use of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. 

A portion of the IB approach to teaching and learning involves lanquage aquisition, which was a great fit for a preservice teacher with the specialization English Langauage Learners (ELL). Although I faced some challenges and had many questions about a system and a style of teaching that differed from what I had experienced thus far, my placement reignited my passion for teaching. I was a student as much as I was a teacher and I've never had so much fun teaching. I will miss how the students would begin their explanation of an English word with the Spanish equivalent. They would also provide engagning metophors and analogies, like the student who used my braids to describe "personality", and told me I had some. 

An SEK school will challenge you, change you, and inspire you.












And as soon as I started to get my bearings, and truly feel like a part of the school community, it was time to go home, but I'm not ready to leave.

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Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Hello everyone, for maybe the last time (sounds a bit morbid, don’t you think?)

I am dedicating this last blogpost to just speak about my final thoughts from the amazing experience I had while on TAB, to reflect back on my first weeks and compare them to my last ones, and also give some tips to future TAB students & the general traveler.

Alright, here are my final thoughts.

I’d like to unpack my last few days in the school, as it was a mix of emotions. I’ve previously addressed the bitter sweetness of things, I felt sad to leave the school. In the two months that I was teaching at SEK, I made some really strong connections with my students & with the staff. The students have responded well to my lessons, asked me to teach them more, and maintained their habit of clapping at the end (could get used to that). When looking back, I think that students developed their trust in me during my second week with them. There were two students that were on the same boat as me, as they arrived at Spain from a different country (USA & Finland) with no language background. I ensured to ask for translations whenever the teachers gave instructions in Spanish, and later went to the two students to translate for them, making sure that they understood the task / instructions. When learning a new language, one of the biggest barriers I find is confidence. If you lack the confidence to try to speak it and make mistakes, the learning is slower. Even though my lessons were in English, I noticed the confidence of these two students rise over time, as they felt comfortable enough to participate in my lessons. For one of the two students, my lessons seemed to be a safer environment, as the teacher & I haven’t seen him participate in any class prior to mine. I felt proud and excited that he felt safe enough to speak up in my class.

Back to my last few days, students would come to me with sad eyes (you know, the cartoon ones you can’t say no to?) to ask me to stay & not leave. Some teachers too, asked me to consider coming back (although with slightly less efficient cartoon eyes). I think that a teaching abroad career would be phenomenal, although I think the working conditions abroad will need to improve before I choose to take that step. The conditions do start with salary, and due to the lower salary (compared to the one in Alberta & Canada in general), the hours become harder. I’ve worked with some teachers that had a second full-time job. Therefore, their days were 9:00-17:00 at the school, and then 18:30-22:30 at their other job, including 8-hour weekends. Now, I do consider myself a hard worker, but I think there’s a difference in this case and it’s more than important, at least for your mental health, to have more time for yourself.

On my very last day, I’d like to bring back a memory where the kids grabbed my legs, jumped on my back, and tried to grab my arms, to shackle me down and get me to stay (those darn cartoon eyes!).3699411031?profile=RESIZE_710x

[Outside the school, at the end of my last day]

I am very happy that I went on TAB. In the long run, experience is what matters most, and I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience, especially as I was put in front of a new class, in a new city, in a new country, in a new continent, with a different language than mine – and got to create those meaningful relationships with the students despite all the “hurdles”.

If you are reading this and you’re a future TAB student, I’ll share some tips here, and you can decide which ones apply to you.

  • Homesickness: I think a big fear for students going abroad is to miss home so much. Some may have never left the country before, some have never had a vacation without their family before, whatever the reason is, I think that there are a few ways to overcome homesickness. For once, get a SIM card wherever you go to for the opportunity to call home; nowadays, it’s really easy to have video calls with home and share your experiences with your loved ones. In addition, keep yourself busy! Travel, explore the city, learn the language, go for walks. Plus, it helps that Madrid has a warm climate, unlike Calgary.
  • Travelling Alone & Budget: My trip wasn’t the cheapest, but also not the most expensive. I was able to budget by travelling right before the weekend starts and returning on Sunday night. I often chose a bus over a train due to price, and always chose hostels over hotels when I travelled alone. Hostels are amazing for when you’re alone. Most hostels I’ve been to have had a very social environment, where the common area was always filled with people from around the world that have the same mindset as you – travelling and meeting others! In addition, hostels are often affordable and in great locations in cities. A 10-bed room isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, most hostels offer only-girl rooms too, and I found some hostels to be cleaner than some hotels I’ve stayed at.
  • Food Abroad: my only tip is to not be afraid to try new things. Go to the local places where everyone speaks the local language. The people in Spain were extremely friendly and often enjoyed practicing their English. In addition, avoid restaurants that have photos of food on the menu (tourist traps). Oh, and TripAdvisor and FourSquare actually proved to be very useful sometimes, so don’t shy away from those when searching for a specific meal.
  • In the School: this is your time to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. In my experience, I had to show that I wanted to teach to be able to teach. I simply asked if I could, rather than waited for them to offer – and it worked out. It is also an opportunity to try new techniques in your lessons, seeing how you can adapt to new situations and to a non-strict schedule. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, from information on some students in the class that they have taught before, to suggestions of where to eat in the city.
  • Culture Shock: Although I didn’t experience it, you might. The great thing about Madrid is that it’s the capital of Spain. It is both beautiful and full of history, but modern enough. There are many familiar stores and restaurants (even a few Tim Horton’s – by the way, overpriced and not the same quality) and most people will be able to understand your English and communicate back. The culture itself is a lot different than in Canada. For instance, beer is almost on the same level of ordering a pop (and often is cheaper). There is a time in the day, after lunch, around 14:30-16:30, where they take Siestas, or naps, and it is apparent as most restaurants and shops are closed at these times (and I suggest adopting that into our culture). Dinner is often late as well; restaurants will be most full between 21:00-00:00, and kitchens will start closing at around 00:30 or later. Since it is the capital city, tourism always seems to be booming, and there are floods of tourists at the “touristy” spots, therefore it may be overcrowded sometimes. All in all, I’d say that Madrid is almost perfect for a first-time destination, due to how easy it is to overcome the language barrier, as well as how beautiful the city is.
  • Finding Housing: This one is a bit trickier. My TAB group and I did not receive our placements until about a month and a half before we were due to board the plane, although it was due to the fact that Madrid was a new placement this year. We had three locations of the three schools we may be placed in, and they were all far from one another. I decided to book a place in the center, which would make it easy for me to hop on the metro if needed or walk to the central school. Luckily, I was placed in the school downtown, and walked to school every day. The search for houses was difficult mainly due to the unknown location. Although now that I’ve lived there, I can confidently suggest some neighbourhoods (my neighbourhood in Madrid was La Latina). The websites I used to search were AirBnB and Idealista (Spanish equivalent) but ended up booking with AirBnB. I was able to lower the host to a lower price by introducing myself & stating the reason of my travels. I booked the AirBnB with two other TAB students, in which I didn’t know very well prior to travelling, and consider myself very lucky as we got along very well together.


[The Roommates - Shadan, yours truly, and Ela, at our apartment's lobby]


[The Roommates again; more candid, I love this one. It really represents all the laughs we've had]


I can’t think of any more tips at the moment, but if you have any burning questions, I’m sure you can get a hold of me somehow, and I’ll be more than happy to give you any more suggestions.


I am not sure how to finish my last blogpost. I’ve truly enjoyed writing these posts, and had an unbelievable time abroad on TAB. It’s hard not to suggest going on TAB. The reason why I chose to go on TAB, among many, is that I missed the opportunity to study abroad during my undergraduate degree. After the deadline for studying abroad passed and I found out about it (I was younger and not very informed), I thought that I missed my only chance to do something as cool as studying abroad. When I found out that I am able to teach abroad during my two-year degree, I immediately knew that I need to do it. I funded it by working full-time during all of my first year (except for during Field II), and also applied to a few grants from University of Calgary. Going on TAB was an experience I’ll never forget and will cherish for a long time. It helped develop who I am as a teacher and as a person. It provided me with different perspectives on the world and on teaching. I am very happy and grateful to have had this opportunity, and, as you can probably tell, am really vouching for it.

I’m excited for what the near future entails. I hope you enjoyed reading my blogs these past few months.

For one last time,




Alon Gilad

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Travels! (Exploring Spain)

Oh the places I have seen!

As this experience comes to an end, before I write my final post putting everything together, I thought I would share all the incredible places I have seen. I wrote earlier about Madrid, and what an amazing city it is. But the other great part about the city is how central it is within Spain - it made it simple, and not too expensive to travel through Spain.
As the teaching experience was three days a week, and the course were online and Zoom sessions and course work could be done from anywhere, I was afforded the opportunity to travel, and travel I did. Photos are below of each place and some of their main monuments, but they were not just places to see, they were all places that opened my eyes to Spains incredible history and enriched my learning with the University of Calgary classes. I got to see how history is shaped, and how sometimes the past is celebrated, like in Toledo, and much of the Andalusian area, while other times, it is still pushed to the side, like in Madrid. You learn where ideas for famous stories came to be, and how interconnected the world really is. I learned so much about myself by travelling alone often, about what I like and don’t like and simply put, to really understand who I am.
I went south the Andalusia for a few times...

And explored Seville...




The first two images are part of the same building...a Mosque-Cathedral! A building filled with interesting history that matches the interesting history of the city.





And Granada...

The amazing views, walking through the Sierra Nevada and visiting the famous Alhambra are all must-do's when visiting this city. Just make sure you get tickets for the Alhambra ahead of time - it can sell out months in advance.

Interesting fact: Granada means pomegranate. 



I went on some day trips...

and saw Segovia....

The famous and Roman aqueduct, built in the latter half of the 1st century. There is also an alcazar and a cathedral worth exploring. 


Known for it's hanging houses, shown here, I walked up and down the side of these cliffs multiple times. A quick day train ride from Madrid, the views are amazing. 


And on a cultural trip, organized by the university, Toledo... 

A beautiful city, rich Muslim, Jewish and Christan history and culture completely intertwined.

I also headed to the southeast of Spain to check out...


A city that has a bit of everything! A beautiful beach, the science museums area with modern, almost futuristic buildings, the old quarters.

Interesting piece of information: Paella is fro Valencia - and originally it's made with chicken, rabbit, and snails - not seafood! And it's delicious! 





And lastly, Alicante...

Came here to get some heat, enjoy the beach and some beautiful views before heading back to Calgary. There is a beach right in the city, and even more beautiful beaches nearby.


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Last Days



It truly feels like we arrived in Madrid yesterday! While I caught a nasty cold in Belgium (eventually losing my voice in Germany and returning to Madrid sick) I was ready to make the most of our time left that I was (mostly) healed! This especially fitting because I got the chance to see Madrid anew: through my friend! My roommate for my previous exchange in Japan is coming to visit me in Madrid and I was planning everything she had to see. From trying a calamari sandwich to shopping in Gran Via and seeing the Royal Palace. I had yet to try the famous horchata seller or the dulces that the nuns sell near the Mercado San Miguel so that’s going on the list too. There’s still a flamenco show to see and a fútbol game to watch (we might only get to do the flamenco) and so many restaurants to try. We did our best to see it all! The Cathedral outside the palace was definitely a highlight as well as the Mercado San Miguel, both highlight recommend! As a group though we were able to go to Toledo on a cultural trip and it made me realize how many cool day-trips there are near Madrid! Segovia will have to be for next time.






It was also fun to see how Halloween is celebrated! The kids at the school thought it was mostly a holiday for scary masks and costumes so they were surprised when I came to school with a tiara! I had to explain that Halloween is for fun and you can dress up however you like, it doesn't have to be scary. They did have a Halloween party and their version of treats were churros and chocolate! A nice departure from just candy like in Canada.

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Some Time in Paris



I'm lucky enough because of my schedule, I’m able to travel in between working at the school! I work 2 days a week from 9-5 leaving the rest of my week for travel. This week I decided to visit a friend in Paris, and she made it her mission to have us visit every site possible, and that we did (along with some delicious food on the way).



It was a bit of a culture shock that I wasn’t expecting (switching to French after speaking Spanish so long is one, saying hello and goodbye to the store clerks every time you enter, or exit was another!) but definitely one of my favorite cities. I got to see a friend that I haven't seen in 5 years and another that I haven’t seen in 2 so the reunions were nice too.




I would highly recommend visiting Paris, having some escargot, and go in the fall, less tourists!

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Coming to a Close

October 29th, 2019

Buenas amigos!

It’s hard to believe that today is my last day at SEK. My time here has honestly just flown by! With all of our assignments for our online courses, Spanish class, teaching at SEK, exploring Madrid and trying to fit in travel in between, things have been non-stop! But I am so incredibly thankful for this experience.

Travel wise, in the last several weeks I’ve been able to travel to Porto, Portugal, which I HIGHLY recommend:


The bridge this picture is taken from separates Porto from the city Gaia.

If you get the chance to go, make sure to try pastel de nata, (a delicious custard tart) fresh from the oven! I may have eaten 5 in one day… oops!

Amidst deadlines for assignments, I also travelled to Granada and Seville and tried to see as much as possible! Tickets for the Alhambra were sold out, but I was able to do a tour of the surroundings of the palace. For future TABers, I would suggest buying tickets at least a couple of months in advance as they sell our quite early and it is definitely worth seeing! A limited number of tickets are also released on the website at midnight every night, but these sell out in seconds so even that way is near impossible. Moral of the story: buy your ticket early!


The Alhambra from Sacromonte, the gypsy quarter.

Recently political tensions have arisen in Catalonia, particularly in Barcelona, as this region wants to separate from the rest of Spain and gain independence. Political leaders that pushed for a referendum back in 2017 were arrested and sentenced in recent weeks. As a result, protests have broken out, some of which have become violent. I have seen protests in a few different cities, but luckily none that have become violent. I’m glad that Safa and Fiorella have been safe amidst the protests in Barcelona!

As for Canadian politics, with the recent federal election I got the chance to experience the process of voting in abroad! I had to fill out an application online a couple of weeks before the election to get a special ballot kit sent to the Canadian embassy here in Madrid. I had to make sure to do this early enough so that it would have enough time to be received back in Canada by Election Day. Below is the building that holds the Canadian embassy, which is one of the Quattro Torres (‘Four Towers’) close to Plaza de Castilla!


As for my experience at SEK, my partner teacher has given me multiple opportunities to teach for which I’ve been very appreciative of. One of the lessons I taught was about Canada, which my students loved. I even learned a few things myself in preparing this lesson, such as that Canada is 20x bigger than Spain, but has 10 million less people!


Here I am reading a book about the world to one of my grade 3 classes!

Another activity that the kids loved was Taboo. In this game you pick a card that has a word at the top. The goal is to describe this word and get the other students to guess it. However, the catch is that there are 3 “taboo” words on the card that you are not allowed to say when describing it. I incorporated vocabulary that the students had learned throughout the last month and a half. This was a really fun way to engage the students and assess their learning!

I’ve learned that SEK has IB throughout all of the grades and that students often have practice exams for the University of Cambridge English Language Assessment, which assesses as the name suggests evaluates their level of proficiency in English. Parents at the end of the school year can choose to pay to have their students do this exam. I had the chance to attend the certification ceremony for last year’s exam which was really cool. A couple of students showed off their skills playing guitar and cello, and several students were given recognition for their outstanding results.

My last day of school was the day that they celebrated Halloween. The younger kids brought in masks and props that they got to wear, which they were really excited for! I was surprised to see not only a lot of devils, but also a lot of scary masks, which I don’t believe is something you would generally see in schools in Canada. On days like this, the students spend the day with their houses (think Harry Potter)! They spent the day doing Halloween themed activities, through which they can earn points for their houses. I really like this concept because I think the kids have fun and they also get to spend time with students outside of their classes! We also got to eat churros as a snack for the special occasion.


I can’t believe that this experience is coming to an end. I will really miss all of my kids! To future TABers, enjoy your time because it will be ending before you know it!

Hasta luego. 

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Teaching Moments

Walking into a school, I am always filled with excitement and anxiety - here it was no different. I was unsure how receptive the school would be, as no University of Calgary students had been there before for TAB, so I had no idea what to expect, and what was expected of me.
I am happy to say, just as first day jitters do, my anxiety subsided and the excitement turned into interest and curiosity.

At the school, I have been a part of two different grades - grade 1 and grade 6. I started in grade 6, and had the opportunity to observe them learn english grammar, and science. Later in the term, I was given the task to teach the students about pregnancy. Oh my! I thought. This could be interesting. As I observed the teacher explain the parts of the reproductive system, I got a sense of their level of learning and understanding and felt more prepared. I am happy to say, the lesson went well, and the students were engaged in the lesson. There was a huge glitch though - of course, it was with technology! Not thinking it would be hard to find a video I had found on my iPad and phone multiple times, the fact that their computers search in Spanish and I could not find the video! The things you just do not think about, until you are half way across the world, where english is not the main language. I was also lucky with this group, as all of them had a good grasp of the English language, and were able to ask and answer questions with relative ease.

This was not always the case in the grade 1 class. I had multiple observing and teaching opportunities in this class, and look forward to applying some of them as I enter my practicum. One of the hardest moments was when I was asked to manage a class, as the teacher had to quickly go to a meeting. Mistake 1: Do not tell students that their main teacher will be away from a while - I now grasped what it can be like to be a substitute teacher sometimes!! Luckily, I knew this class well after having observed and assisted in teaching this class multiple times. Initially this did not help - students running around, not listening, chatting amongst themselves. But I remembered that the students loved the game Simon Says, as this is how the teacher reemphasized there lessons on the senses, sounds of words, and parts of the body. I found that it could also be used engagingly to get students to learn - and when you get a student to lead, they are willing to practice their english!

These are just two teaching moments out of the multiples I had the opportunity to experience. There were so many incredible moments, some went smooth, others did not. Adding the element of a magnitude of varying english language skills, the classroom was a such a dynamic place to be. The experience like nothing I will experience elsewhere.

But the greatest experiences occurred when connections occurred with the children, and you see the change, even within a small period of time. For me, it was the moments when students made an effort when they had not before. Some of the most memorable ones so far included: a students who I asked what happed to this casted hand, he tried to tell me, but if full Spanish - sadly I didn’t understand a word! I asked him to say it in english. He threw his hands up in exasperation and walked away - it was incredibly cute, but made me wish I new some Spanish! Sounds frustrating, right? But actually the student wanted to be able to explain, and kept showing me he was learning English words and sounds, and by last week, he was able to ask me questions in English! Another moment was during French class, when after a brief one on one, she was able to make connections between the colours in French, to what she knew in both English and Spanish, as she was fluent in both, and did not need to ask anymore! These are the moments that warm my heart, and why I chose to be a teacher.

On the same note, the grade 6 teacher asked for me to help grade the students’ in science presentations, and more importantly, give them feedback. This is something so small, but can make such an incredible impact on young minds. The ability to speak in public in multiple languages can be a powerful thing.

I thought about adding photos, but these moments are about words and genuine interactions, and not about photos, as they occured during the daily runnings of a class. These moments are even more special and unique because of the environment, within another country and within an international school. The struggles and victories for myself, and the students, are something that I will never forget.

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¡Adíos Chicos!

Welcome back,

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written my last post and a lot has happened since. I’m currently writing this as I’m entering my last day of teaching at the school, so I have a lot of bitter-sweet feelings flooding me.

3688480226?profile=RESIZE_710x[Finishing a lesson]

In terms of teaching, I finished the science unit with both my grade 5 classes and prepared them for their exam. The students reported back to me on the Monday after the exam saying that the test was fairly easy – which was great to hear. During our final review, they really seemed to understand it and were excited to answer questions.

Earlier in October, I had the opportunity to attend a basketball game of my all-time favourite team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, playing one of the team’s all-time rivals & local team – Real Madrid. I couldn’t have asked for a better game (well, I could, as my team lost), but it ended up ending on a buzzer-beater-nail-biter and the score being 86-85 for the local Madrid team. Needless to say, I was the only guy cheering for the opposite team within the section that I sat in.


[Real Madrid vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv; I managed to score 3rd row seats]


[Made the highlights reel. Some may say I was the MVP]

Later in the month, I decided to stay in town and explore the city deeper. I went on a walk to El Retiro park (again), this time to an area I haven’t been to yet.


[Rose garden in El Retiro Park, Madrid]

I then explored Temple of Debod, which is an Egyptian temple that was donated to Madrid and is placed on a nice hill overlooking the Royal Palace. The temple itself, in my opinion, was not worth it. I had to wait in line for about an hour to go in, and half of it was closed to the public. I ended that day by watching the sun set with a beautiful view of the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral.


[Touring the outside of Temple of Debod, Madrid]

Other activities I decided to partake in were going to Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (luckily my friend is a die-hard Real Madrid fan, therefore I had the most knowledgeable guide during my tour at the stadium).


[Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid]

On the same day, my friend and I checked out Prado Museum. Luckily, there are daily free-entry times to most museums in the city, and the line was really short on the day that we attended it (muy bien). A small life-hack to those stuck in long lines in Europe – have some nuggets from McDonalds. I’m usually not an advocate for such reckless behavior, but 12 nuggets for around 3 euros are a steal in my books. 

To transition smoothly from eating nuggets in lines, I will say that I have been moderately healthy (and economical) with my eating habits while abroad. I won’t go into detail, my daily routine is having toast and eggs in the morning, at home; having the provided lunch from our school, which saves me some (much missed) money; for dinner, I will make a big salad (just ask either of my roommates) with a can of chick peas, and call it a day (I ended up going into detail, my bad) --- which is why I decided to start eating out more often, as my time here began to run on double speed. Eating out in Spain, luckily, is cheap. On a normal meal, a few of us would go together and share an assortment of tapas – being able to try 5-8 different dishes per meal and paying less than $20 CAD. 

Last week, our liaisons took our TAB group to our last cultural activity (with them). We attended two museums – Prado & The National Archeological Museum – and later went to enjoy some delicious tapas. It was great, and I got to explore Prado museum once again, in areas that I haven’t gotten a chance to during my first visit.


[Saturn Devourng His Son by Francisco Goya, Prado Museum, Madrid]

Luckily, I got to take another weekend get-away before returning to the coldest place on earth, Calgary (I know this is a bit dramatic, but it’s going to be a tough transition from +23°C to -10°C). Anyhow, I visited Valencia, indulged in paella eating, visited the beach, and just enjoyed my second last weekend abroad.


[Paella in Valencia, Spain]


[Valencian Street art in El Carmen neighbourhood]


[Valencia, Spain]

Today was my last day in the school (as I've mentioned previously). I decided to do a mini-lesson on Canada, exploring the geography of it, the different places I’ve visited in Canada, with an emphasis on the two cities I’ve lived in – Ottawa and Calgary. The students knew that I was leaving and were trying to convince me to stay (almost got me!). I prepared some ‘adíos chicos’ cards for each student of my two classes with a personalized message inside & a photo of Cindy (for those who don’t know who Cindy is, either go back to the last blogpost, or have a conversation with me. She usually comes up organically within 10 minutes).

3688512120?profile=RESIZE_710x[Adíos Chicos cards] 

The goodbye was more emotional than I expected. I was attacked with hugs, and the students (literally) clung to my ankles to not let me leave. I'm going to miss the atmosphere in the school, the great colleagues that I had, and the students - I've created great connections with them that I wish I taught them all year long.


[Grade 5°B]


[Grade 5°A]

With that said, I’ll summarize my last day with the school’s Headmaster, or principal’s last words to me – “mi escuela es tu casa”. From day one I felt welcomed into the school, and my experience has been extremely positive. I’m grateful for this incredible opportunity that I got – just think about it for a second; slow down your reading and put this into perspective – I got to live in the center of Madrid, in an eclectic neighbourhood, breathing culture, all while at the same time doing what I love (teaching). I will expand on my final thoughts in my next post, but for now, if you’re reading this and considering partaking in TAB – then I would 100% recommend it (#notasponsor).


[Can't leave the school without a shameless selfie]


Adíos chicos,


Alon Gilad

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I believe I have gained the trust of two Grade-two elementary teachers. They both invited me to attend meetings as the two teachers work collaborately to deliver the same instruction. Also, I have often been invited to join staff meetings with other teachers and management. They appreciate my input and insights as they use my ideas on a regular basis, which is an honour for me that they welcome my comments and feedback. I feel so welcomed and useful because they ask me about teaching practices in Canada, and we share teaching practices and approaches. This is a great environment as I feel surrounded by supportive colleagues. I have developed some friendships, so I love listening to their stories at lunch time. Also, I ride the school bus, so I hear the children’s little stories, and I also connect with other teachers who also ride the bus with me. I have been delivering classes on my own in English/Spanish, working on a one-on-one basis with students, performing assessments, and I am currently designing an assessment tool for math. The students know me and chat with me about their lives outside school and they talk about their social life and hobbies. Children in Spain are very warm people. They embrace each other, they kiss and sing together. Thus, it is not surprising to see that sometimes it is challenging to keep the students quiet for instruction. I talk to students at lunch time while they eat because the school offers lunch every day. During these times, I especially like to connect with them because it is when they feel more relaxed. I notice that the more I show interest in their own worlds, the better they listen and cooperate with me. Students have busy schedules: after lunch many students attend extracurricular activities such as horseback riding, soccer, Chinese language, martial arts, and so on.  I am currently preparing an assembly for all Grade 2 students where I will teach them about First Nations Communities in Canada. In my spare time, I attend flamenco dance shows, specifically those that are offered from flamenco organizations who seek to preserve the purity of the dance. Also, I attend cultural activities such as Spanish plays and zarzuela. I have learned many new words in Spanish spoken in Madrid from the oral interactions I usually engage in with students and colleagues, and through casual conversations. I have also bought some books in Spanish for children and I am increasing my own Spanish library for my future elementary students. All in all, this time continues to be a unique and wonderful learning experience for me.



I am teaching a large group of students. I used a multidisciplinary approach: Indigenous Education, Art, Literacy English-Spanish. I love this class! 

(About 42 students)




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Halfway there!

October 9th, 2019

Wow, I can’t believe that we’re more than halfway done!

Now that I’ve been here for some time, I’ve had the chance to do quite a bit of exploring of my neighbourhood and really get to know the area! There’s a square just around the corner where locals in the area tend to hang out and where kids are almost always seen playing on the playground. I’ve really enjoyed living a bit outside of the centre as we don’t have to deal with the constant crowds in central Madrid, but we’re also still quite close as it only takes 1 metro line and about 15 minutes to get there. I recently learned that the neighbourhood Veronica, Tolu and I live in is actually by the financial district in Madrid. I walk by Plaza Castilla nearly every day, but only recently found out that the twin towers (called ‘The Gate of Europe’) were actually the first leaning towers in the world!


With us being so close to Barcelona, I’ve had the chance to visit our friends and fellow TABers Fiorella and Safa twice! The first time I went with Ela to go to La Mercè, Barcelona’s biggest annual festival which honours the Virgin of Grace, the Patron Saint of Barcelona, along with bidding summer goodbye and welcoming autumn. For any future TABers in Spain, I highly recommend going to this festival! The first day we were able to go to the Giants parade, where you get to see effigies of kings, queens and nobles dancing and twirling around to the sound of drums before the night ends with fireworks. We also went to the correfoc (aka “fire run”), where countless people dressed up as devils dance through the streets with spinning firecrackers alongside fire-breathing dragons! This was just about one of the coolest experiences I’ve had as we were there right front and centre, but a word of warning: be careful about how close you get as bits of fire will rain down on you and burn you (we learned the hard way haha!) You can watch a video I took of it here:



I made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting my passport in Barcelona (you know when you put something really important in a “safe” space so you don’t forget it – and then your brain decides to pretend you never did that - that’s what happened). Luckily though, my passport was with friends! Because I’d wanted to go to an amusement park while in Spain, and also because I didn’t want to risk my passport getting lost in the mail, I was able to come back to Barcelona again. There Safa and I went to Port Aventura, an amusement park about an hour south of Barcelona where I had an absolute blast! I love roller coasters, but there are occasionally some rides that I won’t go on. However, I told myself that this is my only chance to come here and to just go for it! So, I went on this ride which instantly shoots you up at an incredibly high speed before basically going straight down. The ride is over in probably about 10 seconds, but it is definitely one of the scariest rides I’ve been on. I admit that the expression on my face was one of instant regret haha but afterwards I was glad I did it!




As for my school, I’ve been having fun getting to know the kids and can finally remember all of their names! One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in this school is the open spaces that they have everywhere. In the side of the school I’m in, there’s one very large room that has 3 open classrooms within it that don’t have any walls. There’s also a single classroom with glass walls in the corner. What I like the most though are the open spaces seating as you can see below. My partner teacher told me that the kids love it because they aren’t stuck in the same desk or the same classroom all day. I really love this concept! However, one challenge I’ve noticed is the noise level. When you’re surrounded by other classes and they’re right next to you, there’s not much that can be done to lower the noise. I find that students are more distracted because of this, so teachers need to find other ways to keep their students focused.



Another thing that I’ve learned is that SEK doesn’t have substitute teachers. As such, when a teacher is unable to come in, it is up to the other teachers to take over the class during their planning period. No lesson plan or any such thing is left, so the teachers have to think on the spot what to do with the students. I find this very interesting and I am very curious if this is something specifically with SEK or if it’s like this in all Spanish schools.

I’m having a fantastic time in Madrid (with the occasional pang of homesickness). I can’t wait to see what is coming next while I’m on this adventure! 

Hasta pronto!

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The Spanish Way

Before you read this post, I think that there a few things that you should understand.

First - Perhaps you should stop and read "Tranquilo" to have an understanding of what "The Spanish Way" might be like. Understand that I can only speak on my experiences and this post amongst others is merely my interpretation of them. I have come to appreaciate Spanish people and Spanish culture because they are social and very easy going. If you've read some of my other posts, you might have noticed a theme related to "anxiety," not to say that this has been a focus or something that it extremely problematic, but something that it is real, and that is also in complete contrast to my understanding of the Spanish culture. Spanish people understand that there are more important things in life and you should not sweat the small stuff. "No Pasa Nada" as they say... (it's okay, it's alright, don't worry, it's nothing, it's fine...don't stress, not a problem). Si, "No Pasa Nada" is capitalized because in is the truth, it is a religion, it is a way of life. 

Second - "The Spanish Way" has a cultural basis, but it is also a take on the school system. I don't think you can really seperate education and culture here (in Madrid). Therefore, do not read this post unless you are prepared to practice cultural humillity. You must take an "interpersonal stance" and be open to what you will learn. This is important because it is very easy to think about what you've experienced in education and take that to be the "correct" way of doing things. Don't do that. I am geared towards the positive, and in education there is not really a "right" or "wrong", every stystem has it benefits and it's drawbacks. Every system is up to improvement, and systems should be evaluated based on their goals, and what works.

Are you ready? :)

Vale, let's talk about what I call....

The Spanish Way

To begin, let me tell you about my first practical teaching experience. I was okay with being called, "Miss Tolu" because how would the students know it wasn't my last name. On a hiking field trip, I made the mistake of wearing a rugby jacket that had my first initial and last name on it. A student took note of it, and he was completely horrified. "But..but... teacher names are their last last names!" He cried. Imagine my surprise, when I realized that in Madrid first names are the norm. I inquired about this and if you want to show some more respect to a "superior" you might add "Don" for a man and "Doña" for a woman. If you want to use it you can, and if you don' pasa nada. There isn't an empashis on hierarchy, that's not what things are about. Last names and formality are to establish the teacher as the full authority who has the power within the classroom, and classroom management at times then becomes about maintaing that authority and monitoring behavior for the sake of learning. However, i've come to understand that in Spanish classrooms it's really not about heiarchy, the students call teachers by their first names. There are expectations, but trust is given to the students to adhere to these unspoken expectations. It is, The Spanish Way.

I experienced a beautiful private school in an affulent area of Madrid. It's an international school, where athletics are given the same importance as education, it is The Spanish Way. There is a later start for the school year and you may recieve your schedual some time after classes begin, and it is subject to change. If it changes, no pasa nada. You will adjust and figure it out, you will learn to become adaptable, it is The Spanish Way. Understand that at my school, there are 3 streams: English only, Spanish Only, & Bilungual. If you are an international student who doesn't speak English or Spanish, tranquilo, you are more than welcome. There are some students on residence, some who bus in everyday for 8 hour days, and all students and teachers must eat lunch at some point. Some may also have the priveledge of breakfast & dinner at the cafeteria depending. Lunch is from 1-330pm and somehow all the students from infant to secondary and their teachers get lunch. You should eat, enjoy, and keep your spirits high, don't sweat the small stuff, that's the Spanish Way. Meaning, if it seems chaotic, understand that there's a lot going on, a lot to consider, and... no pasa nada. 


Now, I'm sure that being on time is of the upmost importance to you. Claro (ofcourse), that's how you have been conditioned. Not to say that being on time is not valued here, but there is no need to stress about it  because what can you do? Particularly if your bus that was meant to arrive in 1 minute all of a sudden will not not arrive until 1 hour later. No pasa nada, the important thing is that you arrived and that you are well, particularly if it is raining. I was told that rain is the equivalent of a heavy snowfall in Canada. It's a stressfull time for transportation.










The best thing about teaching English at the school that I was in was the language ability of the students. Some could switch from English to Spanish so effortlessly that I was a little envious. I worked primarily with language aquisition and this included students learning English at variety of levels. As a language teacher it is always good to know a little bit of the language that the students speak. One of the best feelings is when I would explain a word and the students would respond (in chorus) with the Spanish equivalent and I could verify that their understanding was correct. There was a smile and a nod of agreement like, "WE" did good! Smiles...that is The Spannish Way. I learned that you could just say "buenas" as a greeting because I heard it often. No one and I mean no one, student, parent, teacher, or worker would walk past you without greeting you. Remember, I said that what I know of Spanish culture is easy going and welcoming, "non-hierarchical" and stress free, essentially everthing else is "no pasa nada".

Once, I was in a language classroom where a teacher imposed some classroom managment. She explained that students should be listening while she was talking and because they had chosen not to, they were to write down their responses in lieu of the planned classroom discussion. The students were very enganged in the topic because it was about language. The topic was about if dialects and accents that reveal social status should be banned from languages. The students continued to speak (on topic) about this and then an argument, a debate, a debate between a group of students and the teacher insued. I wasn't quite sure who won because the debate switched to Spanish and carried on for the duration of the class. It was interesting because of the improtu nature, and because I couldn't picture something like that occuring in a North American classroom. The teacher seemed to enjoy the debate as much as the students did although she was explaining the importance of using English in English class, in, primarily Spanish. I really tried to analyze that situation and consider how I would have approached it. Upon further reflection, naturally, I couldn't come up with a clear answer, so I decided on...tranquilo.

Overall, experiencing The Spanish Way has been an invaluable experience and I have learned so much.

1. Adapabtibility - if your student teacher forgets that she was suppose to prepare an activity for the class. No pasa nada, your partner teacher will use the well-structured textbook and conduct an enganging class on the spot and the students won't know the difference. It is the The Spanish Way, learn from it. It's useful!

2. Confidence - if you recieve feedback that's primarily, maybe only positive, and you don't know what to do because you're use to the model of contructive feedback. Breathe, slow your heart rate, tranquilo. Take it as an opportunity to boost your ego. 

3. Planning - at times you may feel as there is more value placed on improvisation than there there is on planning. Be patient, it is The Spanish Way.

> Lesson planning was the most stressful part of my teacher education thus far. There were expectations, curricular guidelines, and it was a process. However, if a teacher asks you midday to prepare something for a lesson at the end of the day. Your response should be "no pasa nada" even when the day has gone and you're left to 30 minutes for planning, tranquilo.

I planned an enganging and effective lesson in 18 minutes! And if you are language teacher sometimes the most important thing is just to have the students speaking and using the language. 

I will (likely) never stress about planning again. 

Which brings me to number 4.

4. Creativity - If you are waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. It likely just won't happen here, "whatever you like" is the norm. 

This freedom in teaching has been an invaluable learning experience. I've developed a strong sense creativity, adaptibility, and confidence in my teaching in such a short period of time. I don't really stress about teaching anymore and that's a gift. This mindset will be useful even as a return to a more traditional school setting back home!

Until next time,

eat well, be well, no pasa nada.

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One of the reasons, I wanted to recieve Spain as my placement was to learn Spanish. If you are interested in learning Spanish, fight for Madrid. 

Madrid, Spain's central capital is beautiful. Long winding streets with shops, restaraunts, and cafes. The locals are welcoming and friendly, and will always be excited to interact with a traveller, particulary if they are Canadian. If you don't speak Spanish, tranquilo, you can still enjoy the company of a local. "Tranquilo" is one of the first Spanish words that I learned in Madrid and it remains to be one of my favourites. Like many Spanish words it can have several English meanings, I've concluded that Spanish is a language of context. Tranquilo means: "take it easy", "relax", "calm down", "stay calm", "don't worry", and my personal translation..."chill".

If I were you, I would pay attention to the words you here most often and inquire about them. For me, tranquilo means a lot because this word was directed to me several times. I acknowledged early on during my stay that I needed to...relax. You see, I suppose I had brought some anxiety with me. I'm use to worrying about things, and to me it wasn't problematic, it was just the norm. When you do a lot of things, and you care a lot, about a lot of things, you develop a system to meet deadlines, make appointments, and still show up for those people who expect you to "show up". Family, clients, students, Samsung 9 is really an electronic calender with color coded events, reminders, and to-do lists (sometimes it acts as a phone). We needed a vacation.

Story Time

Madrid is also great as hub to travel around Spain, after a few days in the city, I decided I needed a beach and decided to travel to Valencia. I entered the address for the place I would catch the 7hr train carefully (Atocha Station) and I gave myself ample time to make up for any unforseen events. I arrived at Atocha station and it wasn't very busy, that's okay, it was early, but I couldn't find the departure gate that matched my ticket. 





Let me ask someone... Speakers of English! Fantastic! Espera (wait), they're lost too.



Vale (okay)! A security guard, they know things... nope. Not useful.

"Hablas ingles?" (Do you speak English?) - That's also good to know, particular for situations when you are short on time and have a train to catch.  I spoke to a third security guard who said struggled to communicate with me even though he said he spoke English. He pointed me to an area where I had to catch another train, to the train that would take me to Valencia. I was down to 30 minutes and me, "being anxious," had to know all the details about this intermdiary train that had just been brought to my attention. When does it arrive? How long does it take? Will I miss my other train? Preguntas...lots of questions, and all I had was a third security guard to press for answers, but he didn't really speak English either (DO NOT leave your house without your translator app friends).

"Tranquila," said the security guard as he answered my questions and spoke calmy and softly. I noticed some other locals in the exact same situation as me, without an ounce of worry, eager to help and excited about their trip. Our intermediary train took over 20 minutes to arrive and another 20 minutes to the other station. We had missed our scheduled train to Valencia by about an hour and I wondered if I would have to pay my full ticket price again. Where would the office be? Who do I talk to? Where was I going again? Should I still go? Will I arrive at a reasonable time? I asked the locals I had met some of these questions. "We don't know," they said with a chuckle as they did pull-ups on the train. They were perfectly chill. 

When we arrived at the station, the security confirmed that we had missed our train. The next one arrived in less than 15 minutes, we arrived in Valencia on time, and the man checking tickets on the train said nothing about my ticket that was meant for the train prior. QUUEEE!? I was stressed out for NADA!

Tranquilo became my mantra. 

(Valencia) - Food & Art3675007791?profile=RESIZE_710x


When I arrived back in Madrid... I went the wrong way home. I confused, "Valdecarros" with "Valdecacedras"...naturallly. It was an hour in the wrong direction, but did I panic? No (in Spanish). I was really chill about it and I got a really nice view at the Valdecarros metro stop.3675013058?profile=RESIZE_710x

Super Tranquilo


I made it home, dropped my bags, and headed out for tapas. Nobody spoke English at the restaraunt I went to..., pero so many people spoke English perfecto in Valencia... Not to worry, tranquilo. I pulled out my handy dandy..."translator app" and made my order. People were curious to know where I was from, and how I found myself in Madrid. They used my translator app to communicate with me as well, and as the tapas and conversation flowed I found myself reading English and responding in Spanish. I was even laughing in Spanish (jajajaja). It was a great way to end the weekend and begin a new week of teaching. I had my worries, but I was also excited, and I knew that everything would be tranquilo. 


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Exploring Madrid

I posted a little at the beginning about Madrid, but I have had a lot more time to explore it, and it is SUCH a beautiful city! I feel lucky to get to be here for two months and really get to explore it!

When looking for housing, for some of us, location was really important – we wanted to stay within the city as much as possible. Thanks to one of my roommates who found a place right in the heart of the city, we have had the luxury to walk almost anywhere. And if we do not feel like it, there’s always the metro. (I can’t say I’ve used any city buses but those are available too).

 Every time I step out the door and walk to a new place, the wow factor sets in. I have traveled quite a bit before, and few cities compare.  The awe of being here, in this beautiful city, full of new adventures and great places to see,  has not disappeared.

Some of the places that make me look up, and gawk at their beauty include…





























 And the best part…all of these are walking distance away, so I have seen some of them over and over again. But the amazement and adventures do not end there! 

Then there is the food! Getting to explore the gastronomy here has been so tasty! There is a downside for me – the amount of pork (cerdo in Spanish) and especially ham (jamon in Spanish)! But the upside is there is a lot of seafood, and I do like seafood. Being in Spain, some may ask about Paella – but I have not had seafood paella, only the traditional Valencian one, in Valencia (but more on that when I write about exploring the rest of Spain). I have tried tapas of all sorts…and few have disappointed!
3697815971?profile=RESIZE_710x3697816834?profile=RESIZE_710xThis city is beautiful and well worth a visit. I am so lucky to get to be here for more than a few days, and take in all the sights, sounds and tastes!

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The Arrival

For first time TABers who also happen to be "first time" travellers, I highly recommend making a few stops before your final destination. With my schedule and considering my budget, I didn’t plan for much, but I knew I wanted to visit London. It was cheaper to fly into London and I had developed somewhat of an infatuation with the city although I had never been. The best thing about this decision was that I arrived in a place where I spoke the language. I was able to deal with some things that I felt were essential for a long-term stay abroad, but was also not a priority before I left. The first thing I did when I landed in London was buy a new SIM card with an adequate international plan. I hadn’t thought about a wall adapter for my electronics…I really had not thought about it. Thank goodness my hotel had one that I was able to use because describing “wall adapter” in another language was not a challenge I was keen about. Another good thing about some pre-travel is that you can do all of the touristy things before you arrive in your placement country. Now, if you don’t buy into that idea, and you believe that you will always want to see everything and you won’t be able resist the allure of museum and monuments, you should try London in a day… or two.

London In A Day

1. English Breakfast 2. National History Musem 3. Covent Garden 4. Sea Life Aquarium 5. London Eye 6. St.Jame's Park 7. Boat Tour 8. Trafalgar Square 9. Picadilly Circus 10. National Gallery


In order to hit all the hotspots, you probably should go alone so you can set an adequate pace that is probably quicker than most (#solotravel). Prepare for long days, tirelessness (jetlag), and early mornings (particularly when you have breakfast included with your stay). On the brightside, this may also be considered preparation for your long-term teaching placement abroad. 

Our meeting date in Madrid was a day later than I thought and I had to see the Eiffel Tower. I thought I could live without it, but I mean Paris was also a major hotspot that came highly recommended and so I added it to my list and spent a few days there. This was a great warm-up because less people spoke English, but some people did. There were a lot of tourists that I could also converse with, but I had to prepare for living in a place where the majority of people did not speak English and there was less tourism. Remember that wall adapter? Well I was so busy doing things I forgot to buy one, and yes explaining it in French was a challenge that I was not successful at, but one of the workers spoke English. Thank goodness.

Travel Tip: If possible, buy a universal adapter that works for a few countries, especially the one you will stay in. Try to do this before you leave so you avoid paying for it in a foreign currency.

Another great thing about this pre-travel is you are so appreciative, happy, and you remind yourself of the mindset you promised yourself to maintain. If you’re anything like me, you also then find yourself doing things you thought you never would, like actually going to the top of the Eiffel tower despite your modest fear of heights.




By the time I hit all the major spots in Paris, I was so looking forward to landing in Madrid. I was exhausted and ready to settle in. I got on my plane and not a word of English. “Nothing happens on planes I said, and if it did, I’m sure I could just follow along.” Paris to Madrid was a short flight. I had a lot of things, I was exhausted, and I was not prepared to figure out public transportation. Thank goodness “Uber” in Spanish is Uber. My driver was eager to speak to me, and I felt bad because I really didn’t understand. Wait! My translator app. I read the translations out loud and he understood me. That was so exciting. As we drove, I used fewer translations, and I understood more. I was actually happy to be speaking Spanish. I arrived at my stay and he said…

 Welcome to MADRID.


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A Whole Other World

Hola amigos!

I can’t believe how fast time is going by! The first few weeks of being in Madrid have been quite an adventure so far. Of course before departure, we’d learned that Spanish culture is much more laidback in comparison to Canadian culture, but seeing these differences in action has been a whole other thing!

Here Tolu, Veronica and I are on our way to our first meeting with our coordinators at the Villafranca campus. This campus is very large, and without knowing at which building to meet them, we ended up getting lost. We eventually found the right building (although we were a bit late). But, they didn’t even notice as our meeting hadn’t even started yet (phew)!


After the first meeting with our coordinators at the beginning of the month, Ela and I found out last minute that we wouldn’t actually start at our placement for another week. I took this as an opportunity to explore more of Madrid and do some travelling around Spain!


Here the Madrid team and I went and did a walking tour around Madrid, learning about the history of various landmarks.







We also took the chance to go to El Rastro, an extensive flea market that opens only on Sunday mornings.










This is the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was donated to Spain as a gesture of gratitude for helping to save ancient temples and ruins in Abu Simbel from flooding. 


With my week off I was also able to go and visit Valencia. There I got to try paella, which is where it first originated. It was absolutely delicious! I also got to do an amazing street art tour. I learned that Valencia has significantly more street art in a much more condensed area than Barcelona, because in Barcelona street artists need to get both a permit and approval from the owner of the building first, otherwise they will face heavy fines. On the other hand, in Valencia, while they are still supposed to get a permit, it isn’t really enforced and instead all they really need is the building owner’s permission. Street art has been truly embraced in recent years in Valencia, so you can see how much it has blossomed. The tour gave me the opportunity to learn the meaning behind a lot of the pieces as well, which I found fascinating. I’ve seen a lot of street art throughout Europe, but Valencia definitely had some of my favourites!




Below I am at La Casa de los Gatos, a miniature Valencian house that until recently housed stray cats!


After I got back to Madrid, I started at the Ciudalcampo campus first thing Monday morning. I met my partner teacher, Gemma (pronounced like “Hemma”), who really welcomed me and has been a fantastic role model. As it was only the 2nd week of school, the morning was spent with a grade 3 class working on writing phrases about themselves. Afterwards I discovered that their lunch is about 2 hours long! The students get 1 hour to eat and then 1 hour to play on the playground (which they call ‘patio’). Because lunch is so long, the school day doesn’t actually end until 5pm. I find that although the day is longer, I do actually like having the break in the middle.

After lunch, I got the opportunity to have an early solo teaching début with a new class, which was a bit nerve-wracking but also exciting! Without my partner teacher there I was left to my own devices to keep the students engaged. We played a game in a circle where we threw a dice, and whoever caught it had to say a number of things about themselves corresponding to the number on the dice. However, I struggled to keep the students’ attention as many of them were talking over the person holding the dice. I tried various tactics to gain their attention, such as a song where I would sing “ba ba da ba ba” and wait for the students to respond with “ba ba”. This was a tactic I had seen my partner teacher use many times before. To help the class stay on task I also tried moving a couple of students to different spots as well as explaining the importance of respectfully listening to the person trying to speak. None of my tactics seemed to work however, so we ended up ending the game early. I sat down with the students when they had calmed down and discussed again with them how important it is that we be respectful and be good listeners as that’s how we would like others to be towards us. We were able to try the game again later on in the day and things went much smoother!

Through this experience I saw the importance of not only establishing a relationship with your students early on, beginning with getting to know their names, but also in creating classroom expectations right away. As I experienced, it is only once these are set up and discussed with the class that students are able to be engaged with the learning. I’ve also seen through the following weeks how it’s critical that we remain consistent and continue to establish these expectations. Ultimately I am thankful for this experience as it will help me in the future when starting off the school year with my own classroom!


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Science-pong for Kids

Hello again everyone, let's dive right in, or as they say in Spanish, empezamos! 

It is already beyond my half-way point here, which is very unfortunate, as I am having a blast. Since we last talked (well, I talked, and you listened) I’ve completely taken over the science unit and I’m having a great time teaching it. The students are excited when I walk into the class, ask me if we’re doing science today (the answer is always yes, as it’s the same schedule every week), and often ask me if I’m doing a Cindy del Día (which the answer is, once again, always a yes).


I should explain.


I’ve introduced my cat, Cindy, in one of my first lessons (we learned about the characteristics of mammals and used a photo of Cindy as an example and asked them to name the characteristics that make her a mammal). Since then, I’ve incorporated a Cindy del Día™ (Cindy of the day) segment in my lessons.


[Cindy del Día slide from one of my recent science classes]

Let me elaborate on the title of this blog post. I prepared a review activity for the lessons I taught based on a DIY game of basketball mixed with ping-pong . To begin, I did a little word-play (which I am very proud of) on the word ‘basketball’ in Spanish – ‘Baloncesto’, (which happens to be my favourite sport by the way – if you know me you’d know about my obsession), and turned it into a game of ‘Sciencesto’ (nailed it). I then placed one red SOLO cup on a table, filled it with water (for stability), and took out a crisp ping-pong ball. The activity was as follows – I asked the students if they prefer to play against themselves (by dividing the class in half) or against me (of course they chose to play against me, who wouldn’t want to beat their teacher?). I then asked review questions about the material we’ve been learning. The questions were sometimes a simple one-word answer, sometimes needed an explanation, and some had a few parts to it. Students who knew the answer raised their hands and said it out loud. The rules were that the students get a shot for every question they get right or simply attempt to answer (with that, students that usually lack confidence got to speak up & try, and still get a chance to score). For every wrong answer, or for every 2 misses, I got to shoot once. To say so myself, I think the rules were fair. The activity was a huge hit, I was able to do it with both classes that I’m teaching, and I was also able to formatively assess how much they retained from my lessons. I would like to end this with a quick shout out to my practicum mentor teacher, Mr. P, who did amazing review activities back in Calgary.


Oh and I won, not that it’s a big deal or anything.


3653825838?profile=RESIZE_710x[Teaching a lesson about photosynthesis; yes, the slide "How and what do plants eat" does have a GIF of a tree eating a child]


These past couple of weeks I went on two day-trips – one with my grade 5s, and one with my fellow TAB mates & our liaisons. With my grade 5s, we went to La Pedriza. It’s an hour and a half drive from the school, and the theme of the field trip was the biodiversity unit that I’m teaching in science class (although I cannot take any credit for organizing this trip). The students were out in nature looking for different species of trees, plants, recognizing the geological features in the area, as well as discussing and seeing the different animal species that are found in the area. The trip ended with a beautiful hike in the slopes of the Guadarrama mountain range.


[Field Trip to La Pedriza, Spain]


Lastly, our liaisons took us on a cultural activity – a day trip to Toledo, Spain. Toledo is a beautiful city filled with history, museums, and great views.


[Me, Michelle, Ela, and Shadan in Toledo, Spain]


We started the day with a coffee and some churros, went on a walking tour in the city with a Spanish guide who was very knowledgeable but spoke only Spanish, therefore it was a bit difficult to understand, as I do not speak much Spanish. The one part of the city that struck me the most was the Jewish quarter. Being Israeli & Jewish, it was really interesting to see that there are little bits of Jewish history throughout the whole town. For instance, there are white & blue tiles spread around the city, each symbolizing something else.


[A menorah tile in the shadow of Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo, Spain]


[A tile with the word ׳חי׳ or 'Chai', a Jewish symbol that means 'living', Toledo, Spain]

During the few hours of ‘free time’ that we were allotted, my roommates and I went to explore Toledo further, where we stumbled upon an old Synagogue that was built with Moorish influences and later, in the early 1400’s, was converted into a Catholic church, during the period in which there were anti-Semitic laws implemented in Spain. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to visit an old synagogue where there’s a big cross overlooking it.


[Shadan, Me, and Ela at Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca, Toledo, Spain]

Our last stop in Toledo was at the El Greco museum, which is divided into a couple of parts – one is a recreation of his house & studio, and the other is art by El Greco & art that was influenced by him. 


[Ceiling at the El Greco Museum, Toledo, Spain]


[Toledo, Spain]

Looking forward, time is really flying by, and I am finding myself shocked that I only have 8 (!!!) more (teaching) days at the school. On one hand, I really don’t want it to end this quick. I have been having a blast teaching and connecting with the students, and I cannot imagine how strong our student-teacher relationship would be on the course of a full school year (a man can dream, right?). Students still clap at the end of some lessons, and one student even brings me a homemade cookie once a week (and yes, it’s delicious every time). On the other hand, my next practicum in Calgary is near and that’s also very exciting – it’s a beginning of a new challenge.


[SEK Schools Logo]


Hasta luego,


Alon Gilad

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