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A New Adventure!

Hola!

Before arriving in Madrid last week, I spent 3 weeks travelling solo throughout Europe. Many people back home questioned my decision to go travelling alone, and I admit that while I was incredibly excited I was also a bit anxious. It turns out that I had nothing to be anxious about! The last few weeks have been absolutely phenomenal. I already feel like I have grown, through having made a lot of friends along the way by getting outside of my comfort zone, through learning to become more independent than ever before and by truly coming to accept who I am as a person. I could go on for some time about my experiences the last few weeks, but I’ll focus on a few of the highlights. 

I began my trip in Dublin before making my way throughout Belgium, France and Switzerland. I’d always wanted to visit Belgium and France in particular because of my love of French culture and the French language. I wanted to practice speaking in French with the locals, but I wondered if they would automatically switch to English as that’s what I had heard they will do if they realize that you’re an anglophone. I’m very happy to say though that that never happened! My first experience speaking with a local was in Brussels, where I ventured out right after I arrived at my hostel to find a laundromat, as I had run out of clean clothes. I found one nearby, but I had no idea how to use the washing machine and there weren’t any instructions. There was a woman sitting there, waiting for her own load of laundry to be done. Having just arrived, I wasn’t quite yet sure how common it was for locals to speak French in comparison with Dutch and English. So, I went up to her and asked in English if she spoke any English or French. She responded in English that she spoke a little bit. It became clear quickly that her English was very limited, but she tried using gestures to show me how to use the washing machine. Then she said the word “savon,” and I instantly realized that she did actually speak French (as this means soap in French)! So, I switched to French and we were able to have a full conversation about how to exchange money for coins to start the washing machine, how to get laundry detergent from the vending machine, how to load it and adjust the settings as well as how to use the dryer. It may seem like a simple interaction, but to me that was the moment that I realized I could actually get by and fully converse with the locals in French, and for that I was proud. From then on I spoke to everyone in French and I have to say that it was an amazing experience! I will without a doubt go back one day to both countries, hopefully sooner rather than later. 

Some of the other highlights of my trip include:

  • Exploring ‘La Petite Ceinture’, an abandoned railway overgrown with greenery that’s right in the middle of Paris and that only locals know about:

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  • Spontaneously travelling to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland thanks to the advice of Alon (a fellow TABer!), where I went hiking and paragliding in the Swiss Alps. The very first photo was my view from the window by my bed! Words can’t express how incredible this experience was, and photos won’t ever do it justice, but take a look: 

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  • I have now been in Madrid for nearly a week, where I spent the first few nights in a hostel. There I made friends with a few people who are moving here permanently to teach English! I also got the chance to explore this beautiful city. My favourite experience so far was taking the Teleférico de Madrid halfway through Casa de Campo and walking back through this beautiful, massive park near the centre of Madrid: 

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My Spanish is very limited, so going from being able to communicate in French with everyone in Belgium and France to not being able to communicate with anyone in Madrid has been an experience, but I am loving every minute of it and I really look forward to learning and growing even more as a future teacher and as a person. Right now I’m looking forward to that moment where I can converse (even just for a brief conversation) with a local.

I’m sad that one part of my adventure is over, but I’m truly excited to start the new adventure of teaching in Madrid! My fellow TABers are all here together now and it’s nice to finally settle into one place. 

Until next time! 

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Pre-Departure and Travelling

This may be a bit long, so buckle up.

Before my departure to Europe, I did not overthink packing and only packed necessities. I took a 60L backpack and filled it with clothes, including a couple of suits, dress shoes, hiking clothes, and every day clothes. I took another backpack (the one I normally carry to University) and filled it with the important things - laptop, passport, a lock (very important), glasses, chargers & adapters, and a pair of flip-flops (you never know what kind of Hostel you'll end up in).

I left for Europe early in August and planned myself a route that geographically did not make any sense, but nevertheless was an incredible experience. I began my travels in Amsterdam, Netherlands and experienced the fascinating coexistence of church & prostitution, as well as explored their canals (or dams), neighbourhoods, and other important cultural activities such as the Anne Frank House Museum.3530572464?profile=RESIZE_710x

From Amsterdam, I took a (long 8.5 hours) bus down to Paris, France. What they say is true, that Paris is the city of love, as I fell in love with it immediately (cheesy, I know). Walking down the streets of Paris and seeing the beautiful architecture, whether it was an impressive church or simply an office building, the architecture there and the colours were breathtaking. I moved around by foot for the most part and went from one monument to the next, exploring sites such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Jardin de l’Intendant, Place du Panthéon, Luxembourg Gardens, a day trip to the Gardens of Versailles, and of course the infamous Louvre Museum (a very impressive museum, where the 45 minutes line to see the Mona Lisa was not worth it – but hey, I took a photo with her). I left Paris and took a train down south to Marseille, where I stayed near the Old Port. I only had two full days there therefore I did my research prior to arrival and decided to reach Les Calanques (specifically Sugiton). Sugiton is approximately a 45 minutes hike from where the bus drops you and is a beautiful rocky beach between limestone & dolomite steep walls.3530598287?profile=RESIZE_710x

From Marseille I took (many) trains to get to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. The Lauterbrunnen village is breathtaking. At all times you’re engulfed by the Alps, with picturesque grassy hills & wooden chateaus. I spent a total of 4 days in the area, exploring nearby villages Gimmelwald and Mürren, and even went paragliding over the town Grindelwald (yes, I am aware that these names sound straight out of Harry Potter). The whole experience was dream-like and feels surreal when I think back to it.3530558022?profile=RESIZE_710x

From there, I went to Brussels, Belgium (I told you it made no sense geographically). I planned to stay there for only one night but ended up staying for three! Brussels really drew me in – I did a free walking tour there, in which I learned about the French and German influences on the city, I learned about their cynical sense of humor, and learned a lot about their cuisine. Following recommendations, I did a day trip to Bruges & Ghent, two smaller cities with rich history and beautiful architecture. It was amazing to do a walking tour through Bruges, learn about their history, and see the differences between the city-feel of Brussels to the town-feel of both Bruges and Ghent. Luckily, travelling between cities & even countries is very affordable in Europe and appealed to my budget. From Brussels, I decided to arrive to Spain – but not yet to Madrid! I took an $8 (!!!) flight to Girona, Spain. There, I explored the beautiful city, went to Museu d'Història dels Jueus – a museum dedicated for the Jewish community that lived in Girona and is located in the Jewish quarter. For a museum it was very cheap (3 euros for students) and it was quite the emotional experience, in particular stories about the converso society & inquisition. From Girona, friends who joined my trip and I rented a car and drove to down the Costa Brava coast, passing through beautiful beach towns (from north to south) Cadaqués, Roses, Figueres (in which we stopped for the infamous Dalí Theatre-Museum – an incredible experience; it was unlike any museum I’ve been to in my life), Palamós, and finally Tossa de Mar. After touring various castles, visiting beautiful viewpoints looking over the Mediterranean Sea, and exploring the local culture, we finished our drive down in Barcelona. Barcelona was incredible, very hot, and the last stop for my trip before I headed to Madrid. There, I visited the Magic Fountain at night, went on yet another fascinating free walking tour in the old & gothic parts of the city, went to Park Güell, Montjuïc, Plaça de la Sagrada Familia, and Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau – a hospital that was designed by Gaudi and has a very impressive museum in it.

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I arrived to Madrid via bus (about 8.5 hours overnight – saved on an extra night in a hostel & was able to sleep for about 7 hours) and arrived at the AirBnB, which is located in a very central neighbourhood, only a 12 minute walk from the school I'll be teaching at. 

Edit: I decided to add my route to give you a visual representation of my trip. I told you it didn't make geographical sense!

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I’d like to summarise by saying that the experience had already been incredible. A big reason to why I chose Madrid was due to its proximity to other places in Europe, and the accessibility & affordability of travelling within Europe. I met many amazing people everywhere I’ve travelled, tried a lot of local cuisine, and visited phenomenal places around Europe. My TAB experience is starting on the right foot and I am more than excited for my first official day on September 9th.

 

Until the next post,

 

Alon Gilad

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Mark's top 12 tips for Spain

The last day I went to the school it rained. Someone said it was because Barcelona was sad we were leaving. But…it absolutely poured on my first day at the school too so let’s not go far with that metaphor. It’s been a journey and I have learned a lot. In fact I would like to share some of that. If you are reading this post because you are going to Spain next year, this is the post for you! Here’s my pro tips for TAB in Spain:

12. As you may have gathered above, it will likely rain while you are there. When it does, it doesn’t rain hard for very long but that’s usually because there is no more water left! It can come down like a curtain, so pack a rain jacket but also a rain cover for your backpack.

11. I know I talked about food already but here we go again. If you want more authentic food, here’s some tips to avoid tourist traps. It is not uncommon for menus to have multiple languages but if you see pictures of the food, it’s for tourists. Locals know what their food looks like already!

10. If you want to buy something in a very tourist-y area (such as Las Ramblas), try walking a bit away from the crowd and you’ll likely find lower prices for very similar things. Not just souvenirs but food and even flamenco shows as well.

9. Don't be afraid to do some searching for cheaper utilities. Some ATMs don't charge fees and some places sell very cheap SIM cards. Shop around.

8. Planning on going to see something in Barcelona? Look it up online first. A lot of places require reservations particularly if they are tourist destination. Most restaurants are walk-in but if you want paella or go someplace special (such as a cat café), you’ll be better off booking.

7. But beware! Some of these websites are designed to make you buy tickets for things you may not need to pay for. Buy a ticket for a museum online for example, but if you want an electronic audio guide, pay for it there. If you are really uncertain go early but expect to buy a ticket for later.

6. Almost all museums, churches and tourist destinations have free entrance at certain times and days. It will be very busy at those free times however.

5. Explore but keep informed! Air travel is very cheap in Europe so you can travel to different places easily. But look up what is going on in Barcelona during those times. You don’t want to miss La Merce and it’s nice to know when the chestnut festival is going on.

4. Don’t forget you’re going there to be a teacher too! Work with your partner teachers but keep in mind the students are going to love whatever you plan. You’re an exciting Canadian to them!

3. Don’t worry about speaking English “wrong.” Spanish is very structured so English is taught to students making connections to that structure. Students may understand the rules of English better than you but as a native speaker you have intuition. English is much more malleable and students want to hear how you (mis)use the language.

2. The teachers and students may be familiar with unusual vocabulary than we expect. Often this is because there is an easy direct translation from Catalan or Spanish or because they are using a British variant. Let them know what we say in Canada! It’s not that one is more correct than the other but it’s unique to the culture.

1. Speak their language too! For every sigh, correction or annoyed switch to English, I’ve encountered five people that are excited to hear you speak to them. You will get better service at restaurants, instant connections with students and you will gain a better appreciation for new language users.

Have fun!

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Bon Appetit!

Ah the food of Spain. Tapas! Pinxtos! Paella! What do these words even mean? You may have heard there is 5 mealtimes instead of three which means that these meals are much smaller. Tapas are small plates and can vary from seafood to potatoes to cheese plates. They are perfect for sharing but it’s also acceptable for one person to order one for themselves (usually they offer a discount with a drink). More adventurous foodies might try pescaditos (“little fish”) or chocobos (baby squid) while Patatas Bravas (potatoes) and Croquetas (breaded bites usually filled with meat, cheese and/potato) are nice comfort food. Don't forget to try Jamon Iberico (Iberian ham). The pigs eat mostly acorns and the nuttiness comes through in the flavor.

Pinxtos are a type of tapa where meats, cheeses and vegetables are placed on a slice of bread with a skewer or toothpick on top. Special pinxto bars are self-serve and they count the skewers after you are done to determine the cost. These are the easiest places to try new things and are also one of the easiest ways to get veggies in your diet without actually dieting.

Paella is a rice dish usually with seafood but they can also have pork, chicken, rabbit or vegetarian options. Often made with a special rice and sometimes the rice is dyed by squid ink. It takes a while to cook so place reservations at popular paella places otherwise you will be waiting for a seat for awhile. Unlike tapas and pinxtos, paella must be shared and most places won’t serve you without a minimum of two people.

Lastly what to drink? You are in Europe so the wine is great. Cava is a sparkling wine native to Catalan. Beer is very common as well. Of course sangria is served but it is mostly for tourists. Note: if you ask for water they bring you bottled water. Most people (locals included) don’t like the taste of the tap water because it is chlorinated although safe to drink.

But Barcelona is an international city so you can also find cuisine from all over. European foods like Italian pizza and pasta as well as pub foods from Germany and the UK are expected but also Asian, Indian and even South American food is common as well. However if you are feeling like you just need a taste of home, there is always the Tim Horton’s not far from Placa Catalunya!

From left to right: Chorizo pinxto, croqueta, patata brava

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(Strange) Cultural Traditions

For this blog post I will be sharing some of the strange but awesome and interesting pieces of culture I have experienced throughout my time here in Spain.

A strange obsession with poop (around Christmas)

The common Catalan christmas ornament “Caganer”. This tradition has existed since at least the 18th century. It is a very popular component of the Nativity scene in some parts of Spain. The original design was that of a peasant who was defecating, but you can find designs with political leaders and celebrities. I know at home some people who would be absolutely horrified if they were to find this in a Nativity scene, but in Catalonia this is the norm, and it has been for many generations.

Tió de Nadal is a tradition where a hollow log defecates small gifts around Christmas time. I originally came across this strange tradition when I was searching for things that children in Spain learn in schools. I saw a video on YouTube that showed children chanting around a log and then taking a stick and hitting a log. They would then lift up a blanket covering the back of the log and take the small gift. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBsnLk0bGKA ;Because I couldn’t understand what was happening or the lyrics of the song I asked some students at my school to explain it to me. They told me how this is a very common thing to do at school and at home. The children are asked to take good care of the log. Then they sing songs and hit the log with a stick. Then they grab the treat (usually edible).

 

La Mercè

La Mercè is a 5 day festival which aims to say goodbye to the summer and welcomes in the start of autumn. It ends on September 24th which is the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy. Throughout this festival I immersed myself in the activities as a local would. A few of my favourite activities were: Gigantes (the giants parade), Correfoc (the fire run), and Castellers (human-castle building).

Gigantes was interesting because people would go inside hollow structures usually two or so meters tall. They would dance side to side and spin in circles. I honestly found it a bit unsettling that the faces were painted on and the arms didn’t move. I’ve seen giant costumes before, but they have always had a mask and ability to move arms and legs. It was a bit strange, but it was really fun to see. Gigantes were in a parade but also met in the square right by my apartment where they walked/danced through the crowd. It was really fun to be among the crowd of families who came to watch this.

Castellers (human-castle building) was probably one of my favourite things I saw in my entire stay in Spain. Groups of 30-50 meet and stack themselves on top of one another to build a tower. Build up and take down is a complicated process, and it was obvious that careful planning and execution is required to successfully make a tower. Also the bigger people are at the bottom -not just age, but physical stature. What I thought was interesting was that there are groups from different communities around Barcelona i.e. Dressanes, Sangrada Familia, etc. and it is set up like a competition. The crowds cheer and applaud the best towers. I noticed that the groups sometimes built similar structures, and other times the “castles” were quite unique. The goal was always to have children climb to the top of the towers and salute/wave to the crowd. I was glad to see that the children wore foam helmets but I wished that everyone was required to do this. It’s very obvious how dangerous this activity is once you see it happening in front of you. People are climbing up several stories and they are relying on the people below them to hold them up. If anybody falls they have only the people below them to break their fall. There are no safety mats or padding below, only the cement of the street. I witnessed one tower fall and it was pretty scary. The group had successfully built the tower and the people on the base were shaking. They were able to get about half of the people down when the rest of the tower collapsed. People were screaming and I heard some crying once they fell. I figured they would clear the square and an ambulance would have to come in. However this was not the case - instead, the show went on. The remaining groups kept building and the crowd kept cheering. Overall it was an impressive sight, but I don’t think this kind of activity would ever be allowed/encouraged at home because of the inherent dangers/risks.

Correfoc was a really, really fun activity. Many people were dressed up as devils (colles de diables). They brought heavy-duty sparklers and firecrackers and danced along Via Laietana. It is highly recommended that spectators wear long sleeve shirts and pants because there is a high probability of being burnt by the sparklers. There were different groups of people that supplied their own music (marching band style) and continuously burning flames to help people re-light their fire sticks. I had such a fun time dancing in the street among locals. My favourite part was definitely seeing the different sculptures built to spray sparks. There were lots of dragons and scary looking animals. People would either be inside of the structures walking, or if they were heavy enough they would pull/push them along the street.

 

I have really enjoyed experiencing Spainish (and specifically Catalan) culture over the past couple of months. I have learned so many interesting things and a lot about the history of the region. 

Hasta luego!

 

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Everything Food!

Things that I have learned and/or experienced related to food/eating:

1. Everyone eats dinner after 9pm. If you tell somebody you’re eating dinner at 5 (like I commonly do at home in Canada) they will ask you if you are okay or wonder why you skipped lunch. While I’ve been here I have adjusted my entire eating schedule to that of a local. A light breakfast, then a big lunch around 2 pm, and then large dinner at 9 pm. I really wonder how easy it will be to switch back to my old eating schedule when I get home. 

2. Eating tapas (snacks) at a bar is socially acceptable any time of the day. Throughout the past two months I have tried many, many tapas. Eating is one of my favourite things to do so I tried as many things as I could.The tapas that are on a stick are called pintxos and they are small enough you can eat them in a couple of bites. There are entire streets that have restaurants dedicated to serving these tapas. The really cool thing is that many of these restaurants have a buffet style of serving, so you just take whichever items (pinxtos) you want and once you are done they count the number of small plates/sticks to calculate your bill. Most of these are 1-2 Euros so it’s fairly inexpensive. My favourite tapas restaurants are Blai 9 and Casa del Molinero. The first is on one of the famous tapas street called Carrer de Blai and the second is on a quiet side street in the Gothic Quarter near my flat. My favourite tapa is definitely patatas bravas - which is basically deep fried potato cubes with a spicy sauce on top/to dip the cubes into.

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My other favourite restaurant - Casa del Molinero is a tiny “hole in the wall” type of bar. They serve simple tapas and drinks. It’s really a fun place to eat and relax among locals. The best food I tried there was called El Diablo. It was a dish with 3 sausages that they cooked on sticks right in front of us. They also serve the famous pan con tomate (tomato bread) and amazingly delicious chorizo (mild and spicy). They also give a free shot of leche de pantera (panther’s milk) after every meal. This is a typical drink from the region made from milk (condensed I think) and gin.

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3. Eating on outdoor patios is popular all day and into the night as well. Rain or shine people will be out on the patios socializing, eating tapas, and having drinks (usually beer, wine, cava, or sangria). The last week has been a bit chilly here (around 12 C) at night and it has been raining and windy. However, I still see locals enjoying dinner outside on the patios in their full winter jackets and boots. For them this is almost as cold as it can get in the winter. It typically isn’t this cold in the fall, but its only for a few days and then it will likely warm up again. I know that at home nobody would eat outside if it was raining or if it was cold and windy.

4. Home cooked meals are significantly cheaper and can also be much more delicious. My incredible roommate Pablo taught me how to make paella, escalivada, and spanish omelettes. We would go to the local market to get fresh vegetables, meat, and seafood. Then we would cook and eat together. A few days ago we made 4 servings of Paella (the famous seafood rice dish) for 13. I had one serving in a restaurant for 30 whereas our homemade one was a lot cheaper and it also had so much more flavour! As a snack when it was cooler out we made baked sweet potatos in the oven and ate them with a spoon! I will definitlely continue to make these foods even once I return home!

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Foods you NEED to try in Spain:

- Paella

- Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette)

- Churros (don't forget the chocolate dipping sauce)

- Every kind of tapa!

- Baked sweet potato

- Panelettes 

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Adiós España!

It’s hard to believe that I am writing this because it means I am packing to return to Canada tomorrow. Although I have been here in Spain for over two months now, it seems like I am just starting to scratch the surface in regards to teaching and learning about Spanish and Catalonian culture and language.  There is still so much to learn! For instance, it was only this past week that I learned that many public schools in this region do not have an indoor gymnasium. The staff and students at Leonardo da Vinci feel incredibly fortunate to have an indoor facility in their new school. I have also learned that one’s motives for wanting to drink a cappuccino while simultaneously eating their lunch will be questioned. Further, I have discovered that one way to get an entire class of students, even at 17 years old, silent and engaged is to read to them. Students are also highly motivated to complete work when they know they may receive a “sweetie” (candy) at the end of class.

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During my last week of teaching, I was able to do some fun activities with students such as a Canadian themed trivia Kahoot! and a Halloween themed crack the code. I was also asked to be a guest and sit in a class where the students are working on a drama production. I was completely amazed by these students’ talents and I am grateful for the opportunity to have observed them.

My experiences at the school in Sant Cugat have been nothing short of amazing. I leave this experience having a clearer appreciation of how students, particularly ELL students, learn and what supports they may require in a classroom. As I have had the opportunity to observe different teaching philosophies in practice, I have also learned practices that work well as well as others that do not work so well. Overall, I have gained a greater understanding of how my own teaching philosophy is evolving and shaping.

One of the biggest take-a-ways I have from my time in Spain is the value and importance of resiliency. Not only have I discovered my own personal ability to be resilient, from living in less than ideal Air BnB’s, to seeking out an English-speaking doctor, to finding how and where to purchase the correct bus pass, and to navigating directions when Google maps has malfunctioned, but I have also observed the resiliency in the teachers and students. I have witnessed teachers’ resiliency through starting the school year late, being in classrooms without 21st century teaching tools such as whiteboards, Smartboards and internet, and dealing with challenging student behaviors. Students displayed their resiliency through navigating a new school with new teachers, and by consistently showing up for English class at 8 am even though they have difficulties reading and writing. Regardless of the roadblocks presented, at the end of the day what matters is that you keep showing up and keep on giving it all you’ve got!

 There will be many things I will miss about Spain:

  • The weather: you cannot complain when the daily temperature still reaches the mid-teens in late October/early November
  • The views: you can easily watch the sunset from sitting on the beach or wonder at the views from a mountain (much thanks to Sarah for being braver than I to get the panoramic views from Montserrat!)
  • The relaxed, easy going nature of the Spanish and Catalonian culture: there are always people cheek kissing, hugging, and giving pats on the back
  • The food: you are never more than a few steps away from a café, bakery, market, or restaurant
  • The teachers and students at Leonardo da Vinci: As I said heartfelt goodbyes to the teachers in the English department and the students, it was bittersweet. While I am sad to leave a place I’ve called home for two months, I am also excited to return home to my family and friends

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I am incredibly blessed and grateful to have participated in the Teaching Across Borders program. I have grown and learned so much about myself as a solo traveller and as a teacher. The experiences I have had have been life changing and beyond what I could have ever imagined. My advice to future students considering applying for TAB is that you do not hesitate! You will not be disappointed. TAB really has been a once in a lifetime opportunity; if given the option, I would do it again without a doubt!

 

Hasta la próxima España, te extrañaré! 

(Until next time Spain, I will miss you!)

 

 Adiós!

 

 

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Teaching and Learning in Spain

In preparing for Teaching Across Borders, I think I often only thought of myself as one who would occupy the role of teacher. What I have learned, however, is that I am just as much, if not more, a student. Class sizes are fairly large at IES Leonardo DaVinci, with anywhere from 22 – 29 students. I have had the honor and pleasure of being able to be in 9 different classes, which means I have been interacting with over 180 students. These students have taught me more about Spanish and Catalonian culture, language, and themselves than I think I have taught them English skills.

The relaxed, welcoming school and classroom culture lends itself for many opportunities to have small group and one-on-one conversations with students. One heart-warming experience is when students asked me if I would like to learn Catalan. Of course, I said yes! One student told me she would teach me how to say “my name is Carrie” in Catalan:

El meu nom és Carrie. 

Although it looks easy enough to pronounce in writing, it definitely was not. Not only did I need to ask the student to repeat herself many, many times, but I also needed her to write down the words so I could visually see what I was attempting to say. The students eagerly listened to me trying to say this phrase, and would giggle when I was not pronouncing it correctly. It is little interactions like this that have made my time thus far in Spain so rewarding and enjoyable. It is hard to believe that I only have a handful of days remaining at the school.

 Aside from teaching, one of the best things about being in Spain is the ease of being able to travel not only within Barcelona, but also to other neighbouring cities and countries in Europe. A person can access many options of public transport: local busses, metro, FGC trains, trams, AVE (high speed trains), and taxis. It is also convenient that a person can either obtain a bus/metro pass or pay cash upon boarding transportation. Booking a flight to other countries is another option for travel. Europe has many national airlines so finding a flight to another destination is easy and inexpensive as compared to flights across Canada.

 I have been able to take advantage of the travel options in Spain as I have taken day trips to neighbouring communities as well as weekend trips to other countries. Over the past several weeks I have visited Paris, France, Brussels, Belgium, and Girona, Spain. These trips have provided me with an incredible amount of opportunities for site seeing and cultural learning.

As my time in Spain is quickly coming to an end, my goal is to immerse myself in as much Spanish culture as I possibly can!

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Outdoor Physical Activity

 

I have spent the past seven weeks wandering around Barcelona and the surrounding area to see what kind of outdoor physical activity the people do here. Of course I expected to see typical activities such as running and biking. However, I have actually come across many people doing things I never expected to see. Barcelona is a lot warmer in the fall than Calgary, so it makes sense that more people would be outside exercising than I would expect at home. However, such a variety of outdoor physical activities is so much easier to find than at home.

Here are some of the activities I have come across without any prior research:

  • Yoga on floating paddle boards in the sea
  • Rollerblading
  • Yoga on the beach
  • Bootcamp workout on the beach
  • Gymnastics in the street (flips, cartwheels, and jumping over people)
  • Swimming in an outdoor pool
  • Swimming in the sea
  • Swing dancing
  • Beach volleyball
  • Frisbee
  • Outdoor football (soccer) on a concrete field
  • “Castellers” - human castle building
  • Lots of running groups
  • Outdoor basketball
  • Outdoor fitness/gym area at the beach
    • This is basically an adult playground where people use their body weight for exercises

 

As I mentioned above, I have seen many running groups. One of my mentor teachers at the school I am at suggested one group to me as they were having a meet up in a park near my apartment (Parc de la Ciutadella). This group has a runtastic ambassador which organized routes around the park with 3 levels of difficulty. We all met up together at a certain time and then split off in whichever level of difficulty that we wanted to. One group ran, one group jogged, and the slowest group walked. Because I just had knee surgery a few months ago I am not yet able to run so I joined in with the other walkers. One lady referred to our group as the “grannies” which I thought was hilarious. It can be quite hot during the day so exercising at night is ideal. However, parks can be unsafe at night (when you are alone and in the dark) so these meetup type of running groups are perfect.

I have noticed that there seems to be a lot more children playing outside than I typically see at home. My favourite thing that I have seen kids doing so far was a relay race type of challenge on roller blades. One kid would do a crazy move and then the others would try to mirror it and they would race to the other side of the park. I really wanted to share this observation because it reminded me of the things I used to do with my friends when I was a kid. I really wonder what makes kids seem to play outside here more than they do at home. Maybe by the time I get home this will become more clear to me.

Hasta pronto!

(Spanish - see you soon)

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Street Art and Performances

I love walking around Barcelona because I can always find interesting art. It seems as though everywhere I go I can find somebody drawing, painting, or singing in the street. Of course there are always people selling completed work, but there are also others who wait for customers to come to them and then they complete a portrait in the moment.

A very interesting type of art that I have never seen before are the sand sculptures that are made in the evening at a popular public beach, Platja de la Barceloneta. These artists arrive around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and spend hours sculpting intricate figures into the sand. These people put out a jar or mat where people walking by can make donations. I observed that it is hard for anybody to stop and enjoy these carvings without dropping some coins. Quite often the artists become upset if somebody tries to stop to take photos without giving them a donation. One day I spoke to an artist and he explained how this is the only way he can make money. In Canada I would never expect to see an artist chasing after a person for not donating to them for a street performance, but in Barcelona this is a reality.

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I also enjoy seeing various street performers. There are people that dress up in crazy costumes and come to a busy street called La Rambla everyday. You can find people painted in gold that can sit as still as a statue. For a small donation they will move and take a photo with you.

Almost every time that I ride the underground subway somebody is singing, rapping, or playing an instrument such as trumpet, saxophone, or clarinet. I have heard some very interesting combinations of music and I have never seen the same person/group twice. There are street performers who serenade people as they eat dinner on an outdoor patio. Others show off their gymnastics skills by doing flips in the street. After any of these performances they walk around collecting change. I have observed that it is likely best to give a bunch of small change or a minimum of one euro. An important note is that it is possible that these artists can be more offended over a tiny donation than if you were to give nothing at all. An example of this is when I saw family of foreign tourists. I watched the father figure dig through a pile of change, giving each of his kids one cent to put into the hat for a group of five street performers. I saw how offended the performers were from the expressions on their faces. This reminded me of how my friends react at home when they serve somebody an expensive meal at a restaurant and a person tips a small amount of $0.50.

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Overall, I would have to say that my favourite type of street art is the graffiti. I live in Barrio Gótico (Spanish for the Gothic Quarter). Most shops and restaurants are on the ground floor of the buildings and they have these pull-down doors that are covered in painted images and symbols. I sometimes walk around for hours looking at the designs.

 

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Graffiti is common throughout the city, and nobody seems to mind its placement in public places. I even noticed that the trains are covered in graffiti. At home I know some people would be outraged if somebody spray painted the side of a C-train, but here it seems so normal. In addition I have seen people out in the daylight spray painting tags and pictures. I have never seen this at home - likely because of a fear of being caught by the authorities.

Adéu amics!

(Catalan for goodbye friends)

 

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October 1st marked the first anniversary of the 2017 (illegal) referendum on the separation of Catalonia from the remainder of Spain. As a result of this anniversary date, many students opted to strike by refusing to attend school. Many classes had very few students attending. For example, of approximately the 60 students in 4th ESO, only four attended school. I should have known something was arise by the newly hung banner and police presence at the train station in the morning. Thankfully, I did not witness any commotion or rioting aside from students not attending school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other school news, builders are still working on the school, but progress is at least being made. More classrooms now have computers and overhead projectors, but there is still no internet or Wi-Fi available. Teachers have been improvising and delivering lessons using alternate methods such as playing videos from personal laptops and mobile phones. Of the classes that I am in, the students primarily work out of workbooks anyways with a small amount of supplemental material from the teacher. The students do not seem to particularly enjoy the workbooks, so when I have the opportunity to do English-based activity games, such as pictionary and role playing, with them they are always eager! The bathrooms now even have toilet paper and soap dispensers, but inconveniently, no products yet; not even in the teacher’s facilities. I never thought I would need to carry my own bathrooms supplies on a regular basis, but it has now become second nature.

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Siesta - an afternoon rest or nap. Part of Spanish culture is the siesta. While partaking in an afternoon nap sounds like a pleasant idea, it is also somewhat of an inconvenience. Many stores and restaurants close for several hours in the afternoon. I am trying to maintain my “Canadian” time schedule, thus, when I wish to go to a small market or grab dinner at an earlier time, I am finding them closed. In attempts to counter this, I have become more keen at pre-planning my suppers and hitting up the markets earlier in the mornings or later in the evenings.

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Above all, I am enjoying living and teaching in the relaxed community atmosphere of Sant Cugat. It is much less touristy and busy than Barcelona. There are always people out leisurely walking their dogs and families sitting at a park bench while their children play. I love how there are so many benches and little playgrounds for people in the community to utilize. As my time here is Spain is now just past the halfway point, I plan to take everything in that I possible can as it has been proven that TAB experiences pass by way too quickly!

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Speaking English vs Teaching English

Most TAB student's first language is English so you should be able to tell me about Saxon genitive right? Hint: I just used it in that last sentence.

A weird thing to wrap your mind around is the difference between being a user of the English language and a teacher of it. With the English language commonly breaking every rule it has, it's easy to be too relaxed on how students speak. So it is very important to be clear about what concept or rule you are trying to teach. Often students speak a correct sentence but doesn't follow what the lesson is teaching. It's tricky because you don't want to tell the student they are wrong, or worse, hurt their confidence but instead steer them to the lesson on hand. It also means (re)teaching yourself the rules of English.

Often I am asked the proper way to say something and I have to stop and think, "How do I speak English again?" I am so used to speaking it that I don't pay attention to things like present perfect or question tags (in fact, I'm not sure I ever formally learned) and ultimately that should be the goal for the students too. While the teachers here are not as ready to throw the textbook out the window like they can be in Canada, they do share frustrations on their limitations. Often the textbook encourages technically correct but awkward language which conflicts with the teachers' goal of creating conversational English speakers. Also the textbook is entirely in English so it is designed for students in France just as much as Spain which is a bit surprising when you are used to texts designed specifically for provinces, let alone countries. To throw another element into the mix, some teachers were taught by British teachers so you can find accents and pronounciation that is different than what you are used to in Canada.

It's all part of the fun though. If your ultimate goal is to create English conversationalists then the best way is to have conversations. The question "why" is your best friend for shaking out those memorized stock phrases and getting students to think on their feet. I've seen students surprise themselves on how much they've absorbed and walk away feeling more confident!

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La Merce

Last weekend was La Merce festival and it was a blast. La Merce is a four day festival celebrating Our Lady of Mercy and the town comes alive during the weekend. There is a lot of things to do but the two highlights are the correfocs (or fire-runs) and the parade of gegants.

The correfoc is the most exciting by far consisting of people dressed as devils and monsters lighting fireworks that spray sparks into the crowd. It sounds dangerous but put on an old hoodie or thicker clothing and you should be fine. It doesn’t hurt on bare skin but bites a bit when gets on thinner clothes or unprotected hair where it burns a second longer. I speak from experience. I also recommend wearing your sunglasses to protect your eyes. Lastly you can just stand further away (but where’s the fun in that?).

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It consists of two runs: the children’s and the adults’. I assumed because of the scary imagery that the children’s run was a toned down version of the adults. Turns out the people in the correfoc are children! The little devils have so much fun but the real action happens during the adults’. By the time it starts its dark enough to make it all look appropriately hellish. Stick around for the monster “floats” that spray in several directions at once.

On the final day is the gegants parade. Consisting of people wearing giant paper mache heads or dressed as giant kings, queens and other medieval or contemporary Spanish archetypes dancing and marching in a parade along Las Ramblas, it is a much more relaxed affair. In fact it’s a nice way to finish an exciting weekend!

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PS If you are going to catch a cold on this trip, don’t do what I did and catch it during La Merce. You can only get medicine at a pharmacia and they are closed on Sundays- many are closed the entire festival weekend. The pharmacist I had spoke good and very specialized English (Como se dice “decongestants”?) and I’m told that’s usually the case. That being said the medicine I got was not as strong as the OTC stuff in Canada but at least you won’t get drowsy or stay awake on it.

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A New School Year Finally Begins

I have just finished my first couple teaching days at IES Leonardo da Vinci. The start of the school year was to begin on September 12, however, the start date was delayed due to construction. The school is in a brand-new building and construction is not even yet fully finished. The school gymnasium, cafeteria, and library remain incomplete as of yet. Further, not all classrooms have whiteboards installed nor overheard projectors to deliver lessons. Despite the unfinished building, students and teachers are in full swing of a new year. 

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Classes begin at 8 am and each class is one hour in length. Students have three classes in the morning and then a short lunch break from 11:00 am – 11:30 am. The afternoon block also has three classes with the day ending at 2:30 pm.  I was a little concerned my first day at the sound of the bell to switch classes as it resembles more of a fire bell sound as opposed to a school bell. Needless to say, I will get used to it!

 

The school system here is composed of four years of compulsory secondary education referred to as ESO (educacion secundaria obligatoria). After these years, students can choose to no longer pursue any other education, but many students elect to attend technical school. Another option following ESO is to attend two additional years of upper secondary education called bachillerato. The students that follow this path do so as they are preparing to write an exam that will allow them entrance into university. The students that I will be working with are in first, second, and fourth ESO as well as first and second year of bachillerato. So far, the students have been very welcoming of having me in the classroom and are eager to ask the “Canadian teacher” questions about not only myself but Canada as well.

 

Some of the immediate differences that I have observed in the school as compared to schools in Canada is that students call their teachers by their first names. Also, the teachers move from classroom to classroom to teach their respective classes as opposed to having a homeroom and the students moving from one class to another. In the coming weeks, I am looking forward to getting to know the students better and learning how I can assist them with their English language learning.

 

Outside of school and our online courses, I have been exploring Barcelona and have even made a day trip to the quaint little beach-side town of Sitges. There is so much to see and do just in Barcelona. I can walk the same street multiple times and each time I notice something new that I didn’t see the previous times. I am excited to continue exploring this beautiful city!

 

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Adios for now!

 

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Barcelona: One Week In!

Now that I have been here a week and I've discovered so much: My spanish is only mildly embarrassing but no one seems to mind. BCN does not stand for bacon but the jamon iberica is very tasty. When it rains, it pours and your dinky umbrella won't save you. Also the school I will be at is under contruction so some classrooms will not have internet, projectors or even whiteboards (!) yet.

The teachers are aware that it will a struggle but they are all ready for the challenge. Construction pushed the start of school a week so the teachers are eager to get started. Listening to how some teachers have had to be creative really shows their passion and enthusiasm. I think I will learn much from them. One teacher brought in a plastic tube from the construction scraps and pretended to order food through it because he knew needed some sort of visual aid with their class. It was a hit!

Today I visited the school but tomorrow I will actually be in the classroom. Practicums have always been my favourite part of the Education program so I am very much looking forward to it. In fact it's the whole reason I'm here (being in the Mediterranean is a nice cherry on top). I will have to remember to use appropriate grade level vocabulary, especially with the younger grades whose English is not as strong but I'm excited to see what they know and what I can teach them!

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Primera semana en España

Hola amigos!

The first week in Barcelona has been nothing short of incredible. Although I have travelled to quite a number of countries throughout South East Asia as well as Central and South America before, this is my first trip to Europe. I am truly so grateful for this opportunity which allows me to concurrently travel, teach, and complete university courses online. 

 

The things that that have been most noticeable over the past week are the little differences between living in Canada (or North America) and Europe. Some things are beautiful, others are interesting, and of course some things can be a little annoying. I live only a 10 minute walk to the sea, and 10 minutes beyond that is a 4 km long beach to swim at. I absolutely love the heat and being able to swim everyday and/or night!

The architecture of many buildings (even regular shops and average apartments) are breathtaking. I am living on a quiet street in the Gothic Quarter, and it is truly beautiful. I love that all of the ceilings and doorways are huge! The bathroom and kitchen are quite tiny in my apartment, and I share these spaces with my two roommates. This has been quite an adjustment, as two people cannot be in the kitchen at the same time. The washing machine is also in the kitchen and there is no dryer so we hang our clothes to dry in the communal living room or in our small bedrooms. Sharing such a small space with two strangers has definitely required some accomodating. They are both really friendly and kind so it has been working well. My Airbnb host is a graphic designer and he has hung lots of interesting art around the flat which has made the small space feel big and comfortable.

The thing that I totally overlooked is bringing only one power-outlet converter. I have all of these electronic devices (computer, phone, DSLR, GoPro, etc.) but only one plug. I am going to go out on an adventure to find another one. Many people here speak some English, but not enough to understand my request for this specific device. Alternatively, describing a power-outlet converter is beyond my Spanish conversation capabilities at this point. Now that I have a google translator on my phone I am going to try again.

Hasta luego!

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A Whole New World

My initial thoughts about my experiences with TAB remind me of the lyrics from the song A Whole New World. “A whole new world…A new fantastic point of view…A whole new world…A dazzling place I never knew…Unbelievable sights…Indescribable feeling”.

I arrived in Spain on August 29 after a couple of long travel days. This is my first time in Europe and I am excited to be immersed in a culture in which I have never been exposed to before. I will be living in Sant Cugat for my time here in Spain. I have done a little exploring in these first few days and have located a couple of grocery stores and coffee shops. The locals have been very kind to me even when I cannot understand what they are speaking and it is hit or miss if they can understand and/or speak English. This really is a whole new world to me!

Although I do not meet with the school liaison until next week, I am eager to begin in the classroom. I have taken time to review what I hope to gain from this experience. I hope to gain new insights and perspectives on teaching and what it means to be an educator. Further, teaching abroad will expose me to different teaching pedagogies. I am curious to learn how classrooms function and operate here in Sant Cugat and how they compare to classrooms in Alberta. From the experiences I will have and knowledge I will gain, I hope to be able to learn more about myself both professionally and personally. I hope to expand what my current teaching philosophy is and how to better support the learning needs of diverse students.

 

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One of the main attractions in Sant Cugat is the Monastery (Monestir de Sant Cugat). The monastery, founded in the 9th century, was one of the main monastic centers of Catalonia. In 1835, after almost a thousand years of monastic life, the monks left the monastery as a result of the Secularization Decree. This building is like nothing I have ever seen before. Visiting the Monastery is one of my first “unbelievable sights”.

I am so blessed and grateful to be a part of TAB. I look forward to sharing my experiences as I discover a whole new world.

Carrie 

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Adios Barcelona

It is bittersweet to be writing this final blog post because it means that I am back home in Calgary. My time participating in the TAB program has been very unique and I believe I have developed skills that will be invaluable to me as a future teacher. My last day at my TAB placement school, Leonardo da Vinci, was very emotional for me as all of the students and teachers were so kind and appreciative of my time there. A few tears were definitely shed! I one day hope to return to Barcelona and Sant Cugat and see mi familia español once again! I really enjoyed teaching ELL students and I will keep learning techniques that will help me to engage with ELLs effectively. Given the rate of ELL students in our city, the TAB program is excellent in developing these types of skills. I learned to be more multi-modal in my teaching, and also that you can never explain directions too carefully! I am beginning my practicum on Monday in a school with a high ELL population and so I am eager to utilize what I have learned.                                                                               

My home away from home                            

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Some things that I will miss about Barcelona:                  

Living by the beach and going swimming all the time

Being able to go to a bunch of amazing restaurants just steps away from my front door

Menu del día! From Monday - Friday you can get a 3 course meal for between 10-18 euros (including a drink)

+20 weather!

Exploring rural towns and other cities just as little as an hour away from Barcelona

Beautiful and unique European architecture

Practicing Spanish every day

Rambunctious students!

 

That being said, there are many things that I have missed about Calgary and I am happy to be home to see my friends and family. Teaching abroad has been a wonderful and eye-opening experience and I highly recommend it to pre-service teachers. I have learned a lot, and developed relationships, which I wouldn't have been able to do had it not been for this program. 

 

 

 

 

 

                 

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Reflecting on Spain...

As my time in Spain comes to an end, I have to admit that I am very sad to be leaving so soon! My reluctance in coming back home stems from the wonderful students, teachers, and experiences that I have been exposed to here in Sant Cugat. This last week has been emotional and heartwarming for a variety of reasons, but I will begin with where I left off last time! 

Luckily, I have been able to do a bit of traveling over the past couple of weeks. It was a privilege to visit the wonderful cities of Paris and Madrid on the weekends. My time in Paris was filled with a completely different yet equally interesting culture; it was so wonderful to see the art and community of an entirely different nation. Going to Madrid was a very interesting experience as well! I have to say that the differences between Barcelona and Madrid are extremely vast, though I cannot say one is better than another. Madrid is a much newer city, yet it holds a distinct history as well. Either way, I was very happy to have been able to visit Spain´s capital while I was here. I think traveling inside Spain was an important and worthwhile experience in order to get a full conceptualization of what this country truly consists of (especially in the wake of various political happenings!). 

 The French Pantheon & Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Plaza Mayor, Chocolate con Churros, and the Royal Palace in Madrid

The last week of teaching has been very touching! I have to say that the kindness of my students has completely surprised me and warmed my heart. Throughout the last few days of classes, my students presented me with a very kind letter "to their favorite teacher" along with a wonderful hat and scarf to help me brave the cold when I return home. Another set of students thanked me and gave me a set of lavender bath bombs and chocolates among other gifts. Another set of students gave me a painted heart that reads "good luck" (on the left is me opening one of these). These thank-you's made me feel so special! Being here has made me realize that above all I truly love working with young adults, and my support for them is completely the inspiration behind my teaching. This experience has helped solidify my goal as a future educator to be ultimately supportive and caring towards each and every student in my class. I have such appreciation for these students and their abilities. I think that they are kind, thoughtful individuals and I believe each of them will find success in the future. Hopefully I will be able to check up on their progress from back home! 

The educators here at my school have also been completely welcoming and kind from the start. I have learned much about teaching because of them, and having their trust to lead and experiment within the classroom has really made me grow as a person. I am extremely excited to return home and begin my field experience, and yet it is extremely bittersweet. I think one of the most difficult parts about being a student teacher (and a permanent teacher too!) is that you must move forwards and leave behind the relationships with students and colleagues you have developed at the end of your term. I get a sad feeling in my gut when I think about not knowing all of the amazing things these students will accomplish after I go! 

Happiness & Silliness! 

 
However, all of these feelings confirm that I am in the right program for the right career. And while I am hesitant to leave, I am excited to start again with a new group of Canadian students next week.  
 
Adios, Spain!  

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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Bye Bye Barcelona - Until we meet again...

So, it’s my final week in Barcelona and I cannot believe that it has already been two months since I arrived. This trip met all of my expectations and provided me with an opportunity to grow. It was hard, at times, to realize that the safety net that I have grown accustomed to at home was not available here. Being a Muslim woman means that I have never had the chance to live on my own and so up until this trip, the longest that I had ever been away from home was four weeks. Being here for nine weeks was a struggle and it provided me with an experience that I will never forget. Not only did I get the chance to work on my ELL teaching methods, but I also learned a few things about myself like my ability to persevere through hard situations. In the first eight weeks, I had to deal with an illness that threatened my experience in Spain. While it kept me from exploring the country in the way I had hoped I would, I was able to push through the pain, see most of Barcelona, and gain valuable experience at a rural school.

 

One thing that I will never forget is the sincerity and love that exuded from all of the teachers that I worked with here. Each member of the English department is caring and loving to each other and their students. I was lucky enough to feel some of that care and love. Our welcome was just as warm as our farewell and while I did not get a chance to work with every teacher, I developed a close relationship with all of them.

 

Of all the relationships that I developed, the strongest was with our liaison, Arancha. She worked hard to make sure that we felt welcome and a part of the team. When my illness kept me from work, she personally contacted me to make sure that I was doing okay. Her genuine concern really shocked me, as I have never had a supervisor care so much for the well being of a worker. It warmed my heart. Her care was also shown in the classroom as she supported my professional growth through a mentorship that she took on seamlessly. It was like there was no need for formalities; I became one of her colleagues immediately and she made sure that she supported me in any way that she could. The entire staff exuded the same qualities which leads me to believe that, culturally, colleagues are much more supportive and close with one another than they are in Canada. That’s not to say that our colleagues in Canada are not supportive, but having worked for much of my life, I can firmly say that the work environment in this school was much more warm and welcoming than any place I have ever worked in before.


 

I will definitely miss Barcelona and the lifestyle that comes with it. It is so incredibly different than living in Canada and I am so grateful to have had this experience. In the last week, I decided to explore Barcelona at night in an unorthodox way. In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to embark upon a “Ghost Walk” through the old neighbourhoods of Barcelona. It was probably the most “touristy” activity I had taken part in since being here. A tour guide took a group of tourists around the streets of Barcelona and shared ghost stories about certain locations. Some of the stories included the tale of young lovers, an onion farmer, and a lost traveller who narrowly escaped a brutal death. While the stories were not too scary, it was nice to explore Barcelona at night.

 

 

These last nine weeks have been interesting to say the very least. I lived away from home in a country that I had never been to and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It was stressful many times having to adjust to a new culture, complete course work, and teach through each week but it was worth it. I feel that I have grown in a way that I never would have if I did not take on this experience. Sure, it can be frustrating to be in a place that you know nothing about but I made it through. I contemplated coming home early because of the illness that I endured, but I am so glad that I stayed. That being said, I look forward to coming home and sharing my experiences with my loved ones. I’m not sure when, but I’ll be back in Barcelona at some point in my life. Perhaps when I’m married and have children to share the experience with. But I’ll definitely be back.

 

Xoxo,

 

Hana Kadri

 

P.S. If you’re reading this because you’re interested in taking part in the TAB program, let me tell you right now that you should. Just do it. You won’t regret it. =)

 

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