First update from Madrid

•November 3, 2013 • 4 Comments

So, I’ve been living in Madrid about a month and a half.

I work in a public “bilingual” elementary school in a Northeastern district of the capital city (when I get a chance, I’m going to write a post about what exactly constitutes a “bilingual” school in Madrid). I work with the 1st, 3rd, and 4th graders; I work mostly with the 3rd graders as I see at least one 3rd grade class daily. Overall I like working with younger kids and have a good rapport with the students. I greatly prefer this to a high school, although I do see the appeal of working with older children.

Just like with any job, there has been some drama between among the staff this year…already. Since one of the auxiliares was here last year, and she already filled me in re: last year’s drama, I wasn’t completely shocked when I was told about a huge fight that happened during break a couple weeks ago. That being said, in general things are going well for me personally. I’ve told people that I feel like I like this job as much as is feasible, in that I do enjoy it, I do it well, but I couldn’t do something like this forever.

On October 24th there was an education strike throughout all of Spain’s public schools, universities, and learning centers. Social services and the like have been greatly affected throughout the past year or so, and regarding public education, the government is passing a law similar to “No Child Left Behind.” I found out about the strike from a thread in a Facebook group the previous Monday. Most of the teaching and administrative staff at my particular school came to work, but most of the students stayed at home. Between the 3rd and 4th grade classes there were maybe 25 students.

Currently I’m contemplating whether or not I want to move to a different apartment. There have been some issues with my roommates and the apartment [building] itself, mostly my roommates, I won’t get into it too much now. With my particular lease, which is apparently fairly common in Spain, I’d basically just need to give a month’s notice before I wish to move out and I’m good. However, when I let myself calm down and completely analyze the situation, once the aggravation from the most recent issue has lessened a bit, I’m hesitant to leave. Frankly, I feel like whether or not you’re content with your housing is luck of the draw.
Once I take into consideration…

— What I don’t like about living here
My roommates – mainly one in particular – and their friends/guests/girlfriends, paper thin walls, lots of families live here, not much to do near my apartment that’s worthwhile (e.g. All of the bakeries/cafes literally sell the same food, like from the same bakery distributor or whatever, it’s especially obvious since I live so close to the main supermarket here. I’ve mentioned that it’s a positive and a negative that I feel there is nothing nearby that’s worth spending my money on.)

— What I do like
15ish-minute walk from work, 60ish-second walk from the metro (This is BIG for me), located off the main street here, conveniently close to stores and other commercial areas, enormous bedroom with a deadbolt lock and plenty of furniture, good landlord

— What I want
A studio or one bedroom in the NE section of the capital city that’s not located on the bottom two levels of the building (I currently live on the 4th floor, which is the “3rd floor” in Spain since the 1st floor is the “ground floor”/i.e. level zero), a bit closer to downtown Madrid than I am now, close to the metro

— and my budget…

…I feel like the chances that I’ll find something that is worth the time, effort, and costs of moving is slim.
But either way, I’m aiming to move into a studio once I no longer live here.

I’ve been sick and have had some health problems over the past week or so. As much of a pain as that has been, I have insurance here, seemingly…very, very good insurance, through Cigna Salud as I’m not an EU resident. A clinic nearby accepts this insurance, so I plan to see a general practitioner/doctor of internal medicine and let him direct to…everyone else I’d need to see at that clinic. It’s nice to have the option to seek medical care, and the reassurance that it will not bankrupt me.

Geico commercial voice: “I just saved thousands of dollars by moving to Spain…”

Spanish bureaucracy is complicated. And everything is this country is so slow in general. None of the rooms in my school even have a [functioning] clock, I remember when I lived in Seville and went on a mini-search to find a functioning clock. I plan to make a pilgrimage back to said clock someday.

Speaking of, I will be spending the holidays either in Seville or back in Chicago. Neither is set in stone. I still have a little network of friends in Seville, and either way it’d be nice to visit. I’m creating little groups of friends here in Madrid too, it’s been nice.

Since I’ve only been here a short while, and am having issues with my accommodation/health/etc, and it is Fall, and…bureaucracy, Madrid hasn’t really grown on me just yet, and I still greatly prefer Seville. Honestly though, it seems like everyone I’ve run into who has lived in Madrid and at least one other Spanish city prefers that/those place(s) to Madrid. Once my health improves, my living situation changes at least somewhat, and I see the sun more often, I imagine it will grow on me a bit more… it’s just a matter of time.

[very] long time, no post…

•August 19, 2013 • 3 Comments

Every so often I contemplate updating this blog.  Once I actually did write something several months ago, but I had updated the “quick post” page (which apparently doesn’t automatically save) and WordPress managed to erase my entry.  And frankly, after certain events that happened in my life around that time, that entry would have essentially been a moot point anyway.

But yeah, for those who know I’ve had an…interesting 18ish months since I’ve been back in Chicago.  If I wrote about some of it here, not only would you probably not believe me, but if people associated with a certain high-profile celebrity — who played a pretty substantial role in this drama —  were to stumble upon it, I could get sued.  

Like I said, you probably wouldn’t believe me. I’ve been encouraged to write about it eventually though

Anyway, in the midst of all these chaotic events, I found an opportunity and several resources to give me a chance to move back to Spain.  


Years ago, I contemplated doing the Auxiliares de Conversación program instead of enrolling at CLIC Sevilla language immersion in order to live in Spain and learn Spanish.  Now I’m looking at this same program, but as a way to live, work, and start to make a life for myself in Spain.  

I haven’t said much about it to most people in my life, in part because it’s not 100% set in stone, but largely because the internet/Facebook has played a role in enough drama in my life that I just don’t want to deal with it (I’ve told people I’m more-or-less on a FB Sabbatical).  I’ve been using FB and resources online to make this move as feasible, painless, and inexpensive as possible.   Many of these resources weren’t available when I first considered doing this program, as they hadn’t been written yet, so in a way it’s been very beneficial for me to consider this program for the 2013 – 14 academic year and not sooner.

Anyway, in short, this is one of the biggest reasons I’m trying to do this program…basically why I’m trying to move back to Spain, and why I’ve been exerting a lot of energy and research into trying to make it work despite certain stressors.



I’ve written a bit about this on my Go Fund Me page

Next time I update, I hope to have news to share that is a bit more concrete.

Hasta la prómixa.




New plan in the works…

•February 27, 2012 • 4 Comments

I have a new plan with regards to my Spanish learning, but first a little bit of background info.

I’m in my last week of classes. As I am officially the most advanced learner in school, these past couple weeks have been private classes as I have no more classmates who are the same level as me. These classes have been very helpful, as my classes in this level overall have been.

That being said, I have a ways to go until I feel that I am fully fluent in the language. People seem to have different ideas as to what they consider to be “fluent,” so my definition is I want to pass the DELE C2 exam within the next couple of years. C2 is the highest level that a foreigner can reach in a foreign language and this test will be my way of proving to myself that 1) I accomplished what I set out to accomplish, and 2) that I’m ready to pursue graduate work in translation and interpretation.

I am C1 now, which is this:

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

And this is C2:

Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

According to my teacher, there is the greatest amount of difference between C1 and C2, compared to, say, A1 and A2. This is the second more frustrating part of learning Spanish for me, first being my problems with stuttering but I’ll save that for another post. I’ve yet to determine what I want my level of French to be, but probably C2 as well as I plan on going to grad school in France so I’ll have ample time to live in a Francophone country.

Anyway, on to my plan. Like I mentioned, I have a ways to go before I feel like I have reached my definition of fluency. Initially, I had thought about trying to do this program in Madrid this fall to teach English. It’d buy me 9 – 10 more months in Spain before I go off to France. I want to do France next year because there is an age limit for the program I want to do, and if I want to do this French program for 2 years I need to start next year.

However, my mom and teacher brought up the point that although I’d be living in Spain, I’d be speaking English while I work. I already knew this, but at the time I figured I had no other choice. My biggest asset to a foreign employer is being an educated native speaker of English. If someone abroad is paying me, a school, a business, what have you, they’re going to want me to speak it.

Then I thought (while watching flamenco…always thinking lol), What if they’re not paying me? This hypothetically opens up some more doors, in a way. If I search for internships or volunteer opportunities that require an advanced level of Spanish, or at least require that Spanish be used and not English, I’d be using the language all the time.

There’s a company called Volunteer Latin America that I’ve contacted before. This company essentially takes out the middleman so volunteering is fairly inexpensive. If you look at an average volunteer placement company, especially if you want to volunteer long-term, it costs thousands of dollars. With this company, it tends to be hundreds at best, and depending on the project room/board may be provided. They sell you a .pdf with information on the various projects and you do the work to contact them and set up your assignment. I contacted them to discuss my goals with volunteering/an internship and they said that I do have options regarding my language goals.

That being said, since I plan to do this, and I need money to do so if I’ll be volunteering and obviously not being paid for my work (and even were I going to be paid, like if I did the program in Madrid, I would still need money for my flight and living expenses until I get paid), I plan on leaving Spain soon to hopefully get a job in Chicago to fund this and further living abroad opportunities. As I’ve discussed with people here, not only is it hard to find a job in Spain, for foreigners and Spaniards alike, but even if I found a decent job in Spain, it’s not going to pay what I could potentially make in Chicago doing pretty much any full-time job.

So yeah. We’ll see what happens as I end this chapter of international living and start the next one.

5 months and counting…[video]

•February 11, 2012 • 6 Comments

So much to say. My sister and I went to Madrid and Italy over Christmas and New Year’s. I now have enough students that I can relax a bit regarding my bills (the money I make from teaching a pair of brothers in one class and their dad for a couple hours pays my rent alone). I have some new job prospects, and a new plan regarding living in France. But before I talk about that in detail, here’s a video of how I sound speaking Spanish thus far in my stay.

I fail at embedding, so here’s a link:
It’s about 6 minutes long and as I say in the video, I’m talking about how challenging it is to try to learn a language fluently and how hard it is to befriend the Spanish (not just for me, foreigners in general). In my opinion, my accent is not as strong as the average American here, nor is it Andalusian, which is intentional lol. I would like it to sound less American.


•November 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

This was my first Thanksgiving away from my family. On the plus side, I had 2 Thanksgiving celebrations this year: one in Seville with mostly Spaniards/Europeans on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and one today in Paris with mostly Americans on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. During today’s celebration, it occurred to me that I should compare and contrast them.

Thanksgiving in Spain

In Seville, I felt like Thanksgiving was our attempt at showing the Spaniards and other Europeans an American celebration. My friend, the host of the dinner, and I were the only Americans there. While I think a Sevillian or two may have brought a bottle of wine, my friend provided most of the food and drinks, and I brought a dessert. Generally, when you want me to assist at a dinner, you want me to bring dessert. I’ll buy a cheap wine but I’ll splurge on a great dessert (which I also did in France). I went to a bakery I like and got this triple chocolate tart, a cheesecake type thing. I’ve had it before, it’s delicious.

Anyway, since this celebration was on a weekday, I had my classes and several things to do before dinner. It’s all a blur to me exactly what I did that day, but I remember being exhausted by the time I got to the dinner.

My friend did a great job cooking and preparing food. We had a turkey, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and bread with brie. She made a couple apple pies for dessert and I had my dessert. The Europeans loved the food, I don’t think they’re used to eating so much lol.

The guests consisted of myself, my classmates at the time, who were 2 Germans and a Dutch guy, and a bunch of Spaniards (including a teacher of mine and another teacher at my school). Pretty much no English was spoken save for a few sentences I said to my friend about how long my day was.

As tired as I was, I just felt like sitting and not doing anything for a bit, especially since I’d have to socialize in Spanish, but my friend encouraged me to talk a bit. I did, and I had a good time.

Thanksgiving in France

This Thanksgiving seemed to be our way of celebrating the holiday away from our families. My sister’s best friend from school was the host, and her host mom left her use the kitchen and dining room (I think she and her husband went out for the night). My sister cooked a few things, and she wanted to bake some cookies too but I told her I’d bake them since she had so much to do. Originally they were going to be double chocolate cookies, with chocolate batter and a bar of white chocolate broken up into chunks, but for me that wasn’t good enough. I said if I’m going to put my name on these cookies, we need a bar of dark chocolate to put in the batter too. So they were triple chocolate cookies, and were a hit at the dinner.

The guests were mostly Americans, all students of some sort in Paris save for my sister and I. Two of the host’s French friends were there, one had to leave early (since it took a while before we ate dinner because we had to wait for people to show up). Since the guests were mostly Americans, there was no problem having other people bring/make stuff. At the house, the host cooked some ginger salmon, another fish dish, and some green beans, my sister made some sweet potato pie (and fyi, sweet potatoes in Europe are white, not orange), mac and cheese, and a salad, I made my cookies and got some bread, someone else made some Nigerian rice, someone made some matzoh ball soup, someone else made an apple crisp, someone brought a lot of drinks, and someone else brought napkins, plates, silverware, and some wine (part of the reason we waited as long to eat as we did was because we had no plates/silverware to use).

With the French guests that were here, a mixture of French and English was spoken, but among the rest of us mostly English was spoken. My sister speaks no French and mine is limited (although I must say, I feel like a prodigy with the amount I understand given my extremely limited education in French). Random, but the host mom here is half-Spanish, so there is indeed a member of the household who can talk to us in a language we understand.

In Europe in general, I speak little English. My sister’s program is all Americans, so she speaks a fair amount of English, whereas I hear that my school has a lot of Americans, but being in the more advanced classes I don’t know any of them save for my one friend in my last class (the host at the Sevillian Thanksgiving). So I pretty much just speak English with my sister and if I’m with her friends, during the English lessons I give (but when I email/text my students, it’s in Spanish), and to myself, although I think a lot in Spanish. Anyway, this dinner was the first time I’ve spoken so much English in a while. I had a lot of fun, laughed a lot, and met some great people.

Both dinners were great, and both were fun in different ways. Definitely a memorable holiday.

Another update

•November 25, 2011 • 2 Comments

2 updates in one day after no updates in 2 months? Yeah that sounds about right.

In Seville, I spend 2 – 3 hours minimum of an average day walking. On Wednesday alone I spent a good 6 – 7 hours walking, and then yesterday and today I did a lot of walking while in Paris. It’s wearing down my body. When I’m in class my body is aching, even though I’m sitting down not doing anything. I need to keep rolling my shoulders because they feel like the world is weighing them down. I try to stretch my back as well, and naturally my feet and legs hurt. I told my sister that I need to find a message therapist once we get back to Spain.

Being in Paris has given me some confidence that I’ll be good at French someday. My education in French is completely limited to a little book called “French in 3 months” that I’ve barely even glanced at since I moved overseas, much less finished, but I remember a fair amount of what I’ve read, can express what I need, and can at least recognize the words I know when I hear them. That being said, I have to be careful not to mix French and Spanish. I accidentally said “muy bon” and “c’est rico” lol.

I mentioned that I’m job searching in Seville, but you may recall that months ago I came up with a plan to try to be an au pair in France. I’d prefer to work in Seville. I love it here, my Spanish will continue to improve, and au pairing tends to be poorly paid work (although housing and food are provided, and usually access to a car, so depending on what your other options are job-wise it might even out). I’m only interested in working in France. I wouldn’t mind working in Spain or Italy, but looking at the visa requirements on the au pair profile page, it doesn’t seem possible. Both of these countries seem to be required to hire EU nationals (at least for long-term au pairs), but France apparently doesn’t have that requirement.

Anyway, today on the au pair job finding website, there was a family who has expressed interest in me and I’m kind of interested in them too. On my profile, I wrote that I speak English and Spanish, I’m teaching English, I’m learning French and know a limited amount of Italian. I also put that I’m only interested in living in France. Well, the family who replied is an Italian/Venezuelan family who lives 15 miles from Paris and they want someone to help with their kids’ English through planned activities. The mother looks like she has some African blood in her, which would be nice as a Black woman myself.

The only things about this job that I’m eh about, which may or may not be good depending on how my job situation pans out in Seville, are: 1) they want someone to start between January and March 2012, 2) they only want someone from 2 to 6 months. I wanted to start later, but if I don’t find work in Spain, my visa will expire in late February so in theory I could just head to Paris once it does. Also, since they only want someone from 2 – 6 months, I could just work there for 3 months, which is as long as Americans can stay in France without needing a visa, if I recall correctly. Since I’ll be in France, I could attempt to look for other jobs there (and Spain too since it’s so close) during those 3 months. I don’t know, it’s something to consider.

Looong time, no post

•November 25, 2011 • 2 Comments

Yes, I’m alive. Life has been busy, both professionally and personally, but right now I have a few minutes to rest in Paris so here’s an update.

Since I’ve last updated, I’ve visited Morocco with my sister, her best friend from college, and a friend of her friend.

Morocco was nice. We visited Tetuan, Tangier, and Chefchaouen. It tickled me how often I spoke Spanish there, I was originally thinking that I’d barely use it.

I’m currently in Paris for Thanksgiving with my sister visiting said friend from college. Paris is lovely. My sister and I visited the Eiffel Tower when we got here last night. We managed to see the tower sparkle during the 5 minutes it does so an hour, and took pictures during the entire time.

In Seville, my classes are going well. I’m in the advanced class, C1, and my goal is to reach the superior class, C2. At the moment there’s only one other student in my class, a Swedish guy with Chilean parents, so I thought to myself, “Naturally I’d have a real Spanish-speaker in my class” lol. But things are good, I love my classes. My conversation class teacher said, “I’d love to speak English like you two speak Spanish,” which was nice to hear. She wants to assign us some more papers, which is great for me, as an aspiring translator, but not so much for my classmate. For our last paper, he said it took him hours, whereas it took me like 20 minutes and we both did more-or-less equally well on the assignment.

Like I mentioned, my goal with my level of Spanish is C2 of the CEFR. Personally and professionally I’d like to reach this level of Spanish. Since I want to attend grad school in Spain, in English-Spanish-French translation and interpretation, my Spanish needs to be a C2 and my French a C1. C2 is not going to happen by January, so I’d like to extend my classes at least one more month.

Since I want to extend my classes, and I’d like to stay in Seville longer in general, I’m job searching. Job searching as a foreigner in a country with a 20%+ unemployment rate is very stressful. The thing I’m most qualified to do is teach English, given my experience teaching, my TEFL certification and specializations, my additional education in Phonetics, and my knowledge of business, marketing, advertising, medical, and psychological/psychiatric English. I think were I to find a job teaching, it would have to be specialized English for a business of some sort, there’s no way I’d get a professional job teaching general English at a language school or somewhere, not as an American in [Western] Europe/the EU.

That being said, in the meantime I’m tutoring English. Up until a couple days ago, I had one student, a high school teacher. He’s preparing for a B2 level exam. Initially we were preparing for a B1 exam in May or so, but now B2 in June. He’s doing this because he currently works in Huelva, and he’d like to work in Seville, and if he passes this test he can apply for jobs at all the schools instead of just the Spanish-only ones. He’s a good student, I think this is possible. I just need to alter my teaching approach. I’m going to add one more grammar lesson a class, as well as gradually introduce more complicated texts and such.

Last weekend, my landlord suggested that I look for jobs/students in La Cartuja, the business district of Seville. I heeded her advice. On Wednesday, I took 60 EFL lesson flyers and posted them throughout the area. To put this in perspective, normally when I post flyers I aim for 20 or so, but this area is my best bet to find work and students. Work obviously because businesses are there, but if I post flyers here, near businesses, that means that their employees (i.e. people who have money and can afford to pay for classes) will see them. Also, if they have a job, they may need English to help them at work, get promoted at work, or get a better job. Since I posted my flyers Wednesday night, I have received 3 emails asking for lessons, one for a 2-person class twice a week, one for classes for 10 businessmen and women at one company, and one for a 1-person class.

Next Saturday I’ll be moving to another apartment. In part because it’s nicer, and in part because of my finances, it costs about half as much as my current place. I’m largely moving for financial reasons, but also because since I do plan on extending my stay, it’s easier to move for a longer period of time than a shorter one. Also, given the time of year it is, I might not find another apartment.