Extremadura

My last day of teaching

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Teaching in Spain has been a rollercoaster of hilarity, intimidation, confusion, misinterpretation, frustration and exhaustion. Incidentally, I have also learnt that most Spanish kids struggle to pronounce words ending in ‘tion’.

In all honesty I’ve loved the experience about 64 times more than I ever thought I would. Equally, I would never want to do it again. 8 months was the perfect amount of time, the perfect amount of responsibility and pressure. I know that being a proper teacher is significantly harder, I mean I worked just 12 hours a week, speaking my native language at a slow pace and loud volume, occasionally whipping together a PowerPoint entitled ‘What is a Roast Dinner?’. I’m fairly sure professional teachers have to work a lot harder than that.

I like to think I imparted a lot of wisdom throughout my time here, and hopefully I did a lot to improve my students’ English. What I can be sure of though is that I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot myself. Ironically, I am now better informed on British, American and Irish culture as I had to give lessons on various cultural topics. Never before had I researched the story behind Halloween, the history of St Patrick’s Day or the rules of cricket (we did an entire lesson on this), wikepedia has definitely been my friend.

Perhaps less surprisingly, I have also learned a whole heap of English grammar. At the beginning of the year I’d be asked, on the spot, to explain the use of ‘the future perfect tense’ and I’d stare blankly at the teacher for a good four minutes. We know and use so much grammar instinctively but when it comes to explaining the rules or the reasons behind our bizarre language it gets quite complicated. I’ve learned about countable nouns, uncountable nouns, the present continuous… the list is endless (and tedious) but it’s been enlightening nevertheless.

There have also been numerous amusing classroom moments, some of which I have already shared here, here and here. Last month there was a listening task in which students had to identify sports from audio clips. The sound of a bat hitting a ball was clearly tennis, hearing quick footsteps on tarmac was obviously jogging but Judo was less straightforward; the clip was a medley of rude-sounding grunting and shuffling on the floor which prompted a class of stifled laughter, me included. Another case was when students were given titles to invent their own storyboards with; one group was given ‘Getting Dirty’ and thankfully wrote about a dog swimming in a puddle. Less innocent students could certainly have taken the title in a very different direction and I was VERY grateful it was a young class. My friends working at neighbouring schools have not been spared the amusement either. One of Emmy’s 13 year old students was asked about her weekend and answered “On Saturday night I sleep with my friend Lara” to which the Spanish teacher corrected “NO! You SLEPT with your friend Lara, past tense!” before Emmy had to correct them both and said “I think you mean you slept at your friend Lara’s house?” It’s never-ending fun.

The highlight of my teaching experience however, as I’m sure most non-monstrous teachers would agree, has been the students. They were (mostly) funny, cheeky and kind, occasionally hard working, attentive and studious, often challenging but never boring. I’d be lying if I sad I didn’t have favourites; in every class there’d be at least two or three particularly funny or sweet kids who would make the lessons so much better. In the younger classes I had really cute ones who would make me paper flowers or drawings, in the older classes there were girls who filled me in on the school gossip, giggled with me over mutual love for the attractive Portuguese teacher, there was Juan-Manuel the Pretty Little Liars super-fan who I discussed episodes with. Having these allies was also integral to discipline, whenever I spoke these students would yell (in a passionate Spanish way that I could never replicate) for their classmates to shut up and listen – VERY useful if you’ve ever experienced the sheer chaos of a rowdy Spanish high school.

I will also undoubtedly be using my teaching experience in any future job interview; it has tested so much more than a year at university ever would. Can you give me an example of a time you when you had to work under pressure? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Tell me about a time where you had to think on your feet? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Please explain how you would handle a challenging working environment? You get the idea..

Like waitressing, I can tick ‘teacher’ off my future career list that’s for sure, however, now that the time has come to leave I’m actually quite emotional. As cheesy as it sounds, it has been so nice to make connections with students who I would never have met otherwise and will realistically never encounter again. Yesterday was my last day and it was very special, I taught 3 classes the ‘ChaCha slide’ dance routine and we did lots of goodbyes and present exchanging. In one class four of the students had clubbed together to buy me an impractical but adorable HUGE pink teddy bear. It’ll take some serious packing tessellation to get him home but I’m determined to do it. I’ll remember these 8 months forever and I can’t wait to read my diary in years to come to relive ALL the memories, both disastrous and wonderful.

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Expectations

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Back in January 2014 I attended a rowing ball with my boat club at Durham (yes it was as pretentious as it sounds). Unusually, to encourage mingling between members of different colleges, there was randomly allocated seating at this event. Now initially this situation filled me with great excitement at the prospect of being paired with a hunky oarsman who could later become my husband, passing his chiselled jaw line and natural athleticism to our future children (the dream lives on…). This expectation was soon dampened however, when the seat next to me was filled by a very posh, ponytail-wielding rower, who turned out to be a bit of an idiot. Despite immediate disappointment, I told myself that hairstyles were temporary and ploughed ahead with the small talk. We quickly covered the usual topics before moving on to discuss my impending year abroad.

The reason I’m telling you this anecdote is because when I mentioned I would be spending the Spanish part of my year in Extemadura, this boy, who we’ll call Charles, had a very strong opinion to declare. He raised his already up-turned nose a further two centimetres and loudly scoffed ‘That’s the ugliest of the Spanish regions, it has a bland landscape of nothingness and its not worth visiting at all’.

Now this was a bit of a conversation killer for me as I was soon to be not only visiting, but living in this ‘bland region of nothingness’ for a whole eight months. I didn’t bother asking, as I should have, just what evidence or experience qualified him to make that statement, instead I turned to focus on eating my garlicky chicken and wallow in self pity.

What Charles said went on to stay with me long after the garlic aftertaste that evening and I added his comment to my growing list of reasons to be anxious about my year abroad.

After living here for six months I can safely conclude that Charles was wrong. There are definitely more beautiful regions in Spain (the absence of a coastline is a bit of a downer) but Extremadura is still really, really beautiful. As I described in my previous posts about the waterfalls and cherry blossoms in Plasencia, the roman ruins in Merida, and the beautiful parts of my own town Zafra and nearby Badajoz. This region is actually really diverse, interesting and pretty. I am not sponsored by the local tourist board, but I have spent a lot of time in this part of the world and I now feel qualified to prove Charles, and anyone else wrong.

Yesterday for example I went for a hike with my friends and found fields and fields of wild poppies. The other beautiful thing is that the area is mostly untouched and sparsely populated, possibly due to Charles spreading his ill-informed message.

So, the moral of this story: DON’T trust men with ponytails and DON’T write off places before you visit for yourself. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

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Plasencia

Plasencia town

This weekend I was reunited with three very important things: my Mum, my Dad and access to a car.

I have been without all three of these things throughout my year abroad and it has, at times, been tough. The three entities are mutually compatible, of course there’s always the odd moment when my Dad gets annoyed with the car, or my Mum gets frustrated with my Dad, but all in all it was a lovely treat for us to spend four days together here in Spain.

We explored the city of Plasencia first of all. We stayed in the beautiful Parador hotel where I enjoyed the luxury of a suite all to myself. After a year of hostel trips I happily slept like a starfish and maximised every corner of the double bed in all its crisp white sheet and plump pillow glory…

The Parador Hotel

We then ventured to the Jerte Valley in search of cherry blossom. Unfortunately we were about a week too early to see the valley in full bloom so we had to settle for photographing the same tree multiple times.The landscape was still wonderful though and waterfalls happen to be beautiful all year round so we enjoyed our day of adventuring anyway.

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Waterfalls in the Jerte Valley

The Jerte Valley is famous for the cherries it produces and so the nearby towns were full of cherry-related products like jams and liqueurs, there’s also the Jerte river which runs through the centre and pretty bridges all the way a long. I’d love to go back at some point in the future to see the blossoms and the cherries at their peak. It’s a lot closer to home than Japan and the airfare is definitely significantly less…

So it was another busy travelling weekend and now I’m looking forward to my Easter break for some relaxing. The hot weather is supposedly on it’s way and I am 100% ready. I’m also intruiged to see some of the Semana Santa celebrations here in my town, I have a feeling its going to be VERY different from the chocolate eggs and bunnies I usually witness – I’ll keep you posted!Untitled

Badajoz

For the past few weekends I’ve stayed here in Zafra, partly out of laziness (teaching is exhausting!) and partly in an attempt to save money for my big Barcelona trip in December. This weekend however I got a bit restless, so, for a change of scenery, my fellow language assistants and I took a little day trip.

We took a bus to the nearest city, Badajoz, which happens to be the capital of the Extremadura region. A lot of residents here in Zafra say that Badajoz is nothing special, so until now we had prioritised visits to more impressive towns like Sevilla and Córdoba. Fortunately, we were all pleasantly surprised by what Badajoz had to offer. The town centre is admittedly quite large and ugly but when you venture towards the old part it gets a lot more picturesque. The main square is really beautiful, it’s decorated in white marble with a mosaic of pointed stars.

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There’s also the Alcazaba which has really cool Moorish architecture. You can walk along the walls of the fortress and get brilliant views of the city below.IMG_8337

IMG_8339We also managed to squeeze in some shopping – we stumbled upon Primark! Like true Brits abroad, we spent a good hour in excited awe stroking the fleecy Christmas pyjamas, trying on novelty reindeer hats and losing each other amongst the endless racks of clothes. This may or may not have been the highlight of the trip…Untitled

Two months

befunky_artwork.jpgSeeing as I did a one month update, I thought I should write a little piece to mark the milestone of two months in Spain.

While the first month was busy, exciting and a bit overwhelming, this second month has been much, much calmer. Aside from my trip to Cordoba (which you can read about here, here and here), I’ve stayed in Zafra most weekends. Basically, us language assistants only received our first month’s salary last week, so until now we hadn’t really been in a position to splash the cash on multiple weekend excursions. Having said that, we’ve had fun exploring the countryside around here, visited some local restaurants and, due to the change in temperatures, spent many cosy evenings in the apartment.

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On Halloween we had a mexican night, because, well why not? Due to budget-airline luggage restrictions we all travelled with minimal clothes and, as a result, costume options were quite limited. Fortunately for me this apartment came with a sombrero hidden in one of the cupboards, so I threw on my aztek scarf (which doubles up as a blanket) and voilà, a costume! We had fajitas and mojitos – it was great.

Apartment-wise, we had an technical issue last week; waking up in complete darkness without electricity of any kind. It doesn’t get light here until about 8.30 am, so we had to get ready by torchlight – goodness knows what I went to school looking like that day. After mild panic I called up the electrician and he came pretty quickly. All was sorted by the afternoon, thank goodness.

School has been going well. In one of my classes the students are putting on an English play. Due to my English speaking ability I’ve been lumbered with the job of director. It seems that the teacher has decided to play an observatory role and leave me to it. It’s quite fun though, I pretend to know what I’m doing ; I mainly correct pronunciation and shout ‘project your voice!’ every few minutes.

I’ve also picked up a lot of private lessons. I now do eight a week, which is great for the bank account. I’m also getting to visit a variety of houses in Zafra! My favourite lesson is a conversation class with the natural sciences teacher Juan. He’s about sixty and does Iron man competitions, hand-gliding and yoga in his spare time. He’s a complete hippy and I aspire to be just like him when I’m old. We have similar food tastes and this week he baked me a loaf of rye bread which was delicious. People here really are the friendliest.

The month of December sees a weekend away to Barcelona and a trip home for CHRISTMAS. I am beyond excited for both. Happy Sunday!

The photos above: 1. A visit to Córdoba 2. Charity walk for Breast Cancer 3. Autumn leaves in Zafra 4. Beautiful sunsets on an evening run 5. Halloween fun with my flatmate Emmy

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10 things I’ve learned whilst living in Zafra

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  1. The sentence “I’ll meet you by the bull ring” is both common and acceptable.
  2. If you decide to leave the house at siesta time you’ll develop a new affinity for Will Smith in ‘I am Legend’. There are no people, anywhere. It’s creepy.
  3. Each week your food shop will cost the grand total of eight euros and seventy cents. Each week you will feel surprise and smug satisfaction.
  4. It’s crushingly disappointing when your day of errands is put on hold because it’s a national holiday and EVERYTHING is shut. No food in the fridge? You’ve got 99 problems and hunger is most definitely one.
  5. Going for a run in the countryside comes with multiple trip hazards including freely roaming chickens and rogue cattle.
  6. You must repeat your name slowly and phonetically when meeting new Spanish people. You must then allow them to refer to you as “chica” because they simply cannot pronounce it.
  7. You will soon realise that whole town knows each other and everyone is related to everyone (mainly due to large families in which no one leaves Zafra, not so much due to incest).
  8. Skype is a wonderful thing.
  9. Speaking English attracts persistent staring. Do I have three heads? Is there toothpaste on my chin? Nope, you’re just foreign.
  10. Speaking English equals private lessons and extra cash. You’ll pay me to chat in my native language? Don’t mind if I do…

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