Monday, February 27, 2012

Oye, Profe!

It’s about time I share some stories about my students.

While I can’t tell you their names, (not because it’s illegal but because I have so many students and don’t know all of their names) I can talk about their behavior, some funny stories and cultural differences in the classroom.

I’ll just start by saying I really enjoy where I work. I don’t really dread going to school – which is a good thing! I do dread the 15 minute walking commute right now as it is very, very foggy in Valladolid, but that is easily solved with a 3 euro taxi ride! It was foggy for 20 days in January... not a fun way to start the day!

Nearly all Spanish students complain about speaking, writing, doing activities, listening to songs, playing games, doing book work, etc. You name it – they don’t like it if they have to do it in English. For some reason, they always ask me if the activity is to be completed in English or Spanish… next time, I think I’ll say Chinese. No joke!

After working in now two regions of Spain, Extremadura and Castilla Leon, I have seen one distinct cultural difference in the students: Excuses. Students from Jarandilla de la Vera, Extremadura, seem to make excuses more than those in Castilla Leon. Not once I have heard a student in Valladolid tell me he can’t do the work because he can’t see the board or that the chalk is the wrong color. These two phrases were common in Jarandilla. And, the students would complain until you did something about it – and even more complaining came if you told them to move to the front of the room to get a better look. Oh no, the whole "dreaded moving the seat thing!!¨ 

You see, Spanish students stay in the same classroom all day. Unlike in American high schools, where the teachers move and the students stay put. Each of them has a desk where they sit… however, when I come to class, they play musical chairs so they can sit by their friends. I’m ok with it – as long as they get the work finished. 

Recently, a student was working on a group activity with two of his friends. I went to their desks to help them with one of the answers and one of the boys actually told me, “un segundo!” I said they needed to do the activity with less chatting in between – and he continued to tell me, “un segundo, teacher, estoy diciendo un chiste – tengo que terminar!”  Well, he didn’t get to finish his joke. I couldn’t believe he had told me to wait! When I told him to move to the back of the room to work alone, he told me I was “discriminating” against him. (Is it ironic we were doing an activity for Martin Luther King Jr Day?) I guess his reasoning was that I had made him leave and not one of the other boys – he kept arguing for a few minutes and then I started speaking to him in broken Spanish. The entire room went silent – I never speak in Spanish to my students. Most didn’t even know I spoke Spanish. I guess I ruined that secret. But, I had had enough! No more Ms. Nice Girl with Mr. Jokes Boy. 

You see, I know Mr. Jokes Boy’s name. I know all of the bad students’ names. I also know all of the really good students’ names in each class, too. But, if you don’t do anything memorable in class, don’t speak and don’t participate, I have no clue that you’re even there.  I resort to tapping on desks, pointing, or just making eye contact. Sometimes I call them out by the color of their shirt. Recently I had two boys, sitting side by side, in purple hoodies. I said, “alright, boys in purple, you boys get to answer numbers one and two.” Calling people out by the color of their clothes confuses some people – unless they are good at their colors and clothing vocabulary! Of course, we take a few minutes to answer the “Que? Que ha dicho?” questions (What? What did she say?) and we are back on track after a good little laugh. It’s even funnier when the boys in purple haven’t done their homework because they are used to sliding by because they fall in the category of “no speaking, no participating, nothing memorable” category. Oops! I found you, you little homework slider-byers! 

Private Lessons: My Afternoon "Fun"

Private Lessons can be very interesting. Normally, my “job” is to speak English. Sometimes I help with English homework – but normally, we just practice English conversation skills. 

George and Mary
The first day I arrived at Jorge (6yrs) and Maria’s (4yrs) piso to give lessons, while riding the elevator - 4 floors down from their flat on the 7th floor, I heard them screaming “La nueva profesora Whitney ya esta! Whitney esta aqui! Yayy!” (The new teacher Whitney is finally here! Whitney is here!) I knew these kids were going to be fun! And loud. 

As soon as we arrived to his room, where we were to have our play class, Jorge told me IN ENGLISH: “Hello, my name is George and she is Mary.” Well, this started waterfalls of tears from Maria – as she wanted to be called Maria and not Mary. Ok, Maria it is. (I still call Jorge “George” from time to time because he likes it! He also likes the code name ¨Rex¨.) After solving that “big” problem, we began playing. We play everything from Twister to Simon Says. George likes balloons; often, we hit them in the air saying numbers or the alphabet to track our progress! Last week he wanted to count to 200. He can only count to 20, so it’s safe to say I was out of breath. Whewww!

We do lots of games with balloons instead of just counting. Most recently, Jorge asked me to teach him to play baseball. (I’m not really sure where the idea came from!) We set up the bases (his giant stuffed bear, a globe, a frisbee, and a book) and found a paddle to use for a bat. He was so cute as he stood in the “batter’s box” shaking his body all around trying to “get loose”. We had such a great time – until I won. Well, then we changed to soccer – as he was sure he could beat me at that since soccer is Spain’s sport. I am horrible at soccer. So, the match began. With a balloon for a ball, the match was very slow moving since we had to wait a while for it to come back down after we kicked it or he’d hit it off his head. Well, while I thought his huge plastic castle was out of bounds, I soon found out it wasn’t as I picked the balloon up with my hands. My hands: a soccer no-no! I soon remembered this most important rule when George started SCREAMING “HANDS HANDS HANDS HANDS!!!!! NO HANDS! NO HANDS!” Well, that was the end of that. 

Now, Maria is a little fireball. One of the strongest attitudes I’ve ever seen in a little girl. Once Maria had a runny nose…. What’d she do? She wiped it on my jacket. Yup. Seriously, ON MY JACKET. Oh, I was so mad at her! But, she is one of the cutest little girls I’ve ever seen, so I really couldn’t be that upset. (I think she noticed.) Another time, Maria answered the door when I arrived for class. She said “Hello Widnay, hoy no voy a venir a clase porque ya es el miércoles a las 7 por la noche y estoy cansada.” (Hello Widnay, today I’m not coming to class because it’s already Wednesday at 7pm and I’m tired.) Even the way she says my name is so cute – as she says it similar to how Forrest Gump says “Jennayy”.

Wish me luck with these two!

Celia and Juan
Another family I teach includes two teenage siblings: Celia (16) and Juan (14). Hands down, the best English skills I’ve ever heard/seen from teenagers. They learn most of their English in the summers when they study in English-speaking countries. How lucky! Celia is practically American – yet her English accent is a mix between British/American/Australian/Irish. She has studied in all these places. Again, how lucky! Our one hour conversations each week are about everything under the sun: American TV programs like One Tree Hill, magazine articles, school, the weekend, cultural things… it’s like talking to a friend. I think she is my most challenging private lesson as her English is so good. Sometimes we do some speaking games I have so I can give my brain a rest from just pure conversation! 

Juan is the class clown. I see Juan twice a week and his stories are great! He is a typical Spanish student who isn’t too fond of certain activities I make him do, but he does them since I want to… I’ve recently found out that Juan tells me more than he does his family. When I was leaving their flat one day, Juan’s dad asked me what we talk about for two hours a week, as he said Juan just says “oh, the normal things, just stuff.” Well, Juan’s dad asked me to find out if Juan had a girlfriend because they were suspecting he did. Well, Juan does. Her name is Irene. I know everything about them. How they met. What they gave each other for Christmas. That he goes shopping with her (but he just sits in the chair). It’s fun to talk about and I think he likes talking about it. So we do! 

Juan is also a basketball player. I think that’s why we get along so well. I tell him about my “All-Star” days in high school and (dare I say) college. He doesn’t believe me. For Christmas, I gave him a little basketball game where you flick the balls into the net – a little stupid toy that had him saying, “this is the best!” We played “PIG” while we talked about the basketball vocabulary. It was a great class! He told me, “I don’t want this class to end, normally I do…(as he realizes he insulted me, he quickly cleans up his words)…I mean, I don’t like English – I like talking to you, but I don’t like that my parents make me have English class – but today is just fun!!” Awe, Juan. 

As I mentioned earlier, Juan is the class clown. He always seems to be in trouble. He has been grounded from watching TV and using the computer for the past TWO years. He must ask permission before he uses either of them. That’s why I bought the stupid little basketball game – since it doesn’t require a TV or a computer to use! Something fun to do that is not breaking a rule! I also gave him a giant pencil – and he said he had had one before, taken it to school and gotten in trouble. We both decided it would stay at home since I wanted to keep my job. Juan, I’m looking out for you. I promise!

Alejandra and Ana
On Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, I have sisters Alejandra(13) and Ana (8). Alejandra´s hour is on Wednesday and Ana’s on Thursday. We do homework! It’s nice to have a book to pull activities from. So nice. So easy! Alejandra has more fun playing my games… so we try to do both! She has a really good level of English. She loves horses and animals and dreams of becoming a marine biologist. She has a huge obsession with Littlest Pet Shop animals (I’ve seen her collection!) and pens (I’ve seen this collection, too!). The day she showed me her collections was the day we became friends. Before this “special moment”, we would always do homework; there wasn’t too much excitement in her voice. But, something I said or did sparked something and I’m so glad for that!  

Ana is more about playing around, making me think she doesn’t know anything. However, she knows everything! She has the books memorized. She even writes her name as “Anna” or “Annie” to be “American”.  Clearly, she’s a little fireball, too, like Maria. When I ask her, “Can you read this sentence for me?” She says, “Yes I can..,” but she doesn’t read it until I ask her, “Would you please read this sentence for me?” (I remember when I was like that… “Can I go to the bathroom? I don’t know, can you?” haha) The second week of class, she said to me, “Let’s take this class to my bedroom. You can sit in the chair, but I’m a bit tired.” Well, Ana, no we can’t. But, very gutsy to ask – and in perfect English! Sometimes she lies on the kitchen table, with her head propped up in her hands, while we do activities or read a book. But after a few minutes I make her get down as I’m scared someone is going to walk in... But, I have to agree with Annie, “It is more comfortable”. 

Recent Activity at IES Ramon y Cajal 
I love when my students can make me laugh - in English. Seriously, with a language barrier, it's difficult to understand jokes, make them, or just say something crafty to make others laugh. (Usually we just laugh at a mistake...) 

Last week's activity was story writing. I gave each of my students four photo cards from the game "Tell Tale" that I found over Christmas holiday in Missouri. The task was to write a short story/phrases about the photos to the best of their ability. I told them it was a competition, so they would really put fourth their best efforts. (The winners got a very cool sticker... seriously, they were probably wishing they hadn't put forth so much effort. haha) The following samples are from my 4* ESO class (American high school sophomores).

-One day, I met a beautiful girl. I gave her a flower every day. Sometimes I invited her for lunch and dinner. We ate hamburgers on Saturday and watched TV on Monday. I was happy until I caught her cheating and I killed her.

-The baby eats a teddy bear and goes to the bathroom to take a poop. (story in one sentence technique)

-One summer I went to the airport to buy a ticket to Australia. It was a nice place and the journey was very nice too, until the plane crashed. I appeared on a paradise with beautiful girls surfing and golden sand, but it was just a dream. Then I woke up in a small island with only two trees. I had to eat the other passengers to survive for two weeks. Then a boat came and rescued me. I never said what happened after that...

-Last summer I went to California for the *holy day, it was very sunny, but the first day was a little boring. Then I saw a little kid making a giant sand castle and I went to destroy it. The kid cried and I was happy. The next day, I saw a beautiful girl surfing and a wild shark chasing her. I took my AK47 and killed the shark. After that the girl became my friend with benefits for the holy days and I came back happy.

(*Holy day should probably be holiday... but it makes it funnier at the end! For the record, I had to teach my class the term "friend with benefits" because the other terms they said in class were completely inappropriate. They know exactly how to say all the vulgar terms in English. That vocabulary I don't have to teach them. Thank goodness!)

What a Day. 

Every day is an adventure in class. I try to keep the students quiet. They try to make me laugh by saying, "Whitney, you look very pretty today!" or "Whitney, you are precious." But, I tell them to "be quiet... please be quiet...ughhhhh". It's a very common phrase that comes out of my mouth. Ughhh

Something I've learned from being the teacher: the teacher can see everything. Seriously, I see you texting under your desk, from your pocket, behind your notebook that is standing upright... you really can't get anything past the teacher. (I don't know how I ever got by with it in college!)

One of my first weeks teaching in Valladolid, a boy's phone rang in my class. I wasn't really sure what they rule was on phones, so I just took it. I told him he could get it back at the end of the day.... but, to my surprise, at the end of class, he came up to me and asked for it back. I told him he could have it if he gave me two excuses as to why he couldn't come pick it up at the end of the day. 

Excuse #1: "Whitney, I can't get my phone at 2:05pm because I must take the bus home and it leaves at 2:05pm."

> I said, "Someone from your family can come pick you up, you can walk, or you can wait for another bus." 

Excuse #2: "No, no one can pick me up because my mom is a hospital. There is no other bus and it's a long walk..." 

> I said, "Your mom is a hospital? Or your mom is ill?" (the class had stayed late to hear his answers and everyone was laughing...) 

> He said, "The two! The two! She is ill!"

> I said, "Ok, well I hope she feels better. Here is your phone, don't miss the bus!" 

Later in the day, I saw the boy outside school. It was 2:10pm. I went over to him and said, "I guess you don't take the bus....?" The look on his face was priceless! The people around him were asking what happened and he said (in Spanish of course): "Today, she took my phone in class and I told her that I had to get the bus home and that my mom was sick and couldn't come get me...." Everyone died laughing, again! BUT, my plan had worked. He spoke English in class - and that is the point of my classes. :)

This same boy also tries to eat in class... but the rustling bag noise coming from his backpack is a total giveaway: FOOD. So, in the beginning, I made him come to the front and pour it out. His next plan of action was to bring two bags of food... since I would suspect the first, I wouldn't realize he had a second. Well, sorry, that didn't work either. To top it off, this boy's name is Andres. I'm sure many of you know why that makes it even worse... ha

Moving on. 

Today, we played a vocabulary game. I gave the students six categories (animals, food, places, things in a house, school items, & TV Programs) and they were to give me a word that no one else would have. For example: I said the letter P... they wrote down words like "pig, penguin, panda, panther" and if two students had the same word, they didn't receive any points. I have some older kids (juniors in high school) who had 8 - 10 points each! They really put on their thinking caps! I was so happy! 

On the other hand, when we play games of this sort, they tend to be super Spanish and talk very loud and out of turn. There is no hand raising, ever. Today, I also introduced them to the game "1-2-3 Hush Puppy". They are 16 - 18 years old. But, it worked! I had made them be quiet for the first time all year - because I gave them an alternative: dance/sing in front of the class. Well, we had three losers. The first boy had to dance to Ai Se Eu Te Pego. The second, the Macarena. The third boy had to sing a song, while standing on a desk chair. I gave him a "microphone" and we all gave him a drum roll. I'm sure the videos that were taken will be on Youtube by morning. I'm also pretty sure they love the game "1-2-3 Hush Puppy". Yeah, one point for me! 

I like to operate on the point system. When they do something really well, I like to give imaginary points. And, of course, I control how many points are given. If they give an answer about Missouri, they get an automatic 2 points. I love when they remember where I am from. If they answer a really difficult question, points are awarded too. Today, a student said to my tutor, "Concha, you are the prettiest woman in the world." Concha glared at him. The next student said, "Whitney is the prettiest." I awarded one point to him. Hey, whatever motivates them is what I do! Imaginary points, you rock!

Teachers Rule!

So, besides my 12 classes in the mornings and three families at night, I also have 8 private lessons with teachers at my school during the day. In total, I have 20 classes each week (Monday - Thursday): 5 morning classes daily from 9:10am to 2:05pm. It's a good schedule because I'm not just sitting around; in my off hours, I have private lessons. The earnings from Monday's private lessons are spent on groceries. Some of Tuesday's money goes to taxi rides (sometimes!) and the rest is spent on ME. I'm in Spain to enjoy myself and not cost anyone else money. I'm doing a good job of that. 

I learn so much from the teacher's lessons. I hope they learn somethings from me, too. Some of them actually read my blog to brush up on their "slang/street" English. (Hello if you are reading this!) I've talked about holidays/traditions in the USA too, like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In return, they teach me cultural things about Spain as we speak in English. We talk about daily things, too, including weekend activities, sports, music events... we always have something interesting to talk about and I'm grateful for their support and interest in learning my native language!

I'm blessed to have worked at fantastic schools in Spain these last two years. I've also been blessed with wonderful (ok, most times) students and welcoming families. We are in the home stretch now, just 11 weeks of classes to go... pretty soon that will be single digits! Single Digits! Where has the year gone?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ohhh Porto!

There's nothing like a weekend getaway to the other country on the Iberian Peninsula: Portugal.

It wasn't my first trip to Portugal. (I visited Lisbon in 2008.) But, I was blown away by how great it was, again. Seriously, although it shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, the culture and cities couldn't be more different! 

Katie and I started our weekend getaway on a Thursday night, to Salamanca! What a way to start a trip, with a trip to one of my favorite places! Yay! We were only in Salamanca for a few hours, to catch the bus to Porto, but we were able to see most of my friends in the short stop. We fed our faces with tapas from Cervantes and burritos and tacos from Chido's/Elektrotaco... and went to catch the bus. 

Now, this is where the true adventure began. It involved a grueling hour and a half wait OUTSIDE of the bus station. The bus station conveniently closed at midnight and our bus was at 1:30am. The ticket said to be there half an hour early, so we were there half and hour early. However, the bus doesn't play by the same rules. It decided to show up an hour late. One hour late. We were frozen (it was the coldest weekend of the year of course!) But, after the bus arrived, we were on our way... still frozen, but happy to be on the 6 hour bus. Thankfully, I was able to sleep the entire way, so it worked out perfectly!

We arrived to Porto at 6:30am (one hour time change from Spain.) We were once again left in the cold, in a random plaza. Plaza Galicia. Thankfully, we found a Spanish doctor with a map who helped us make our way to the center, as we were no where near a bus station. (Not like we knew where that was either...) After a cold walk, we finally arrived at our hostel. However, we couldn't enter until 9am... so, yes, that meant another grueling wait. We found a cafe (Cafe Bobby - highly recommended!) and waited it out eating two rounds of croissants and hot chocolates. We went two days in a row, it was that good.

Since we only had Friday and Saturday to explore, we jumped right in... we decided to do a bus tour, using it as transport throughout the city - and as it turned out - we were some of the only tourists using it! So, that meant it would stop as we wanted it to, let us take photos, and continue with the journey! Genial!  We saw many great places... let's just let some photos do the talking: 
Tasteful graffiti: "I truly love you."
Porto: doors, clothes, windows.
Checking the map: so many places to see!
Saw this sticker several times!
Streets of Porto!
Foz Beach
Gaia... Sandeman Winery and the Teleferico high above!
Hello from Porto!
Sunset, Porto
Cool tile bricks!
Porto by night!
There were many things that caught my attention in Porto, but I think my favorite part was the colorful tiles on the old houses! All the tiles were so unique...
Blue, Yellow & White
Blue & White (super typical of Porto!)
3D Yellow & White
Outside a high school...
Sao Benito Train Station has over 25,000 tiles alone!
Sao Benito Train Station, Porto
Maybe you've never known of Porto "the city" ... but, maybe you've heard of "Port" wine. Well, Porto, Portugal, is the birth place of this wonderful drink! Of course, we took full advantage of free wine tours at Croft and Taylor's. Croft Winery even gives you a free tour of the facility before you try the wine! We arrived just in time to hear all about how they stomp the grapes, put it in barrels - sometimes up to 10 years! This is the perfect type of "educational tour"... the best part? The free samples at the end. Since Port wine is usually seen as a dessert wine, just a little goes a longgggg way! 
Gaia - Home of the Port Wineries!
Vines - Taylor's Winery
Taylor's Winery
(This white was too sweet...)
View of Porto from Gaia.
Taylor's Winery
As for food... we had some wonderful meals. First, we tried the famous francesinha, a meat sandwich covered in cheese and spicy tomato sauce. We had tarta de nata sweets in the afternoon... And, of course, we couldn't leave Portugal without eating bacalao (cod fish) - it's famous in Portugal. I think it is because Portugal exports so much fish, that bacalao is the only fish left, so the people just started fixing it up...seriously, in over 100 ways. My favorite is bacalao dorado (bacalao, potato chips and eggs!) and a second runner up (the one I had in Porto) is bacalao with seafood. mmmmyummm! 
Katie and I eating lunch: Porto style!
The Francesinha.
Tarta de Nata.
Bacalao with seafood. yum!
Our first night, we sat down in a really nice restaurant and were given bilingual menus. The server continued to serve us plenty of appetizers... bread, olives, pate, freshly baked rolls... and the only thing I could think of was "37 euro bread and cheese, 37 euro bread and cheese". I immediately asked the waiter for the prices of these little teasers, which actually weren't too badly priced. However, due to a cultural misunderstanding in 2008, I wasn't about to be tricked again.
What do you want to pay for? (Sangria was on the house!)
In Lisbon, in 2008, my friends and I went to eat. Again, the table was garnished with fantastic bread baskets and cheese platters. We decided to pay for the bread, thinking it would be one euro each... when the basket went empty, they brought more - so - we figured that meant you pay for the first basket and eat as much as you want... well, we couldn't have been more wrong! When the ticket came, we had eaten 37 euros worth of bread and since we took the wrapper off the cheese and put it back on, we had to pay for that too. Lesson learned. 

So, Katie and I kindly told the waiter we would be eating the bread and that he should take the other dishes away. He did. The second time we went out for dinner, Saturday night, the same thing happened, only we stopped the waiter before he brought us appetizers. We kindly told him "we don't want any of those expensive appetizers. We know your tricks!" His response? He told us that a few years ago, everything placed on the table was a forced charge on your ticket! But now, they understand people don't want appetizers all the time. Well, he liked us, and he ended up giving us free olives - "my offer" - which is just the way I like my olives: gratis!  

Now, the second restaurant where we had dinner (the ones with "my offer olives") was a bit strange... at first. When we arrived, there was no one else there, just a table set up for 20 people in the front and four smaller tables in the back. We went to the back, sat down, and began bartering for appetizers! About ten minutes later, three boys arrived and sat at the table in front of us. There was a TV in front of their table and they kept holding their arms up and shush-ing us! Seriously! Football is super important...and our small conversation was clearly too much! Well, shortly after, while we were mid-meal, the group arrived - a birthday party. And, as it turned out, the "shush-ing boys" and the "birthday party-ers" were all friends. We were officially in the middle - eating our little hearts out. When we tried to leave (I do say tried), the waiter told us to say and have a drink - again, "his offer". Well the boys at the table next to us also liked that idea, so we just went with it. We sat down and talked for an hour or more... turns out, one of the boys was the owner of the restaurant and was pretty well to do in Porto. Had we been able to stay the Sunday, I think we could have gotten a boat ride out of the "shush-ing" boys... too bad! (But, probably for the better we had to leave!) 

We were able to tour Porto on Friday, which meant we had time to do an afternoon trip to Guimarães - Europe's European Cultural Capital for 2012 - on Saturday! Wow, it was pretty incredible! We spent the day walking around, searching for food (no one will serve you after 4pm), climbing around in a castle, taking photos of the hearts - the symbol for the Cultural Capital... 
Stations of the Cross
Beautiful tiles (& me!)
Castillo de Guimarães
European Cultural Capital 2012
In the mid afternoon, we had the luxury of being serenaded by a *tuna band... what song, you ask? Since we were in Portugal, there is only one song that comes to mind "Ei Se Eu Te Pego/Nossa Nossa" - but, since we were Americans IN Portugal, they kindly sang IN English - ughhhh. "Delicious, Delicious, this girl is gonna kill me....Amazing, Amazing..." They should have stuck to the original version. 

*And just what is a tuna band? It's a musical group made up of university students, popular throughout Spain and Portugal, as well as Holland and Central and South America. A Tuno is a member of a University Tuna, or may also be called a Sopista, which is an ancient version of the tuno.  In the old times (medieval days) the Sopistas would use their musical talents to entertain people for soup (hence the name SOPistas: soup = sopa in Spanish) and money. They would also play their music under the windows of the ladies they wished to court. The Sopistas were poor students that with their music, friendly personality and craftiness scored cheap places to stay and eat; the money they earned went toward paying for their studies. I'm happy to say I've been serenaded by tuna bands in Salamanca, Cáceres and now, Guimarães! Play on, Tunos!
Tuna Band, Salamanca 2008
After a long Sunday on the bus, we returned to Salamanca and finally to Valladolid. I'm so happy to have enjoyed a fantastic weekend (still on the Iberian Peninsula!) full of interesting culture and good food. Thank you, Portugal, for wow-ing me once again!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Para Siempre.

If you read my blog, you know I´m (a bit) loca for Spain! If you´re a good friend of mine, you´ll know I´m really loca for Salamanca. It might have something to do with the fact that it was the first Spanish city I called ¨home¨, where I met my first Spanish amigos, or even that it has the best Plaza Mayor in all of Spain. Whatever it was, Salamanca and I just have a thing for each other, and her golden streets are always calling my name!

In January, I was featured in a newsletter! My friend, Miguel, has a study abroad program GLOBSSS and he asked me to write about my experience Salamantina. While I didn´t study through his program, I´m happy to help his participants find their own love of Salamanca, to make memories and friends that will last para siempre.

Click here to view the newsletter and read my article in Spanish!

For all my English speaking friends, I think the words that follow will mean more to you than the newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading about my obsession with Salamanca!

One would think that writing “what Salamanca means to you” on paper would be easy said and done. But, it’s not. When it comes to Salamanca, words don’t do it justice. It’s about the smell of Salamanca, the beauty of its streets, the friendships I made there… just being there makes me so happy!

When I signed up for a simple summer abroad in 2008, I had no idea how much Salamanca would impact and change my life: forever. It’s now December 2011, Salamanca is just as much a part of me as the “Charro” I’ve worn on my hand since I left that “simple study abroad” in 2008.

Salamanca is a very diverse city, full of international students and people from all different backgrounds. While it is a city of 192,000 people, it feels much smaller because you always find friends or classmates walking in the streets.  As cliché as it sounds, I met my best friend, Gina, in Salamanca.  (I had to travel to Spain to befriend a girl from New York!) With Miguel’s help, we learned the true Salamanca apart from the touristy spots.  We visited the Calixto y Melibea Garden, went kayaking on the Rio Tormes, saw a bullfight, cooked tortilla espanola and sangria, went to a Salamanca futbol practice… and, with the intention of practicing our castellano, we befriended some salamantinos.  Little did we know that these friends would be friends for life, as these salamantinos are still some of the best people in my life today.

As soon as I left Salamanca, I was looking for a way to return.  I decided to quit playing college basketball and return to Spain for another summer and semester abroad. While my summer in Malaga was nice, it was nothing compared to Salamanca. I counted the days until I was back in Salamanca for my fall semester.  I wasn’t sure if I had made the right choice in returning back to Salamanca—I could have picked any city in Spain—but, after stepping out of the taxi and seeing the lights of the Plaza Mayor in all their glory, I knew I was back home.

As one can imagine, leaving Salamanca the second time was much harder than the first, as I knew I couldn’t return to Salamanca as a student. After graduation in May 2010, I returned to Spain as an English teacher in Jarandilla de la Vera, Extremadura.  It was comforting to know I could be in Salamanca in about 3.5 hours. This year, I am teaching English in Valladolid, just one hour from Salamanca.  It’s incredible to be able to go to Salamanca whenever I want.

Before arriving in Salamanca, I had no idea what to expect; Now, four years later, I can’t imagine what my life would have been had I not gone. For me, Spain is the country where I work, now; Salamanca is the city where I will feel at home, forever.  

So here´s to you, Salamanca, and all the good times we´ve shared (and the ones yet to be shared) together. ¡Salud!