October 4, 2009

Orientation and School

Hola a Todos,

After the funny woman gave us her ideas for teaching children and I silently continued to question why I am here, we were subject to yet another lecture of sorts from an American woman regarding how to deal with the Spanish teachers in our respective schools and how we could make a real difference to the bilingual program there, rather than merely serve as a token American English teacher. Her advice? Celebrate the holidays (Halloween [sort of a holiday], Thanksgiving, Ground Hog Day [not sure what to do with that one], etc.), make a bulletin board about our hometown (Chicago is mine: pictures of Chicago, Abe Lincoln, President Obama, Rod Blagojevich?!), family (??) and friends, sports team), the Symphony/Opera/Ballet, and all that jazz. She urged us to get together with the Spanish English teachers and ask them what they expect from us and to give her our ideas and to jump right in there and blah-blah-blah.

Okay, I will take some of that advice, but I don’t want to come on full force, making this and creating that. I don’t get paid enough to take on a heap of responsibility. I’m a helper in conversation: That’s it. Of course, I do ask the teachers what they need from me and offer some ideas and am definitely there to make a difference, but for me, it’s their class. All of the handouts and advice at orientation led me to the conclusion that I will use what I think appropriate and not worry about the rest.

After listening to everybody’s advice about teaching, I concluded that all English teachers talk way too much, never coming up for air. I wanted to escape, but there was yet another task to be completed: An English woman was commanding us to fill out more forms, and she was going to go through the forms with us, making sure that we: 1) signed our names below the line, instead of above it 2) wrote the day, then the month, then the year, AND 3) used all capital letters, which caused quite a ruckus, as we had to fill out the forms a second time since we had used lower-case letters and capitals.

“Only two forms per person!” she advised. I had to wonder — wondering about everything being my latest hobby, right behind washing the dishes, going to the grocery story, and walking the dog — why they (whoever “they” was) hadn’t given us these forms the previous day instead of making us look all over Tarnation for a printer so that we could print out these forms that night and have them ready the following day. Other students vocalized my sentiments, but I didn’t care about getting all riled up about this: It was merely an observation.

In addition to our personal and passport info, we needed to submit a license-sized picture of ourselves, which the Middlebury girl and I had taken the previous evening at Corte Ingles, a big department store at the Sol Metro stop. Then we had to fill out a form and eventually take it to “Caja Madrid” or another bank and pay 15 euros and then take that form to a specific police station, whose address she gave us, so that we could get our permanent resident card, which allows us to travel inside and outside of Spain.

The good thing about my last name beginning with “B” is that, because they were calling names in alphabetical order, I was soon called up to the English woman and able to handle the paperwork fairly quickly. I left orientation around 1 p.m. and enjoyed an orientation-free afternoon.

I ended up spying an editing/writing job online — with Hot English magazine — and decided to apply for it. The editor sent me a list of questions, which I answered, as well as a 7-question test to take. I had to rewrite a badly written/choppy paragraph, making it funny, edgy, level-appropriate, etc. One paragraph was about a guy who had been drinking while driving his lawnmower around town. He had already lost his driver’s license, so his lawnmower was his main means of transport. Then there was the one about the waitress who was working in her father’s restaurant: she had drunk seven double espressos and had wound up in the hospital, ultimately learning a big lesson about caffeine’s side effects, a lesson she wanted the world to know (I think we already do, Honey).

The next morning, Wednesday, I called my school to see if “they” wanted me to come that day and meet anybody. The guy who answered spoke English and was way too funny and dramatic to be straight, so I was laughing at everything he said. I sighed in relief after talking with him because I had spent many months wondering, yet again, how my presence would be met. He wanted me to go to the school the following day to the Parque de los Estados stop and arrive at school by about 9:30 a.m.

So during this free day, I went to the Chinese store, which housed all kinds of cheap items, near La Latina Metro stop — and tried to take it easy until the following day, the start of school!

Internationally yours,

International Girl in Spain Buckle up for the perfect look and fit.
Copyright 2014. BeltStyles, LLC. Chicago, Illinois.


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October 1, 2009

Hola a Todos,

My having been robbed the first day here pales in comparison to what I have experienced thus far. Well, I am exaggerating some, but since the stories are fast welling up inside of me and I am about to burst, I had better record them here, as they would be a shame to forget.

On Sunday, Maddy and I went to a huge flea market located in the La Latina neighborhood, just a 10-minute walk from our condo. Lots of people were sitting outside restaurants, drinking and eating, and many had had the same idea to find bargains at all the booths along the street. We walked along, scanning the items, talking all the while, her showing me this and that, and then we went into an antique shop and furniture store. She knew the owner in the latter and chatted with him.

Later, we returned to the condo to use the ladies’ room (okay, I speak for myself here), and I decided to venture out again by myself, with the map but not really looking at it, thinking I could find the place again. I did eventually, but not without some effort. More exercise for me, I suppose. I wanted to go again because I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to look at all of the jewelry, clothes, paintings, drawings, etc. — not that I had planned to buy anything because, of course, as we all know and will never forget…my wallet was stolen. However, there WAS a small drawing of a female flamenco dancer that I liked, so I’m keeping that in mind for payday. Well, maybe a few paydays from now.

Next, because Maddy and I had seen only the outside of it the previous day, I ventured into a big white tent located in the middle of Plaza Mayor. The exhibit? Argentina in Madrid, so of course, I was interested in seeing what Argentina has to offer — and this experience might help me bypass actually having to travel to Argentina. Inside was jewelry, belts, furs, food, and drink. There was a line, which aroused my curiosity: I soon discovered that everybody was waiting to be served about 2 drops of red wine from, I assume, Argentina. Actually, it was more like 2 tablespoons, but I didn’t think it was worth it. I swear, people love anything that’s free, even if it is only 2 tablespoons of wine. The tent was hot, so I left.

Then I did what seems to be my new hobby: I went to the grocery store. So far, Maddy has given me 150 euros, and I have spent it on groceries for us and still have some to spare. I forgot to tell you my other new hobby: washing the dishes. I admit that I normally hate washing the dishes at home in Chicago; however, here, I immediately wash, rinse, dry, and put away every dish I use. I haven’t lived with anyone for 17 years, so I want to ensure I’m a good roommate. I don’t ever want Maite saying to her friends, “Yeah, well you should hear about MY roommate. She’s a pig. She leaves the dishes out, never makes her bed, watches TV all the time! I’m ready to kick her out of the country! Americans!” She might say something else, but she’ll never be caught saying that.

On Sunday night, after we ate dinner, Maddy wanted to watch a famous show about 4 couples, I believe, or 4 women and their boyfriends or would-be boyfriends or something. So far, we were watching everything she wanted to watch. It’s like the “Beautiful People Have Lots of Problems, So Tune In” Show…in Spanish. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I can’t understand these shows in English. Anyway, the acting looked good. It’s funny how, even though a show is in a different language, I (or anyone) can tell whether or not the acting is good.

Internationally yours,

Hallie Buckle up for the perfect look and fit.
Copyright 2014. BeltStyles, LLC. Chicago, Illinois.


September 24, 2009

Hola a Todos,

I couldn´t access the internet yesterday; otherwise, I would´ve updated you.

Arrived in Madrid’s Barajas Airport at 6 p.m. two days ago and initially couldn’t find my bags because I was spending time trying to figure out how to use the telephone. Maite had told me just to dial her number, but it was more complicated than that, as I had figured it would be.

My bags were the last ones on the belt. I smelled like someone whose smell I try to avoid, and traveling with the subway would have been a lot easier had I not been bogged down with a purse, a very heavy backpack, a big suitcase, and a medium-sized suitcase. I walked to the stairs in the subway with a hurting back, feet complaining. Both flights had been excellent, and I understood the Metro, but I was in pain, hungry, hot, sweaty, hair flat against my head, tired, and growing later and later to meet Maite at the Opera Station, where she was waiting for me to arrive.

When I arrived at the Ministerio Nuevos train station, I was trying to lug my heavy suitcase up the steps. This definitely wasn’t the best part of my life. However, a Central or South American guy appeared on the scene and took two of my bags up the steps. I exclaimed, “Fantastico! Gracias!” or something to this effect, while I smiled at him, his partner in crime probably simultaneously unzipping my purse and checking its contents.

When I got to the bottom of the escalator, I was distracted because it looked as if my Calvin Klein coat had been taken, but it had just fallen off my bag, perhaps not being securely tied to it. I normally don’t go for name brands, but this is a great coat. I spotted it on the floor, so I snatched it up. A husband and wife (I later discovered) were helping me take my bags into the train, where I awkwardly figuratively pushed everyone aside with my enormous luggage. I then looked in my purse and noticed that my wallet was gone. In disbelief and wide-eyed, I yelled, “My wallet’s gone!” My wallet and my iPod were stolen right after I got to the first stop on the Metro, after I landed in Madrid. I noticed that the latter was gone only when I was organizing my stuff yesterday morning. All of that music! Javier has a backup disc for my music, but I still have to buy a new iPod, which would be very expensive here.

I was able to walk to the police station by myself yesterday. Went in a roundabout way, with the map, but came back directly. The police were very nice. I went into the station to report my stolen wallet, and the guy who spoke English dialed some number for me to talk to another policeman who spoke English. He was very nice and assured me that Madrid is a safe city but that the people at the Metro are waiting for tourists at that first Metro stop and are very professional robbers. Then he asked me what I was doing professionally (not robbing people), and I told him, and he wanted that info for some guy he knows in D.C. who wants to move to Spain and do what I´m doing.

At any rate, he was super nice about everything. I had to report what the guy I think took my money looked like. He had helped me up the steps in the train station with my suitcase, so I think it happened then. I filed a report at the police station after I cancelled my bank and credit cards, and I registered with the American Embassy. There were no strange transactions on my bank or credit cards.

Despite the above, good things are happening. My roommate Maite seems nice, our place is wonderful, and Madrid is beautiful and vibrant, with many huge, historic, and majestic buildings. Preparing to move was an incredible hassle (re: getting rid of stuff, packing, organizing, etc.), but I can´t think of a better place for me to have moved abroad. The area where we live (the Metro line is called Opera) is lively and pretty. Lots of restaurants and shops and people sitting outside eating, etc. Her ex-roommate´s dog is really sweet, too. He (the dog, not the ex-roommate) lives here. We have a window open out to a terrace and are on the first (technically, second, I guess) floor and hear all the activity below. Some girls were calling up to our window “Ali! Ali!¨” and I was wondering if they were calling me and were Maite´s friends. Then I realized how presumptuous that was and that they were calling “Oli!” — short for Oliver, the dog.

Maite gave me 50 euros, and I´m going to get some money here through my Citibank account. Otherwise, I have to wait until my 2 new credit cards and bank card arrive. Maite´s English is really good (I didn´t know she had spent 4 years in the U.S. and 1 year in London), but there are definitely grammar problems she wants help with, so we´re going to be speaking both languages so that we can both improve.

I´m going to run to the grocery store to get a couple of things to fix dinner before Maite gets home. She works a lot.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Internationally yours, Hallie


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Madrid Condo with Oliver
Madrid Condo with Oliver

September 26, 2009

Day 5 in Spain: Sabado

Hola a Todos,

Since my arrival in Spain, every day has been sunny and clear.

On Thursday, I woke up at 11 a.m. and walked about 3 miles to the American Embassy on Serrano Street so that I could register myself, although I had already registered online. Doing so is a good idea for obvious reasons, but I also wanted to register my whole stolen wallet/iPod story, making my presence even more official. On my way to the Embassy, I was checking the map, when an old woman approached me: “¿Que buscas?” (“What are you looking for?”) I assured her I was fine and thanked her. I knew where I was going, but sometimes I look at the map to reassure myself, even in the United States.

I arrived at the American Embassy around 1:30, the American flag hanging from the center of the building in all its glory. Finding everything in Madrid is so much easier than it was in Japan, a completely foreign country, where nothing makes any sense for an excruciatingly long time. Ready for my grand entrance, coupled with a temporary return to my country, via only this building, I was promptly informed by the guard that the Embassy closes at 1 p.m. on M, T, W, and Th — and, to top it off, is closed on Fridays. I thought that if something like this were to happen, since I hadn´t called the Embassy ahead of my exhausting walk to make sure it was open, at least I would get an extremely long walk out of the deal. (Sometimes I get tired of making sure about every little thing, so, on rare occasions, I don´t.)

On Thursday, I needed to get my permanent resident card, which is good for a year, so I went to the Subdelegacion del Gobierno en la Comunidad de Madrid on Miguel Angel Street, another, I estimated, 6-mile round-trip. This time, I woke up at 9:30 a.m. to get an earlier start. I arrived at the building, asking the guard in Spanish where I was to go. He indicated that I go to the corner and turn right and the entrance would be right there. I had called ahead of time to ask what time the office closed, and they couldn´t understand me on the phone, although I thought my Spanish was pretty good. (Later, I checked with Maite, and I had made minor elocution mistakes, but she also said, as I am well aware, that sometimes people don´t try or think outside of the box to understand.)

The woman at the information desk looked bored with her job and barely willing to help me, and I just thought, “We have lots of those people in the U.S. It´s probably the same all over the world.” I always laugh when I joke about people in the U.S. and Javier says, “Hallie, there are stupid people all over the world! [not just in the U.S.]” (not in any way referring to her as stupid; I just think of how this type of thing happens wherever you are).

Thanking the woman for her barely perceptible help, I proceeded to get in a short line and hand over my visa and passport to a different woman, who spoke English. Believe me: I don´t want to part with anything at this point, especially my passport, because now I think it´s going to be stolen. Not trusting even myself, I have written Maite´s cell phone number on the inside of my arm and my palm, even though I have an extremely good memory for phone numbers. Someone can have my hand in marriage, but no one is going to steal my arm, right? If I lose everything on these walks, at least I have her number.

The English-speaking woman gave me a slip of paper with another Subdelegacion address on it, closer to where I live. Since it was already Friday, late in the afternoon, I decided to go to both the Embassy and to the second Subdelegacion place on Wednesday, since I will have orientation for teaching this coming Monday and Tuesday.

I walked home, popping into a nearby Citibank to see what could be done about my account in the U.S. I knew it was a long shot to use Citibank checks I had activated in the U.S., but I thought I would ask in Spanish anyway. One woman was sitting at a desk, and the other was leaning over her, both looking at the seated woman´s computer screen. After I posed the questions in Spanish, they laughed a little and kept looking at the screen as if they didn´t have time for me and my problems. I later told Maite that although I´m speaking Spanish, I´m speaking it slowly and am obviously a foreigner, so I always find it interesting when people respond quite rapidly to me in Spanish, as if I´m going to understand their quickly strung-together words. Finally, I responded, ¨No comprendo, pero gracias,” and walked out.

The last couple of days I have been walking the dog, Oliver. We pass by glorious buildings and beautiful sights, and all I can think is that I´m walking a dog in Madrid. How crazy is that?

I have clung to a brilliant idea I happened upon the previous day: Since I have no money here save the money Maite has given me, I can wire the money from my bank account to hers…online. Why had I not thought of that the first two days I was here? I can respond to that question with only two words: jet lag.

Internationally yours,



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Hola a Todos,

So the response from the editor with whom I had been emailing was that I should keep trying and that I had promise, that I should pick up Hot English magazine and check it out. That response amused me no end.

Wednesday, October 1, was the first day of school. I took the subway, changing stations twice. Carlos, the funny guy on the phone from school, had told me how obvious the school would be once I exited the station. Well, I couldn’t figure out where the school was! I did not see a thing, except a less exciting city than Madrid. I walked up to a man and asked him where the school was. He did not know, but he asked me the street name. Of course! Why had not I told him that? Maybe I figured that since it was a big school, everybody in the area would know where it is. Anyway, I had the address. “Up” was his reply.

I found the school, really only a 5-minute walk from the station, entered it, and met the Chief of Studies, the guy with whom I had spoken the day before. He was very funny and eager to speak English. I also met two other English teachers: a British guy named Paddie and an American girl named Renee.

The Chief and we foreign English teachers hung around for a while in his office, and then he walked us to different classrooms, introducing us to different teachers and having us join their class. (I’ve been with all five English teachers.) The teacher in every class gave me time to introduce myself to the children and allowed them question me. A few children asked me how old I am, and I said I could not answer that. That’s a private question, the Spanish teacher said in Spanish.

Basically, I’ve been echoing the teacher in English so that the kids can hear my pronunciation, and I’ve been helping read paragraphs aloud, singing ABC’s (yes, I sang The Alphabet Song in front of 25 kids and was not a bit nervous about it), aiding each child with homework by going around and pointing out pictures, speaking in simple English to them, showing them what to do, etc. It’s not exactly rocket science, and I sometimes question what I’m doing here, but then, I can write about it, which always makes it more interesting. I try to keep my eye on the goal: traveling, improving my language skills, getting a better job in the U.S., and appearing on Oprah with a book about my experiences here.

The kids are noisy but cute, and they yell my name when they see me, treating me as if I’m a movie star — all of which never gets old. I’ve been with kids as young as 5 and as old as 9. After two hour-long, noisy classes, I go to the teachers’ lounge for a break from 11:30 a.m. until 12:00 pm, and we teachers enjoy coffee, sweets in the form of a little plastic-wrapped package (cookies, chocolates, etc.), fruit, and coffee. I ate fruit and drank coffee and talked with the American girl and British guy.

After our class from 12:00 pm until 1:00 pm, we went to the computer room for 1 1/4 hours — away from the noisy children. After I checked my emails, mostly concerned about the status of my condo (still not rented) in Chicago, I ate lunch with the teachers in the teachers’ lounge. There was a long table with a white paper tablecloth, real plates, utensils, and glasses, and the cooks brought in big trays of salad, fish, bread, cooked vegetables, dessert, and fruit. Other days we have had Spanish stew, paella, garbanzo beans, pork, ham, and chicken. The food has been, for the most part, very good — and the Ministry of Education is paying for us teachers to eat lunch there, so I’m taking advantage of that. Friday was more of the same, but I felt that I was starting to get organized, at least.

One thing that is nice but a little strange is that we teachers can wear just about whatever we want to school: jeans, tee shirts, sports shoes. Not knowing the dress code for the school, I had bought nice pants and nice skirts, but the good news is this: My 3-surgery feet are quite content wearing sneakers because every other type of shoe starts hurting them before long. (I have to admit that sneakers make me feel less than glamorous, so I’m wearing low heels once in a while. I actually wore them for an interview this past Friday, and they felt okay. I’ve been wearing sports shoes and walking a lot in Madrid, and my feet have not hurt at all, which amazes me. Maybe they have finally recovered.) At any rate, I will wear nice clothes, too, but I like the fact that I have a choice.

On Friday afternoon, I came home to cheering in the plaza because everybody was waiting to find out the host of the Olympic Games. At 7:00 pm our time, after Rio was announced, my roommate, from Madrid, came home with a Brazilian guy she works with, and there I was from Chicago, so since I used to live near Tokyo, four potential Olympic hosts were represented, all in the same condo.

The Brazilian guy installed a ceiling light in my bedroom. Although this extra light is helpful, I still cannot see my clothes in my dresser, so I’m feeling around, trying to figure out which piece of clothing I’m handling. I’m going to try to find a small cheap lamp soon. I talked in Spanish with the Brazilian guy, who has been here for three years. I had a lot of trouble understanding him and could not figure out if the problem was his Spanish/Portuguese influence on the Spanish language or my inability to understand Spanish: I later found out it was probably the former. We spoke about the possibility of my teaching English to him and his “woman” (he kept referring to her as my woman) and two kids. I asked him if he was married, and he said he wasn’t. I was confused about his situation, so I asked my roommate if he was married, and she said that that was his girlfriend, and honestly I cannot remember whose kids are whose. Her kids? His kids? His and her kids? (Maybe he can’t remember either.)

The next morning, Maite and I straightened out the money situation by going to her ATM and withdrawing 140 euros for me and keeping the rest of the money I had wired to her from my bank account. She had already calculated everything I owed her. Then I went to a place to buy stamps and the holder for my monthly train pass. I showed the man and woman my passport and gave them a driver’s license-sized picture of myself, plus a euro. I was trying my darndest to speak good Spanish, but the Spanish man responded in very good English: He had lived in Newport, Rhode Island, for a year, so he understood what I needed. They gave me a plastic holder for my monthly pass, with my picture and my passport number on it.

Then I went to the train station to buy the pass (60 Euros). I can use it on the subway, commuter train (suburban train), and the buses, plus I’ve been using it on the weekends to go everywhere. Using my Spanish, I asked the woman behind the glass for a receipt (“receta”), but she only smiled at me, at which point I realized I had asked her for a recipe. She probably thought, “Lady, I keep recipes at home. This is a train station!” We just smiled, as she understood I soon realized my mistake and should have asked for a “recibo.”

I shopped the rest of the afternoon, always interested in looking at clothes in foreign countries because they look slightly different. The only thing I bought was a small, inexpensive purse I could strap across my chest and hold close to myself every day, making sure to take off the zipper ties so as not to allow anybody to rob me again.

That evening, I went out with my not-so-interesting roommate and Carmen, an English teacher who lives around the corner from us. We had a couple of drinks outside in the plaza near our condos. Actually, Carmen ordered red wine with tonic water and lemon. As I was leaving school on Friday, my second day there, the Chief of Studies had advised me: “Hallie, drink red wine this weekend, but do not drink [whispering] S-A-N-G-R-I-A!”

On Sunday, I put together a lesson plan for one of the teachers, so that, along with my trying to get myself organized, tied up part of my morning. Then I decided to go on a little outing, not having researched it beforehand. I dropped into the Reina Sofia Art Museum since entry was free. The information desk woman said that the maps were gone, so I really did not know where I was supposed to go. I walked around the first floor, but there did not seem to be any art. I asked where the art was and learned that it was on the 2nd and 4th floors, the 3rd floor being closed. I took the elevator up to the 4th floor and noticed that the Hitchcock film Rear Window was being shown at a table where there were 3 other TV monitors and 3 different shows. I put on the headphones and listened to the movie, but the part where I came in showed Jimmy Stewart spying on a woman in another building (no dialogue) and then watching her go somewhere else (again no dialogue, so my Spanish skills were not being honed). I had been watching this movie for only about 10 minutes when the security guard asked everyone to vacate the museum. It was only 2:15 p.m. and we were being shown the elevator. Had I done my research, I would have realized that this museum closes at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Next, I walked through Parque del Retiro, a huge park with ponds, a crystal palace, statues, food booths, paths. Just as I was leaving the park, I spotted two girls from orientation, one of whom had been in touch with me via Facebook before we had left for Madrid. I called her name, and we talked for a little while. It was strange running into someone I knew in Madrid, considering I don’t really know anyone yet. I fully remember the girl she was with, as she had, at orientation, asked if she could wear scrubs to teach her classes, since she was pre-med. Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

The next week of school was more of the same, our being with different teachers and schedule-less. The good news is that I have Fridays off, so I hope that I can take some day trips and some few-day trips to places like Avila, Toledo, Granada, and Sevilla. I plan to take a Spanish class, too. Another American teacher joined us and told me about a newspaper for English speakers, so I’ve been checking that out for things to do.

Internationally yours, Hallie — Posted By HALLIE to International Girl in Spain at 10/07/2009 01:56:00 PM