October 1, 2009
Hola a Todos,
Last week, I called CRIF (Centro Regional de Innovacion y Formacion) Las Acacias to find out when our orientation was. The American woman said it was Monday and Tuesday, September 28 and 29; however, my letter had indicated it would be September 24-30. So I came to Spain early for an orientation that would happen 4 days after I thought it would. I guess the extra time has helped me recover from jet lag.
Okay, so I dressed “business casual” — but I promise you I have never once uttered this phrase. I found the Metro station on the map and drew the streets surrounding it in my datebook, which also contained the address and phone number of CRIF. After entering a gate, I surmised that the three kids whose speaking I couldn’t hear were definitely American English teachers, who seemingly sport informal dress like no one else I know, Trying not to think about my age, I approached them self-confidently and asked if they were on their way to orientation. Since no one introduced himself or herself, I introduced myself. They were very friendly and kind. One girl was the daughter of a diplomat, and she had lived in Mexico, but our dialogue ended as we entered the building for Calle General Ricardos 179 and stood in line to sign ourselves in.
Before signing up for this venture, I knew that I would probably be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Auxiliares de Conversacion. I decided not to let this thought deter me, although I looked around and thought, “What in the world am I doing here? These kids are 20 years younger than I am. I should’ve done this 20 years ago!” I wrote my name, my email address, the address of the school I am assigned to, and my phone numbers. Those whose last name began with A-F were to go to Room 2.7. There, we were greeted by a couple of men from the American Embassy who spoke both in English and Spanish. One of the men reminded us that if we ever have a bad day at the school where we’re teaching, “Just remember: You’re in Madrid! And you’re going to spend the rest of your life trying to figure out how you can get back here!”
Then a Spanish woman from the U.S. Embassy spoke for two straight hours…in fast Spanish! Imagine my dismay. Now, I love Spanish and I have a lot of Spanish words in my head: The trouble is that I can’t string them together as fast as she can, so I had no idea what was going on the entire time she spoke. Although she had a nice voice and seemed to be a good speaker, she didn’t once take time to catch her breath. I sat next to a girl who had already lived in Madrid for a year, had actually gotten her master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College, and was probably in her early 30s, which was some comfort to me. I wrote her “I understand about half of this…I need an Advil,” and she filled me in a little. I kept wondering if I was in the right classroom, because it seemed as if the majority of the approximately 80 attendees understood what she was saying, laughing at the appropriate times, smiling at her sympathetically. I just wanted a big coffee break and a pill. Ms. Middlebury assured me that the audience were equipped with varying levels of understanding.
During the break, I approached the Spanish speaker and told her I understood about half of what she had said. I didn’t want to ask her if I had missed anything important, but I did want to ask her something which I had not yet formulated in my mind. Her immediate response? “This is a bilingual program,” as if she expected me to have perfect Spanish. But I know full well that these English teachers are equipped with varying levels of Spanish, and not everybody understood her. For me, it was strange that an English program with very important information (health insurance, U.S. Embassy information, paychecks, etc.) was conducted not in English but in very fast Spanish. Our conversation was immediately cut short, as she started to cough violently and then disappeared into the restroom, to return a few minutes later, still unable to talk. That was fine: I had had enough. And, yes, she’s right: it IS a bilingual program…for the Spanish students to whom we teach English, but It’s not a bilingual program for us.
I returned to my seat, and we listened to an American woman from the U.S. Embassy tell us, in English, to safeguard our wallets (too late) and to be safe. She said how easily it is to be distracted, and relayed the story of how when she was in Rome, Italian kids were in the trees pouring ketchup onto the people below to distract them so they could steal their wallets. I raised my hand and told her that my wallet had been stolen the first day, and she said, “I’m very sorry about that.” I tried to talk to her after her speech, but she was talking to someone else, got into the elevator with the person, and said, “I don’t know what I can do for you” since I had told her I had already cancelled my credit and bank cards. They advised me to register online with the Embassy, something I did right after I arrived here, and the elevator door shut on our conversation. She wasn’t exactly comforting.
Next, the other auxiliares and I went downstairs and had lunch: a choice of three kinds of baguette-type sandwiches (cheese, turkey, or ham) and several kinds of soda. Everyone congregated outside, sitting at picnic tables. Using my napkin, I wiped away the bird poop on the picnic table and sat next to the Middlebury girl, who was seemingly very knowledgeable about the program and about Spain. After lunch, because we had to get photos and copies of our work visa and date of entry, as well as buy a big envelope, she and I went to the photo shop and completed these tasks.
Then we returned for the final session of that day’s orientation. This time, a Spanish English teacher spoke to us and gave us tips and advice about how to teach children. That was interesting, but at the moment, I can’t remember anything she said; however, I did take notes, which are neatly rewritten and dwelling in a new notebook, as opposed to scribbled in my datebook, making the rectangular spaces for the days of October and November difficult to decipher.
Finally, my first day of orientation ended at approximately 6:00 p.m. Although I was starving and my feet hurt, I decided it wise that I accompany the Middlebury girl to a place where we had to print out a couple of pages from a website, so we took the train to Sol, one stop from mine, Opera. I wondered why “they” hadn’t printed out these papers for us, because all of this, after a long day of orientation, was a hassle to complete — and we needed to complete it by the following morning.
The next day of orientation, Tuesday, was much better. We signed in again at 9:00 a.m. and returned to the same classroom. I spotted the Middlebury girl closer to the front this time and because she had a bag sitting on the chair beside her, asked if anyone was sitting there. She said, “Only you. I was saving it for you.” Good, I thought, and sat down.
This time, the first speaker was a Spanish English teacher who seemed to be in love with teaching. She wanted us to incorporate drama into the classroom, and on the big table behind her were several kinds of different hats and puppets, which she used to demonstrate how to tell a story. She even included music, played from her computer, to sing, dance to, and act out certain stories. While dancing, she grazed her eyebrow and bottom eyelid simultaneously with her middle and index fingers while she looked out between the two fingers — if you can imagine that. Yes, here we were with an institution associated with the Ministry of Education, and we were witnessing this hilarious phenomenon, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it! The teacher went on to explain the way she attracts the students’ attention: “Students, I want you to listen to the most beautiful teacher in the world!” Highly amusing and I’m sure a very good teacher she gave us a lot of good advice about how to keep the students interested — and I took lots of notes. I thought I was being very attentive and laughing appropriately, but after the teacher’s “performance,” the Middlebury girl squealed at me, “You should’ve seen your face!” and erupted into laughter, not unlike, as we all know, something I might do. I probably was wearing a look of “Why in the world am I here?” mixed with “What in the world is she doing?” I guess my incredulousness was hard to fake.
All in all, a very entertaining day. Now Spain is getting more interesting.
Posted By HALLIE to International Girl in Spain at 10/01/2009 12:45:00 PM