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