Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Average Work Week

As I sit here, eating my chocolate covered doughnut, I am wondering what it was I was doing 2 weeks ago from this very moment. Probably not very much. Ah how things change.

This is the first week that I started giving clases particulares, or private English lessons. It’s nice…I have something scheduled every night Monday-Thursday, and if I am able to handle this rate, I will make about 100 extra euros a week, which is NICE. It is quite a bit to keep up with though, and it essentially forces me to surrender my afternoons/early evenings…but the way I think of it is…well, what else would I be doing with my afternoons? Probably sleeping, eating or laying around on my computer. So, teaching English is much more productive option. 

Along with the private English lessons, the actual work at A Farixa has commenced. I come home tired nowdays! But I’m also still making an effort to get out and run some longer (5-6 miles…so, relatively longer) trails. There’s a 10k coming up mid-november and I reckon I’d like to join in on that action! Anyway, here is a general breakdown of my week:


  • # of work hours: 3
  • Wake up time: 9:45
  • Time I’m finally home: 19:30

Monday is one of my easier days. I get to sleep in, and my first commitment isn’t until 11:30. At that time, I have an hour at A Farixa allotted for whichever professor may need to meet with me. So I’m usually getting pinballed around the institute, but it’s usually quite a productive hour. After that, I come home, only to have another class at 4pm. This is a class who’s main objective is to pass the B1 English Language exam, so I feel quite useful when I arrive here! While it’s a 2 hour class, I handle just the first hour, going through speaking exercises (and fun games when I can think of them) with the students. It’s a good group of people, I quite enjoy the hour. Immediately after this class, I walk about half an hour to my first private English lesson of the week:

  • 3 kids; 2 girls (ages 6), 1 boy (age 4)
  • Degree of Difficulty: High

What a handful. Up until now, my experience with kids has been pretty limited to the time I’ve spent with my nephew Damy, jumping on the bed alongside him. As far as presenting myself as a figure of authority for children, I am at a complete loss. This became painfully obvious in my first meeting with these 3 kids. One of the girls is a sweetheart, the little boy is mostly quiet and just mutters Spanish phrases under his breath the entire time, and then we have the last girl. To paint a picture of her, I will use the following example: I asked her what  day it was. She responded “monnnnnnddddddddddDDDAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY”. Now, if you can picture that response increasing in volume and pitch as it went on, then you’ll see what I mean. Every response was like that. No, she did not have a speech impediment. So that was quite a headache. I’ve had 4 classes with them to date, and they are certainly getting more comfortable with me, and I am slowly figuring out how to handle them. Most importantly, they’re also learning some fundamental English. I think. Often times after this lesson I stop and buy myself a pastry. It is well-deserved.


  • # of work hours: 6
  • Wake up time: 7:30
  • Time I’m finally home: 17:30 

This is my major day of work, followed by Wednesdays. It probably wouldn’t be such a bad day if it weren’t for the fact that I had to wake up at SUCH AN UNGODLY HOUR. I somehow managed to get through my 4 years at Grinnell having to endure only one 8am class. If anyone has personally experienced the dreadful task of waking me up early, you know firsthand what the results are. Not pleasant. I am one of the most nocturnal people you will ever come across in your life, and nothing perturbs me greater than being woken up at an hour earlier than I deem decent. So, anything before 10am, essentially.

So I'm at A Farixa from 9:00-14:30, with 2 of those hours dedicated to prep time with other professors, and 3 of those to helping out in class. By the time I get home at 15:00 I am famished, but that is the traditional time for lunch here! After eating lunch I go to my 2nd private English lesson of the week:

  • 2 females; a professor from A Farixa, and her niece (age 15)
  • Degree of Difficulty: easy peasy

Such. A. RELIEF to deal with these 2 individuals, given the difficulty I experience the night before. They had a pretty high level of English, we maybe had 1 or 2 misunderstandings the whole hour. The hour goes by quite quickly; it’s like just having a chat with another acquaintance. They have bestowed me with some fabulous info about Ourense, and all of Galicia. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time June rolls around I learn more about Spain than they do about English! It’s a great hour, and even greater since I arrive home with plenty of time to get a run down by the river in.


  • # of work hours: 6
  • Wake up time: 9:45
  • Time I’m finally home 20:00

Although this day is technically just as long as Tuesday, it doesn’t seem so because I get to SLEEP IN. I have 2 hours of prep with professors before I assist a business class at 1:30. I come home, eat lunch, and come right back at 4:00 to give private lessons at A Farixa. 

  • 2 different classes, about 10 students in each, male and female
  • Degree of difficulty: medium

These are classes completely run by lil’ ol’ me! Luckily there’s a platform at the front of the class that I bet makes me look really tall and menacing. The first day was interesting because I didn’t really know what to expect. I was scared that I’d be starting from scratch with these students, but that wasn’t the case at all. There is a stark difference in level of English between both classes, but everyone who’s there genuinely wants to learn English. The only thing that makes these classes difficult is that I am literally the only one in charge, and I have to make complete lesson plans without any guidance, and these plans must account for an hour long class. Also, since realizing the difference in English abilities, I’ve ceded to the fact that I can’t simply reuse the lesson in the first class with the second class. And also, I want to make sure the classes are fun, and include activities that I would want to do since all the students are my age. I've found myself modeling this class after the Intro to French classes I took at Grinnell, because I just had an absolute ball during them! So after these 2 hours at A Farixa, it’s onto another private English lesson…

…Part 2 from the lessons I give Monday evenings. 

I am probably making these 3 kids sound like little demons, but I am also known for my over-dramatizations. They’re really actually quite fun to spend time with some days. And, the fact of the matter is that they are kids; they are meant to be rowdy once in awhile. It’s rewarding when I work with them and repeat words to them and speak slowly and use hand motions and they finally come up with the correct English word. I come home Wednesday evenings quite exhausted, and essentially feeling like it’s Friday, since my Thursdays and Fridays are quite low-key.


  • # of work hours: 2.5
  • Wake up time: 9:30
  • Time I’m finally home: 7:30pm

This is quite the relaxed day. It used to be a bit more of a busy day, but I had to shuffle around my schedule which resulted in a very busy Tuesday and not so busy Thursday. I’ll take it! 

My first obligation of the day is at 11:00, where I get together with professors at A Farixa during the coffee break and give a little talk about a predetermined topic in English. The first week I talked generally about the U.S., Chicago, and St. Charles; the following week I talked about the school system in the U.S.; this week I am going to talk about cultural differences between the U.S. and Spain; next week I'll talk about Halloween. It’s a strange but valuable experience. I usually talk about the topic as SLOW as humanly possible (or so I think) for about 20 minutes, pausing once in awhile to see if there are questions. All the while professors are sipping on their coffees and listening to me, while I sip on my Cola Coa (Spanish hot chocolate) because I’ve still not given in to caffeine. There are a couple of professors who speak English quite well, other that speak just only basic phrases, while still others speak nothing at all. I find it hard to believe that they actually enjoy having me orate to them to English, but, like I’ve said before, English is seen as a high commodity here! After this half hour break, I do the speaking portion of another class for an hour, then make my way home for a nice 5 hour break before my final English lesson of the week:

  • One boy (age 7)
  • Degree of difficulty: Low 

This is the newest client/student I have, and it may potentially be the last I add to my schedule. I was hesitant to take this boy on since my schedule was already fairly full, but his mother was insistent on the phone that he'd be a great student and that he is the vision of an angel...or something to that degree. I don't know what it is about listening to a little boy speak high-pitched Spanish with such vigor, but it's nothing less than ADORABLE and I'm glad I decided to add him to my schedule. Not only is he absolutely precious but he's also super studious! Near the end of our first lesson he advised me that we needed to finish up with our games because he needed to get to his homework. HA! Cute.


  • # of work hours: 1-2
  • Wake up time: 10:30-11:30
  • Time I’m finally home: 14:00-15:00
The only class I have this day is one in the physical education type department. This class deals with learning how to set up rehabilitation for disabled people, so it's way interesting. This is one of the classes for which Miguel (my original coordinator at A Farixa) deeply apologized, since it was on a Friday, and he went so far as to insist that I simply let him know if I don't want to come one week. It's probably the most interesting class as far as subject matter, so I have every intention of making it to as many classes as possible! Although it’s a class that usually takes 2.5 hours, Miguel specifies a time for me to come in partway through so that I don't have to sit through the lecture. By the time I show up, it's about time for them to go to the practical aspect of the class, meaning they go over to the nearby gym and play some small-sided games. Last week was the first time I went, and I ran their warm up in English. It was really fun, (partially because it allowed me to yell in an athletic setting again...I MISS IT) and then I watched as they came up with ideas on how to incorporate disabled people in every day gym-type games like dodgeball and steal the bacon.
Anyway, there you have it, now no one can say that I didn’t share my work week in exceedingly thorough detail! I think I like my week the way it is, although I wonder if I'll eventually want to add another English lesson to the week. I've already had to decline or pass along the offers of 3 different clients, man is the demand for native speakers high! I’m so thankful with these opportunities I’m getting, I hope I can be smart and not waste all this extra money on that black 130 euro leather jacket from Zara I can’t get my mind off of…

The weekend events vary from week to week, although I will say that we go out for drinks/tapas no more than once a week, if that. We are grown up! And we can’t afford to go out that often… but here is a picture of me and Anna, genuinely content because we found an Irish pub that serves crepes late into the night!

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Artsy angle of the front of the cathedral
I do believe that up until this point of my blog, I have shared only 1 photo that I’ve taken while here in Ourense. Oopsie. So I am dedicating this post to the pictures I have, and the short stories behind them.

The second Friday we were here, October 5th, was the date for our Auxilar de Conversacion orientation, which took place in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The orientation itself wasn’t too helpful, but it was nice to hear stories from people who had done the program the year before. Ooh, but I did learn some fun facts during the orientation: 
  1. There are over 400 Auxilares (Language Assistants) this year in Galicia. That number is astounding, seeing as we were originally told that there would only be 2,000 people admitted into Spain as a whole. I’m thinking that they must have admitted more people, because Galicia is too small of a province to account for 1/5 of Spain’s auxilares!
  2. Given the 400+ auxilares, there will be over 57,000 students in Galicia who will be positively impacted by our services!
  3. Cíes islands, off the coast of Vigo, have previously been voted the best beach in the world! Definitely gonna make a point to go visit them at some point.
  4. Galicia is known for its wines, particularly albarino and ribeiro. Let’s just say, I am doing well in my progress of tasting and appreciating said wines.

The front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
Anyway, after orientation Anna and I walked through Santiago’s downtown area, which was super cute but also way touristy. We also got to visit the cathedral, which was beautiful as you can see from the pictures here!
The inside of the cathedral. Super pretty and intricate.

 And now for an array of photos I have taken in Ourense

Here we have a mural painting that overlooks one of the plazas right by my apartment. It's quite impressive! Apparently this plaza used to be used as an area to botellon but nowadays it's a popular spot for old people to gossip on the benches and for younger kids to kick a ball around.

This is a gazebo in a plaza area called the Alameda. Nowadays, this plaza is where all the younger people go to botellon at night on the weekends.

Dinner with some friends

Ahhh my plant. One day after work I decided to spoil myself with something other than pastries. This quaint, lopsided-yet-charming tree was my prize of choice. I hope to keep track of this little guy's growth! Hey maybe he'll stay alive the whole 8 months I'm here?!

Me trying pulpo a feira (to a non-Galician it's just known as pulpo a la gallega) for the first time! It was actually really good. I washed it down with some orange Fanta. Perfect Sunday lunch!

Close up of pulpo, octopus
So the main beer manufacturer of Galicia is called "Estrella Galicia". This beer, "1906" is also made by them. It was love at first sip; I am not too picky with my beer, but I truly believe that this beer tastes like a light version of Guinness.
One of several "mobile discos" that have taken place just outside our apartment. It was cute, they played popular latino music and I'm pretty sure I heard some Selena in there! What wasn't so great was the fact that one weekend they played every. night. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Not starting until 11pm. Ending at 1am. At the earliest. I value my sleep.
Casa do Pulpo! This is the first place we ate out with our CouchSurfing Host. This is where we first tried octopus, squid, and this awesome chorizo-type sausage called zorza. UGH the food is so good! Also, I'd forgotten how delicious potatoes in Spain are...
Our first view of the Roman Bridge. Man, we got so lucky with the weather the first couple weeks in Ourense! Galicia is supposed to be a rainy province in general, but we hadn't experienced rain until about the 3rd week here.
Millenium Bridge; You can actually walk on the arc thing that goes around it! This bridge greets me as I come back from my longer runs. 

Yay for Ourense!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My First Day of School!...uh, I mean, Work!

I’m walking to my first day of work. I’m cool as a cucumber for about 15 minutes out of the 25-minute commute. Then, the sweating ensues. I still haven’t had my meltdown up until this point…but I feel some emotions surging up from the pit of my stomach. Is it my time?? Am I going to freak out?? Wait, this is weird. This is my first day of work. In Spain. Oh crap there’s also a hill I still have to climb.

Well, I didn’t have a meltdown, but in a way I’m glad that I had SOME sort of reaction rather than the numbness I’ve felt about this experience up until then. Upon arrival at my school, I see a group of students, all males, loitering in front of the building. They are all tall, and not just from my humble 5’4” viewpoint, but tall by any male standards. They are all leaning against the fence, smoking, looking super cool and European, in an 80s Christian Slater kind of way. I laughed out loud to myself. Uhh these are the people I’m supposed to teach? I’m absolutely going to get eaten alive. 

Once I got inside and made my way to the secretary, my nerves ceased. I talked to the secretary very briefly before he introduced me to my coordinator, the professor I’d be working alongside the most, my mentor of sorts. This guy, Miguel, is just a constant bundle of sunshine, blanket of kindness, pile of fresh-from-the-dryer towels, etc. SO warm, SO considerate, just a delightful individual. He is all smiles, all laughs, all European swagger. Physically, he resembles a Spanish Danny Tanner, so really, you cannot possibly feel like you are in better hands. He gave me a brief tour of the building and also introduced me to every professor we passed by. It was definitely overwhelming and I missed most of their names, however what I can say is that everyone is so NICE. NICE NICE NICE. They all made it apparent that they wanted me to feel at home, and so many of them told me to contact them if I had any trouble or questions about Ourense. Some of the professors even had a little care package filled with Ourense tourism info that they presented me with, so that was great! 

What’s probably most interesting about this place is that they are excited that I speak English. Back in Granada, it wasn’t frowned upon to speak English, per se, but it was definitely encouraged to only speak Spanish as much as possible. Even in Grinnell, whenever you were in a Spanish environment it was expected that you'd only speak Spanish. At my school here in Ourense, however, the main purpose for existence is my English. People are impressed when they hear me speak English. When they present me with someone else who speaks English, they get excited when we exchange English words. It's a bit strange, because it's not like I have any sort of special training in the art of speaking English. But here I am in Spain, getting rewarded for speaking it fluently! Okayyy okayyyy I'll take it.

The school where I've been placed, CIFP A Farixa, is a formación professional, which is roughly the equivalent of a vocational school in the U.S. Most of the students I've met are from ages 20-25, however there's also students as old as 40. It seems that the main professional tracks I'll be assisting are those for business, tourism, and futsal...(!) As far as my daily tasks, I’m going to be doing a variety of things in addition to teaching English. Not only am I going to go through work sheets, powerpoints, and hand outs with teachers to assure that they’re using proper English and appropriate vocabulary, but I’m going to be helping classes in the pronunciation and translation of their given field into English.  While I have no background in tourism or business, I’ll still be helping out with the speaking portion of their classes. As for futbol sala…I GUESS you can say I have some background experience in the subject matter...:) :) :) :) :)...MAN am I excited! It’s not going to be a bunch of indoor soccer playing though, unfortunately. The small class consists of people who are training to become Futsal coaches, and so they have to go through theoretical aspects of soccer, as well as biological mechanisms of the body that are necessary to know as a personal trainer. But there will be soccer playing later :)

My schedule is kind of out of this world. They gave me 12 hours of work per week, with 5 of those hours being one-on-one preparations with professors, and 7 of those being hours in class, teaching and assisting. My earliest class is at 10:00 am, and I'm done by 2:30 pm most days. Additionally, I  have only 1 class scheduled for Friday, which Miguel was very apologetic about and even went so far as to tell me that if any day I don't want to come in, to just let him know. Even my first week of class, Miguel and the other professors told me to not worry about coming in at all; they wanted me to get settled and get to know Ourense and all that. Well, Miguel clearly saw my look of shock after he said that. I told him that I didn't know what to do with so much freedom. He asked if I'd prefer it if he just told me to come in. I nodded emphatically. So he did just that. SPOILING ME. That's what they're doing to me here! As if I wasn't spoiled enough already, huh??? Haha I am absolutely appreciative of how accommodating and friendly everyone at the school has been; I won't take advantage of their kindness for a second. I am ready to give me them boatloads of English!!