Public Displays of Affection

For some reason, I don’t think that the term ‘PDA’ accurately describes the public and yet intense kissing sessions that I see daily on the metro. It never fails, I always see at least 1 couple locked in an embrace seriously making out while riding the metro. There is absolutely no shame that there are other people sharing the train with them, it is as if the rest of us are not actually there or as if there is some enjoyment found in forced voyeurism.

I feel two ways about this. First, I think, “seriously, get a room, no one else wants to see you making out.” But, then I think, “well, that’s quite prudish of me…is it not a beautiful thing to see two people in love?” My friend Matt said when we first got here, that while he was at first shocked, he rather liked how open the Spaniards were with their affections and it made me start to second guess our culture’s Victorian interpretation of public affections.

Why should genuine affection for a person be seen as something that should be “kept in the bedroom”? Not that I am advocating having sex in random places, but simple gestures of affection, like kisses and hugs, hand holding and long embraces, should those not be encouraged? I’ve started to wonder if it is a good idea to relegate those types of affection to “private” places instead of accepting them as an every day occurrence. __________________________________________________

I wrote the above in November of 2011; I am now in May of 2013 and it’s so funny to see how my attitudes on PDA have changed. PDA now, hardly even shows up on my radar, it’s like, vague background noise, but it’s nothing that stands out or distracts me in my daily moving about the city. In fact, I think the thing I think most often, is how much I wish that I too had someone to walk around Madrid, hand and hand with, locked in an embrace while waiting to cross the street.

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¿Estás contenta?

People used to ask me this all the time.

Estás contenta vs Estás feliz

Something that I learned about last year (and continue to learn about) was personal contentment. Contentment with where I am in life, who I am, what I’m doing, etc. I don’t think it’s easy for us as humans to be content. We’re always yearning for another stage of life, the chance to live in another country, to have more money, more love, more friends. But even when we have those things, our feeling of discontent and longing do not go away – sometimes those feelings are even amplified. And being happy does not always mean being content.

An excerpt from my travel journal, October 21st 2011:

“Last week, I started to pray for contentment because between having to deal with unruly teenagers and being away from home, and longing for love, I was finding it quite difficult to be content. But this week, the Lord began to answer my petition for contentment. In some way, every day this week has been an affirmation that in every way, I am exactly where the Lord wants me to be right now, and just knowing that, is making it a lot easier to choose to be content.”

Contentment is a choice. Something that helped me even further with that choice, was to write down something I was thankful for each day during Lent 2012. Here were some of my “thanks.”

Day 1: I am thankful Juli is like a mother to me (Juli is the wife of one of the teachers I work with; I also tutor their 3 kids in English, so I’m very close with them).

Day 3: I am thankful to be able to visit with good friends.

Day 13: I am thankful for the afternoon off, and a beautiful day. I am thankful that my students behaved today.

But sometimes, I still struggle with contentment. Like now, I am not content with my job, I don’t feel challenged and to be honest, a bit useless some times. I haven’t been content and instead of actively doing something about it, I’ve allowed my self to slip into apathy and suffer from a lack of motivation – that needs to change. Just because we are not “satisfied” it is not an excuse to be discontented and lazy. 🙂

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The Slang in Spain

These are just a few of the words and phrases that I hear on a daily basis from my students and/or the other teachers I work with at school.

Cani/Choni – (m/f) ghetto

Gamberro/a – (m/f) a hooligan

Chapuza – something that has been done badly; for instance, my blackberry is cracked on the side, so I’ve taped it together, this is a chapuza. 🙂

Guay – cool

Tio/Tia – (m/f) dude, “brah”

Me piro vampiro – literally, “I’m shooting off, vampire.” But essentially, it means, I’m leaving.

¡Qué va! / ¿Qué más da? – it doesn’t matter

Pijo/a – someone who is posh

Porro – a joint

Un fantasma – literally, “a ghost,” but it refers to a guy who is chatting you up and showing off, but that is being annoying.

Juernes – a mash up of the words “jueves” and “viernes” (meaning Thursday and Friday in Spanish). It’s usually used when we have a Friday off, because that makes Thursday, “Friday.” Or, even if we don’t have the day off, and you still go out.

Puente – literally, “bridge,” but it just means a long weekend.

Guiri – a tourist/foreigner

Dar la lata – we say this about our students a lot! It means to be a pain.

Majo/a – (m/f) a nice person.

Pasta – literally, “pasta,” that you eat, but colloquially, it means money.

Pavos – literally, “turkeys,” but just like we say “bucks” to mean dollars, they use this word to mean Euros.

Edad del pavo – literally, “age of the turkey,” but it means when kids start turning into moody teenagers.

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This post is an ode to my patria, America.

Before coming to Spain this second time, I can honestly say that I never valued my American citizenship. Being half Puerto Rican and growing up in Miami, I was often told that my “puerto rican-ness” was not enough, that I was not really Hispanic and/or that I was just white. While I had grown up bilingual and was way closer to my mother’s family than my father’s, this apparently made no difference – thus, I developed an inferiority complex, always wishing that I could have been something else, that I wasn’t “white” or “American” – I longed to be completely “other” as opposed to only “half other.” This only intensified as I went to college, until I went on a mission trip with my church to Cuba and I realized that my identity did not lie in how “Hispanic” I was, rather in the fact that I am a daughter of the King – all other identifying characteristics paled in comparison.

That being said, I still did not truly value my US citizenship. As I turned my passport over to the customs officials in Guatemala and Spain in 2010, I certainly did not hand it to them beaming and proud that I came from a land of plenty; I remember feeling ashamed that I had been born in a country that was so rich and powerful. I also remember thinking, “oh they must think I am some rich bitch who is here to bring my my American values and ideology to their country, I must show them, in some way, that is not my agenda.” So I always did my best to be a careful observer and to be a politically correct ambassador of my country.

However, this experience has been different (not that I still don’t try to be a careful observer or a good ambassador) – people have actively sought me out and asked me about my country, have asked me what I thought, have told me that I am privileged to be a citizen of such a powerful and influential country, and they have expressed a desire to have true dialogue with me about my country’s customs and how they differ from the customs here in Spain (or whatever country they are from). Although, I must include this as a caveat – these “exchanges” are not always positive and sometimes the only reason people want to talk to me about the US is to TELL me about my culture and what they think is wrong with it. These conversations usually don’t have much to do with the political ideology of the US (as one would think), it generally has more to do with how we interact socially, our cultural values and what our norms are (be they related to food, family, celebrations/traditions, our level of political correctness, etc.).

Anyway, through these dialogues, I have come to appreciate my “patria” (this is a Spanish word; I don’t think there is a direct translation, it means country, but more like your homeland or where you are from); I’ve come to recognize that while the US is not perfect, it is still my homeland. I’m not saying that I think the US is the best country in world, rather I can look at it and say, “yes, these are the good things, these are the bad things, it is my country and I am proud to be a citizen of the US.” And, I have come to realize that no matter what I do, even if I stayed in Spain (or any other country for that matter) and obtained citizenship, Spain would never be my patria. America will always be my patria.

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The Jig is Up!

A couple of weeks ago there was a huelga (just one of many that has happened in the last 2 months). The 2 teachers that I teach with were absent that day; one was on strike, and the other was sick. I basically did not teach at all that day; although I proctored an English exam with another one of the native English teachers for a class that neither of us teach (I knew some of the kids though because I teach them on Wednesdays in a different class).

We decided to split the class into two groups; I was supposed to take one group to another class and she would stay with the rest of them. However, the classroom that I took them to, was occupied. In the process of attempting to procure a classroom, my 16 year old students, who were following me around like my own personal little brood of chicks, heard me talking in Spanish to one of the teachers asking her if she knew if there was a free classroom somewhere. Then another teacher came up to me and said to go back to the original classroom and just have them take the exam altogether. I have been lying to them the last 2 months, saying that I don’t speak Spanish because that is what the teachers asked me to do. I could feel all of their eyes on me, staring in wonder of the words that were falling out of my mouth.

The last time I tried to deny that I spoke Spanish, the student said, “No, really Jési, I know you speak Spanish.” To which my reply was, “No I don’t,” and he calmly replied, “But I heard you talking in the hallway one day with one of the other teachers.” I finally had to give in and say yes.

So, now the jig is really up, the whole class (as opposed to only the few who had figured it out before) know I speak Spanish. I can only hope that they will not speak to me in Spanish during English class, haha.

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“You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important”

I’m very bad at this blogging thing….it’s not that I don’t have anything to say; in fact, I would say it is quite the opposite – I have so much to say, I don’t even know where to begin. I always have ideas for posts while in the metro or when I’m walking home or at school, but they are often not fully formed ideas and then by the time I get home, I forget about writing them down.  However, there are some things I can’t stop thinking about, like my students and the things that they say to me. I went to church today and the sermon was about the word picture provided in Matthew 25:31-46, which talks about serving “the least of these,” and I feel like it so perfectly goes along with what I have been thinking about.

If I could have planned this whole Spain adventure exactly as I would have liked, I would have chosen to be in the autonomous region of Castilla-León, specifically in Salamanca, teaching at a primary school. However, God had other plans – ones that I think have provided a lot more room for growth than if I would have been in a small, relatively rural area working with small children (things that would be comfortable to me). Instead, I was placed in the largest city in Spain – Madrid, the 3rd largest city in the European union, containing nearly 6.3 million people and I was placed in a high school to teach inner city teenagers. Perfect. This experience has been nothing like that which I imagined this adventure to be.

I have never worked with teenagers before and honestly, I had no desire. I remember what I was like as a teenager, I was not pleasant. My first couple of weeks teaching here, I thought to myself many times: “this must be my penance for the way I acted as a teenager in school.” It was rough – these kids are tough and they wanted to see how far they could push my boundaries, especially when the real professors were not in the class with me. A solution to getting them to behave, was to say, “Okay, you are here with me now, but if you misbehave, you get 1 warning and then you have to go back to <insert professor’s name here> class.” I hated feeling like a hard ass, I wanted class to be fun, but we needed structure.

So these last few weeks have been an adjustment to this new rule. Two weeks ago (it was pretty much the week from teaching hell for various reasons), I had to kick 2 students out of class and send them back to their teacher; it pained me to do so. After that class, I went to the professor’s class to talk with them and to talk with her – I wanted them to be in my class, but I needed them to behave. I told them this and asked them to come back to class; they apologized for being disruptive and agreed to come back to class next time and to behave.

This past week has been much better; I feel like I am actually connecting with my students and like they are beginning to trust me. They say things to me that often catch me completely off guard – and not in a bad way, just, they surprise me. I’m discovering how unique and intelligent they are, as well as how much they want to have hope, to feel valued as people, and to have someone believe in them, when they don’t believe in themselves; I can especially see this in my students who are 15/16/17 years old.

Last Tuesday, I was assisting in class 4A, just walking around the classroom while they were doing a speaking activity, seeing if they needed any help. One of the girls who sits in the front of the class, stopped me and said, “You are always smiling and happy, why?” I was completely not expecting that. My first thought was, “well it’s because of Jesus!” and my next thought was, “I can’t say that, this is a public school and we’re in the middle of class.” So I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders and said, “yeah, it’s just the way I am.” I have wished so many times in the last week that I could go back and do that over again, say my first thought, and be honest with her about the reason for my joy and happiness.

On Thursday, I was working with one of my Primero de Bachilerato classes and they were working on making up a skit to present to the class. Two of the boys were done early, so I had them come up to me and act it out for me so that I could correct their grammar and/or help them with vocabulary. After they were done, I just started talking to them, asking them questions about what they wanted to do after school, what were their interests, how old they were. And I was totally surprised by their answers – one of them told me that his grandmother taught him how to cook and that he loved cooking and wanted to become a chef. I told him that he should totally check out what kind of programs are available to do that and he looked at me like, no one had ever encouraged him before to do something that he enjoyed.

It was at that moment that I realized, these kids need someone to believe in them, they need mercy and encouragement and someone to respect them and to love on them. I forget sometimes that the education system is so different here than in the states. Professors regularly yell at the students in class, telling them to “shut up”, and/or that they are stupid and/or lazy; not something that would fly in a classroom back in the states – unfortunately, it is very common here. In addition, I have no idea what kind of home life these kids have, I have no idea if they have loving and caring parents who believe in them, who spend time with them regularly. I have no idea if anyone tells them if they are important. It makes me think of Abileen in the book, The Help. (It is an amazing book, everyone should read it.) Every day, Abileen says to the little girl that she takes care of, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” (page 199) because her parents never tell her that.

Today’s gospel reading came from Matthew 25. In chapters 24 & 25, Jesus talks with his disciples about the end of the ages, about the second coming and tells 2 parables about being prepared for the second coming and finally concludes with a “word picture” of the future judgement. Jesus talks about the future time, when a separation of the goats and the sheep will be necessary. He says to the sheep, “You clothed me, fed me and cared for me when I was in need”; he says to the goats, “You did not clothe me, or feed me or care for me when I was in need.” Their responses, Deacon Nigel pointed out in the sermon today, are nearly identical (verses 37-39 & 44): “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and (not) help?” and the Lord’s response is (verses 40 & 45): “whatever you did (did not) do for the least of these, you did (did not) do for me.” Deacon Nigel also pointed out that their responses imply that if they had known that what they were doing was for the Lord, they would have cared for those people even more. He mentioned that it is much easier to treat those who are important, as such, but those who are not important to us, those are the people that we are to treat with equal importance.

This speaks so clearly to me of God’s love and care and value of each person and if we are to mirror Christ, then we too need to love and care and value each person, (and make sure they know they are loved, cared for and valued) no matter how “unimportant” they are to the rest of society. I feel like right now, God is placing this calling on my life, to serve Him, by ministering to these teens that society and the school system see as unimportant, stupid, lazy kids who are going no where; they need to know how important and how deeply loved they are by the God who made them.

My prayer every morning, since I have started teaching, has been, “Lord, please help me just to survive this day,” but I want it to change, to become, “Lord, please help me to show these kids how much you love them and how important and how valued they are.”

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The Spanish School System: Part 1

I have no idea where to even start on this subject. It seems like the more that I learn about the Spanish school system, the less that I understand. It’s very complicated to explain and I don’t think I’ll be able to cover everything in one post, so I suppose I will just start with the basics.

Escuela Infantíl (Kindergarten): I think they just color. Up to age 5 or 6.

Escuela Primaria (Primary School): From what I have heard from other Auxiliar friends, the bad behavior starts here. They also just color – apparently they are only in class for a total of 4 1/2 hours a day. Up to age 11.

Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (Mandatory Secondary Education): These are the age levels that I teach (ages 11-15 or 16). At my school, these kids are actually pretty good in comparison with the older kids, but I have heard that it can be the opposite. Basically these are the first 4 years of high school (Primero del ESO, Segundo del ESO, Tercero del ESO, and Quarto del ESO).

This is the first year that my school is a bilingual school, so each group year is divided up into classes (A, B, C, D, etc) based on their level of English (‘A’ being the highest proficiency). And based on what your level is, that is the amount of hours per day that you have classes in English. Class A has 5 hours of English per day, while Class F has only 1 (that 1 hour being English class). This doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me since it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for the kids who already have low self-esteem and/or a lack motivation to learn English.

These 4 years are mandatory, but after you finish the last year, usually at age 15 or 16, you can leave high school and:

1) find a job and never come back;

2) start taking professional formation classes, where you pick a trade and study it for a year or two, then get a job; or

3) you can continue to stay in school for 2 more years and get your “bachilerato”which enables you to then go on to university.

Bachilerato (Bachelor’s is probably the best translation): These are my worst kids; these are the ones who have called me “puta” when I have disciplined them; who have invited me to go partying with them; who have drawn penises on the board for me; who don’t listen to or respect their teachers (but then again, the teachers don’t really respect the students here); who don’t care if they pass or not; who talk during exams; as well as the children who, when I walk through the hallways, they give me a big smile and say, “Hi Jési!!” As much as I complain about these students (and the majority of classes that I teach, are in bachilerato), I am starting to grow pretty fond of them. They are behaving more and I can say that I am enjoying getting to know their personalities – they are quite the unique bunch; some of them I get to spend more time with than others.

This is the problem with having a system like this: the kids who actually want to be there, do really well during these 2 years and succeed! The kids who DON’T want to be there (i.e. are there because their parents make them go, or are there because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives yet, so they are just going to school and don’t really care what kind of grades they get since they can repeat these classes as many times as they want). There is no age limit (in one of my Segundo de Bachilerato classes, I think I have a 20 or 21 year old). Therefore, there is a wide range of levels and motivations in all of my bachilerato classes.

Another interesting thing that I learned about the public school system here is that while school tuition is free, they have to order and pay for their textbooks themselves. So, this means that some of the kids don’t have books; they either do without or make photocopies of their friends’ books.

Also, classroom technology here is non-existent, in comparison with the United States. There are two computer labs that I know of, but there are no computers in classrooms. In classroom #6, there is a projector, but that is the only one that I know of (there might be another one in the younger kids building). There are no whiteboards in the classrooms either, they only have chalk boards….I can’t remember the last time I saw a chalkboard in the states. But it’s not only at my “inner city” school, it’s all over Spain, this is the norm and it is totally fine, it’s just different.

I think in the next “Spanish School System” post, I’ll talk about the student-teacher relationship.

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Nos gusta cómo te mueves

“We like how you move”

That is the current advertisement for the Madrid metro system; the sign also boasts that their metro system is one of the best in the world. I would be hard pressed to disagree – I LOVE using the metro!! It’s probably one of my favorite things about this city honestly.

By taking the metro, I have the ability to literally get to any place in the city I want, without having to use a car (which obviously, I don’t have here). It is also really awesome if I have woken up late and need to get to work quickly. I can walk to my school (about 15-20 minutes) or since I live across the street from a metro stop, I can ride the metro 1 stop over and get to school in about 7 minutes. This will not be a surprise for those of you that know me, but I have had to take the metro almost everyday this week to get to school on time…

I wish that we had a system like this in the states. Er, at least in Florida anyway. There are metro systems in Boston, New York and D.C., but other metropolitan areas, like South Florida are sorely lacking (however, I understand the ridiculousness of that proposal since it would damage the underground aquifers and it would be nearly impossible to construct that sort of intense infrastructure in Miami without disrupting the entire city’s transit system, not to mention the fact that South Florida is basically swamp land). I know that there is a metro in South Florida, but you have drive to get to a station, then you can ride the train, but I really feel like that defeats the purpose, because unless your job is close to the train stop and you can walk, you need a car or a taxi to get to where you need to go anyway.

Our country is so linked to the car industry, roadways, etc – our entire communities, which used to be accessible by foot or short horse rides into town, are now designed for the most part, to only be accessible by car. Sure, you can walk, but it would take you all day to get to where you were going. It’s a very unsustainable way of living in a community; oil is not going to last forever.

I read an article on the BBC news website last week that announced that the US is planning to expand the railway system and make it more efficient for travel and accessibility to different cities. Our government understands that there is clearly a flaw in the system. They hope to build a similar structure to the one here in Europe. I hope this actually happens; I absolutely hate driving long distances (i.e. anything more than an hour and a half). But most importantly, it is the wisest thing to do for our environment at this point.

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Letting the Dust Settle

My, where to even begin…? I’ve actually been putting off writing a blog post because I feel like there is just so much to say about what has happened in the last 2 weeks & 2 days since I got here and I am not entirely sure where to start.

Well first things, the flight to Madrid was fine. It was actually a little bit turbulent, which I don’t mind, I actually have an easier time falling asleep easier when there is turbulence on a plane because it provides a rocking motion that puts me to sleep (honestly, I’d rather be asleep anyway if the plane is going down lol). I met Jaime and Jordan right before we got on the plane, and when we landed in Madrid, we all met Matt – all of us are part of the auxiliar program. I haven’t seen Jordan since that day, but I’ve hung out with Matt once and Jaime and I have been butt buddies since day 1.

I only ended up staying one night in the hostel since I found a place the night I got here. I payed 2 months rent and moved in the next day. I have 3 roommates, we share the bathroom and kitchen. There names are Clara, a Spanish woman, who is 50, she has been renting this apartment for 15 years and she is an administrator for the government; Ruth, a Bolivian woman, 30-something, and she is a doctor who is studying for her specialization exam in January; and finally Anny, a woman from the Dominican Republic, she is 28 and is also a doctor, studying for her specialization program in January. Clara smokes like a chimney and at first I thought about moving about, but it’s become bearable. She goes home on the weekends to her pueblo, so I really only see her like 4 days out of the week. I do really like my apartment, although it is tiny. My rent is very cheap for the area that I am in, and the utilities and internet are included in the price – so it’s a pretty sweet deal.

My first week here, I was having a lot of “what the hell am I doing here?” moments, but those have gotten better. I don’t love Madrid yet, but I am growing to like it. It is a huge city! There are 6.2 million people living in Madrid capital (that number only refers to the city center – that doesn’t include the surrounding towns or suburbs of Madrid). It’s taking a bit of adjusting, but I’ve had a few “okay, I’m really starting to like this city” moments too, which is pretty cool.

Okay, I’m getting pretty tired, so I will post more in the coming week or so, probably about specific topics, such as:

– The Metro


– The Reina Sofia and having a chance to see Picasso’s Guernica, which is one of my absolute favorite paintings.

– The Spanish Public School System

– The Budget Crisis in Spain, the political protests and how both are currently affecting education.

– Being an Auxiliar: how orientation went, what exactly is my job at school, and other class related anecdotes.

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I am so ready to be in Spain!! I. can. not. wait. All of my bags are packed and I am just waiting here at my parents place until I can get on that plane in Jackson, MS in 2 days and start this exciting adventure.

I left Tallahassee almost a week ago and I miss it and all of my friends there, but I know that Tallahassee will be waiting for me when I get back and it will be like I never left. On Sunday morning at church, it was so wonderful to say goodbye to everyone! I felt so strengthened by the love and support everyone was pouring out over me through their prayers, encouragements and hugs. I don’t have any fears about Spain – I know that God has got me no matter what!

A lady from church, Miss Carol reminded me before I left on Sunday, while making the sign of the cross on my forehead, “You are the Lord’s!”

I am the Lord’s.

PS – Please pray with me that the Lord will provide a piso (apartment) quickly. I arrive in Madrid on Tuesday and will have a week before my orientation to find a place and settle in.

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