The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Naturally, there are many things that are different about living in Valencia vs. living in Oklahoma. I would like to share with you all a brief list of some of the things I’ve noticed. Granted, these things are only my personal opinions, but I think people would agree with me on quite a few of them! A ver…..

TIME

Valencia– 1. There is no concept of time. “I’ll meet you at 3pm”  = “See you at 3.30” 2. Dinner is at 9pm, on average. 3. There are 5 specific meals a day with specific times! (Desayuno, almuerzo, comida, merienda, y cena) 4. Parties don’t start until 1 or 2 am, which means they don’t end until 6 or 7 am

Oklahoma– 1. If you’re late, you call and say “I’ll be there as soon as I can!” 2. Dinner is finished by 8. 30. We don’t get time to have specific “snacks” times at work…. 4. If you go out at 1 or 2 am, you might as well stay home. You can’t do anything past 2!

WORK

Valencia– 1. Who works on a Sunday? 2. Who works past 9pm? 3. Who works from 2-5.30? 4. Who works before 8am? 5. “Work to live”

Oklahoma– 1. Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc. seem to never close. 2. You can get almost anything at midnight. 3. Prime shopping time is in the early afternoon. 4. Some businesses are open at 7, so you can stop by before YOU go to work. 5. “Live to work”

FOOD

Valencia– 1. Mediterranean diet….yummy (think olive oil, fish, rice, fruits and veggies)! 2. Families don’t eat out in restaurants on a regular basis. 3. Buuut…I really don’t want to eat a bocadillo (sandwich with french bread) multiple times a week. 4. ORANGES

Oklahoma– 1. The drive-thru is a pretty common place for meals. 2. Barbecue!! 3. Not nearly as healthy as the Mediterranean diet (think butter, ranch dressing, fried foods, red meat) 4. Sometimes we eat because we have to, not because we enjoy the meal.

Some of these observations are good. Some are bad. And to me, some are ugly (are you really going to show up one hour late to a dinner?!) I’m making a list of little things as I notice them. Not always “differences” but just things that strike me as interesting or unusual that maybe a Spaniard wouldn’t think twice about. Also, this is the week of Fallas in Valencia, so expect an update within a week or two all about the wonderful experience and pictures of this awesome festival!

I was not expecting this!

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And by this, I mean the COLD! Coming from Oklahoma, where we often have below freezing temperatures, one would think the 30’s (in Fahrenheit) aren’t too bad for February. However, the problem in Valencia is that the older apartments are not properly equipped for several weeks of cold weather. Mi piso only has single paned windows, AKA: it’s the same temperature inside as it is outside. You can imagine how unpleasant this is! I don’t mind the cold when it’s outside. Sure, I don’t like it, but it’s not the end of the world. The problem is when I come home and I still have to wear two layers of clothing! I carry my mini space heater around my apartment with me as if it was a baby. Luckily my mom bought me a blanket (throw, if you will) at the airport that I also carry around with me like the pacifier for my baby. I remember when the weather first started dipping into the 50’s and 60’s in mid-October and I laughed at the Valencians who were wrapped up in scarves and winter coats. I now realize that when you are accustomed to a certain type of weather (warm!) that when it’s below your norm, it’s awful! So no longer will I scoff at those who have winter coats in 50 degree weather! I have become one of them. But the weather is unusually cold for an unusually long time this year. All of Europe is suffering from extreme cold. Northern and Eastern Europe have it way worse, so really I don’t have a lot to complain about.

Of course, this all started the week my best friend came to Spain for my birthday! Coldest temperatures in Valencia for about 7 years…but luckily it never rained and the sun was shining. Could have been worse 🙂 It was so great to show her around the city, introduce her to my friends, and just catch up on life in general. We hit the highlights of the city, including the City of Arts and Sciences, Central Market, the city center, and a few museums. For the weekend of my birthday (4 February) I had a dinner with a lot of friends at a nice Spanish restaurant. We had tapas, bocadillos, sangria, and coffee. It was very delicious! People even gave me presents, which was so nice. That was definitely not expected! I got a beautiful dress and scarf from my favorite store, a nice travel bag and wine, a silly birthday mug, a handmade passport holder and a huge box of chocolates! We went to my apartment after dinner for some wine and two wonderful friends surprised me with a cake and a nice card. Then we all went to a club near the port of Valencia and danced the night away! At one point I looked around, and realized that most of the people I’m friends with in Valencia were all together. I’m happy they all got along and hopefully some new friendships were made.

For my actual birthday (6 February), I had to work, but my best friend took me to lunch! Later that day, we went to my awesome Spanish friend’s house and made dinner. There were 5 of us in total, and my friend gave me some Spanish books, which I had been wanting! One was a Spanish-English slang dictionary and it is absolutely hilarious. We spent a long time reading the translations of words like “bootylicious” and “TGIF”. It wasn’t unusual to not be with my family on my birthday, but to not see them at all was strange. Usually I see them in the beginning of February to celebrate at some point, but this time it was only Skype, emails, and cards. Which are also very appreciated!

It seems that every few weeks I get frustrated with teaching. I know that the kids are learning something, but sometimes I think that they aren’t really paying attention and could care less if they were there. I try and do new things to hold their interest, mixing it up with games, chalkboard teaching, exercises, songs, etc. But there’s always one each class who makes things difficult. It’s nearing the time of their next exam, so I’m trying to prepare them. We will see how they do after the practice exams next week. That helps me know what they need to review or learn more of. As long as they don’t cheat! I always stress that the practice exams aren’t for a grade and it’s to help ME know what I didn’t teach them properly. Some of them realize this, but others still try and cheat just to not get too many answers wrong. But we will see what happens after the actual exams.

I finally started taking Spanish lessons! It does make me realize how hard it can be for students learning another language, because a lot of it is repetition. I have a private teacher who is awesome, and it’s really nice that the lessons are customized to my needs. She knows what I need to learn (which is a lot) but uses each lesson to introduce whatever I need to learn and always gives me homework. I do need to study more on my own though, but slowly I am improving. Every week I am able to understand movies, radio, TV, people, etc. better and that is a good feeling.

Hopefully during the next post, I won’t be wearing two layers of clothing and a blanket! The weather is supposed to be improving and I am waiting anxiously for this to happen. I hope the beginning of February is going well for everyone, wherever you may be! Espero que 2012 es el año es un feliz para todos!

 


Live life simply.

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Today wraps up a very happy week for me. The kids were really good and I can see them learning and putting the things I have taught them to use. That is a great feeling as a teacher! Very satisfying. I want to share my happiness with you via these two things: this beautiful sunset from Barcelona and a song with extremely motivating lyrics. Please watch at least part of it! I promise, you will feel uplifted afterwards.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYR11V-qcHQ

Keeping with the title of my post, I think sometimes we just need to slow down and appreciate the things we have and live life simply. I want to leave you with this photo and lyrics from the link above.

“Sometimes I lay under the moon and thank God I’m breathing. Then I pray don’t take me soon, cause I am here for a reason”

Barcelona and Perpignan

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So my last post left you on a cliffhanger…what happened in Barcelona and Perpignan during the break!? I have talked about Christmas already, but I know you are just dying to find out what happened on the rest of my break 😉 There is an interesting tradition, and honestly I never looked up the origins, but you’re supposed to eat 12 grapes as the bells chime for the New Year. If you don’t eat them exactly on the sound of the bell, it is bad luck for the rest of the year! Rumor has it, several years ago a famous woman (think Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve) who always hosts the New Year’s Eve show ate the grapes incorrectly, and then terrible things followed. Maybe unsurprisingly, it’s really difficult to eat 12 grapes one after the other. Right before midnight, most people are in the streets or a major plaza. In Barcelona, one of these major areas is called Plaça de Catalunya. Our whole group was there, counting down with all the other people. I’ve never been in an outdoor place for the countdown before, so I almost missed it! I’m used to there being a TV countdown or something else, but with all the chaos in the street, I wasn’t prepared to start eating the grapes! But I ate them all, and hopefully I ate them at the right time to have good luck in 2012.

The rest of my time in Barcelona was spent mainly revisiting places I had already been, because we had people with us who had never been to Barcelona before and they needed to see the highlights. But like always, it’s a really interesting city with interesting people and places. I always enjoy Barcelona. I even like listening to the people speak in Catalan instead of Spanish or Valencian. The accent is really different. Especially the older people you can hear in the streets or in a restaurant. They have an accent that is very different. I only understand like, 10% of Valencian, but in Barcelona I understand even less because of their strong accents. Supposedly the accent south of Barcelona (in the Valencian community) has been more “polluted” with Spanish and in Catalunya it has less Spanish influence. This has a lot to do with history and politics, of course. But this isn’t a history lesson, it’s a blog! If you’re interested, https://www.alsintl.com/resources/languages/Valencian/ has a good general overview of the two languages. The people of Catalunya are Catalan before they’re Spanish. And many Valencians feel the same.  In America, we definitely have subcultures, depending on the regions, states, and even cities. But overall, we still have a sense of national identity. We are Americans. It’s not like that in these regions of Spain.

After New Year’s Eve, we took a short trip Figueres, Spain and to Perpignan, in the far southwestern corner of France. It’s so close to Spain that they still speak Catalan there! Figueres is the hometown of Salvador Dali and it is also the city he built his museum/homage to himself. I definitely appreciate all the things Dali did for art and his creation of Surrealism, but he sure was a nutty man! I read up about his life before we went, and watched part of a documentary about him. No doubt he was crazy. Most of his more well known paintings are in other museums, but this one was cool because he literally designed everything. Some of the exhibits were created especially for the museum. I really liked the idea that the artist organized (even though it’s Surrealism, so technically there’s no order) where he wanted everything to be.

Then, we popped over to France. Perpignan is a small city, but very lovely with a lot of history. Honestly, I don’t remember a lot of it, but it was interesting at the time! I was glad to see I didn’t forget all my French, I can still read it pretty well. Speaking is another story though. The last 4 months of trying to speak Spanish really hindered my ability to use only French words. Also, I had forgotten how much more expensive things are in France. It’s really crazy. I know they get paid more, but even the fast food restaurants are more.  We got to drive through the Pyrenees at sunset though, and it was definitely worth it! Sadly I couldn’t take a really good picture when the car was in motion, but I will remember the view for a long time.

Those were the highlights of my break, with some parts left out, or else this would have been quite long! And like usual, I miss my family and friends back home. On top of the holidays, most of my family had birthdays! My brother, sister, mom, grandma, grandpa, uncles, cousins; almost all of us have birthdays between December and February. I miss being there to celebrate, but at least there’s Skype, Facebook, emails, and blogs to keep family close, even if they’re 5,000 miles away 🙂


It isn’t all rainbows and sunshine

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And how true that is! Today is a rainy, cold, dreary Monday in lovely Valencia, Spain. I guess I’ve gotten a bit spoiled with the beautiful weather we usually have here. Plus it’s a Monday. No one really likes Mondays, no matter how great your life is! However, I’m definitely out of the “fun, new experiences in a foreign country” mode, and switching into the post-holiday blues. Three months in is about when I started to realize that I haven’t seen my family and friends for a long time, but I still have double the amount of time until I see (most) of them again. That makes things hard sometimes. Especially with the holidays, even though I really enjoyed myself. Sometimes I think I get overwhelmed with everything! I need to become a list-maker. Maybe that would help me. I think about the things going on back home that I need to deal with or that worry me, along with the things going on here. To top it all off, it seems like at least 2 people per week ask me what I will do past June. In October, it was ok to say, “Oh, I’m not really sure yet! We’ll see!” But now, June is only 6 months away. I need to figure out what’s going to happen in my life past that point. That can get a bit stressful sometimes!

I am looking forward to my birthday, though! I’m going to try and celebrate it the typically Spanish way, with appetizers at my apartment, dinner, botellon, and then going out somewhere. However, I think I am more excited that my best friend is coming to Valencia for the week of my birthday than I am for my actual birthday! I haven’t seen her since September, and that is seriously way too long for us to be apart! I’m not sure Valencia is ready for the dream team to be reunited 😉

Stay tuned for the next blog about New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja) in Barcelona and two days in France! But until then, I leave you with this. Even though it can’t be all rainbows and sunshine, we still have to make the best of our situations and not take life, friendships, or family for granted. When I’m feeling down, I try to stay as positive as possible, porque estoy en España y me encanta mi vida 🙂


Feliz Navidad, Próspero año y Felicidad

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Christmas in Spain! What a different experience than Christmas in the United States. It’s times like these that I realize the things I really miss about home, but I also had new realizations. I know people say that Christmas in the States is very commercialized. I never noticed how extremely commercialized it was though! Half of my warm fuzzy “Christmas” feelings are really just buying and receiving presents. It makes you feel good to buy things for others, but let’s face it, we all like to get presents too! Christmas time didn’t quite feel the same when I wasn’t shopping, wrapping, and dealing with the terrible crowds. But I do really miss the Christmas songs, the decorations everywhere, cold weather, and most of all, being with family. People decorate here, but not as much as in America. And they decorate more with the Belén (nativity scene). I think the weather has been above 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) all of December. I’m used to Oklahoma being much colder at this time of year. This was probably the most homesick I’ve been since I’ve been here. Thank God for Skype! It’s probably the best invention ever. So I could still “be” with my family, at least for a little bit 🙂

It was nice to be with a Spanish family and see their customs and traditions. Christmas Eve was the main dinner, and I tried horse and pig’s feet for the first time. That was definitely interesting! The appetizers were the typical Spanish jamón (ham), cheeses, chips, and other delicious things that I do not know the names of. Dessert is probably my favorite part of Spanish meals. Flan, tarta de queso, fruit, a frozen lemon treat with cava (the Spanish champagne)….mmm! It was all so good.  And then, Santa came! He even knew I was in Spain and brought me a gift too 😉 The little cousins all loved playing their new games on the Wii, and actually so did I! They even made me a character on the Wii. It was all very sweet. Then, the young people usually go out and meet friends for a few drinks and to hang out. For me that was strange, because I’m so used to wrapping presents until 3 am with my mom. It was a great Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day I didn’t do too much, just another lunch and watching movies. Overall I really enjoyed my Christmas holiday in Spain, it’s just not even comparable to the holiday in America because the two are so different.

Mostly I am glad to have two weeks off of classes! I still have to grade exams, oral and written for about 60 students, and then do evaluations for the students. In Spanish. Before classes start. Even though I’m on break, I still have work to do. I guess this is what happens to teachers! But I would rather be at home (or at Starbucks!) grading exams than in class. I have a new class with 3-5 year olds. They are so precious, but ornery to boot! I have to do the entire class in Spanish, which is really helping me with the language. They understand me, but sometimes it is really hard to discipline in another language. The first day, they said things to me like, “Why don’t we know each other?” “Who are you?” “What’s your name?” (all in Spanish, of course) and it was just so cute I couldn’t even stand it! Since then, I’ve gotten multiple hugs, and one of the little girls said in the middle of class, “Guapa! Eres muy guapa!” Which means, “Beautiful! You are very beautiful!” That’s enough to melt your heart! I’m looking forward to going back to that class, and all my others as well. It will be good to get back into my routine after the break.

With the 8-10 year olds, I let them draw after their written exam, because they couldn’t leave. It makes me feel good to know that they like me, at least most of the time! Often a few students stay after class to talk about what happened in their English class at school, or to tell me a story, or maybe where they’re going for the weekend. I really love how sweet they can be!

 

And I suppose for this year, that’s all I have! I’m heading to Barcelona tonight to celebrate New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja) and then spend the rest of my vacation doing touristy things. It will be nice to have that much time in Barcelona, and maybe a short trip to Andorra or France. We will see 🙂 Until then, I hope everyone has had a very wonderful Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year!

❤ Besos desde España a todos! ❤

 

 

My first football match (soccer game for the Americans)

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This was my first soccer game, in the Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou. It was awesome! It is interesting to see how the soccer fans go only to watch the action of the game. To them, the game itself is the entertainment. In America, the entertainment is the game, the halftime show, the band, the cheerleaders, the mascots, etc. Granted, American football games last about 3 times as long as the soccer games! Even though I don’t know a lot about soccer, I could see that Barcelona was an amazing team. I even wore the Barcelona scarf to show my support. They beat Levante (the underdog, of course) by 5-0. Which in soccer terms is a blowout. I enjoyed seeing all the fans and the way everyone screamed explicits at the referees and the players. I won’t list these words, but I’m sure you can take a guess as to what they were! Barcelona fans chant “Messi” (their star player) and taunt the other team. There’s even a song that the Barca supporters sing. The whole thing was awesome! I couldn’t believe all the people in the streets before and after the game. I’ve never seen that many people for a sporting event! No, not even an OU football game! Even after the game, there was a line to get into the metro. Not to get on the metro, to simply walk down the stairs and enter the metro, where you have to wait in line to get through the gates and then wait for a train. It was so crazy. All in all, it was a really cool experience! December 10 is the Real Madrid vs Barcelona match, and I plan on watching it with other Barcelona fans. This game is like Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State, only multiplied by 10! So, as the Barcelona fans say, Forca Barca!!