This experience I have had has definitely made me look at the education system of the U.S. a little differently. In Spain, the teachers and students were so openly affectionate with each other, that at first it made me a little nervous. I am so used to being told to not even go near the students that I wasn’t sure how to handle students and teachers alike coming up and giving me hugs and kisses almost every day. The disciplinary system in the school I was placed in was very different, considering I never really saw much discipline other than a small chastising here and there; but despite this, the students still had such incredible respect for their teachers. It is just so interesting being able to compare the two systems and being able to see how things are similar and different and trying to understand how they are similar and different.
One piece of advice that I would give anyone going abroad is that you should expect the unexpected. Before going to Spain, I was sure that I was one of the most flexible and easy going people ever. When I arrived in Spain and was put into a completely different culture and knew almost nothing, I realized that that may not have been the case. I was expecting everything to go according to plan, and it did not. The first week was incredibly tough for me because of this, but after I started to become used to everything and seeing how flexible everyone I was around was, then things became easier to handle. Another piece of advice that I would give is to talk to EVERYONE that you can. Don’t keep to yourself. Talk to people, learn about their lives and experiences. It will definitely help when you may feel like you’re all alone in a new place. Make new friends in whatever place you go to study, because they will help so much when you are trying to become accustomed to a new culture.
So before coming to Spain, I had a few goals that I wanted to attempt to meet. 1.) Learn more Spanish. 2.) Be able to teach at least one class/lesson. So far, number one has slowly started to come along. I know more Spanish now than I did when I first came here, so that’s a plus. Number two has happened multiple times, which has been a major relief. After the first time of me walking into the classroom and being expected to teach, I’ve communicated with my mentor teachers more often to decide what I would be teaching and then planning a week in advance. It has helped me to be less stressed than I originally was. Last week, I taught multiple lessons, and although it was a bit difficult at times (with me not knowing Spanish) some of my mentor teachers helped me by translating some of the things I said so that my students could understand me. Some lessons went better than others, but that’s to be expected. Nothing’s ever perfect. It’s been a huge relief to have a host family that is willing to help me with a lot of things in regards to settling down in the city, as well as having teachers at my school to help me. Some of the teachers that can speak English have helped me communicate with my other teachers that only speak Spanish and it has definitely helped ease the weight I felt like I had on my shoulders. These teachers have also helped me learn about my students and have given me insight on what activities the students like to do, so I’ve tried to incorporate those into my lessons as well. I’m feeling more and more comfortable as time goes on, despite it already being the 4th week. Better late than never, right?
So this past weekend my host family took me mushroom hunting in a city called Taboadela. It’s exactly what it sounds like. We went into woods to search for mushrooms on the ground. I don’t normally like going into the woods, and I definitely don’t search for mushrooms ever, but, it was a surprisingly fun experience. We even turned it into a game of seeing who could find the most mushrooms- it’s not as easy as you may think it is, either. The mushrooms we were looking were called Boletus. They have a brown top, so they blended in really well the the fallen leaves and dirt around the trees. In terms of the game, I managed to find three mushrooms, the two daughters of my host family find three each as well, and the parents got a ton more than three (I honestly don’t remember the amount but we had an entire crate full by the time we were done). Going into the woods and searching for mushrooms is evidently something that a lot of families do to save themselves from having to buy them in a shop. This way they are fresher as well. The mother of my host family then used the mushrooms and other fresh vegetables. It was literally one of the best soups I have ever had, I think. You could literally taste the freshness in each spoonful.
Today, I had the chance to actually teach my first lesson (Woo!). It was nerve wracking, especially since I didn’t know I was teaching until I walked into the classroom and was standing right in front of my students. It made me realize how much I missed one thing that I used to despise doing because of how much time it took: Planning. At the elementary school I am at here in Spain, there is no communication and not a lot of planning, especially planning done before the week or even the day before. I am actively having to seek out teachers to ask them what the lessons are for the day. It’s stressful, to say the least. I thought it was just something from my first week of being there, but nope. It has bled into the second week. Going into the classroom and immediately being told to teach for the day felt like I assume what standing on a stage in front of thousands of people with nothing but your underwear on would feel like. I don’t want to go through that again. So I just know that I need to be the one that goes to my mentor teachers, instead of expecting them to come to me. Hopefully as the week progresses, I’ll be able to get more information out of my teachers and actively help them plan beforehand.
So, my first week in Spain is over! I can’t say it has been completely easy, but I am easing into things now. There are definitely some differences in culture here that I’m having to adjust to. One thing is that everyone here is incredibly laid back. There’s no specific time to start things and everyone just seems to take their time – when they are walking, at least; driving is a completely different story. I am terrified to walk across the street if there are any cars around. Everyone is fast pace in their cars; speeding to catch lights or flying around corners at high speeds. It reminds me a bit of the highways in California, except it’s in the center of the city where a lot of people are. I have to be careful to only cross when I have the light or I am seriously risking getting hit or being yelled at. Outside of driving, everyone is super friendly. Receiving and giving kisses (on both cheeks) was something that was new to me, but it is a common greeting here. Initially, I was completely stiff when I was pulled in for the obligatory kiss and hug. After learning about it, it became easier to greet others the same way.
In regards to my school placement, I’m really enjoying it. At first I felt a little overwhelmed because of the language barrier, but everyone there has helped me feel so much comfortable. The teachers are all incredibly helpful and are quick to try to speak English for me when they try to explain things. Even my students attempt to help. But, I’ve been more focused on learning Spanish more-so than trying to have everyone speak English to me. I’ve started to pick up on a lot of Spanish in just this past week, which has been helpful in helping me get around and, obviously, with communication. This week was dedicated to my students getting used to me more than anything, so I haven’t really had the chance to see them interact with their teachers. Hopefully I’ll see more next week.