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Hola amigos, I’m pintxo de tortilla, an English Language Assistant placed in the north of Spain. Unlike my fellow bloggers, I haven’t left the comfort zone of Western culture, so my experiences will likely vary enormously from what they see and feel. Now, I’m no spring chicken to the English Language Assistant work. I was in the same region last year, albeit at a different school. I genuinely adore the work and find nothing better than the “Oh my goodness, I get it!”-face you (occasionally) see made by a student. I will be in a small, coastal, fishing town this year working at a local middle/highschool. Where I’ll be living remains undetermined and will depend on a number of factors.

So how does it feel? Last year at this time, I was terrified. I was packing and preparing lesson plans like a fiend. I was enormously scared to think that soon I would be off to a country and continent that I had no experience in, and that I’d be there for a year. This year, I’m far more relaxed. I know exactly what I’ve gotten myself into, and the only thing stressing me out is the thought of renewing my government documentation. Why? Oh my. Bureaucracy in Spain is a trip. “Three copies of this page, two of that, ten of this, three mini-photos of an unspecified nature on a pink background, preferably taken upside down by a eunuch from Tajikistan. Oh, and please pay $1.67 at the bank of your choice and return as soon as possible with twelve signatures, one from the mayor and one from the prime minister.” This MIGHT be a slight exaggeration, but I’ll tell you – only slight. As long as you bring a good book, a positive attitude, and a strong grasp of Castillian Spanish, things get done. (Eventually.) I’ve given myself ten days to renew my identification. Let’s pray that it works out.

So what was my experience like last year? I spent the first half of the year finding my feet. While I had worked in classroom settings before, I had never received any formal feedback and thus was unsure about what to do. I jumped in head first, and was thrown back out of the water with confused looks from the students, and a “you talk far too fast!” from my co-teachers. Ok, try two. Try two went better. A few “bombs” of lesson plans, but the students got accustomed to me and I started to learn how they were learning. By the end of Christmas break, I was finding my feet. Decent lesson plans combined with silly gesticulations and acting out concepts seemed to get through to the students – thank goodness I have no shame! By the end of the year, I had it figured out; no ska songs as cultural/vocabulary lessons because the kids look at you wierd, and there’s only two kids in the class who like anything that’s not pop. “Pick on” the troublemakers and they’ll begin to pay attention and… *gasp*… contribute in class! I could spend all day talking about the things I learned as a teacher, but I’m sure many of you aren’t so keen on the classroom experience.

What about culture? Holy cow. It took a bit to get used to. I went to Spain armed with a largely Mexican/South American Spanish, a Spanish that is neither widely understood nor widely respected in Spain. I was lost the first few weeks, trapped by my own vocabulary and terror. Trying to find an apartment was a nightmare. I hardly understood folks on the street, how on EARTH was I going to understand them on the phone? Thankfully, I was lucky enough to stumble across a roommate (re-)named “O” who was kind enough to deal with my terrible Spanish and show me the apartment anyhow. I ended up living on the outskirts of town, a five-minute walk from the beach, with a Spanish masters student and a British girl in the same program as me. I made friends with a number of the British, Scottish, and Irish program participants, largely because I met them before I met any other Americans. Our English-speaking group of comrades provided a sort of linguistic and cultural comfort zone to fall back on and to party with on the weekends. For the first few months I was in Spain, I didn’t really do much with the Spanish, afraid to depart from my comfort zone. Thankfully, I threw myself face-first into Spanish culture around Christmas time and haven’t looked back since. Was it difficult? Yes. Do I always know what I’m eating? No. Do I mess up verb conjugations and say shocking things on accident? Of course. However, it’s been a great experience so far, and I’m looking forward to next year’s adventure!

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