Europe, Spain

Spain: Week 1 Recap

Thursday, September 24

My first full day in Spain and recovering from an exhausting time getting the 3000 miles over here, I slept until around 5 PM. So much for adjusting to the new schedule as soon as possible. I certainly needed the sleep. Waking up and looking out the window during the day time, I was struck by the views of the city. I am currently staying in Poio, which is a town bordering the city of Pontevedra.

Next, I met my fellow Air BNB guest, Benjamin, who is also an auxiliar. He was in Spain last year, so he had some helpful information for me. Although, we are both new to the region of Galicia. It was a holiday today in Poio, so we walked over the bridge into Pontevedra city to get groceries.

This was about a 25 minute walk, and we were able to talk more about the aux program and what to expect in Spain. We got to the grocery store, and I immediately started learning from cultural things. For example, produce is primarily sold in its own store, although you can find a small selection in grocery stores. You are expected to wear gloves before touching any produce (even before COVID-19). We picked up a few staples, and then started heading back. On the way, we stopped for coffee at one of the Acuña cafeterías in Poio. I learned that pastries almost always come with coffee, and that it is customary for the person who invited the other out to coffee to cover the bill. Although, the cost of living (and wages) are quite low in Galicia, so a coffee with pastries is only about 1€.

Friday, September 25

Friday, I woke up and prepared to go downtown to get a local SIM chip and set-up my phone for use in Spain. As I was headed out, José, my Air BNB host, let me know that he and his wife were heading downtown, so he could bring me. First, I saw another beautiful view of the city, and then we were on our way.

We started in the Peregrina region, which is central in the city. There is a large church and a variety of old buildings and shops. José was happy to show me different buildings he has an association with from his decades living in the area. He helped translate while I was getting a SIM chip at Orange, which ended up being only being 15€ a month. Next, the more difficult process of getting a bank account set-up. This took a few hours and was a bit frustrating on all sides. There was difficulty because I don’t have an official residency card (TIE) yet, and it’s harder to get a bank account with just the visa number (NIE). But, getting a TIE can take weeks if not months, and having the bank account is necessary to start at the school. We were able to get it worked out and set up the account. I don’t totally understand it all and what I agreed to, but I tried! My Spanish is basic and certainly leaves a lot to be learned. Next, we went and enjoyed coffee and tea in the Peregrina square and talked more about life in Spain.

After we got back home, I took some time to rest, and then got back up around 7 PM to get some more groceries. Oh, and lest I forget, this is where I truly learned how brutal the hill of death would be. The road back up to José’s house is truly the steepest I’ve ever walked up, and it must be done in segments. But, it can be done! I got back home, and it was the end of a productive day.

Saturday, September 26

Saturday, I made some more progress towards getting on a new sleep schedule and got up around 11 AM (eventually trying to move back to 7 AM). I made breakfast and then got prepared to go to an apartment viewing downtown in Pontevedra city. This is an apartment that is shared by three other English teachers and borders Old Town on Rúa General Gutiérrez Mellado.

After the apartment viewing, I was already in the downtown city area, so I walked around and explored some. It was very rainy (which is normal climate for Galicia), plus it was siesta time, so there were not many people out. I walked through the Xardíns de Vincenti, which is a portion of a larger park nearby the apartment.

I walked back towards Poio, which requires walking over a large bridge that has beautiful views up the river.

After a nap, I got up to head back downtown to El Pasaje where a few other auxiliares were meeting up. After finding the place, I was a bit nervous with my limited Spanish and finding the right people and navigating the restaurant. It was a positive experience with the other auxes. They were 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years in the program, so they had a lot of insight into life in Spain.

This also taught me more things about culture and expectations in Spain, but even more so, it made it clear to me how much more there is to know and learn. I felt the heavy weight of everything there is to learn and being so conscious every moment of it I’m doing the right thing or wrong thing, or even potentially something disrespectful. I learned that it’s normal to spend hours and hours at a restaurant, and the waiter/waitress will rarely stop by the table. I still didn’t learn how you are supposed to get their attention or how you indicate when you’re ready to pay. After about four hours, my social capacity was reached, and I let them know I needed to leave so I could get groceries before closing time, as many places are closed on Sunday. In Spain, it’s not culturally acceptable to simply say, “I need to go home,” or “I’m not feeling up to it,” or “I’ve reached what I can handle for today,” in a way that we might encourage someone to self-advocate to do back in the US. So, it’s normal to come up with an excuse if you need a break from socializing.

Sunday, September 28

My main plan for today was to go to the large church in Peregrina, but given that my sleep schedule is still adjusting, I was not up and ready to go in time. Sunday tends to be a chill out and rest day here, so I took advantage of that. I enjoyed the morning views and then got some work done on the computer for things back home, like emails and a blog post for the sorority and some fundraising plans for suicide prevention month.

Throughout the day, my anxiety became pretty escalated, so I tried to amp up the self-care and just allow myself to do what felt most comfortable. I also reflected on some of the challenges from the night before and experiencing different parts of culture shock. Even small things that don’t seem like they’re “shock-worthy” are still slight changes that throw you off from what you’re familiar with and know how to manage. Enough of these stacked up definitely messes with your wellbeing and sense of stability.

I also started struggling more with the effects of COVID on this experience and life in general. This is something that started coming up more and more, and while it’s something I knew would be a part of life even over here, the reality and implications on day-to-day life were a bit unknown. The rest of the day was really focused on just getting through how severe the anxiety was and waiting for a new day. Sometimes, self-care isn’t pretty. It’s laying around doing deep breathing, coloring, listening to music, and praying for the feelings to subside.

Monday, September 29

I let myself sleep in again on Monday given a rough afternoon and night. I gave myself a few tasks to get started on. I had intended to call the foreigner’s office for a TIE appointment (will discuss later). I woke up too late for this as it was recommended to call at 10:00 right when they open. Instead, I researched what I needed for forms and photocopies for my TIE. This included things like a copy of every page of my passport, a tax form, and the residency card application. After this, I headed out and stopped at the Acuña coffee shop in Poio.

After this, I headed to Carrefour, which is a grocery store in the shopping center in Poio right before the bridge to get to Pontevedra. I continued to learn more interesting things about grocery shopping. For example, in terms of produce, you weigh it yourself in the produce section and attach a sticker that’s rung up during check-out. I also bought a mango which I love but have never attempted to prepare myself. Also, I spotted hot dogs in a jar. I was a fan of the hand sanitizer throughout the store, mandatory gloves when touching produce, and 100% mask compliance. I also stepped out of my comfort zone and figured out how to get a taxi back home as I had a lot of groceries and walking home and up the hill of death would’ve proven a bit difficult.

I talked a bit with my school coordinator at my center base school regarding my schedule there and plans for starting. I would be at the secondary school on Monday/Tuesday and the primary school on Wednesday/Thursday. I set goals for the next day to make progress on steps for the TIE and nail down transportation for my first day at the school on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 29

Today, I set out to be productive, especially given that I would be starting at my school in a few days. I went downtown to work on my TIE photocopies and then to my bank to the fee that I would have to give to the extranjero office. I was a bit rushed because things begin to close down around 1:30 PM and then stay closed until 4:30 or 5 PM. I was able to accomplish what I needed to and had some nice views along the way.

After that, I returned home and enjoyed the weather outside with my host, José, and his wife. We had Estrella Galicia Cerveza.

A few hours later, I got a message regarding another appointment viewing. I went back downtown to Pontevedra city and looked at that. It was a bit out of town and was a 5th floor apartment (no elevator) and approximately a 6×6 room. While it was a little bit cheaper and had more common spaces than the other apartment, it was clear it wasn’t a great fit. After this, I returned home. I uploaded some photos and compiled a blog post. I worked a bit on trying to get my overseas voter ballot sorted out but ran into some trouble. Of course, I wasn’t able to call the US as I have a local SIM chip, so this became a project for another day.

Wednesday, September 30

Today presented some stressors. While school is supposed to start tomorrow, the Xunta decided that all auxiliares would need to have a COVID-19 test. We had all registered for health notification when arriving in Galicia, but they informed our school coordinators we would all need to fill that form out again and then they would contact us to schedule testing. They also changed our schedule, so instead of going to two schools each week, we would go to one school for the first half of the year and then the other (to reduce potential transmission of illness).

The rest of the morning, I was talking back and forth with the coordinator at the school trying to navigate all the last minute details the Xunta had sent us. I filled out the health form again and got other information to the school that they needed. At this point, there wasn’t much else to do except wait for the government to get things rolling. It was clear I wouldn’t be starting as scheduled, but to no fault of anyone.

I spent some time working on the TIE forms that I had printed out, and then I watched a recording of the first 2020 presidential debate that had aired the day before (although it was around 3 AM local time). I don’t have much to say about this except…. oof. Even my host and random people in the city were talking about it.

Thursday, October 1

Today was a typical day in Galicia: gloomy and rainy and then sunny and windy and then repeat. I woke up to a glum day, but it’s somehow still a beautiful site looking over Poio and parts of Pontevedra.

Today, I unexpectedly and briskly was told that Benjamin and I would be going to the Poio city hill to get my empadronamiento with our host, José. This is the processing of registering with the city you live in and getting on the census record, among other things. It is required to get your TIE and was one of the last lengthier tasks that needed to be done on that to-do list. José drafted up leases for us (even though I won’t be staying here long-term) so that we could do this.

We got in his car and headed to where the office was. It wasn’t busy, and it went fairly quickly. We were in and out within 45 minutes. There were no English-speakers (which is common in most places I’ve been), but Benjamin has a higher Spanish proficiency than me, so he was able to help me out. With COVID protocol, only two people were allowed in the office so José had to wait outside. While waiting for the processing, we called the extranjero office because we now had all the forms needed to schedule the TIE appointment. After we finished this process and were able to leave with our provisional empadronamiento, the three of us went out to get coffee.

Next, José took us around the city showing us different things, and then we landed in Marín. This is where the Spanish Navy was settled, and it is the location of the military school: Escuela Naval Militar (Naval Military Academy) which is a training school for the Spanish Navy and Spanish Navy Marines. José is a veteran, so he is allowed to store his sailboat here.

He had made mention of taking us out on his boat, but it was nothing we had scheduled. Yet, we ended up on the base so he could show us around, and then we were at the boat! It was a brief boat ride, but it was a nice social experience. It’s also nice to see how much he enjoyed talking about his past career in the navy as well as sailing. These are also good language exchanges for José, Benjamin, and me, and it’s quite the Spanglish blend. We were both grateful for José taking the time to show us around different towns and experiences and introducing us to new people.

Friday, October 2

Today started off with coffee and then walking around downtown Pontevedra.

Given that I had nothing scheduled and had made as much progress as I could on the TIE, I wanted to do some exploring today. I settled on the Museo de Pontevedra. Like just about all museums in the region, it was free to enter. There was a small security screening and check-in, and then it was self-guided from there. There were only a handful of other people there, so following the social distancing guidelines was pretty easy.

The museum is actually six buildings, and I went to the sixth one, which is referred to as Sexto Edificio. This is one of the newer buildings, opened in 2013, and focuses on paintings and other art. The museum was opened to the public back in 1929 and has been operating since and adding new buildings, reaching the six that it is now. I did not totally understand all of this when the museum was being explained to me (language barrier coming in clutch), so I only visited the sixth building. I would like to visit some of the other buildings, as well as other Galician museums.

After I finished here, I decided to try out another new experience: going to a hair salon in another country. I found one that was open despite it being siesta time. The hairdresser’s English was low, as was my Spanish, but we tried our best to communicate. We were able to get the job done as intended. Nothing spectacular different than what you would experience in the United States. It was about $60 USD for a wash, long-length color, dry and style, and tip. This is about half of the US rate for the same thing. Granted, as I’ve mentioned earlier, cost of living is lower because wages are lower, so this is to be expected.

It was a pretty rainy day, so I got caught in multiple bursts of heavy downpour. The one positive, though, was an amazing rainbow while crossing the bridge back into Poio.

Saturday, October 3

Today’s must-do task was to get the remaining photocopies I still needed for the TIE appointment on Tuesday. My plan was to do them yesterday, but with all the rain, there was no good time to do it and feel confident they wouldn’t be soaked within the hour. Today being Saturday, many things close down early. I noticed it tended to be around 1:30 PM, which is when things would usually shut-down for siesta, but then they wouldn’t open back up. I left around 11 AM and went downtown to get the photocopies.

One realization I had was that I have a very distinct face I make while trying to understand and formulate sentences, which I had an amusing time trying to imitate.

Afterwards, I went to a new coffee shop in one of the central areas, which was a good experience. I’ve been sticking to the same two since I got here last week so this worked to get me out of my comfort zone and work on conversing with new people in a new place. It also helps to continue to learn cultural norms and ways of life.

After this, I decided to take the day to walk around and explore. I had a phone call with my friend, Erin, and just took random twists and turns during the time we were talking. Then, I found myself right near the river path, which I had been wanting to find. Poio and downtown Pontevedra is raised up at bridge level, so you have to get down to the river path level if you want to explore that. This goes for miles and miles, and I just started walking. I then decided I’d go to Parque de Familia e Illa das Esculturas (Galician for Family Park and Sculpture Island).

Walking along the river path was better than the actual park, particularly for all the different bridges and stumbling through a small market that pops up every Saturday. One thing I did enjoy a lot was a bridge that was essentially a small replica of a well-recognized bridge in Boston. Once I got to the park, I wasn’t totally sure how the trails were organized, and I was ready to head back. So I only spent a brief period of time on the actual island. It’s certainly a place that could be explored more in depth.

I started the trek back to Poio, which ended up being pretty brutal. Mostly because it stopped being pedestrian-friendly, and I had to walk on some less-than-safe roads to cross over into Poio. Next time, I’ll stay on the other side of the bridge and go back into downtown Pontevedra and then cross over. It was a bit overwhelming, but I navigated it and got back. I was pretty exhausted given hours of walking, so I took it easy and rested for the evening.

Sunday, October 4

Nothing excited to report for Sunday. I worked on some travel posts and a few other computer tasks and took it as a day for rest. Then, tomorrow will start the second full week in Spain!

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