Europe, Spain

Spain: Week 3-4 Recap

Fiesta Nacional de España

Monday, October 12, is an annual holiday in all of Spain referred to as Fiesta Nacional de España. It commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. Back in the United States, Columbus Day is being phased out and replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day in many cities and states. Here is Spain, his discovery and life is still commemorated, and the holiday and its festivals can be traced back to 1935 in Madrid. Since 2000, there has been a large military parade that includes many key government members and authorities. This is typically held in Madrid, and there are smaller festivities and parades in other areas of Spain. This year, festivities were cancelled due to COVID-19. The only big difference between today and another day is that everything was closed, and I had one more day off before starting at the school on Tuesday.

While I do not celebrate Columbus and was somewhat saddened to see more festivities commemorating him, this is an important part of Spanish culture. This is something I would’ve liked to experience as it’s typically held, complete with parades, festivities, speeches, and so forth. COVID-19 certainly makes this experience more difficult and takes away from some of the more genuine cultural experiences I could be having. I try not to focus on these and rather focus on everything that I am experiencing and what I have on my “to-see and to-do list” versus ruminating on all the things I can’t see or do.

Reflecting on My First Two Weeks as an Aux

Arriving at my school on the first day was pretty intimidating. I have no real teaching experience and am very new in the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) field. Nonetheless, I arrived at 8:30 AM on Tuesday to get oriented and dive right in to classes. My school is located in Campo Lameiro, about a 30 minute drive from Pontevedra city. The school is small with only 60 or so students. It’s a CEIP which means Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria. The children are ages 3-11. My school during the second half of the year will be at a high school, which is a Instituto de Educación Secundaria (IES).

The first things I observed and was told about were new COVID-19 protocols. Many of these are similar to the US, such as students wearing masks, distancing, and no shared classroom items. I will cover this in another post and go more in-depth about what teaching in the time of COVID-19 looks like.

To start off my first day, I had a double block in the infantiles classrooms, which is students ages 3-5. At this level, we are working solely on simple things like numbers, greetings, colors, and routines (“wash your hands”). This was difficult because I cannot speak Spanish to the students (although I have slipped a few clarifying words in there when I can tell they are completely lost with me speaking to them in English). They are also learning two languages already: Castellano and Galego (Spanish and Galician). Primary language acquisition is still low at this age, so the goals and expectations of English classes are very low and are mostly around getting them comfortable hearing the language and learning a few words and supporting their general language development.

In the afternoon, I had a physical education class, which I attend three days a week. It is important that kids are exposed to English and practice using it in real-life settings and not just in an English language classroom. My first week, I mostly only observed and helped with pronunciation and vocabulary when requested. My most memorable moment of my second day was tripping over a curb at my way to the physical education class and face-planting into the pavement. An entire class of students saw me, and I scraped up my knee and elbow pretty bad. My mindset was, “It can only go up from here.”

The second day, I also tried out the coffee shop across from the school, Mipa. This is where most of the teachers go for the mid-day break. I was understandably nervous throughout the week in a new school, new country, new profession, and new language. There’s about a dozen teachers and only three speak English. While this is good practice for me, my Spanish is still low and communication can be hard. This is especially challenging when they are trying to ask me to do something in the classroom, and I don’t quite understand. Listening during meetings and socializing during the mid-day break is hard because they can speak very fast. The students have a hard time understanding me, even with very basic English, so it feels a bit isolating going through my day not being able to understand or be understood. I worked on reconciling that and practicing when I could and just listening even if I didn’t understand. One thing that has been helpful is listening carefully during the infantil classes as the grammar and vocabulary to the young children is simple and slow. This has helped me understand things in context, infer word meaning, and pick up on language structure.

My schedule is Monday-Thursday, and the first few days, we were still tweaking my schedule. By the end of my week, we had it set.

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursday
9-9:505th/6th English
9:50-10:40Infantil3rd/4th PE5th/6th Math
10:40-11:30InfantilInfantilInfantil1st/2nd English
11:30-12:30
12:20-13:101st/2nd PE3rd/4th Science3rd/4th English1st/2nd Arts+Crafts
13:10-14:00 1st/2nd Science5th/6th PE5th/6th Art3rd/4th Arts+Crafts

During my second week, I had my first opportunity to plan and execute my own lesson in the arts and crafts class for 3rd/4th and 5th/6th. All classes at this school are combined due to low numbers. This affects some classes more than others, like math and science, where the students are often given different assignments. My activity for the craft was Halloween and parts of the body. For the older students, we worked on detailed parts of the face and then made a paper jack-o-lantern pumpkin. For the younger students, we did less in-depth parts of the body and made skeletons. They were simple lessons and did not need to be as in-depth grammatically as it was more meant to be English infused into an everyday class and activity. As an auxiliar, I am an assistant rather than the primary teacher. This means that, in theory, I will assist in most classes and develop lessons for a few. Some auxes have been stuck developing and teaching all classes, which is above the expectations and experience required for the position.

Fin de Semana

Fin de Semana means weekend (“end of week”) and is often colloquially shortened to finde. My finde after my first week of school included a few firsts. I mailed my first piece of mail and went to the post office for the first time. I sent back my ballot to the US for the 2020 presidential election. Although, this was certainly not my first time voting! On my walk home, I spent some time talking with my family, and it was nice that we were all available at the same time. My brother lives in a different state, so since he started college back in 2017, the four of being together in-person has become more and more limited.

After I dropped off the ballot and caught up with my family, I took some leisurely time walking around the center district and old town area of Pontevedra. There are some beautiful sites, and I will write more in-depth about some of them in a later post.

I also did laundry for the first time. This had been an intimidating task as laundry is slightly different here. You air-dry your clothes, and as such, must plan around the weather and humidity. You also do much smaller loads of laundry because space is limited for drying. You can either dry outside on a line or use a clothes drying rack outside or inside. The kind they use here are different than the main ones used in the US. It folds out and you hang clothes on the individual bars. It’s not towered but rather lays out flat. I will say I was a bit irritated navigating this process and also having to be much more patient waiting for clothes to dry. It took about two days for this load to dry. It could’ve been worse if the humidity was higher.

After getting laundry out of the way, I had gotten a text from another aux about going out for drinks. We met up in Peregina at one of the gardens and then walked over to a row of restaurants and stopped at Pintxo Viño, a tapería and cerveceria. This is where I discovered two things. First, that a famous dish in Galicia is tosta con pulpo y tetilla. This is essentially toast with octopus tentacles and cheese on it. Now, as much as I wanted to try this, I really couldn’t. I am a pescatarian, so I do eat fish on occasion. It’s rare especially with any seafood that is prepared in a way that still looks like it’s live form. My state is famous for lobster, and I can’t bring myself to eat it. The friend I was with, Audrey, is a fan of it and ordered it. I decided this would need to be an adventure for another day (or never), but I did discover a common drink in the area: tinto de verano. This translates to “summer wine” and as its name would indicate, is popular in the summer. It is similar to a sangria but slightly different. It’s red wine mixed with equal parts of gaseosa (which is like 7Up or Sprite). I really enjoyed this, and it will be a go-to drink. I had originally tried to order a vodka cranberry, but based on the expression I received in response, I’m not entirely convinced that drink even exists here.

Enjoying Pontevedra more at night was great. Spanish is a very late-night country. Shops, restaurants, bars, and so forth are all more lively at night, even during COVID. Many places have good safety measures in place, and I make an active effort to choose those places when possible. After settling back in for the night, I completed the series Friends (for the second time), which I had started during my first week here. If that gives you any indication of how much time I’ve been stuck inside due to the pandemic, I don’t know what does!

On Sunday (October 18), I headed down to Acuña for a late morning cup of coffee and met up with Whitney, Corrine, and Morven again.

We had walked up to A Caeira the previous weekend and wanted to take a walk down to some of the Poio beaches. We checked out a few of the same beaches that I had with two of the other auxes, Monica and Isabelle, earlier in the month. We settled at Playa Cabeceira and enjoyed the water and the weather.

After our walk and time at the beach, we walked back to center Pontevedra in Peregrina to have frozen yogurt at a place called Smöoy. We wrapped up for the night, and then I walked back to Poio and enjoyed views of the sunset as I crossed the bridge!

After my second week of school, I had a relatively lax weekend. On Friday the 22nd, I paid my deposit for my new apartment that I’ll be moving into in November, and I finally got my debit card. Then, I met up with someone I had met in my aux group named Kelsie. She’s lived in Pontevedra for a long time, so I got some helpful insight on the area. We met up for coffee at a new place that I hadn’t been to before, and then we walked around the river for a few hours. There is a bridge called the Puente de los Tirantes which reminds me of the Zakim Bridge in Boston. This felt like a small piece of something familiar to hold to while I’m adjusting to a new way of a life in a new place with new people and in a pandemic to boot.

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