Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First week of School

Well, it is now Tuesday, September 21st. Today marks the 3rd week I have been in Europe... it seems as if though I have been here for ages though... crazy! I am writing this from my classroom as the mist continues to move through the mountains above me. Everyday I get to drive to me school with the bus and marvel at the beauty around me, all the meanwhile, everyone tells me that this is nothing, that just wait until winter. To me this is gloriously beautiful and herald's the wonder of God's creation.
Corner, wonder, going, still, make, move... these are all words that about half my students have no idea what they mean. hmmm... Teaching a foreign language IN that foreign language is pretty darn tough when words like this are not understand by good chunks of the group. The difference between my levels is extraordinary, 3rd years (which are equivalent of 14/15 years) are vastly less knowledgeable than their 4th year compatriots. Also, what is incredible that within the same class of 24 which we have split into 2, one group of 12 might have a fairly impressive level of English while their classmates perform far worse.  It really amazes me the difference in levels. This, of course, is not intellectually new news to anyone but to see this in the classroom has been quite incredible to me. Obviously, for those of you who are teachers or who have taught before this will come to no surprise. My first week has taught me two things quickly: 1) lesson planning takes far longer than the lesson itself, and it takes a lot of creativity to try to think of interesting things every class, 2) kids may be about the same age but they act ridiculously different and one leader can change the atmosphere of a class completely.  Mondays I have 5 hours of teaching starting at 8:30 am. three in a row in the morning, and then 2 in the afternoon. Classes are 1 hour long so the poor things really have to slough it out. by the time the 4 pm hour begins, the poor kids are dying to get out-honestly, so are the teachers! haha. It also works out that what is renowned as the toughest single class in the school are my 3 and 4 pm hour classes on Monday. Great... everyone loves that kind of start to the week, right?! Anyway, they are definitely full of energy, one student has already been thrown out of class-literally ejected-3 times in 7 days, and there are about two other troublemaker kids who are super energetic. Mostly though, these kids are bad, or violent, or anything like that but rather they are just middle school kids with tons of energy. Taming their habits of hitting eachother with everything from their hands to their pencils to pieces of paper seems to be taking some time but... hopefully we'll get through that. Also, flipping the bird is apparently an ingrained portion of a 14 year old Andorran culture but again, we are workign through that. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have 3 classes and an hour-long meeting, while Wednesday I only have one class and a long meeting 1-2 hours and best of all Friday, just one class! :-)
One thing that has been my saving grace so far is a very supportive English department and even more than that, a supportive teaching staff. I am blessed to just have great teachers who are working hard, care about the quality of their work, not so they can get their pay and go home but because they really love their jobs. I am very, very pleased with that. In particular, a fellow newby to Andorra whose name is Cesar (pronounced Thesar) has been keen to make sure things are going well with me, that I don't have any questions and he has always made it clear that he want to help when he can. He taught for 3 years in the US and they were also his first years of teaching so he can empathize with me. He also was kind enough to give me a ride back from Barcelona on Sunday.
So, school is going well, life is not all about school although I do work hard to do the best I can and I think so far people are pleased with my efforts. I am also tutoring, right now I am only going to tutor two people, although I have about 8 people have asked me if I can tutor them! but they all want, obviously, to do it in the evening and I would like to a) have a life and b) I have other things to do in the evenings. Mondays will consist of this. School from 8:30 to 5 pm. I leave for school about 7:15ish to get to school by about 8 so I can set up the class before my 8:30 class. We have to clean up our rooms everyday so it takes a couple minutes to resettle everything everyday. Then, at 7 I have catalan lessons in Escaldes (near Andorra la Vella where I live). After Catalan ends at 8:30, twice a month I have language dinner where we take turns speaking in different languages. Tuesday I have class from 8:30-5 but I have a nice big afternoon break so I can do lesson-planning and blog-writing! :-) Then at 5, I have the school choir practice from 5 to 6. Then I head out immediately to get to St. Julia which is about 20 minutes from Andorra la Vella and 40 minutes from my school in order to tutor one particular kid. then it's soccer practice at 9 pm in the same town so I'll just leave the kids' place and walk to the stadium where my team, FC Lusitanos, plays. Wednesday morning I don't have morning classes! :-) woohoo! so it's a good day for getting things done at the apartment or in town. Thursday is like Tuesday but so far I have nothing in the evenings-this may change with a tutoring session but right now it's clear and I think it's likely to stay clear. Friday I only have one lonely class so the morning I can again get here early and try to get my next week's classes started. In the early evening I may end up having one tutoring session because there are two kids at once that really want to get tutored and I may end up just saying yes... even though it's Friday.  The weekend so far is blissfully unbusy. I am still trying to track down church in a language that I understand but there's always mass in Catalan so that's all right.
I started playing soccer with these guys last week like I told you and it was all right but unfortunately on Friday I rolled my ankle pretty badly and am out for about 2 weeks.  I was also told that I won't be able to play in any games until at least January because the season has started so they can't sign new players. BUT, I can practice and then if I do well, and I want, I can sign a contract in December. The prospect of all this is fun, all the players except a small handful of Spanish, are Portuguese so I am inundated with that language too, although with my loss of language and their different accent, I'm often missing large chunks of what is going on.
This past weekend, I had wonderful honor and privelege of having Shelly Slemp visit me from Sudan which was truly awesome. Because of another trip she had to make she was only able to be here for 3 full days plus Thursday night but we made it count! :-) We went hiking, went to Caldea-which is a big spa here-, walked around all over, showed her my school, and she got to sleep in our new apartment the same night that we did! :-) Sunday we went to Barcelona and enjoyed some time in Parc Guell-truly a cool place if you ever get a chance to go, and then the Sagrada Familia which is an impressive place. Some say that they don't like the architecture or the church itself that much but I thought it was a very neat church. My friend and coteacher Thesar has an apartment which actually overlooks Sagrada Familia which is super tight. Anyway, he was in Barcelona this past weekend as well so he was very kind and drove me back that night at about 8:30 while Shelly stayed in a hostel we had found earlier. In short, she and I had a wonderful weekend with plenty of time to talk, catch up, and discuss all sorts of things-very fun! :-) Because I have not really had a chance to explore Andorra I knew very little but by the next time someone comes visit me (allison) I should have a slightly better handle on things! :-)
Okay, I should go, eat, and then maybe actually work. Tuesday afternoon is nice because Monday is by far and away my toughest day with my toughest kids so I can feel a lot more relaxed. I will put a couple photos up so you can see what things look like.
Peace and Love from the Principality

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Orientation in Madrid and first week

Funny Youtube about Andorra
Here I find myself, Sunday morning on my first weekend in Andorra. It is sunny and beautiful outside, having slept a wonderful nine hours and feeling much more rested. Wheww... Where to begin on catching you guys up.
Last Saturday (4th) we went to Madrid to have orientation with the Spanish fulbrights and it was a truly rewarding experience.It is truly humbling to meet this many people my ages who are doing/have done such impressive things: one is working in Spain's version of NASA, another in genetics, a ton who are teaching but who dream of doing a plethora of different things. Very impressive indeed. We got to Madrid on Saturday late morning, ate some food and then took the mandatory siesta. That evening we walked around in the area we were staying (Colegio Mayor) which is in the university town. It was the first week of school so we got the fortune of getting to watch spanish students getting hazed which they call Noveltat (spelling?). At every meal a few poor dudes would have to get up, sing or do something silly like that. Saturday night we went out dancing and I live in awe of the Spanish propensity for late nights and partying. Returning happy but tired at 5:15 the streets were alive and bustling with people continuing the party on. Whew... I gave my best attempt at Salsa-granted, not all that good... and a ton of other random dances. it was a good time. Sunday was pretty relaxing with a foray into town to explore the park and Placa de Sol again. Really, Monday and Tuesday followed suit so life was pretty good and relaxing. Most of the work sessions during the day were not terrifically helpful to us because they were about the Spanish teaching Assistant's experience which is very different from ours. They work 4 days a week, do not do any teaching themselves-just teaching aides and they teach all subjects. Quite different... I would lie was I to not say that I was a bit jealous but at the same time we of the Andorran delegation were very distinct and proud to be together. I really appreciate our group even more when I saw that all the other groups are so young and not experienced. I am so lucky to have good, experienced folks with me. Meeting everyone was great and I also found three other people who are Christian and are actively pursuing their faith. It is always encouraging to know that people who seek the same Christ are having a similar experience and have someone to share things with. Oh, also, I got to watch Flemenco dancing which was really neat
We came back from Madrid on Wednesday and basically ate and then went to sleep. Amanda started getting sick on Wednesday and has been down and out since. Unfortunately, both Antonio and I woke up this morning with sore throats so we are afraid that we are going down too... ugh. Thursday I went to school after going to the immigration office in the morning. Life started out exciting with a stolen wallet and I got to join two other teachers searching bags for the wallet. Luckily, we did indeed find it which was really good since it was a first year's (about 6th/7th grade) and it was his first year in this middle school. Then in the afternoon I worked on my first class lesson planning, organizing rules, figuring out how I want to arrange my classroom, testing out all the tech. equipment, and just basically settling into my classroom. Then to cap it off I went and got a cafe solo (black espresso) with a couple of the teachers. Between mangled attempts at Spanish with a few words of Catalan and French and English I usually get my thoughts across. I start Catalan classes on Monday though which will hopefully help me differentiate between Catalan words and Spanish words! Later today I also start with my first tutoring.
Right now I have five people who would like to be tutored... honestly I don't know if I can actually do that but I have got one signed on right now, and I'm going to call two others this week and look at times. Right now it's hard because everyone wants to be tutored in the evening but 3 times a week I teach till 5 so by the time I can get back into town it's 5:30 or so at least so I can only do so much. On Mondays I have Catalan lessons in the evening already so that's going to be hard to pack much more in on top of a busy 5 classes of teaching. Also, this first week and next week has been/will be challenging because we are looking for apartments which takes a lot of time. I spent about 4+ hours last week walking, talking to real estate people, looking in the newspapers, and finally visiting apartments. We were hoping to get an apartment with some other people but that seems like it's not going to happen. First of all, it's practically impossible to find apts which are looking for 2 people, secondly, it's hard to find people willing for us to live there for 9 months and finally we don't particularly want to live alone. That's the one bummer here, there are not the number of young people like bigger cities in Spain so it's hard to find people wanting roommates. While our apart-hotel is really nice, I am eager to move out and settle into an apartment which has shelves etc. that I can really unpack and feel a bit "at home". Anyway, once all that gets settled life will be a bit easier to handle and schedules will be a bit more sure. Oh, also, I almost forgot, this Tuesday I am trying out with a football club called Lusitanos. Believe it or not, there are actually two divisions of football in Andorra. To be honest, I'm not sure which one I'm trying out for. I believe all but two of the people who play for this team are Portuguese so... it will be an interesting spin on life in Andorra. Portuguese in Andorra are all immigrants who mostly came in for construction or other related work so they have a definite blue collar rough and tumble image. Anyway, we will see how that goes, if I make it and then if I do, when practices are. But I am hoping that by next weekend to have an idea of what my routines may be like.
Which reminds me, another exciting thing is happening this week. Shelly Slemp is going to come visit me, unfortunately only for a couple days but still very excited. She comes into Andorra late Thursday and will only be able to stay until Sunday night but, heck, I'm still super pumped! :-) I dunno what we'll do yet, we may go to Barcelona Sunday to the Sagrada Familia or something other like that. Really, I have no idea! haha, there much to explore in Andorra because I really haven't done anything so we may just stick here. we'll see what's most desired. But, super pumped. Okay, I need to go now and eat before meeting the 1st person that I am going to tutor. I appreciate your thoughts this week as Monday I start with 1 of 5 classes at 8:30 am which just means that I have to get the kids and do some extra paperwork so increases the chances of me being flustered.
Peace and Love from the Principality

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In the Principality

Hello everyone,
I made it! I got the last boarding call in Chicago, but still made it just fine to Zurich which is a delightful airport. The flight to Barcelona occurred without incident, I got to Barcelona at 2 o'clock, then got the Novatel bus direct to Andorra. This bus held about 20 people, and was about 1/3 full. The nice thing about this bus service is that they drop you at your hotel if you ask them, which is nice, especially when you have luggage. The bag that Jane gave me was super handy because it meant that I could carry two bags on me and just have one to drag along. Anyone who has seen me travel knows that there are always shoes and random things hanging off my bag so, reducing the awkwardness is nice! I walked into my 502 room of El Serch Hotel and was greeted by all four of my fellow fulbrighters which was super nice. Antonio Mendez is my roomate, heralding from NYC from Dominican stock, he went to Colby, then did one year of Teach For America before working for a non-profit called the Posse Foundation. He's the closest in age to me! So far, we are proving to be good roommates. Thongdam is the next, her parents were/are Laotian and she is from the San Francisco Bay area. She went to Berkley, then taught in Oakland for a couple years before working for some sort of academic counseling type thing-I think through her university and most recently a masters in Education from Michigan. Frieda is the next, Frieda is from southern California and also a Berkley grad, did some teaching and then to be honest, I can't remember if she has told me what she did after that... I will have to ask! Amanda is the final member of our cohort. She is from southwestern New York, super out-going which is great because she already knew people by the time we arrived cause she got here early.
Almost immediately, we went to the apartment of some people she had met, an Italian, an Irish dude, a Cuban girl, a guy from Barcelona, a girl from Barcelona and later a guy from Andorra (rare to meet them!) joined us. We went to a lovely dinner-I had a pizza with a tasty crust for 7.50. with extremely sweet sangria and some sort of liquor shots gracies a al casa. The liquor was like anis-liquorice from france but with almost a mint flavor to them. After dinner, we went to a Caribbean club and I attempted to dance despite a) being bad at dancing and b) being super tired! It was fun despite my feeble attempts. Antonio is an impressive dancer so maybe he'll give me some pointers and also... my first impression of cubans was that they are unbelievable dancers-at least if Illena is any example! It was definitely a good time but going to sleep at 2:30 was pretty rough after flying and a summer of getting used to earlier bedtimes. Wow! Spanish... portuguese, French, efforts at Catalan, everything was coming out! haha, the people we met laughed because I just put everything I knew together and hoped. Antonio, Amanda, Frieda, and Thongdam all speak perfect Spanish. When I arrived at the hotel, they were all speaking in Spanish and I was like... oh wow! I'm going to definitely learn some spanish. I feel so lucky because we seem to all get along and are all really excited for this next year.
Okay, this is getting longer than I was planning to write but so far: what have we done? we have gotten lots of paperwork done, started other processes, siestad, and gotten to talk to Jordi Llombart who was/is the contact most directly involved with out lives. We toured around Andorra la Vella and Escaldes-Engordany (really the same town), visited a gym which I think I'll join-95 euros for the whole year! which has a super nice pool, work-out facility and most awesome, a jacuzzi! I also went on a lovely walk around the parish, went to mass where I understood next to nothing but did enjoy a chance to pray and chill.
Jordi is super great, friendly and just a real blessing. Today we learned a bit more about our school and tomorrow we are going to our schools to meet our principals and teachers. We learned that we actually start teaching next Thursday, the day we get back from Madrid, so I may be doing some lesson planning on the train there and back! yikes! I was glad to hear from Jordi that the teachers at my school are overall young, excited, and friendly-plus helpful. This is exciting as it sounds like my students are definitely challenging, ages 13-16 and likely to definitely test limits it sounds like. I am up for a challenge though and I have some great resource people to fall back on. Nothing so far on apartments, we are still looking around, looking for apartments and people who need roommates. we'll see what happens but I trust it will be good. right now we are leaning to try to live 2 or 3 of us together. We'll see what happens, location will definitely play a part as will the places we can find of course. Okay, I'm going to go to bed super early tonight in an attempt to counteract nights of bad sleep. I may try to read a bit, I am wading into the Confessions of St. Augustine which should be a great time. Oh, one other thing, today we got to meet the Foreign minister, secretary of state and director of national affairs (or something like that). Anyway, thought I'd put the link up here in case anyone wants to test their Catalan! Apparently we will be on tv and in the newspaper tomorrow but, I think I'll probably miss the tv thing at least cause I don't really watch it. http://www.govern.ad/?p=9637
Tomorrow will be a high of 75 degrees, low tonight of 45, sunny skies, lots of traffic like always, stores everywhere, gorgeous mountains towering us, foreign languages-but especially spanish and catalan swirling around in the air, first experience with school and teacher, maybe a trip to the resource center, hopefully a trip to the Football Federation of Andorra to inquire about soccer opportunities, and at 6:30 a friendly soccer game between Andorra and Russia at the stadium. Here in Andorra, rugby and basketball are more popular then football but, I'm still excited to watch and hopefully get involved. Saturday morning at 6 am, we depart for Madrid for orientation with the Spanish students so if anyone knows someone going there holler at me! :-)

Peace and love!