Another New Start in Barcelona

So what’s going on in Catalonia? Well to begin, I had a month there where I wasn’t writing because I was going through some major transitions. Apart from my visa renewal being denied, I had to move out of my flat, five of my friends here had to leave Barcelona within a week of each other, and then I had to take on everything else in life: work, finding a new flat, massive amounts of graduate school work, and still being able to go out and see my friends (the ones that remain here that is). Continue reading

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A new definition of home

This weekend I took a long-needed trip to Madrid, back “home.” Madrid was decorated in its finest holiday clothes: Enormous lighted Christmas trees, streets with strings of fantastic lights in the shapes of cubes, snowflakes, and other random squiggles and swirls, the people bundled in large jackets and warm black scarves, the faces of stores painted in “Feliz Navidad” and lines after lines behind the stores selling either lottery tickets or roasted chestnuts. Just how Madrid is supposed to be at Christmas time. Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Life in Barcelona

It has been a very long time since I’ve written. This is probably the longest break I’ve taken from this blog. I have legitimate reasons for my long absence in the blogosphere. It’s this awful thing called Graduate School.

I came to Barcelona to pursue my career and to take off with an international career. So that’s what I’ve been doing. My studies have been very overwhelming and much more intense than I expected (having worked in the Spanish education realm for two years, I was expecting this to be a cake-walk…boy was I wrong!) But apart from the normal life of studying and taking exams and all of that stuff we hate, there are other elements of my life that are being severely impacted. Continue reading

La Mercè

It’s the weekend of La Mercè here in Barcelona which is a three day holiday celebration to Our Lady of Mercy, an enormous festival consisting of papier mache giants, the Correfoc (fire parade), pyro-musicals (or insane fireworks show with music), Sardanas, an awkward Catalan dance (mostly done by all the old ya-ya’s as they call them), and everyone’s favorite, the Castells, or human towers.  At night, there are light shows, fountain shows, concerts, and other festivities all over the city. Continue reading

Life in another “country”

Life here is finally starting to be complete. I am no longer waiting for classes to start, waiting to hear back about English classes, waiting for information about my internship, it’s all over. Now, everything has begun. I’ve given my first private English lesson, I’ve started classes at the university, and my internship is going great.

Yet it’s living in a different “country” that seems to be the only thing that is difficult for me.
When you try your hardest for so long to become fluent and culturally acceptable in one place and you pick everything up to start anew in a different region of that same country, but suddenly everyone there hates where you come from, it’s a little difficult to feel like you’re at home. Continue reading

End of another school year

(Foreword to the reader: To clarify any confusion that may arise from this post, I am not leaving Spain. I am moving from Madrid to Barcelona in September to pursue a master’s degree in International Relations. Please read on…)

As I’m sitting here in this coffee shop, the one that Chris Kelley and I sat in on our first day back in Madrid after our two-year spans of impatiently waiting to graduate college to finally get to move back to our favorite place, Spain, the sudden realization of my second year coming to an end hit.

It’s almost over.

This life I’ve been living isn’t real. It can’t be real. None of it seems real. Language is faded in the distance, cultures, societies, countries, cities, buildings, food, people; it’s all just an illusion in a painting. These places don’t really exist. These people don’t really exist. Only really talented authors can create such rich characters and places. It just can’t be real. It can’t be.

But it so strongly is.

The past few weeks, I’ve been running around town trying to buy souvenirs, pack up my stuff, throw away all the old clutter and clear out for my next step in life. It’s almost unfathomable for me to imagine actually leaving Madrid. It’s still easily my favorite place in the world, and it’s the place I’ve tried so hard to get to for as long as I can remember. And now, willingly, I’ve decided to leave it all behind.

I’ve had two incredible years here that have forever changed me in thousands of ways: the way I think, the person I am now, and even the way I communicate. Not to mention being bilingual certainly has its rewarding benefits as well.

I began to go through all the things I’ve had stored in crammed drawers, toppled shelves and overcrowded bookcases. I started to uncover all of the things I thought I’d want to save. I opened the lid to my secret souvenir box. Ryanair boarding passes to a handful of places, Spanish train tickets, French metro passes, Italian travel guides, Portuguese city maps, and an endless amount of museum ticket stubs from all over Europe. I held on to each thinking that I’d like to have it in the future. But as I ponder back to whatever the trip or day or place was, it’s no longer about having that as a souvenir. Yes, living in Europe still blows my mind every time I think about being an expatriate in such a wonderful place, but now these things aren’t just paper-waste memories that I’ll be taking back home to show my friends and family. They’re now a part of my life. So instead of bringing them back to Denver to show off what I’ve done, maybe this summer I’ll be saving ticket stubs to museums and bus passes to bring back with me to my new home here in Spain.

I begin to throw more paper-souvenir things away. Each one getting heavier and more difficult to trash. I start to think about the times, the people, the excitement, the adventures. And then I’m almost incapable of throwing out one single more, and I’m at the point of pulling the rest out of the trash and putting them safely back inside the box I’ve left on my bottom shelf where they’ve resided for the past two years.  But I continue to toss them away. As the past goes into the trash, I think about where I’m going to be in the future. Where am I going to end up? Will I just have these ancient memories and plane ticket stubs to remember my European experience by? Or will this become my future?  I want it to, and I’m going to do all I can to make it so.

Aside from cleaning up, I´ve been in search of the last few little token and mementos I can bring back home. It’s impossible to summarize my version of Spain or Madrid in a simple souvenir. I can give shot glasses and Real Madrid t-shirts, but who really cares? It’s difficult to know what to bring back to friends and family who’ve never seen the things I’ve seen. And half the time, I think that many of them don’t even care. Or it’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t have the drive to come out and live these experiences I have everyday for whatever reason. So maybe they would be fine with a tacky tourist t-shirt that says I heart *enter city name here*. But I want to give them something that represents the experiences to me. The next best idea that occurs to me is giving someone something from one of my trips. Maybe a book. Maybe an old postcard that I’ve written a letter to no one on the back. Maybe my backpack. Maybe pictures I’ve taken.

I uncovered several books that I read this past year. Many that I’d like to bring home with me and reread in years to come. But as I picked up one not in particular and thought that I could use it as a souvenir, I thought about whether or not the person would even care to get a book. It’s just a book. And it’s most likely in English. In fact, I probably bought it used off of the UK’s Amazon website. But as I flip through the book’s pages, I remember reading it and where I was in Europe at the time. I always travel with a book, and I think about the destinations we’ve seen together. I pull out a blue pen and write on the first page.

To: Friend

I hope you appreciate this book and take it on as many wonderful adventures as I did.  This book and I went to Poland or Germany or Holland or… together and we saw this and we did that and you didn’t so to show for it, you’re getting this book.  Thought you might like this one since I really enjoyed it.

Love, Graham

But that’s not a gift. That’s just a small piece to the picture. It may be heartfelt and sentimental and true (there are many  books I will be giving to friends this summer because I know they’ll love them), but those books mean the most to me al fondo.  The pages hold unwritten meanings only understood by me. Do my friends care about something that means a lot to me, to my experience out here in Europe? Sometimes I feel as if they’d wish I’d just stop and come home. God knows my mother prays for that day in and day out.

But I can’t go home. Not yet. I’m just getting started.

I’ve begun to think of all the things I’ve accomplished this past year. I know that I’ve felt somewhat restrained with my job this year since I’ve had more responsibility and more working hours. I’ve had a great teaching experience, but not the most amazing experience in terms of living abroad as a young person should have.  At least it wasn’t as exciting as my first year. But maybe that’s because it was just that, my first year.

This year, I had a job for someone settled down. I’d love the job if I were older, already with a family and all that. But for a youngster like me, it was too much. I can already hear my father’s voice in my head saying something like, “Welcome to the real world,” we all have to work. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Why work so much? Since I started working more, as well as my flat mates, we all got stuck in a rut this year. We didn’t meet as many people, we didn’t go to as many parties, we didn’t socialize as much. That’s not to say we didn’t do things. I was able to explore other parts of my life since I now had more money and was pretty comfortable with my life here in Madrid. For example, I’ve been able to study French and for most of the year, I’ve taken it pretty seriously.  Also, I’ve read a lot of books which I think I only read like two last year. This year, I’ve devoured more history books than I think I did when I was studying history as a major back in college.

This year, I also traveled much more and got to see a lot of Europe that was previously unexplored by me. I dedicated much of my first year to only traveling around Spain to learn the language and really discover the culture. So this year, I decided to leave Spain more. I got to see a whole number of great places, and because of already having lived a year in Madrid, I had friends all over so I got to see some places up close and personal with some locals (for example my trips to Brussels with Chloé, or to France with Chloé’s family, or to Ponferrada with Marta, or to Paris with Britt where we met up with friends of mine, or to London with Alejandra.)  But there were also lots of other trips where we knew absolutely nothing and just fully explored and gutted the place making more new friends from all over the world.

So now it’s time for goodbye. Last Friday, I said goodbye to Robert, who is one of the children I’ve been giving private lessons to for about two years. Robert was my oldest pupil (12-years old) and I taught him Friday afternoons which kind of sucked for the both of us, but it’s the only way our schedules worked. But let me say that Robert always made my entire weekend. I always had such a great time teaching him because he was such a cool kid, a good student and he speaks really good English. After leaving his classes, I always felt invincible and energized.  I’ll really miss teaching him. He was the start of my weekends and definitely the best part of them.

That’s Robert!

This week, I’ll be saying goodbye to my other pupils which will be almost impossible. There’s Alvaro and Lucia who are just wonderful. Alvaro is already practically fluent and the kid is only 10. Lucia, who is only 8, has a perfect American English accent. I always had to ask if she was American or Spanish. She’d always turn red in the face and immediately blurt out at me that she definitely wasn’t American (god forbid!) They are some of the best behaved kids I’ve ever seen and I can honestly say that if I were ever to have kids, I’d hope they’d turn out like these two.

Alvaro and Lucía

Then there’s Luis and José Miguel. My two little buddies. These two are the funniest little whippersnappers one could meet. Both very brilliant personalities and completely opposite builds, these two always made me laugh. They have shown so much progress in the past two years that it’s almost unbelievable. I’m going to miss going down to their courtyard to play football (these guys needed a small break from class time to time) and just mess around with these guys (yes, there was English teaching somewhere in with all the games and sports.) It’s going to kill me to say goodbye.

Me and the boys (and Toy their dog)

Today, was my last day at my instituto. And none of the students came. I didn’t really get to say goodbye to any of them. Maybe it’s best that way. But there were several that made such a huge impression on me that I’ll really miss them, whether or not I’ll be able to express that to them.

However, the hardest goodbyes are the last ones to come when I say goodbye to my best friends here in Madrid. Fortunately Barcelona isn’t too far from Madrid and I’m sure I’ll be seeing them frequently.

It’s hard saying goodbye, but honestly, I’m really ready. I’m ready to leave here and start something new. I’m not happy to leave my friends or the lifestyle we’ve created here in Madrid, but I’m ready to start fresh. I’m ready to meet new people, I’m ready to learn even more, and I’m ready to really make myself international. I’ve been living abroad and I speak two languages, but now I’m going to project myself into that professional international working world (scary!) And I couldn’t be more excited to really get out there and explore what opportunities there are.

Alongside my master’s, I’m going to continue studying French. I’m going to do intercambios to meet more people. I’m going to these social events like cocktail and happy hours for all these international companies. I’m going to meet people and I’m going to continue to learn more about the lives of others, their cultures, and their languages.

Just yesterday, Carlo’s parents came over to leave him something.  Carlo had warned me beforehand that they’d be stopping by since I was the only one at home. They came in and we began communicating in a mix of Spanish, English, and Italian. I actually spoke to them in Italian. I don’t even speak Italian! But that shows how much my life has changed living out here. I’ve lived with people from all over Europe and since I’ve spent so much time with all the Italians here, I’ve certainly picked up on a few things I didn’t even know I knew how to say.  Even amongst my English speaking friends here, our lexicons have become so completely messed up that even in our common language, we now throw in many Spanish and Italian expressions that would be incomprehensible for someone outside of our group.

It’s just all of this. All of this combined. This unreal time I’ve lived. I can’t give up and I have to keep going because I love it. I love my international life. So here’s to the end of an amazing year and to the start of the summer and fresh slate in a new city this fall to really start my expatriate life.

Write more later very soon, I’ve got four trips coming up to Brussels, Galicia, Barcelona, and Brescia!,

Graham

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High School Graduation

Wednesday was the graduation of my oldest pupils.  Maite, the teacher that I share these classes with told me that I had to go to the ceremony because apparently the kids had something for me. I figured, why not? After my classes on Wednesday, I rushed home, quickly scarfed down some lunch, showered, got dressed up, and then caught the train taking me back to Tres Cantos an hour away. I thought the ceremony might have been a bit boring, but it was actually a lot of fun. There were video presentations with pictures of all the kids from all the different classes. Then there were students doing performances, like singing, playing piano, and everyone’s favorite, the dancing which everyone had told me was going to be amazing and it really was.

Once they had gone through most of the classes, it finally arrived to the classes that I had taught. Each class had given out premios (awards) to all the teachers. Even though Maite had told me I was getting something I never expected to get an award. Miguel, one of my best students who speaks English like a true American (honest!) caught me off guard when he started to present the award and then said, “this one goes out to a ‘yankee…’”  (saying ‘yankee’ doesn’t sound as strange in Spanish as it does in English. That’s just what they call anyone from the Good ‘Ole United States).  That’s when I knew that I got an award. I was so stoked! How cool! Then Maite made me stand and wave to everyone. It was a great feeling, honest.  Plus, I got the award for “El profe más ‘cool’” (the coolest teacher). Can’t go wrong with that!

This is Miguel, the kid that gave me the presentation. You wouldn’t believe his English, it’s perfect American.

Now I understand why people like being teachers. I got to see the rewards of teaching. Even though I only taught these kids one day a week this year, I still felt some sort of satisfaction or pride. I’m really not sure how to describe it, but it’s such a cool feeling getting to see these kids move on with their lives and do something. Watching the picture presentations and listening to the awards and things, it took me back to my high school graduation which wasn’t all that long ago, but now seems like something that was in another lifetime. I started to think about all the interesting things I have accomplished since I graduated.  Knowing that I studied in Spain, and then moved there since I’ve finished high school, it only makes me feel so excited for these kids to get to explore the world and have similar experiences as I did.

After the ceremony everyone, parents, students, teachers alike, all went to the school where they had prepared a large piscolabis, or tables full of sandwiches, pizza, Spanish jamon (can’t have a Spanish party without a pata de jamon), and even sangria and beer!

This is Maite and I cutting the jamon leg! Coolest teacher in the world.

It’s quite unfortunate to say, but there I really got to know my students. We finally had the barrier of teacher-student broken and I was able to speak to them in English or Spanish which I was unable to do so during the year. All the kids kept telling me, “No more English, we’re out of class. Speak to us in Spanish.” So I did, even though these kids all spoke such wonderful English.

I asked everyone (or almost everyone) what they plan to do for the future. Most are going to college. Others are studying in other countries.  But this all makes me really sad at the same time, that it took me so long to really connect with these students. They are all such great kids, and all have such fascinating stories and I was finally able to get to know the kids on a really individual level only at the very end.

After the piscolabis, everyone went out! Even some of the teachers tagged along, including Maite, who is a teacher I wish I had had in high school.  She’s really wonderful and the children adore her.

The students had rented out a venue for the night so everyone was heading there. First, we had to do as the Spanish do: botellón. Everyone, and I mean everyone was drinking in the streets. It was a riot! I did rounds, chatting to everyone, getting to know them. A part of me felt like I was graduating too, it was all just so exciting and I’m not sure why I felt this way.

Eventually we made our way to the bar and everyone was dancing.  What a blast!  We were there until about 6 in the morning when I had to catch my train back home to sleep. I was accompanied by a large caravan of students. We all said goodbye, and I took the hour long journey home. Once I got home, I slept for a short hour and a half, woke up to complete a presentation I had for that day, and then as I was entering the metro, I received a phone call telling me not to come in today. Thank god, I thought. I was still pretty groggy from the night before, feeling extremely hung over, and possibly a bit drunk still. But regardless, totally worth it. I’m sure all the other teachers wished they were teaching assistants so they could stay home.

Anyway, that was my Spanish graduation and as strange as it may sound, it was easily one of the most fun nights I’ve had living in Spain. I know I’m going to miss teaching in Madrid next year. I’m already feeling nostalgic about all of it. But in last words, good luck to all those students. I know they all are going to accomplish amazing things.

Write more later,

Graham