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Guam

Feb. 28th, 2008 | 08:04 am

Guam was cool, a little stressful because it was such an ill-organized trip, but nothing I can continue to complain about. I arrived at 1:30am, went to my hotel and slept a few hours, woke up and had an awesome free breakfast, took a taxi to the consulate, did some paperwork, killed some time shopping while the visa was processed then returned to pick it up a few hours later. The cab driver insisted that it was way too far to walk and that I should call him to bring me back, I suppose 20 minutes does seem like a long walk when you're on a small island and I had to lug around all of my stuff because I didn't have the hotel room anymore but I still enjoyed taking my shoes off and combing the beach. Guam was really quite beautiful and I thought it unfortunate that it was beset with hotels and its main functions are US military base and gaudy resort town for nearby Asian countries.

I got back to the hotel hoping that they would let me hang out by the pool for a while and maybe even hold on to my stuff while I went out to dinner. I purposefully left my blanket there so I'd have a reason to initiate conversation before mentioning that my flight leaves super early in the morning and I'd like to use the pool. One guy said no immediately but the girls around him were like, "oh, why not, sure." Awesome. They had showers by the pool too so that was convenient. Afterwards I checked my bags for free with the hotel, put on some nice new shoes and went to dinner at the hotel. Usually hotel restaurants are pretty disappointing but this one was great. Also the company was good. There was a 40- something couple, a pilot, and a guy with the last name Maryott who thought it was cool that it was so similar to our hotel name. The couple was my favorite; the guy was a local cop and the lady was from California but has lived there a while. The pilot flies for Li Ka-Shing who is the richest man in Asia (ninth in the world,) and the other guy left early because the bar wasn't entertained by his conversation. So I had a place to hang out until the early morn and some people to kill the time with.

I'll post some pictures of Guam later, it was really pretty.

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Going to Guam for a day

Feb. 26th, 2008 | 04:33 pm

I leave for Guam in a few hours and I'm pretty excited. I was pretty pissed off about the circumstances that made me have to take (and pay for) such a shamefully short trip to such a beautiful place but I got over it. The school organized the trip so that I arrive at 1am on Wednesday, have a hotel until noon, my visa interview at 9am and my visa stamping in the afternoon. After that I have no place to stay and no particular plans until 3am the next morning. It's raining in Guam, otherwise I'd go to the beach. I've contacted some people on Couchsurfing so we'll see what comes of that. The few hours of free time could be... well, anything, and that's pretty exciting.

I'll be staying at the Mariott on the beach front, spending 120 bucks for the 6 hours of use that I'll get from it. I'm going to see if they'll sympathize with my situation and let my check-out time be later so maybe if it's downpouring I can stay in and swim at least.

So that's Guam.

Seoul is still good. I had a very stressful day yesterday... I made a little girl cry in class (I don't even want to elaborate,) the little boys were way too rowdy, I learned of my not-so-well-organized travel plans for Guam, and I had to do some video recording that I really didn't enjoy. It was my first "bad day" in Seoul and it really made me realized the difficulty of my situation. Not having friends and family around to vent about things or share things is trying, and so is navigating through a completely new system of communication. I had some Soju and 99% dark chocolate for dinner and wrote my girls all about it. That did the trick.

Other things are going really well. I'm going to the gym regularly so I'm meeting people there, I'm making friends with some of the Korean teachers at the school, I have a Korean tutor, I'm going to a museum with some girl this Saturday and as soon as I get paid I'll try to find a music scene that I like here.

Well, I have to go catch a bus now... I'll tell you all about Guam next entry.

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Night out with Soju

Feb. 9th, 2008 | 03:03 am

Last night was my first real introduction to the club scene in Seoul. Some Canadian girl from the language institute invited me out with her and some friends. She brought her Korean soon-to-be boyfriend and a couple American guys of Korean descent. They were really nice and they all spoke Korean so getting around was easy.

We started off at a bar that also served food and we ordered some octopus and pork belly, both of which I liked. It seems free food always comes before your meal here and last night we were served soup, fried eggs, more octopus, and this sweet concoction of red beans and corn flakes over milky ice shavings. As if that wasn't enough it was also topped with sprinkles.

And since I hadn't had Soju before, the group decided that would be how we'd start off the night. Soju is traditionally distilled from rice and it tastes a little sweeter than vodka and it's less strong as well. I think our group of 5 consumed over a dozen bottles. (Less helped by me, as you know, I'm a moderate drinker... except with Tequila.)

Over dinner I was given a brief Korean culture lesson. Lesson one is to never refuse a drink, especially if offered to you by someone of a higher rank. Always pour everyone else's glass at the table first and then let someone else pour yours. Hold the receiving glass with two hands to show the most respect. You're not obliged to finish your plate, but you should never refuse a host's food. I also learned that Koreans count the 9 months in the womb as a year of life so they report their age as a year older than we do.

After eating, we went to a few nearby hip-hop clubs which were cool, a little expensive but that's in comparison to Iowa City. We were by then off the Soju and had started on the Tequila which sustained our dancing until just past 4am. I told the Canadian girl and her soon-to-be, became, boyfriend they could crash at my place since it was closest. We took the subway for an hour and arrived home and passed out. They woke up at 4pm the next day and I made us all breakfast. I love having house guests.

It was a good night out and I'm glad it didn't involve Karaoke. I was also glad to christen my apartment with company. I really think all of you should consider coming to visit me, you'd love Seoul. I've posted some pictures on photobucket so you can check them out:

City:
http://s172.photobucket.com/albums/w15/amberhill423/Korea/city/?albumview=slideshow


Night out with Soju:
http://s172.photobucket.com/albums/w15/amberhill423/Korea/intro%20to%20Soju/?albumview=slideshow


My apartment:
http://s172.photobucket.com/albums/w15/amberhill423/Korea/my%20apartment/?albumview=slideshow


Outdoor market:
http://s172.photobucket.com/albums/w15/amberhill423/Korea/outdoor%20market/?albumview=slideshow

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First Weekend in Seoul

Feb. 4th, 2008 | 09:13 pm

Friday at school when the boss lady invited me out for drinks I was pretty excited about the idea, until excitement turned to dread when I remembered how much Asians love Karaoke. I was hoping that I could avoid that situation for as long as possible... or at least until I felt like I was settled here.

When I got to the school at 10 to meet up with all the other teachers they took a poll and everyone voted Karaoke. I wasn't voting, but I said I'd do whatever, and was still excited to be able to see inside the phenomenon even though I knew I wouldn't love it.

We drove to a venue not far away that had many little private Karaoke rooms for groups to rent by the hour. We ordered a bunch of fried chicken and beer that was precoursed by Kimchi as is the custom here in Korea. We had about 10 people in our group, mostly young Korean female teachers. The group was nice, I like all the other teachers and I really like my boss, June.

The room was lined lengthwise with leather benches and there was a table in the center. The front of the room had TV screens, microphones and strobe lights. My only request was that I wasn't first. A couple others went ahead of me while I thumbed through the book of songs. It had an impressive collection of English music, but nothing was really standing out. I realized I was taking a lot longer than I should so I just chose 'Paint it Black.' I was thinking that song would be easy since I wouldn't have to hit any high notes or anything like that.

Even before my two colleagues performed ahead of me, I knew that this was not a matter to take lightly and that I should give this a full effort. After seeing them though I was thoroughly intimidated. These people could actually sing. And what was more... they were putting their bodies into it... grabbing the microphone passionately even... closing their eyes sometimes...

It's hard to describe what Karaoke does to Korean people. Try to imagine a room full of quiet, reserved young girls; hair neatly kempt, hands placed on the lap, shy smiles and doe-like eyes gleaming up from downward leaning faces... turns into: gripped microphones, hips moving, voices belting and audience captivated.

That's what I had to follow.

I was actually thinking that I might do well, but I knew I was just trying to stay positive so as not to make the experience even worse. Then I had that microphone in my hand, an audience of people I had just met (although many of them had just met each other too so that wasn't an excuse for them,) and only my voice to fill and entertain the room. They were looking at me to make that song come to life. They were armed with tambourines. As soon as I heard my own voice it fell apart and I just stumbled through hoping it would get over quickly. Finally the lyrics were finished, but that song had a long instrumental part at the end during which I was encouraged to dance. I'm laughing now just thinking about it. I think it would have been a blast if I were there with a bunch of my drunk friends (I was completely sober when I did it.) I had a good time though, when done right it can be really entertaining and these people were really good at it. I only had to go once and I think I did a sufficiently bad job that I'll never be pressured to do it again, at least not from any member of that group.

Then Saturday came and I was pretty much in and out of sleep all day. I planned on going outside to see the city but instead just sat around and watched CNN all day long. I kinda felt guilty until I reminded myself that I have a whole year here and I still hadn't had a chance to make up for lost sleep since I had to get into a work schedule immediately. CNN was interesting though. It's cool to see the news from outside of the U.S. The whole world is interested in this upcoming election.

Sunday I got on the subway for the first time here and went to the center of town. I walked around, had a coffee, went to an outdoor market. Seoul is amazing. I seriously love this city. It's bigger than New York, yet clean and the people are kind. I'm usually the only white person around which is interesting, but unlike what I've heard about China and other countries, the Koreans don't take pictures of me or anything like that. They're really cool people from what I've seen so far.

Also on Sunday I happened across a fitness center and I went in to inquire. The lady didn't speak English very well but she was really helpful. I told her I'd come back tomorrow to do a Yoga class and decide if I'd get a membership.

So today I went to Yoga class and it was great. Some of it was unexpectedly sensual and completely different from poses that I've seen in my other classes. Some of the movements I don't think I've ever made in my life, nor would I even think to make them. I really enjoyed it and I was also glad to find a place I could jog since running in the city didn't make sense.

Then I went to work and did a few classes and did some computer work. I think I'm really going to like living here. I feel comfortable and I think I'll adjust well. I miss you all very much though... I LOVE to hear from you. Everytime I check my email I hope to get news from back home.

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Korea II

Feb. 1st, 2008 | 05:59 pm

It's Friday night and I've spent the day doing some computer work at the school, only one class. After my crash test teaching experience on Tuesday I came in to the school on Wednesday and navigated through the system and wrote down all the questions I had, essentially making sure I got trained before going it alone. The director, June, was impressed with me in general and joked that she didn't mind all the extra work that I was making her have to do in order to get my visa processed. She said that worst case scenario I'd have to go back to the U.S. for a few days and get the stamp and have an interview, but that she was looking for a better solution. Today she told me that the better solution was for me to fly to Guam. I guess the U.S. owns Guam so I can go do this process there and it'll cost less and take less time. I'm actually really excited to have a reason to have to go there.

So I think the visa will be fine. I'm a little relieved.

For the first two days I was escorted by Mr. Seo to and from the school but when he dropped me off the last time he said he'd see me at 2 the next day. Perhaps due to his level of English he did not specify where exactly it was he would see me. When 2:15 rolled around and he wasn't at my apartment I figured it out.

I had been paying attention to how to get from the school to my apartment but it was confusing because a different way was taken to get there and to return. Also all the streets look the same, which is like the Las Vegas strip except in Korean and not contained in one single strip, so picking out landmarks was difficult. I nonetheless started the walk and then ran into a cab and decided to have him take me since I was apparently already late. I had to show him the written Korean address to actually go anywhere and I paid careful attention to the route he took. After class I walked home. The satisfaction that I felt from finding my way back is at the core of why I like to travel and why I've chosen to live in Asia.

On Thursday I had classes all to myself, although I'm still technically training. The classes were fun. I play a hard-ass, no-nonsense teacher. I don't let the little ones misbehave but I'm also energetic and enthusiastic. I go through the books that they have planned to do and then I supplement with whatever I think they should do to understand what they're reading. I'm amazed that they could all recite from memorization whatever they were assigned to read for the day. But memorization doesn't mean they can use the same principals out of that particular context, so that's what I work on.

I'm happy with my job and so far the director and other teachers are pleased with what I've done so I feel good. I noticed that I'm surveillanced though, and I didn't know how to feel about that. I have a lot of autonomy and don't have to do much except teach my classes and record what I did on the database, so the surveillance I guess replaces me having to check in with anyone, since they apparently can check in on me whenever they want. I'm not too bothered really.

I feel like there are so many little things to tell about but I'm starting to get carpal tunnel because of the computer work I did earlier, and also I'd like to get some food so I'll make this next part a conglomeration of random experiences:

I tried to get to-go food and ended up going to 3 different restaurants before just dining-in because no one understood me.

I tried to find a converter so I could plug in my computer but not knowing the Korean word, I resorted to playing charades. I don't think Koreans are particularly good at that game so I then played pictionary.

I accidentally took a swig of mouth-wash colored fingernail polish remover.

I've seen the swastika symbol a few times.

Only one little kid has pointed at me.

Everyone's favorite color here is black so I fit in pretty well.

I love Korean food.

Met my first white friend and she wants to show me some cool stuff.

The teachers invited me out for drinks tonight.

I saw some pamphlets for guided tours to the DMZ and will probably go.

Mr. Jang took me to a big store that resembles Wal-Mart.

I should be getting a plug in for my laptop soon so I don't have to use the one at school.

I was very happy the day I learned I have internet access at home.

The floors in my apartment stopped being hot and I don't know how to make them do that again.

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Korea!

Jan. 31st, 2008 | 07:15 pm

Well I made sure you all knew I arrived safely but I haven't had time to give any details. It's Thursday night now and I arrived here on Monday night so I've had a bit of time to get situated, but it's been really interesting...

The flight was easy, 14 hours direct from Chicago to Seoul. I watched a couple movies and had some nice food. On the plane I ordered the Bi Bim Bap which is a typical Korean dish that I've already had a few times in Iowa City. Last time I had it the Korean server insisted 3 times that I mix it all up together into a gross homogenous mixture. I eventually did as she demanded but decided that I preferred it the other way. This time the flight attendant gave me a card that gave step by step instructions on how to eat Bi Bim Bap. There were only 3 steps but they wanted to ensure that it would be done no other way.

I wasn't too anxious really, but I was a little nervous about how I was going to handle getting into the country because I didn't have my visa processed yet (I was told that we could do that at an embassy in Japan after my arrival in Korea) but other than that I was fairly relaxed. Non-chalant so as not to freak myself out.

When I arrived at the airport I was surprised at how effortlessly I passed through customs. In lieu of a visa I showed them my contract with the school so they stamped my passport and gave a 30 day turist visa. OK, I thought, the worst is over. I've got my luggage, I've actually arrived and now I just have to walk through these doors and find the person who's holding a sign with my name on it.

I thought it was a possiblity that no one would be there, but I didn't actually expect that. When I realized that no one was there waiting for me I called the lady from the agency who hired me. I had to ask several Koreans if I could use their cell phone because I had no Won for the pay phone. My Korean agent, Jamie, answered her phone and was shocked to hear that I was at the airport. She uses the proper American intonation when she says "Oh my God!" She said that she told me earlier to change my flight and that my visa wasn't processed yet so it's impossible for me to be in the country. I said OK, but I'm here, so what do I do? She told me to call her back in 10 minutes.

I then exchanged my $200 for 200,000 won so I could use the payphone. I called her back and she told me to take a bus to some station. There was no way I could decipher her Korean and then find that particular bus so I found some nice young Korean flight attendants with cell phones who then called Jamie, wrote down the names of the places I needed to go and then escorted me to the bus and told the bus driver to let me know when my stop came. They were really kind and without them I would have been completely lost.

At this point I'm a little concerned about the visa process. I knew from my time in Spain that I couldn't get the visa anywhere but in my own country, but I was specifically told that I could get this one for Korea in Japan, which I had also read that on numerous other sites. When I mentioned that to my school director later she said that the visa rules had changed very recently and she didn't think that would be possible anymore. So I'm on the bus thinking that this miscommunication may lead to me just going back home, which would suck. Also I was annoyed at the thought of the school director thinking I was stupid for misunderstanding. I imagined how difficult it would be to explain what type of miscommunication occured to make it possible for Jamie to feel certain that she had told me to change my flight and me to feel certain that she had not. I thought it through and came to the conclusion that when Jamie said earlier: "If I don't get these papers in on time you may have to change your flight," that she was very passively giving me an order. In any case, it was mentioned in conversation, but only with an "if" clause. I imagined the difficulty of explaining that one to my director who may or may not speak English well and decided to just leave it at: I didn't think she told me.

When I got off the bus a man was waiting to take me back to the English Academy. He didn't speak English well so the ride was pretty quiet, but it wasn't uncomfortable. My first impressions of Seoul were through the bus window and this car window. I thought of the Las Vegas strip. Everything was so incredibly lit.

When I got to the school I was relieved to meet a kind, intelligent and well-travelled woman who was my school director. She spoke English quite well and she realized the possiblity for a miscommunication and made nothing of it, she was glad to have me there. She welcomed me and took me to dinner in a restaurant that was in the same building as the academy. We entered and took our shoes off and sat on pillows at a low rising table. I ordered the Bi Bim Bop, which was my default for the first 2 meals, and we chatted about things I don't remember. I was really tired and it was a 24 hour stretch of no real sleep until I was finally taken to my apartment.

I was expecting a concrete box with no character in some aweful suburbia style, high-rising, manufactured neighborhood with no local grocery. I was so relieved when I learned that my apartment was only a 20 minute walk from the school and I was happy to see that it was in a charming, bustling neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and stores and outdoor vendors. Not a single American (or any other caucasian) in sight. The same guy who picked me up at the bus station, Mr. Seo, also dropped me off at my apartment. The place was cute; light wood floors, sliding doors, and big windows that were mostly opaque except where clear glass remained from some tree or old hut stencil. Like what you would imagine, from what we've seen in movies. I was tickled by the fact that I had a little area just inside my apartment where I had to take off my shoes before entering. Then there was a sliding door to the main area with some slippers by it. There were also slippers for the bathroom and so far I have been stringent upon following the rules of which to where when even though it's my home and I could where shoes in the house if I chose. I just don't want to. It's so nice to have clean floors that you can walk on with bare feet, and what's even greater is that the floors are heated! I was amazed. That alone sold me on the place and I was quite content to be there. I was also glad that I had that place to myself for a while. They may hire another native teacher in a few months but there is no talk of it yet...(which means I currently have an extra room for any of you all interested...)

As soon as I was alone I didn't even unpack, I just curled up on the couch and went to sleep. That was just the first day.



I woke up early on Tuesday morning because I wanted to unpack and clean the apartment before Mr. Seo picked me up at 11:30. I rearranged the furniture and turned a storage room into an office and found a plant to try to revive and made the place look as cute as I could with the ugly furnishings available. After I get paid I'll buy some stuff for the place and will make it look really nice.

Mr. Seo then picked me up and took me to the school for some training. I remembered arriving at the school in Spain last year and having them not expect me either (for different reasons... Spaniards are not known for their organization) and I recalled being thrown in to the teaching situation and doing pretty well at it. I expected the exact opposite here, so much so that I would dislike all the rules and organization and feel trapped by it. Instead it was once again a test to sink or swim. I visited a few classes with the director and introduced myself to the classes and engaged them in simple conversations... an easy enough thing to do, I feel that my experience in Spain refined my ability to command the attention of a classroom, but then things got difficult.

Although there is no formal, organized system of training new teachers, the whole system of teaching is very organized. They have an elaborate computer database network to which all the teachers are connected and which is updated daily on class progress. It's a program that I've since learned, but was intimidated with on day one. I had been in on a few classes with the director by now and she's apparently seen that I can hold a class so she just leaves mid-way through one. That was fine, except that she never came back for the next class, nor did she communicate whether I should take the class or wait for her to return. So I just began the class not knowing if she would be back or not and talked about whatever I wanted. That's not something I would be concerned about because I could certainly wing any discussion topic and planned to do so until the students started telling me what they were supposed to do. I was taken aback for a moment. These kids already knew what they had to do for this class and I didn't. I was suddenly pissed off at the director for checking out like that without giving me any instruction. I didn't even know how to operate their system yet. I made it out fine and the class was successful enough, but I realized from that experience, and many to follow, that these students had a particular way of learning that was based on structure, repetition and memorization and that it would be my task to bring them to a level of comprehension so they will be able to have a fluid conversation that exists outside of books.

So now it's 9pm on Thursday and I need to walk home before it gets to dark... I'll write about Wednesday and today tomorrow... I miss all of you back in Iowa and those in other places that I've met. You leave a large and wonderous hole to fill...

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Quick 2 month update

Jul. 31st, 2007 | 10:40 am

I'm aweful at keeping this thing updated, sorry fam.

Let's see, last you all had details about was Istanbul... Since then I've been back to La Rioja, then to Rome and surrounding, then back to Logroño for a week, then to Barcelona, and now currently in Andalucía.

Rome:

Increible. I stayed with an Italian family and worked as an aupair. It was a great situation. I worked just 4 hours a day playing and teaching English to a sweet five year old girl. My room was separate from the house so it was easy to come and go... which I did a lot of in Rome. I met some amazing people there who showed me a good time. Also went seaside for a bit with some friends while Teresa was visiting. We went to Sperlunga and Lenola and stayed the weekend in a cute little village tucked away in the mountains just a half hour drive from the beach. I saw some amazing shows: Modest Mouse and Blonde Redhead. Rome has a really great scene for people who like "indie," as I do.

Too much to say about Rome, great food, amazing history and architecture, unique people... but my favorite street: Pigneto.

Barcelona:

I'm staying two months with a family in Barcelona. The mother is 36 and has a 4 year old girl and an 11 month old baby. They're a Spanish family expatriated in China, they've been there the last six years but the father is still there. I live 10 minutes walking distance from the beach but right now we are on vacation in southern Spain in the region of Andalucia. Yesterday I went to Cabo de Gata and got to see some amazing beaches. Where I'm at now I could take a ferry to Africa and arrive in six hours.

I know, very brief summary. I pay to use internet. Plus I live by the beach and I'm going there soon. Actually I'm going to go study spanish in a bar... but then later to the beach.

I miss Iowa. love you all

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Istanbul...

May. 9th, 2007 | 10:29 am

I finally have a large enough block of time to write about my experiences in Istanbul, so here it goes:









April 2007 trip with Amanda:

My first impression of Istanbul was from the airplane above flying in at night. I noticed a difference immediately because the city wasn´t lit in the same way as other cities I´ve seen at night. Usually city lights are bright and dense, but these lights were soft and dim and gave an overall glow that seemed magical to me. The bird´s eye view was impressive and I knew at once that this was going to be the most beautiful city I´ve seen so far.

Amanda and I got off the plane and bought our visas for 10 Euros then went to an ATM and got some Turkish Lira, 10 Lira is about 5€ or $7. We were expecting some bus to the city center to be available but there wasn´t so we had to take a taxi. An Italian guy on the same flight was taking a taxi to the same area so we all shared the ride and agreed to meet up later. Alessandro soon became a good friend to us and we hung out with him everyday for the 4 days that he was in Istanbul.

Istanbul has many nieghborhoods which are so distinct from each other that one could call them different cities. We stayed in Sultanahmet which is where the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia are. The streets are tight and maze-like in this area and they are packed with hostals, restaurants, and carpet shops. The taxi driver had to stop twice to ask where he was going. We dropped off Alessandro at his hostal and agreed to meet up in an hour to have dinner.

Amanda and I stayed at the Antique Hostal, which was only 10€ a night but was one of the best places I´ve ever stayed. The Turkish boys who worked there were really funny... in fact that was one of the first things we noticed about Turkish men in this area... they were hilarious. Later we understood that in the turisty area most the men had to be funny to sell things, it was like a developed skill. For the same reason, people were also very hospitable... almost to the point of ridiculousness.


Antique Hostal


So we dropped off our bags and waited for Alessandro then went to the hostal recommended restaurant where we could get a discount. It was a nice place, really cute... like many of the places we found, this area was full of charming, unique, hole-in-the-wall, quality places. We were sitting at a table next to a group of Turkish men and after a few minutes were all talking together (almost everyone in Sultanahmet spoke English.) They were so funny... really it´s difficult to explain but they had the timing of humor down and it was a lot of fun to hang out with them. They invited the three of us to go to a non-turisty bar and see what Istanbul was really like. We agreed.

We took a taxi to this lounge-type restaurant where traditional live music was being played. A band was set up with a woman singing and people playing a variety of instruments that I wasn´t familiar with. The service in this restaurant was absolutely impecable. Your glass was always full, ashtray clean, a light ready for you if you got out your cigarette, your plate cleared the moment you were finished... it was almost unnerving for me to realize that the servers were paying that much attention to us.

The Turkish guys ordered some appetizers, basically fruit and cheese and nuts... it was really good. Then they ordered a round of traditional Turkish licor, Raki. It was something like Sambuco. Throughout the night people would periodically go up to the center and dance. I´ve never seen two adult men dancing together in such a way, I was especially impressed when one guy jumped onto the shoulders of the other and was doing some upper body dancing. The funny part is that they were facing each other for this move.


Turkish men dancing at bar.




Our group took the floor too... but I couldn´t pick up on the dance that everyone was doing. We all held pinkies and danced in a line and went around in a circle. Those who could do it well looked really cool.

After a while we were all pretty drunk from the Raki so we took a cab home and all separated. When Amanda and I got back to the hostal we realized that we weren´t quite done yet so we left again and found another little bar to go to. The place we found was just a few minutes from the hostal and we were the only customers there at 4 in the morning. It was a large room with maybe 40 tables that were all maybe 2 feet off the ground with small chairs. We sat and ordered some tea and a hookah. We also tried chicken chest pudding which I loved but Amanda didn´t like quite as much. Chicken and sweet pudding is a genius combination. We finally got "home" at 5 in the morning, creating the norm for the rest of the week and letting the hostal people know what we´re all about.


Me and Amanda´s 4am bar... all to ourselves.



Next day we went to the Grand Bazaar. I hear tell it´s the largest market of it´s kind in the world. They basically sell a lot of shit there, but it´s fun for turists to barter I guess. I bought some scarfs and some gifts for people. They have a lot of tea pots, hookahs, jewelry, carpets of course... The best part is the Spice Bazaar. This is where everyone goes, not just the turists. They sell every spice imaginable, dried fruit, nuts, turkish delight, other sweets... a great place really. We went to the Grand Bazaar twice on our trip. The first time was all smiles until the salesmen turned mean... the second time we were a little more savvy and got some things at good prices.

For the most part we were reluctant to do anything turisty so we waited until the last minute to see the Blue Mosque. It was beautiful of course, but crowds of turists as vultures takes away the spirituality of a place and makes it uglier than if you were to visit it alone. Later on in the week I went for a walk by myself and stumbled upon an old mosque and took a peek inside. I was the only visitor so the guy who was there gave me a personal tour and tought me some Turkish... but I forgot it.


The Sultan Ahmet (Blue Mosque)


Hagia Sofia


We also went to the Asian side of the city one day. Istanbul is the only city in the world that rests on two continents. We basically just had lunch in Asia and came back. We also ate fish sandwiches on the Bosphorus straight that were to die for. All the food in Istanbul was amazing actually.

Let´s see, what else did we do?  We did so much and now I´m tired of writing...  but one night we went to a music venue and saw an indie rock band, Istanbul has a nice underground music scene, I played chess in the street with one of the hostal guys (backgammon and chess boards are set up in many bars and people play outside all the time,) and I got my hair cut and thought they were going to dye my hair orange just to be mean because I didn´t speak Turkish. 

I think I´ll let Amanda continue the story if she wants to post a reply to this...

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Personal Bubble

May. 8th, 2007 | 10:25 am

My idea of the personal bubble is continuously being challenged here in Spain. I´ll give three examples within the last week that I thought were funny.

First, this weekend I was at a bus station in Barcelona taking a little cat nap on the seats. You´re not supposed to do that but I was ridiculously tired from the overnight trip and I figured I´d get in as much shut eye as I could before someone told me I couldn´t. There were plenty of seats in the station and I was taking up about 2 1/4. Of all the other seats available, some lady chooses my 1/4 occupied seat and has to ask me to move my feet. She of course has every reason to demand such a thing because I shouldn´t be taking up so many seats in the first place. Right or wrong is of no matter; I´m used to people straying from situations like that and choosing the least interaction with strangers possible. So I moved of course, but surely where I´m from 1/4-seat-occupied is equivolent to: occupied-unless-it´s-the-last-available. Why ask someone to move if there's another seat just 2 steps away?

Second, I was in an internet cafe using a computer and I made the typical "create my bubble" gesture by placing my coat and purse and travel bag in the chair next to me. Once again, I surveyed the room to make sure there were enough other available seats so that no one would have to ask me to move my stuff... but, like they do here, some Spanish guy chose that particular seat and asked me to move my things, completely disregarding my plea to have a personal bubble. I basically was saying: do not sit here unless you have to, and he was saying... well I don´t know what he was saying... probably nothing since the idea of wanting so much personal space hadn´t been ingrained in him.

Last of all, just the other night I went to the cinema with a Swedish friend (who shares the same idea about personal space) and we strategically chose some seats in the middle that were equally distant from the people ahead of and behind us. The theatre was less than a 1/8 full so that wasn´t difficult to do. We were feeling pretty comfortable, the movie was just about to start, and then some lone guy comes in and takes the seat just one away from us in the same row. Now of course that isn´t wrong... it´s just not at all what I would expect in the States. Imagine a nearly empty theatre and someone choosing to sit right next to you... that would never happen.

Granted, others probably think: who is this person who thinks they are entitled to so much space? And I think: well, I´m entitled to an armslength in every direction unless you´re a close friend or there´s no where else you can be. I´m still getting used to not being allotted my anti-human interaction space.

All in all these circumstances are funny because it allows me to see my own culture manifested. And even though I will probably always hold tight to my strict ideas of personal space and independence, I can eat least appreciate the ridiculousness of it all and perhaps learn something new every once in a while.

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summer plans

May. 6th, 2007 | 05:17 pm

This summer should be fairly fun. I´ll leave Logroño on the 22nd and stay in Madrid a few nights so I can take the GRE on the 23rd and then fly to Italy on the 24th. I´ve accepted an aupair position in Rome for the month of June, basically to kill the time that I have before aupairing in Barcelona for July and August. I´m looking forward to Barcelona (well for many reasons) but primarily because one of my best friends will also be aupairing there and we´re going to have a ridiculously good time like we always do. Also I have a Londonite friend who lives there and knows the ins and outs already so 2 months will be plenty of time to find a niche. I also want to take some free classes in Catalan which is the language that they speak there... it´s really similar to Spanish. Also every other weekend I intend to visit the organic farm in Baleguer. These next two weeks are devoted to GRE prep but next month I´ll subscribe to ASLA, a landscape architecture magazine so I have some good reading material while I´m partying over the summer.

After summer fun I´ll go to Madrid and live with yet another family and be an aupair during the school year (I´ll begin art classes and graphic design at that time.) Then I´ll aupair in Beijing in summer 2008. I figure I need to see Asia while I´m over here, you know, one more big bang before going back to the States. I´m looking for a culture shock.

That´s all for now... one of these days I´ll write about Istanbul, that place was amazing.

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A day on an organic farm.

May. 6th, 2007 | 01:49 pm

This weekend I took a bus from Logroño to Baleguer to volunteer on an organic farm. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it turned out to be an amazing experience... although I think had I actually worked more than one day I would be saying something different;)

So this crazy farmer dude, who actually reminds me of my dad, picked me up from the station and took us back to his flat in town. He has 3 extra bedrooms equipped to accomodate 10-15 people easily, but he boasted that he´s had 20. This weekend there were only 3 of us volunteers; another American girl and a Japanese guy.

When I arrived the table was set for dinner. It was an impressive feast with fresh organic salads, nuts, stews, pate, cold-cut meats, cured ham, and also homemade breads, fruit and yogurt. It was late so we all ate, made some small talk and went to bed. The next day was Friday and since there was no work to do we just visited his farms and gardens. On Saturday we worked 6 hours pruning olive trees and weeding various other plants and trees. I think one more day would have made me bleed, but 6 hours of work exchange for the amazing food I ate was quite a favorable situation for me.

Let me tell you what crazy farmer guy does.

Jordi sleeps 6 hours a day and can´t have coffee because he won´t sleep for 3 days. He teaches French at a middle school Monday through Friday. He showers less than I do. He collects tiles that carpenters discard (like the circle shaped ones cut out to fit the toilet and sink.) They actually pay him to take them off of their hands. So he has piles of no-longer trendy or defective ceramic and marble tiles collecting in no such order across his various plots of land. Also his farm sheds that he has scattered throughout the countryside have some unexpectedly nice tile work done, completed with the help of world-travellers who stay in his home and eat for work exchange. In one of these rickety sheds one can find a self-made, old-style, wood-burning oven in which he makes his own bread (which he uses like currency in the town along with other self-made high commodities.)

Other Jordi products include: honey (he has a large collection of bee boxes and I think that honey is the gold standard of Jordi currency,) dried herbs and spices, sprouts of all sorts, yogurt, fresh-squeezed juice (we had raspberry), cottage cheese...

Jordi grows and cans figs, peaches, pears, apples, strawberrys, blackberries, junipers, almonds, walnuts...

We picked the daily salad from his garden. He had a variety of greens like chard and other stuff that I don´t know the names for. Our salads were also accented with artichokes, peas, leeks and something that looked like dill but wasn´t.

You can cook and eat aloe vera after the plant has flowered (which takes 7 years.) Didn´t have that.

Rosemary and thyme grow like weeds in between his olive and almond trees. Varieties of mint grow like weeds along the hedges of his country sheds. It´s too bad he´s not a man of vices because he could make some killer mojitos.

Jordi likes travellers and has had people from all over the world in his home... yet he maintains his quiet, hermite-like qualities in a very reassuring farmer-teacher manner. He´s a skinny guy who likes to eat a lot and work a lot, but does both in a very relaxed and highly efficient manner. Being invited to sit at his dinner table is both an honor and a challenge; he doesn´t like finicky eaters nor those who don´t carry with them a large appetite. And no matter what your appetite is I think he would seek to challenge it... that might sound good but it´s actually a little scary because he´s quite serious about it.

Jordi is a master of hospitality and appreciates and learns something from all of his travellers. He´s a teacher and a farmer; he says he plants ideas as seeds and just hopes that they grow.

All in all, a very educational and fun time. I´ll be glad to use some of his lifestyle ideas in my own home someday.

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Future Plans

Feb. 22nd, 2007 | 06:31 pm

So apart from working in the school, learning Spanish, and travelling, I've also come to some decisions about what I want to do after this job and with my life in general. I've only just recently felt that I'm in a position to articulate any sort of plan so I wanted to run it by my family and friends to get some feedback.

I've decided to get a Master's in Landscape Architecture and begin a program in the States in the fall of 2009. Since as of yet I have had no experience with this particular field you may ask why I've chosen it... and perhaps you're also wondering what I'd be doing. Well essentialy I'd be designing outdoor spaces which could include anything from a home garden to an entire urban layout. My particular interest in this field has stemmed from my interest in nature and sustainability, and also social relationships with the non-human environment. Landscape Architecture blends elements of design and earth science knowledge with an equal consideration for social influences that will put Landscape Architects in a unique position to deal with environmental and social problems of today and the future (namely overpopulation, resource depletion and human disconnection from nature.) Although I have yet to decide my own role in the process, I do think that the way in which humans shape the environment both reflects current social attitudes and has the power to shape them, thus I would like to be in a position to create spaces that can change society (or at least meet the demands of current and future generations.)

I was incredibly intimidated when I first began thinking about this because it's not an easy degree to accomplish and also the program at the University of Washington in which I'm most interested is very competitive. (Not to mention I´ll be getting myself into quite a bit more scholarly debt.) But I'm starting to feel more confident as I've come up with a rather exciting and feasible plan to prepare myself for graduate school.

First of all, after my contract in Logroño is up I will move to Madrid and stay for about one year working as an aupair with a family. During this time I will take a graphic design course that will certify me in a few of the applications that are typically used in architectural design. In addition I will take drawing and sculpture classes in order to delve into my creative side which has been fairly unexposed while studying Sociology... I´m confident of this creative side´s existence though:) Also I plan on volunteering on some organic farms, reading up on current LA issues, and training myself to describe and write about the places that I visit from a designer´s point of view. I've already met the family that I'm going to stay with in Madrid and checked out the classes that I want to take. Also I am scheduled to take the GRE this May in Madrid (wish me luck!)

After Spain I want to move to Seattle and take an introductory Landscape Architecture class and also a few earth science courses, possibly geology and hydrology. I'll apply for the MLA program in December of 2008 and hopefully start in September of 2009. The program will take 3 years to complete and there is a 30% chance of acceptance. 1/3 are selected from social science backgrounds, 1/3 from earth science backgrounds, and 1/3 from design backgrounds so my Sociology degree will not hinder me, but may actually be useful (who would have thought.) Of course I'll apply to other MLA programs, one is in Michigan, but I prefer to aim high for now. My main concern is creating a portfolio, but I'm hoping the year immersed in art in Madrid will prepare me for that.

At the same time I want to make the most of my time in Spain by taking some advanced language courses and finding out what I need to do to be an interpreter when I get back to the States (I should be fluent after living in Spain for 2 years.) As an interpreter I´ll have a decent income while I'm studying without having to rely just on serving (although I'm sure I'll do that too.)

Whew, thanks for reading all of that, I appreciate it. Tell me what you think. Much love.

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Christmas Break

Feb. 22nd, 2007 | 11:19 am

OK... I've decided to update this journal finally. First I'll talk about Christmas Break.

I had Christmas dinner in a small town in La Rioja called Arnedo. I stayed with my roommate's family and we ate dinner in a bodega which was basically a really cool looking cave-like cellar. It was painted orange and decorated with old spanish agricultural tools. They had a nice long dark wood table and a fireplace, it was very cozy. For dinner we had salad, croquetas, fish soup, grilled shrimp, fish and lamb. Afterwards they played cards for hours and I was pretty bored but I loved hanging out with them. They were all very nice, especially since I was sad that I couldn't be with my own family :( Missed you guys.

After Christmas Teresa and I went South and it was great. We visited Granada for a few days and I went to La Alhambra which was absolutely amazing. It's an old Moorish palace that has some amazing Islamic architecture. Teresa and I also went to some arabic baths and had massages.

Granada is cool because it's perhaps the only city in Spain in which you get free tapas with every drink that you order (although I'm sure the drink prices reflect that.) Teresa and I definitely got pretty blitzed in order to have a decent meal for free. You get a new tapa with every drink that you order so it was encouragement to keep going just to see what the next one would be. We went out for lunch at around 2 and drank ourselves into such a stuper that by 11pm we could barely hold our wine glasses and retired to bed. (Actually the plan was to take a nap and then go out but we just passed out.)

After Granada we took a bus to Málaga and couchsurfed (stayed at a traveller's house for free) in Arroyo de la Miel which is a beach resort town just outside of Málaga. Our host was a 62 year old British guy in a wheelchair who let's travellers stay in his home for free. With us were 3 Canadian girls, a guy from South Africa and a couple from Poland. We spent New Year's Eve in Arroyo de la Miel and went to a party in the town square. Unfortunately this town is like the spring break hotspot for British retirees so we ended up watching a performance that made us do the chicken dance and walk like an Egyptian type stuff... which we did.

When the bells chimed at midnight we all ate 12 grapes (one at each chime) as is the tradition in all of Spain. Then we all went back to the house and had some casual partying until 4 in the morning. The next day we went to the beach. The weather was nice but definitely too cold to swim or sunbathe... but it was a nice change from the cold North.

After Málaga Teresa and I parted ways. I went to Madrid and stayed a few nights with a friend I had met in Granada and then I met up with Constantine who is my friend from the States. He knows some chic who owns some really nice hotels that are affiliated with the Palace so we stayed at this 5-star hotel and ate really well. (We also stole some wine and I stole some sheets.) Madrid is awesome, I love it. We had an amazing view from the hotel (we snuck up to the roof.) It was great seeing a friend from home.

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Christmas greetings!

Dec. 21st, 2006 | 06:05 pm

Hello everyone! I hope you all have a fabulous Christmas and a good New Year. I'll be thinking of you while I´m here (like I always do.) Until recently I didn't have any concrete plans for the holidays but now it´s all come together. I´ll have dinner with my roommate's family in Arnedo on Christmas Eve and Day and then I´ll travel south with a friend that I met who is also working in La Rioja as a language assistant. She's from California and we both decided that warmer weather was a necesity so we'll visit Málaga which is by the Mediterranean Sea... we'll only be gaining about 10º but we'll take what we can get. Also we'll perhaps visit Granada which is colder but apparently really beautiful. A friend from the States (Constantine) will be in Madrid so I'm surely going to spend a weekend there to visit him in early January. I'll post information from my travels when I get home. I love and miss you all, take care.

besos

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Update

Dec. 7th, 2006 | 04:39 am

Well it´s been a while since I´ve written in here, probably because life is coming together here and it no longer seems like I´m on vacation and I feel like I fit in here. I´ve been making some friends of all sorts, both from here and other English speaking foreigners. Last week I met a 45 year old couple from England and Hungary respectively and also met a 25 year old guy from Australia and his girlfriend who lives hear. I may take a trip to Bilbao with a French girl and her friends this weekend and I´m having a guest from the U.S. stay in my home for a few days while he competes in a card playing competition. He likes strategy games so I think I´ll get him drunk and try to beat him at chess. I´ve been taking a few pictures so I´ll post them soon so you all can see the great beauty that is Logroño. (It´s the Cedar Rapids of Spain.) It's still pretty cool though, there's plenty of stuff to do and Spaniards really know how to party. Most bars close at 4am but many stay open until 6 or even later. Generally by the time in the night that I´m ordering my vodka rocks I am way to drunk to be drinking vodka on the rocks. I´m still not sure what my options are for staying here longer. If I can find any other job I´ll stay, but the way it looks I´ll probably be going to some other country. I´ve thrown Asia into the pot, so perhaps I´ll go there. I would love to spend the summer in Italy with the same family as before and I think that I will do that before heading to another country. Eventually I´ll be back in the States so I can study landscape architecture. Gotta go

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Teaching is interesting

Nov. 7th, 2006 | 11:00 am

Well the original luster of teaching has worn off and I'm realizing exaclty how and why it's not an easy task. Being creative is difficult, but also getting people to participate is a challenge sometimes. It really just depends on each group. I feel like I have to change myself a little for each class that I have and I modify each activity as I go. I've learned that I always have to have a backup plan because even though a topic will go really well in one class, it might be really boring in another. It's really quite interesting though... whether students listen to me or not I am always quite amazed... it's the sociologist in me, I'm really just observing their behavior. For example, today for a few of my classes I told them to do a skit, and they did it. It surprises me that students just do what I tell them to do, equally amazing is when I tell them to do something and they don't do it.

Once I told some kids in my class to read an article, some did and some blatantly didn't. What am I going to do? Do I REALLY care if they read the article? Or do I just want them to do what I tell them to do? I really can't blame the kids who don't do what I tell them to do, I have a certain respect for them because they are aware of the power situation and know that I really don't have much ability to MAKE them do anything. I don't give tests nor grades so the only real power I have is if I tattle on them to their actual teacher. I can also send them out of the classroom (which I have done) but not as a punishment, but rather a general understanding that they don't want to participate and I would rather have them not disturb the class.

Also it's interesting how my mood can affect a class. If I'm bored, they'll most likely be bored, or if I'm tired, they won't put in much effort either. Because of that I think I need to have a set of 'easy' activities lined up for my off days. Another mood that is really important is that of the most talkative person in the class. Most classes have a person who is the 'leader', the one who is kindof popular, funny and talkative. I've decided that if I can manipulate that person, I can control the whole group. But if there are more than one of these types... I'm helpless.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a few classes while here and my favorite teacher so far is Marino. He's a highly energetic, serious guy but with a soft face. He always is running and pressed for time. One day he runs into his classroom and throws his things on the desk and says in a choppy english while making hand and body gestures: 'hurry up! Come on, there is no time to waste! Do you have your homework? Please get out your homework. Ok, Ana do you have your homework?' She says no, and then he pauses from his rambling and thinks and says quickly and earnestly 'That's okay, don't worry. The most important thing in life is to be happy.' I'm sitting in the back of the room laughing to myself, I can't believe he just said that, I love it. Then he surveys the rest of the room and finds out that no one did their homework. He says 'I'm not happy, that makes me very not happy.' Then he goes on with his class. Very funny guy, good teacher.

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Late night, early classes

Nov. 2nd, 2006 | 02:41 am

Today I started my new classes at 7:45 in the morning... a little early for my liking, but things went smoothly, which is good considering the night prior. I went out for 'just a few drinks' with a friend who works at the school and it turned into an all night party. It started off casual then turned into a foosball competition and more drinks that lasted well into the early hours. I got home at 5am and woke up at 7, had left over makeup and clothes on and walked to class to I could begin preparing something for my students (I intended to do it after drinks, but you know how it goes.) So I made a translation exercise and at the end I decided randomly that all the students should write down something in Spanish that they want to know how to say in English... I told them it could be anything so I hope I learn some street slang and bad words.

Oh, you know what's really funny about Spain that I just remembered? They use the glue stick in professional settings. When I went to apply for my foreigner's identification number I saw the lady behind the desk putting my papers together by putting a dab of the glue stick in the corner and sticking it together. She also glued my picture to the paper... those papers are all bound to get lost. Glue sticks just don't work as well as staples. Also in the school they use glue, very fun.

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Weekend in Italy

Oct. 30th, 2006 | 08:43 am

I took this weekend to visit the family that I stayed with in Italy and also pick up the stuff that I left here. I have some books in English, some shoes and clothes, etc... Yesterday I took the car to Sarnico to visit a former aupair of the family's. I'm planning on visiting Turkey with her in the Spring, she's from Istanbul so we'll have a free place to stay. Also I made friends with their current aupair who is from Germany and perhaps I'll visit her someday (nice to make friends around the world, huh?)

All in all I'm incredibly happy with my life at the moment, I'll be picking up 6 more classes a week for an additional 300 euros a month which will bring my monthly income up to just over 900 euros ($1150) Not bad for putting in 18 hours a week in the classroom and perhaps 6 hours a week in preparation. Actually that's really good and I love my job. Money has definitely been tight though, it's expensive to set up an apartment and get settled and I haven't actually gotten paid yet, but it all is working itself out.

At school I have a lot of creative freedom, all I have to do is get the class to have a discussion in English with a general aim of preparing them for an oral exam they all have to take after graduating secondary school. Creative freedom is fun, but really I don't have so many ideas of what to do. This is the first time I've taught classes and I've never had any training... a little exciting. I see 12 different groups of students a week and have to prepare perhaps 4 different lessons which have varied so far from playing 20 Q's to reading articles about Globalization and generating lists of differences between the U.S. and Spain. Soon I'll have to prepare 3 additional lessons when I pick up the 6 more classes. I've actually only had about 2 weeks of class, and the first was just introduction. I'm still feeling out my options and deciding how I want the classes to go. It's nice to not be restricted, but of course more challenging to not have someone else tell me what to do. I like it.

I leave to go back to Spain today. I have to take a plane to Zaragoza and then a train to Logrono. Next weekend my roommate invited me to her hometown to hang out with her and her friends, that should be fun. Also my other roommate wants me to come with her sometime to her hometown and do the same. They are both incredible girls, I love living with them. A couple teachers also invited me to their hometowns and in 3 weeks I'll be going to Barcelona to visit a friend I met in Madrid who is from London. Lots of travel plans, pretty excited about that. Miss you all very much! Can't wait to make another trip to Iowa! Much love.

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My job

Oct. 18th, 2006 | 06:23 pm

Perhaps you have all wondered what it is that I'm doing over here for a job... well, my schedule has finally formulated and I can tell you. I work 12 hours a week within the classroom at a high school (ages 13-17) assisting teachers with the conversational aspect of their English classes. The idea is that the students get used to hearing a native speaker and practicing speaking English. I was supposed to never be alone in a class but I actually visit about 16 different classes in which I present my own topic, make my own lesson plans, and control the group on my own. It's a little challenging because the students vary so much (and so does my schedule) so I have to adjust my lessons to each group. Essentially I am the creative engine behind the program, it's up to me to try to make class fun while teaching them how to speak and listen. So far I've really enjoyed my classes. Some students really like me and the classes are fun and interesting, while other students are completely not interested and I´ll have to work a little harder to get their attention. Well that's all for now. The comuter lab is closing....

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Call me for free

Oct. 16th, 2006 | 09:16 am

Hey everyone,

You should check out this website and try calling me sometime for free: http://www.futurephone.com/

Apparently you just dial (712) 858-8883 and then when the phone answers dial 011 and then the country code and then the number. Useful to anyone who wants to make international calls. I think you just get charged for the call to the US number, but if you have free long distance on your phone then it's a free call. Try it out, call me whenever.

So dial the US number, when it answers dial 011 034 652 269 059.

Thanks to Jory for the information... he's such a smart cookie.


This weekend I went to San Sebastian and loved it. I met up with an old friend and met a couple new friends... it was perfect. I love that city and if I decide to stay in Spain when this nine months is over I'm definitely going to live there. I've considered paying some money to take a teaching course so I can get a job anywhere I go... but I've also considered NOT teaching and perhaps going to grad school after a pick up a few languages. We'll see. Hope all is well in the States. Hasta luego.

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