What I Know Now After Studying in Cameroon

When you think about studying abroad, Cameroon might not be the first country that pops into your head. Cameroon is home to more than 200 ethnic groups speaking over 260 different languages. Cameroon was first colonized by Germany in 1884 but after the end of the first World War Cameroon was “given” to France (3/4) and Britain (1/4). When gaining its independence in 1960, Cameroon decided to make its official languages English and French. The country remains divided with anglophones facing off with francophones due to anglophone suppression. While studying in Cameroon I did not visit any anglophone regions due to the civil unrest and protests that became violent. Here are some things I learned.

1) Malaria Isn’t That Bad (As Long as You Can Pay for Treatment)

About six weeks into my study abroad I had a restless night. I woke up the next morning and my stomach was not happy. I thought back to the street meat I had for lunch the day before and had many regrets. 

Since I lived across the street from our school, I managed to get to school, used the bathroom for the fourth time that morning, and laid on the daybed before my French class started. I only made it to class since it was only 20 steps from the daybed. At about five minutes in, I knew I needed to go home and go back to sleep. I went into our homestay coordinator/health and wellness advisor Nathalie’s office. I told her I wasn’t feeling well and that I wanted to go home. She asked if I wanted to go to the doctor. Slowly I said no and then blacked out. 


I awoke on the floor hearing Nathalie calling for Thierry who worked security for the school. Soon I was in his arms and I told him I needed to go to the bathroom again. Barely able to walk and seeing the hallway through tunnel vision, I remember thinking: “If I don’t get helicoptered out of this place, I’m going to die.”

A few minutes later Thierry was carrying me to the hospital. The doctor came in a few hours after taking lots of tests and told me I had a stomach fungus and bacteria, and a little bit of malaria. A little bit of malaria! What does that mean?? I soon learned how treatable malaria can be when you have access to medicine. Malaria is a deadly disease because so many people in Cameroon and other African countries don’t have the $3 it costs to treat the disease right away. I was fortunate enough to have the money to stay in a hospital for two days for treatment. Others are not so lucky.

2) How to Navigate Taxis While Studying in Cameroon

When you walk around the streets of Cameroon you see people on the sidewalks yelling at taxi drivers as they pull over. At first, this may seem odd, but there is actually a simple system to the madness. It is similar to Uber pools. If you would like to go somewhere in the city you stand on the sidewalk and when a taxi driver pulls over, you shout the place you want to go. If he is going in that direction he will pull over and pick you up. But if he isn’t, he will drive away.

A taxi from Cameroon.

The taxi fare was typically around 250 XFA, about $0.50.You will ride in the taxi with whoever is going in the same direction as you. So you never know if you will get dropped off first or last. The taxi drivers are efficient, however, and once you’re in the taxi, you’ll get to the destination in a somewhat timely manner. UNLESS there is traffic, which is always, so never look at your watch, and enjoy chatting with the other riders in the taxi.

3) Bucket Showers Are Pretty Efficient

Walking into my homestay, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. My host mom was the last one to arrive which was funny because the house was right across the street from the school. We were told from the beginning that Cameroonians tend to always be late. The staff told host parents to arrive at 2 pm and the first person showed up at about 2:30 pm. When my host mom came we chatted for a bit and then went back to the house. 

It was a quaint home and my bedroom was on the first floor across from the living room. There was a small kitchen off of the entrance and then two bedrooms upstairs for my host parents and their niece, who was staying with them while she went to university. The bathroom had a toilet and then a hose with a pink bucket under it. I remember my host sister Prisca explaining the bucket shower to me. “Fill up the bucket, use the smaller ladle, and wash yourself.” Pretty simple, I guess. 

Although not the most thrilling, I got pretty good at taking bucket showers and avoiding the occasional cockroach scurrying around my bare feet. The best bucket shower I took while studying in Cameroon was in a northern village called Batoufam where I also stayed with a host family. I woke up to kids knocking on my door telling me to follow them. They took me outside to the area where they showered, pointed to a steaming bucket, and left me alone. It was maybe 6:30 am and I took a warm bucket shower in the fields of Batoufam. I will never forget it.

4) Kids Are the Best Way to Learn a Language

My stay in Batoufam was one of my best experiences while studying in Cameroon. The family I stayed with was so kind, and there were always kids around. I was never exactly sure which kids were a part of the family I was staying with. When I decided to go to Cameroon, I had only taken a year of French classes at my university. I soon learned that my French was not as good as I thought it was. 

However, when I was with kids, I felt so much more confident with my language skills. Not only do you feel more confident with kids but they explain things to you that adults never do. When learning a new language you are often lost and ask people to repeat things. You can only ask an adult to repeat things so many times before they will stop and say forget about it. This is extremely frustrating when you are trying to learn a new language because you want to understand. This is why children are the best. They will take as long as you need to explain something to you. 

I was in the “kitchen” (a mud hut with pots, pans, food, and a place to build a fire) with my host family and I didn’t understand something one of the kids said. They then spent the next 10 minutes acting out and repeating what they were trying to tell me. By the end, we were all laughing so hard I didn’t even remember what I was trying to understand. 

5) Flashlights Are not Necessary With a Good Guide

Later that night we went for a walk through the village to collect some pots and a jug of water. Even with the stars shining brighter than I had ever seen, I couldn’t see a thing. We set out on our walk and I had my flashlight in hand. There were kids all scattered around and they knew exactly where they were going. We walked for about 10 minutes before arriving in another family’s kitchen where a goat was tied up. The kids talked to the family, I did my best to answer any questions they had for me and tried to help them pronounce my name. 

We left and walked for another 10 minutes and even with my flashlight, I could not see more than three feet in front of me. We arrived at another house, picked up the jug of water, and headed back home. I asked the kids what they liked doing, what they thought about school, and most importantly how they could see in the pitch black. They just laughed and said that they walked this road every single morning and every night and after a while, you don’t really need to see.

I looked around at the road I had walked that morning and did not recognize a thing. I thought we were still a ways away from the house but within minutes we were home. All of these children were under the age of 10, could cook, clean, and walk around the village in the dark all by themselves. I often saw five/six-year-olds walking around with machetes and I didn’t bat an eyelid.

Wrap Up

Although not your typical study abroad experience, I am incredibly appreciative of the time I spent studying in Cameroon. I met wonderful people, learned a beautiful language, and discovered a developing country. I would highly recommend studying in an unknown place to those of you who are still in college. Your eyes will open to a world that you didn’t know existed. You will be pushed in ways you didn’t know you could be pushed. For those of you who are out of college, I challenge you to visit those unknown places that you may see as scary or unsafe. Do the research, find the right people, and explore the unknown. It will change your life. 

Kylie Richmondby Kylie Richmond

The Highs and Lows of Being an English Language Assistant

After weighing up multiple options post-graduation, I eventually decided to work as an English Language Assistant in Castelló de la Plana. The ELA, known in Spanish as an auxiliar de conversación usually works for 12-16 hours a week helping the main teacher. In this position, you can be especially helpful leading speaking activities or giving cultural presentations, which the (usually) non-native teacher would find more difficult to teach. 

Life’s a rollercoaster

Overall I had an incredible time in my three years as an English Language Assistant in Castelló. But there were plenty of difficult moments too, and I think it is important to talk about all aspects of living abroad. I find that living abroad heightens all my emotions and everything is just more intense. The awesome experiences were far more incredible than what I would have experienced staying in England. But I also faced more obstacles, and without such a wide support network, they felt more difficult. 

A sunrise from the Castello mountains

So without further ado, here are some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my time in Castelló. 

Working as an English language assistant

Lows: English Language Assistants normally work with a maximum of two or three teachers. But for my first year, we only realised this after we had organised my timetable… with 13 teachers! This made coordination difficult and resulted in too much last-minute planning. I wasn’t always able to make the most of my time in class. In my final year, with the excuse of COVID, my coordinator only allowed me to teach from the textbook. That’s not really an ELA’s job, and I wasn’t able to share much of my culture or do fun speaking activities. I felt useless and frustrated, and sorry for the children. 

Highs: I want to be a teacher in the future, so I definitely enjoyed the job. But it wouldn’t feature in my most outstanding memories. However, outside my main job, I taught private lessons. In these lessons, I had more flexibility and was really able to share my culture. The joy of carving pumpkins and cooking gingerbread men with excited children in English is one highlight I’ll always treasure. Another is the weekly classes that almost became therapy sessions with one of my adult students. We developed a special bond that I didn’t have with other students. 


Lows: I moved to Spain to practise speaking Spanish and Catalan/Valencian. But the language barrier was, and still is, one of my greatest frustrations. I have a very good level of both languages now, but I still can’t express myself in the same nuanced manner that I can in English. I also still struggle to understand everything in group conversations or noisy situations. I feel I can’t be fully myself, or I feel that the version of me that people know isn’t everything I really am.

Highs: Valencian is, sadly, a minority language in many places it is spoken. Lots of locals can’t (or don’t) speak it. So being an English person who speaks Valencian is uncommon and appreciated. Along with the fact that I got very involved in the local culture, this turned me into a mini-celebrity in the Valencian-speaking community of Castelló. I definitely met more people because of this and was welcomed more into the local culture. 


Lows: Making friends, especially as you get older, is always a challenge. Making friends in a foreign language and foreign culture is even more difficult. And in Castelló, the majority of people were born there and have lived there all their life (or left briefly but returned). This makes it even more difficult to become part of friendship groups that have been stable in many cases since primary school! I noticed this especially keenly because with my job I had lots of free time. I missed having my university friends with me to share my adventures. 

Highs: Slowly, I began to make more friends. I didn’t ever get to the point where I felt completely happy with how many close friends I had. But I was incredibly lucky to have many people who welcomed me and shared their time and passions with me. With them, apart from my regular hobbies, I went paddleboarding at sunrise, surfing, snorkelling, rollerblading, cycling, and learnt to play paddle tennis. They lent me equipment, drove me to suitable places, and shared the fun with me! I was also lucky to have a coordinator who became my best friend. She was my confidante, inspiring me with her passion for teaching and life. We shared Christmas meals and pizza nights. We went hiking and olive picking, and I was welcomed like another member of the family. 


Lows: Luckily COVID isn’t an integral part of the English Language Assistant experience! But it understandably had such a big impact on my life in Castelló that I have to mention it. Unsurprisingly, it was a low point! In Spain, we had two months where we were only allowed out of the house for essential shopping, not even for exercise, and I was not in the best flat for this (dark, few windows, introverted flatmates…). Throughout my whole final year, there were also still varying levels of restrictions. In many ways, I found it even harder when the restrictions eased because I still felt a personal sense of responsibility. But I had to enforce my own boundaries, I couldn’t fall back on the law. 

Highs: It may seem strange to have a “highs” section under COVID. But although I would never choose for it to happen, the sense of togetherness was so strong, even though we were physically apart. Having more free time was also a bonus, which allowed me to get back in regular contact with many friends. But the most positive thing to come out of the COVID situation was, surprisingly, flamenco. 

During the strictest lockdown, my flamenco teacher began to offer classes online. I didn’t have much else to do, and they gave me a sense of purpose, so I signed up for all of them! Even once restrictions relaxed, there were still many things we couldn’t do. But dance classes, either socially distanced and with masks, or back online, were always possible. So I directed more energy to flamenco, and it became a passion that led to me moving to Seville this year to learn more! 


Lows: I really don’t think there are any highs for this. And I had it easier than many people I know! But I’ve still been on wild goose chases around different government buildings, being turned away at each one. I’ve nearly cried with frustration and humiliation (and I know people who have actually cried). I’ve waited longer than you should have to for a simple document. I have struggled to make a cita previa (appointment) which I needed urgently. But it is all manageable eventually, especially if you take someone with you for emotional support! 


Highs: But here is something which only has highs! The Valencia region has such a rich culture, and there is so much I could talk about. But I’m going to focus on two of my favourite parts. 

Fire: There is no way that Valencia’s fire-related traditions could happen in England due to health and safety restrictions! So I made the most of them while I could. I have three favourite fire-related memories. The first one was the Nit Màgica in the Magdalena celebrations. People with fire danced around me, sparks rained down from above, wheelbarrows with flaming bull-like “horns” whooshed past, and fireworks set the palm trees on fire. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it! Secondly, the square full of people wielding fire in the Salt de Plens at the Patum festival. Never have I been more scared for my life, nor more exhilarated and amazed! And thirdly, going under and inside a massive bonfire to celebrate Sant Antoni as the clock struck midnight on my 25th birthday. If you like fire, the Valencia region is the place to be!

Muixeranga: I knew I wanted to join the muixeranga group before I even arrived in Spain. These human towers perfectly combine my love of acrobatics and climbing, with the desire to experience the local traditions. Right from the beginning, I felt welcome in their group. I especially love the mix of ages, from little children to retired people. Everyone has their space in the Conlloga (my muixeranga group). The highlight of everything I got to do with this group was the figuereta. It’s a figure where someone (me!) gets to do a headstand on top of two levels of people! It’s visually impressive, fun to perform, and came to represent my involvement in Valencian culture. 


A final high: Castelló is a 20-minute cycle from both the sea and the mountains. I loved going to either of those places for sunrise and sunset. It is also surrounded by stunning villages, and I made sure to visit as many of them as possible (even better when you can go with local people to show you their secrets!)


I certainly struggled at times during my three years in Castelló, with problems I wouldn’t have faced had I stayed in England. But the highs fully outweighed the lows, and I had an incredibly immersive experience with so many amazing memories. Cliché as it sounds, the difficulties have made me a stronger person, and the high points have given me an experience that will forever be a part of me. I would 100% recommend being an English Language Assistant in Castelló!

by Kira Browne

What I Know Now About Solo Travel During the Holidays

“Ma’am, would you mind switching seats with my wife?” ‘Wait, what? I am a window- seat traveler through and through — was he talking to me?’ “Sir, I’m so sorry. No. I really enjoy the window seat.”

As I boarded a long flight to Hawaii from St. Paul, Minnesota, my second flight of the day, I had my first encounter with a fellow traveler. It wasn’t particularly a positive one. Yet it reminded me how fortunate I felt to be traveling solo during the holidays. I took a deep breath, put my earbuds in, and took a long glare out the window. 

Photo of the flight wing

Solo travel is a meaningful experience. It can be something different and more meaningful to those who do it. For those who travel more often, it becomes more natural. As of late, COVID variants, holidays, and other societal protocols have created some not so “normal” feelings for many travelers. During my recent trip to Hawaii, I noticed some solo travel peculiarities that left me feeling borderline awkward at times. This piece is written for those who travel solo and are single, married, straight, LGBTQ+, white, black, green, blue, and you get my point. Here is what I know now about solo travel during the holidays. 

Tips for Those Who Solo Travel During the Holidays

1) Speak Up

If you decided to solo travel during the holidays and have begun to feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why? Is this a situation that could be mitigated or made to be less awkward if the other party or company involved did better? Ask questions. Once you have your answer, then speak up. If this means waiting a few days to think it over, wait. If it means saying no to “Can I get a window seat?”, say no. 

In my situation, the airline moved my seat a few times and reticketed me. The airline staff who gave me a different ticket as I boarded told me she moved me to accommodate someone else. I asked her if it was a window because that was all I cared about. She said yes. Then I boarded and received the seat of someone who really wanted the seat, too, AND it was a married couple. If it had been a two-hour flight, I would have switched. 

Since this flight was about six hours, I wanted my window seat and should not have felt bad about saying no. But, in the end, it did feel mildly awkward during the flight as the husband was texting Delta (from what I could see and hear). His wife was sitting across the aisle instead of next to him at the window. They were talking about Delta for the first couple of hours. It didn’t feel good to be moved in the first place, and then fly and feel like a “solo traveler.” Do I regret saying no? No. Did I speak up and call Delta when I got home from the trip? Yes. Solo travel is personal, and these points can be modified if needed. This is based on my experience.

2) Be Comfortable

Seize the journey and all that comes with it. If you’ve decided to solo travel during a holiday outside of peak season, then it might not be the rush we all know and loathe. If the panic and chaos come crashing in on you at the airport as it did for me, remain calm. There are some things that are out of your control. Canceled and delayed flights are two of them. Remember that you are in control of yourself and what you say or don’t say. This is your chance to speak up and take control of YOU. Solo travel is easy because you control yourself. So, remember that, and don’t let naysayers get you down. 

Here are a few things I encountered after my arrival to Hawaii that made me feel slightly awkward. Looking back, hey, it’s about the journey and learning how to be more comfortable with yourself. It’s not about others — it’s about your experience. Sometimes eating as a party of one can get interesting — and awkward — if you let a naysayer make it that way.

Do your research and look up the place ahead of time. Book the table ahead through OpenTable or whatever reservation provider they have so you don’t have to wait. Make sure the restaurant knows you are a party of ONE (say it with pride). Booking in advance will guarantee you have a spot even if they are behind. You might have to wait just a bit but you will get a meal and a seat in a reasonable amount of time. Remember if it’s peak season, reservations are important. . Be prepared — be comfortable! 

Since it’s the holidays and families and couples are out everywhere, remain calm and stay centered. You are there for you and at the very least, remember your table conversation won’t be about any topic that you don’t want it to be. HIGH FIVE to YOU.

3) Talk to the Locals

Solo travel during the holidays can be great, but there are some caveats. When it comes to touring the town and going out during holiday and COVID-times, it’s important to remain safe. Locals know which areas are the best and quite frankly, solo travel means you have the day or night to do what you want when you want. Ask around about the safety guidelines and be sure to follow them. For example, before I realized how important reservations were for a party of ONE, my Uber driver Bradner gave me some local hangouts to try since I was striking out with some of the more popular places. 

Bradner, if you ever read this, thank you for the conversation and for mentioning LuLu’s Waikiki. It’s got such a great view and he was right — I didn’t have to wait. The food was casual, quick, and convenient for a solo traveler. Plus, the evening that I went online to look for LuLu’s I rediscovered OpenTable, and my dining experience quickly changed. I had used OpenTable before but didn’t realize how necessary this was over the holidays and for a party of one. In the US, OpenTable was a good option to book reservations.

Uber drivers, tour operators, concierges, and restaurant staff are gems. Talk to them!

4) Accomplish Your Goals

Who doesn’t like taking a walk on Waikiki Beach or going for a stroll in Waimea Valley to see the botanical gardens? Before you head to a location, you might hear lists and lists of things to do and see before you go. Since you are a solo traveler, some things will take a bit more time to do and some won’t. It depends on who you are and what you are doing. For example, I enjoy road trips and driving. Plus, I like seeing places from the sea and from the land. I made these my two top priorities and went from there. I went whale watching and toured Pearl Harbor which were both really important to me. 

Naysayers might get in your way while this is happening. Just let them say what they say and you do you. At the end of the day, a robust list of goals that is half accomplished is better than no list at all. If your plan is to lay out all day and become a golden Cleopatra, then do it. If you are staying at a place with a pool and/or are close to the beach make sure you get to that towel vendor early and get your spot, Cleo. The line starts super early over the holiday season and families of five or more are there super early. YOU have got this!

5) Be Confident

The holidays are special to everyone for different reasons. Christmas Eve was the last time I saw Tata so for me, the holiday means more to me than it ever did. Solo travel means more too. It’s not a sign of being alone but rather a symbol of strength.

This year I decided to solo travel during the holidays. I had arrived in Honolulu the evening before. Many places were closed on Christmas Eve, so I went to the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian Resort to have a meal. It wasn’t preplanned, and I did not have a reservation. It was on this evening where the very core of what I was celebrating was challenged (at first). I circled the bar and saw no seats available. Then, I went to the host and said “party of one.” I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic, the holiday, or if they were in the weeds (in over their heads), but I sat at the table without any interaction for about 10 minutes. 

I know I was on Hawaii time but… when you are a party of one on Christmas Eve and everyone else is either 1) with a group of kids, 2) holding up a pair of glasses to cheers, or 3) need I say more? My point is that confidence goes a long way even if you begin to feel lonely due to the nature of the day, moment, or all of the above times fifty (squared). 

How did this evening progress? I walked over to the bartender (a local) and asked him if he could find me a seat at the bar. As luck would have it, one became free and I ordered my Kir Royal and dinner at the bar with the locals. 

Wrap Up

Solo travel is rewarding, and not everyone does it. If you are a brave soul that ventures out over the holidays (any holiday) to celebrate — be confident. I had to write about this experience because I know the holidays can be hard on many of us and I sat there that evening thinking about how many other solo travelers or those who were at home felt like they didn’t belong. For those long 10 minutes that I waited, I felt that way too. 

I lived abroad, traveled while doing so, and have solo traveled since moving home. People can have opinions but you must make the experience yours. It’s about the journey, not the final destination. The world might be adjusting to new norms as far as the pandemic is concerned. This will be ever-changing for the travel industry. However, it’s a great opportunity for solo travelers during the holidays and all the time. There is less mental and physical baggage and more time for YOU! Bon Voyage!

Leesa Truesdellby Leesa Truesdell

What I Know Now as a New Mom Abroad

Never did I imagine that I would get pregnant and have a baby during a worldwide pandemic, while my husband was living and working in another country, with my parents unable to come to help, all while managing everything in a different language. But as they say in France: c’est la vie!  After nearly 41 weeks of pregnancy and seven months of being a new mom abroad, I have experienced a lot and am extremely grateful for these five lessons I’ve learned so far. 

1) Other Foreign Parents Are the Best Resource as a New Mom Abroad

Things are done differently from back home. Other foreign parents are your best resource if you have questions or concerns. I felt very lucky that one of my best friends in Madrid was on her third pregnancy while I was on my first. She explained to me everything I could expect with the public health care system, what all of my appointments were for, what I should be asking, what I needed to prepare for the hospital, all the paperwork that comes along with having a baby and so much more. 

Aside from my friend, I also joined English-speaking parents/moms Facebook groups in the cities I live in. Everyone in those groups is amazing and helpful. Someone is always willing to help and answer even the smallest question. It’s nice to know that you’re not going through the experience alone, especially as a new mom abroad. Being pregnant and having a baby is a learning experience in itself. Doing it in another country and often in a foreign language adds additional stress. Make it easier on yourself by speaking with other foreign parents to get the best idea of what to expect where you are. Also, foreign moms love coffee dates. This has been great for getting to know others in a similar circumstance and building a local friend group.

2) Support Systems Come in All Shapes and Sizes

As I previously mentioned, I was more or less living on my own throughout my pregnancy. My husband came to visit as often as he could and we talked daily. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the same as having him there. My support system during pregnancy included my wonderful mother-in-law and fantastic friends. I ate lunch with my mother-in-law every Sunday. She always sent me home with leftovers to ensure I ate well. My friends took it upon themselves to make sure I got out of the house, so we had a lunch date at a new restaurant every weekend.  

With my family on the other side of the Atlantic, my friends planned an amazing baby shower with traditional games. It became a fun experience for the Spaniards in attendance too. One friend and I even had an emergency plan in case I went into labour before my husband made it home (thank goodness we never needed that plan). During the first few months of my daughter’s life, our friends and family in Madrid took care of us, so that we could take care of her.  Now that I’m in Strasbourg, I don’t have a large friend and family network close by. I cherish the weekends that our friends and family visit us. It’s so important for me as a new mom abroad to feel that support again. I’m really lucky to have these people in my life.

3) Find What Works for You To Create Balance 

I am a typical Type A personality: I like structure, knowing what I’m doing, planning things, and am highly organized. Due to this, the first few months of being a new mom abroad were difficult for me. It’s impossible to predict what your newborn will be like! Therefore, I made a huge effort to go with the flow each day. I made sure not to over-exert myself with plans. It became difficult as I wanted to see everyone before our international move. For the first few months while my husband was on paternity leave and we were in Madrid, this worked for us. However, now that we’re in Strasbourg and he’s back at work, having a routine each day is what I need.  

During the day while my husband’s at work, I plan our day as I want, taking into account my baby’s needs as she is always with me.  For me, having structure helps the day go by smoother and faster. It also means that I know that when my husband gets home I will get some all-important “me time” and that we will do whatever in the evening as a family. Since I’ve created a daily routine, I feel more mentally and physically balanced, which hopefully makes me a better parent.

4) Socializing Is Important (And Good for Your Mental Health)

Let me start by saying I love my husband and baby, but spending ALL my time with them is not what I would call ideal! When we moved to Strasbourg, I made it my mission to create some sort of social life. This is where the mom/parent networks come in handy as many others are in exactly the same situation. Often, they are just waiting for someone to reach out. I look forward to my weekly coffee dates with the other moms in my area. It’s a great way to socialize knowing that it won’t bother anyone that I have to bring my baby along.  

I also found other activities that interested me and just asked if I could bring my baby. Not all activities said yes, but some did. This helps me to get out of the house, meet other people, and talk about non-baby-related things too! I am very social, so it’s important to me to interact with other adults on a daily basis. Even if you think you’re not a “social person”, having social contacts is so important so you don’t get totally lost in “being a mom”.

5) You Can Still Do All the Things You Want With a Baby in Tow

My friends and the salon owner just looked at me and laughed when I walked into the nail salon for my first postpartum pedicure with my one-month-old in tow. It didn’t surprise anyone. I’m not the type of person to let having a baby hold me back from doing the things I want, within reason of course. Because I bring my baby everywhere it means that she’s already had many great experiences. I haven’t had to miss out on things I wanted to do.  

During the summer we spent many evenings on local terraces, attended work and birthday parties, went shopping with friends, went to the beach, and took advantage of our last few months in Madrid before our big move. Since arriving in Strasbourg, we’ve gone hiking, visited various cities and towns in the region, and made multiple trips back to Madrid, one even on my own with the baby!  In order to take the baby everywhere, I make sure I’m always prepared. Her diaper bag is always packed for any situation. I leave the house with extra time just in case we need to stop for a feed or diaper change. If you make a habit out of bringing your baby with you, it becomes easier with time and makes for lots of great photo ops.

Wrap Up

It’s not always easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I knew that being a new mom wouldn’t be a walk in the park, and there have definitely been unexpected obstacles to overcome. Yet every day I learn something new that hopefully makes me a better person and a better mom.  

by Kristen Gammage

11 Amazing Things to Do in Iceland

Up until around 20 years ago, Iceland was off the map for most globe trekkers. By 2019, the second-largest European island has become one of the top-rated bucket list travel destinations for millions of people. With so many things to do in Iceland and a beautiful Icelandic backdrop, it’s hard to know where to begin! Iceland has a fascinating landscape that is unlike anything else in the world. From lush greenery to majestic waterfalls, from volcanoes to geysers, from natural hot springs to glaciers, Iceland is an outdoor lover’s paradise.  Modern houses with grass roofs, sheep darting around the fields, crisp air, plentiful organic food, and clear glacier water from the tap all contribute to making you feel like you are on another planet. 

Due to its low population, most of Iceland appears almost deserted. Before the pandemic, annual visitors outnumbered its inhabitants by three times to one. With a 75% decrease in the number of visitors due to the pandemic, I decided to take my dream trip to Iceland without the crowds. The outdoorsy nature of my planned activities and the need to rent a car to get to my destinations made this wonderful road trip both safe and enjoyable.

Finding Things to Do in Iceland

The best time to visit this Nordic gem depends on what you’re after. The peak season is between June and August. Summertime offers the mildest weather, the most daylight, and the greatest number of activities available. Recently, the winter months have also become popular with the opportunity to explore ice caves, hunt for northern lights, and enjoy various snow activities. 

The average length of stay in Iceland is around seven days. Shorter trips are also possible but won’t give you enough time to really explore beyond Reykjavik and the west coast. Within nine to ten days, you can cover all of Iceland via its famous ring road without feeling rushed. Below is a selection of my favourite things to do in Iceland. 

1. Explore City Life 

Reykjavik — the capital and largest city of Iceland is home to 2/3 of the entire population of the island. The city is so small that its center can be easily explored by foot. It is dotted with vintage Norden houses with bright tin roofs, ultra-modern glass towers, hilly streets with impressive statues, colorful street art, and relics of its Viking and medieval past. Reykjavik’s gorgeous waterfront faces stunning coastal landscapes across the bay, adding to its charm. 

The most famous landmark of the city is Hallgrímskirkja. This church’s piercing tower acts as an observation deck, giving a panoramic view of the city.

2. Immerse Yourself in Hot Springs

Iceland is well known for its hot springs and geothermal pools. Some will cost you (for example, the Blue Lagoon) but others are completely free. Finding a hot spring is one of those can’t-miss things to do in Iceland. 

The Blue Lagoon is by far the most famous and popular hot spring in the country. The pale blue, milky waters are full of rich minerals and elements such as silica and algae and have a pleasantly warm temperature against the cold air. Although the lagoon is a byproduct of a geothermal plant, it is still a beautiful place to visit. For the most enjoyable experience, be sure to make your reservation well in advance and ask for the earliest time available to avoid the crowds. 

If you prefer a more organic and rawer version (not to mention free), I recommend Reykjadalur Valley and Seljavallalaug. Both places require some hiking but the landscape along the way is so picturesque that you’ll arrive before you know it. 

The Reykjadalur Steam Valley is a river full of hot springs and mud pits. You can “adjust” the temperature of the water to your liking by moving closer to the hot or cold water source. There are wooden platforms where you can change into your swimwear. The farther end of the platform tends to be warmer and less crowded. 

The Seljavallalaung 

The Seljavallalaung is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. You will find it in a narrow valley, built into the side of the mountain. It sports truly breathtaking surroundings. The hot water that flows into it is completely natural and the mountainside acts as the fourth wall of the pool. The hottest water is by the side of the pool opposite the changing rooms. 

3. Check Out How High Geysers Are Blowing 

The most active geyser in Iceland is Stokkur. Its eruptions usually measure 15-20 meters (49-66 feet) high and typically go off every six to ten minutes. The opportunity to get so close to this geyser was one of the highlights of my trip. 

4. Cruise the Turquoise Ice Lagoon 

The Jokursalon glacier lagoon is a lake filled with melted glacier water. The lagoon owes its fame to the blue, white, and turquoise icebergs that break off the edge of the glacier and settle in its waters. At the water’s edge, they are several dozen meters high but they slowly melt into the lagoon before drifting out to the sea. For those who would like to get closer to the icebergs, I highly recommend booking a glacier tour boat. These small zodiac boats can get very close to the glacier. During the excursion, you will ride past the huge icebergs populated by colonies of seals and seabirds.  

Where the glacier lagoon empties into the ocean, you will find Diamond Beach. This beach is famous for its numerous blocks of crystal-clear ice deposited on black sand. Being able to feel, sit, or even lie on the crystal-like glaciers was an amazing experience and certainly one of the best things to do in Iceland. 

5. See the Rainbow Above the Waterfall 

Iceland is a land of waterfalls. You will be able to find them in practically every part of the island. Its distinctive shape, enormous power, and the rainbow that often appear above are some of the reasons why Gullfoss is one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland. 

The unique feature of Seljalandfoss is that you can walk behind it. Prepare for a sensory overload: the mist of the water on your skin, the sight of the sun setting through the falling water, and the crash of the river as it falls to the rocks below. 

Just 500 meters away from Seljalandfoss, you will find another stunning hidden gem of Iceland — Gljúfrabúi. Its entrance is a narrow crevice that opens up to reveal a waterfall pummeling a small pool right at your feet. With rock cliffs surrounding the pool, this is one of the most intimate waterfalls of Iceland. Prepare to get wet since you will be walking through a small stream and mist will be everywhere.

Skógafoss is an impressive example of nature’s power. You can walk right up to it if you’re willing to get drenched. Standing next to it and feeling its sheer force felt overwhelming. Due to the amount of mist produced by the spectacle, rainbows (or double rainbows) appear on sunny days. 

The black waterfall, Svartifoss, is considered one of the most unique waterfalls in the world. Its walls are lined with dark basalt pillars whose columns were created by cooling lava. 

Many consider Dettifoss as the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Mist from the falls is visible from several miles away. Surprisingly, it can’t be heard until you get close. There is a good observation deck that overlooks this monument, but I personally preferred the view from below. 

6. Find Out How Volcanoes Work 

One of the top things to do in Iceland is to see an active volcano. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to experience it. The giant Fagradalsfjall volcano’s eruption started in March but had fallen dormant by the time I arrived. Magnificent crater and freshly-made lava formations are still spectacular to see on their own. The view from the volcano’s top is also well worth the hike.  

7. Explore the Plane Wreck

One of the stranger Icelandic attractions is the US Navy plane wreck. This plane has been lying on an empty beach since 1973. The wreck is not fenced or guarded at all. Anyone can approach it and climb inside. If you’ve ever dreamt about being in a retro sci-fi movie, this place is definitely for you. 

8. Hike to the Canyon 

Studlagill Canyon is one of Iceland’s largest collections of basalt columns. The color of the river that bisects the canyon will be different depending on the time of the year. Sometimes it has an azure color and is very transparent. Other times it turns brown and muddy. Although not easy to get to, I highly recommend it to those who like to go off the beaten path. Prepare to hike for about five km through relatively untouched terrain, steep paths, and slippery rocks and stones. In my opinion, words can’t describe the beauty of this place. 

9. Visit One of the Most Famous Black Sand Beaches

Black sand, volcanic cliffs, majestic rock formations protruding from the water, sneaker waves, geometric columns, and grottos — you will find it all in one place on Reynisfjara Beach. As with many natural wonders in Iceland, volcanic activity crafted this dramatic beauty. This was by far one of the most unique and wild beaches I have ever seen and is one of the best things to do in Iceland. 

10. Discover Geothermal Areas

Hverir is a geothermal area with bubbling mud springs, sulfuric steam spewing from vents, and colorful pools. To enjoy this “alien” landscape, you will have to endure the stench of rotten egg fumes. Those who’ve been to Yellowstone might not be impressed, but in my opinion, it’s still a fantastic Icelandic natural wonder. 

11. Enjoy a Scenic Drive 

Whether you stay on the main ring road that goes around the island or venture to smaller routes, Iceland is the place for scenic drives. Its diverse and colorful natural miracles help you focus on the journey, not the destination. 

Bon Voyage!

P.S. Don’t be surprised to see sheep crossing highways and walking freely everywhere. They’ve been known to take over roads and aren’t afraid of cars. But they are shy in front of cameras! 😊

P.P.S. Rent a four-wheel-drive if you plan to get off the ring road to explore. Many “highways” are unpaved gravel roads.

One of the sheep who wandered near the road.

by Anna Lech

Five Tips for Finding a Job in Spain

Spain is a popular destination for both college graduates looking to travel and gain experience, and those searching for an adventure or change of pace. Many come to this country to teach English as an auxiliar de conversación (AKA a North American Language and Culture Assistant). They fall in love with the culture, the lifestyle, or simply make a life for themselves and don’t want to leave. For citizens of the EU, this process is much easier. For the rest, finding a job in order to secure a work visa can be a long and difficult process, especially post-pandemic.

There are a fair number of teaching jobs available, especially for those who are licensed teachers or have had their degrees recognized in Spain. However, finding a job in another field can be challenging. To help you with your search, here are my top five tips for landing a job in Spain.

1. Create a LinkedIn Profile 

You might not think of it, but when looking for a job in Spain, the first step is to set up a LinkedIn account. Fill in all the required fields, search for friends to connect with, and scroll through the news feed to find advice that might help further shape your profile page. The app is a great way to both advertise yourself to potential employers and to network with other working professionals.

LinkedIn is one of the primary ways that both employers and prospective employees connect in Spain, especially in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Make a profile that sells you and your skills. Remember, at the end of the day, LinkedIn is a social media app and you should cater your profile to capture potential employers’ attention as they’re searching for candidates.

Tip: Keep it professional! LinkedIn should not be treated as normal social media.

2. Network ‘til You Get Work

Make as many professional contacts as possible. This can be in-person or through LinkedIn. Attend social events and chat with people there to start making connections with people from different fields. These events can range from pub trivia to morning yoga in the park to art classes. Whatever your interests, be open, friendly, and make an effort to get to know at least one or two other people in attendance. On LinkedIn, an effective way to network is to send a request to connect with any and everyone in your field. This builds a web of contacts on the app which can help you to find jobs and also helps potential employers to find you. 

3. Build Your Skills and Buff Up Your CV

It’s also important to continue working on your CV and professional development while you look for a job. Hone skills that might help you. If you’re thinking about teaching, for example, consider getting some certifications. Likewise, if you’re looking into translation, consider offering your services for free, especially to local nonprofit organizations. As you continue to build your professional profile, make sure to keep your CV up to date and try to include details that set you apart from the competition.

4. Send Your CV Everywhere — and I Mean Everywhere

Send out your CV, not just to jobs that you want or jobs you think you might fit, but to any job remotely related to your field. If it looks interesting, apply. You never know where you might find an opportunity! And don’t be afraid to apply to that dream job, even if you feel like you’re not quite experienced enough. If you don’t get it the first time, you can always apply again in the future with more experience. In fact, your continued interest in the company could be a point in your favor!

Tip: Nowadays, most companies will expect to receive a CV via email rather than in-person or by mail.

5. Persistence Is Key

Most importantly, don’t give up. Be persistent and don’t get discouraged. Finding a job takes time. It’s perfectly normal to be rejected multiple times, especially if you’re looking for a company that is also willing to sponsor a work visa. Spain is one of the EU countries with the highest rate of unemployment, especially among young people, so don’t feel like a failure if you don’t find a job right away. Be patient, take it one day at a time, and keep trying!

Looking for a job in any country can be a long and arduous process, and that is especially true in a country such as Spain; with high levels of youth unemployment. However, you can get a leg up on the competition by creating a well-developed LinkedIn profile and remaining active on it. Additionally, you can use the platform to network and connect with other working professionals and potential employers. Keep building your skills and improving both your resumé and LinkedIn account. The more knowledgeable you are, the better chance you’ll have of landing that job. Above all, persist. Don’t give up, because the next job you apply for might be the opportunity you’ve been looking for. 

Sarah Perkins Guebert Winning Wednesdayby Sarah Perkins Guebert

Staying Vegan During Veganuary 2022 and Beyond

Veganuary 2022 is a great way to springboard into a long-term plant-based diet. In 2021, we showed you how to keep January meat, fish, and dairy-free whether you were at home or on your travels. This year, we will help you remain vegan past the end of the first month of the year. Here’s our season-by-season approach to help you stay on your plant-based path from Veganuary 2022 all the way through to December.

1. Winter, When Veganuary Begins

New Year’s Resolutions are easy to make but easier still to break. Perhaps an early holiday will help. This will take you out of your everyday routine. The Canary Islands are popular winter destinations. There is a lagoon in Gran Canaria’s Maspalomas where you can see avian flocks on a long-haul flight from north to south. You will find snowbirds of the human variety on the nearby beaches and within the numerous apartment and hotel complexes. Seeing how dazzling the Canaries are as a winter sun destination, we put together Green Life: The Ultimate Vegan Canary Islands Guide.

The beauty of the Canaries is two-fold. While the easterly, closer-to-Africa islands are more developed, the westerly, nearer-the-old-end-of-the-world isles are more traditional. Developed here means offering international fare that caters for diversity such as veganism. Convention, meanwhile, draws on the everything-grows ethos of the Canaries, where fruit trees and vegetable plots are a common sight. Island-based produce is frequently incorporated into the local diet.

2. Spring(board) Into a Permanent Plant-Based Diet

Unlike the Canary Islands, Spain’s capital Madrid is a city of extremes on the temperature front. While bitterly cold in winter, it’s oppressively hot in summer. Spring is a much better time to visit Iberia’s premier city. There’s a party atmosphere in the streets as the plazas fill up again as al fresco drinking and eating becomes altogether more palatable. Our 21 Things to Do in Madrid Before You Leave contains plenty of suggestions to ensure you stick to your new vegan regime.

So, you can drop by and experience the convenience of Honest Greens, which has a handful of outlets in the Spanish capital. The more exclusive Levél Veggie Bistro, meanwhile, attracts a fashionable clientele to its stylish Ibiza eatery. Alternatively, wander into any old bar and order tapas which typically include patatas bravas. Fried potatoes are accompanied by a piquant sauce and often by alioli, a condiment that usually includes eggs in the supermarket version but which is prepared without huevos when made fresh.

3. Summer, Tis the Season to be Lean and Green

When the sunny days arrive, who wants to heat heavy, hot food? Salads are in. They are as sexy as you make them. So, go drizzle that olive oil over a sumptuous selection of fruit and vegetables. Last June, Chef Denise shared her Favorite Summer Recipes for Cherry Tomatoes with our readers. These include recipes that don’t include any meat, fish, or dairy products along with others that are easily adapted to become vegan. Use your imagination to come up with some plant-based alternatives of Chef Denise’s specials.

Our founder Leesa Truesdell also set up #GlobalFoodieFriends on Twitter. This was a celebration of tummy treats. Regular #FoodieFridays allowed a keen collective to share some of their favourite foodie memories. These included @live4sight’s summer salads. Now that’s a fine advert for DIY cuisine.

4. Autumn, Fall’s Perfect for Nature’s Harvest

The leaves come down, along with windfall fruit. Harvest Festival celebrates nature’s bountiful supply. Veganuary is long gone but there is no need for you to start flagging. As The Top 10 Traveler revealed in an intriguing interview, Green Life: Meet Moshe, the Vegan Travel Expert, there are other initiatives to provide inspiration further down the line. Moshe namechecked the likes of Challenge 22 as fountains of ideas for plant-based goodies.

Another creative resource to draw on is Meatless Monday. Although established in 2003, it has its roots in the actions of US president Woodrow Wilson during the First World War. Appointing Herbert Hoover to head up the US Food Administration, citizens were urged to cut back meat and wheat consumption. So the concept of Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays was born.

5. Staying Meat, Fish, and Dairy Free 365

As our calendar shows, there’s never a bad time to be a vegan. Seasons come and go, bringing with them different fresh fruit and vegetables. A plant-based diet is certainly a colourful one with natural products mirroring the rainbow in a range of hues. Let’s see if Veganuary 2022 is the starting point of a whole new plant-based you.

To commit to Veganuary 2022 and beyond is to take it to another level, however. It’s as important to be focused on a cruelty-free approach regarding what you put on your body as well as what you put in. Share the same zeal about cosmetics which don’t test on animals like The Body Shop’s range and fair fashion such as DC’s vegan shoes fashioned from algae rather than leather.


Learning Scuba Diving in Tenerife

As silly as it sounds, I’ve always wanted to be a Cool Person™. A cool person, as defined by me, has evolved throughout the years. The older, athletic, popular kids at school used to be the epitome of coolness, but basically now it’s someone who is adventurous, bold, and courageous. They don’t conform to the molds of society through peer pressure, and they live life fearlessly and with few regrets. And they do Cool People Things™ such as extreme sports or risky jobs. Learning scuba diving in Tenerife would definitely qualify as one of those Cool People Things™.

The Inner Athlete

When I was in sixth grade, whenever I got glimpses of the tall giants in the high school hallways wearing letterman jackets, I felt excited, envious, and anxious for my turn. I was obsessed with basketball so that was the obvious route to that brand of coolness. Then in 7th grade when I was a mere 12 years old, I tore my ACL, anterior cruciate ligament, playing basketball. I was convinced that I could be like an Olympic athlete, one who gets back up and continues playing the game. Instead, I fell down again and later fainted. 

Photo by Gene Gallin. A basketball laying on a gym floor

After that, I thought that I could make an excellent comeback and be better than ever. And after months and months of rehabilitation, and with the doctor’s permission, I was ready to get back into the game. At our first scrimmage after 11 long months, my body decided to reject the ligament transplant, and I collapsed in front of everybody just before the game even began while simply running up the court. After that, my coaches and parents had to force me to quit basketball for good, and then I promptly had an identity crisis. 

Hoop Dreams

You see, at the end of fifth grade, in preparation for sixth grade, we were allowed to choose one elective. For me, it was between my two great passions: art and basketball. Basketball won out, and it eventually consumed my life. I ate, breathed, and dreamed of basketball. I wanted to be a professional athlete. My natural abilities weren’t the best, but tell that to a child who believes that with hard work and passion, you can accomplish anything. 

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos. Art brushes laid out it a row

Without basketball, I had to redefine who I was completely. Thus, I went down a more artistic route which turned out pretty well. In some ways, I’m grateful for this first identity crisis and the disappointment of having your dreams crushed. It set a precedent for later dark times when I would need to reinvent myself yet again and/or seek alternative paths. 

It was just two surgeries (well, not including a more minor one I had to have at 25 years old), and I know many people have it much worse. However, I think they must have been traumatic for me, especially since it happened when I was so young. I started to observe the jocks that I used to idolize with unfounded contempt and jealousy.

Sporty by Nature

 And after all that pain, time healing, and after having been left with lots of scars on my little 13-year-old knobby knee, I started agonizing over what sports I should take part in and what effect it could have on said knee. Go ice skating with my classmates? I don’t know. I might have an accident.

Skiing and snowboarding sounded like amazing fun, but with all those twists and turns, I might get hurt again. Later when I contemplated joining the military, I decided that bootcamp alone would probably cause another premature injury. Rock climbing? Skydiving? Bungee jumping? Surfing? Running a marathon? All things that I systematically decided were a no-go. 

But God, how I wanted and still want to do many of those things. And now that I might be having early arthritis issues at 34 years old, I think my decisions to avoid those things were probably the best thing to do. Emotionally, it still hurts, though. I feel like an athlete at heart, but my athletic career was cut very short by an unfortunate tiny twist to the knee. 

Why Scuba Diving in Tenerife?

Swimming, though, is something that is not forbidden to me. Actually, all the professionals say that swimming is practically the perfect exercise. A few years ago, I tried two dives in Malta, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. For the first time in my life, I felt naturally good at something. It fulfilled me in a way almost nothing else has. So now that I actually live by the ocean, I’ve had the opportunity to take it further. I am now a certified scuba diver. 

First, I contacted a diving agency called Teide Divers, and they got me set up with the written theory section of the process. There were two options: in-person and online. Online was a little cheaper, so that’s what I went with. I completed the online portion at my own pace which happened to take a few months. I was definitely out of practice when it came to studying. 

There were five sections with many subsections with even more subsections. It’s definitely a lot of information, but I recommend making a Google Doc to retain most of the important information. I also recommend specifically memorizing the steps of the five-point descent, the five-point ascent, the official names of your gear, the steps to assembling it. and the pre-dive safety check. 

Taking the Plunge

Next, my scuba trainer, who is definitely a Cool Person™ in his own right, and I did our swimming pool dives. After having dived for real in Malta, I thought this part of learning scuba diving in Tenerife would be totally boring and super lame. It ended up being very useful. A lot of the techniques that we did would have been a lot more stressful under the ocean. For example, I had to learn how to take off my scuba mask while continuing to breathe through the regulator. Once off, I had to put the mask back on, and clear the mask of water. And I had to do all that while trying not to drown from inhaling water through my nose!

During the first two days, I was in a bit of a rush. I recommend having the day completely free for your practical theory. Although we started at around 9:00 AM, I still felt pushed for time. Having to rush home to give classes at 2:30 PM just wasn’t very feasible. I ended up canceling my classes on the days where we dived in the ocean. 

By the time we finally started our ocean dives, I had practiced and mastered most of the techniques while using the local swimming pool for scuba diving in Tenerife. When it comes to the ocean, I recommend you take all those survival instincts that evolved and ingrained in your brain and *mostly* throw them out the window. Squash your feelings, and swallow your anxiety. When you approach the drop-off in the ocean, ignore that primordial neanderthal voice that screams “Don’t go over that edge! That’s where the sea monsters live!!!!”. The sea monsters do not live there. They are much deeper, and will probably not be interested in little ol’ you. 

Cool People™ Rule

We dived in Radazul, Tenerife which is a really nice place to dive because it was constructed specifically with divers in mind, and it’s sheltered from the elements. While I was down there at around 18 meters, I saw very many fascinating things. There were octopuses, sea hares, sea stars, fireworms, a very glowy purple sea anemone, a dusky grouper, cuttlefish, a rare streaked gurnard, ornate wrasse, a multitude of beautiful red and yellow parrotfish, and so much more.

Now, I look forward to finally scuba diving in Tenerife with sea turtles, sea horses, and, hopefully, someday dolphins. This is an expensive hobby, but when they say that your experiences outweigh any materialistic thing that you could own, this is the kind of thing that they are talking about. And now, when my people ask me what I want for Christmas, aside from art supplies, I no longer go completely blank. Now, I can ask for diving day excursions. Yippee!!! 

Lastly, when you finish your last dive, remember that you are officially a badass. Congratulations, you did a really awesome and brave job. Print yourself out a Cool Person™ sticker because you, and I, deserve it. 

Amanda Whittenby Amanda Whitten

How to Spend a Weekend in Alcalá de Henares

After moving back to Spain in January 2021 and enduring a record-breaking winter snowstorm, varying degrees of pandemic lockdown, and waves after waves of COVID infections, in July I finally took my first local trip in Spain, seven months after returning to the Iberian Peninsula, to Alcalá de Henares.

Alcalá de Henares

Located less than an hour to the east of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares is a charming city for a weekend trip. I had more than plenty to do and am looking forward to returning again someday soon. Best known for being the birthplace of the famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, the city is characterized by its focus on education, literature, history, and more. There are countless things to do in Alcalá de Henares and I encourage you to discover the city for yourself. However, I wanted to share my top five picks from my long weekend there.

1) Visit the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes

Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote de la Mancha. The city offers a fantastic museum in the author’s childhood home. You can see Cervantes’ office where he wrote, his father’s in-home doctor’s office, and other period rooms too. It’s a charming attraction, and the entrance is free. Just outside the home/museum, there is a bronze sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza seated on a bench. You can sit down next to them for a photo or a rest.

2) Explore the Museo de Esculturas al Aire Libre

Scattered just outside the historic city center, you’ll find a sizable open-air sculpture museum, MUSEAL. The 50 pieces were first displayed in the early 1990s. They are found along the old city walls that once protected the Archbishop’s Palace and all along the Vía Complutense. The contrast between the modern sculptures and the city’s rich archaeological history is striking. There is also some diversity among the sculptures themselves with some being more abstract and some more traditional in style.

3) Drop by Casa de Hippolytus

Just one train stop away from Alcalá de Henares, near the La Garena station, you can find Casa de Hippolytus, a beautifully-preserved archaeological site near the much larger site of the Roman city of Complutum. One of the only known children’s schools from this period of the Roman Empire in Spain, the entire site sits underneath a large metal roof. This makes it an ideal escape from the elements any time of year. If you happen to be visiting during a milder time of year or feel well prepared for the heat or cold, be sure to check out the site of Complutum itself, which is open to the elements. To visit Complutum, access to a car is recommended. Traveling to Casa de Hippolytus is more comfortable on four wheels but not unmanageable if walking from the La Garena train station as I did.

4) Discover the Latin American Art Museum of the University of Alcalá

Tucked into a corner of the University of Alcalá, across from one of its libraries, you’ll find the University Latin American Art Museum. During my long weekend, this was one of my favorite experiences. The museum has two collections and mostly houses contemporary and abstract works of art. Much like the open-air sculpture museum, the contrast between the history of Alcalá and the modern art in this museum was fascinating. The Museum can be a bit hard to find — it’s in the Edificio Cisneros on Plaza de San Diego. To get to the museum, you’ll need to go into this building and take a left. Entrance to the museum is also free. The University of Alcalá itself is not to be missed either. The architecture alone makes the campus worth walking through.

5) Shop and Eat on Calle Mayor

Last but certainly not least, the city’s well-known Calle Mayor and the plentiful bars on and near it are worth a visit. The street itself has lots of local shops, restaurants, and bakeries. I spent an afternoon walking the length of it, which extends far past the historic city center. I’d also recommend taking a tapas crawl. Alcalá de Henares is known for its traditional Spanish bars that serve you your choice of tapa from a list with the purchase of a beer, tinto de verano, or other drink. I chose to visit three: Indalo, La Posada Magistral, and Las Retintas, all in the historic city center. For less than 10€, I got three drinks and enough food to count for dinner!

If you’re looking for a weekend trip out of Madrid or just looking for a charming Spanish city to visit, then you can’t go wrong with Alcalá de Henares. There is even more to discover than I did in the days I visited. If good food, an appreciation for literature, history, and art, beautiful architecture, local shops, and Roman ruins appeal — there’s something you’ll love there.

Emma's bio photo

by Emma Schultz

How to Get Through Your DELTA Course

It was during my first year teaching English in an academy in Madrid when I first heard about the Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (in other words, the DELTA course). I was fresh off getting my CELTA teacher certification, which is the initial course you need to take to teach English abroad. Before I’d even considered the DELTA course, I had already felt like the CELTA course had been tough. The DELTA sounded even tougher. 

My fellow teaching colleagues spoke of the late nights, stress, and overwhelm that they endured during the course. Some complained about the heavy workload and pressure of lesson observations. Others bemoaned the fact that their social life had gone out of the window. Some even spoke about losing their hair due to the high stress of it all!

DELTA Surprises in Store

Needless to say, as a new English teacher, these descriptions did not seem very appealing to me. “You won’t catch me doing that DELTA course”, I used to think to myself. “Not a chance!” So it came as a surprise to me, when five years into my teaching career, I suddenly felt that doing the DELTA course was the next step I needed to take. By that time I already had a lot of teaching experience under my belt and it felt like the moment to throw myself into a new challenge. The idea of studying again and furthering my skills appealed to me. So, I did the very thing I never thought I would and enrolled in the course. 

However, far from being a nightmare experience, I actually enjoyed it! For me, those nine months, whilst being challenging and difficult at times, turned out to be very fulfilling. Even my boss noticed how much of a breeze it had been for me, commenting one day that “out of all the years that you have worked here, this DELTA year hasn’t been your most stressful”. And he was right! Not only that, but I graduated from the course with a Merit, something that isn’t so easy to achieve. 

Tips for Success 

So what was my secret to getting through the DELTA and thriving rather than barely surviving? Read on to find out!

Accept That You Won’t Have Much of a Social Life This Year

The DELTA is a lot of work packed into a short space of time. The idea that you can maintain a busy social life at the same time is a delusion. During my DELTA year, I noticed that those who suffered the most during the course were those who resisted this inevitable reality and thought that they could work and play in equal amounts. The truth is, you can’t, as they soon found out when they were stressed, unhappy, and not getting the results they wanted.

Instead, it is better to follow the lead of those who accepted their unsociable fate and made their DELTA studies a priority. In my experience, they were calmer, more centred, and able to take it all in their stride. Their lack of inner resistance allowed them to suffer less and waste less energy complaining. Therefore they were more productive, got work done faster, and went out for drinks more. So it pays to accept the situation as it is — you may be able to go to that party after all! 

Make Time to Look After Yourself

Whilst it is true that you need to prioritise your studies, it is also vital that you schedule time for self-care. I have seen so many people work so hard that they burn themselves out. They end up doing worse than they would have done if they had just taken an hour out to walk in the park, meditate, or do something creative. 

When I was doing my DELTA, my yoga class was non-negotiable, as was my morning meditation practice, regardless of how much work I had. When people asked me how I got through my DELTA so well, my response was always the same: yoga and mediation!  

Whilst it is true that these things might not be for everyone, I think it is absolutely vital to engage in something every day that feeds you on the inside and keeps your inner tank filled up. That way you can get through your DELTA without the same spiritual exhaustion that so many burn out from, and, instead, get through it with a sense of wellbeing rather than stress.

This also goes for making sure you are feeding yourself adequately! Pot noodles and a diet of pasta and pesto will not support your energy levels sufficiently. Take the time to cook good meals for yourself and you will feel the benefit.

Be Authentic in Your Lesson Observations

For most teachers, the most stressful part of the DELTA is the lesson observations. No one likes feeling like they are being watched at the best of times, let alone when the person watching you is scribbling down notes every few minutes. My advice to you is this: just be yourself. Don’t try to be something that you are not or put on a show.  After all, how can you focus on delivering a good lesson, if you are trying to keep up an act? 

By all means, prepare thoroughly for your observations. You should do run-throughs with other classes and even rehearse the parts you feel most nervous about. However, on the day itself, just relax, be yourself, and try to enjoy it. The students and the examiner will notice your authenticity, which will make everyone enjoy it more, including you. So ditch the preconceived ideas of how a teacher should be and just be who you are. It will definitely pay off.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Whilst sharing resources is common practice in English teaching, during your DELTA year, make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Any kind of competition between you and your fellow classmates is only going to cause you to put more pressure on yourself, leading to more stress and anxiety.

Constant comparison will also have an adverse effect on your confidence levels, leading to insecurity and self-doubt. This in turn will cause you to be less self-assured, which could affect your performance in the classroom. Instead, just focus on doing your best, and don’t waste your time worrying about how well others are doing. Put your all into your studies and you can be satisfied with the result, come what may. Your best really is enough and it is important to remember that.

Keep Perspective

Whilst you obviously need to put your all into your DELTA studies if you really want to see good results, it’s also important to keep perspective. This is not a life or death situation (although it might seem like it at times). Yes, you paid a lot of money, so you naturally want to do well. However, to kill yourself with stress and worry is simply not worth it. Keep perspective of what is important: learning, growing, improving your professional skills, and the sense of achievement you will feel once you have finished. 

The grades and results won’t matter much in the end anyway, so why get so caught up in the details? Just focus on getting through the course and coming out the other side feeling satisfied and proud of what you have achieved.

Final Thoughts

Getting through the DELTA course is an achievement in itself. It requires courage to take on such a big challenge and I commend those who dare to do so. If you follow the advice in this article, I am confident that getting through the DELTA can be an enriching experience for you, just as it was for me. It is just a question of how you handle yourself, your time, and your priorities. Good luck!

Olivia Grundyby Olivia Grundy