Going Back to Spain as a Tourist: Hot Chocolate

 

emma schultzEarlier this month, I went back to Madrid, Spain — but just as a tourist this time. I was able to structure my break between semesters of graduate school to spend ten wonderful days there. I was so excited to get back to one of my favorite cities and the first place I called home as an adult. Mostly, I was excited to spend time in my old neighborhood, visit one of my favorite art museums in the world, frequent restaurants and cafes I’d visited often in my time living in Madrid, and see close friends and colleagues.

Museo-Thyssen-Bornemisza

Shopping, Food, and Friends

I prepared myself for shopping in my favorite boutiques and Spanish chain stores, lots of tapas and churros, and afternoons spent catching up with friends. Fortunately, I did all of those things. But what I didn’t prepare for was how it would feel going back to Spain as a tourist to visit a place I had once called home. To be a tourist in a place I hadn’t been before is one thing. To be a tourist somewhere where I lived for years was another.

Madrid-Tourism

I had a bit of a sneak peek of what this would feel like when I went back to Denmark for the first time since studying there for an academic year. It was a wonderful and strange experience to walk the streets I did as a student. However, going back to Madrid where I lived and worked for so long felt even more like a shock. I found myself not wanting to be perceived as “just a tourist.”

I offered up to shop attendants and waiters that I had, in fact, lived in Madrid for three years in the past. Sometimes this made sense in context, but often I volunteered the information with little prompting. Why did I feel the need to prove myself? My Spanish is good, I know the city, and I know the culture. But I still felt a certain pressure to re-prove to people there that I, too, belonged.

Emma Schultz

Forgetting Things That Were Second-Nature

el Roscón de ReyesIn addition to this reaction, I also realized that over time I had forgotten some small things that used to be second-nature, things that had been automatic knowledge for me. One of my first days back in Madrid, I went to a cafe with a friend. We went specifically for a seasonal Christmas cake, el Roscón de Reyes. She ordered coffee with hers, so I decided to get something warm as well.

I’m not a big fan of coffee or tea. So, I decided to let my child-at-heart out to play and ordered hot chocolate. However, I translated literally and didn’t give it a second thought. When the cup of melted chocolate showed up at my table, I remembered that hot chocolate in Spain isn’t the same as the U.S. I knew this very well from living there. In Spain, locals dip churros in the hot chocolate while having it as a winter drink. However, instead of a liquid drink, locals fill the mug with melted chocolate, literally. If I had wanted American-style hot chocolate, I would have needed to order ColaCao, the Spanish equivalent of Nesquik. Fortunately, I didn’t repeat the mistake the rest of the trip. Nonetheless, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t remembered this detail of custom and translation.

Of course, it didn’t present any real issue for me that I mistranslated what I was trying to order. Fortunately, none of my mistakes while visiting Madrid created big problems for me. It was more of an internal reflection process for me. I realized that I didn’t remember how to do everything I had once done out of habit.

Going Back to Spain as a Tourist

What I realized from my hot chocolate gaff and a couple of others was that we forget over time. We forget how to live in the places we’ve been when they are very different from one another (and maybe even if they aren’t). The day-to-day starts to slip away. We forget some of the cultural or linguistic knowledge we attained when living in that place. And that was difficult for me to come face to face with going back to Spain as a tourist this past month. But I realized something else, too: whatever we forget we can remember. It’s not as if I hadn’t ever learned those things. Even being back in Madrid for ten days helped me remember some of what I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten. And that gives me hope about staying in touch with the places I’ve left, because the ability to reconnect is definitely there.

Going-Back-to-Spain-as-a-Tourist

by Emma Schultz

When Is Teaching Abroad the Right Choice?

by Eric Haeg

Teaching English in another country isn’t easy. Trying to do so with just a bit of savings and passion for travel is like trying to make spaghetti with nothing but some pasta and ketchup.

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) for an extended period abroad not only takes basic teaching skills and English language awareness, it requires personality traits and skillsets for life outside the classroom, too.

Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

As far as the teaching skills are concerned, a good TEFL certification course will provide the basic training required to enter the classroom as a teacher for the first time. What it won’t provide is training for everyday life in a foreign culture. With that in mind, let’s look at some  skill sets and personality traits TEFL teachers need for a happy life abroad.

Communication skills – This is an obvious issue within the classroom, but communication issues don’t start and stop at the classroom door.

You’ll be living within a population of people who don’t speak your native language well. This requires adapting verbal communication for lower-level speakers. You’ve got to be able to use basic words, keep sentences short and simple, and perhaps soften one’s accent. Outside verbal communication, one needs to utilize non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, gesticulation, and miming. And let’s not forget the most important communication skill: listening. You must be able to interpret one’s poor pronunciation, broken English, and language errors to identify what’s being said.

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

Ingenuity – The less you have, the more you need to be resourceful abroad.

We usually only realize what we need once we don’t have it. Problem is, hardly any of the places popular for teaching English have a Costco in the neighborhood. You can forget about Amazon’s next-day shipping.

This is where simple re-purposing and some researched life hacks can do wonders. Lost your $200 Bose travel speaker? Cut a slit in a roll of toilet paper and stick your mobile in it. Can’t find a burr grinder for your organic, free-trade coffee beans? Source some local beans and buy a pestle and mortar. Starving for hummus? It doesn’t grow in plastic containers; YouTube is your friend and the recipe is pretty simple. In fact, there are over 300 hours of video being uploaded onto YouTube every hour. You can bet YouTube can probably help with most life hacks, home remedies, and DIY projects.

jack with students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

Independence Because sometimes the best conversations are the ones you have with yourself.

The vast majority of those who start living abroad start on their own. After a TEFL course, they go off to find jobs on their own. Many end up traveling on local holidays on their own, too. Sure, it’s easy to find and make new friends. However, what if you’re having a bad day, feeling homesick, or actually feeling ill? Sometimes the only person you can rely on for comfort is yourself.

The silver lining here is that the bonds made between friends who are also living abroad can grow quickly and deeply. Sometimes a shoulder is needed for crying on, or you need a hand with something. The friends you make abroad appear quickly and without hesitation.

Tolerance – Having to accept traditions, cultural norms, and everyday customs that are not what you grew up with is a fantastic way of testing just how truly tolerant one can be.

Most people who arrive in a new country often embrace new and different experiences. They laugh off minor inconveniences at first. However, once the honeymoon phase is over, living within another culture starts to get more challenging — even seemingly unacceptable at times. It’s easy to develop a judgmental and negative attitude towards locals and their customs, but that’s not going to help anyone.

The best way to avoid this is to think of it as if you’re a guest in someone’s house. In a way you are, so be polite, try to learn from your hosts’ different approaches, and see things as simply different, rather than applying unhelpful, negative values onto behavior you don’t like.

Curiosity – If necessity is the mother of invention, curiosity is the mother of exploration. 

You may think you’re curious, but are you? If you island hopped through Thailand, would you buy a package tour to Phi Phi Island, or would you seek out secluded beaches through independent travel? Perhaps if you taught in Turkey, you’d go into a hammam (a place people go to get washed and massaged by people of the same sex), or maybe you’d knock it before you tried it. If you lived in the Philippines, would you try balut (a partially developed bird embryo) or just stick to a fried egg?

Without a healthy sense of adventure and curiosity that drives it, life abroad can become as mundane as life in one’s hometown. Be curious and try new foods, be curious and open doors to see what’s on the other side, be curious and blaze your own trail. Be curious… and stay curious.

Sense of humor – If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Everyone wants to avoid committing a cultural faux pas, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens. If you’re lucky, you’ll just get laughed at when it does happen. You’ll also continually find yourself in situations where you’re unsure of local customs, what to say, or what to do. You will make mistakes; you will most certainly look silly from time to time and being able to laugh at yourself might be the best way to ease the tension.

baby elephant abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

 

 

An American Experience While Studying Abroad

Carlos Balbuena is 29 years old and was born in Mexico City. I had the pleasure of teaching him English while he was studying at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Carlos was a quiet student who was eager and curious. I remember when I took a group of students to Barnes and Noble. Carlos was the student who had picked out at least six books that he wanted to buy. The first week he arrived, he spent half of his spending money on books for leisure time. He has a very well-read mind and is very inquisitive — this is what makes his writing so unique.

student group

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

“Definitely pop culture and literature. I grew up watching movies and seeing all those places, landmarks, and people traveling. I read my father’s city travel guides all the time. By the time I was an adolescent, studying abroad was something I was really looking forward to. Then I began to read literature – specifically Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That was pretty much the final bump that led me to actually pursue studying abroad and do it.”

student abroad

What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything I thought came from pop culture, books, and my imagination. I wanted to have a great experience, so in order to do that, I knew I had to leave any expectations behind and just enjoy things as they would occur. I needed to be receptive and open to everything in order to get a real grasp of what life is like in the US.

As I grew older, my perceptions of the US changed. I was a little scared of being targeted in some way. In general, us Mexicans hold a (wrong) opinion about the average American, so we are constantly defending ourselves. I think this works both ways, as Americans generally have a wrong opinion about us as well. Yes, radical people exist, but they exist despite their nationality or political affiliation. It’s human nature at its worst and it could happen anywhere or anytime.

The important thing is that there are always more good people than bad ones. In the end, I’m really happy I went because every single person I met in the US was amazing to me. Oftentimes, I hear loose comments on what Americans are like. I hope I left a good impression on the people I met in America so they feel the same way I do when they hear a loose comment about Mexicans.”

What did you not expect?

“I didn’t expect to talk to so many people. I was able to look back and be very glad that I went, and I actually miss it all the time. Talking to lots of people, especially as an introvert, was a huge success for me. It was also a warm and welcome surprise to be complimented on my English. It made me realize that I was going in the right direction.

interview abroad

I wasn’t expecting to end in bad terms with my fellow Mexican travel companions, though. I guess it’s ironic that I got along pretty well with the locals but not with most of my countrywomen.”

What’s your next step?

“It’s been a very hard year for me, guys. Everything that could have gone wrong is going wrong. So, in all honesty, I’m not sure what my next step is. This year, to me, is about getting the hang of things as they are now. Recently, I had a difficult loss in my family. Right now, it’s all about taking care of things. I want to travel again, soon, but now isn’t the right time. I would like to live someplace else but I’ve become aware that it may take a little bit longer than I thought it would originally. Ultimately, it’s still what I want to do with my life. I’ll just have to be patient.”

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to study abroad?

“Surf the Internet: search for local scholarship programs and see if you fit the requirements. If not, then work to fit them. Study and improve your notes, then apply again. If you have an interest in a specific country or a city, soak yourself in it. Watch YouTube video blogs about it, listen to local music, read books related in any possible way to it, and study the local language. Don’t let fear grip you. It will be hard, but it would be harder to look back with regret for not trying.”

florida agricultural and mechanical university

Good Memories of an American Experience While Studying Abroad

Carlos made friends while in the US, which is arguably one of the most important parts of studying abroad. He made an everlasting impression on many of the people he interacted with in Tallahassee and I am so glad I had the pleasure of teaching him. I was able to catch up with Carlos this past April in Mexico City while visiting on a vacation. I met Carlos before my grandma passed away and since then, I have moved to Madrid and have moved back. While living in Madrid, I experienced the greatest loss of my life… my grandma passed while I was abroad.

My own grief has taught me that the way to let someone know you care about them is to tell them. When we met, Carlos was experiencing grief and I could sense that it was very painful. I want our readers and Carlos to know that the memory of our loved ones who pass never fades. The pain gets better with time and life sorts itself out. Hang onto the good memories and let go of the bad ones. Carlos, life is full of opportunity and for you — it’s just begun.

The American experience studying abroad not only provides education but also introduces you to new cultures. Many students who leave to study abroad are leaving their home for the first time. Dreams Abroad has created a Facebook community for travelers, students, and educators to share their passions and stories.

by Leesa Truesdell

 

Pre-Departure From Kuwait to the United States

As a soon-to-be student, there were a few things I had to do prior to my departure date. I had to get my papers documented from the Kuwait Culture Office (Kuwait Embassy) and I had to do some research. Before I left, I wanted to learn more about the place where I’d be spending the upcoming few years of my life in: Tampa, FL. I felt it was a good idea to familiarize myself with Tampa Bay’s surroundings.

Beginning Steps

Before I came to the United States, I looked for an apartment online, ahead of time. I wanted to make sure that I found one that fit my needs (before the good ones were filled and booked by my fellow students). Also, I began to look for car dealerships online in order to compare the prices. I knew that I would have to have a car to get around. Since I was going to be in Tampa for a long time, I decided to get a car.

Closer to the Trip

Kuwait moving study abroad looking apartment

I booked the airline ticket that would get me to the United States and, of course, the domestic airline ticket. The first flight would land in New York, and the second, domestic flight would take me to Florida. There were a few days between my flights and move-in day at my new apartment, so I booked a hotel room to spend the first few nights in.

Packing to Leave Kuwait

When it came to packing, I avoided making the mistake of packing a lot of things. I took only the essentials that would be hard to find in the United States (head scarfs, for example). When it comes to bathroom essentials that we Muslims use, there is good news! The handheld version for the toilet is found in Home Depot (in-store or online). There is no need to buy different types of bidet sprayers to bring with you from Kuwait (like I did) in order to see which one fits your apartment’s toilet. In short, relax; the one sold in the United States fits all bidets!

Bring Reminders of Home

One last thought; since I was about to embark on a new journey that would last up to 5 years, I wanted to collect personal souvenirs and mementoes from all of my family members and friends. I bought blank, white cards and different colors of Sharpies so I could collect their thoughts. They wrote words of inspiration and motivational quotes to help get me through the next few years. Then, I put all of the cards in sealed envelopes. I am to read one every time I feel homesick or sad. If you try it, it will surely give you a sense of warmth! You can also personalize a wall in your apartment with beautiful writings from your loved ones!

quotes from friends study abroad kuwait

by Dalal Boland

Going Back to San Lorenzo to Teach

I didn’t think the time would come where I would be writing a wrap-up on Cate’s Madrid adventure. Or, am I? When I said my goodbyes to Cate in June (a goodbye I won’t forget), I knew our time to laugh together would come again soon. What I didn’t expect was that it would be in Florida! Yes, that’s right — Florida! The very place that ignited our first conversation over a year ago and started our friendship. It was great to catch up and see each other outside of Madrid. Read along and see what she has planned next!

Your main goal in coming to Madrid was to learn Spanish. How did you do?

My primary goal in coming to Spain was to learn enough Spanish to be able to have a basic conversation. If I really focus on the concept of “basic,” I think I achieved that. Barely. I certainly added a huge amount of vocabulary and some grammar. However, with less than half of my time there left, I had only just started to try to string together actual sentences. As it is for so many struggling second-language learners, getting out of my own head is my biggest obstacle.”

You also spoke about traveling. Did you get to see many countries while living abroad?

I was much more successful with my goal of traveling! I’m pretty proud of this list, so here it is… I went to: London, Paris, Copenhagen, Gibraltar, all through Ireland, Amsterdam, spent an hour in Tangier (crazy story), and saw a lot of Spain by car and train. Being able to see so much of Europe in such a short time was absolutely mind-blowing.”

In your previous interview, you mentioned that you were speaking and teaching English most of the time. What can you tell us about learning Spanish through immersion?

teaching students in SpainThe process of learning Spanish, or attempting to, was certainly not what I had expected. To be completely (and embarrassingly) honest, I thought that merely by living in Spain for 10 months, the language  somehow would seep into my brain and I’d speak it without even realizing how it happened! Wrong.

First of all, I found the four-week immersion class practically useless, for me anyway. It was too much all at once and I wasn’t able to digest virtually any of it. What progress I did make came from private, weekly lessons and the homework I received. And when everything was said and done, the ONLY thing that caused any of it to “stick” in my brain was actually using it (with Spanish friends). Some people received the gift to easily pick up new languages… I’m not one of those people, but I keep plugging away.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? Do you miss your students?

“There are a few students that I miss and one that I have kept in touch with. For the most part, however, I didn’t form any real bonds with most of the kids. Schools strictly forbade auxiliars from speaking Spanish with students. The language barrier at my school felt virtually impenetrable. I’m sorry to report that the most memorable occasions all felt extraordinarily negative. I saw some extremely challenging students who created some unforgettable scenes. It seemed unfortunate for everyone involved.”

What do you miss most about San Lorenzo de El Escorial?

“I miss everything about San Lorenzo except for the ubiquitous dog poop everywhere. I miss being able to walk to everything. Undoubtedly, I miss the vistas of the mountains and the monastery, the cheap whiskey and wine, and the antiquity of it all. It’s certainly a magical little town.”

What have you been doing this summer?

“This summer… what have I been doing? It was so disorienting to be back that it took me several weeks to really feel ‘normal’ and completely unpack (shame). I went up to spend a few days with my sister in Cape Cod. I’ve helped one daughter and her husband a bit around their house. I helped the other one move to Boston for a new job. Lately, I’ve been driving for Uber on the weekends.”

I think we all want to know… Will you return to San Lorenzo for Round 2?

It looks as if I am going back, for a few reasons. First of all, I have a job there and that’s more than I can say for here. Secondly, I’ll have medical insurance there and that’s a huge deal for an old broad like me. Then there’s the Spanish that I still want to learn and the lifestyle of Spain that I enjoy so much. I’m just not done “adventuring” yet.”

Going back to San Lorenzo to Teach

while living abroad in spain

And, here we go! Of the people I interviewed, Cate was certainly the one I thought would have a different ending. When I asked her for her quote for her second interview, she provided this one, “I stopped telling myself that I’m lost. I’m not and am on a road with no destination, I’m just driving with hope that I’ll find a place that I like and I’ll stay there. I’m not lost, I’m on my way.” – Ahunnaya

After one year of knowing Cate and having the pleasure to call her my friend, I can say without a doubt that she has found her way and is headed back to her “place,” San Lorenzo, to continue her Dreams Abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell