Monday, November 25, 2013

Cordoba preview

Did a quick day trip to Cordoba on Sunday, to watch my friends take part in a half-marathon and to see a few sights. Impressions of Cordoba: super-cute, lots of rich history, and tonnes of palm trees, making it feel like southern California.
A brief post, because I concentrated more on looking at attractions than taking pictures. My short visit only whet my appetite for a longer stay next Spring!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Cold Bites

I had grand plans for this weekend: create a video to show off my piso; do all of my planning for my lessons this week; laundry; clean; go running; attend my neighbours' birthday; hit the bar with friends. I only accomplished the last two, and the resaca I had after hitting the bar is only part of the reason I didn't get much done.

The other factor: the cold. Words can't describe how the cold seeps into your bones in this part of Spain. I boasted to my neighbours that I'd be able to handle the coming winter, "because I'm Canadian". Then the season turned, and now I'm walking around my piso like the Michelin Man, wearing two sweaters, two flannel pants, socks, and thick slippers.

My bed - with no less than FOUR blankets

There's something about the cold that saps all your energy. I don't know how many times I've huddled on the couch covered by my blanket, my cat laying on me, and suddenly I remember a task I should be accomplishing. But I. don't. want. to. move. I'm warm! Why throw off my only protection from the cold, piercing fingers of Mr. Villacarrillian Frost?

I almost wept with joy when I showed up at a birthday party, and everyone was sitting around a brasero. The stove was situated under the table and a heavy blanket was draped over it, with everyone's legs under cover. A warm paradise!
Ain't no party like a brasero party

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Prepare for NALCA

There's tonnes of advice out there, from previous applicants, for the North American Language & Culture Auxiliaries program. The following are the ones that rang truest for me:

Organize your paperwork early
Bearing in mind expiration dates for paperwork, get a jump on things: have your school transcripts ready, ask someone if they'll write your reference letter, sort out your money, plan when to obtain your criminal record, etc.

The 5 day limit to accept your school placement is B.S.
If I'd taken more time to research my placement, things would be very different right now. I probably would have been more prepared for my circumstances (i.e. rural village vs. happening town). I rushed to mail my acceptance to the coordinator, paying a lot of $$ to reach the 5-day deadline. In reality, you can email them to inform them it's on its way via snail mail.

Read the posts in the Facebook forum... but not too much
Facebook has helped make the journey for new auxiliaries much easier than in years past. Lots of teachers will have advice to pass on. However, limit how much you read. Eventually it can become overwhelming and confusing, and it takes personal experience to help you navigate the path to settling into Spain.

Learn Spanish
Especially if you're going to live in a somewhat rural location. In major cities like Madrid and Barcelona, you can probably get away with knowing very little Spanish. But where I am (rural Andalucía), having an intermediate level of Spanish has saved me many times.

Spend lots of time with friends and family at home
You will miss them when you're gone.

Find out how your job figures into your plans
Will you get paid out? Can you get a leave of absence? What happens to any unused vacation / sick time / personal days? 
At my job, I found out that a) I'd accumulated close to 100 sick days, and b) they would disappear once I left. You may as well use up any unused days if they won't be paid out, and take advantage of your health benefits (free massage, anyone?).

Do not bring too many clothes and shoes
New ruby-red shoes! (The locals kept staring at my trainers)
Trust me when I say that one of the best things about Spain is that clothes and shoes are cheap, making the shopping fun! I was initially sad to give away so many good clothes and shoes, but that disappeared quickly my first day shopping here.

You will have to sift through quite a few tips and tricks to settle into Spain. I hope mine help make the transition easier. After your own experience, you will probably also be one of the many to pass on words of wisdom.

Work Hard, Play Hard

When I announced I was moving Spain, some gave me that look and said, “You are going to have so much fun! Relaxing on the beach, meeting men....” There's a widespread notion that Spaniards lay about, acting super-relaxed about everything and hardly working.


Sure, there are some who don't work hard. But a lot of people I've met often work seven days per week. Villacarrillo is an agricultural town with many olive oil factories, one of them being Cooperative del Pilar, the biggest olive oil producer in the world. It's quite common to meet people who have one job in town and also work in the fields / factories. There are others who honestly can't work because of the crisis, so they're taking classes, hoping to find a job. Many Villacarrillians I've met have a boyfriend / girlfriend in another village or city, because that's where the work is. They commute every weekend they can to visit them, sometimes driving 3 to 4 hours each way.

Perhaps another reason for the “Spanish people are lazy” notion, is because of the “siesta”, that midday break where all the stores shut down and everyone supposedly sleeps. Not everyone does the siesta; some consider it a waste of time. It does make sense in Andalucía during the summer; I certainly did it when I first arrived. Now that my body has adjusted to the time difference, and the days are cooler, I continue working instead of napping.

Although I do use what I call a “disco nap” (a term borrowed from the days of Studio 54) before a big night of partying, as I like to go home at 5 a.m., and sometimes later! Sure, in a pueblo we don't have the crazy nightlife of Madrid or Barcelona, but having made good friends makes all the difference. I'm a stumble away from cozy bars, and it's cheap!

One of the first "Spanish" things I did was visit the Úbeda feria:

Although it was small, the medieval feria in Villanueva was tonnes of fun. Lots to look at and eat!

One of the coolest parties I'd ever been to happened here in Villacarrillo. It was a friend's birthday, and she's in her twenties, so we had a 20s – themed party called “Charleston”!

Before the party started, I had to wait for my friends in the paseo (park where people hang out). I learned firsthand the meaning of the word “humiliation”. If you look in Miriam-Webster, you'll see a picture of me in my 20s costume – blond wig, 20s dress, pearls, and red gloves – sitting alone for ages on a park bench, wondering where the f*** my friends are, while locals slowly walk by, staring and giggling at the Asian girl in a Charleston bob wig. One even called out “China Rubia”! (“Blonde Chinese girl!”) I. was. mortified.

BUT the fun I had at the party made up for it.

 When I left Vancouver, I knew one of the things I'd miss was the mountains. Here in Villacarrillo we have La Sierra de Cazorla. With a group, I headed out on a 5-hour hike. It was a great way to put work behind us and soak in the natural beauty. 

So put away that notion that all we're doing is sleeping, drinking, and partying. ....Okay fine, we're doing the latter, but only after punching in the timecard!