Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Searching for Spring

It's late February, and it's so cold that inside my apartment, I'm still dressed like this:
(This is not sexy)
Yesterday I woke up before the rooster crowed to get ready for a hike. Imagine my surprise when we arrived in Puerta de Segura, and basked in brilliant sunshine:

Everytime I hike in the sierras of Jaén, I feel like Aragorn in Lord of the Rings.

The weather was hot and spectacular; a perfect balm to soothe the doldrums of winter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Olive Oil Tour

Ever had olive oil on toast? It's how a lot of people in Spain enjoy their breakfast or mid-morning snack: a honkin' piece of bread with olive oil poured all over it. Sometimes there's crushed tomato, ham, or salt & pepper added. Me, I like it plain. I used to be a bread & butter lover – now, olive oil is my friend.
So when my school announced an oppportunity to tour the biggest olive oil cooperative in the world, guess who ran to the sign-up sheet? This tour was an exercise for some C1 level students to practice their English – a big plus for me, since I'm still having trouble understanding the tough Andalucian accent.

The location of Nuestra Señora del Pilar Cooperative is just outside of Villacarrillo proper - lucky for me, as the previous location was on my street, the next block over from my apartment. With the millions of kilos of olives processed every year, I can't imagine how hellish the traffic and noise would have been had the new factory not been built.

According to my info sheet, there are about 14,000 hectares of land, with more than 1.5 million olive trees. The modern, clean buildings were completed in 2011. It was amazing to see how spotless and huge everything was. Plus, the extraction process is contained to minimize contamination of the water table and surrounding land. They even put aside the leaves and pits, to sell as biomass fuel.
The plant is much appreciated by the coop members, because the previous location, located in the center of my community, was choked with tractors during previous harvests. Sometimes it was so busy, farmers waited in line until 2 a.m.!
A pleasant occurrence in the tour was the heady smell of olive oil. It hung in the air and made me smile everytime I noticed it. All in all, it was a very informative and fun field trip!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Teaching is Like

"It's not what I expected" is the short answer. I haven't had to work this hard in years. When you're a teacher, you're always 'on'. If you're having a bad day, you can't go to work and shut your office door. You have to take a breath, smile, and walk into the room ready to pull English out of your students - even if it's like pulling teeth. Non-native speakers will look at you and say, "It's easy, all you have to do is talk for an hour." To which you'll smile, shake your head and let the bags under your eyes show your disagreement.
In the NALCA program, you work with more than one teacher. Which means you deal with more than one teaching style. Some teachers have the whole year planned out. Some haven't even planned to wear the same socks when you arrive to work. Some are kind and warm, and you'll become good friends outside of work. Others are like drill sergeants whom you secretly loathe.
The students are all different. Some, who you thought were full of promise because they did well in class, will quit halfway through. Some, who you thought would never pass, find an inner motivation to start answering your questions and do extra exercises at home. If they're adults, you'll begin socializing with them during conversation classes, finding out bits of their life story. Some will even be generous enough to invite you to family dinners!
This job is definitely not what I'd imagined in Canada. But the NALCA program has been a wonderful opportunity so far. I hope if you're reading this, you decide to take it on as well!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Are Spaniards impolite?

The way people speak here is quite different from how Canadians speak. Examples:

At the store, the clerk says:

Canada: “Hello, can I help you?”
Spain: “Dime!” (“Tell me [what you want]!”)

Passing someone while walking:

Canada: “Hey, how are ya?”
Spain: “Hasta luego!” or “Adios!” (“Bye!” - they're saying hello and goodbye at the same time)

Answering the phone:

Canada: “Hello, Aga speaking?”
Spain: “Dime!” (“Talk to me!”)

Giving money to the cashier:

Canada : “Here you go.”
Spain: “Toma!” (“Take it!”)
This is how close one of my neighbors talks to me. And she knows my Spanish level isn't great so she yells, too.
As you can see, the way people speak here is almost command-like and very direct. Are they less polite? In my opinion, no. Certain ways of communicating are more “efficient”, but there's a lot of politeness in other aspects. When you enter a store or approach a group, you say hello to everyone in general and they will greet you back. (Just in the pueblo. If you do this in a big city like Madrid you won't get a response.) Also, here the entire group is considered for activities. Leaving someone to fend for themself is not considered in proper form.

Sometimes people show more patience for the older generation than I've seen in Canada. On a bus in Úbeda, two older women were chatting in the aisle. A younger woman, heading towards the back, stopped and waited for the women to move out of the way. And waited. And waited. She and the guy behind her never asked the women to move, instead they politely waited for them to finish their chat. The whole time I watched this, I thought, “If I was them I'd be yelling right about now.”

How ironic that I'm a teacher for students wanting to learn English here, and meanwhile I'm getting the best education ever on a different way to relate to others.