Friday, December 18, 2015

Living Without Internet

I haven't had internet at home for two years.

It started when I moved to Spain. Before that, I'd always had internet in Canada. I couldn't imagine being without it. Even at work, I was always online. When I didn't have plans to go out, I didn't mind because I could stay home and entertain myself with my computer.

Then I moved to Villacarrillo. With my limited Spanish, it was difficult as hell reading the contracts and stipulations on internet company websites. At the only computer store in the village, the clerk said he'd look for a company that wouldn't force me to sign a one-year contract (auxiliary contracts are only worth 8 months of salary). “Te llamo,” he said to me. I thought I'd understood him.

Except I returned to his shop the next day. I obviously had no idea that he said he would call me. “Nooooo, te LLAMO.” he bellowed. Oops. I never did get that internet. The difficulty in signing up for it was too much.

But I learned to live without it. I learned to get a cheap mobile data provider, so I could use Whatsapp and check email on my phone. I used WiFi at my workplaces so that I could Skype.
Stealing my friend's internet
A Canadian friend, who taught English for years in Korea and Turkey, told me she purposely didn't get internet because it forced her to go to internet cafes or pilfer WiFi at eating establishments. In essence, it forced her to get out of the house and interact with society. I agree that not having internet makes you integrate with your community. Unfortunately, this year the internet access at my workplaces isn't great. However, when planning lessons it forces me to be creative and rely on more “organic” activities, rather than Youtube videos or fancy presentations. Recently I walked into a 5th grade class without any planning whatsoever. I suddenly remembered a question and answer game I'd read about, and explained the rules to the kids on the spot. They ended up loving it so much that they've played it over and over again. I'm glad they love a game where everyone is obligated to speak and practice their English.

I'm sure in the future I'll sign up for home internet. Hopefully by then, I'll feel the lull of the outside world calling me, shut down my computer each afternoon, and step out into the community.

Have you ever dreamt of not having internet at home? Would you try it? Share you thoughts below.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Facebook Cleanse

When you travel, or move, it's normal for relationships to wither and die. Without regular in-person contact, the will to hold on to the connection gets weak. In light of this, applications such as Facebook seem to have a way of artificially keeping a dying relationship alive. Is the tether between two people, based on electronic communication, of the same quality as regular face-to-face contact?

The first time I came to Spain, I made great, great friends at Sunseed. Back then, I wasn't on Facebook, so I tried to email once in a while. After a couple of exchanges, we let it go. I hold on to wonderful memories, and I have pictures that make me smile everytime I look at them.

Then I signed up for Facebook. As I made friends along the way, I added some to my account. I have moved a lot over the past few years, and some people have moved in and out of my life. Every few months, I “cleanse” my list of friends. I sometimes delete people I'm 99% sure I'll never see again, because I don't see any point in viewing snapshots of their lives. I don't have a need to know what's happening with them. We shared a part of our lives with each other, and now we've gone on separate paths. In my opinion, it's artificial to hold on to an electronic connection with someone and claim them as your “friend”, without ever seeing them in person. Even though years go by between visits to Canada, I still maintain my connection with my Canadian friends because I know I'll see them again in person.
See you soon!
I've had a few negative comments from people I've dropped from my account. Yet I haven't seen these people in person for an extremely long time, and I doubt I'll ever see them again. Perhaps one day, if we do bump into each other, we'll rekindle the friendship. But it'll have to be over coffee, and not over the internet.

Do you agree with this blog post? Or do you think I'm a cold-hearted *****? Share your comments below! 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Spanish Food Refusals

Last year three Canadian friends came to visit me in Spain. By Day 2, one of them complained, “Can we PLEASE eat something that's NOT ham? Or bread? Or fried? Like, how about a salad?”

I honestly had no idea where to get that. I'm now used to the limited choices in Spanish bars. It makes it easy to order quickly when the waiter / waitress comes swooping in to ask what we want. I think Spanish people hold the world's record for knowing right away what to order.

Although I love the food here, there are some food-related things I still haven't been able to do:

Follow Spain's eating schedule. Here's a typical schedule my friends follow:

Breakfast at 8:00 = coffee and a cookie or two
12:00 = fruit
Lunch at 15:00 = lunch cooked by Mom
18:00 = coffee
Dinner at 22:00 = a small plate of something

I tried to follow these hours and the same amount of food during my first year in Spain...and almost fainted.  I now eat whenever I feel like it. The kids at my elementary school are lucky I eat my way.  If not, I'd eat one of them.  There'd be “missing person” posters all over their village.

Drink coffee at any hour of the afternoon and night.  My friends can have coffee at 19:00 and sleep just fine.  If you see me do that, it's a sure sign I'm about to go to a rave or something.  My cutoff?  12:00.

Polish off every single drink.  I get booed sometimes for leaving my glass half-full when leaving the pub.  What my friends don't understand is that I have to draw a very fine line between “drink only half of the last glass and quietly hide the rest”, and “finish the drink like a polite Canadian, go home, and paint the walls with my vomit."
A penúltimo disaster

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Después el DELE

My DELE exam was divided between two days. The first day was the speaking test. I jumped on the bus and made it ten minutes early, only to be told there was a backlog of candidates, hence I'd start half an hour late. Great, I thought, rolling my eyes.

I spotted a message on my phone which made me smile: "Chiquitilla que tengas mucha suerte." (Little one, good luck.) 

Once I finally entered the first room to read and prepare, I was surprised that teachers walked in and out while I was writing my notes. I suppose it would've been best to study in a place with movement and noise, as absolute quiet wasn't considered here at the university.

When my twenty minutes were up, I was shuttled to another room to do the actual test. The examiner spoke very clearly. But when it was time to read Task three, surprisingly she and the observers chatted while I was trying to concentrate on the text! Clearly candidates are expected to have nerves of steel during the tests.

The next day was an early start, as it consisted of the reading, writing, and listening tests. Just in case, I brought earplugs and extra paper, pencils and pens, but the latter were not needed; everything was provided. Very official. We started on-time. The reading section was first. It was fairly easy, because I'd prepared at home with the DELE book “El Cronómetro”. But the audio test was a fiasco. Listening is one of my weakest skills, and the C1 DELE really tests you. I was experienced with the format, but the quality of the audio was the worst I'd heard in my life. The first part consisted of a conference speech about Peruvian food. The quality of the microphone that had recorded the talk was terrible. The third task, however, was unbelievably bad. It sounded like someone talking through a bad telephone line, with paper over their mouth. During the break, one of the candidates complained to the supervisor.

After the quick 30-minute pause, we headed back in to do the written test. It was easy and I had time afterwards to check and re-check my writing. When we finished, the director of the language department came in and informed us that we could listen to the third part of the listening test again, to try and improve our results. I wasn't pleased to hear this. I'd already been sitting and writing an exam for four hours. However, we took a chance. Turned out to be useless, as having another try didn't change any of my answers; the audio was still horrible. The supervisor informed us that the university would send a complaint to the Instituto Cervantes, but as to whether there'd be any result, he seemed doubtful.

I exited in a slump. I felt so-so about the reading, writing, and speaking parts, but the listening part did not give me high hopes. It will take a few months to receive the results. As I look back, I wish I'd pushed myself to study more during the summer. I also wished I didn't work so much speaking English, in order to have time to prepare for the exam. But, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. I learned many valuable lessons during my preparation and during the actual test. Next time, I'll do better.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Dreaded DELE

I've decided to reduce my writing schedule to every two weeks, because I've got an incredibly difficult exam coming up next month. The DELE (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) is a world-recognized official test proving one's Spanish level. I've been studying since the summer, although only recently did I up my game.

I don't want to reduce my writing time, because I love doing it, but this exam comes first. As it is, it's really difficult maintaining my Spanish for this level C1 exam, because of work. I spend many hours per week speaking and planning English lessons. I'm so grateful that at least I have a Spanish roomate and I go out with friends who speak Spanish with me. Although a few want to practise English, they understand that right now I'm ready to pull my hair out if I speak even one word of English outside of work.
How I look when studying
(except, not like a boy; I try to look hot, actually)
I've been using the book “El Cronómetro”, because of Cat Gaa's blog. The university has a great prep course, but it conflicts with my work. And I have yet to find someone in Jaén who's able to have private class with me to prepare. They say it's good enough to hire a native Spanish speaker, but I believe it's best to hire someone who's familiar with the exam. Many Spanish people aren't.

I'm lucky that my test is based on only one subject and relatively easy to study for. I have many friends studying like mad for their oposiciónes (national tests) in order to get work. A friend of mine, who has studied for oposiciónes before, put it this way: “Fundamentally, it's like a marathon, where it seems you'll never reach the finish line, but you must keep running.” I'm tired, but the end is almost here, so until then I'll have to put writing aside and concentrate on reaching my goal.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Learning the Ropes in a New Country

It was great meeting the new auxiliaries for this year. Fresh-faced, young, eager to start a new adventure. As a veteran, I gladly answered their questions. Because Lord knows, the people in charge won't. Every year, auxiliaries receive promises and read grandiose statements in emails, intentions against the fact that our bosses don't have time to help us. The heads of our program give us their phone numbers and email addresses, and tell us, “If there's ANYTHING at all we can help you with, contact us!”


Within a day I was receiving texts from newbies, because the organizer wasn't answering her phone. In a way, they were receiving a good lesson: in life, it's sink or swim. My first year in Spain, I almost drowned. Emails went unanswered, and when I tried to call I couldn't deal with the Andalucían speed nor accent. Bank machines spit out my Canadian card. Clicking on webpage after webpage led to dead ends and more Spanish gibberish.
This year's auxiliaries.
During my first few weeks back in 2013, I had to open a bank account and go to a specialist for surgery follow-up. I was extremely nervous about doing both alone, so my boss said she'd go with me. Only to be told one day before my appointments that she had to cancel in order to attend a parent-teacher meeting. I learned two lessons: 1) things change last-minute in this country, and 2) I will survive. Without internet on my phone, I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to figure out the complicated, two-bus journey to the tiny town where the specialist was. I made it to my appointment, the doctor spoke extremely slowly and nicely to me, and in the end I was issued a clean bill of health.

How are things two years later? I'm definitely more confident. Thanks to my time in Villacarrillo, my Spanish is a lot better. In fact, I played Scattergories with Spanish friends and came in second place! I still balk at calling – I prefer email or making the trek to talk to the person face to face. But I push hard to get a response. In a sea of unanswered requests, I know that I have to be my own life preserver.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On Becoming More Spanish

As proud as I am to be Canadian and hold on to some of my cultural qualities, it's only natural after two years that I have changed in many ways and become a bit more Spanish. Here's a lighter look at how I've changed:

When I first arrived in Spain, I maintained my productive Canadian habits:

Within a few short months in Villacarrillo, it changed to:

Another way I've changed is that I walk like this:
If I walk any faster, I actually start to sweat. It's not good sweat, either; it's a weird mixture of ham and olive oil that comes out of my pores. (If I marry a man whose last name is 'Jamón', I will die a happy bride.)

What else? I'm no longer weirded out if someone wears shoes in my house, nor if they use SCISSORS to cut PIZZA. Also, a shot of alcohol in coffee at 11 a.m.?  Sure, why not?

In addition, when I talk or write, every f***ing second motherf***ing word is a g**damn swear word, b**ch. Seriously, holy sh*t.

Of course, this isn't 100% what I'm like here. It's just amusing to see the little ways in which I've adopted tiny pieces of the Spanish culture.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The New Students

I'm noticing an interesting trend amongst friends my age. Despite being in our mid to late-thirties, between one-third and one-half of us left well-paying careers or were laid-off. We're taking classes, or have enrolled in university or a training school. In addition, we're (mostly) single women, with no kids, dramatically changing our lives at an age that traditionally sees people set within their career, relationship, or family.
Despite mortgages or rent, these friends of mine have decided to take time to search for work that has meaning for them, and/or re-educate themselves. Those that worked in television are now looking at social media, film, book editing, or international health careers. One friend who was a nurse is looking at moving into the world of esthetics. And a dental assistant I know is extremely interested in private investigation. The common thread: all of these women made very decent money but weren't into their jobs. Being happy is what counts more now. They take the risk of not having a lot of money while in school or starting a new career, but the urge to pursue their dreams is a bigger draw. Some of them have commented:

"I'm pursuing a new trajectory...more in line with my long-term objectives i.e. the ability to work anywhere; the ability to earn more income in the hopes of retiring early; the chance to pursue meaningful work."

"Why not have a wealth of knowledge in something that you are passionate about! Secret weapon for a happy and successful life." 
In my case, three years ago I looked towards Europe and said to myself, "I want to try that." I gave up a a 5-figure salary as a video editor, sold 90% of my belongings including my car, and moved to Spain with a suitcase, a backpack, a cat, and not knowing anyone in the entire region. Cut to the present, where in a few weeks I'll be corraling little kids at an elementary school, trying to inject a bit of English into their lives. In Canada, my colleagues and I feverishly worked to piece together stories about war, the health system, politics, and crime. Here in Jaén, my 10-year old student laughed while I showed her how to boogie down to “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce. When I edited at the t.v. station, I never worried about cash. Now, I make less than 800E a month. In addition, contracts run from October to May, so during the summer money is scarce. Last week I was so low on funds, I couldn't attend a birthday because an emergency came up and I had to buy medz. My choices were: eat ramen for a week, or buy real food but stay home a few nights. Real food won.

Spain has won my heart, too. I'm happy living here because 1) the money stress is short-term and in the summer, I learn to survive and have fun on little cash. Plus, 2) I wasn't happy in Canada. I had lots of money but felt bored in my city, having lived there my whole life. I worked weekends, so I couldn't do a lot with my friends.

Here, people place a big priority on personal happiness. I used to be confused and frustrated when students didn't want to study during the summer for exams. Now I understand: who wants to work or study when the days are long and hot, and the only solution is a cold drink and the beach? Who wants to stay rooted in one city when there are so many summer festivals and interesting places to visit a few hours away? These days, the girl who worked almost every weekend in Canada for thirteen years does NOT teach English on weekends in Spain. I've found time to achieve a few goals, such as writing a short ebook and visiting places I'd only dreamt of while in Canada. Just by living in Spain, which is such a different country, I enjoy learning new things and being a student.