Mid-Year

I feel like most things in my life recently are a little retrasado (and I mean that more in the running late sense, and less in the mentally delayed way – but who knows?)

So more than a week after the fact, I am taking time to comment upon the many impressions and inspirations that I was left with after spending several days in Valladolid for Fulbright´s mid-year meeting. This included all the English Teaching Assistants from all over Iberian Peninsula – from Valencia, Cantabria, Madrid, and Andorra – and all the research grantees here in Spain, researching everything from cancer to Antarctica to flamenco.

Hint: this is not a cheap student hostel.

Besides being a refreshing break from day-to-day life – in a four-star hotel with unbelievable luxuries like heated rooms and hot showers – this was a good chance to reflect and share on the past six months here, and refocus myself for the remaining months. It has also reminded me how fortunate I am to be part of an incredible organization like Fulbright. The application for a Fulbright grant is detailed and very selective, because in the end they invest in people, not projects. Everyone who receives a grant has a project in mind, of course – both the very specific projects of the researchers and the side projects that the ETAs choose in addition to their general education objectives. The midyear meeting was a chance to see how those visions have developed, changed, or even fallen by the wayside to make way for more relevant projects that were impossible to imagine when we first applied, a year and a half ago. And despite the strenuous application process and the avalanche of paperwork we filled out to get here, in the end Fulbright is not breathing down our necks seeing if we have used our generous funding for something appropriately impressive. Instead, we turn in a midyear update – which is mainly focused on information useful for supporting future grantees – and come together to chat with our peers and present on our work if we feel like it.

During my small-group workshop with other ETAs in the Valencian region, I got a lot of insight and ideas – especially on the complicated and fascinating implications of bilingual and trilingual education – but also a new appreciation for my own situation. Despite my initial frustration with pedagogical differences and disillusionment about my 12 plásticas classes, I can appreciate the fact that I have been placed in a fantastic school – with a positive school culture, effective communication, involved and supportive administration, supplies and technology despite the deep budget cuts throughout the region, and many teachers willing to let me enter their classrooms and just go to town with my crazy vowel sounds and flyswatters and non-audiolingual-method activities.

I think my favorite part of the week was Friday morning’s individual presentations on various projects and research, including mine about my international pen pal project and how it connects to best practices in language teaching. (I was a little nervous to show pictures of adorable 4th grade illustrations, in between presentations about curing cancer and other really sciencey things, but I think it went well.) Both ETAs and researchers presented, and a few stand out in my memory in particular:

  • Cine Migratorio, a migration-themed film festival that an ETA in Santander is putting together.
  • Art as resistance, including the work of Antoni Tàpies – who just passed away.
  • Using an English and Spanish film club to further language skills and international exchange (something I would like to try with some of the teachers at my school.)
  • ExtranHero, a webcomic about living and teaching in Spain.
  • A presentation on the gender roles in Flamenco, by a young man studying in Sevilla (who performed wearing a bata de cola – the traditional frilly flamenco skirt – to demonstrate both roles at our Fulbright talent evening.)
  • A presentation on project-based learning (from a fellow Michigan educator – shout out to the mitten!) as a constructive way to deal with the sometimes murky and disorganized role of an auxiliar in the Spanish school system.
  • Some American-style classroom management tricks from a Valencia ETA – things that are fairly common in American schools, but less so in the more straightforward and traditional lecture-based education we’ve seen here.
I was really inspired to see so many fascinating projects from so many talented people. Additionally, this was the chance to speak to native English speakers, drink a lot of wine, and see the sights in Valladolid – a small but beautiful old city.

Pavos Reales

Faceless and leaf-hearted.

Beautiful old library I showed you before.

Old pages.

Wine-making.

Wine-tasting.

One of the less delicious yet more memorable experiences of Valladolid was when two other girls and I got separated from our group during a mass exodus in search of food, on our last night in Valladolid. After some wandering, we stumbled upon what appeared to be a restaurant with legitimate Spanish cuisine. The authenticity was further proven when we entered and found ourselves surrounded by Spanish abuelos. The waiter – the only other person under 60 – looked at us incredulously and said – Sabeís que tenemos, ¿no? Hay ensalada y huevos fritos. Salad and fried eggs? Somewhat overwhelmed, and maybe a little trapped, we allowed ourselves to be ushered to a table. In addition to the promised eggs and the most Spanish salad I’ve ever eaten (drenched in oil and full of incredibly salty fish), there were bonus french fries, and a plate of chorizo and crusty mystery meat.

A Very Spanish Salad.

We laughed a lot, ate as much as we could, and felt a little ashamed of our un-emptied plates, under the curious gaze of Valladolid’s friendly senior population.

Snow sightings from the train.

After the conference, I took the train back to Madrid to spend the night with a friend there – including her birthday party full whiskey, dancing, and delicious food – no fishy salads needed.

Living room dance floor.

Birthday girl.

On Sunday, between some much-anticipated Thai food and my evening flight back to Alicante, I found myself rambling alone through the sunny Madrid streets – now somewhat familiar, after enough similar wandering. After so much laughter and conversation, the opportunity to wander by myself and absorb things is sometimes my favorite.

Madrid.

I surprised myself by feeling completely content – something that has emerged as a major life goal during my time in Spain.

Crossing the half-way point in my time here, there are still many things left to do:

  • Find more lasting ways to contribute to the English program at school.
    More language exchange with teachers, website creation, continuing the pen pal exchange…
  • Participate in some more photography excursions and lessons.
  • Expand my cooking a bit more before leaving this paradise of cheap, fresh, amazing ingredients.
    So far I’ve been inspired to make Spanish-style meatballs and even fresh fish!
  • Work on becoming trilingual.
    After seing my understanding of Valencian develop purely through immersion, I feel confident enough to add an Arabic/English exchange to my current Spanish/English exchanges!
  • Visit other parts of the world.
    Paris this month, Italy in April, Dublin in July before going back home!
  • Plan and prepare for the Camino.
  • Not spend too much time worrying about finding a job for next year.
  • Find a job for next year.

More importantly, however, I want to be content and joyful in the moment – enough so that I can bring that back to whatever is waiting for me after July. I was afraid I would come to the mid-year point and feel panicked because I had not done enough, hadn’t taken advantage of enough opportunities, hadn’t grown. I don’t feel that at all. Maybe I am learning contentment and how to be at peace. If so, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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