Tuesday, October 30, 2012

mi colegio

As you probably know, I'm part of the North American Language and Cultural Assistants program. In return for a (very) modest living stipend and legal residency in Spain, I work twelve hours a week at a Spanish elementary school, assisting with English and plurilingual classes.

So far, I think I've been fairly lucky with my school. It's located in a small town that seems to be mostly occupied by farm animals and sleepy German Shepherds, which is a twenty-minute drive (add ten minutes if taking the bus) outside of Lugo proper. Some assistants have to commute as much as two hours to their towns, so I feel very fortunate that mine is so close by.

Spanish elementary schools, which are called colegios,  have students as young as three years old and as old as twelve. I spend at least an hour a week with each grade, sometimes with the English teacher, and sometimes in art classes, which my school has designated as its "plurilingual" subject. All Spanish schools are technically bilingual, with English and Spanish; because Galicia has an indigenous language, we're plurilingual, and in theory spend 33% of our time in Castilian Spanish, 33% in English, and 33% in Galician. I'm sure you can all imagine how well that works. Not. Which leads to one of my biggest issues at my school so far: the level of English.

I was certainly not expecting my students to all be great at English. But I would have expected that, by the fourth grade, they would be able to respond to basic questions like "How are you?" and "What's your favorite color?" This is not the case. Some of them can, of course, but I would say that a solid three-fourths of the classes stare at me in glassy-eyed confusion whenever I ask them anything. My teacher says this is because they're lazy, bad students, but I think it has a bit more to do with rock-bottom expectations, added to her own erm, difficulties with the English language.

I don't want to say that my teacher can't speak English. She can, kind of, speak well enough to carry on a basic conversation. Honestly, though, if I were getting paid an actual salary to teach a foreign language, I would be ashamed if I spoke and understood it as poorly as she does. Most of the time, what she teaches (or what the book teaches) isn't wrong, per se, but it's laughably far away from anything approaching the English that any human speaks or writes. Whenever I bring up an issue about that, she just claims it's because she teaches British English, and I'm American. Sigh.

As frustrating as my school's English capability is, the thing that is, without a doubt, the most difficult for me to deal with is the very different way teachers have of, erm, motivating their students. In the US, I think most teachers try to be positive and inspire their students to do better. In Spain, however, they seem to spend a lot more time shaming their students. At one point or another, every single teacher I've worked with, has straight up told their classes that they are lazy, that they are bad, that they are stupid, that they will never amount to anything. One of the most awkward moments of my time in Spain came when the English teacher told me to pick the best and the worst students in the first-grade class, right in front of them. I wouldn't do it, and she acted like I was the weird one.

I had been warned about this before starting at my school, but I still wasn't prepared for the reality of a teacher yelling at a six-year-old that he isn't ever going to do anything worthwhile with his life. I can't understand the thought process behind treating children like that; how on earth is that supposed to motivate them to work harder? Or to work at all? I don't think a six-year-old has the mental maturity to set out to prove everyone wrong. So, with a few of the kids, it's this awful spiral where they act out, the teacher tells them they're worthless, they act out again, the teacher repeats that they are slime, on and on and on. It's incredibly hard for me to watch.

Despite all of this, though, my school has been more than welcoming to me. The teachers are very friendly, and have been willing to help me with everything from figuring out my postal code to finding a place to buy sheets for my bed. I can yammer about education policy and teaching strategies until I go blue in the face, but let's be real, I'm not going to change anything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I do other things than go for walks in the woods.

saffron flowers
But not that many things. I was going to write a real post today, but then pictures of the woods distracted me.


imagining gnomes

Friday, October 19, 2012

fall colors

It's really fall. (Or, as my students' textbooks all say, autumn.) The last couple of days have been cold and typically rainy, but today is the kind of bright, crisp fall day that I look forward to all year. I'm sitting outside one of the cafes by my building right now, and it's a little chilly without a coat, but I want to spend as much time as I can outside right now. I know the Galician rain will resume before too much longer.

People keep assuring me that the leaves in Galicia turn colors, like the ones in Virginia, but I haven't seen too many yet. It's okay. That makes the ones I do encounter even more exciting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

san froidance

I was lucky enough to arrive in time for the festival of Lugo’s patron saint, San Froilan, which ran from October 4th to 12th. I’m going to frame this post by describing my attempts to do three things: 1. finally eat some pulpo a la gallega; 2. go to some of the plethora of free concerts; and 3. figure out who the f San Froilan was.

1. Pulpo a la gallega
On Friday, the last official day of San Froilan, my roommate C and I both had the day off. We decided to head into the center to check out the Medieval Market (I take full credit/blame for that major nerd moment), and search out some lunch.

We ended up at As Cinco Vigas (shock!) where we ordered two raciones (basically a jumbo-sized tapa). One was shrimp in a spicy garlicky olive oil-y sauce, and the other was, of course, pulpo a la gallega. Predictably, it was delicious. Octopus + salt + olive oil + pepper + potatoes = happiness.

Success? Yes. (Although I must admit that if I had really been going for style points, I should have eaten my octopus at one of the food tents specifically catering to San Froilan’s insatiable hunger for pulpo.)

pulpo a la gallega
2. Free concerts!
I love music. I love live music even more, so I was super-pumped to see that San Froilan’s schedule included six or seven free concerts a day. Unfortunately, a lot of them were at kind of awkward times, so I didn’t get to as many as I would have liked; and equally unfortunately, a lot of the ones I did get to were not um, that amazing. Sorry, I am just not that excited to see old dudes in black leather doing a Spanish-language version of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

However, there were some good ones. The first night of San Froilan, one of the smaller stages featured a showcase of three local bands: Os John Deeres (pronounced “yohn deer-es”), Machina, and Terbutalina. All of them were pretty punk-influenced, which isn’t usually my thing, but they had great energy, and it was awesome to see how into it the crowd was.

Good Show No. 2 was the, ahem, “Black Music Festival,” or San Froidance. I love rap, so I was pretty curious to see how Spain interpreted one of my favorite genres. Turns out it wasn’t really rap or hip-hop at all, just a bunch of DJs playing (thankfully) non-house-based dance music. I was disappointed that ASAP Rocky and KiD CuDi didn’t end up putting in an appearance, like I was hoping, but I still had a great time dancing like a fool.

My third pick is kind of an oddball one. Last Thursday night, I was headed home at the shamefully early hour of 2 a.m. (note for parents: most people stay out until six or seven in the morning) with a few friends, when we randomly stopped by the stage in the Praza Maior. A well-known Galician band was playing some traditional music. Again, not really my thing, but the cool part was seeing all the pairs of Galician grandparents spinning each other around the plaza. At 2 a.m. (Again, parents, before you get all antsy, note that grandparents party later than I do here.) It was such a quintessentially Spanish moment. I can’t imagine something like that happening in the US.

So, success? Mostly.

the grandparents who schooled me in partying, Spanish-style

3. Figure out who on earth San Froilan was
In the early days of the festival, I asked my friend’s Spanish roommates who San Froilan was. Their answer? “An excuse to party.”

I assumed they just weren’t that up on their Catholicism, and innocently assumed the teachers at my school would be able to clue me in. The most descriptive answer I got was along the lines of “I think he was a pilgrim, and maybe he stopped here or something?”

So I decided to challenge myself to figure out who San Froilan was, by the end of the festival, without resorting to Google. I enlisted the help of friends. I asked semi-random people. (Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to ask my school’s sacerdote.) Finally, after five days of frustration, another assistant and I resorted to Wikipedia.

Turns out San Froilan is the most boring saint of all time. He was born in Lugo. He studied religion. He became a hermit. He went on a pilgrimage. He founded a couple of monasteries. He became a bishop. The end. If this dude was my patron saint, I wouldn’t be that excited about him, either.

Success? Only by cheating.
San Froilan, pilgrim-ing along

And now, it’s back to normal life in Lugo.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Hey y'all! I know it's been a while since I've posted, but I've been a knockout combination of super-busy and without Internet. This does not lead to frequent blog posts, as I'm sure you can understand. However, it is currently a sleepy Sunday, and I have nothing in particular to do, so I headed over to a cafe across the street from my apartment, for some cafe con leche and wifi. (Side benefits include watching a car race and a pleasant view across the mountains.)

I promise I'll write a more comprehensive update (or really, set of updates) later, but for now I just wanted to share some miscellany from my life in Lugo.

Lugo is known for being one of the cheapest cities in Spain. Due to the incredible wealth I am accumulating as a language assistant, this is pretty handy. One perk of living someplace so dirt-cheap is that every drink, at every bar, comes with at least one free tapa.So it's very possible to go out for dinner for under 5 euros, just by getting three-ish glasses of wine or beer, and snacking away.

The center of Lugo's tapa zone is Calle de la Cruz, a turn or two away from the cathedral. My favorite spot, hands down, is called Las Cinco Vigas, or The Five Ceiling Beams. (Sounds so much more romantic in Spanish.) It earned my love the first time I went there, when the bartender noticed I'd left my umbrella on the floor, and held it until we walked back past later that night. But to set good karma aside, I love Cinco Vigas because their tapas are so. freaking. good. Pictured above are their mushrooms, served in a cream sauce with a nice chunk of Galician bread. Perfection.

the Rat River Park: much nicer than the name would suggest
So, despite all the stressin' I was doing the first two weeks I was in Lugo, I managed to find a great apartment, and an even better roommate. The apartment itself is pretty nice, despite some distinctly vintage appliances--there's lots of space, two rooms with double beds (!!), and big windows that get plenty of light. But the main reason that I love my apartment is the location. It's a bit less than a ten-minute walk to the center (granted, this includes hiking up a mountain), which is great for tapas and other nocturnal festivities. The neighborhood itself has a ton of stuff, from a supermarket right across the street to a vet for Gwen to a cornucopia of cafes.

And, possibly best of all, it boasts super easy access to one of the best parts of Lugo: el Parque del Rio Rato. (Or the Rat River Park. As with the Cinco Vigas, it sounds way better in Spanish.) It's part of a trail system that winds all the way around the city, making a roughly 10K loop. Gwen and I haven't done the entire thing yet, since we've been busy exploring the segments closer to home, but that day will come. We try to get down to the park for at least an hour a day.

Other than eating tapas and strolling through the park, I've been: goofing off with the kids at my school; getting to know the real teachers; learning the past tenses of common Spanish verbs; over-using the GPS on my phone; drinking Estrella Galicia and calimocho; hostessing potlucks and pregames; hunting for curry; applying for my residency card; visiting the cathedral in Santiago; and enjoying the festival of Lugo's patron saint, San Froilan. Most of these things deserve posts of their own, which I will try to get to as soon as possible. Hopefully we'll be getting internet at our apartment this week, so I'll be able to resume a more regular posting schedule. Fingers crossed.