Spain

School’s Out—A Reflection on a Year in a Madrid High School

School’s out for the summer. Weren’t those the sweetest words when you were a kid? Summer meant possibilities, everything open and waiting for you: swimming pools, summer camps, driver’s ed, athletic conditioning (wait, was that just my school?), endless days when all you did was eat popsicles and jump in the sprinkler. Ah, summer. It’s too bad that summer, at least the idea of it as a three-month-long break, had to end—for most.

For teachers, there’s still Summer with a capital s. Teachers may not see summer the way kids do—they’ve got responsibilities and bills to pay. But summer is still there, and the idea of summer motivates us from February to June. School’s finally out here in Madrid. Most of the exams are finished; most final grades are being handed out as I type this. Camps start next week here in Spain. Done! Finished! Terminado! 

This school year was a fun one for me. After having lived through a rather unpleasant experience last year (and that’s putting it rather mildly), I came into this year with low expectations. But my low expectations were met by great teachers. Teachers who cared, teachers who worked with me rather than against me, and teachers who spoke English well. (Weird, isn’t it, seeing as they’re English teachers?) We had a great year together, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have worked in one of  Madrid’s most historic educational centers, where the alumni have names like Lopa de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, and even Juan Carlos I. The classrooms were old, certainly, but for the most part my classes were conversational in nature, and we worked with what we had.

Teenagers are teenagers everywhere, though, so of course my efforts to speak English were met with some resistence. Nonetheless, at the end of the day (year), I can say that I left with them knowing more English, with them having a better perspective on my home country than they started with. A simple goal, yes. But a goal achieved is a goal achieved.

They say that the auxiliares de conversación program is the luck of the draw, and I’ll have to agree. After two years at different schools with not-so-pleasant results, this year it was my turn to finally work with great coworkers, even if I also had to put up with the sometimes surly attitudes of teenagers. I did a lot of fun activities, spoke mostly in English, and felt fulfilled. You can’t really ask for better.

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Running in Spain

For some reason, many Spaniards have taken the word correr (literally, “to run”) and started to use the words “runner” and “running,” like so:

El ‘running’ está de moda

Run for your life

Running is popular nowadays in Spain. There is a race every weekend here in Madrid, and every day I see more people out and about, running around the parks near our house. Funnily, as the article says, first they said “jogging,” then they said “footing,” and now they’re saying “running.” They all mean the same thing, so why not say them in Spanish: salir a correr. It’s a phenomenon I’m rather fascinated by, but I’m not like to argue with diehards who say the Spanish language is dying, battered and weary of so many Anglicisms. I think it’s put a new spin on an old hobby, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I started running at the end of high school, and I’ve kept it up since then, sometimes substituting going to the gym. But I still run 4–5 days a week most weeks. When I came to Spain in college, I didn’t notice a lot of runners. I would often run around outside Toledo’s old city walls, and I would maybe see one other runner. But nowadays, I see tons. Of course, in Madrid you’re more likely to see someone running. It’s all anecdotal, but based on my observations alone, I’d swear the number of runners in Spain has increased dramatically in the last five years.

And the evidence backs it up: Barcelona’s 2012 marathon attracted nearly 20,000 runners, a 28% increase from 2011. And I’d venture to say it’s only gotten bigger since then. What’s the reason for this increase? I can’t pinpoint it, but I’ve someone jokingly say that a man having a midlife crisis in 1990 gets an expensive car, in 2000 he gets a much-younger girlfriend, and 2010 he starts running. Plus, it’s a relatively cheap sport to take up, and you can do it almost anywhere. All you really need are some runnng shoes. The rest is just extra. Some people even claim that it’s addictive!

One thing Spanish runners normally have over runners back home is great gear. Just visit Decathlon, a big sporting goods store here, and you’ll see why. You can buy cheap, professional looking running outfits for way less than you’d spend on something back home. So while I run in an old tee shirt and even older shorts, most of the people I see in Madrid have on whole coordinated outfits. Good for them, but I’m going to stick with my shirt from ninth-grade volleyball …

Are you a runner?

World Cup 2014: Can Spain Do It Again?

The 2014 World Cup starts today. I’m pretty sure many Americans I know couldn’t care less. But this American is pumped! Let’s get it starrrrrrrrrrted!

Quick confession: I don’t even like soccer that much. I’m a Hoosier, you see, and in the Hoosier state, basketball is king. Still, the longer I stay in Spain, the more I get into it. I even care about La Liga (Spain’s national league) a little bit now! I got excited when Real Madrid won this year’s Champion’s League cup. Nonetheless, my favorite team will always be La Roja, the Spanish national team.

I first came to Spain in 2008. That year, the Spaniards won the Eurocup (kind of like the World Cup, but only for European countries). I actually didn’t even notice. But in 2010, when the South African World Cup rolled around, I was dating a Spaniard … and my dad bought us jerseys!

Mario Spain jersey

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How to Have Good Manners in Spain

“Give me a coffee. With milk.” I say to the barista. She turns around immediately and scoops out some dark torrefacto coffee. The machines buzzes and whirs, and a minute later she slides the coffee across the bar to me, without a word.

Rude? Of course not.

Manners in Spain are different from those anywhere else. That much should be obvious right from the get go. But how? What can you do to be polite in Spain? What does Spanish etiquette call for?

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