study

Student, Auxiliar, Expat

Do you remember study abroad? I’ve talked about it often, if only because it was the beginning of so many things (good, bad, and neutral) for me. It was the first time I set foot in Spain; it was the first time I felt overwhelmed by the idea of becoming fluent in another language; it was the first time I truly embraced my Americanness.

At La Fundación José Ortega y Gasset in 2008.

The next stage for me was being a Conversation and Language Assistant, una auxiliar de conversación. Being a C&LA was different than being a student. I had responsibilities other than studying. I had more bills to pay. I had to deal with a lot more bureaucracy (although not as much as some people).I felt much more alone than I had as a study abroad student, surrounded by scores of other naïve Americans like me. But still there was a built-in group of people I could make friends with, my fellow C&LAs in Zamora, where I was located. Together, we found common ground in complaining about the lack of respect shown by our students, being the token Americans everywhere we went, and laughing about the abundance of zapaterías (shoe stores).

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Now I find myself about to embark on a different sort of journey—one without a set end date, without a built-in group of fellow Americans, without a sense of surety. Daunting is a word that comes to mind. Sometimes I see the new(er) C&LAs and their blogs describe their countless trips, how they see Spain—and I see myself in them, but back in 2009. And obviously 2009 was not that long ago; I’m not saying that I’m infinitely more mature than them or anything of the sort. I’m only saying that we’re always changing, and I’ve changed since then, I’ve been altered by the transient nature of life.

My time in Spain has gone from student life to auxiliar life, to life life. No longer am I thinking, “Just until June” or “I can’t do that, because I’ll be gone by then.” Instead I’m thinking of work permits and marriage licenses and in-law dilemmas. I’m thinking of buying furniture and settling down and sending boxes across the Atlantic Ocean because when did I get this much stuff?

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It’s all his fault. Mario’s, that is.

Perhaps the more seasoned expats will smirk at me and my naïveté. Perhaps they’ll feel a bit of sympathy because I don’t know what I’m getting myself into (and I suppose I only have the faintest idea!). Perhaps they’ll view me with nostalgia—they remember their beginnings too, their first trembling steps into the “real world.” I cannot say how, in a few years (or decades), I’ll view the Kaley of 2012. I can only hope that the me of today will not allow herself to be intimidated, to say no, to live a fear-driven life.

Let’s go.

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Studying—An Update

If you haven’t read the comments on my post Advanced Spanish … Where Do I Go from Here?, please do. There are a lot of great ideas in there. Prithika from the blog Fleas and Dogs in Barcelona made a great suggestion, one I’ve been putting into practice—making daily, weekly, and monthly lists.

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Pretend studying my freshman year of college.

Now that I’m fully addicted to my esmarfon, I decided to do my flashcards online. Of course. A friend of mine posted about StudyBlue on Facebook, and I love it. This website allows you to make digital flashcards and store them in your “backpack.” Then you have access to them anywhere—on the web, on your smartphone, on your tablet, and you can even download them and print them out if you so choose (say, a long airplane ride where you don’t to waste precious laptop battery).

The great thing about StudyBlue is the fact that, sometimes, other people have already done your work for you. What? Well, when you start editing your cards, you enter your word into the term space and then tab down to the definition space. If someone else has already worked with this word or term, you can see what they wrote and just click on their card to use theirs. For example, I was working with the word pavonearse, which means to “show off.” (It actually comes from el pavo real, the peacock, an animal that likes to strut its stuff, you know?) And just my luck—someone had already entered that into the box for me! Niiiice, right?

What’s more, you can easily add photos/audio and take personalized quizzes. If you’re so inclined, you can even browse others’ packs to see what they’ve done. You can study just the “wrongs,” which is nice, and not something I often encounter with digital flashcards. I swear, they’re not paying me to write this; I just love the website.

Another thing I like to do—and I admit, I’m lucky—is talk to Mario about the word and see if he can tell me the English equivalent. I really love it when he can’t (I’m so mean), because then I get to teach him something, a rare occurrence.

Ha! Just because you have three degrees doesn’t mean you know everything!

The great thing about what Prithika suggested is that, in her words, “it keeps your lists dynamic.” I oftentimes will study a word, “know” it, and then come back to it later, and have no idea what it means. I’m sure this happens to you too, right? (If not, grrr.)

Anyway, I’m studying for once, and I’m actually happy about it! It’s been a long time since I’ve been this motivated outside of a classroom.

Advanced Spanish … Where Do I Go from Here?

In case you didn’t know, I’m a perfectionist. If you read all my blog posts about Spanish grammar and trying to improve, you might get that impression, but I’ve tried my best not to come off too crazy. Did it work?

I’m trying to take the DELE, otherwise known as the Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera, or Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language. I’d like to take the exam in November, when I’ll already be in Spain. I got this book, El Cronómetro, but the exam format has changed, so I’m not sure just how useful it will be.

Cronometro

So, my question out there to all my Spanish-speaking friends/bloggers:

How do you improve your Spanish if you’re past the point of learning grammar?

I know the verb tenses, the irregular verbs, and how to conjugate. I understand when to use the subjunctive about 95% of the time. I sometimes slip up verbally when using por/para, but I know the right way. My pronunciation is okay, according to Mario. But I still lack vocabulary. However, I swear there are words I read, try to learn, and then forget—and then the cycle repeats itself, which is obviously maddening.

Tell me your strategies. I already have one of those personal dictionaries, and try to speak to him in Spanish, which usually works, unless he switches to English (which he does! all! the! time!).

College Study Abroad—If I Could Do It All Again

I get a lot of emails regarding study abroad and applying to be an auxiliar de conversación. Understandably so, as I talk a lot about Spain and my experiences there and how I feel now that I’m back home. People ask for recommendations of places to eat, drink, and see the sights. I’m definitely happy to (try to) help them out, but I often wish I could give them a list of general advice …without sounding stuck up. My biggest piece of advice is to put yourself out there and go study abroad! It truly is an experience that every college student should experience. Even a student working on an online bachelor degree should pack their computer and experience another country. With the world as connected as it is today, we can often forget the value of experiencing places in person. I feel a bit sorry for all the people who attend college online through an online college program or students attending smaller schools that don’t offer study abroad opportunities. Beyond this obvious piece of advice, I had difficulty coming up with my own recommendations of what to see and experience. And then I realized what I…

First day in Spain. Ever.

would like to tell Kaley (age twenty-one).

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  • Life in Spain is just that: life. It may be life in Europe, but you still have to do your laundry, write papers, and go grocery shopping.
  • You will walk. A lot. In the U.S., walking distances longer than to and from your car, especially in winter, is not common. This will change. You will walk everywhere—in the pouring rain, in dreadful heat, when you’re tired, when you’re not, when you are hung over, when you’ve got a caffeine withdrawal headache … you will walk.
  • You will make embarrassing mistakes. You will make mistakes that are not embarrassing as well. Live; learn; deal with it.
  • You will eat a lot of pork products. It’s really unavoidable.
  • You will feel frustrated and realize your Spanish has a long way to go. This is okay. This is normal. Embrace it, and realize that the only place to go is up. A note: you will not be fluent by the end of your study abroad journey unless you left for Spain with an absurdly high level. This too is just fine.
  • You will feel like a foreigner. Um, you area foreigner. Yes, you—all 5’11”, pale, freckled, American-faced you. You aren’t Spanish, and people might automatically switch to English when they hear your accent.
  • You will be homesick at times. You might just be more homesick than other people. This does not make you weak or lame or any of those other negative words that haunt you as you try to fall asleep. You may struggle at times—with the language, with the culture, with the schedule—but you will come out stronger on the other end.
  • You will feel disconnected from home. Life, like it or not, will go on without you. Your parents will buy new furniture. Your former roommate will bond with someone new. Your car may not be around when you get home. (Yes, this happened to me in 2009. Blame my brother.) You may get on Facebook and ask yourself, Who are these people?
  • You will worry about money. Yes, some people will travel every weekend—London, Rome, Paris, Greece, Morocco, Lisbon. Save your money. Travel where you have always dreamed of going. Remember that there is value in staying home, visiting your bar, walking the streets of your new (albeit temporary) home.
  • You will go home and feel nostalgic. When you return, whether or not you experience reverse culture shock, you will remember how you felt. You will remember the smell of incense in the cathedral, the taste of tinto de verano, the sight of Toledo across the river, the feel of your scratchy comforter as you fell asleep in a city older than your own country. You will listen to songs that make you cry, remembering what you had there, realizing you’ll never get that back. Be okay with this, this nostalgia of yours. It’s fine to miss it.

Life goes on, but you’ll remember.

Entry written because I’m totally nostalgic right now. Please forgive me.