Friday, May 24, 2013

Chapter Six (Prologue): Adjetivos

Chapter Six: Adjetivos

Welcome to the end.  Thank you for following along on my capers.  I had even more fun than I could describe here.  Perhaps I should have named the URL address for this blog, yes?

My regards

I would like to thank the following people...

  • The Navarro family: for the wonderful hospitality and the fun times we had.
  • The faculty of RMSI for this amazing and insightful opportunity to learn how to overcome language and cultural differences to learn and have fun.
  • Mr. Albert for guiding me in my educational experience, and helping me communicate with the students.
  • Las familias de Pinto, Guzman, Paez y los otros familias. 
  • Ms. Kristen for helping us to acclimate to this new environment.
  • The staff of Western Kentucky University who keep the international reach strong and enriching.

The Common Inconvenience

The weather improved, but then I got sick.  When I catch a cold, I'm never too weakened to stay home from school, but low on energy all day.  By the weekend I decided that I shouldn't go to the Pyrenees.  Sleeping in and not going to a place that isn't as focused on walking and hiking would be better for my health.  Not a problem.  There is plenty to discover in Barcelona.  After I got plenty of rest, we went to...

Sant Cugat

On the other side of the mountain with Tibidabo on top of it, there lies a village with with a combination of old-town charm and metropolitan appeal as well.  It was called Sant Cugat del Vallès, named after the monastery of Sant Cugat.  There was a festival going on that day, so there were kiosks, costumes, and games all around the monastery.

After a tour of the monastery, a group of drummers played and danced ferociously in a circle.  After that a group lit some loud fireworks that whistled and blew sparks everywhere.  There were even people dressed like dragons with fireworks attached to them.  Sparks were flying everywhere as they paraded down the street.  
The name of the festival was Diables.  People were wearing horns and red that day.  From what I gather and was told, the holiday isn't a worship of devils, but more of an "evil-awareness day".  In a quick Google search, I gathered that the holiday has had several cultural influences throughout history, but it more or less celebrates the battle of good vs. evil.  My knowledge of this holiday is limited, so perhaps I am wrong.

As the fiery parade went down the streets, I followed them for a while.  I saw this small store called "Taste of America".  They sold treats and beverages from products America such as Dr. Pepper and Splenda.  It was an amusing discovery.  I had a Jones Soda.

Waiting for a train...

On Sunday afternoon, I joined my traveling pals Nichole and Rachel, and some friends we made whom we met at a church. We had a picnic lunch in a massive park next to a zoo.  The name of the is Parc de la Ciutadella.  On a warm Sunday afternoon, we weren't the only ones to have the idea to come here.  It was a little crowded, but there was room.  After the park we went to the beach next to Port Barceloneta.  Barcelona does not lack interesting architecture.

Back at the school 

No that is not the Monastery of Sant Cugat, that is the courtyard of Santa Isabel.
Monday was my last day.  At the school, we were finishing up with the oral exams with the students.  These are a series of English tests that the students would take.  They are provided by the Cambridge company and they test the student's ability to describe images and answer questions in English.  I gave these tests to the 4th and 5th grade groups.  I will not disclose student performance, but I identified a common error for students of every age.  Many students have a hard time remembering which word to use to identify the gender of a person: he, him, his, hers, he, and she.  An understandable challenge, seeing as how in Spanish, many nouns will change depending on the gender of who or what is being talked about. 

I personally marked the Science exams.  These were the exams for the Science unit that I taught last week.  I marked the questions that were right or wrong, but I left the final points to be discussed with Mr. Albert.  Several questions on the test required more than one answer, and I also wanted to discuss with him which answers should be marked incorrectly or excused on basis of grammar.  It is a Science test in English to students who are learning English after all. 

An international farewell

The staff of RMSI gave us a fine farewell lunch.  Over pizza, we were given a yearbook, an RMSI shirt, and kind words from each of our mentors.  It warmed my heart.  It was a delight to see the pictures of the students at the beginning of the year because it shows how much they have grown by the time us Western students got to meet them.  Thanks again for the fun and once in a lifetime experience of working with the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students.  I learned a lot from them.  They are intelligent and spirited children whom I miss already.

Hill topping

For three weeks I was able to go for a run almost every night.  Alberto and Ana told me that there is a popular lengthy trail halfway up the mountain that leads to the top.  You can also find the amusement park Tibidabo up there.  My host family dropped me off at the beginning of the trail.  I ran to the top and then back down and all the way home.  The total distance was about 5 and half miles (almost 9 km.) through a forest trail and back down to the neighborhood roads.  Thankfully I was out of the forest before sundown.  I didn't want to have any unwanted encounters with wild boars.  I'm glad that I did this run on my last week in Spain.  My legs were quite sore after all of that uphill trekking.  
On the way back down from the top, I jogged past a couple who asked me a question.  They were asking a question that I couldn't hear because I was listening to music.  As I paused my music and removed my headphones, I filed my memory for Spanish words I would use.  I rehearsed the sentence in my head, "Lo siento, yo hablo poco espanol.  Pero, Tibidabo es acquel.  cinco minutos mas o menos" (in retrospect, that might have been the incorrect way to say "over there").  "Que?"  I said.  To my surprise, the couple asked me in natural American English "Is Tibidabo that way?"  It surprised me to speak with another American.  They were from Boston.  By now hearing other people speak English with an American accent sounded alien to me.   

Dawn of the final day

24 hours remain.  The host-parents had taken the kids to school, and on our last full day in Spain, the Western students had a day off to take in as much of Europe as we could.  I slept in, caught up on my messages, and tried to remember some of the places I was suggested to see.  Alberto told me about a beautiful old church that he likes to visit.  He also said that he had the best cup of coffee that he ever had at a nearby cafe.  I decided that was worth looking into, and there could be some shops I could visit to finish up the last of my shopping for my family.  Here are two pictures of the church called Santa Maria.  It was old, it was calming, and it was beautiful.

The low lighting, the lofty curved ceiling, and the ancient stone walls made for a very serene atmosphere.  A man was playing the organ in the front (unfortunately not the awesome organ that you see in this picture) while a woman was singing. 

It was my last day in Barcelona, and the Picasso museum was nearby.  It was one of my goals to see the Picasso musuem, but I just didn't feel like going somewhere crowded.  After shopping for the last of the gifts in small stores throughout the cobbled alleys, I just wanted to find a place to sip coffee and let the world turn.  Which leads me to the next part... 

This week´s cup of coffee:

This was the place that Alberto told me about.  This is where he had the best cup of coffee he ever had.  A statement like that cannot be ignored by a coffee fan such as myself.  I sat on that cushioned stool on the right.  I had a black coffee, espresso brewed, that came with a 1-inch chocolate cookie.  The initial flavor of the coffee was bitter, but a subtle kind of bitter.  The problem with most coffees is that the bitterness is overwhelming, but it was a degree of bitterness that doesn't force you to scrunch your face.  But what surprised me the most was the aftertaste: citrus.  It had a lemon-like aftertaste that, were it to be too strong of a flavor, would have ruled out all of the other flavors.  Thankfully, it was a graceful balance. 

Family Life

Spending time with a host family with two children made me think: I miss family life.  In Kentucky I live in an apartment with my two friends.  The three of us have independent schedules, and most of the time we all eat at different times or we are coming and going at different times.  But with my host family, we had breakfast and dinner together, and we would ride to and from school together.  It reminded me of when I was young, and we how we were able to do all of those things together.  I was grateful to have that laughter, camaraderie and conversation opportunities.

Thank you Navarro family.  I miss the four of you.

Otros and life back home:

After my first week, I had developed a Spanish accent because I got into the habit of saying words in a way that is easier for locals to understand.  For example, I would say steetch instead of stitch, because that is how "i" sounds are pronounced.  After a couple weeks I became comfortable with finding ways to say things that people would understand easily but still sound like myself instead of Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy.

People say that the best way to learn a language is through immersion.  This is true.  People also say that you won't retain the information that you learn from a language learning class.  I didn't have that problem.  I found myself using a lot of what I learned from my two semesters of Spanish class that I had two years ago.

I didn't realize just how important eye contact was for communicating with people in different cultures until I returned to America.  When I was talking to my friends and family at home, it's easy to look around the room and still hold a conversation because we understand each other perfectly.  So when I was talking to my sister, I was shocked when she looked away for a moment while I was talking.  I thought she was ignoring me.  But then I realized that I was getting re-accustomed to body language again.

I may be back in America now, but I still find myself thinking about what I would say in Spanish when I want to purchase something, or how I would ask for directions in Spanish.  I've nearly said perdón or lo siento on a regular basis to people if I have to walk  past a person or if I bump into them.

The coffee was better in Europe.

Santa Isabel reflection

Studying abroad has been one of the best decisions I've ever made.  It was worth the cost and work that it takes to get there.  At last I can put to rest my jealousy that I had towards my older sisters who also had the chance to study abroad as well.  I crossed the Spanish shores feeling starstruck and four weeks later I left the Mediterranean sea feeling intrepid, empowered, and humbled.

There was still so much left to see.  If I had more time I would have gone to Park Guell and the Picasso museum.  If I had even more time I would have gone to Ireland, England, Venice, and Normandy.  But I suppose that is something that will be saved for the distant future... 

Those are things that will have to wait...

Until Next time...


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chapter Five: Return of the Tres

Chapter Five: Return of the Tres

Living with the Navarro family has been outstanding.  Each of them understands my English really well, and they speak English smoothly.  Alberto and I have so much in common, there was never a cultural gap between us.  We talk about classic rock, Clint Eastwood, zombie films, the 80's, and politics in a fashion I find more comfortable than conversations with most Americans.

What season is it again?

For four days it was very cold!! The weather went from 60 degrees (fahrenheit) to 40 degrees fahrenheit (or 4.44 degrees celsius, or 277.59 degrees kelvin).  I'm glad I overpacked, because that included some warm jackets.  Can the same be said for the other toppers?

With the weather being poor, we cancelled our trip to the Pyrenees for the weekend.  That's okay, there is plenty to see in Barcelona.  I went with my host family and some of their friends to the Musuem of Science.  It was a rather large place with a plethora of exhibits on physics, history, and it had an aquarium/rainforest!  Here's the pictures...

Song and Dance: the genuine Spain experience
Rallying once again with my travelling pals Rachel and Nichole, we went to the famous Palau de Musica.  We picked up our tickets and crossed the street for some most excellent crepes.  The crepe that I had was like a massive rectangular pancake folded in half with chocolate inside and ice cream on top.  I finished it off with a hot cup of vanilla rooibos tea.

The show that we went to see in the opera house was called Opera y flamenco (Opera and Flamenco).  Flamenco is the Spanish dance that you expect it to be: fiery, juxtaposed, well dressed, frilled, and with a Spanish acoustic guitar fiercely strumming to every stomp, snap, clap, wave, and intense stare.  But then it also included opera so the acts would alternate between fiery flamenco and powerful opera.  It was a genuine Spain experience.  However, the house and stage was so impressive that that alone was worth the admission price.

Sagrada Familia

Another day (so much goes on each day that it blends together) I met up with Rachel to tour the Sagrada Familia.  If you ever want to visit Sagrada Familia, PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS ONLINE AND PRINT THE TICKET!!!!  I'm very glad that I did, because I would have had to wait in line for two hours just to print a piece of paper with a barcode on it.  I could write a poem about the light shining through the stained glass windows, or the view from the old towers, but I'll let the pictures do the talking...

El Rojo Torres

After Sagrada Familia, Rachel went off to meet with her host family, and I enjoyed lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant.  I had a pizza with meat (that's about as much of the menu that I could understand).  And had a gelatto nearby and emailed home.

I didn't know where to go next so I spotted the mysterious building with a curved top that I had seen before, and went that way.  I walked for a while and came across this nice park where I rested on a bench under the shade of a tree for 40 minutes.

After a coffee (you can always count on quaint coffee shops being nearby), I walked down a strip where I was passed by pedestrians on rollerblades.  I suppose rollerblades are popular to adults in the city where the terrain is flat.

At last I reached my destination.  It appeared to be a business district because I walked past a convention center.  The architecture in the area was very dynamic.  Geometric ponds stretched around in unexpected patterns, Large glass cubes sat in grassy pastures, and there was my goal: Torres Agnar.  It was a large red tower used for businesses.  I was amazed to see that there was still cityscape as far as the eye could see, despite how far I had traveled.  I thought Barcelona was big, but this showed me that it was even bigger.  It was very serene out here.

Back in the classroom...

On Friday I gave the students their science exam.  I graded them over the weekend, but I haven´t given them  the final score because I wanted to discuss how to score some of the questions with Mr. Albert.  Mr. Albert is the teacher whom I am cooperating with.

Managing the classroom

When it comes to managing the 5th grade classroom, it isn't that complicated.  The school may not use the same procedures and discipline model that I am accustomed to in American schools, there is one method that I have learned through experience that works for me.  This method was inspired by the procedure-focused style of esteemed teacher Harry K. Wong.  All you have to do is tell the students...
  • What they will be doing
  • How they will be doing it
  • What they should do if they need help
  • What they will do when they are finished
    • Why they need to do that when they are finished
 No need for weeks of practicing how-to.  When the students know exactly what to do at all times, they won't have to find something to do.  If a student frequently misbehaves, I just have to tell him that he can either listen to me or Mr. Albert can tell him what he needs to do.  Easy for me.

The boys are very energetic and playful, but when they get their books open and focus, they make intelligent input.  When reviewing material for a test that they had in history, I found the students were very enthusiastic and engaged when I challenged them to quiz me on the content.  They were racing to find information in the textbook that they could ask me in an attempt to stump me.

This week's cup of coffee:

El Rebost De Collserola.  This coffee shop is close to where I am staying.  When I'm running late for the metro and don't have time to make breakfast, I grab a cafe con leche (or if you speak Starbuckian that's a solo short whole milk latte) and a croissant.  You'll typically find a black dog tethered out front of this store.  It's most likely the owner's dog.

"This fish will go in your blog"
-Alberto Navarro 

Alberto said he had a special dish for me for dinner: it was called Dorada a la sal (fish with salt).  He said that the fish will taste like it has seasoning, but the fish naturally tastes that way.  The next big surprise was that when he cooked the fish in the oven, it was covered completely in a pile of salt.  However, you could hardly taste the salt when you take it out and eat it.  It was some really good fish.  He was right, the fish had a lot of flavor for a dish that was only seasoned with salt.  In America, the only fish I really cared for was in sushi form, probably because it was wrapped up with vegetables, sauce, and rice.  However, in Spain, I've had a lot of good cooked fish.

I used to get queasy when I had to dismantle the exoskeleton of a shrimp just to eat it.  But I'm a pro now.

This was something that I kept forgetting to share each chapter.  The Spanish dialect of the Spanish language uses a "th" sound in words that use z, c, or s.  Typically this is applied to the second or third consonants in a word and not the first.  I will have to investigate further.

Next time on the blog: Massive parks, the beach, a monastery, a festival, the farewell, and a great uphill trek on foot.  It's the prologue!  Stay tuned for all this and more!  Same Spain time, same Spain place.

Until next time...

 I stared at them for a while before I realized that they wouldn't move...