La Escuela

Big news! But, first a few little updates since it’s been a little while – I’m shockingly very busy always.

1. I drink fresh squeezed orange juice everyday – thanks to the fact that there’s orange trees everywhere around me. And, despite the fact that I generally can’t deal with pulp in my orange juice – it’s worth the cringeworthy pulp. For some reason, there’s this sense of “active yes” while traveling, as in saying yes to everything as to not miss out on an experience or moment. I wonder why this is harder to access when I’m at home – although, it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps something to bring home with me?

2. Sometimes these kids that I’m working and living with scream loud and resist their English lessons until I want to push them over. Other times, of course, they sit down & pay attention, give me besitos, and they’re my favorite people in the world. It depends on the hour.

3. I went to Sevilla this weekend with Amelia and two of the other Au pairs living in Palma del Rio – and I got to see an old friend from home! It was incredibly beautiful, the streets were small, old, and full of carts selling roasted chestnuts, wildly creative street performers, and tons of horse carriages. We visited the Plaza de España, among other things, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as striking or fairytaleistic in my life. The few photos that I have don’t do justice to what we got to see. Allow me to paint a word picture for you – I would ask you to close your eyes and imagine this while you read it, but you, in fact, need open eyes to read, so maybe find a friend to read it to you, then you can close your eyes and imagine it.

We started outside. The sun was out, maybe one or two small clouds in the sky, and it was that perfect temperature between hot & cold. We were surrounded by a huge palace, a palace made of stone, covered in intricate, colorful tiles, and large arches & doorways, full of history and endless stories. When we walked in, in front of us was a flight of long, wide stairs made of granite.  At the top, it split into two more flight of stairs – one on the left, one on the right. In the center of this first flight of stairs was a man softly playing the guitar, accompanied by a harmonica at his lips, playing the sweetest songs. His gentle music set the perfectly warm atmosphere for seeing the palace. It wasn’t only warm against my skin, or warm in the sense of feeling not hot, but not cold. It was the kind of beautiful warm you feel on the inside when you see your favorite person, or hear your favorite song, you know the soft and comfortable, inner warmth I’m talking about. We walked up the sun-kissed steps to look over the center of the plaza, feeling the soft welcome of the music. He was playing “What a Wonderful World” and what a wonderfully beautiful, awe-inspiring world it was inside that palace.

I hope the word picture worked. I can’t explain completely the feeling of walking up those stairs, seeing what we saw. But, I will say it would not have been what it was without the man and his guitar. The power of music, am I right?

In any case, I’m going to share some photos here of the Plaza de España.

   On another note, these were taken on an iPhone camera – so hell yeah to that.

Okay – now for the big news. When I was first speaking with this family that I’m working with about living here, I had asked about volunteering in the school that the kids go to. I want to be a teacher in a few years time, so I thought it would be great to get some experience inside of a Spanish classroom, while improving my Spanish speaking skills, and offering something to the students.

If anything, I was expecting to be the kind of volunteer I’ve been in the past in American schools. Something close to a teacher’s assistant; cutting these papers, preparing that project, keeping an eye on those kids, doing a couple special activities with these kids, etc. Nothing to challenging. But, when I had a meeting with the head of the English department at their school, she asked me to prepare my own lesson. (Cue overly confident “yeah, I can definitely do that, absolutely.”)

She told me it’ll be American Culture week the following week, so I’d be perfect for doing a couple lessons about culture in America. How cool, right?!

Well, yes, for the most part. But to be honest, I was pretty nervous. I had never created my own lesson, and on top of that, I had little knowledge about how much English the students would be able to understand, what they knew about America already, and what they would find interesting or totally boring. At this point, I was feeling oddly itimidated by 11-16 year-olds – not terribly uncommon for a first time teacher, right?

Then came the challenge of “American Culture.” For one thing, it’s somewhat difficult to speak objectively about the culture you come from. It’s harder to have a sense of things that might be seen as interesting to others outside the culture, when it’s just the breakfast you eat or the music you listen to everyday. Plus, America is a giant (really quite a humongous country) melting pot of culture, full of all kinds strands and variations. It seemed rather tough to pinpoint a few things that are all “American.”

But, then I remembered a couple things. First of all, my own birthday is on the most American day of the year in the U.S. – the 4th of July, AKA the day Americans get to flaunt & love on itself. It’s littered with red, white, and blue, and full of all things American.

The second thing being that this lesson is all about the very thing that I’m dedicating my studies to at school. The values, norms, items, traditions, and everything else that create a culture. Put in other words, I’m an Anthropolgy major. This is exactly the kind of thing I enjoy exploring and breaking down everyday.

So, I used those two aspects, and some other little things, to create a mini lesson about the United States of America. I got to school with a four page PowerPoint, and my entire life of living in the U.S. It seemed like it would be enough.

Upon reflection, I was not wrong. Truly, I could have been sufficiently more prepared (but what teacher is 100% prepared for their first lesson?), I could have spoken slower and clearer, I could have asked many more questions, I could have come with an activity to do so the students didn’t have to spend most of an hour with me talking to them – really, I could have done a lot of things more or differently.

But, I luckily also did a lot of things. I started some conversations, I inspired some little laughs and chuckles, I caused some shocked faces, and I spoke, in total, for three full hours to about 120 students who now know a whole lot about what we eat on the 4th of July and what trick or treating is – so I’d say I succeeded in a couple different ways.

I have an amazing opportunity working at this school, with these students, and I can’t wait to see what other lessons I come up with in these next few weeks.

Now I’m off to memorize the Star Spangled Banner (again…?) and research the difference between American English and British English.


A weekend in England

Here we are in England. I’m clearly ecstatic about it. 

The stereotypes are true. Tea is drank at all hours of the day, fish & chips are delicious and popular, there are castles everywhere, and we go to the pub for a proper pint. I feel like I’ve seen so many movies and tv shows set in England – Pirates of the Carribean, Pride and Predjudice, Skins, etc. – that created these British stereotypes. I caught myself a couple times thinking “This is so British and I love it.” Now this is likely because as visitors, Amy, the wonderful woman we were staying with, wanted us to have a classically British experience. In fact, it was. She told us. 

In any case, these past four days have been full of tea, trains, umbrellas, pounds (£, the currency), cobblestone, narrow streets, loads of history, and all kinds of British accents. 

This weekend, my family here flew me and one of their daughters to York, England. We were their for four days and we stayed the last Au Pair that was with them, Amy, and her family. They were some of the best hosts I’ve ever met, I’m guessing because they were very used to it. Their house has been a home for many people over the last 12 years they’ve lived in it. They’ve had lodgers from Australia, Germany, Italy, America, Spain, and I’m sure loads of other places, too. In fact this weekend was the last few days there for a lodger they had from Spain who had lived there for four years. On Saturday night they had a little goodbye party for her, full of delicious homemade Spanish foods. While we were eating, the family was reminiscing about all the people who had lived in their home over the past few years. The ones who never did their dishes or hung around the family too much, the ones who brought home strange men, the ones who they adored and the ones that they could have lived without.

While they were talking, I was thinking about how I would love a house like that when I’ve got a family of my own. One with open doors and enough rooms for guests to stay. It’s good home, a loving and cozy home. 

We spent our days exploring and traveling. One day in York, one day in Knaresbrough, and one day in Leeds. I saw so much history in one place,  as so many churches and the remnants of so many old castles remained. 

I’d like to go back to the UK again, maybe stay with Amy again. Hopefully I’ll make my way back there soon. Until then, it’s back to beautiful Spain where my job as an Au pair will officially begin. 

Amelia Landenberger on – peeing yourself in public

When I was four my parents took me to dance classes. I remember very little from those classes- being that I was so young- however, I do distinctly remember two things. The first being the clear memory of me clinging desperately to my bedpost while my patient mother tried to coax me into the car. I would kick, scream, and cry all the way to those dance classes. The funny thing is I have no recollection whatsoever of actually disliking the class itself, so why did I hate going?

The answer can be found in my second memory from that class, which, unfortunately, is of me being too nervous to ask to go to the bathroom and peeing myself, in front of the entire class, in my tutu, all over the linoleum floors.
It was a real shame. That tutu looked fabulous on me. I think that’s when my mom gave up on dragging me to class.
I regret not being able to speak up and ask to go to the bathroom. But most of all I regret quitting.

So how does a story about me peeing myself in public relate to my life now? Probably in more ways than I’d like to admit. But I’ll speak to just one.

It relates because you never seem to grow out of the war between your rational and irrational brain. I had the privilege of taking dance classes. I know that not everyone got that same privilege. And yet I couldn’t get over the irrational fear of spending even one second out of my comfort zone. So does that make me ungrateful? Sure.
But again, I was four, and what four year old isn’t ungrateful and covered in their own urine?

And now, years later, while much more in control of my bladder, I struggle with the same issues. I know that being able to pick up and leave school to travel around Europe with some of my best friends, learning new things and being welcomed into to people’s homes as if I were family is the opportunity of a lifetime! And everyone has told me how lucky I am. So why, when I stepped out of the airport in Madrid did I have to fight back tears? Why did I wish I could quit being an au pair and go home just like I had quit dance lessons?

It’s because everyone has a rational and irrational voice in their heads, and both of mine are SCREAMING at each other. Now, I don’t have a solution to this issue. And I’m not here to complain about being homesick when others would kill to be in my position. I’m just here to share a small piece of advice that I’m currently trying to practice myself:

Asking to go to the bathroom is always less embarrassing than peeing yourself in public. Or in other words, comfort is an indulgence that will most likely lead to disaster.

“I’m sorry life is so wonderful”

Quoted: my dad, as I was giving him one of the many goodbye hugs. 
What a thing to say, right? But, I knew what he meant. He wasn’t giving me a sassy word, as I would give to those people on the unfortunate show “My Sweet Sixteen.” The ones who get a brand new car for their 16th birthday and it’s the wrong color, or it’s not the right car, or, God forbid, their parents gave them the car at the wrong time – “I wanted my car AFTER my party, MOM! UUGggHHHhHHHEhehhehhhuugg” To them, I often want to say, “oh, I’m sorry your life is SO WONDERFUL, boo-fuckin-hoo.”

That’s not what my dad was meaning when he said that. He was commenting on the fact that on the day I was leaving on this adventure, I was crying. A lot. It’s like when people say “how lucky am I to have something/someone that makes it so hard to say goodbye.” In fact, that’s exactly what it is. 

How lucky am I to have the community of friends and family that I have – one that supports my wild decisions, and encourages risk taking. One that inspires adventure. One that comes over the night before my flight to drink champagne, and have a dance party in the living room that turns into a cuddle-puddle on my couch. How lucky am I to have these people, this love in my life that makes saying goodbye, even for only a few months, so damn heartbreaking.  

Shout-out to them for all that they do (you know who you are).

The other part of that is the adventure on the other side of the goodbyes. I’m scared of this journey. I’m nervous. I’m a lot of things. But, what a wonderful thing to be scared of. 

What a wonderful thing to be scared of; what an incredible community to miss. 

I sit on a bus in London, watching cars drive by on what looks to me like the wrong side of the road. The sky is grey and I haven’t peed since being in the US. Or brushed my teeth (benefits of traveling solo: no one close enough to smell my breath). Aside from an occasional wave of nerves about catching my next flight, I feel lucky and absolutely grateful for such a wonderful life. 

There’s no need to be sorry, Daddy. It’s quite alright.