Friday, October 28, 2011

Meeting some personal goals and working a bit much

I spoke too soon when I claimed it wasn't fall yet. It has been cold and rainy all week.

I'm starting to reap some of the benefits of being a teacher now, especially with the number of students I have (several hundred). I often see my students out and about in Teruel and they are always friendly. Many of them have invited me to go out to eat with them or have a coffee (and usually when I accept, they pay!). I think I could get used to this. But outside of getting free food, I have noticed that my presence in the classroom, both in the primary school and the foreign language school, has made some impact on the students' learning. While I don't consider myself all that qualified to be a teacher, I think I'm at least doing something right. The kids in the primary school go from being outright hostile to the idea of learning English to exclaiming "hello, how are you?" (or as Spaniards pronounce it, "how are jew?") every chance they get. It's a transformation that happens in just a couple of days because the kids are only there for one week and then a new set of them arrives. Perhaps it's merely the novelty of having a strange American around, though hopefully it's more than that.

At the foreign language school in Teruel (where I teach in the evenings), I have been giving a similar lecture to every class for two weeks now. There are three different levels of English classes, two classes per level, and several groups of classes in each one. So I will be in each class roughly once every two weeks or so. Thus far, I have been introducing some general information about Kentucky and about myself and then allowing the students to ask me questions in order to practice their English and to get them used to hearing a native speaker. Depending on the level, this is much more difficult than I had anticipated. My accent is somewhat neutral compared to what it could be, so the students usually have an easy time understanding me, assuming they know the vocabulary. However, I often find myself using turns of phrase and slang that they are not familiar with and speaking too quickly for them to follow me. I have also realized that they learn British English from their Spanish teachers, so some of my pronunciation (especially the T in words like Italy or twenty being pronounced as Idully or twinny) is hard for them to understand. Overall, however, the students at this school have expressed great interest in not only improving their English but exchanging cultural ideas as well. This is great for me because I often learn just as much as they do.

I have also noticed an improvement in my Spanish. I have picked up a lot more vocabulary, through independent study, association with all of the words I see on buildings and signs, and in everyday conversations with people. I especially enjoy learning the colloquial words and phrases. I believe my speech is becoming more coherent and I can do more than convey simple ideas now. But perhaps the most considerable change has occurred in my comprehension. I attribute this in part to having settled down and gotten used to the language and the people speaking it, though I have also managed to increase the amount of things I can understand and the range of people I can understand as well. At first, it was primarily slow-talking women that I could understand because their voices and pronunciation are typically better in my experience so far. However, I can now understand the low, muffled voices of some of the old men as well.

This week I have been ridiculously busy in the two schools but I have managed to accomplish several of my goals for the week. First of all, I set out to learn how to use my fancy camera in full manual mode. I've owned the camera for quite some time now and made pitiful efforts towards using it manually on entirely too many occasions. I decided it was high time that I learned. I found an online "class" by Alexandre Buisse and read almost every lesson in two days, all the while practicing with my camera. The result is that I now know what every part of my camera is for and how it works and I have way more control over the shots I take. To test out my progress, I decided to take pictures in the one situation I've never been able to get a decent shot in - at night. Despite a few flaws, I think some of the pictures turned out quite well (and none of them have been doctored up):

This last picture is of a hotel that sits atop a Medieval passageway. They also have some excellent tea that you can drink underground in a cozy room with walls made of stone. It may be one of my new favorite places in Teruel, as it combines two amazing things: history and tea.

My second goal for the week was to open a bank account so that I could get paid for this month's work. I managed to do so by myself. This is the first difficult thing I've done on my own. Usually one of my mentors is there to make sure I don't screw something up. I even had a nice conversation with the banker about Kentucky and about the popularity of his surname in this region. The fact that I managed to do that on top of the technical stuff makes me proud.

In addition to the things I had planned to do this week, I also spontaneously decided to go to a volleyball game and go out to have tapas with some of the teachers at the foreign language school. Apparently Teruel has the best volleyball team in Spain. Unfortunately, they weren't playing a Spanish team when I went. They lost (though it was a close match) to a Polish team. One of the teachers at the foreign language school took me along and I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. The fans were exactly like any other sports event in any other country I've been in - they are loud and they always make what they believe to be better calls than the referee. My favorite part of the whole event was that the best player on Teruel's team was an American. I wanted to go talk to him after the game but we couldn't get to him. Perhaps next time we can have a chat. It would be interesting to know how he ended up in Teruel and how he's getting along here.

Last night I went to a bar called Torico Gourmet, home of the number one tapa in some contest from 2009. It lived up to its reputation. The tapa had ingredients that were all grown or raised in villages around Teruel. It was absolutely delicious. Then again, I don't think I've tried much food in Spain that I haven't enjoyed. The teacher that invited me out paid for all of the tapas as well. Then we had to go to another bar for coffee (or in my case, tea). What I thought was going to be a short dinner ended up turning into several hours of learning about different foods, slang, and Spanish television. I enjoyed it but I paid for it today, as I had to get up early for work.

That's what siestas are for, I suppose. It's almost 10:30 and I'm about to go out to a bar to listen to jazz music. Hopefully I can get home at a decent hour, though that's never the case with the Spaniards.

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