4th November: I’m Home

Good afternoon, or morning, or evening, from Toledo!

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Not the best pic, but my balcony view!

So…it’s been two months since I wrote anything on this blog. Yikes. I think any “travel blogger” (or in my case, wannabe-travel-blogger) commits to writing a certain amount of posts before they take any big trip. But then, we actually get to our destination, and the adventure just takes over. Whether you’re cruising the Mediterranean, hiking the jungles of Brasil, or building a¬†life in a completely new country, it can be hard to remember to post. No worries to the few people who actually read this blog, because I am back, and pledge to write more every week!
In which case, you’ll likely hear from me again in two more months. ūüėõ

The main reason I haven’t posted on this blog is because I am super busy! Welcome to Spain as an¬†auxiliar de conversaci√≥n¬†or “language assistant.” I will post more about my school and a breakdown of the types of things I do in a different post, for anyone interested in doing a similar program in Spain and what to truly expect. But as a quick breakdown, I have been:

1. Teaching/Assisting
I work 24 hours per week (the maximum number of hours assigned at random by the BEDA program) at a¬†concertado, which is a school that is half-public, half private. Some things are paid for by the local authority while some are paid for the families who attend. I have 24 different classes of students ranging from 7 years of age to 18, from 2nd Primary to 2nd Bachillerato. In the Canadian education system, this translates to kids from Grade 2-12. It’s sometimes difficult to manage activities and games for such a diverse age range, but I love to prep for my classes and discuss ideas with my fellow teachers. They are all very sweet and eager to practice their English, but are also gracious in allowing me to practice my Spanish with them too! Every day we have a “coffee break” in the staff room which makes me feel super professional, haha. I am able to chat with the teachers there and we also have lunch together. I may work more hours than some of my other friends in different programs, and work Monday to Friday, with only weekends off, but I am really enjoying it and feel that teaching is, in some form at least, my true calling.

2. Private classes
Compared to Canadian cities of the same size, the cost of living in Toledo is fairly cheap, and the monthly stipend provided by my school is definitely enough to cover basic expenses like food and rent. I have leftover cash to go out with friends and grudgingly pay my student loan back at home since I wasn’t able to defer it. However, most people come to Spain with the plan to travel around Europe, which is half the fun! While I did save money before I came, I also took up the practice of doing¬†clases privadas here in Spain, all gained solely by word of mouth from my fellow teachers. Basically, I spend around an hour with each person (mostly children aged 8-15) providing English conversation practice. Education here in Spain is great when it comes to grammar and such, but like any language, English is best learned by speaking out loud! Parents know their kids can be shy in a class of 25+ and so they often get native speakers to provide this conversation time and pay a fee. I have 10-11 clients (depending on their schedule sometimes) that I do this with every week from Mon-Fri. Some of my friends also do lessons at English academies in their free time. It’s a necessary thing to do here if you want to save some money, but I really enjoy it!

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Just some prep!

3. Making friends
Lame, I know, but I’ve met a tonne of great people already here in Toledo! Besides my fellow staff members, I’ve made friends with many other¬†auxiliares¬†through connections like regional Facebook groups. We love to go out to explore the city, and I’ll admit that it’s really nice to speak in my own language in a non-academic/teaching kind of way. I’m so happy I’ve met so many people, although I’ve yet to meet any fellow Canadians ūüė¶
I also spend a lot of time with my roommates, who are all Spanish and don’t speak too much English. But I don’t mind, because my Spanish has improved immensely, even in just two months! We watch TV together and hit the gym, which has been an interesting experience on its own, without the foreign language thrown in! The families of my private-class kids have also been super welcoming, often making me a meal or snack while in their home.

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My roommates and I at the bar!

4. Trying to make the most of my down-time
Between teaching, private lessons, prepping for lessons, hanging with my friends, hitting the gym, and doing normal person things like, ya know, eating and sleeping… I’ve been trying to maximize what little down time I have by improving my Spanish! I got a library card to take books out in the target language instead of buying them, and that proved to be a big help, because the first book I checked out (a young adult novel) was written at a much higher level than I can comprehend. I have around a B1-B2 level in Spanish, which is to say, fairly conversation and can discuss a wide variety of topics with ease, but still not fluent and lacks significant vocabulary or grammar poignancy to be considered fluent. In order to learn more vocab, I borrowed some primary level books from my school, notably¬†The Adventures of Geronimo Stilton. I comprehend about 90% of the books, and although they’re a bit infantile, I love using the context of the words I know to learn new ones. Another favourite tactic of mine to learn is to watch TV with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles. I’m at a good enough level to understand most of it, but if I have the Spanish subs on, it forces me to read it and think, not just see the translation in English. I find it helps to watch shows I’m familiar with already, like The Big Bang Theory, Spongebob, or The Simpsons.

But down-time with a lazy brain is also important. I finally watched¬†Stranger Things and loved it, I watch Vine compilations¬†a lot (RIP VINE), especially when I’m feeling down. I read books in English, write poems, research travel destinations, and make pros and cons lists of options for teaching/living abroad in the next few years. A big thing among expat friends here is that we feel we always have to be¬†doing something because, duh, we’re in SPAIN and should be maximizing every moment! But we’re also in Spain for seven more months. There is time. If you’re in a similar situation, just breathe, and take time for yourself.

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A cable car in Porto

This is getting pretty lengthy, so without going into detail, I have also: traveled to Portugal (my fourteenth country!), gotten a really terrible cough¬†AND food poisoning, navigated the Spanish red tape of getting my ID cards in order, been to the hospital (for the terrible cough, I didn’t know how to make a doc appointment), been to a Maluma concert in Madrid, went to a few Spanish National Day events, cooked a lot more for myself, embarrassed myself countless times at the supermarket, and stayed awake until 5am partying Spanish-style.

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National day celebrations (Guardia Civil)

I love it here, and encourage anyone who has a similar dream to go for it!

xoxo Cady

 

3rd September: Toledo Livin’

Well, I’ve made it! After a long wait at the airport in Toronto, a relatively quick-seeming flight to Madrid, an even quicker train ride to Toledo, and countless muscle aches from dragging my 60 pound suitcase all over the cobblestone streets, I’m here. I’m living in Toledo, Spain!

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View of the Old Town about five minutes walking up from the train station!

Toledo is beautiful, but I can already tell I’m going to get a work out just by walking from my apartment to my school. There are so many hills! It appears to be split between the “old” town and the new and is fairly navigable. I’ve already downloaded a helpful city bus app, which also has information about out of town buses. (If you’re spending any longer than a day in the city, I’d highly recommend it; I found it by searching “Toledo Bus” in the app store.)

I spent my first two nights here in an Air BNB, my first one ever! I’ve always been a bit wary of things like Uber and related companies just because it seemed so sketchy to me. A room in a person’s house? For a night? Is it like a hotel or a hostel? I have the keys to their house? I stayed in a bottom floor flat with a room to myself, sharing the bathroom and common areas with two others who I rarely saw. My only complaint would be that the place was difficult to find. The street “Callejon de Cura” might as well have been an alleyway with how tiny it was, and signage in Spain makes it tough to spot the street name until you’re basically there. But otherwise, it was cozy and a great way to start my adventure in Toledo!
Click here for a link the one I stayed at, my hostess Manuela was very kind and helpful, especially when I told her I was looking for an apartment. She called a few of her contacts and told me about the neighbourhoods of Toledo.

Afterwards, the real work began: my apartment hunt. I’ve been back in Spain for almost five days now, and already I’ve experienced one of my least favourite things about the country…the attitude of “ma√Īana.” This Spanish word means “tomorrow,” but is also a common joke about how slow the pace of life is in Spain, because here, everything can wait until “ma√Īana.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be laid back, but I need an apartment! Hello! I messaged probably 40 people in total regarding their ads for rentable rooms, most of them on the Spanish renting site idealista.com. Around ten didn’t respond to my messages at all, more than fifteen were already rented out (then why is your ad still up? Because ma√Īana, probably), and a few ended up being out of my price range. I saw four places in total and ended up in one in the neighbourhood of Buenavista.

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Buenavista is Spanish for “great view,” and that’s what I’ve got! -From my balcony

I have a different job than a lot of Spaniards, so it’s hard for me to say if life in Spain is low-cost. I mean, for me, it totally is…my room costs me 200 euros per month including the internet, cable, water, gas, electricity, etc. and came furnished with a bed, armario (I don’t know the English word for this lmao), an armchair, a desk, and a desk chair. The neighbourhood is beautiful and I’m on the 6th floor, the only fly in that ointment being that our elevator is currently broken… time to get fit I guess. I live with three Spanish women which will hopefully help me learn this language to fluency even faster. There’s also a POOL in this complex that will 1. hopefully be open for another couple weeks as it’s like 34 degrees here and 2. may have been my deciding factor in picking this apartment over others I saw. It might be a 30 minute walk to my school, but I’m committed to my fitness goals this time around in Spain, and if all else fails, the bus is right outside the gate!

Tomorrow I’ll be finalizing the contract to live here, and I can’t wait! I still have two days after that until BEDA orientation, and on the 9th I’ll be off to Portugal to kill some time before classes officially begin on 18th September!

xoxo Cady

Where to? Not there… The reality of traveling with Anxiety Disorder

It’s taken me a while to come to terms with this and even longer to be able to write about it, but simply put, there are places in the world I may never be able to travel to as long as I have anxiety disorder.

Travel anxiety is a real thing. It has to do with the worry one experiences when going away for an extended period: How will my friends and family be? What if something happens to them? What if something happens to¬†me? What if my credit cards get stolen or my luggage lost? From some of the travel horror stories we’ve all surely heard, it’s not difficult to see why travel anxiety can take over even the most experienced travelers at times. The anxiety I have, however, is a bit different.

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Posing with a common sight in El Salvador: the armed guards

Generalized anxiety disorder can manifest itself in different ways, but for me it can go from vague unease to full blown panic attacks, especially in situations that trigger my biggest fears (which are personally airplanes, and anything to do with my health being compromised i.e. heart attacks). For these, I take a daily sedative that helps to control my anxiety. For more intense situations, I rely on Ativan (Lorazepam), which I take a low dose of before hopping on a plane. Yoga works for some, exercise works for some, and these meds work for me. I’ve been on them for about three years now, and dealt with all of the stigma associated with. I didn’t want to be that person who “relied” on pills, but you know what? They’ve helped me a lot, and I’m no longer ashamed to have them for daily life.

I’m talking ¬†daily life in Canada though. When I travel, my fears still run wild, and it can start before I’ve even left my country. I’m constantly thinking:

  • If I have to go to a hospital/clinic/emergency room, do I speak the language?
  • Are ambulance services reliable (or do they even exist)?
  • Are they at the same standard as my home country?
  • Would they be able to help me if I had *insert medical condition I am very unlikely to contract here*?
  • Are buildings up to code? What if there’s a fire? What if it collapses?
  • What about smog? Will I develop some kind of respiratory infection or lung cancer?

Some people might read that list and find it kind of funny, but mostly nonsensical and irrational. Surprise! It is, because that’s what anxiety does. It makes me worry about things that aren’t occurring and are not likely to occur at all.¬†These worries don’t tend to come when I’m in a place I’m well aware of the health care standards (USA, UK, etc) or I speak the language (Spain, El Salvador), but if you read my previous post regarding a very short trip to China that was cut short by my anxiety (note that during that trip I was not on anxiety meds), you can see why my list of worries grew. I know everyone experiences culture shock, and I know countries around the world have great health care even if they’re not in North America or Europe. For me, it’s more about the unknown, and how culture shock maximizes with already-present anxiety that I can’t control completely.

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Paris’ catacombs — not for the claustrophobic

In addition, you might think that hopping a plane to Japan or Dubai–two modern, developed countries–would be less of a concern for health-worried me. Unfortunately, travel to certain countries is and will continue to be restricted for me because of one very important thing: drug import laws. Every country has them, and some are a lot stricter than Canada or the USA. Sure, most countries would frown upon you bringing in cocaine or meth, but what about prescription medications, especially those considered narcotics? Even with a prescription, doctor’s explanation, and original packaging, many countries don’t allow certain types of drugs in. My long term anxiety medication is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) which I’ve seen on the restricted¬†drug list for Japan and Dubai, unless you contact their embassies weeks before you travel and even then, you could be in trouble (even jailed! for bringing in certain amounts of these medications. Forget about the meds I take for planes; they’re in a whole other category of even stronger drugs sure to be off the “possible” list for a lot of places. Even if I did get them in, what would happen if I was teaching English in Japan for a year? A year’s worth of medication is rarely prescribed, and since it’s on the hard-to-get list, I highly doubt I’d be able to grab it at the local pharmacy for a refill. There goes one of my potential TEFL dream spots…

This is just a personal post detailing my own experiences, of course. Some friends I have are completely fearless. Some of them have other conditions that require medications that have nothing to do with anxiety or being afraid. Others have fears of things I don’t consider “rational,” like snakes or spiders, but they shrug at the idea of taking a plane, while I shake. Sometimes we just need to get used to things to be more comfortable. I know other people deal with their anxieties in different ways. I’m not a doctor, and who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to forgo my anxiety medications and have an easier time traveling. That would certainly be the dream. That being said, has anyone ever gone to a place where it was difficult to get the medication you needed? What did you do?

xoxo Cady

Teaching in Spain Update: BEDA & Auxiliares

As of January 12th, the applications for the Auxiliar de Conversacion program have opened, and I’ve already run into my first problem: a recommendation letter that I requested a couple of months ago isn’t done yet. I’m still waiting and so, I haven’t been able to submit my application yet. Given that some blogs I’ve read said that they were in the hundreds (for application number) just two hours after it opened, and I’m currently 9 days past the opening date, I’m a little worried about my chances for the program. I mean yes, I’d teach ANYWHERE in Spain, but the Auxiliar program runs on a first come, first serve basis for top location choices, so chances of getting one of mine are getting slimmer every day ūüė¶ . So basically, there’s nothing to report for my Auxiliar application for now.

In contrast, I received a notification for an interview with¬†BEDA , which is another teach-in-Spain program that mainly operates out of Madrid. I did a simple application for them a few months ago (without needing a recommendation letter, at least at this point) and forgot about it, to be honest. I did some research on the BEDA program and, like any program, there are different opinions… but, BEDA is generally thought to be more helpful than the Auxiliar program when it comes to setting up a bank account, finding an apartment, and paying teaching assistants on time. One of the downsides, however, is that you have to take mandatory classes about teaching theory at a university in Madrid. The thought of that made me not want to do it, but some people say they’re helpful, and you do get a certificate at the end…

My interview with BEDA is tomorrow, and then I’ll probably find out about a placement sometime in April. It operates on the same 9 month grounds as the Auxiliar program, only this time on an extended student visa, so you can attend those classes. Meanwhile, I’ll still be submitting an Auxiliar application once I get my recommendation letter, so we’ll see where I stand in competition there!

Is anyone else applying to teach in Spain in Fall 2016??

xoxo Cady

*Featured image from the BEDA main website

Becoming an Auxiliar de Conversaci√≥n Part 1: CV and Profex

Hey everyone! I’m currently working on my application to the Auxiliares de Conversaci√≥n program, which is a program run by the Spanish government that allows recent grads from Canada or the USA¬†to live and work in Spain for a year while¬†teaching English (or French)¬†in public schools across the country. From my readings of others’ blogs, there’s a lot of confusion, frustration, and questions associated with the application process and the program itself, so I thought I’d “liveblog” my experiences as I go through them! I’ve never applied to this program before, and heard about it because I was looking at a similar one in France, but my French is sub par and I like Spain better. Read on for my info and impressions!

Who Can Apply?

Any Canadian or American between 18-60 (or 35 if you’re in Madrid), native English or French speaker,¬†with a Bachelor’s degree in any subject, basic Spanish skills (not required I don’t think, but certainly helpful) and willingness to try something new! The program goes for around 10 months (Sept/Oct until May/June) so make sure you’re free.

How Do I Apply?

The application for the 2016-2017 school year opens January 12th, 2016¬†and is available until the end of April, but you can make up your CV and add required documents to the application portal (PROFEX) now. I can be forgetful, so I decided to do it now. I’ve filled out my details and uploaded a copy of my degree and my passport, but I still need to write a letter of motivation (in English or French) and get my recommendation letter.* This should be solicited sooner rather than later, because the applications are a first come, first serve thing, and you’ll want to apply early for your top choices! Here is the website, with all of the information, guides, questions, and translations.
*The recommendation letter is supposed to be from any current or former professor, but if you’ve been out of school for 3+ years, you can use your boss. There’s a more detailed letter guide on the application website. However, even though I just graduated 6 months ago, I decided to use my boss at the library where I voluntarily taught English while I studied in Spain, because I thought it might sound better coming from a place where I taught already. I’m hoping I won’t run into any issues using her instead of my prof (who doesn’t even work at my uni anymore), but if I do, I’ll give a heads up to you guys!

Cady Applies
So my first impression with the website was that there is a LOT of information, and the application guidelines definitely seem confusing. There are some documents that need to be mailed to consulate offices, some that need to be uploaded online, and a lot of them have specifics that need to be followed, or they won’t be considered. I can see why people say it’s a little intimidating, but my advice is to read through the guidelines a few times, and keep the PDF open when you’re doing your application. It’s all in Spanish, but the guidelines are in English and have arrows to point to the parts you need to fill out.

I filled out my PROFEX details just to have it done for now, even though the application opens in 2ish weeks. The info you need is basic (personal details like date of birth, passport, etc). It seems like you need to already have a passport when you apply, since it’s one of the required fields, so if you don’t have one… get one! Mine expires in January of 2017, so I’ll probably have to renew it.¬†I uploaded a few documents too, but I’m going to set aside some time to write my motivation letter later.

Another thing I did was take a look at the map of Spain (at the bottom of the Application Guidelines PDF) to see which regions I’d like to work in when the application opens up. You can pick 3 regions as your top choices, but nothing is guaranteed, especially if you send in a later application. They’re also organized by group, and you can only pick one from each group i.e. Group A is Asturias, Extremadura, La Rioja, or Pais Vasco.¬†Some regions like Catalunya don’t participate in the program. ūüė¶ Also, you can only choose regions, not cities, and from what I’ve read, you could¬†be placed in a big city like Madrid, or in a tiny village in the middle of the countryside!¬†¬†Madrid teachers get 1000 euros a month for 16 hours per week of work, while anyone else gets 700 euros for 12 hours per week, probably because of cost of living.

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Printscreened from the application, with my edit. **Apparently Castilla La Mancha has also pulled from program.

I might be over-preparing a little bit, but in my experience, it never hurts, and I reaaaaaally want to go back to Spain–one of my fave countries–to¬†teach, one of my¬†fave things!¬†Stay tuned for more of my application adventures as the year goes on, and buena suerte to anyone else applying to be an auxiliar!

xoxo Cady

Have you ever taught abroad, or even better, been an auxiliar? Tell me!

For anyone interested, here is the France program website, but the deadline is January 15th or February for Canadians, so hurry hurry! https://www.tapif.org/

**Flag header image from Wikipedia

 

A Six-Day Adventure in China! Or: A Reflection on Responsibility and Motivation

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I got a job teaching English in China for the 2015-2016 year, and you probably also know that as I write this, I am already home in Canada. I’ve decided to write this little post because I have a lot to say about why I came home so early, and what I have learned, and am continuing to learn, from traveling and taking certain positions.
I’d first like to say that my journey to China was nothing but excellent. The school that hired me was very courteous and provided me with everything I needed, and every single Chinese person that I met was helpful and sweet, even when I stumbled over simple words like “hello” in a language I barely spoke. I met some really cool people from other countries who I am very grateful for for their love and support, and very sorry to, if I have hurt them by any of my actions since then. There were a lot of cultural differences, but those I definitely expected, and in the grand scheme of things that’s what traveling is all about, right?
I’d also like to say that I am still in love with the concept of teaching, whether at home or abroad, and I do feel like I’d like to try again as this is my true calling. The few classes I did teach were wonderful, and I had great, attentive students who were a lot of fun and tried to help my inept self in learning, oddly enough,¬†how to teach them. (If you’re considering a teaching position anywhere, I’d recommend a TEFL course, even if you don’t technically need it, because it takes a lot more to teach a class than just speaking the language fluently.) Teaching is a really fun way to engage with people around the world, and I have to thank everyone at the school I was at for making my transition relatively smooth, if lacking a few materials.
Now, a bit about me. I’ve had a generalized anxiety disorder for a couple of years, and it usually doesn’t hinder me in many ways except to occasionally feel uneasy, with the exception of planes (although now, having flown for 24 hours on two separate occasions in one week, I’d like to say I’m a pretty good flyer). During my exchange in Spain, I didn’t have one episode of fear or uneasiness, likely due in part to my skills in Spanish, and the fact that as a whole, Spain is not so different from Canada in customs and availability of most products I normally use etc. However, in China I did not have the comforts I was used to, and the entire thing seemed so wild to me once I finally got there. It was a very different place for me, and culture shock hit me in a way that made me realize I was not ready to live there for an entire year as I had committed.
When I came home from Spain, I was desperately searching for another way out. I had fallen in love with being abroad, with travel, with new experiences and seeing new things. When an opportunity to teach in China came up, with great pay and benefits and the opportunity to see an entirely different continent, I jumped at the chance without much thought. All summer it was in the back of my mind that I was leaving, but I know that I didn’t prepare well. I didn’t even pack until two days before, and I hadn’t bothered to practice Mandarin or really thought about myself and how I might need to adjust, which really didn’t help. In complete honesty,¬†I was not looking for a job. I was looking to travel again, and that is not what I truly got. I had not considered the weight of actually¬†living in China, and experiencing daily life in a way that prevented me from certain things, such as ease of internet access and not having to make uncertain assumptions about the qualities of food, water, and equipment. It was a sensory overload. I was totally unprepared and had a lot of trouble sleeping, eating, and keeping myself calm. If not for the friends I had there, I would have cried myself silly every day.
To be clear, I did want to teach, but I was not ready to go for this job yet. As a recent grad, I just wanted to explore and country hop, making plans for all of the places I could visit while there instead of considering learning the language or adapting myself to new ideas. It was a hasty, somewhat selfish decision to sign up and commit to a job that I was not prepared or totally invested in, and an even harder decision to leave it.
I’ll keep this end short: I love travel. I loved China. I love teaching, and I love new experiences. However, I believe it’s very important to consider your motivations for travel, and to be certain about why you are going to a place and how much impact it will really have on you. I was delighted with every person I met during my China travels and am extremely sorry to those who I have hurt by hastily leaving, not tying up loose ends, and not explaining myself better to those who truly cared for me. I wish I had done this differently, but here I am in Canada. I do hope to leave again someday and do this over, but not before seriously thinking about it and deciding what is really the best choice for me.

xoxo Cady