Archive | February, 2011

Monday Madness: A (Small) Success Story

28 Feb

You may recall back in November I wrote about a girl we have in 0ur Monday morning Kids Club who used to cry for nearly the whole four hours she was with us. The crying gradually dwindled until she was only crying when we would split the kids into two groups for their English lessons, and then she would cry only when she had to come to my class.

The first two times she did this she wailed and wailed and wailed so we just let her go with my colleague (for both lessons, instead of one with her and one with me). This evolved into a routine because every time we would split up into groups the little crier (LC) would start to sniffle and tear if we tried to make her come with me.

Last week my colleague decided that needed to change. The LC would (understandably) get bored during the second lesson with my colleague because she was doing the same things. This inevitably led to her not paying attention and distracting the other kids. So we decided that this week we would force her to come with me. Her mom agreed we should be tougher and not let her dictate what she does.

Cut to this morning, 11:00am in Kids Club. We split up into the two groups, I send the kids I had during the first lesson to my colleague. I tell the LC to come to my classroom. Cue the waterworks. And wailing. The kid has a set of lungs, I’ll give her that.

11:00-11:04 – LC is sobbing and trying to escape from my classroom. She won’t sit in a chair and keeps trying to go to the door. I am repeatedly picking her up and carrying her back to her chair. I’m not really sure what the other kids in my group were doing since almost all of my attention was focused on keeping LC in my classroom. (Note to self: Great classroom management skills! ha!)

11:05 – LC is still sobbing. Other five children in my group are sitting nicely in their chairs with their hands covering their ears. The little boy with raging ADD even came over and kissed my hand, which was sweet of him, but just proves how miserable this situation was.

11:08 – Still crying, but finally sitting in a chair LC asks to go to the bathroom. I think this is a clever ploy to try and get out of my room and sneak into my colleagues room so I open the door and basically escort her (the bathroom is just opposite the door to my room). She is still crying as she pees in the toilet, no exaggeration. Kid is sitting on the pot crying because we’re forcing her to come to my lesson.

11:10 – LC returns to my classroom, did not try to bolt for the other room, and eventually the sobs are reduced to  sniffles. After she goes to get a tissue and wipes her nose with it she gives it to me to throw away. Thanks, kid. Because your screaming and crying wasn’t enough, I also really wanted to touch your (presumably) germ-infested tissue and put it into the trash can for you. Thanks.

11:12 – Crying has finally stopped and the lesson is in full swing. LC was actually one of the best students in that group once she stopped crying and participated. I gave her multiple high-fives during the lesson because she actually did know a lot of the vocabulary.

SUCCESS!! I won! (Kind of, if you don’t count the first 10 minutes of wailing and the cold I surely picked from her snot rag as a loss.) Booyah, baby!!

And after that morning I had to cover for another colleague who was sick so I ended up teaching four more classes after Kids Club and didn’t get home until 5:30pm (I started with Kids Club at 7:30am). Ouucchhh. I am tired. But confident that after my triumph today LC will be less tearful and more productive in my lessons.

On a unrelated note, the Photos page has been updated if you wish to czech it out.

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Spring Break in Spain, Part 2 — Galicia

27 Feb

Part 2: Pulpo en Orense, nubes en Santiago = muy tipico. / Octopus in Orense, clouds in Santiago = very typical.

the Roman bridge

Still reeling from an awesome time in Bilbao I hopped on a train at 9:15am on Sunday morning and stayed on the train pretty much all day until it arrived in Ourense at 6pm. (Sidenote: Galicia has its own language, Gallego. In Gallego the city is spelled Ourense. In Castellano [Spanish] the city is Orense without the “u”.)

I was actually looking forward to the train ride; it’d give me an opportunity to see some of the north of the country, somewhere I never made it to last year. And I’d have time to read and relax and maybe attempt to read a Spanish newspaper. They played “Meet the Parents” and “Notting Hill” (both in Spanish) on the train so that was entertaining and took up a few hours. Last year I loved watching movies I was already familiar with on Spanish television, it was definitely good practice for my Spanish.

When the train pulled into the station in Ourense my friend Julie was waiting for me. Julie and I met last year during what was possibly the best two-week stretch of my life: CIEE orientation and Spanish classes in Sevilla before starting my job in Huelva. It was during these two weeks that I also met my close (American) friends from last year: Brittany, Alicia, Ashley, Katelyn, and Amanda. It was just an awesome time of adjusting to being in Spain, brushing up on my Spanish, discovering Sevilla, and making friends.

Julie and me on the Millennium Bridge

Julie spent last year in Malaga and then received a placement in Ourense, Galicia for this school year. After our time together in Sevilla Julie and I only saw each other one other time when Brittany and I visited Malaga in December (2009) for a fun-filled weekend. But we’ve kept in touch and I told her when I came back to Spain I definitely wanted to come visit since I hadn’t been to Galicia before… So there we were, reunited a little more than a year since we last met.

From the train station we walked to the center of town to get some food at a restaurant in the mall—one of the only places open on Sunday, AND serving food at 6:30pm! Quite a find in Spain! I ordered a large salad with shrimp and avocado, definitely something I couldn’t normally find in Czechland. Oh, and I also ordered some croquetas, one of my favorite Spanish foods–had to get my fill in while I was in Spain.

Before we went to bed that night Julie’s roommates, two Spanish guys, asked if we wanted to watch the Superbowl with them. We declined, both of us were tired and neither of us particularly cared about the teams playing. But the two of them stayed up until 4am watching the game and eating snacks, how funny.

the Millennium Bridge

Julie had to work on Monday morning so I had a leisurely morning after which we went for a delicious lunch at a place that does “Menu del Dia” where you can choose from a few options for a starter, main course, dessert, coffee, and beverage all for 12 euros. Incredible! From there we walked around town, and crossed a few of Ourense’s bridges, which will probably stick in my mind as the landmarks of the city. There is a typical large train bridge, a Roman bridge that dates back to the 1st century, and then next to that as a nice juxtaposition is the modern “Millennium Bridge.”

At night we met up with some of Julie’s friends for wine and tapas. At the first restaurant we went to we had some of the most delicious tapas I’ve ever had anywhere.

"la bomba" and chorizo

One was called “la bomba” (the bomb) and it consisted of a large ball of deep-fried mashed potatoes with shredded spicy pork meat in the middle and spicy brava sauce on top. And we also had some chorizo in a wine sauce. Oh. My. God. So good.

It had also been decided that I need to try the pulpo (octopus) of Galicia. So the second stop of the night was “Casa do Pulpo”—House of the Octopus.

We accidentally ordered a ration of octopus instead of only a small plate, so we were brought this: (apologies for the fuzziness, something is wrong with my auto-focus when I try to take close ups)

And I found this little leg in there:

And it wasn’t so bad! It actually had a nice crunch to it! mmmm! My overall evaluation of the pulpo was that it’s not terrible, but it isn’t something I would go out of my way to order too often. The taste was alright, nothing too strong, and mostly enhanced by the tasty olive oil it was bathed in. But the texture was a little too close to rubber for me to really enjoy it.

The next morning I had to pack up and get ready to go to Santiago de Compostela because in the evening I had a flight from there to Sevilla. It would have been nice to spend more time in Galicia (especially since Julie is a wonderful hostess!) but my itinerary didn’t leave room for more than two days. Before heading out of Ourense Julie and I went to a cafe near her house for some coffee and a sandwich for the road. Julie also recommended their napolitana pastry. I usually don’t like eating pastries as breakfast (all the sugar goes right to my brain!) but this was AMAZING. It just tasted so fresh and the chocolate inside it was soooo creamy. My mouth is watering right now as I type about it. It was so good I thought about ordering a second one to eat on the bus, but decided that crossed into the “zone of excess.”

I arrived in Santiago in the early afternoon and met up with Meredith and Amanda, two other Americans who I knew from last year that are teaching in Galicia this year. Meredith picked me up at the bus station and walked me through town to the impressive cathedral of Santiago, the end of the famous pilgrimage.

Amanda and Meredith

We stopped at a bakery so I could try a tuna empanada, another typical food of Galicia. Then we met Amanda for a coffee and churros (with chocolate, of course). It was really nice getting to catch up with both of them. Meredith I hadn’t seen since our time in Sevilla. And Amanda I had last seen when I was in Malaga (she was one of Julie’s roommates last year). So it had been a while, but it was great chatting with them and hearing about their experiences this year. They both said that while Santiago is a beautiful place the weather is absolutely miserable (it is the only place during my trip that I had cloudy weather and a little drizzle). They also noted (as did Julie) that the people in the north aren’t as open and friendly as the people in the south.

My short stop in Santiago left me wanting more, and I am definitely contemplating a trip to do the Camino de Santiago in the future. It was so nice to reconnect with some friends from last year, and I will get a chance to spend more time with Julie because she’ll be visiting the Czech Republic in April during Semana Santa! I can’t wait to return the hospitality.

After coffee with Meredith and Amanda I took a bus to the airport and bid adieu to northern Spain, on my way back to the south…

Spring Break in Spain, Part 1 – Bilbao

25 Feb

Part 1: Tenia mucha suerte en Bilbao. / I was very lucky in Bilbao.

My “Spring Break”–I use that term lightly–fell in the beginning of February this year. Our week of vacation went from February 7 to February 11. This meant that I taught only 5 weeks of class after Christmas break before my week off, then coming back from Spring Break I will teach 18 weeks straight with only one long weekend… ouch. (At least I have gotten through two of those, so only 16 to go.) It was mostly just unlucky that I had vacation so early. The Czech Republic has a different system for spring vacation than I’ve seen in the U.S. or Spain because not everyone has the same week off.  The country is split up into six groups and then each group has a different week of vacation. And the schedule rotates each year. So last year Karlovy Vary had the latest possible week of vacation in the middle of March. That meant with the rotation this year we had off the first week in the beginning of February.

I decided to take the week and go back to Spain to visit friends from last year. My itinerary for the trip went like this:
Bilbao, Feb 4 Friday – Sunday
Ourense,  Sunday – Tuesday
Santiago de Compostela, Tuesday
Huelva, Tuesday – Thursday
Sevilla, Thursday – Sunday Feb 11

Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The story of the first part of my trip in Bilbao actually starts back in December in Prague. On December 12 Wattsenglish had a Christmas lunch for the teachers so Jess and I went to Prague for the day to attend the lunch and visit the Prague Christmas markets. After we had eaten our lunch and wandered through the markets we decided to stop at a pub and have some beers with another teacher Lisa (who lives in a small town on the other side of Prague) before taking the bus back to KV.

By chance we ended up sitting next to two Spanish guys from Bilbao, Ivan and Richard. We started chatting with them (mostly in English because Ivan speaks really good English, and Richard knew a little… I will admit to being pathetic and only speaking a little Spanish with them) and they were super nice. They were in the middle of a European road trip in which they drove from Spain to Amsterdam, then to Berlin, then to Prague, then they were going on to Munich before returning to Bilbao.

Ivan and me out in Bilbao

I told them how I lived in Huelva last year and how I was planning to visit Spain in February. They invited me to come to Bilbao and offered to show me around the city and such. We exchanged contact information because we had also invited them to stop in KV on their way to Munich (which didn’t end up working out because of snow and our teaching schedules/their schedule for driving).

I sent Ivan a message on facebook in January when I was planning my trip to see if it was still cool if I popped in for a day or two to visit Bilabo. At first I didn’t hear back from him for a little while so I thought maybe it was one of those courteous invitations that wouldn’t actually materialize into a visit. But  he eventually responded (Ivan admits to being “a disaster” with his email and facebook, which I kind of admire because it means he’s doing other things that don’t involve sitting behind a computer).

Itzi (Ivan's girlfriend) and me

His response included an invitation to stay with him and his girlfriend at their flat in the old town section of Bilbao. I accepted their invitation, but as my trip grew closer I became a little anxious about staying with almost complete strangers who I had only spent 2 or 3 hours with in a bar one night. And Jess wasn’t coming with me so I’d be on my own with them. What if they turned out to be weird or awkward? I decided to just treat the experience as if I was couch surfing (for the uninitiated look at the website and this Wikipedia entry) and regardless if it turned out to be an uncomfortable two days, I would get to see a new city and meet some local people.

It turned out I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Ivan and Itzi (his girlfriend) picked me up from the airport and right from the start they were super nice (I suppose that’s obvious from the fact that they came to the airport to pick me up!) . That night they cooked dinner and Ivan’s brother Alex and some of their friends came over to eat.

the group out on Friday night - in the back L to R: Pitu, Javi, Alex. In the front: Ivan, me, Itzi

After dinner we went out to a shot bar in their neighborhood. They had the bartender play a joke on me that involved me being hit in the face with a rubber penis while I took a shot. It was actually really funny, Ivan has a video of it somewhere (a video that will never be posted on the blog, sorry). Within a few hours of being in Bilbao I felt like I had been friends with them for years. It was strange, in a really nice way of course. We went out to a few bars in Bilbao, it was a lot of fun even though we only stayed out until 3:30am (early by Spanish standards!!) so we could wake up in the morning to walk around the city.

Saturday morning we woke up a little later than planned, but had a really nice walk around the city. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and 60 degrees. Ivan and Itzi told me I was lucky because the weather in February is usually never like that.

Itzi and Ivan on the Zubizuri bridge

The good luck continued when we got the Guggenheim Museum. We had planned only to walk around the outside as the building itself is the biggest attraction. It is an amazing structure, so huge and different but really cool. When we got around to the entrance a woman approached us and asked if we were going inside. We said no, but then she offered us free tickets because they had some extra corporate passes that they weren’t going to use. And of course we couldn’t say no to that… so inside we went! For free! Toma!

From there we walked around the new part of the city a little bit before stopping in some bars for pinchos, northern Spain’s answer to tapas. The first one we got was a spicy grilled mushroom on a small piece of toast–mmmmm!! So delicious!

Sidenote – One crazy development that’s happened in Spain recently is that they outlawed smoking inside bars and restaurants. I was shocked. Seriously shocked. Last year when we would go to bars almost everyone was smoking.  The result is that everyone now crowds the sidewalks and patios outside of bars to smoke.

Anyways, after some afternoon pinchos and beers we went back to their flat and Ivan and Itzi prepared a large, yummy tortilla de patatas for lunch. I ate so well on this trip it was incredible.

Straight from lunch Ivan and I left to go to see Bilbao’s soccer team, Athletic Club, play a match versus Sporting Gijon, a team from Asturias. The parents of Ivan’s friend Pitu own a bar down the street from the stadium so we met up with his friends there for some beers before the game. Then the boys stopped in a store and bought some 6-packs to sneak into the game in their jacket pockets because the sale of alcohol is prohibited inside soccer stadiums.

me and Richard sitting outside the bar before the game

Again, I was super lucky and Ivan had an extra pass into the game that I was able to use. He and his friends are all members of the Athletic club, meaning they basically have season tickets for all the games. AND our seats were amazing! We were in the fifth row, about even with one of the 18-yard boxes. Having been to a few big matches recently in the US (AC Milan versus Chelsea in Baltimore in the summer of 2009 and USA versus Brazil in New Jersey this past summer) where my seats were wayyyy high up I appreciated sitting close for a change. The advantage to being up high is that you can see plays materialize and watch players making runs off the ball and such. But you miss out on the beauty of the small details, like how well the players control the ball and their amazingly fast footwork. But back to this game in particular…

The atmosphere was crazy! So much fun! I’m sure it helped a lot that Bilbao was dominating the game and went on to win 3-0. I took a few videos during the match, one of a penalty kick that Bilbao earned in the first half.  It’s a little bit dizzy-ing, apologies if watching it makes you feel sick. You can hear and see the craziness after they score:

I am now for sure a supporter of Athletic, although my top team is still Recreativo de Huelva. My other favorite Spanish team has been Barca (it’s typical in Spain that first you support your local team, then you chose between Madrid and Barcelona as your second team) but when they took on Athletic last weekend I streamed the game online and I actually found myself rooting more for Athletic. So I think it’s safe to say Athletic has become my second team, and since they are far better than Recre (Athletic is currently #5 in the first league, while Recre is sitting in the middle of the second league) it will be a bit more fun to follow them.

When the game was over we reconvened with everyone at the bar, then drank a little before Ivan and his friends had to leave to go a reunion dinner. Itzi, Alex (Ivan’s brother), and I went and got pizza then hung out at their flat. The plan was to meet up with the boys after their dinner was finished, but we all got so tired after eating and sitting around for a bit we opted to go to sleep instead of meet up with them. I had to be up fairly early in the morning to pack and catch my train to Ourense, my next destination.

Like my subtitle for this entry notes, I was so lucky in Bilbao. I had amazing hosts, people I now consider good friends that I hope to meet up with during future travels. I had amazing sunny and warm weather. We got free tickets into the Guggenheim Museum and I got to attend a match of the local team–and they won! I don’t think there is any way my trip to Spain could’ve started better. I could have gone back to Czech after just the weekend in Bilbao and been really satisfied… but luckily I didn’t have to. It was on to Galicia to visit my friend Julie…

What the F … in Czech

24 Feb

Remember those students from my last post who were taking off their shirts and yelling “Duffman!! Ohhh yeahhh!!”??? I described them as “funny and crazy.” I neglected to include “little jerks” in the description…

Last year I had some funny stories about my students using the F word in front of me. In all those occasions the students were just trying to be funny and test out the usage of the curse words/phrases they had learned in English. In general, they weren’t trying to malicious, or at least not towards me. Last year I also understood their native language, Spanish, so I would have known if they were ever cursing about me in Spanish … which is not the case this year, where I can’t understand Czech so my students could be saying anything in Czech and I would have no idea. In most of my classes there is a Czech teacher present, and most of my students are under the age of 7 so the odds of them saying anything inappropriate is low. But, I have a few classes of students older than 8 where there is no Czech teacher present.

Which brings me to yesterday afternoon’s class with the 5 wild boys. There is no other teacher present, just me. And we’re in our office, not in a school where I can send the kids to a principal’s office or something. In the first 5 minutes of class we were starting to do an activity and I had given all the boys a flashcard and told them to put it on the floor in front of them. “Duffman” student wasn’t listening so I told him again to put it on the floor. He responded, “yes, kurva.” Here is your Czech lesson for the day: “kurva” = “bitch.” And, according to Google translate, it can also mean wh**e, sl*t, hooker, prostitute, strumpet, harlot, streetwalker…

Luckily for me I had just learned this word not more than 3 weeks prior, when Jess and I got a  lesson in Czech curse words from a friend of ours KV. I thought it would be funny if I learned some of them, not anticipating that they’d be useful in the classroom. This episode just made me wonder what other things they’ve been saying that I didn’t understand… but now the joke is on them because Duffman’s parents were getting a call from my coordinator on Wednesday night…

Crazy Kids Continue

21 Feb

I realize I haven’t written that much about teaching lately (or written that much in general lately, apologies). Two funny stories from the last week that I thought I’d share.

1. This morning in my Monday morning madness that is Kids Club we were doing a lesson on food: banana, apple, biscuit and milk. When I was showing the kids the flashcard of milk and asking “what is it?” one little kid kept responding “pivo, pivo, pivo.” What is pivo? you ask. It’s Czech for beer. Nice.

2. On Wednesdays I have a crazy (and thankfully small) class of 5 boys who are between the ages of 8 and 9. Some days can be really fun because some of them are quite good at English. For example when I made them ask each other questions practicing the structures “are you a _____? … yes, I am …  and no, I’m not” they would say things like “are you an elephant? are you a table? are you a door? are you a skateboard?” etc etc, but they actually understood the structure and were able to use a lot of vocabulary. This may seem like a minor achievement, but believe me, it’s crucial (when compared to the comprehension and speaking abilities of the bulk of my students).

So anyways, they are funny and crazy kids as evidenced this past Wednesday when one of them for whatever reason started saying in the beginning of class “I’m Duffman! Ohhh yeahhh!” — a line from American’s finest family cartoon, the internationally popular Simpsons. I actually did think it was funny when I first heard him say that so I laughed. I think I laughed as much out of surprise (to hear him quoting a Duffman line) as I did amusement. In any case, big mistake. That only encouraged him. So he continued yelling, “Duffman!! Ohhh yeahh!!” and then took his shirt off and whipped it around his head. That sparked his little friend in class to follow suit so soon there were two shirtless skinny Czech kids in my classroom yelling “I’m Duffman!! Ohhh yeeahhhh!!”  

Skiing — with an Internal Sweater

2 Feb

On Sunday I went skiing for the first time in 15 years. At least it was cross-country skiing, which, while taxing in its own way, requires much less technique than downhill skiing.

We went to Bozi Dar, a ski town about 30 minutes from KV. It was a gorgeous, sunny, cold cold cold day. I had sunglasses to fend off the sun and our friend Vitek had the solution for the cold: a bottle of Tulamore Dew whiskey! They call it the “internal sweater.” We drank a few swigs in the parking lot before we got going, then had a few more every time we stopped for a rest (which was quite a few times because we had some little kids with us).

We skied into Germany, which sounds more impressive than it is considering Bozi Dar is basically on the Czech-German border. We stopped at a restaurant in Germany to have lunch and I added another layer to my internal sweater with a big, German wheat beer.

From the restaurant we only had a little ways to go to get back to Bozi Dar. Unfortunately for me, most of it was downhill. Me attempting to ski down a hill in long cross-country skis was a joke. I fell down no less than 6 times, and ended up “walking” down the soft snow on the side of the trail in my skis. I arrived at the parking lot a solid 15 minutes after everyone else (including the small kids) but at least all my limbs were intact!

The rest of the day I spent nursing my sore body and my “internal sweater” hangover.