My adventure living in Ponferrada with my wonderful and generous host and fellow teacher Ana and her partner Javier (a great cook), and teaching at IES Bergidum Flavium has come to an end. It is bittersweet for me. I am really excited to see my three kids, and travel with them through northern Spain for a week showing them where I have been. I am also a bit sad to say adiós to the kind and friendly teachers, staff and students at the school. It has been an amazing experience to assist six different teachers, and teach six grade levels, spanning a vast range of abilities from PMAR to second year bachillerato, including the students in the bi-lingual class.
I have enjoyed teaching English especially helping with pronunciation and I love the Burlington text books! They are written with interesting articles about current topics in many diverse English speaking countries. I have learned many things while reading with them with the students.
The thing that I have enjoyed the most has been talking to the kids, giving them a chance to get used to the American pronunciation and talking with them about things that I personally believe are important life lessons.
I learned a lot about so many things that were so new and different to me just a short time ago. I had been to Spain three times before, on a vacation, a business trip and also to visit and travel with my son after the semester he studied in Sevilla. I wanted to come back to Spain and immerse myself in the language and culture and I was lucky enough to come to Cacabelos and Ponferrada.
When I researched Cacabelos on the Internet, I was a bit apprehensive thinking that I would be living in a rural and isolated town of 5,500 people. I had no idea if things were within walking distance. A week or so later I found out that I would be living in Ponferrada with a population of about 65,000. I knew both towns looked beautiful, surrounded by mountains, but didn’t know much else. I have always lived in Chicago, which is really big, with a population of well over 3 million, so I knew it was going to be a big change for me.
I was delighted to arrive and find that I would get to live in a town where I could actually walk anywhere or take a TUP bus and be independent. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to ask Ana for rides to get around! It is a big challenge to navigate the streets here for several reasons though. I am used to streets in most towns being laid out in a grid and intersections having tall and obvious street signs that you can see while riding in a car, before you got to the corner.
Locals know their way around town here and don’t even notice the fact that so many corners don’t have the street names on the buildings anywhere, and they are used to the roundabouts that dot so many intersections of three or more different streets, offering you so many ways to take a wrong turn. I am lucky that I have a great sense of direction and I can read a map, but it hasn’t been easy.
I managed getting around town, but I still have not managed to embrace nor get used to the way Spaniards eat, especially the meal times. I make sure to eat protein to charge my battery in the morning. I love my carbs, but carbs and coffee won’t get me through the morning, especially if lunch isn’t until after school. For me lunch is around noon and dinner around 6 or 7. So if lunch is late, so is dinner, but it was hard for me to wait because some nights, it would be really late, when I was thinking it was actually my bedtime.
I had to make sure to bring cheese and fruit to school and keep cashews in my purse, so I could eat something with nutritional value when hunger would strike. I needed to arm myself with healthy choices because with a bakery on every block, I didn’t want to make a habit of heading for my favorite chocolate napolitanas three times a day. I discovered bizcocho and churros, and figured out which café has churros with sugar sprinkled on them. You may have figured out that I am a chocaholic and I have a sweet tooth, so most days I thought it best not to leave school during break. Luckily when I did, I never got lost coming back.
For me, recreo was a new concept. I have never seen a school have a break simultaneously for teachers and students. I am used to everyone eating lunch at school during staggered lunch periods. When the bell rings after 6th period the building empties so everyone can go home and eat lunch, I found that surprising. In the US, the kids have many sports, activities and club meetings at the school after the last period ends. There are some groups that have practice before school begins too, and many students also have private lessons or other organized sports groups outside of school too.
During the school day, it is always the students that change classrooms in the US, but here, the teachers are the ones who move around. It is also different that all of the teachers here share one office all together as well as one bathroom. I haven’t been in a school before where there are metal shades on the exteriors of the windows to keep the hot sun out, but thankfully you have them!
To the students, I wish you the best of luck in your studies! Stay for bachillerato! Some of the things you are learning you may not use, but if you learn English you can be certain that it will open doors for you around the world, especially in Spain and Europe. Do your homework, participate, and practice. That’s how I learned Spanish when I was your age! Never stop learning, I know I never will!