Oops. (I did it again.)

Let over a month go by without an update. It’s not that I don’t do anything cool or worth writing about, it’s just that life in between vacations is a bit routine. Which isn’t to say it’s boring. I have a blast.

So how have things been? Well, the big news of course is that I GOT A JOB. For next year. In ANDORRA. That’s right, I’m staying! Andorra can’t get rid of me. I’ll be working at one of Andorra’s private language academies, teaching mostly teens and adults. I’m pretty excited about it – the school seems really cool, with great resources and a really interesting program. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it from students and teachers alike, so I think it’ll be a great experience. I have to go through getting a residence permit from immigration all over again, but at least this time I know what I’m doing (sort of).

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I’ll start work in August, which means my trip home this summer is a bit short – probably just about 5 weeks. I’m excited to get back to the US and see everyone, but I’m also really excited for a second year here… I’m living the dream! No but really, since I was about 16 the dream has been to live abroad long-term, and I’m making it happen! Dreams really do come true, guys. So you could say I’m very happy these days.

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We recently (2 weeks ago) had a week long break – our last! I spent the weekend hanging out in Andorra and relaxing (Isa and I donned bikinis and hung out on her terrace in 59 degree weather because it has been a long winter!). Monday through Wednesday, I spent in Vic rock climbing… I’m not very good at it, but I had a lot of fun! And I didn’t sustain any injuries, so I take that as a win.

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That Wednesday night, my BFF Kelsey and her sister Andie arrived! We hiked up to Engolasters on Thursday (it’s the easiest/shortest hey-look-how-pretty-Andorra-is hike) and spent Friday in Ordino (Andorra’s cutest little parish, I think) before heading to Barcelona for the weekend. Sadly, Kelsey left on Sunday and I headed back to Andorra.

School last week was nothing too exciting. Wrapping up the year consists of a lot of practice and review, which is nice because I get to see how much my students have learned! And then Jess, my best friend since middle school, arrived on Friday!

Friday night we went out for tapas, and then Saturday we did a hike in Sant Julia, followed by spending the evening watching the Champions League final at a sports bar (Madrid won! YAY!). Being in Europe for the Champions League final was a BLAST – people were very into it, and after the win, they were driving through the streets honking in celebration. Obviously, Andorra is pretty Catalan so the majority of people are Barcelona fans here, but there were some Real Madrid fans out and about. It reminded me a bit of Baltimore after the Ravens won the Superbowl a few years ago.

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Sunday, we hiked up to Engolasters. The end of the hike, it started to rain, and we ended up spending some time in the cafe at the top waiting for it to stop. It didn’t, really, so we eventually headed back down in the rain. We had a relaxing night in, and then spent Monday morning souvenir shopping. I had meeting Monday afternoon, and after we went out for dinner and then watched Game of Thrones at a bar that shows it in English before getting drinks with some friends. Jess left this morning, which is sad. I miss her already!

I only have about 4 more weeks of work, and 5 weeks from today I’ll be back in the US. Time flies! Crazy, huh? I’m just relieved to be staying – I wouldn’t be ready to say goodbye to Andorra for good yet!

(Also, Andorrans are surprised when I say I’m staying because I love Andorra, and well, let’s just say… If I had a boyfriend for every time I’d been asked if I’m staying because of some Andorran boy, I’d be dating half the country!)

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Semana Santa: Berlin, Krakow, and London

Well, once again I find myself way behind the time on this update, but life does have a tendency to get in the way, doesn’t it?

So, Semana Santa gave us TWO glorious weeks off (boy will I miss these vacations next year…) to travel the world. To start out, all 5 of us Andorra Fulbrighters set off for Berlin, where the German mid-year conference was happening. The German commission opens their conference to all the European Fulbrighters, so of course we jumped at the excuse to head to Berlin! It was a huge conference (an overwhelming number of people, really, when you’re used to 5!) and super fun. There was a good representation of the Spain crew there as well, and we hung out with them a lot because #spandorra is the best.

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#spandorra crew representing in Berlin. I stole this photo from Cass’s FB – thanks, Cass! But look how damn #spandorrable we all are.

 

We skipped some events because they had little to do with teaching English in Andorra, but the ones we did attend were cool. Aside from a million Americans, there was also a big group of Germans about to go study/research in the US next year, so it was cool to meet them as well. In between sessions, we managed to see some sights around Berlin, partake in lots of delicious food (mostly kebabs, kebabs, and more kebabs…), and even go to an ex-pat stand-up comedy show! Berlin is a really cool city, very hipster and interesting, and I can definitely see its appeal.

(Holocaust Memorial, Bradenburg Gate, the German government, the Berlin Dome, the Berlin Wall x2)

After Berlin, Johanna and I hopped an overnight train (complete with beds – we felt like queens!) to Krakow to spend a few days there. I honestly had no idea what to expect, because I had very few preconceived notions of Poland. I ended up loving it! Krakow is beautiful, and sort of reminded me of Prague and Budapest in more ways than one. Our time there was also spent eating delicious (and cheap!) food – this time of the Polish variety – and seeing the sights, which included a cathedral, an old salt mine with some crazy salt art, the main market, the Jewish Quarter, and a castle.

Poland is undeniably beautiful, but there is obviously a dark side to their history, especially in the 20th century. We visited the Gestapo Museum, Oskar Schindler’s Factory (of Schindler’s List fame), and of course Auschwitz-Birkenau. While I certainly wouldn’t describe any of the above as “cool” or “great” places to visit, they are very interesting and, I think, something everyone should visit at some point in their lives. I don’t really have the words to describe how it feels to stand at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and know that over a million people who walked through those same gates never walked back out, or to walk through the gas chamber and know that right where you are standing, thousands of people were murdered. The exhibitions at Auschwitz are very well done, and they are really impressive in their ability to show the scale of the atrocities committed in WWII. The scope of the horror is in some ways incomprehensible; the idea that human beings could treat other human beings in such a way is terrifying. It is not an easy thing to do, visiting these memorials, but it is absolutely important and I would recommend it to anyone traveling to Poland.

After Poland, I traveled to London to visit my good friend Charlee (you may remember that she visited me back in November with her boyfriend, Josh!). I had visited London once, five years ago, the first time I met Charlee. That time we were only able to visit for a day, but now she lives in London so I got to spend several days there. And wow, London is awesome! (Expensive as hell, but awesome.) We packed in lots of tourist activities and an impressive variety of delicious food. (Andorra and Spain are wonderful, to be sure, and the local food is delicious, but good Lord do I miss international food, and wow does London deliver just that.) One of the highlights was our tour of the Tower of London. We had a HILARIOUS tour guide, “Billy Beefeater,” who pretty much took the piss (look I’m so British now) out of everyone in the group. Another super cool visit was to the Sky Garden – Charlee’s idea; I had never heard of it. It’s free and you get great views of London… and the drinks are tasty! (Although not free.)

Overall, the trip was fantastic, but after 2 whirlwind weeks, it was nice to come back to Andorra and settle back into my routine here. It’s hard to believe I have less than 3 months left in my Fulbright experience. We recently got the contact information for the new grantees coming next year, and it was a little bit weird. It makes the approaching end feel more real, and it’s even a little sad to think my students will be hanging out with a new lectora next year (although I’m sure she’ll be awesome).

In the meantime, life back here has been great. Ski season ended, sadly, so my weekend activity of choice is suddenly gone and I’ll have to figure out a substitute. (Probably hiking, because the mountains are addictive.) Work is going well. Last week we took the students to see an English theater group that travels around and puts on plays for English students, and it was a lot of fun. They make the kids participate and do silly stuff, so we were all laughing – our students are great!

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Well anyway, that’s all for now! Happy Monday everyone!

Hello, yes, I’m alive and doing things.

Wow, I am just getting worse and worse at updating this, aren’t I? To be honest, life has been a bit routine so I haven’t had a whole lot to update on. Classes are good, tutoring is good. (Actually, this week tutoring was GREAT.)

Of course, the big news right now is that Devin is visiting me! He arrived Wednesday evening after 48+ hours of traveling, the poor boy, and he is still recovering from his jet lag. So far he hasn’t done much in the way of seeing Andorra because I still have to work this week and the beginning of next, but he’s met the crew here and seen where I work and been to the place with 1000 beers, so I think he’s doing okay. This weekend we’ll do more adventurous stuff, and next week 3 of the kids I tutor are going to go skiing with us and teach us!

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Finally here!

 

In other news, a few weeks ago we got to take an official (!) tour of Casa de la Vall, which is Andorra’s historical government building. It’s a very cool old building from the 1580s. They’ve actually moved to a new building in the last few years, so we got to tour that as well, and we met the Subsíndica del Consell General, which as far as I can tell is like the VP of Parliament.

We learned a lot about Andorra’s government (which is fascinating) and legal system. Andorra has 28 members of Parliament (can you imagine if we only had 28 people in Congress?!). There are 2 representing each of the 7 parishes, and then 14 who are national representatives. Of the 28 members, 14 are women, which I think is SO COOL (it’s actually the second-highest proportion of female legislators in the world!). I was really surprised to hear, though, that women in Andorra didn’t have the right to vote until 1970, and couldn’t run for office until 1973! Look how far they’ve come in just 45 years though… (Ahem, America, take note.)

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Here we are with her! (She’s the one in the white top.)

 

In less official news, the Fulbright crew here has been eating some delicious meals. I’m definitely the worst cook of the 4 of us, but my friends here are gourmet chefs so we had an amazing Hanukkah dinner and then a Mediterranean night and everything was perfect. It reminds me a little bit of community dinners back in my Project SERVE days! (Actually this year reminds me of my Project SERVE year in a lot of ways!)

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Look at this deliciousness. I only brought the wine so I take no credit.

 

The teachers at my school had a Christmas dinner last week and it was SO FUN. I work with the coolest people. Also, I just love the work culture here. It feels so much more laid-back than in the US. I had a blast. There was karaoke, dancing, games, lots of good food… Great night. (Have I mentioned yet how I never want to leave?)

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Two of my wonderful co-workers: Priya (teaches English) and Anna (teaches Spanish and Catalan).

 

I bought a ski pass! I am an official season pass skier. How fancy am I?! Do I know how to ski? No… not yet. But I figure if I go every weekend (which I better, to make the cost of the pass worth it!), I’ll eventually be at least half-decent right? I got skis and stuff to borrow from one of the teachers at school, so I’m all set up! I’ve only been once so far, with my friend Isa. She’s a cool snowboarder chick, so I felt bad that I was holding her back to green and blue slopes when she’s a badass… Except she totally tricked me at one point and made me go down a red! She said it was a blue, but then I thought I was going to die I fell so many times! When I finally made it to the bottom, she told me it was a red! So I guess I survived that. After the day of skiing I was exhausted, sore, and totally unexcited about climbing up 4 flights of stairs to my apartment… But it was fun!

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The view from the top of the slope I totally didn’t know was red.

 

Anyway, that’s about it for now! I’m sure I’ll have more adventures to update you all  soon! 🙂 I have some pretty exciting travels coming up over Christmas break!

A quick second to get political…

So despite the fact that politics is one of my favorite topics (um duh, I was a Political Science major), I don’t want this to be a super political space. HOWEVER. As an American living abroad, and especially as a person here to teach about English language and American culture, and doubly especially as a Fulbrighter… I feel kind of responsible for America, sometimes. And at least once a week, a student will bring up American gun culture. It is always – always! – to point out how absurd, hypocritical, and ridiculous it is. Today seemed like a good time to address my feelings on that, in view of what happened in San Bernardino.

“You can’t drink until you’re 21? But you can buy a gun at 18?”

“Parents in the U.S. don’t let their kids play outside unsupervised but they can play with guns?”

“You censor sex on TV but gun violence is okay?”

I get these questions every.damn.day. And I have run out of answers, honestly. Because they’re absolutely right. One of the nice things about leaving the country is seeing it from another perspective. And while I already spent most of my time IN America also feeling disgusted about our gun culture, it’s really interesting to hear perspectives from people abroad. And by and large? THEY THINK WE ARE RIDICULOUS.

How do I explain to a group of teenagers that some Americans are so desperate to cling to their right to have a gun (as part of a “well-regulated militia,” I might add, but somehow that distinction seems to have gotten lost…) that they don’t give a shit about someone else’s most basic human right – their life?

How do I explain to them that some people are so delusional that they think their tiny handgun is what stands between America and “NObamer’s Muslim-Nazi-Socialist-Martial Law American Nightmare”? (Don’t even get me started on how completely uninformed and ignorant you have to be to believe those things are all possible at the same time, by the way. If you think Obama is a Muslim Nazi Socialist waiting to impose martial law on the U.S… READ A BOOK. I recommend you start with the dictionary, and looking up the definitions of those very words.) (Also, don’t get me started on how utterly and completely worthless your little handgun – or even your assault rifle – would actually be against the U.S. government. That law was written 200+ years ago when a bunch of farmers with muskets might actually have scared the guys in Washington. Not so much these days.)

How do I explain to them that a bunch of hicks in the U.S. are so damn afraid that Obama is going to steal their guns and give them to “illegals” (and please, for the love of God, either eliminate that word from your vocabulary or eliminate me from the list of people you interact with) that they are opposed to basic common sense things like background checks and waiting periods?

How do I explain that a brown child fleeing a war-torn country and hoping for a better life is, apparently, an extremist terrorist by default, but a white man who would go into a building and shoot a bunch of people because that is somehow “justice” is simply “mentally ill”?

How do I explain that in 336 days, we have had 355 mass shootings and hundreds of people have died deaths that were completely preventable, but we still think the real threat to our country comes from outside its borders?

I’m probably supposed to explain both sides of the issue to them, but honestly… I can’t. I can’t even try, anymore. America, you disappoint me. What will it take to change things?

Three months in?!

I know I say this every post but WHERE IS THE TIME GOING?! Today officially marks 3 months in Andorra, and I can’t handle that fact. I love it here, so much more than I ever expected to, and I never want to leave! I want to tell time to slow down… Winter is starting to settle in here – as in it has SNOWED. This is definitely not Hawaii, my friends. It’s so damn cold.

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DO YOU SEE THAT SNOW?

So… I kind of fell off the blogging train, didn’t I? Oops. My bad. I’ve been pretty busy, but honestly I have no complaints – life is good! We just had a belated Thanksgiving celebration with some of our friends here – it was delicious and now I’m fighting off a food coma. Confession: We didn’t actually have a turkey. We had chicken. Turkeys are a bit hard to come by here. (I asked one of the kids I tutor if he knew what we eat on Thanksgiving, and instead of saying “pavo” (turkey), he said “pavo real” (peacock), which I couldn’t help but laugh at.

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I made Mama’s sweet potato recipe 🙂

A lot of people here asked me about Thanksgiving, and what we do and why it’s so important to us and everything. Inevitably they’d ask if I was homesick or sad not to bad in the US for Thanksgiving, but honestly I wasn’t! I worked 12 hours on Thursday, so it really just felt like any other day and I forgot it was Thanksgiving until I went on Facebook and saw lots of photos of food. I also haven’t been home for Thanksgiving in YEARS actually – since my senior year of college, now that I think about it… Weird. Anyway.

Other than non-holidays (side note: weirdly enough, Andorra had Black Friday despite not having Thanksgiving), life has been busy but pretty normal the last few weeks. Work is going pretty well. I finally started my job at the University. I’m doing conversation classes there with some of the professors and so far it’s fun! I really like my classes at FP of course, and those are awesome, but a few of my tutoring sessions have been a little challenging (it’s always the same kids). My favorite 12-year-old is still awesome though, so that’s the highlight of my tutoring week. This week we played Monopoly in English. I’m stealing him at the end of the year.

Two weeks ago, Charlee and Josh came to visit, so that was a fun weekend! If you’ve known me for a long time, you might remember that I visited Charlee in England 5 years ago… and that’s the last time I saw her! So we were very excited to be reunited now that I’m back in Europe. They got in on Thursday evening and we went out for beers and tapas, and then on Friday we went up to Ordino cause it’s adorable! (#andorrable) I wanted to show them the Miniature Museum, but it was closed, so we just walked around for a bit. Saturday we went up to Pas de la Casa to do a short little hike into France and it was really pretty!

They had to leave very early Sunday, which was sad. But they had a good time (or at least they told me they did!) and hopefully they’ll be back again! Sunday afternoon we went on a drive/picnic with this lovely woman Clare, who is an English lady who moved here to Andorra a long time ago. She has a big van so she drove us all up to Cannolich and we had a nice picnic looking into Spain. Not a bad weekend, huh?

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Anyway, that was 2 weeks ago… Last weekend was nothing too exciting, but it was a really fun weekend. Friday afternoon I had a 2.5 hour lunch with the rest of the language department and it was really fun! I work with cool people. Then Lauren, Isa, and I went out Friday night and had a blast, and then Saturday we went up to La Massana to see Isa’s apartment and play with her dog, and Sunday we had brunch with some friends.

Last night we met up with some guys from the UK for drinks and then went to the inauguration of a women’s center that one of the other English teachers at my school is a part of. It was really cool, with live music and such, and it was fun to see my co-workers outside of school! They went for a drink with us after 🙂

And of course, my weeks are pretty full of teaching and not much time for anything else! Sorry for the lack of updates lately… it means life is good, right? (And Wi-Fi is bad.) I’ll try to get back into the habit… And of course, Devin is coming to visit soon!!! 🙂

Cómo vuela el tiempo…

So, now that I’ve updated all about my vacation, I’m 2 weeks behind in post-vacation life updates! Time flies here, I swear! At the end of every week I sort of end up looking around and thinking, “WHAT?! How is another week over?!” The other day (Saturday, which is suddenly several days ago), I realized that it was exactly 40 weeks until the WEDDING. Devin and I are almost halfway through our engagement – how did that happen? I still feel like we just got engaged! (And yes, if you’re wondering, pretty much all the big things are planned!) Forty weeks sounds like an eternity but when I think about the fact that I’ve already been here for almost 11 weeks, it sounds a lot closer… The next day all I could think was, “Oh my gosh, 40 weeks from TODAY we’ll wake up MARRIED!”

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No but really I’M SO EXCITED

Another thing that made me realize just how time flies is the fact that I turned 25 last week! Being 25, and infinitely older and wiser than I was before, I feel like I’m qualified to comment on the fleeting nature of our life on earth… or something. But seriously, I feel like I just turned 20. On my birthday, I actually had to teach the whole day, but my classes were good. The one class all sang me happy birthday, and then in my private lessons the kids had a little surprise for me with sweets. I tried to make cookies with them as a fun lesson, but it turned out terribly because their family has a fancy oven with multiple settings and the kids put it on the wrong one, which I never thought to check. Oops. Also, I’m never trying to make cookies with 3 boys between the ages of 10 and 15 again. Ever. After, my friends took me out for dinner. A low-key, broken-bone-free birthday, which if you were following me 5 years ago when I turned 20 in Europe, was NOT the case then. Older and wiser, obviously.

Other than that, things have just been busy. My classes are going really well. My kids crack me up on a daily basis and I absolutely love them. Even when a particular class frustrates me, there is always at least one who makes me laugh. I know teenagers can be awful sometimes (I had to tell my private lesson kids last night that I could just go home and relax and stop wasting their parents’ money if they didn’t want to learn), but they can also be a lot of fun. Some of them have made great presentations lately and I’ve been so proud of them!

By now, they have all realized that I understand them perfectly. While some classes have heard me speak Spanish and know I have a degree in it and all, others still aren’t quite sure how much I speak and it’s a funny little game we play. One kid yesterday said, “But you’ve only been here 2 months and you’ve learned Catalan! How do you learn so fast?” My response, obviously:

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No but really, I feel like my Catalan is making progress, finally. There was a time where I felt like I just wasn’t learning to speak, only to understand, but lately I’ve been trying it out a bit, and I can say pretty basic stuff! Of course, when someone says to me, “Ok, now let’s practice your Catalan!” I immediately freeze, because … What do you want me to say?

Tomorrow, my friend Charlee and her boyfriend Josh arrive to visit for the weekend! They live in London and I haven’t seen them since I was in England almost 5 years ago, so I am so excited!!!

Well, I have to go correct my third-year students’ CVs for class tomorrow, so I’d better get going. Don’t expect an update while my visitors are here, but I’ll try to post one early next week!

Pre-vacation update!

Hey friends! Things have been busy-ish here, once again, but we are heading into the year’s first vacation! I know, I’ve only been working for 6 weeks! How can I possibly deserve a vacation? Well, shhh. Andorra doesn’t really do long weekends, but we have a bunch of weeks off here and there. We actually never work more than 6 weeks without a break! I have to say… it’s a pretty good set-up. This break is for Tots Sants (All Saints’ Day).

I’ll be spending 9 days traveling through Spain, and I am so excited! I’m spending a few days each in Granada, Malaga, and Madrid… And I don’t want to ruin all the excitement by telling you now what I’ll be doing, so just stay tuned for a post on that after the holidays! Just know that there are some long-awaited reunions in store for me 🙂

So that’s what’s on the agenda for next week. This past week, things haven’t been too thrilling, I guess. Friday night, Lauren and I went out and we ended up meeting SO many cool people. We hung out with the other Americans from my building, who are super cool, and then we found another American and a guy from Scotland at the next place we went! (There are only like 20 people in Andorra who are English speakers, so we like to know all of them.) We also met some really cool non-English speakers, though! We hung out with them for the rest of the night, and I think I’ve got myself new friends for practicing French and Portuguese! (It’s even Brazilian Portuguese, which is so exciting because everyone here is from Portugal!) Yay for new friends! (AND one of them has a cat!!!!)

The rest of the weekend was pretty low-key. We did some shopping. We tried a pretty delicious Chinese restaurant. We stumbled upon a cool craft beer tasting, where the Catalan Brewery guys told us that they actually try to copy American beers, because they think we have the best craft beers in the world! We did NOT end up going to the cheese festival, sadly… Transportation issues, to make a long story short.

As for work, things have been good! Classes are finally getting down to “real” material now that all presentations are over. Names are finally starting to stick for me. Private lessons are going pretty well, and I feel like I’m making a good balance of fun and educational.

Overall, heading into this first vacation, I have no complaints about life here in Andorra. It’s unbelievable that I’ve already been here for almost 2 months, AND that in less than 2 weeks, I’ll be 25! I’ll try to queue up a post or 2 for while I’m traveling next week, so stay tuned! 🙂