Another school year over, and a sunnier future ahead.

Yesterday was my last day of work for the academic year, outside of my private lessons. It doesn’t seem possible, as this year has gone by faster than any other year. I laughed a lot and learned a lot with and from my students, and I am sad to say goodbye to the school. It wasn’t perfect, as perfection only exists in the cinema, but it was my best teaching year in Bilbao. Ayer fue mi último día de trabajo por el año académico. Ahora solo me quedan las clases particulares. No me parece posible, como el año volaba más rápido que otros años. Me reí mucho con mis alumnos y aprendí muchos de mis alumnos también. Me da pena despedirme al instituto. No era perfecto, como la perfección solo existe en los películas, pero era mi mejor año como profesor en Bilbao. 

It’s good to go out on a high. Está bien terminar con un buen año. 

This year, along with my usual lessons on American High Schools, Halloween and Thanksgiving and conditional games, I developed some lessons on Route 66 and Canada that proved to be some of my more popular lessons and I will carry on with me to the future. Este año, además de mis clases de siempre en American High Schools, Halloween y Día de accion de gracias, y los juegos de condicionales, preparé algunos clases interesantes en la Ruta 66 y Canadá que eran populares con los alumnos y haré más en el futuro.

I am moving on to Valencia. I have hinted around, but I haven’t come out and said it in the blog because I don’t want to be known as that blogger who has depression and anxiety. However, I am saying it as I am not ashamed and am overcoming the stigma society has given me. Ahora, me voy a Valencia. He dado pistas, pero nunca he dicho directamente en el blog porque no quiero ser el blogger que sufre depresíon y ansiedad. Sin embargo, voy a decirlo ahora como ya no me da vergüenza y estoy superando el estigma que la sociedad me ha dado.

I have depression and anxiety that is exasperated by the gloomy and moody weather of Bilbao. Tengo depresíon y ansiedad que empeora por el mal clima de Bilbao. 

Bilbao and the Basque Country are unique. Nowhere in the world can you find a language quite like Euskera. Every stereotype of Spain goes out the window, especially since most of the Basques refuse to identify as Spanish (and they have a valid point.) It’s either raining or cloudy a large percentage of the time. It has some of the most beautiful places that I have seen in my life, yet I can never get out to enjoy said places due to the constant sirimiri, or the Basque word for “drizzle”. The sirimiri has changed to pure rain due to the climate change. Bilbao y el País vasco son únicos. Es el único sitio por el mundo donde se puede encontrar un idioma como el euskera. No se puede encontrar los tópicos de siempre de los españoles. Los vascos ni se identifica como españoles (y tienen razón históricamente.) Siempre está lloviendo o nublado. Tiene algunos de los sitios más preciosos del mundo, pero nunca puedo disfrutar de ellos por la culpa del sirimiri constante. El sirimiri ya no existe como ya es lluvia de verdad dado a los cambios climáticos. 

I lived in Valencia from August 2010-June 2011, and I was faced with a ton of challenges. However, I was also able to deal with these challenges, along with my constant depression and anxiety, better than I have been able to in the bustling city of Madrid or the beautiful but melancholy Bilbao. I love Valencia, their people, their culture and their language. Any time I was having a bad day, I could hope the tram to the Malvarossa and go for a walk along the beach. I joined the gym and found a passion for Body Combat in Valencia, and I started learning “valenciano-catalán”, my fave language ever. Viví en Valencia desde agosto de 2010 hasta junio de 2011, y tenía muchos problemas. Sin embargo, podía confrontar eses problemas, y la depresión y ansiedad, mucho mejor que podía en la ciudad agobiante de Madrid o la bonita pero melancólica Bilbao. Me encanta Valencia, su gente, su cultura y su lengua. Cuando estaba pasando un mal día, podía coger el tranvía hasta la Malvarossa y pasear por la playa. Me apunté al gimnasio y descubrí que tenía una pasión por Body Combat, y empecé a aprender mi idioma preferido, el “valenciano-catalán”. 

I felt bad about leaving the school, and I let them think that Valencia was more random than it actually was. I left Valencia with the intention of going to Barcelona to do a master, but you know that saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Life took me to Madrid and then Bilbao, and I have learned and lived a lot in those five years. I have always been torn between Barcelona and Valencia, but due to the constant tourists and political situation in Barcelona, I decided to go with Valencia as my final choice. Me da pena marcharme del instituto, y les he insinuado que Valencia era lo que me han dado que lo he pedido directamente. Me marché de Valencia pensaba que iba a hacer un máster en Barcelona, pero ya sabes: Si quieres hacerle a Dios reirse, dile sus planes. La vida me llevó a Madrid y después a Bilbao. He aprendido y he vivido mucho en estes cinco años. Siempre he sido indeciso entre Barcelona y Valencia, pero ahora con los turistas constantes y la situación política en Barcelona, decidí solicitar Valencia como mi primera opción (después Euskadi, después Catalunya). 

This means I have to say goodbye to Bilbao, a city that has given me a lot of challenges and not a lot of coping mechanisms. The Basques are as aloof as I am, so it’s been impossible to make friends here. They form “cuadrillas” in primary school (think Friends, as no one could ever enter their cuadrilla!) and are as moody as the weather. I thought I was making friends last autumn, but when I dealt with a really nasty bout of depression, they kicked me to the kerb/curb. I am sensitive, and I pick up on people’s moods. The cuadrillas are not keen to invite anyone new into their social circles. Ahora tengo que despedirme a Bilao, una ciudad que me ha traído muchos problemas sin maneras de superar ellos. Los vascos son tan distantes como yo, y ha sido imposible hacer amigos aquí. Se hacen cuadrillas en primaria y son tan malhumorado como el tiempo. Pensaba que estaba haciendo buenas migas el otoño pasado, pero cuando pasaba una depresión fatal, me echaron de la cuadrilla. Soy sensible, y pillo los humores de los demás. Los cuadrillas no quieren invitar a nadie a su círculo social. 

There are a million positive things I can say about Bilbao and Euskadi. The beauty, the public transport, the health care system, the Bilbonbici, the libraries. I will miss Bilbao and Euskadi. Hay un millón de cosas positivas que puedo decir de Bilbao y Euskado, La belleza, el transporte público, la salud, Bilbonbici, las bilbiotecas, etc. Echaré de menos Bilbao y Euskadi.

However, to go back to a Friends metaphor, when I make a list, at the end of it, the major fault of Bilbao could read: It’s not ValenciaSin embargo, para usar la metáfora de Friends, cuando hago una lista de buenos y malos de Bilbao, al final, lo malo de Bilbao podía ser: No es Valencia. 

Agur, Bilbao. Thank you y eskerrik asko for the memories.

Hola, València. Ja no et trobaré de menys més. Torne per tu. Visca!


Adiós-Adéu-Agur. Another academic year finished.

Yesterday, I said goodbye to my fifth school in seven years. Six of my schools have been an overwhelming positive experience, and my issues with my job do not stem from the actual schools but the program that funds my Spanish dream. It never gets easier saying goodbye, and this year I just downright avoided it. Two years are now going by in the blink of an eye, and I am trying to look upward and onward to the future.

For those not familiar with the Spanish school systems, I will offer a bit of an explanation. There are two cycles of pre-school. One is from 0-3 year olds and is an optional daycare like environment. The second cycle is also optional, I believe, but is more important. This goes from 3-5 year olds and similar to pre-schools/nursery school/play school/whatever word your region or local school district gives it. They work hard. They learn cursive before print in Spain, but all capital letters are in print. They learn colours and numbers and English and Spanish and maybe Catalán or Basque or Galician or a local dialect like “bable” or “leonés” or “aragonés”. It’s the typical pre-school and kindergarten environment. This level is called “infantil”.

Between 6 and 12 years old, students go to “primaria”, elementary school. More and more schools are doing either art (plástica) or Science in English, which means they can name the planets, but they don’t know what a planet is because they don’t grasp the concept in English. My fourth school did it in a correct way. I had to teach Science in English, but they were also receiving more concrete details in Science in Spanish so they got exposed to English as well as learning the concepts in Spanish.

Between 12 and 16, they are in “high school”, or ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria). (DBH in the Basque Country. I’m not going to attempt the Euskera). The classes are more demanding in the United States, and their exams are quite difficult. They are graded on a scale of 1-10. Anything below a 5 is failing. I translate it as 10: A+, 9: A, 8: B, 6-7: C, 5: D. However, since they lack the grade inflation that is all too present in some school districts in the US, most students are ecstatic with a 7.

When they are 16, Spanish (Catalan and Basque too) students can stop school. Most go on to “Bachillerato”, which is similar to “college” in the UK or an AP-only curriculum in the United States. They have two years of very intense university-prep courses ending with “Selectividad” at the end of the second year, which, averaged with their marks/grades during these two years, determines their university placement.

They can also choose to go to a politécnica (vocational) training or  professional formation (which I think is more similar to a community college in the States. If you’re not watching Community, you should!).

My first year, I was at a secondary school in small-town Andalucía. Looking back, it was a good school. At the time, I could only deal with the problems of living in small-town Andalucía and learning my Spanish was not as good as I thought it was. I don’t remember much about my goodbyes, although I do remember being packed up and boarding the first bus out of that town.

My second school was in an affluent suburb in Madrid and was a total mismatch. It was primary, and I just cannot deal with little children. My teaching style is total secondary style (or even uni!). The teachers were cliquey and I did not fit in. They did not renew me because I was too “reservado”. It’s okay, because I landed on my feet.

I was able to sweet-talk myself into a placement in a small town near València (but in Castellón province). The problems with the program (and their inability to pay their auxiliares) in València have since caused them to remove the program from València. They used me well, and I learned a lot. I fit in well with the school and had a ton of colleagues outside the department who were more than happy to teach me Valenciano and help me improve my Castellano (Spanish. No one in the Greatest Peninsula in the word uses “español”, which means “language of Spain”)

My fourth school was by far the best school I have ever seen in my life. It was ranked third in the entire Comunidad de Madrid. It came with a lot of stress (but there is a difference between stress and anxiety.), and living in Madrid is not my cup of tea (to put it mildly). However, this school was located in a suburb outside of Madrid. As it was private, although the suburb wasn’t so affluent, the students were. Most were actually bilingual in English and Spanish. I taught everything from 3 year olds to other teachers in this school. I had my own class of Bachillerato students, where I began to find my footing as a teacher. Alas, the school was unable to contract me, and the law of the Comunidad de Madrid only permits two years. I packed my bags and applied for Catalunya. They no longer have the program I currently do, and the Basque Country was my third choice after Catalunya and València. However, it’s more fun to say the Spanish government feels one comunidad wanting independence is the same as any other and just put me here instead :).

This school has been a bit different. Not bad different. It was a bit harder to feel integrated due to the isolation of each department (they hang out in their department offices instead of the teacher’s lounge), and I was off in my own classroom. And with their preference for Euskera, it was quite difficult to prove myself and meet people. They do speak Spanish, of course, but it was Basque-only. It was secondary, and of course, my fave classes were Bachillerato. It broke my heart to say goodbye to some of these students and to my colleagues in the English department. And the school is one of the better ones in the greater Bilbao area. I can’t complain. I’ve been happy there. I just don’t make enough for the expensive Basque Country, and the cultural differences between Spain and the Basque Country are sometimes jarring.

I don’t know how my new school will be, but I am thinking optimistically.

But the thing is, I think next year I might possibly have to say goodbye to the Greatest Peninsula in the World. It’s harder and harder to live on the bread crumbs that is our salary, it’s always harder to say goodbye, it’s harder and harder to pick up and move to another city. I have been sending out CVs since January for both the summer and next academic year. I am trying to make up my mind whether to pursue a master degree in Spanish, as I do miss the world of being a student. But by doing this, I would most likely have to leave Spain. And I have a lot of unfinished business here. Six provinces left to visit, a ton of paradores, I still have yet to climb Teide, swim in the seas of Menorca, obtain a B2 certificate in Catalán, watch the tides at the Playa de las Catedrales in Lugo, and there is the business of those 728 kilometres awaiting me to Santiago. This summer is looking impossible to stay in Spain, so I will probably be in the States for two months. The final decision will be made this week about the summer.

I have been blessed to have worked at so many great schools and to have lived seven-going-on-eight years in the Greatest Peninsula in the world. I don’t want to leave. I also am ready to move on with my life and find a bit of stability.

(And if I were to become a published writer or were able to make a living as a travel writer, I would do it in a heartbeat. I also just had to translate “enseguida” into English. Spanglish is such a fascinating language, just like “euskañol”!)

Goodbye to the academic year 2014-2015. Here’s to a bright future wherever I end up.