Sunday, April 28, 2013

7 Things I’m Looking Forward to About America

Waaaaay back in July when I started this blog after finding out I would be spending 8 months as a language assistant at a bilingual elementary school in southern Spain, I wrote a post entitled “5 Things I’m Looking Forward to About Spain.” Looking back on that time in my life, I now realize how little I knew of Spanish life, although I have enjoyed all five things on the list throughout the year. That stretch of time, however, has made me mildly homesick and longing for specific things about America. So here are seven of them I am looking forward to enjoying and taking advantage of when I return in June.

TEXAS

1) Family and friends

Don’t get me wrong—the Internet has made staying in touch extremely easy and completely changed the dynamics of moving abroad with Facebook and Skype. But there’s nothing quite like physical face-to-face human contact, replete with hugs and fragrances, contact that doesn’t depend on a sketchy WiFi connection to have a conversation. This doesn’t even begin to cover the act of hanging out together over a common activity or a shared meals, or going on walks or to the movies. I miss my family and can’t wait to catch up with friends over a good sandwich or coffee—the easiest way to “be present.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Confession: I’m Homesick

These past seven months living abroad in Spain and working as a language assistant have been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve embraced the challenge of living on my own for the first time, I’ve enjoyed getting to travel to places I’ve dreamed of for years, and I’ve gotten to practice and (I hope) advance my command of the Spanish language.

Villanueva del Arzobispo, Spain
Villanueva del Arzobispo, the village where I work
I was extremely fortunate to find a job—any job—just four months after graduating from college (“in this economy,” to use a clichéd phrase), and I was even more fortunate to get placed by the Spanish Ministry of Education in a really lovely school with a carpool so I could live in the World Heritage-listed town of Úbeda, famous for its Renaissance architecture.

Here in Úbeda I’ve made friends with some amazing fellow language assistants and honed my blogging and photography skills. I’ve learned to cook for myself and even picked up a few Spanish recipes along the way. Separated from American culture and expectations, I’ve grown more confident about being myself and gained an appreciation for Spanish culture, too. In short, it’s been a great school year and I can’t wait to do it all over again up north in Galicia in the fall.

But the thing is, I’m homesick.

Monday, April 22, 2013

8 Reasons Spain’s Language Assistant Program Makes Traveling Easy

Love Spain’s language assistant program or hate it, if there’s one perk to being an auxiliar de conversación in Spanish public schools for one year, it’s that you can travel so much more easily, especially in Europe. Below are eight reasons that being a language assistant can help you reach your dreams to travel.

Fez train station

1) You are legal for 8+ months in the Schengen Area of European countries

(Source: Wikipedia)
The Schengen Area covers most of the continent and basically dissolves borders among 26 European countries. This is extremely good news for the 400,000,000+ people who live in the region; for example, there’s no border controls or passport-checking if you cross the French-German border or fly from Portugal to Poland. But it presents kind of a problem for non-European travelers: tourist visas in the area are only valid for 90 days every 180-period, which means for every 3 months you’re in Europe, you have to be gone for 3 more months before you can come back in…legally, that is. For most people this probably isn’t a big deal, but for budget backpackers it can be kind of annoying.

Thankfully, the 8-12 months residency you get as a language assistant bypasses this visa requirement. When I was re-entering Spain from Morocco back in March, all I had to do was show my residency card (TIE) and passport and got shooed back in the country.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Toledo: Memorial to a Might-Have-Been Spain

During an uncharacteristically-warm winter weekend in January I took a trip to Toledo in the heart of Spain. Yes, the same city that Toledo, Ohio, is named after (although in Spain it’s pronounced “toe-LAY-doe” [toˈle.ðo]). So what is Toledo all “about”? For me personally, it was almost like a peek into a pre-1492 Spain where Christians lived alongside Jews and Muslims. You see, high on victory after completing the Reconquista that won “back” the peninsula from the Moors, in 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella basically ordered everyone to convert to Catholicism…or get out. Many non-Christians chose the latter option, and within a hundred years Spain was one of the most Catholic countries anywhere.

Toledo
These actions weren’t without precedent in European history (England, for example, expelled its Jews in 1290) and weren’t the last act of intolerance, either, but they put the nation that would become Spain on a very clear mono-cultural path, rather than the mix of cultures that had lived together with varying degrees of tolerance over the centuries.

Like Córdoba to the south, Toledo preserves in its religious architecture memories of what Spain once was in the form of churches, synagogues, and mosques. In fact, two of the three surviving synagogues left in the country are in Toledo (and you can find the other in Córdoba).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Do Your Taxes as a Language Assistant in Spain

This Monday was Tax Day in the U-S-of-A, so, uh, glad that’s over. Thankfully because of the Internet (oh, Internet, where would we be without you?), I was able to file my taxes and get a refund direct-deposited a month or so before my return was due, but it was a little trickier this year because I’m working as a language assistant in Spain. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the forums and Facebook groups, but after sifting through all the recommendations and going straight to the horse’s mouth (i.e., the IRS website), I managed to come to a reasonably-safe conclusion about what to do with the meager income I gained as an auxiliar de conversación.

US taxes on Spanish income
Day 093/365 - Tax Time Phat Cash! by Tony Case on Flickr
To make a long story short (see below), the program grant is taxable, and you declare what you were paid from October to December (probably 2.100 €) in dollars ($2,730 at the current exchange rate of 1EUR to 1.30USD) as income, either as a scholarship or foreign earned income. Then the next year, you declare what you earned from January through May (probably 3.500 € / $4,550) and, if you renew, the fall paychecks from Year 2.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I need to put out a big disclaimer that I AM NOT AN ACCOUNTANT OR TAX LAWYER and will not be held liable for your tax returns and/or any investigations from the IRS, however unlikely they may be. What I’m writing on this blog is what I have determined best reflects the situation language assistants are in, and what best reduces my chances of getting audited for tax evasion or whatever. But since there are many opinions about how best to deal with the program’s income (especially since it’s so small), do your own research after reading this post!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Don Quixote’s Windmills in La Mancha, Spain

Right before I came back home to Úbeda from traveling across France and northern Spain, I stopped off for two nights in a medium-sized town called Alcázar de San Juan about two hours south of Madrid in the flat region called La Mancha. How did I end up here, you ask? Well, in late December I was telling the parents of one of my private English class students about my plans for Christmas break, how I was going to make a loop around western Europe, and they were so kind as to invite me to stay with them in their hometown of Alcázar for the January holiday of Reyes (Epiphany). Naturally, I took them up on their offer and had a wonderful time speaking Spanish, learning about how in Spain the Wise Men take over Santa Claus’ gift-giving, and getting to know a little-visited yet very “teepeecal espanees” part of the country.

Windmills, Campo de Criptana, Spain
Windmills in Campo de Criptana
In between cleaning up the house from the big Reyes dinner and presents-opening fiesta from the night before and heading back south to Úbeda, the family took me to Campo de Criptana, the next village over that is famous for its collection of ten well-preserved traditional windmills. Yes—Don Quixote-style windmills. I freaked out; they were so cool!

It must have been junior high or high school when I had to read the entire first volume of Don Quixote for summer reading and it took me the ENTIRE three months to plow through the translation. I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy it, although the small tales a character would recount here and there were fun. I remember thinking, “Just because it was the first novel doesn’t mean it was a good novel…ugg.” I know, so sassy and angst-y. I don’t think any of us got anything out of that book except for an understanding of the word “quixotic” (do you pronounce it “kee-hoe-tihk” or “kwihx-oe-tihk”?), although it was probably the first encounter with Spanish culture most of us had outside of Columbus sailing the ocean blue on the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pamplona, Spain: Not Hemingway’s Bullfighting Cliché

Winding my way back home to southern Spain after seeing Paris and northern France over Christmas break, I passed through the Basque lands surrounding both sides of the western Pyrenees mountains. I loved San Sebastián and had a good time in Bilbao, so it seemed like a no-brainer to visit Pamplona in the neighboring region of Navarra. The city is (in)famous for its annual San Fermín festival every July which involves an encierro de toros, the Running of the Bulls. This kind of event isn’t unique to the festival—tiny villages here in southern Spain will have their own encierros held in their small plazas—but the one in Pamplona is probably the most significant, popularized by the romanticizing author Ernest Hemingway in works like The Sun Also Rises.

Pamplona, Spain
Pamplona’s old town
But I passed through the town in January, about as off-season as it gets. What could there possibly be to see and do here outside of the excitement (read: stupidity) of running down the street with enraged bulls? Turns out, Pamplona is actually a lovely regional capital that can stand on its own apart from the “sanfermines.” And besides, everything in town was (reportedly) much cheaper in the low season!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Collected Lessons Learned From a Trip to Morocco

A few days ago I got back from a one-week journey to Morocco over Spain’s Semana Santa holiday, the first time I had ever visited the Arab or Muslim world. In the weeks leading up to the trip I was both excited and terrified: excited because Morocco is rich with history, architecture, good food, and friendly people, and terrified because I don’t speak Arabic, I speak French poorly, and I had no idea how I was going to get around while keeping myself and my belongings safe. In the end, I had a great time traveling across the northern part of the country, appreciating Islamic art and architecture, gaining an addiction to mint tea, and perfecting how you say “hello” in Arabic (as-salaam alaykum).

Moroccan mint tea
Moroccan mint tea

After coming back from France back in January, I did a little write-up about my initial thoughts about the country, what I learned, and the ways I grew from the trip. I’d like to do something similar here for Morocco, talking about the things I learned about the country, about travel, and about yours truly.

Monday, April 1, 2013

March Monthly Update: Happy Flowery Passover Edition

It’s weird to be able to say I “carry” (llevar) six months in Spain now—half a year. I’m still having a great time living here and speaking Spanish, especially now that spring is here, but I know I’ll be ready to go back home in June and recharge over the summer with family, friends, and food. This post’s title is a literal translation of the Spanish name for Easter, Pascua Florida; they use the same term for Easter as they do for Passover.

Valencia, Spain
Valencia, seen from El Miguelete bell tower

Traveling to Valencia and Alicante

Alicante, Spain
Supper with friends, Alicante
At the beginning of the month/end of February, we had a long weekend holiday to celebrate Día de Andalucía, or Andalucía Day, so I made the journey to coastal Valencia—Spain’s third largest city—and Alicante, two hours south where friends from college are currently studying abroad. Valencia was the most beautiful city (and tasty, too!), and I had a wonderful time in little-visited Alicante spending time with old friends and even going to the Evangelical/Baptist church in town.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...