Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Goals for My Last Year in Spain

It’s almost February, and that means there’s only one more month of wintry coldness left to endure—but also that my contract to work as a language assistant here in Spain is halfway up. I’ve got four more months left until it’s time to start writing the dreaded “The End” to this volume of my life and figure out what the name of the next book is called. I’ll keep y’all updated, but for now I’ve got some big, and hopefully attainable, goals I’d like to accomplish by the end of June this year.

How my trip to China fell apart

Foggy night in Vigo
Originally, I had been planning on flying out to China in June to take advantage of 475€ round-trip flights from Madrid to Beijing; from Dallas it costs twice or three times as much. My college roommate is currently teaching English in Beijing and two other good friends from college are also teaching out west in Xi’an. I was looking forward to making a Grand Tour of the country, swinging down to Shanghai and maybe even a tea plantation on the way back to Beijing.

This weekend while I was FaceTime-ing with my roommate from college, we got to talking about our plans to travel around the Middle Kingdom together in June. He gave me the green light to go ahead and start the visa application process, which involves buying plane tickets before you go down to the embassy in Madrid to apply. Later that evening, once I started seriously looking into the procedures, I learned that China has been cracking down on people who apply for visas outside of the country they got their passport in.

I’ve also been losing a lot of sleep over my Spanish residency (or lack thereof) come June, as my TIE card expires May 31st. I was planning on getting a round-trip ticket to Beijing, but I feared the worst upon returning to Madrid because I would be leaving the Schengen Area after an eight-month stay and returning a mere three weeks later. Non EU-resident tourists must leave the Schengen Area for 90 days after spending three months in the region. Many language assistants claim we get an “automatic tourist visa” once our TIE is up to travel freely, but I don’t buy it. (And I don’t want to risk getting deported or being blacklisted from returning.)

In the end I had to cancel my China trip, but thankfully I did this before purchasing any non-refundable plane tickets.

International travel plans this spring

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
I’m still going to make the most of the time I have left to roam about Europe without visa restrictions, however. (Plus, I’ve got a pretty penny saved up in my bank account originally intended for China!) Once Galicia’s three-day Carnival break arrives, a friend and I will be hopping on the next plane for Marseille and checking in at a hostel in Avignon for four nights. Based out of this riverside town that many Popes called home in the 1300s, we’ll do some daytrips to see Provence’s stunning Roman heritage in Arles and Nîmes, all the while eating as many French pastries as possible.

For Holy Week, Germany is on the docket. I won’t be doing any huge traveling, just a long weekend to Köln (Cologne) and a daytrip to Aachen of Charlemagne fame. While in Aachen I’d like to visit Europe’s version of America’s Four Corners: the Drielandenpunt where the countries of the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium all meet.

Galician coastal village hitlist

Countryside near Fisterra
My last year in Spain is my last year to live in Galicia, and while I’ve long since hit up the region’s six major cities—Vigo, A Coruña, Ourense, Lugo, Santiago, and Pontevedra—there are several villages along the coast I need to stop by before I can return to Texas.

Just to the north of where I work in Boiro there are two lovely fishing villages called Muros and Noia. The religion teacher at my school is from Noia, which has historically been Santiago’s port, and she raves about the town’s excellent empanadas and the Sunday market.

If there’s a spring weekend with only sunshine in the forecast, I will be dashing out the door to walk the Camino again, this time to Fisterra on the coast. I’ve done this pilgrimage before, two years ago when I first walked the Camino de Santiago, but I was miserable the whole time as my feet hurt terribly and it endlessly poured rain. I never continued on to the lighthouse at the end of the world or to Muxía, one day’s walk to the north. Hopefully I can rectify these mistakes this spring.

Ferrol is the black sheep of Galicia: not only does it have a reputation of being really ugly and boring, it was also where longtime dictator Francisco Franco was born. However, I’d like to form my own opinions on this important Spanish naval base, which was laid out in a planned grid in the 1700s and has two forts or castles nearby.

Betanzos, to the south, seems like a charming Galician village with a lovely Gothic church and restaurants that serve tortilla de Betanzos, or a juicy potato omelet that oozes out when you cut into it.

Taking language tests

(Source: Emilio Quintana)
Ever since I graduated college with a degree in Spanish, it’s been a personal goal of mine to sit for the DELE test to be certified that yes, I do speak Spanish! Anyone can major in Spanish, but that doesn’t mean you can speak it well or are competent to use the language in certain situations. I know it probably won’t make a difference for employers to see a DELE certification on top of three years experience in Spain and a Spanish major, so I’m mainly doing this for me—to prove to myself I can do it. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to take the B2 (Advanced) or C1 (Proficiency) levels, though; while I know I could easily pass the B2 test, I would love to take the more challenging C1.

Also, a friend and I are planning on taking the CELGA, the language exam for the Galician language, probably at level 3 which is halfway between beginner (1) and native (5). We’ve lived here for two to three years and both of us have dabbled in galego throughout our stay. Plus, the test only costs 15€, so why not try?

June plans

I miss scenes like this from the south
Although I’m no longer going to China this summer, my round-trip flight back to Dallas still departs at the end of June, so I’ve got the entire month free to chill out in Santiago and do a last bit of traveling within Spain.

I’d love to have a week or so to really do the region of Catalunya justice, hitting up pretty Girona, Dalí-themed Figueres, Tarragona’s Roman ruins, the Gothic monastery of Poblet, and maybe off-the-beaten-track Lleida. Oh, and the Art Nouveau monuments in Barcelona that aren’t by Gaudí!

I’ll need to swing by the south one last time, and fortunately RyanAir flies directly from Santiago to Sevilla. Revisiting old haunts and catching up with teachers in Úbeda is definitely in order, and I’m contemplating going back to see the Alhambra, the Mosque-Cathedral, and the Giralda. Hopefully my allergies to olive tree pollen won’t murder me while down there!

But it will inevitably be time to say goodbye to Santiago: one last meal of octopus, one last stroll through the cathedral, one last outing of tapas with my friends, and one last night in my apartment. I’m not looking forward to saying ata loguiño to my favorite city in Spain, but I at least I’ll have a few days in Madrid to go out with a bang.

What to do with the rest of my life

Waves in Sanxenxo
Cue the existential dread. Some people are blessed with specific vocations, like becoming a doctor, lawyer, or minister, that have clear career paths. Some folks have always known they want to be a teacher, or a nurse, or a pilot, but this has never been the case for me. I’ve always been interested in a wide variety of topics from science and computers to languages and history, and “maybe be a teacher?” was always my answer to those trite, shallow questions everyone asks you freshman year of college.

I remember my junior year freaking out about “what to do with my life” but thankfully I came across the teaching gig I’ve currently got in Spain. Four years later, though, and things still aren’t very clear; I’ve just put off making Big Life Decisions until now. I have, however, been reading through the incredibly helpful archives of Sell Out Your Soul—career advice for liberal arts majors trying to break into the business world.

Hopefully by the time I move back home I’ll be ready to begin hunting for a job as I’m more than ready to move out on my own and put down roots somewhere, anywhere, that last longer than eight months.

What are your travel or language goals for this year? Tell me what you’re gonna be up to in the discussion thread below!
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