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Showing posts from 2012

Córdoba, Spain: Christians, Jews, Muslims…and Travelers

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After Granada, the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Spain was Córdoba. I had learned much about the city in college while taking classes on Hispanic Culture & Civilization and Islam, and couldn’t wait to experience a locale where memories of three cultures—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—were preserved in buildings of such stunning architecture.


Three weeks ago, I finally got the chance to visit this city in the southern part of the country—and by visit, I mean wander in circles in the town’s old Jewish quarter. Read on to learn what I saw when I wasn’t lost!

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (“Palace of the Christian Monarchs”) sits at the southwestern corner of Córdoba’s old town. The site itself has been a fortress since Roman times, and for ten years the castle served as a home base of sorts for the Reyes Católicos—Ferdinand and Isabella. Here they planned their final attacks on the Muslim-ruled Kingdom of Granada (which fell in 1…

5 Things That Scare Me in Spain

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Living abroad is a fun and intellectually-stimulating activity; I don’t at all regret making the decision to move to Spain for nine months or more. There have been so many opportunities to travel to beautiful cities full of historical sights and gastronomic delights, so many ways I have been challenged to get better at speaking Spanish, and so many differences I’ve picked up on between Spanish and American culture.

But doing life here in Spain isn’t always the magical experience it may seem from my Instagram feed or travelogue blog posts. I tend to stay in most weekends to save €€€ for the one city trip I take per month; Spanish schoolchildren, as cute as they are, tend to be loud and wild; and I struggle to understand what most of my fellow Spanish teachers are talking about because of their accents.


And although I’ve moved from one developed country to another, there are a few parts about living here in Spain for nine months that make me worried. Thankfully, I have been paid by my s…

Granada, Spain: City of Magic

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The first weekend of November I took a trip to the city of Granada, a city in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía and nestled up against the Sierra Nevada (“Snowy Range”). I know, I know, I’m writing this post about a month after the fact, so forgive me. Anyway, in the future I’d like to use these travel posts to talk about the highlights of each place I visit—not every emotion I felt or food I ate or street I walked down but the main things to see and do in town. I hope these will be concise yet interesting for future travelers (be they backpackers or armchair travelers).


Catedral & Capilla Real
In the center of the city are the Catedral (“Cathedral”) and Capilla Real (“Royal Chapel”). Even if you’re not Catholic or even religious, I think it’s always a good idea to stop by the major cathedrals in cities you visit in Spain because they give you a closer look into the country’s history and culture; often they are veritable museums. For example, Granada’s cathedral was built i…

November Monthly Update: The Day of Giving of Thanks Edition

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Well, another month has come and gone in Spain, which means I now “carry” (as they say in Spanish) two months in the country. A quarter of the way through my stay here already—unbelievable, but I can’t wait to see what comes next.

This month I did a lot of teaching about Thanksgiving, or in Spanish, el Día de Acción de Gracias, which I have literally translated in this post’s title. I guess sometimes English naming conventions are a bit more tidy than those in Spanish! Anyway, what follows is a little bit of what I’ve been up to lately.


Granada trip The first weekend in November I took a weekend trip to the city of Granada during the puente (long weekend; literally “bridge”) for All Saints’ Day (Día de Todos los Santos). Granada is a beautiful provincial capital about two hours south of where I’m living in Úbeda, and was a welcome break from Month 1 of working and living abroad.


I’m going to publish a full post about the trip later this week, but it’s safe to say I was not disappointe…

10 Tips on How to Stay Warm in Your Apartment in Andalucía in the Winter

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We’re already almost finished with November, which means winter is here to stay in Andalucía, the region in the far south of Spain. You’d think its latitude would protect it from the bite of cold but, nevertheless, it does get cold here; I’ve heard many language assistant bloggers mention that the “coldest winter of my life” was experienced right here. Now, I think much of that is simply exaggeration (just compare Andalucía’s monthly temperature and precipitation averages with those of, say, Chicago or Fargo, N.D.) but a lot of it has to do with facing the weather head-on. In the U.S., many of us are blessed to have central heating in our homes and cars to drive anywhere we need, so we’re fairly insulated (pun intended) from the worst of the winter.

Here in Spain, however, most apartments or homes don’t have heating (calefacción), and people use their feet instead of their wheels to pick up the milk, meet up with friends, and go to work. Naturally, winter feels much more bitter than i…

Thanksgiving 2012, Expat Edition

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This year I celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from home, but more importantly, away from Mom’s cooking. However, I did not have a complete breakdown and resort to binge eating of Spanish tortilla, jamón serrano, and cold gazpacho soup for supper. Instead, two American girls, a girl from England, and I—all fellow language assistants in Spain—got together Thursday afternoon and prepared something close enough to a traditional American Thanksgiving feast.


What was on the menu? If you’re not hungry yet, you will be after reading this list: roast whole chicken with onions, herbs, and olive oil…homemade gravy made from chicken drippings…buttery mashed potatoes…green beans cooked with bacon…pumpkin (butternut squash) pie made completely from scratch…sweet potato casserole with brown sugar & pecan topping…cranberry sauce (substitute) made from pomegranate seeds.

How did we do it? With an oven, stovetop, and a few pots, pans, and dishes, you, too, can enjoy an expat Thanksgiving next …

5 Things to Be Thankful for When Living Abroad in Spain

We language assistants here in Spain can be a whiny bunch. From worrying about not getting paid on the first day of the month (despite being warned that our first paycheck would be delayed by a month or so), to being bored in a small town, we tend to voice any and all concerns in the program’s forum and its numerous Facebook groups.

But even though we do have a few legitimate reasons to complain (not getting paid is perhaps the most likely candidate), we language assistants still have a handful of things to be thankful for during our time in Spain. In light of our recently-celebrated American holiday of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d list five things I’m most grateful for while living abroad.


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I can't believe myself. Pumpkin pie made totally from scratch while overseas. SUCCESS! A post shared by Trevor Huxham (@trevorhuxham) on Nov 19, 2012 at 12:02pm PST 1) We get to live in Europe I know that living abroad either during or after college has been a longtim…

What the Catalan Language is NOT

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Sometimes when I hear people talking about the beautiful language that they speak in three regions of Spain—Cataluña, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands—they often describe it in a way that, to me, is like nails on a chalkboard. Let me explain:

Catalan isn’t Spanish.

It isn’t French.

It isn’t a fusion/mixture/combination of French and Spanish.

It isn’t a dialect of Spanish.

It does look a lot like French, and Spanish, too; but it’s neither one of them.

It’s Catalan.

The Catalan language arose from the Latin spoken by the common people in the northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula, centuries after the Roman Empire had dissolved into the Mediterranean Sea, in just the same way as French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese similarly developed. Although, like all Romance languages, it’s related to French and Spanish, it’s nevertheless individual and unique.

For example, here’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as spoken in Catalan:
Tots els éssers humans neixen lliures i iguals en …

How to Dress Like a Spanish Grandpa

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Here in Úbeda where I live, the ratio of older to younger people is pretty lopsided in favor of the former, so I get many chances each day to observe retired Spaniard fashion. So today, I want to give you some pointers on how to dress like a Spanish grandpa.

By “grandpa” I mean simply the older generation of men that, for lack of a better distinction, came of age well before the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975.

Whenever you see them walking around town (something I admire very much about the elderly here—even the slow, hunched-over, cane-using man will have his daily walk despite his age!), they will invariably be dressed in a simple, stylish, and classy manner.

While there are always exceptions depending on the person, the weather, etc., five elements define a Spanish grandpa’s uniform:

1) Flat cap or newsboy hat
Even the simple wearing of hats hearkens back to the times when most men wore hats whenever they went outside—as they once did in America, too. Of course, whi…

October Monthly Update: Getting Settled Edition

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So, I’ve decided to change up the format for my “update” posts from publishing them once every week to once per month for two reasons: First, there just isn’t enough material to justify a post every week only about my life; now that I have a routine it’s mainly working…cooking…reading…speaking Spanish…writing…sleeping. And when there is some variety—like traveling—I’ll be writing a separate post for a city trip. Second, publishing a weekly post every week for my entire stay in Spain would result in about 39 posts, which is simply too much. Therefore, I’m going to be publishing a monthly update either on the last day of the month or a few days later.


Getting settled I arrived in Spain on September 24th and spent the next two weeks settling in to the country. Some big things that I did to prepare for the next nine months abroad were: I got a pay-as-you-go cellphone, was approved for residency—my NIE (foreigner’s identification number)—opened a bank account, received my health insurance …

4 Names for “Teacher” in Spanish

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This week I’ll be going into my third week in Spanish classrooms, but even in that short amount of time I’ve picked up on the words the kiddos use to get the attention of me or the teacher I’m helping.


1) profe Pronounced “PROE-fay” [ˈpɾo.fe], this is a shortening of the Spanish word profesor or profesora, which looks like our word “professor” but means both university professor and teacher in any grade.

2) seño Pronounced “SAY-nyoe” [ˈse.ɲo], this is a shortening of the Spanish words señorita (“Miss”) or señora (“Mrs.”). Two syllables are always easier to say than three or four!

3) maestro Pronounced “mah-AYS-troe” [maˈes.tɾo], this word (and the accompanying female form maestra) means “teacher,” plain and simple.

4) teacher In Spain, they learn British English in schools, so they pronounce the word “teacher” as “TEE-chuh” [ˈti.tʃə]. Sometimes they do attempt the American pronunciation, but it comes out more like “TEE-chahrr” [ˈti.tʃar].

Bonus: my name In Standard American English, m…

Weekly Update 3: First Day of School Edition

After a week of planning, the people at my school finally got my teaching schedule finalized on Tuesday, which was my first day of actual work at the school (the previous week involved me sitting around or going to the provincial capital for other business). I’m assisting teachers in twelve periods of classes, ranging from five-year-olds to 4th-graders and concentrating mostly on science (there is one English class, however!). Ideally, all the teaching would be done in English, but because the students’ level of English is pretty low (the teachers do know English fairly well, though), much of the classes are simply vocab lessons. Also, if I hadn’t studied Spanish in college, I don’t think I’d be able to get through this year without going crazy—I feel like much of my English teaching will have to be done in Spanish.

There are quite a few Moroccan students at school, making up maybe a tenth to a quarter of the classes. They all speak Spanish just as well as the other kids, which is gre…

How to Vote Abroad From Spain in U.S. Elections

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LAST UPDATED OCTOBER 2012
Voting: it’s one of the fundamental rights of being an adult citizen of the United States. But just because you happen to be living abroad doesn’t mean you should be deprived of that right. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy to cast a vote for the candidate of your choice while overseas by requesting an absentee ballot. This is how to do it!


1) You request the ballot Assuming you’re already registered to vote at your last place of residence back in the U.S., fill out the form called the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and send it to the official responsible for elections in your county. For example, the Texas Secretary of State’s website has a list of such personnel here. If you’re pressed for time, you can put your email address on the form and the election administrator/county clerk will email you your ballot for you to print off. You can even register and apply for the ballot before you leave the country; I drove to my county’s election office and han…

Weekly Update 2: Dragging My Luggage Across Town Edition

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Well, guys, week two has come and gone and I feel like I’ve finally “arrived.” By that I mean I’ve gotten a cellphone, a national ID number, a shared apartment, a bank account, and a schedule for my job. It’s been rather annoying living out of a suitcase in a foreign country in three different hotels (long story) so I am relieved to have a small place to crash in at night and to do laundry in (I’ve worn the same pair of jeans since the airplane flight…oops). Next week—I think—I finally start work as a language assistant in some elementary music and science classes.


Among other things, this is what I’ve been up to since the last time I posted:
met basically the only redhead in Spainhiked 10 miles from the town where I work to Iznatoraf, a town of ~1,000 people on a tall hill overlooking the countrysideran into a random convention of mopeds at said hilltop villagedid “whatever I liked” on the first day of school (headmaster’s words)started reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (a…

How to Apply for Your NIE in Jaén (and Get Your TIE)

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LAST UPDATED NOVEMBER 2012
If you’re a language assistant in Spain (auxiliar de conversación), by now you’ve applied for the program, gotten your visa, and at last arrived in the country.

But, because your student visa is good for only three months—and because you’re supposed to be working for eight—you need to apply for an NIE (número de identificación de extranjero), a foreigner’s identification number, and get the corresponding TIE (tarjeta de identificación de extranjero), a foreigner’s identification card. This will make your stay in Spain valid for around a year after arrival. Sweet! So, how can you get one?


Well, I’ll get to the nitty-gritty details, but first, let me say that my experience was totally abnormal from what you should expect.

As I’m teaching in a town in the province of Jaén (northeast corner of Andalucía), I had to go to Jaén capital to get the NIE. I made an appointment online for the earliest date possible, and my bilingual coordinator, Pedro, went with me to t…