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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…

Recipe: Personal Pan Spanish Tortilla

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The other day I had a big craving for some tortilla española—Spanish potato omelet—with the memory of tortilla from Casa Santos in Córdoba, Spain, still fresh in my mouth. Since cooked eggs (apart from boiled ones) don’t keep too well in the fridge, there was no way I was going to make a family-size tortilla using a traditional recipe. So, I decided instead to make what I am calling a Personal Pan Tortilla, inspired by Pizza Hut’s Personal Pan Pizza.

There’s nothing really original about the recipe; it’s basically a normal tortilla with the number of eggs and potatoes reduced. Spanish cuisine may not be very spicy or exotic, but it is comforting and savory. I hope you enjoy this warm and simple representation of Spanish cooking.


Personal Pan Spanish Tortilla
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 large potato2eggs1 teaspoonsmoked paprikaDirections
Peel and slice a potato into thin disks and whisk 2 eggs. Fry the potato sli…

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…

Sloppy Joes, Expat Edition (Recipes Inside!)

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A couple of weeks ago I had a hankerin’ for some of my mom’s sloppy joe sandwiches garnished with coleslaw, but here in Spain canned Manwich—the sloppy joe sauce you simply pour onto a frying pan of cooked ground beef—is nowhere to be found. What was this poor boy to do? Well, do just like when I made pumpkin pie—make it from scratch.

I did some Googling and came across the ingredients in a can of Manwich. Scarred for life! That stuff is mainly water, sugar corn syrup, and creepy chemicals. Perhaps not having the convenience of canned Manwich can be a good thing.


More Googling…then I came across (coincidentally enough) a Spain-themed cooking blog. The author, Diana, is half-Spanish and is all about natural, healthy cooking and has provided a recipe for “real” sloppy joes here. Her ingredients list inspired me to put together a little how-to post for how to make sloppy joes while living abroad. Feel free to tweak it as you cook; mustard and tomato paste would probably round out the fla…

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 on the globe 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 …

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

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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.


1) We get to live in Europe I know that living abroad either during or after college has been a longtime dream for many of us, and Europe pretty much takes the gold for Most Glamorous Place to Live. When week-long winter rains are keeping us indoors or disrespectful kiddos are discouraging our meage…

7 Helpful North American Language and Culture Assistant Blogs

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It’s about that time again—application period for Spain’s North American Language and Culture Assistant program!

This year I’m working as a language assistant in a bilingual elementary school in southern Spain. To be honest, there’s no way I could have made it to where I am today without the help of many informative, helpful, and quite funny bloggers who have chronicled their journeys from America, to Spain, and back (or not, if their romantic status changed over here). Below, I’m going to talk about the blogs that really helped prepare me for the program and life abroad as an American expat. I hope they help you as much as they did me!

Young Adventuress (Liz Carlson)
From 2010 to 2011, Liz worked in a pueblo just outside of Córdoba in Andalucía (southern Spain), and repeated the program for 2011-2012 up north in Logroño, the capital of La Rioja. Before going through the language assistant program, she spent a year in Salamanca and a summer in Madrid, so she definitely knows her stuff …

Albacete: or There and Back Again from Arabic to Spanish

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Tuesday afternoon I had to catch the bus from Villanueva del Arzobispo (where I work) back to Úbeda (where I live) because the teachers I carpool with had to stay late for parent-teacher conferences. Anyway, once I got to the bus station, I ran into a guy from Morocco who wanted to know where he could buy tickets to what I heard as “ahl-bah-SEE-tee” [al.baˈsi.ti]. Albasiti…where in the world? I thought. It didn’t help my confusion that we were two levels deep in foreign languages: I, a native English speaker using Spanish to talk to him, a native Moroccan Arabic speaker. At first, I struggled to figure out where exactly he was trying to go.

But then I remembered from the tiny bit of Arabic I studied in a course on Islam I took in college that Arabic only has 3 vowels, “ee ah oo” /i a u/, and it dawned on me that he wanted to go to the Spanish city of Albacete; he had raised the /e/ vowels in the city to the nearest one he could make, given his accent: /i/.

He ended up getting tickets …

Different Sets of Words for Olives and Olive Trees Across Andalucía

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The other day I was in one of my 3rd grade science classes and we were talking about reproduction in plants and animals. The teacher I help as a language assistant used olive trees as an example of asexual reproduction in plants, and as an aside, told me that there are two different words for the tree and the fruit in different parts of Andalucía, the southern region in Spain.

He told me that here in Jaén province and the east (the green highlighted region below) they use one set of words, but closer to Córdoba and Sevilla in the west of Andalucía (the gray part to the left of the green shape), they use another. I thought that was really interesting so I decided to do some brief research and summarize the findings here. Enjoy!


Olive treesEast Andalucía
Here in the eastern half of Andalucía—where the province of Jaén alone accounts for approximately a tenth of global olive oil production—the word la oliva means “olive tree.” This word comes from the Latin OLĪVA, “olive.”

West Andalucía

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 is 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…

How to Dress Like a Spanish Grandpa

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Over the next couple of months or so, I’m going to try and provide a few tips for my fellow men on how to dress more like a native Spaniard. (Not that you have to if you visit here, by any means! This is just if you’re curious about how they dress.)

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. In parts two and three of this little “Spanish menswear” series, I’m going to talk about adult Spaniards and teenagers. But for now, abuelos it is.

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…

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] (locally “mah-EH-troe” [maˈe.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 n…