October Monthly Update: Getting Settled Edition

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.

Clouds over olive groves in Jaén province, Spain
Jaén province: an interior paradise

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 card, moved in to a shared apartment, bought groceries, washed and line-dried my clothes, and began to cook for myself. That last one leads nicely into the next section…

Learning how to cook

One of my personal goals for this summer was to teach myself how to cook. Safe to say, it didn’t really happen, although I did become more comfortable in the kitchen and even prepared a chicken tortilla soup that my parents liked. Still, my first time living on my own without a university meal plan was not a complete disaster. After a week of salads and stir-frys, I discovered the cooking blog The Stone Soup and was blown away at the tastiness and ease of Jules Clancy’s five-ingredient recipes. Seriously—my flatmate thinks I’m a “chef” now but I just follow the directions and out pops dinner! Hands-down my favorite recipe I’ve made so far has been her “magic sausage supper” of roasted squash, red onions, and sausage.

Becoming a teacher

Apart from informally tutoring a good friend from Mongolia in college, I don’t have any teaching experience, so it has been an interesting month adjusting not only to the classroom but also to the Spanish classroom. For my language assistant gig here in Spain I’m basically a teacher’s assistant in the classes that are supposed to be taught in English. I help out by pronouncing vocabulary, asking simple questions or giving simple directions, and explaining American culture—mostly in English. The kids’ level of knowledge is pretty low, so if I break off from pronouncing vocab or if I give a presentation on Halloween, I have to fall back on Spanish a lot just to get the point across. And although the kids are crazy (out of their seats, never quiet), they’re so stinkin’ cute that it all evens out. I’m working with five-year-olds through fourth-graders in classes from science to music to English (but mainly science).

I started giving private English classes last week with a third-grade boy whose parents are from Castilla-La Mancha (to the north of here). He already speaks the local accent! Twice a week for an hour every afternoon, I go over to the house and help him with English homework, pronunciation, or American culture. Hopefully I can find a few more classes to give in the next few months for a little extra €€€.

Getting sick (and better!)

Capilla del Salvador, Úbeda, Spain
Holy Chapel of El Salvador, Úbeda

I knew it would happen eventually this season and…it did. I got my first sinus infection or sinusitis in Spain halfway through October. Thankfully, the program provides us with health insurance, so after first going to the doctor’s office, I was sent to an ENT doctor who prescribed antibiotics and Nasonex spray. I was pretty impressed with myself for being able to explain my symptoms, what I thought I had, and my medical history—all in Spanish.


As this month I’ve been trying just to get routines established and getting my feel for the town, I haven’t done much traveling. However, I have visited a few towns here and there:
  • Úbeda (duh—I live here, but I did take touristy pictures of the town)
  • Villanueva del Arzobispo (also, duh—I work here, but I also had to stay in a hotel there over a weekend)
  • Iznatoraf (super tiny city on a hill that I walked to from Villanueva del Arzobispo)
  • Jaén (provincial capital where I applied for residency and attended the program’s orientation)
  • Baeza (sister city to Úbeda with lots of Renaissance architecture)


I’ve probably enjoyed Halloween more this year—in Spain!—than I have ever since “growing up” and being “too old” to go trick-or-treating. I was floored when Carrefour (the local supermarket in town, the French equivalent of Walmart) started stocking big, orange, Halloween pumpkins. Evidently this is something new that has happened just within the past two years or so. Anyway, I thought it would be cool to try and cook one—bad idea. The flesh in carving pumpkins is flavorless and stringy, but it was a cool experience chopping it all up and seasoning it. One of my Spanish friends LOVED it, so I guess it didn’t turn out so bad.

This past Sunday, I invited three fellow language assistants over to the apartment for dinner and I cooked the aforementioned sausage supper with butternut squash and it was a delicious harvest-season meal that made everything feel like home for a little bit. Then I carved a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern and my Spanish flatmate was very impressed.

Teaching Halloween to ESL kids

At school, I toted around my jack-o’-lantern and gave a PowerPoint presentation on the holiday to most of my classes. On Wednesday, I dressed up as a student from Hogwarts (from the Harry Potter series), complete with wizard hat and red-and-gold tie. In my kindergarten class, the teacher happened to have a lighter on him, so we closed all the shutters and turned off the lights and lit up the jack-o’-lantern. It was magical, indeed! Many of the kids at school asked me “is the pumpkin real?!” and I was like, “yes, it is!”

Tomorrow I’m taking a weekend trip to Granada, the city of the Alhambra palace complex. Expect a brief post on the city and the next monthly update to come sometime in November.

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