Getting Oriented

8 Sep

Fulbright 2016 Orientation in Madrid began on Monday. There were so many of us grantees (126 in Spain and Andorra) that we took over any space we were in all week, from bars, to the hotel, and the street. As many presenters pointed out, we had a very ‘warm’ welcome to Madrid this year, as it was over 100 degrees for the last few days. (I still have to convert all temperatures to Fahrenheit because Celsius really means nothing to me.)

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Look Ma, I made it!

Before orientation, I decided to accomplish another fun logistical task: opening a bank account. Before this experience, I have never realized how much work goes into being an adult: cell phone plans, bank accounts, apartments, oh my! (Good thing I still have three more years of school ahead of me before I have to do this again). Opening this account was by far the slowest experience of my life. It was made worse by the fact that I had an appointment to see an apartment very shortly after and I didn’t want to be late. It took over an hour to get an account and I still have to go back in a few days to get my debit card. Think about the worst DMV you have ever been to, imagine it being 12 times slower, and that was the service at the bank. I just have to shed my Type-A American ways and learn to appreciate the calmer pace of life in Spain. But, I am pretty sure that the woman was IM’ing someone while I was there because I saw her use an emoji on her computer and my bank account number doesn’t have an emoji in it. I at least hope that she was having a nice conversation! She also tried to sell my friend and I some type of insurance, saying it was necessary in order to open a bank account. We politely turned her down.

To make matters worse, a landlord called me while I was in the middle of setting up the account. Just imagine me being nervous about seeing the apartment on time, attempting to understand the bank teller who is speaking rapidly in Spanish, and talking to a crazy woman on the phone all at the same time. It was supremely overwhelming. I had one of those moments where all I could think was that I am totally in over my head. But, I finished the conversation without having a heart attack, opened the account, and made it to my apartment visit only like 20 minutes late. And in Spain time that is practically on time.

Once I had a bank account, the three days of orientation were a lot of fun and very informative! It was nice to take my mind off of the piso search for a few days (I didn’t even allow myself to look at the new listings that were posted) and be really engaged with my peers. We even did ice breakers, which really satisfied the Orientation Leader in me. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other over meals and between sessions. It was basically like networking 24/7, and it was very interesting to hear about the different backgrounds and experiences of my fellow grantees.

What’s funny is that every time I introduce myself to someone new I have to explain the position that I hold. I am the only teaching assistant at a university, so many of the other Fulbrighters don’t know that this position exists. Some of them described me as “the one teaching at the university,” but I prefer to think of myself as the “chosen one.” (Haha). I know that my experience will be a little different than that of the other ETAs, as my position has different expectations and responsibilities, but I am excited to see what the year brings.

The best parts of orientation were the nightly gatherings where we mixed, mingled, and consumed delicious food. They treated us like kings this week, and considering that I will be cooking for myself for the next 9 months, this was greatly appreciated. At these receptions, there were open bars and the waiters were very kind to ensure that we all had enough to eat and drink. I even tried some octopus and caviar appetizers. Talk about living on the edge.

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Easily one of the best desserts I have ever eaten

But I promise I did get more out of orientation than just enjoyment of the food! We had sessions on things ranging from living in Spain, to all of our grant logistics and learning strategies for teaching. I’ve started to think about the kinds of activities that my adult students will like to do and topics that I can start conversations on. (If you have any suggestions, send them my way!) We learned about a lot of great ways to volunteer in Madrid, which I want to do because I only work about 16 hours a week. I am hoping to work with a group that helps Spanish students improve their applications to American universities. (It seems that opportunities to read essays follow me where ever I go).

Last night was the famed garden party, where all of the grantees, members of the Commission, embassy representatives, and other officials all hang out in a garden to celebrate the beginning of our year. I had the chance to talk to the head of the Spanish Fulbright Commission when he joined the group of people I was chatting with. He asked us all a question, and true to form, I misunderstood his question in Spanish, and answered it incorrectly. Oops. Always making a good first impression… I’ll do better next time!

There will be another garden party in June and I think it will be fun to see the parallels between the beginning and end of the grant. So, these pictures will serve as the before pictures, and you will just have to wait until June for the after.

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Jersey girls take España

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The before pic

Now that orientation is over, reality is setting in. It feels like the night before the first day of school: summer is ending and you have no idea what the year is going to bring. I start work on September 15th, giving me a week to get all of my ducks in a row. It’s crazy to think how fast the last week has gone by and I imagine the next ones will be the same. Once I get settled I can’t wait to begin exploring Madrid, Spain, and the rest of Europe and  (hopefully) having some fun(ny) experiences that I can share with you all!

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