Talking to Strangers

6 Oct

Well folks, I have made it through my first full week of teaching. High fives all around. To offer some clarification on what I am actually doing, I am working as a Teaching Assistant at IE University. So, in this role I teach an advanced conversation workshop for university staff and also serve as a writing tutor for pretty much any student who wants my help. As you might imagine, my workload is pretty light this time of year. Most students are not thinking about their essays, let alone seeking help for them. But, my conversation classes have kept me on my toes. After all, my students have been working all day and then are voluntarily sitting through a class. So, I have to keep it fun, interesting, and relevant. Naturally, as a former Orientation Leader, I have already made my students participate in a “Speed dating” icebreaker. I’m going to tell myself that they enjoyed it.

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Some gelato to celebrate making it through my first week (not to worry, I’m still working on my food photography)

Two days a week I get to travel to Segovia (a town about an hour or so outside of Madrid). It’s famous for its still intact Roman aqueduct. And the university campus is in an old monastery. The history nerd in me is in heaven.

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The university’s main entrance

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Just some views

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More #views

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Fall is coming!

On my commute I get to take a high speed train. Talk about fun. They have these monitors that show how fast the train is going and I kept taking pictures thinking that the train wouldn’t go any faster. The maximum speed it reached was 155 miles per hour. Very cool. I think that trains are my new favorite way to travel because they are pretty fast and comfortable; like an airplane without the potential to fall to your death.

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In case you needed proof

While the commute can feel like a bit of a grind (2 metros, a train, a bus, and some walking), it has also become a source of great fun for me. Why, you ask? Because I have become quite good at talking to strangers. It happened that I watched a TED Talk last week about the benefits of talking to strangers. Then, on that same day I took my first trip to Segovia. It turns out that many tourists use the train to take day trips to Segovia or to travel elsewhere in Spain. I happened to wind up sitting across from some American tourists on the bus and decided to start a conversation. Okay, fine, I did not end up across from them on the bus randomly. Maybe I heard them speaking English in the train station and wanted to know a bit more about them so I chose to sit across from them. They were a lovely California couple who decided to stray off of the beaten path and explore Segovia for a few days. It was a great conversation. Huge shout-out to Mike and Joanne who really made my morning. I also met a friendly Alabama hiker on her way to hike the famed Camino trail.

It has become my new favorite game to see which American tourist I can befriend on my commute. I get great joy out of this, because I just love American tourists. No matter where I am, if I hear someone speaking American English, my head whips around to see who the person is. And then, as I watch creepily from a distance, I can’t help but wonder what their story is: Where are they from? Why are they in Spain? etc. I recognize that this makes me seem totally creepy, but there’s something about being abroad and facing a new way of life that just makes me feel very connected to other Americans. It is so familiar and comforting. It’s also funny that one of the first questions that they ask me is “Oh, are you here with your parents?” And I’m like, “lol, no. Just me, flying solo in Madrid.” Stay tuned for more of my interactions with American tourists.

Besides for my travels to Segovia and work as a TA, I’ve been finally getting adjusting to actually living in Spain. I’m doing real people things: cooking, cleaning, packing my lunch every day. It made me feel like I was in high school again, as I diligently packed a sandwich, an apple, and some cookies for my midday meal. The experience of living on my own has been eye-opening. I learned that being a person grocery shopping and cooking for yourself can be challenging. I now have to eat the end pieces of bread (I paid for it, so I can’t justify wasting it) and when I buy yogurt that turns out to taste atrocious, I still have to eat all 6 of them. (Side note: plain yogurt is actually revolting.) I finally finished my last one, so hallelujah. And, even though I consider myself a pretty solid cook, I somehow managed to melt a spatula during the first time that I cooked myself dinner in my new apartment. Stove = 1, Rebecca = 0. Adulting is really tough sometimes.

I managed to do laundry in Spain for the first time. The machines are set up differently, which I found quite confusing. My roommate did explain it to me, but I was a little overwhelmed at the time, so I didn’t really comprehend what he was saying. So, as a true millennial, instead of asking for his assistance, I just Googled the machine and read the instruction manual. It worked, although I was pretty worried for a while about flooding the apartment because the machine re-filled and emptied so many times. This one was definitely a win for me. What has not been a win so far has been figuring out my apartment door. There is really something about Spanish doors! Remember my struggles from 3 years ago? I had to be rescued by my poor roommate after midnight one day when I couldn’t get the door open. Talk about embarrassing. Not to worry, I have practiced since then and have been successful.

I also had a chance to visit Toledo two weekends ago. Toledo is a smaller city about 45 minutes outside of Madrid. It is very pretty and historic. I actually went there when I studied abroad three years ago, but I had to go back for two reasons: a) they just installed a zip-line over the river which I obviously needed to test out and b) there is a great panoramic view of the city that I wanted a picture in front of because my picture from three years ago isn’t the best. It’s actually so bad that I didn’t post it three years ago and I won’t post it now. Clearly, important reasons why I needed to travel back to the Toledo.

Zip lining was so much fun. And, as a student, you get to go twice. This makes it better because I might have been a little bit scared of dying the first time, while the fear subsided by the second time. The views were incredible. I would honestly go back just to do that again. And, it was a beautiful Saturday, so I enjoyed walking through the quaint streets and taking in the beautiful buildings and culture.

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Found some penguins in Toledo

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Could not pass up an opportunity to model this divine harness

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Clearly cheesin’ WAY to hard

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Inside of an old synagogue

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A view of the city

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More rivers and skies

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I won’t tell you how many takes it took to get this pic

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Just thought this entrance to the city looked pretty cool

But, my eventful Saturday did not end in Toledo. Guess who went clubbing? If you do a quick flashback back to my posts from September 2013 (or if you know me at all), you will know that going out, especially to a club, is not really my scene. I tried to be open minded about the experience: this is Spain, going to clubs is what they do, I have to take in the culture etc., but my opinion did not change. It was too crowded, too loud, and there was too much touching. See, I am totally comfortable talking to strangers in well-lit, safe places, but am not cool with being in cramped quarters where every time you move you touch someone or they touch you. Not to mention the seemingly middle-aged men who stood around the dance floor and watched.  I only wish that I had a picture to show you of what my face must’ve looked like while in the club.

I decided to leave around 3:15am, and let’s just say that my first run in Madrid happened to be me running down my street at 3:30am. I did manage to get the apartment door open on the first try, so that was a plus. The one benefit of being out so late was the steps on my Fitbit. I already had over 4,000 steps by the time that I woke up on Sunday morning. So yes, now that I have had this marvelous cultural experience, I imagine I will be sticking to places that are a little less crowded and a little quieter. I’m practically a grandma; I have accepted it.

But, that’s really it from this side of the Atlantic. Just teaching, eating, trying to experience the city little by little, and learning more about myself and Spanish culture. I hope you all are having a lovely day back home. Enjoy the fall weather for me!

 

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