Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Auxiliar Diaries: What to Expect

Before my auxiliar exchange I read a zillion blogs about every aspect of the experience. Some were helpful, and some were really not! So here's my guide on how to be an auxiliar in Spain, based on my experiences.


So it turns out, what I had envisaged for these last eight months of my life was pretty much nothing like what it turned out to be.  Maybe I missed the key points of everything I read, or maybe, true Spanish style, there was nothing of substance in what I read, so in some ways the program wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and in others Spain wasn't what I was expecting!  So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on things to expect in the auxiliar program here in Spain:

1. You're not the _English_ teacher...
I had, not unreasonably, kind of assumed I'd be assisting the teachers in the ESL classes - you know, teaching English.  What I did NOT realise is that these are bilingual schools, where classes are actually taught in English, and THAT's what you're expected to help with!  I never studied science past Year 10, so to find myself teaching Year 9 biology has been a bit confronting, to say the least.  History and Geography classes have been easier, since the teacher wants me to talk about the same time periods and phenomena as they occurred in and influenced Australia.  Anyway, be warned - you won't be explaining past participles in English class, you'll be explaining the pronunciation of 'glomerulus' to your science class.  Yes, I had to look that one up too.

2. The Spanish and organisation do not mix
There will be times when class will be cancelled, and the only way you will find out is by attending an empty classroom.  There will be times where the class will have an exam during your timeslot, and the only way you will find out is by walking into the middle of an exam.  There will be times where you walk into the classroom, the teacher pushes the textbook into your hands open to a particular page, and walks up the back of the room to wait for you to begin class.  Basically, there's no loop to be in here.  People will forget to tell you things, not think to tell you things, not really plan ahead where you're involved, and generally leave you wanting to strangle someone or something until you get used to essentially getting screwed over a lot.  Ask for a list of public holidays and school-free days, find out where the teacher's noticeboard is and learn to check it so you know who's on camp and when, and be prepared to smile and say, "Not a problem," when someone apologises for the general Spanish apathy making you look the fool yet again.  After four or five months you learn to just go with the flow and not get mad when things don't work right - the entire Spanish nation apparently runs on this principle, from what I've seen.

3. WorkChoices does not exist in Spain
Yes, we have a contract.  No, that contract is not much use.  Nothing is really spelled out clearly, so  exactly what our job entails is up for debate.  Supposedly we work 12 hours a week, and schools can allocate that time as they please, whether it be for classes, English tutoring sessions or meeting with teachers.  Theoretically our job also includes class prep.  Whether those 12 hours and that class prep intersect is one of the great unknowns.  In my case, I was given 12 hours of class, so anything else comes out of my own time.  Teachers also don't co-ordinate my classes with each other, so there have been weeks with no prep work whatsoever and then weeks with hours of reading and research to do.  Oh, and then there's my favourite - if you miss a single class through illness or other reasons, you're obliged to make it up, but the school can cancel any number of your classes with no warning and no such concessions are made to you!  Basically, be prepared to possibly be screwed over, and if you stand up for yourself, be prepared to potentially have your own contract used against you.

4. Not all teachers are created equal...
It's been one of the bigger revelations of the year for me, but there's a wide variety of teachers and teaching styles, and some are light years ahead of the rest.  The good teachers are a joy to work with, but be prepared for the less delightful teachers as well.  Some of the bilingual teachers 'don't speak' English, some can't or don't control their classes, leaving you standing awkwardly at the front of chaos, some teachers seem to think YOU're the teacher and THEY're the assistant and suddenly have no clue what they're doing once you're in the room.  There's really not a lot you can do - you can't really reform bad teachers, though you can try and insist on a modicum of preparation and advance warning from the teachers.  Otherwise, just don't be surprised when you suddenly find yourself in front of 30 noisy, rowdy teenagers with no teacher in sight.

So those are more or less the biggest surprises I had once I started classes!  Did anyone have their own "Oh..." moments once they started at their school?  First-years, any things you've been wondering about your transition from student to teacher?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

¿Mujer o hombre? Gender roles in Spain

From a sociological standpoint, Spain's quite interesting.  A conservative country with Catholicism deeply rooted in the culture, as evidenced by the plurality of my students called Inmaculada, Lourdes, Carmen del Corpus and Santiago, Spain was nonetheless the third country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage over 10 years ago, well in advance of 'progressive' Australia.

In that vein, it's interesting to see the differences in gender roles here in Spain.  Strictly speaking, the traditional gender roles don't exist - it's quite common for both Mum and Dad to work, since both are home for lunch with the kids anyway - but other aspects of gender are much more binary and entrenched than their counterparts in Australia.

The very first thing I noticed in Spain was pierced ears.  Every woman has her ears pierced.  But not just women.  Even little girls, some just months old, lie in their prams in pink rompers with gold earrings.  It's like some kind of conspiracy (and makes me extremely glad I was NOT born in Spain!)

The cutesy doesn't end there.  Young siblings are often dressed in small matching outfits, especially little girls.  Said outfits are also often extremely non-weather-appropriate (think dresses in winter) in favour of being very, very cutesy. There's usually lots of bows, pink and ruffles involved in these outfits.  Also hats, stockings, scarves and any other accessory that can be made cutesy and feminine.

The most exaggerated version of this is in the outfits for confirmation.  Spain being Catholic and all, making one's confirmation in church is still a big thing, and there are entire stores dedicated to clothing for the special day, and not just for little kids either.  While the gold-trimmed sailor outfits and pink-sashed tulle dresses are cute as a button, they're also very, VERY gender-specific, and very, very common.

On the other hand, men in Spain are far more affectionate than they are in Anglophone countries.  While men giving the traditional besitos (kisses on the cheeks) is not as common as between two women, men here hug, link arms, lie across each other, and generally do a whole slew of things that would be shouted down as "Gay!" in other countries.  I'm not just talking about grown men, either.  I see this all the time at the high school amongst teenagers, who in Australia are most notorious for being insecure in their masculinity and least likely to be physical or affectionate with one another.  So, I guess Spain's gender binary is not all bad.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Auxiliar Diaries: Getting Settled

Before my auxiliar exchange I read a zillion blogs about every aspect of the experience. Some were helpful, and some were really not! So here's my guide on how to be an auxiliar in Spain, based on my experiences.


Moving to a new country can be scary, and there's a lot of logistics to figure out in getting your new home set up. I found some things I did worked out really well for me, and others could have been better. Here's my tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

1. Plan to arrive early
The biggest favour you can do yourself as an auxiliar is to give yourself plenty of time between arriving in Spain and school starting.  Between submitting your residency paperwork, finding somewhere to live, organising utilities, phone, and internet, outfitting your new apartment and preparing for classes, all in Spanish, you're going to want a little legroom.  I arrived in Spain two weeks before classes began, so by October 1 I had the basics of living sorted and could focus on my classes. Do yourself a good deed and don't rock up two days beforehand - allow some time.

2. Find temporary accommodation close to your school
This is less crucial if you're in a major city, though it would still be advantageous to get to know the local neighbourhood and hopefully find a room or apartment in the area, but if you're in a rural area then get yourself out there ASAP. I booked into a hostel in Granada for a week at first, thinking there was nothing closer and I could commute to Baza as needed, but I could have saved myself a lot of money and travel time had I just gone straight to Baza, and the queues at all the services I needed were shorter in a small town anyway.

3. Go old-school house hunting
I did a lot of browsing of websites, looking for apartments to rent, and ultimately I'm not sure I ever viewed any of them. It's too easy to post an online ad and then forget about it for years afterward.  The best way to find places to rent, it turns out, is paper signs tacked around town. Yes, some are dodgy, but you get plenty of local options to choose from. I found my apartment on the door of the staffroom at my school, and it's a great place with awesome neighbours!

4. Use WhatsApp to communicate
I thought I'd be clever and buy a Spanish SIM card for calls and texts to arrange apartment viewings. Truthfully, I didn't need it, and it just delayed the process when I switched to my current provider. Just download WhatsApp, connect it to your home mobile number and run it off the WiFi in your hostel or hotel. Much simpler and easier. Then, once you're settled in, look into getting that Spanish SIM.

5. Get local advice before committing to anything
Prior to arriving, I had my future phone provider all sussed out, I'd looked into the Spanish banks, and done my research into the telcos for my Internet connection as well.  That went out the window when I arrived - my landlady recommended a local company to me, who were able to build a customised phone plan for me and bundle it in with my internet, giving me exactly what I wanted for half the price of the other companies.  So ask your landlord, your school co-ordinator, your neighbours, find out which banks have great staff at the local branch, which companies have the best deals, which shops have good stock or English-speaking staff. Locals know best.

6. Befriend your school co-ordinator quickly
The first day of school will be a lot less stressful the more prepared you are. Not only can the co-ordinator gives you the local low-down and maybe even hook you up with some apartments to rent, etc., but they're the one to talk to about maps of the school, class lists (my school had ones with photos which were really helpful, so ask for those) and introducing you to the other teachers before you rock up to the classroom.

So that's it, folks - things I think you should know about moving to Spain off the top of my head!  Auxiliars, any other gems of wisdom for the newbies?  Newbies, any other moving logistics freaking you out?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The pasos of Baza

So I said I wouldn't post any more about Semana Santa, but I do have SOOOO many photos, and I thought it might be fun to do a post just on the pasos that I saw in procesiones throughout the week.

Santa Cruz - the paso of the Holy Cross.  As the bearers carrying this paso carry it from underneath, they are known as costaleros.

Cristo de la Misericordia  - Christ of Mercy.  Because these bearers carry the paso on their shoulders, they are known as horquilleros.

Maria de la Soledad - Our Lady of Solitude.  Wish I'd gotten a front-on view of this paso, but this is a pretty cool pic as it is.

Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazaréno - Our Lord Jesus of Nazareth.  I don't have a photo from the other side, but it's a pretty cool paso of Jesus being whipped by the Romans...which is definitely sad, yes - but it was a cool paso!

Apparently I don't have a better picture of this one, but that's actually not a bad thing - this was not my favourite paso.  Ironically, it's Cristo del Amor, Christ of Love!

This one was lovely - Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza, Our Lady of Hope.

A very late procesión, so minimal photos - Cristo de los ndez, Christ of the Méndez.  I have no idea what that means, by the way.

The only daylight procesión - Cristo del Descendimiento, or Christ of the Descent from the Cross.

Our Lady of Sorrows - one of two pasos and procesiones for this imágen.

A poor photo, but this one was interesting - Santo Sepulcro, the Holy Sepulchre.  A large, gilt coffin with a slightly-smaller-than-lifesize Jesus inside.

Nuestra Sora de los Dolores - again, Our Lady of Sorrows.  Like the preceding procesión, this one was totally silent.

Perhaps the most interesting, and probably my favourite - Cristo Resucitado, Christ of the Resurrection.  This was the children's procesión, which was why I liked it so much.

This is from a procesión I didn't see, but this is Jesús en Jerusalé(Jesús de la Paz) - aka Jesus in Jerusalem or Jesus of Peace.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Semana Santa in España

Spain's definitely a Catholic country.  You can tell every Sunday when all the people in town disappear to go to church.  You can tell when the biggest thing in town IS a church.  It stands to reason, therefore, that the biggest celebrations of the year would be the Catholic holidays - Christmas and Easter.  Well, I wrote about La Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos here in Baza last January, but that was nothing on the week that is Semana Santa - the death and resurrection of God's son, Jesus Christ.

The chief method of worship during Semana Santa, sometimes referred to in English as 'Holy Week', is the procesiones.  There were 11 of these during Baza over eight days, but larger cities like Seville can have as many as 60, sometimes going all night.  A procesión is basically a religious parade put on by one or multiple brotherhoods, paying homage to the central figure of that brotherhood.

To explain brotherhoods: here in Spain, you don't just worship Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary - who, by the way, is even bit as big a deal as her son is, around here.  People also worship different aspects of the Virgin or Christ or those two figures at different points in the Bible story, known as imagenes - for example, there's Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Hope, Christ of Love, Christ of the Resurrection, Christ of the Mendez (don't ask me about that last one, I have no idea).  People who are devotees of a particular imagen pay their yearly dues to the brotherhood to receive the newsletter, yearbook and medal of the imagen, and those devotees make up most of the people in each procesión (apparently you can pay a fee to participate if you're not a member but still want to join in).

Anyway, different brotherhoods will organise a procesión for their imagen, centred around a float depicting that imagen, known as a paso.  There's a fairly consistent structure for a procesión.  At the front will be a penitente, a penitent devotee of the brotherhood, garbed in the flowing cloak and pointed capirote hat that we've all seen on TV and mistaken for the KKK, carrying a large ornate metal cross.
Following them will be a series of children, clad in the same robes but bare-headed, often carrying a series of small crosses roped together in a string, and passing out lollies to children in the crowd.  
Behind the children come the rest of the adult penitentes, wearing the pointed capirotes and carrying tall candles.

Each brotherhood has a different pair of colours represented in their capes, capirotes and belts or sashes.

The final penitente carries an ornate book that I believe has to do with their imagen.
Next are a set of female penitentes known as manolas, ranging in age from about 4 to 70, dressed all in black dresses or skirts, and with a long black lace mantilla flowing from a headpiece down to their ankles, who symbolically share the sorrow of the Virgin at the death of her son Jesus.  

My friend Blanca as a manola
Next there are often some dignitaries or senior members of the brotherhood, dressed formally in suits and with their brotherhood medals hanging prominently around their necks.  
Behind them come a group of altar boys and girls, some carrying wicker baskets and others carrying censers of burning incense to 'purify' the path of the paso.  
Finally, the main point of the procesión, a large wooden or gilded 'float' called a paso with some depiction of Jesus or Mary, elaborately carved and garbed and surrounded by fresh flowers.  This is carried on the shoulders of 30 or 40 of the burliest men in the brotherhood, who are very well-rehearsed at marching in slow unison.  

Bringing up the rear of the procesión is the band, a different one for each procesiónwhich plays on and off throughout the procession and whose drummers play continuously to set the marching pace for the paso-bearers.

Of course, not every procesión is identical.  One featured a barefoot penitente marching behind the paso, carrying a large wooden cross.

Others featured female penitentes behind the paso with chains around their ankles dragging behind them.
The procesión of Our Lady of Hope (Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza) fired hundreds of flower petals over the crowd.  Perhaps the most interesting was the procesión of the Cristo Resucitado - the Resurrected Christ, a much smaller paso that was carried entirely by children, and preceded by the young penitentes of every other procesión held throughout the week.
The other interesting phenomenon that I saw twice occurred when two different pasos, one of Mary and one of Jesus, were both in procesiones at the same time, sometimes in the same procesión.  One of the pasos would turn to face the other, then, in a sign of respect, the bearers of the paso featuring Jesus would lift the paso above their heads with both hands.  It was both cool and surreal at the same time.
The light on the church wall is the front candle on the Jesus paso
I would love to post a hundred more photos of Semana Santa - I honestly took about 500 - but I don't have a spare week to go through them all! 

The best part of the week for me was that I had students in almost every single procesión, which made it very personal for me - though since at least some of those students were wearing capirotes, I have no idea who they were!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Auxiliar Diaries: What To Pack

Before my auxiliar exchange I read a zillion blogs about every aspect of the experience. Some were helpful, and some were really not! So here's my guide on how to be an auxiliar in Spain, based on my experiences.


One of the many things I read about before arriving was how to pack for your year (well, eight months) in Spain, and it all seemed like very sage advice. The result? I got to my new home and went, "What on EARTH was I thinking and why haven't I brought ANYTHING useful??" So - how to pack for Spain according to me...

First things first, it must be noted that I spent six weeks elsewhere in Europe before I actually moseyed on over to Spain, so my packing list was going to be a bit different anyway. I had one small backpack for carry-on, one large backpack as checked baggage and my suitcase. The suitcase, eventually, was shipped to Spain from my arrival point in Europe (well, almost, but that's a whole 'nother story!) and I simply carried my two backpacks around.
First rule of thumb: use all your baggage. The blogs I read all said to pack light, which seemed smart, except that I packed so light that I only had one pair of jeans and all the summer dresses I'd brought for August in Italy, and I can tell you those are less useful in December in Spain. So - if you have the room, use it. Sure, leave a little room for souvenirs coming home, but clothes will wear out and get left behind, and I also brought some presents for people I'd meet in Spain which will leave space in my suitcase on the return trip. As it stands, thanks to my light packing, I left a full wardrobe back in Australia and am paying for a whole new one because I was too stupid to put any of it in my suitcase.
Second rule, in conjunction with the above: if you've got it and you'll wear it, bring it. Since a lot of my clothes needed replacing around the time I left, I figured I'd save myself the luggage space and do my shopping here in Spain, since I'd heard the sales were great. That may be true in the big cities, but in Baza it took me months to find jeans in my size - in fact, I found them in Granada. It would have saved me a lot of time, money and stress to do a shopping trip before I left and bring it all with me. Plus, doing your shopping at home gives you a better idea of your overseas budget instead of blowing it all on clothes as soon as you arrive.

Third rule: pack whole outfits. Bring the tights or leggings you wear with that dress, include the white tank you need with that shirt, pack the belt that stops your jeans from falling down. Otherwise you've just got an outfit you can't wear, which is a waste of the aforementioned luggage space, or more shopping to do - see above note about buying a whole new wardrobe. Also remember that you'll be around mostly for the colder winter months, so do pack your winter wooolies. Gloves, a beanie and two scarves won't take up as much space as you think, and there's another 50€ you don't have to spend replacing things you already have.
Lastly, if there's something you particularly love from home, bring it. Dressing gowns aren't exactly a top packing priority, but since I practically live in mine, I consider it crucial to my mental health. I was also sad when I realised I'd left my entire scarf collection behind - since I accessorise almost every outfit with one, AND they're useful in winter, it would have been helpful to pack a few.

Helpful extra tip: don't forget little things like delicates bags, ladies, which will help you in the long run by extending your bra's shelf life, or local products you use a lot and can't get overseas, like eucalyptus oil, which is my go-to remedy for a blocked nose.

So, that's my packing list for Spain! Auxiliars, any things you wish you had or hadn't packed? Future auxiliars, any things you're not sure if you should or shouldn't bring?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

It's Time

One of the interesting things about moving to another country is ferreting out all quirks that make their culture THEIR culture and different to everyone else's culture - what makes them them, so to speak.  Spain has a surprising number for a country that's supposedly so closely allied, linguistically at least, to the rest of Western Europe.  I'll save most of them for another time, though.  There's plenty of it here; Spain has the weirdest relationship with time I've ever seen.

To begin with, they've completely restructured their days in a fashion that makes every other country in the world look at them askance.  The day here begins at 8:15am - that's when school starts.  Government offices and services like the bank and post office open at 8:30am, and business follow suit from then until about 10am.  For a country with a reputation for late nights, they sure are up and at 'em earlier than any country I know.

The really quirky part kicks in at 2pm.  Every business closes, every government bureau shuts, and they all go home for the Spanish seista.  Wandering around Baza in the early afternoon is like being in a ghost town.  I think of it as 'the twilight zone' - the weird, dead period of time between morning and afternoon (yes, 'morning' in Spain seems to cover the period right up until early afternoon, while tarde goes from 5pm up til 9 or 10pm, and in between 'mañana' and 'tarde' is simply 'siesta').  There's absolutely no-one in the streets - that is, until 2:45pm, when the high schools let out for the day.  These kids haven't eaten since their bocadillo sandwich in their half-hour morning break, because the Spanish won't even consider eating lunch before 2pm.  The kids all hurry home and families enjoy a nice, leisurely midday meal together.

Most shops open again after lunch at 5pm.  The true running of the bulls in Spain is the sudden appearance of the entire local population as soon as siesta ends.  It's like they're released from some invisible pen somewhere and spill onto the streets, eager to spend money, greet friends, run errands, eat and drink a lot, or simply mingle with no-one and everyone in particular.  If you go for a walk around 7pm, there's more happening than the rest of the day combined.  This does have its advantages.  For those, like teachers, who work in the morning, they still have plenty of time in the afternoon to buy the groceries, pop in and pay the phone bill, or even just do a little clothes shopping (though it's not so helpful if you need to go to the post office!)  Dinner is anywhere from 8pm to midnight.  I still can't get my head around how this country can leave the lights on til 12am and still get kids out of bed earlier than every other country.  Do they pour coffee down their ears or something?

What's even more interesting is that this entire work week is built around seista, which is an old Spanish tradition not born of laziness but of the desire for a leisurely familial midday meal each day, and even though it's no longer really practical to pop home for three hours midday to eat, the custom persists.  Believe me when I say, these guys can really take their time over a meal.  These days, in a larger city, it's not too hard to find places that are open all afternoon, but in a small town like Baza, family is still important.

Saturdays and Sundays are a law unto themselves.  All the shops, though not the services, are open Saturday mornings and, especially when it's sunny, there's this lovely convivial atmosphere as you wander round town, getting brunch with friends, window-shopping or running errands.  Then at 2pm everything shuts up tight as a clam again.  No Saturday night fever round here!  Sundays are apparently a family day around here, though I can't vouch for that, because you pretty much don't see anyone on Sundays.  I go out walking or bike riding most weekends, and I have wondered on occasion if a bio-weapon has wiped out Baza and I'm the last human on earth.  No, really.  Everything's so quiet!

This relaxed familiarity around time has led to other cultural traits as well.  My yoga teacher has taken to locking the studio door when classes start in an attempt to train her students to arrive on time (the Spaniards are also terribly disorganised as well as frequently late, but that's another story).  In fact, coming home from Granada last weekend, my bus, another bus, a couple of cars and half a dozen taxis were held up for a good quarter-hour when an old woman who just missed our bus waylaid us just outside the station and sat down in the middle of the road in front of the bus when the driver refused to let her on.  Talk about local colour!