“Alright then, have fun with your art hangover,” Lindsay said before hanging up the phone. I took a deep breath, shutting off my phone and rereading my notes about Tuscany. I was traveling by myself to northern Italy, the result of a cheap flight and the overwhelming need to escape Sevilla.

Erin said she left her heart there. Jessica suggested I eat rather than go see the sites. Irene told me it was the only place other than Sevilla she could live in. Needless to say, I was excited but nervous to be traveling by myself for the first time. But things were researched, reservations and couchsurfing appointments double-checked. I could leave feeling confident I’d squeeze as much into my quick trip as possible with as little money spent.

And then I nearly missed the bus to the airport. I think I was stalling because I was having that nervous feeling in my stomach, the one you have before getting dumped. I arrived to the bus stop just minutes before it left, sweating after running the last few blocks with my rolly suitcase.

two hours later, boarded on a Ryan Air flight, Sevilla dropped from view and I began to think again about traveling all by myself. I started getting that feeling again, but before long I was asleep. When I came back to consciousness, we were over the ocean, about to land. I searched in earnest for the Leaning Tower of Pisa but didn’t see it.

One thing I hate about traveling alone to a location is leaving the gangplank and knowing no one is going to greet me on the other side of the doors. But since I was surfing, I expect the Italian Stallion who’d accepted my couch request to be waiting for me. Perhaps with a sign. There was a whole mess of people. I wandered around with my pathetic (and now breaking) suitcase but didn’t see anyone remotely close to Salvatore’s profile picture. I did the awkward blind date thing as the crowd thinned out. “Salvatore?” was answered with blank stares, shrugs and people moving away from me – fast.

Surprisingly, I didn’t freak out per normal Cat behavior. I dug some coins out of my purse, only to find the machine didn’t accept coins. I began to stress out, but mostly because I’d have to use my cell phone. As I dialed my host’s number, I heard my name.

“Cat, where were you? I’ve been here twice to look for you! It was Salvatore, taller than I imagined and totally Italian – slicked, dark hair, expensive-looking leather shoes and a mini-Mafia man (as it turns out, he’s from the south!). He walked my bag to the car and we set off.

Like any good host, he showed me around the small city of 100,000. We parked his car next to the river Arno and walked over the river in the shadows of bell towers and arcaded sidewalks. It had rained earlier that day, so the pavement shone. Salvatore and I got on well – we talked about travel and CS and anything that came to mind. We walked past half a dozen old churches, the university and finally ended up at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

It was well past midnight, so the whole Campo de Miracoli was silent, save a few bikers who zipped past. Seeing the tower this way, so silent and lit up, was quite wonderful. It was a bit smaller than I expected, but peering down the foundation and seeing the 3 degree lean was cool. It was one of those moments where you’re witnessing something incredible or fulfilling and it stays etched in your memory forever. We stood back and saw the baptistry, the church and the tower all at once.

It was now past 1am, the time when bars in Pisa stop serving on the weekdays (this would NEVER fly in Espana!). Salvatore and I crossed the river once more to one of the main shopping streets, Rossa Italia I think it was called, and he managed to talk a bartender to serve us a bottle of beer. We cheered in our respective languages, drawing several puzzled looks. After getting the car, we flew through the town at breakneck speed and to his large apartment just a block from the train station.

His room was about as large as my flat, and I was to sleep on a pullout couch. There was no flirting or anything, so I felt safe knowing I wouldn’t wake up to him next to me! He introduced me to Italian TV, which seems as awful as Spanish TV, and taught me a few words in Italian. The word endings confuse me, as they change for male and female, as well as if it’s in the past tense. Whew. We shut off the lights at about 2:30 and I was right to sleep.

The next morning, Salvatore passed me along to his roommate, Salvo, who demanded I sign a huge map with signature and notes from other guests. I decided to mark my place as Chicago, mostly because there wasn’t enough space near Sevilla. Salvo offered me coffee and pastries, but I wanted to eat something in town, which would undoubtedly be more appetizing than a wrapped anything.

The hunt was on for a cappuccino and a pastry, but my hungry stomach led me to the first place I saw (though I was tempted to get gelato at 9am). I asked for a huge chocolate-filled croissant and a coffee, but only the treat came. I drank in the atmosphere instead: people plunked down a year, received a hot espresso and slammed it down. Two teenagers sat playing footsie under the table next to me while the girl ate a pastry and the boy read the paper. A group of young tourists came in, eyes wide looking at the variety of pastries available in the case.

I moved on, noticing the beggars on every corner that I hadn’t seen last night. The city wasn’t as enchanting during the gray day, but the colors somehow seemed more vivid – burnt oranges, cheery yellows and pale pinks. The marble still shone around churches and the university, and afterthought of the rainy night. I passed gelateria after pizzaria after souvenir shop, all selling magnets of the David and replicas of the Tower. I bought my postcards, as I do in nearly every new city I visit, and walked to the Tower, nearly getting clipped by bikes and envying all the people whose coffees actually arrived. I mainly stayed on the streets we’d traveled last night, just veering off slightly to browse a neighborhood market and quickly retreat upon smelling the nastiest fish stall ever (even Spain in the sweltering summer months isn’t so rank).

The tower was thankfully still standing that day, since I hadn’t bothered to take any pictures the night before. The whole base of the tower was ringed with people taking pictures of themselves leaning or holding the building up or whatever. I concentrated on memorizing every single shape of the tower – the arched windows at the top, the diamonds etched in gray marble closer to the base.

“OH MY GOD I can’t believe this!” My ear is naturally trained to listen for English, so I whirled around and saw a woman shielding her eyes as if the thing had just gone up in flames. “Am I actually here?” I offered to pinch her and she just giggled. Turns out she’s in England by way of Atlanta and visiting Tuscany with her husband. She had lost him, and I was alone, so we walked around the Duomo church right in front of the tower. Made of white marble, it has an intricately carved wooden door depicting famous scenes from the life of Jesus. Around the opposite side, the facade is also decorated in painted marble with thick grey lines wrapping around the front and several matching colonnades, identical to those ringing the tower. The baptistery, to the front, is older than the tower but not so interesting. I met a group of six older Spaniards from Cordoba who graciously took my picture and told me I did a great impression of Spanish pueblo talk. I said goodbye to the woman, who had found her husband, and set off towards the train station, dragging my little suitcase behind me.

To avoid supreme humiliation because I don’t speak much Italian, I used an electronic ticketing machine to buy my way to Florence. The phone card I bought to call my next host did absolutely no good in serving it’s purpose, so I hoped I’d be able to find a place to stay in Florence. Shrugging, I set off.

The train was delayed a bit, so I had a look at the vending machine. Such things are curious from country to country, and I was not the least bit surprised to see cheese and crackers for sale. Curious, I bought a pack and fell in love with cheese, albeit refrigerated and package, yet again. The train was crammed, but I was lucky enough to get a window seat, perfect for a bit of journaling and watching the countryside. Sadly, Tuscany was not as romantic as I imagined it would have been until about 45 minutes into the trip. There were no hills crowned with crumbling monasteries, no oddly shaped trees, no red-tiled roofs. It seems the railroad tracks pass forlorn little villages and industrial parks. It was certainly no preview as to what would come in Firenze.

An hour later, I had arrived at Santa Maria Novella, the central train station in Florence. The place was HUGE, and I couldn’t find a payphone anywhere amidst all of the commuters rushing to their trains or out the door. I mimicked a phone sign to a nearby police officer, and he pointed me in the right direction. fumbling with all of my bags, the phone card, my notebook with Danielle’s number and the phone itself, I was able to punch in the numbers, understand enough Italian to correctly use the card. A voice answered in Italian.

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (long pause while I gathered my thoughts), Danielle?”

“CAT! HI! I didn’t know if you were coming!” She then explained she’d be gone for another hour but I assured her I had gelato to eat and no problem dragging my suitcase along with me a bit longer. And I set off, stopping first to admire Santa Maria Novella, one of the oldest and most important churches in Florence. It was here I got to see the colored marble facade that characterized many Florentine churches, complete with similar arches and a high stone spire. Walking through the plaza and onto Via Sant’Antonio, I ran into a street market. Not a cool one, but those that are geared towards tourists with fake Gucci bags, leather belts and tee shirts. I tripped over the uneven cobblestone several times, at last bursting into the Piazza del Mercati Central.

Danielle lived right up the street, just above a small hotel. I continued my way along the streets, in search of a place with an endless array of gelato, perfectly whipped with added garnish. I got so hungry, I just stopped in the next place I saw. The man served me pistachio, and I took the cone to go. Less than a block later, I was standing in front of the Duomo, wide-eyed and suddenly suffering from a headache, not sure if it was induced by the quick consumption of the ice cream or the incredibly stunning facade of the Duomo.

Danielle greeted me at the top of a long flight of stairs that nearly killed me. Her dog, Rosalita wandered out and jumped all over me. An oversized and overly agile French bulldog, I immediately took to her and succumbed to her many kisses. When I emerged several minutes later (dude, that dog is STRONG), I could finally meet Danielle face-to-face, albeit covered in dog spit.

Her long hair in braids and looking extremely Italian in brown boots and a long wrap dress, she showed me around her loft and we talked about travel, her job and mine. She´s working for a company that specializes in placing young people in internships around Florence. I watched as she ate something delicious looking, and realized I was spending time talking to her and not eating or seeing any of Florence. She gave me her keys (with a Packers key ring, this was destiny!) and I set off, 10 kilos lighter without my suitcase.

Despite the weather forecast predicting steady showers, the weather cooperated magnificently. I first walked back to the Duomo. The outside was a creamy white marble laced with pearly pinks and greens, flanked by statues and reliefs. The inside was cavernous, but bare. I guess I missed some major works of art, but after spending over a year of my life in Europe, all churches and seminaries and even castles are starting to look the same. At Danielle’s suggestion, I climbed the bell tower. Following a group of Spaniards up, I painstakingly scaled the 400-plus stairs. The first flight allowed for a spectacular view over the plaza and eye-level with the rooftops. When I finally reached the fourth and final level, my legs were quivering and I felt dizzy. The fresh air hit me, and I was rewarded with a superb view of the red-tiled dome and roofs of the buildings.

From the top, I spotted a huge, stately plaza. Locating it on the map I hurried down the stairs (HORRIBLE idea, as my legs were throbbing by the time I had traversed the 400-plus steps again) and set off towards Piazza della Republica. The yellow government buildings are ringed with pijo-looking cafes and souvenir kiosks. Continuing on, I ran headfirst into another large plaza.

Staring up at Palazzo Vecchio, I have to say I was less than impressed. The boxy building is uniform except for the illogically placed, off-centered bell tower, adorned with a clock. Near the top of the building, there are crests of lions, the fleur-de-lis and shields. A humongous replica of the David joins another statue next to the doors of the palace, and immediately opposite is a whole mess of other marble statues under an awning. It’s quite odd, as is the fountain of Triton on the opposite side, with green statues distorted into grotesque positions of pain. Odd.

My stomach was quite angry with me, so I had to sit and eat and rest a bit. By now, my feet and lower back were in more pain with each step. I considered getting gelato, but remember Jessica’s suggestion to eat my way through the city. I stopped in a small, self-service pasta shop and pointed to the one that looked the best. The woman said, “Mmmm, Salmon. Very good.” And I crinkled my nose and she scooped it back into the vat of salmon pasta and suggested the mushroom and cream pasta. It was 8E, but I sucked it up since I was close to the sights. I added a coke and the total was magically 13E. UGH. And it was sub par. I could have made a better one at home, so you know it was that bad.

Fighting off my usual siesta urges, I continued on to Ponte Vecchio and was suddenly there without realizing it. I had been studying the curved of arches in buildings along Via Calizana and the statues of long-dead poets when I nearly ran into a wall bearing the name “PONTE VECCHIO” It was here that the first bridge over the River Arno was built, once lined with butcher shops. Because of the immense weight, the Medici family demanded the butchers pack up their knives and jewelry dealers moved in. I peered in the shop windows at the gorgeous coral necklaces, the diamond brooches and decided I wanted to be proposed to on this bridge, and then pick out my ring at one of the shops. The view of the river and the pumpkin orange buildings against the grey of the clouds was stunning. Green shutters closed off the windows on all of the huts coupled together over the river.

It was a short jaunt through an arcaded tunnel to Gallerias Uffizi, an impressive art museum. I stood in line for 20 minutes, tapping my foot and wishing for a book, before I couldn’t take it any longer. I’d have to come back the next day. Nancy suggested Santa Croce church to me, so I walked along the Arno quickly, realizing I had just three hours before the sights closed. The plaza was full of pigeons, but not many people. I stopped to watch a small puppet show. There were 3-foot-tall clowns, Ray Charles at a piano and some other characters. I snuck around the back and watched the puppeteer commandeer their creations, laughing with one another and swaying their hips. Closer to the door of the church, a black piano was plunking out what I guessed was a folk dance. Three people were dancing to the music, clapping and doing a coordinated dance. They weren’t selling CDs and didn’t have a hat set out for donations.

Santa Croce wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, mostly because it was under construction. Reputed ot be a bit like Westminster Abbey, the church floor is covered in gravestones and frescoes cover nearly the whole ceiling, including in all of the private chapels. Gallileo and Michaelangelo’s tombs occupy part of the thick stone walls. Not really worth the money I paid to get in.

Brandon suggested I go to the Medicci palace, the huge square fortress where I’d had lunch. The building is now used as part of their city hall and hold large receptions and conferences. There wasn’t any furniture in the whole place, but the decoration was intricate and full of color. One room was blue with navy fleur-de-lis patterns all over the walls. Again, not really worth it, and I would have much rather enjoyed a trip to Uffizzi or Pitti Palace.

Lindsay suggested a restaurant to me that she eats at every time she’s in Florence, but I decided instead to get two scoops of gelato – huge mounds of papaya and pineapple goodness. The city streets themselves are beautiful and it makes the city feel like a huge architecture museum. I took my time popping in and out of leather stores and etching every cracked stone on the ground into my memory, hoping to remember all of the art and endearing moments. And how amazing gelato is.

After showering quickly, I headed out to a restaurant that Erin had suggested, Il Gatto e Il Volpe. The food was reasonably priced, but I saw it was full of Americans, so I was about to look for somewhere else to go. Instead, a young waiter whose shirt said “family” on the back pulled me in and sat me at a table near the door. Everything on the menu looked good, but I kept my promise to Kike and ate pizza – margharita with rucula and fresh, tangy parmegean. The house chianti, a typical wine from the region, was served in a small, painted jar. I came in not expecting to eat the whole pizza, but I did. it was incredible. And, I was only charged for the pizza – the wine and apertivo were free!!

Feeling a bit drunk from the wine, I grabbed a cappucino and met Danielle back at her apartment. We put a muzzle on Rosalita and went towards the old fort, which has been converted into an exhibition space. It was a creativity festival, billing that anything creative could occupy a space. There was a booth that had all kinds of objects made out of chocolate, artwork, dance exhibitions and some very strange man named Tricky yelling “Jesus called!” into a microphone on stage. Yeah, I’m not kidding. We got bored after just an hour and were picked up by two of Danielle’s friends and Balou, and old golden retriever. The dogs came with us to an enoteca, or wine bar. As always, Rosalita was the center of attention.

After walking home in the rain, Danielle warned me that the puppy snored – and loud! As a matter of fact, it put me to sleep right away, just as if Kike was sleeping right next to me! The next morning, I left the house quickly and headed to the Central Market, right down the street from Danielle’s apartment. I love watching people bargain or dodging to avoid being pummeled by big slabs of meat. The cheeses and meats were on the first floor. I hunted around for the cheapest parmesan and scored a huge hunk for 2E. The butcher sliced off a piece for me to try – it was salty and creamy and a bit earthy. Upstairs, I picked out a banana and some strawberries for breakfast, and ate them in line at the Uffizzi galleries.

After 40 minutes, I was finally able to enter the museum, famous for it’s Botticelli works, like the Birth of Venus, and extensive Reneissance collection. After having been in Europe for quite some time, I found this museum rather boring. The long corridors are lined with portraits of the most famous people of the time from all over the world. And while Botticelli was great, I found I spent more time examining the colors of priests’ robes (you know, since Medieval art is all about Jesus’s childhood), the length of toes and the number of fat rolls on lil Jesus. The rooftop bar but us at eye-level with the Gottici tower and the Duomo’s dome.

From the top floor of the museum, I could see Ponte Vecchio, so I resisted the urge to buy beautiful watercolors from street vendors (and thus risk a fine of 500€) and instead browsed the jewelry shops. Take note, boys: I expect to be proposed to on the bridge and then get to pick out any ring I want from the shops. Everything was goregous – encrusted and dripping with diamonds or precious stones. Walking away from the Duomo, I passed Pitti Palace and turned onto a side street in search of…something. I found Pitti Vintage, a whimsical (yet expensive) vintage store, with plush pink chairs covered in old vinyls and a wonderful pair of white cowboy boots that I fell in love with…until I saw the 75€ price tag.

By now it had started to rain, so I ran back to the ice cream store I´d seen the night before. The shop, right near the Duomo, had dreamy flavors like pear and baccio (chocolate ice cream with hazelnuts). The attendant practically folded the ice cream over and over again while I watch. I ate it on a bench near the center of town as if I would never eat ice cream again. After saying goodbye to Danielle and Rosalita, I rolled my little broken suitcase back to the train station and headed towards Pisa.

Two days seemed a lot longer. I was able to see tons and eat tons. I had just eaten a mozzarella and tomato sandwich when I met some Americans in line for the flight. They were all from the east coast and studying in Florence for the semester. Grateful to have a bit of company, we sat together on the plane and I helped them find their hostal. They repaid me by inviting me to dinner at El Rincón de la Tita – fried eggplant with honey, pork loin with whisky sauce, croquetas and puntillitas.

During dinner, I gushed about how gorgeous and interesting Florence is and how lucky they were to study there.

Erika said, “Sevilla is astounding. I can’t believe you live here.”

Me neither.


Overheard while folding laundry on the balcony:

Dad: Does anyone know where we are?
Little Girl: Grandma’s house!
Dad: And where is grandma’s house? Is it in Murcia?
Girl: No!
Dad: Is it in Madrid?
Girl: No!
Dad: Is it in Barcelona?
Girl: NO!!
Dad: Well, where is grandma’s house?
Girl: In TRIANA!

Not in Sevilla, but in my neighborhood of Triana. Love this place.

The Second Year

A few days ago, I had a few (and by a few I really mean 9 or 10. YIKES) cañas with my friend Aubree from Iowa City. We saw each other very infrequently last year, but seem to have very similar experiences here in Spain.

The biggest? Things are super different the second time around.

When I came to Sevilla 13 months ago, I was nervous, but excited nervous. I didn’t know anyone or much about the city, but I knew the language and the customs and that you have to take a number to buy a train ticket. I was starting a new job in a new place with new people. It was as scary as it was exciting. Everything seemed fresh to me, and I loved spending hours walking around, taking pictures. This year, I haven’t been to one museum or any tourist attractions. As this city becomes more and more of my home, I’m finding I’m spending more time making it my home rather than treating it like a place I’m visiting for a few months. Thus, like Aubree says, I’m seeing some of the icky stuff too that was kind of glossed over last year. Things suddenly don’t seem as beautiful and I’m annoyed with things I once found endearing. That said, I can also appreciate more things because I’m not running around trying to do everything. I walked on a different side of Pages del Coro and looked up at the buildings. One of them has tiles halfway up, which I never craned my neck to see before.

Actually, things aren’t working out the way I wanted or expected them to. I thought that coming here another year to an apartment, a job and a set group of friends would mean I’d jump right back in like I hadn’t even been away. It started with the huge phone bill and the hits just keep coming. One of my friends even said, “You can’t catch a break, can you?!” First off, with Kike gone, I haven’t seen many of his friends (besides his adorable little brother) and most of them are super heavily involved in their relationships. I’ve been making friends with new auxiliares, but I miss being able to speak Spanish and feel like I’m always surrounded by study abroad students. And I don’t feel like I have a really close female friend here anymore, either.

I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself at school since I’m the only auxiliar. This led to a crying breakdown on Wednesday in music class when the kids were acting up. What the hell am I doing teaching music? I´m clearly not qualified, made evident when the kids ask, “Cat, what means enharmonics?” and I say, “We´ll talk about it next week…” They complained about having to do the class in English, so I told them if they wanted to drop out of the bilingual program, they should tell Nieves right away. The teacher who was in the classroom with me mostly for crowd control completely ignored us and didn’t help me, even after I started crying. The teachers who I ride home with on Wednesday afternoon could tell I was upset, so they called my director right away. The kids told Nieves what happened the next morning before I even came to work and told her they felt awful (good). She took me out for coffee and breakfast as soon as I came in, and told me not to go to Serafin’s class. She assured be that I was well-respected and appreciated at the school, and that I shouldn´t put so much pressure on myself. Many of the other teachers had a talk with the bilingual kids, too, which is why nearly all of them apologized to me individually in art class that afternoon. I was happy for the weekend to clear my head and focus on other things.

Kike tells me I have to grow up and be a big girl. Rather than letting things slide, I’ve been letting people know I have a problem. I don’t want to be ungrateful at work, since most people are willing to accommodate me, so I´ve had to stand up for myself. I´m being proactive instead of unhappy. I told Nieves I want to be as flexible as possible, but I won´t compromise my well-being in the school or take on more than I can handle. I also quit my second job at the language academy. As it turns out, they were paying me 3E less an hour and would randomly stick students in the class. I ended up being so stressed out last week, my heart was beating really fast and my chest felt all tense and I thought I was going to pass out. I told the boss, Juanjo, about what happened and how I felt that I was working too hard for the students to not even show up. Turns out they pay per hour, not monthly, so they come whenever they feel like it. And then, they’d tell me I’d have to stay for a class with no prep! So, I´ve been telling my friends that I’m looking for language classes, and gave three hours of class last week. There’s a high demand for tutors, thankfully!

Sad news: my cuñado (brother in law) Alejandro, Kike´s 19 year old brother, is moving to London today. Ale and I have gotten really close since Kike´s been gone fighting pirates, and we´ve been hanging out a lot on the weekends. I had a bad day about a week ago, and he showed up at my house and we bought some pizza. He´s really a doll. On Friday, we had a party for him, and he bought me a t-shirt that says, “Pon un Montero en tu vida” or, Get a Montero in your life. He has an identical one! All of my friends are in lovvvvvvvvvve with him…

I’ve got class tomorrow then a day and a half to prepare for Florence! I’m leaving this Thursday night and surfing in Pisa, then heading to Florence and staying with an American woman who´s a study abroad coordinator there. Hopefully she can help me get a job here…


First Week of School

I can’t remember feeling this tired! I haven’t had a siesta in a week, I can’t sleep at night, I TEACH. I never realize how mentally exhausting teaching is until I came here last year. And I’m supposed to be an assistant!

Actually, they’re treating me more like an assistant this year. Last year, I planned most of my own lessons and was the de facto teacher of those lessons. The other teacher just handed me the chalk and said, ok, have fun! I think the kids like me more that way. English class for them is boring – following the books, repitition and little else.

I thought that, as the only assistant, I would be passed around like I was something rare, but I feel like I’ve been nothing more than a nuisance. One teacher was like, “What do you mean you don’t have anything prepared?” And I said, “Nieves told me not to. Why don’t I just practice some of the dialogue with the students and try and make them speak English.” Oooh, not happy. Another didn’t let me do anything in class but correct some students when they proncounced something all wrong. I corrected his incorrect use of “your” and I thought he was going to kill me. I didn’t give a single class today, and sitting in the back of a classroom does not sit well with me.

My language school job SUCKS. I have to work Friday and we have very few holidays that fall during the school week when I don’t work, making it hard to travel. And they’re paying me very little. I can make more money and NOT work Fridays by teaching private lessons.

The good news is, the weather is still warm, and my bilingual classes are such good students. They all raise their hand and speak English and even sing songs in music class! I think I am going to end up working more because I’m in charge of what they learn!

We have a long weekend this weekend, and since I don’t work at Heliche on Tuesdays, I’ve got until Wednesday! Not bad. If only I had a boyfriend with a car here to take me somewhere…

Why I love teaching high schoolers

Today was my first day actually being in the classroom. My final class, right after recess, was with 15-year-olds. Most of them were students of mine from last year, but a new dude named Rahid asked me: “Teacher, are teacher in USA so pretty as you are?”

This was, of course, after coaxing the English out of him. Que precioso!

La Vuelta al Cole

I woke up yesterday morning peeing in my pants, both from drinking a few beers before bed and from sheer excitement. It was finally October and I could finally go back to school in Olivares and start working.

I initially hesitated about returning to school before this date, mainly because I didn’t want to get attacked. I can get a little awkward with my Spanish and with forgetting people’s names (hello, we have 85 teachers in my center) and not even being a teacher. Moreover, I knew the kids would ask me about my dog and my boyfriend and my summer and, honestly, I wasn’t ready for it.

I sat on bus M-270 with a student from Valencina to Olivares, passing the same things I used to stare at four mornings and four afternoons a week. Nothing has really changed about the campo, which is actually refreshing. Even though Olivares is close to Sevilla (just about 10 miles west of the city), it seems a million worlds away. I remember bringing in postcards as a writing activity and having my students tell me most of them had never been out of Andalucia! Many of them only go to school until age 16, then drop out of school to become farmers, plumbers, bricklayers or gardeners. Their parents see no practical use for English, so many of them just tune out in class.

As soon as I walked in the door with Alejandro, I thought I was going to pee again. I was immediately welcomed by the Consejeria staff, which make the photocopies and dole out pieces of chalk. Emilio was poking fun at me as always and Meleni hugged me really tight, as she usually did on Thursday afternoons when I left last year. I snuck into the teacher’s lounge before any students could see me. I was greeted with lots of kisses and questions about Kike, of course! I have to say, I really felt like they consider me a colleague, not just some American kid who dicks around in class for 12 hours every week. Last year, I was twice as young as the other auxiliar, meaning I got on with the kids well, but didn’t relate to the teachers like Martin did.

But this year, I’m the only auxiliar. Nieves learned late last week that the other girl would not be coming to Heliche, so she called me to tell me she’d need to change my schedule. She didn’t want to make too many changes, so she was able to keep me working just three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday). She also put me in classes with the best-behaved kids who would benefit most from having a language assistant. I offered to go half the period or alternate weeks to accommodate more classes, but we’ll see. I’ll be teaching the bilingual group of kids, who receive 40% of their coursework in English, in their language classes, one hour of music and two of art each week. Then, I’ll be in English classes for 6 hours and have an hour for conversation and one for planning. Doesn’t sound too bad, but I’ll be the only music teacher. I won’t have to give grades other than participation and use of English.

I wished we had another person to help cover the classes, mainly because my director works so hard. She;s put in a lot of time to making the bilingual program successful and has had a lot of disappointment in just one month. Emilio, the music teacher, has left to finish his masters (leaving me with his lesson plans! YIKES me alone with 12 year olds!). Carmen, the history teacher, didn’t pass her English exam and cannot teach in the program until next year (which gives me incentive to stay again!) and now we have one less assistant. She can’t comply to everyone who wants to have one-on-one conversation hour, or even to kids who have asked if I can cover a class. It was hard seeing them and having to tell them I wasn’t teaching their class.

There are two new teachers in the English department, both younger males. This is better for poor Miguel, who was the only one last year, save Martin. One is new to Sevilla, and I hope I can help him meet people because he’s really nice. I greatly missed Angela and Silvia, the two young teachers from last year, because it seems like there isn’t a single young teacher in the school this year! Regardless, Neme was ready to give me advice about Kike and Lucia told me to get oil and not butter with my tostada. Everyone had the same things to say: You’re skinnier and your Spanish is better. Because Spanish people are so blunt, I figured they were telling the truth!

We’ll see how it all goes. Nieves is really open to my suggestions, and I feel like they trust me. It’s so comforting to feel like I belong somewhere and that people appreciate the work I’m doing. I don’t know how much the kids learn, but da igual. They’re getting exposure to a native and learning that not all Americans have guns!

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