CaminoFTK: Meet my Sponsors, Podoactiva

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion these last few weeks as I wrap up my master’s and mentally prepare for walking over 200 miles on the Camino de Santiago. Many of you have never met me face to face, but it’s clear that my passions are Spain, blogging, and photography. Add with that a love for helping people and connecting, and challenging myself, and you’ve essentially got my reasons for wanting to do the Camino de Santiago.

Pursing my passion led me to Spain in the first place: a passion for Spanish language, a passion for traveling and a passion to do something different while pushing my personal limits. I’m never one to drag my feet when it comes to making a decision and sticking to it – evident by my fight with bureaucracy, my fight against the Spanish private school system and my fight to make a meaningful life in Seville while dealing with my guiri complex.

My parents claim I ran before walking, and have been the first to tell me I’d always have the world at my feet so long as I stayed true to myself and what I wanted out of life. Thanks, padres. This led to a near-obsession with walking the Camino de Santiago, and for carrying something more than a 6kilo backpack for more than 200 miles.

When looking around for sponsors, I had very few criteria. For one, they had to be on board with my reasons for walking and support Dance Marathon and my passion for it. Secondly, they had to be people who personified passion themselves. When Caser Expat Insurance contacted me not three days after my post on why I’m walking went live and shared their interest in me and my story, I was floored.

A few weeks later, I was on a Madrid-bound train to meet Pablo, the director of Caser Expat Insurance, and his team. Their biggest focuses are on health and well-being, so they took me to have a physical…for my feet. Talk about putting your best foot forward!

Pulling up to the Podoactiva clinic near Paseo de la Castellana, it was clear that these people were passionate about feet. Despite having a clientele that ranges from the players of Real Madrid to Shakira, the office was welcoming and calming (it even quelled my nerves about baring my feet to a bunch of strangers).

Carlos got me set up in one of the consults, which was stacked wall-to-wall with machines. Podoactiva uses biomechanics to measure your feet’s resistance, strength, weight distribution and more, which is why they specialize in sports performance. Having been a gymnast my whole childhood, I would have loved to know all of these fators growing up, especially because my body now feels like an abuelita‘s.

After the customary round of questions – birthdate, weight, shoe size – I was made to lay down on a cot while Carlos tested the flexibility and strength of my ankles. He guessed I was a dancer because even the slightest touch or twist meant my ankle bent. “I hope you got boots that cover your ankles” was Carlos’s response.

Oops. They looked funny!

Once finished, I stood still for 30 seconds upon a mat so that the pressure I put on each foot could be properly measured. Carlos and his colleague, Jaime, then fed these images into a computer so that I could see the results. As it turns out, the knee injury I got from gymnastics ten years ago has greatly affected the way I walk and stand – I overcompensate with the right side of my body, particularly in the toes.

Asking me to walk back and forth on the pressure mat, Jaime and Carlos watched closely (and took a video) to see how I walked and how much support my ankles got when doing so. It was evident that my feet turned in, and the effect than four years of marching band had on the “roll-down” way in which I walk. This, Carlos explained, was causing the bones in my feet to become impacted and lose the natural arch (in other words, I have juanetes. Go look up that word, lest it show up in a search engine in English!).

I also walked on a treadmill, both barefoot and in my running shoes before sticking my foot into the patented Podoactiva 3-D scanner. Jaime helped me to Keep my foot still on the soft silicon hammock as each foot got scanned, creating a virtual image of what my custom insoles should look like. The scans are sent to the company’s manufacturing plant in Huesca, where they use lasers and robots to cut the insoles.

In about two weeks, I’ll have custom-made plantillas delivered to Podoactiva’s office in Los Remedios to start breaking in, along with my boots. Since the whole two-week trek won’t exactly be a walk in the park, knowing I have the passion for foot care and a healthy lifestyle behind me and someone to walk in memory of, I’m excited. I’m elated, actually. And dreading how my feet will look afterwards!

Don’t forget to follow my Camino story through my blog and through the hashtag #CaminoFTK. Awareness is key, so please spare a moment to share any posts via social media if you see fit. I couldn’t do all of this without the support of people like you all, Kelsey’s family, Caser Expat Insurance, Walk and Talk Chiclana, Books4Spain, Your Spain Hostel and Dance Marathon.

Podoactiva will be with me literally every step of the way: they graciously picked up the tab for both my consultation and the lime-green insoles I’ll be getting for my hiking boots. I’m still a bit cross that their client Xabi Alonso didn’t come watch me run barefoot on a treadmill, but you can’t always get what you want. 


Five Years, Five Goals

The chalk squeaked as I drew a line under the word SUCCESS. My 4 ESO students read it, es-soox-essss, a habit I hadn’t been able to break in my three years working with them. I always knew it would be an uphill battle.

I crumpled small slips of paper from atop the teacher’s desk and picked one up. “Teacher, you are beautiful.” That little paper ball went right into Franci’s face.

At the end of my three years of teaching at I.E.S. Heliche, I asked my 16-year-olds to tell me one thing that made them feel successful before turning the question, “Has your English teacher been successful?

When I graduated, I made a list of three things to accomplish in my first three years out of college. Five years later, I’m closing in on my fifth anniversary of moving to Spain on September 12th. I told myself I could consider myself successful if I accomplished three things – but that list seems to grow as my years in the land of sunshine and siestas climb.

Last year, I examined the four things I love about Spain. This year, the five most important things I’ve accomplished during my years in Spain.

Year One. Move Abroad

Once I had studied abroad, I knew that the only place for me to go after graduation was to anywhere but America. I did all of the research, using my study abroad office and contacts I’d made through the Daily Iowan. When the opportunity to participate in the North American Language Assistants program came up, I abandoned my plans to do a work holiday in Ireland and brushed up on my Spanish. Working just 12 hours a week gave me time to do an internship at a travel company, make friends and travel throughout Iberia.

My parents came to visit at Christmas this year, and I struggled at even mundane tasks, like translating menus and asking for directions. My dad joked that I’d been to busy guzzling sangria to actually learn the language, so my goal for my second year in Spain was to work on perfecting my castellano.

Year Two. Learn Spanish. Really, like actually speak it.

As anyone who has traveled to Spain can tell you, the Spanish they teach you in school no vale over here. I struggled with my accent and theirs, didn’t understand their slang. It even took the Novio and I several months speaking in English before I worked up the nerve to ask to switch to Spanish.

The majority of my life in Spain is now down in my second tongue, but it didn’t come easy. I bought several books, began watching TV in Spanish and made an effort to use it as often as possible. Become proficient in Spanish has taken me thirteen years, but I finally have the C1 Certification of Proficiency from the Instituto Cervantes. Toma. Time to focus on something more fun, like traveling.

Read about preparing for and taking the DELE. Then read about my weirdo accent.

Year Three. Travel to 25 countries before turning 25.

The time I didn’t spend learning Spanish during my first year was time I spent traveling, hitting six new countries andseveral regions in Spain. My goal to travel to 25 foreign countries looked more and more possible.

I traveled overnight from Budapest to Prague with my friend Lauren, and she snapped a 6am picture of me setting foot in the 25th. Since then, I’ve been to several more, but all the while I’ve felt fortunate to have a springboard from which to explore Europe. I’ve done some cool things, like snuck into monasteries in Romania, ridden a donkey through rural Morocco, camped under the stars on Spain’s Most Beautiful Beach.

Read my Top 25 moments (with links between all five posts) on Backpacking Matt.

Year Four. Beat the Paperwork Game.

By far one of the biggest pitfalls of being a non-European in Spain is the paperwork hassle. Any guiri can tell you that the standing in lines, running from one office to another, surrendering all of your personal info and then not hearing back for weeks is enough to make you turn around and say adiós to Spain.

Stranded with few options for renewing my student visa status after the Auxiliares program dropped me, I struggled to find a way to legally stay in Spain, even considering working illegally. I exhausted my contacts one by one until the US Consular Agent suggested something that have never occurred to me: lying.

I already had paperwork pending for a Master’s I’d decided not to do, so I hopped on the first bus to Madrid and applied. Having never filed paperwork in the capital, I wasn’t aware that the Foreigner’s Office worked on an appointment system, and that they were booked for months (which also meant I stood out in the cold for several hours alone). The guard gave me the number, and I called. Tensely. Making things up. And I got in the day before my residence card expired.

Kike and I had also done a de-facto partnership, which was passed from a simple piece of paper denoting that he was responsible for me to a piece of plastic denoting I could stay in Spain for five years without having a porque to go near the office. I fought the law, and the law handed me a loophole.

Read How to Deal with the Foreigner’s Office and how to trick funcionarios and pretend you’re smart.

Year Five. Find a Stable Group of Friends

The problem with being an expat is that many people come and go, making my cycle of friends constantly in motion. Even those I think will be long-term sometimes pack up and go. And with a partner in the military, I still find myself alone. Finding friends is easy, but keeping those who are inclined to stick around – both American and foreign – has been more difficult. Thanks to the American Women’s Club, working at a school with Spaniards and making an effort to befriend Kike’s friends, I’ve got friends all over Spain, and I sadly don’t spend much time with people I know will only be in Seville for a year.

Algo se muere en el alma, right? Have drunkenly sung that sevillana far too many times.

Year Six. Figure out how long-term this all is.

My students decided that I had, in fact, been successful in my first three years in Spain. Still, all of these years abroad has gotten me a little disconcerted. I’ve spoken with a lot of expat friends on the subject fo staying in Spain, especially admist a crippling financial crisis and little job security. Why not go to America? I ask them and myself. Who wouldn’t want a mortgage, kids and to deal with all those stupid jingles?

Haha, oh yeah. Looks like it’s time to set some new goals – what should they be?

2010: An Odyssey

I can’t believe it had been an entire year without seeing my parents and sister, but I was reminded of just how much time I’d spent apart when I arrived in Dublin last Thursday and saw my dad.

“What a year!” he said, “It crawled!” I gave him a patented Nancy, are you crazy? look.

What a year, indeed. Filled with milestones, farewells, travels and plan changes. Sprinkle in a few disappointments here and there, and it made for a solid, really special year.

I visited old, dear destinations, made it eight months without leaving Spain and finally met my goal of visiting 25 countries before my 25th birthday last August. All those hours scouring the Internet for the best deals really pays off – I paid 30€ round-trip to go to Marrakech, 68€ round-trip to go to Carnival in Cologne, Germany, took a 17€ euro overnight bus from Budapest to Prague to arrive to that last destination on my list. I couchsurfed, camped without a tent and nabbed the last room in a luxury hotel during Christmas. Saw old friends, made new ones and accomplished one of my first life goals with a few months to spare.

In 2010, I went to Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains, Cologne Germany for the Carnival Crazy Days, Prague, Budapest, La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela, Santander, Leon, Valladolid twice, Madrid countless times, plenty of beaches, Vigo and the Islas Cies, Portugal, the Southern end of Ireland and am now blogging from Laussanne, Switzerland. Menudo viaje!

More importantly, I completed my second life goal, traveling to 25 foreign countries before turning 25. When I pulled into the Prague bus station early in the morning, I was so disoriented and drowsy that my friend insisted I hold up a sign and take a picture. It’s blackmail worthy, but that feeling of accomplishment you get, whether it’s putting down a book or finishing a paper, was relieving. It was ambitious, but great in process. Switzerland became #26 and I’m thinking about Poland, Turkey or Russia for Holy Week.

     Life Goals and Accomplishments
Apart from the 25 countries business, I came back to Spain wanting to figure out where to go next, improve my Spanish and make friends apart from Kike and his group. I had a stellar year, being able to balance everything I had going on – school, private classes, applying for grad school and the nov – while joining a gym, keeping my room clean and enjoying life in Sevilla. I felt, for the first time, well-connected, well-knowledged, and I even surprised myself that I could be back in my usual busier-than-ever mode and still find time for ocio. That, in itself, is a big accomplishment for me!

The other part was, well, figuring out my next step. I applied to three grad schools kinda (one I never sent), got into both, including the prestigious language college, Middlebury College. I was all set to go and do long-distance for a while when they gave me next to nothing, financially. The director of the program advised me to defer, as the tend to give money to people who put it off due to monetary reasons. I decided, instead, to look into teaching and got into a local university’s masters in Bilingual Ed. When the long hours at the job prohibited me from actually attending, I went with the “experience is the best teacher” mentality, even though Spain thinks otherwise.

Further, this summer’s successful month in Coruña brought me a job as Director of Studies at another summer camp. It was challenging, not knowing anyone or how the camp worked, keeping up with diets and naughty kids and one’s continual asthma attacks, fielding parent phone calls and still trying to have fun, but it was a great experience for my managerial skills, and I’m hoping Forenex will be of help when looking for jobs. I made it through, and to good reviews!

Personally, romantically and professionally, 2010 done me good.

The year started out with a sad departure of my friend Jess’s mom, Irma. Irms was our mom away from home, driving us to Fitz´’s every Wednesday night and giving us money for “taxis.” I heard the news all at once on a Saturday night, Kike’s brother’s birthday, and felt like someone had hit me upside the head. I called Jess and we just cried over the phone to one another for ten minutes. I sent flowers to the service to stand in my place, and it killed me to not be there for my friend when she needed me. It really made me think about being over here, so far away from everyone, so I’m doing my best to put away money should something unthinkable happen.

And, of course, there’s the usual cycle of friends coming and going. I met a really superb group of Americans last year, coupled with my Spanish “familia” which grew and shrunk by half in a matter of weeks. I miss Bri, Kirsten, Sarah, Christene, Josito, Jenna and especially Meag all the time. But, this is the life I’ve chosen, and this has become a part of my life. And a normal one!

By far the hardest was saying goodbye to my coworkers and students at IES Heliche. That job became more than an assistan teachership to me: I learned to value myself, found out that creativity is one of my strong points as a teacher and that education may be my career. But, really, I sobbed the whole week, knowing that a great school and a great set of kids would no longer be mine and that I’d be jobless. I miss my high schoolers a lot – teaching preschool is great for all the hugs and watching the kids grow in their abilities, both manually and intellectually, but I had a really blessed relationship with those kids in Olivares.

     Citizenship issues
Speaking of being jobless, I obviously found one, but it took hours of writing resumes and cover letters, just as much time standing in line at the post office, countless sunny days and tintos missed and a lot of hair-pulling. From getting up at 6am to stand in line at employment offices to getting half-married, I wasn’t going to stop at anything to find a job. A few were offered and turned down (see above: valuing myself), one of which was changing diapers for 40 hours a week. Sick, no. If you want a full account, click here, but as my dear Tonya Luna said, “If anyone is motivated enough to get it, it’s you, Cat! You can do it!”

And do it I did!

     Looking forward
While I try to set some goals for myself at the coming year, I want to enjoy myself more than anything. Travel a bit, hang on to the little social life I had and keep in touch with loved ones. That, and pass the DELE exam in May. I’m trying to take things in stride because, hey, life happens. Kids get born, people pass away and you just keep on moving through.

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