Spain Snapshots: Plaza María Pita, A Coruña

Right now, I’m boarding a flight to my second Spanish home, A Coruña. The northwest corner in Spain is a breath of fresh air in Seville’s stifling, 40º heat, and I’ve got all the things I love about Spain in one place – great food, a breathtaking city and the warm nature characteristic of the people there. It’s like putting on my favorite pair of Mango jeans after a few months of skirts and dresses – I could see myself living here.

Plaza María Pita, crowned by the charming town hall, is the throbbing heart of the mushroom-shaped peninsula. Buried within the vast, colonnaded square is the first place I ever tried pulpo a la gallega, and crunched up between a light post and hundreds of others, I watched Spain win the World Cup in 2010. Just recently, the Novio and I walked arm-in-arm as I showed him my favorite rincones of the Crystal City.

My heart is completely andalú, but I leave a small piece of it at the Riazor beach or in the coves next to the Torre de Hércules every time I’m in Galicia.

Have you been to Galicia? What are your favorite parts?

If you’re new here, check out my first few entries in a series on photogenic Seville and other parts of Spain, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the recital on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

How to Learn English

9:15 am and my students are as listless as ever. Javi grumbles under his breath as he surrenders his iPod to me. I fiddle with the thing, feeling much, much older than my 24 years and trying to hide my utter terror as the screen flashed. David Guetta’s heart-pumping rhythms get some of their ears perked up, a few smiles spreading peeking out in the corners of their mouths. Silvia taps her pencil nervously to the beat, head no doubt tangled up in a tricky conjugation.

Their daily writing assignment was on the board. While my 15 students scribble in their construction-paper notebooks, I review my grammar assignment for the morning, sighing: reported speech. Between the time clauses and the backshift, our first attempt the day before had been a disaster. One of those throw-your-arms-up. pull-you-hair-out, where’s-my-end-of-the-day-beer kind of days. I close my eyes and remember it’s just summer camp, and that the kids were really there for the activities and their parents had actually paid for the native speakers.

One by one, the students close their notebooks and trudge to the front of the classroom to give it to me. As I am about to plunge in with a hastily prepared board game for reviewing, Javi jumps across his table as if it were a vaulting horse and runs to his iPod. Puzzled, I gave him my never-fail “sit down nooooow” eyes before he starts thumping his foot and head to the beat.

“Cat, I can have this very, very, VERY loud, yes?” he inquires, matching my stare with a big grin. Lara snickers, and I can’t resist.

“Sure, Javi, crank it up.”

I immediately know which song it is, and so do my students. Before the first chorus even starts, I’m scribbling down ideas for how to use it in my lessons. With two years of teaching high schoolers, I’ve learned that music is a surefire way to get students engaged and talking, and U2 and Pearl Jam and even Weird Al Yankovich have made their way onto my lesson plans. Billie Jean is going to help me teach reported speech this morning.

I text my boss, asking her to copy the lyrics as soon as possible and make a few copies. My students have fun decoding the reported speech back into direct and their sudden enthusiasm makes me think outside the four-skills box for the rest of the week’s lessons. As a class, we take Billie Jean’s claims to the tabloids and the case to court, write newspaper articles on the pending paternity test with other teachers and monitors as witnesses. They begin to use reported speech correctly in their journal entries, in their worksheets and exams, and more importantly, in their speech.

a tabloid report on the court case

When it comes time to do a creative project, the students set up a mock trial with audience members of the jury. Javi has no match as Michael Jackson and his howling “But the kiiiiiid is not my son!”

Silvia as Bille Jean and Javi as Michael Jackson in the talent show

Attention, fellow English teachers: Have you ever had a lesson be wildly successful? I wanna hear about it! Tell me the lesson,the age group and any materials you needed to make it happen. Or, tell me how you motivate your students to learn English? What interests them the most? 

If January Marks the Start…My 2011 Travel Round-up

Let me tell you a little story about peer pressure.

When I was 11, my parents informed me that the dog had taken the news well. She faintly wagged her tail.

“What news?” I asked, hoping for the trampoline I’d begged my parents to buy us for ages.

Oh no, it was the M-word. We were moving. I’d have no friends. Maybe there wasn’t a Kohl’s there. Was Chicagoland > Rockford, or had my mother just confused after consumering too many kosher hot dogs growing up and was going crazy?

Well, I wanted to fit in. I did so by going to the Von Maur and using my birthday money to buy a pair of Jnco jeans because all of the popular girls had them.

I strutted into Edison middle school the next morning and was immediately dismissed as a poser.

Well, I didn’t learn my lesson. Now that I’m blogging, I give into the peer pressure of comparing stats, doing those dumb surveys and, as the new year has already crept up on us, a year in review. In 2011, I added two new countries to the list, had five visitors from the US, got my work/residence visa paperwork all together and turned 26.  I can’t say 2011 will be the greatest I’ve had (dude, 2010 was pretty, pretty good), but I managed to see some new things, meet some new people and probably consume a new pig part.


Amy and I rang in the New Year with oysters, an old boxing legend and a broken camera in Lausanne, Switzerland. I moped through Season Three of Sex and the City the next day while Amy was bed ridden. Colds and booze do not mix, people.

From there, I met several  friends in Berlin, Germany and got my history nerd on as I explored a concentration camp, museums and the off-beat Berlin.


Apart from the usual routine, I got to go to my first flamenco fashion show and a wine festival. Cheap wine, that is.


March came in like a león, as I spent a raucous night in Cádiz as a third-of the blind mice group at the annual Carnavales celebrations.

My first visitors of the year, Jason and Christine, spent a rainy sojourn in Sevilla,

but then Beth came during the Azahar and warm weather, and we drank in Granada, Jeréz and Cádiz (and then I got strep).


Ahh, a Sevillian primavera. I spent Easter Week in Romania with my camp buddies, driving a beat up Dacia from one forlorn corner of Romania to another. I loved it, and consider it a budget-lovers paradise – I spent in one week less than I did on my airfare! And ate a ton of pickles. I am like the Snooki of Spain when it comes to pickles.


The first week of May brought flamenco dresses, sherry and my five-year win over Spanish bureaucracy during Feria week. I spent nine days riding in horse carriages and proving I have plenty of enchufe.

A few weeks later, Jackie and her brother came to visit, and we took off to Córdoba for another fair.

Also, Luna turned one, Betis worked its way back into the premiere league, and summer was just on the horizon.


Switched to half days at work just as it was impossible to take the heat. Got to watch Lauren walk down the aisle and party all night (only to fly to Madrid for a conference the next morning. I made it!). And I got my first real year of teaching done, too!

I may have, at time, been a professional baby handler, but having a peek into a kid’s world is something magical. Magical if you like boogers, of course.


The first of the month brought a huge triumph: I was finally given my five-year resident card and had won my battle with extranjería. For the third summer in a row, I headed up north to Galicia and to summer camp. Instead of teaching, I was given the role of Director of Studies, so I got a work phone and unlimited photocopies. Perks. Teachers got crap weather, but I a not-crap team (they were awesome.)

The Novio, finally back from pirate-hunting, met me in Madrid for a few days. We got the chance to, um, do what we do in Seville (eat tapas and drink beer) before making a day-trip to the sprawling El Escorial palace.


A is for August and America and fAtty, as I spent 23 days eating up all of my favorite American goodies, like real salads and Cheez-its. I had help celebrating a birthday, as my dear amigas from Spain, Meag and Bri, came to Chicago for a few days. I also got to visit Margaret in her New Kentucky Home.

What I thought would be a good little sojourn was much too short, and I boarded a Dublin-bound plane and stayed overnight on the Emerald Isle.


School started again September first, and my change to first grade resulted in more naps, more work and more responsibility. Thankfully, I had my great kiddos back in my (own!!!) classroom. Life resumed as normal.


Though I vowed to make my fifth year in Spain new (and I have been doing hiking trips, seeing theatre and exhibitions, etc.), I fell in to normal school routine. In October, this was punctuated by a work trip to Madrid for a conference, studying for the DELE and endless barbeques. When in Spainlandia, I suppose.


The new month meant cooler air, a focus on studying and a visit from my final visitor, Lisa. I sprinted out of the DELE to catch a train, meet her and take her to Granada. We laughed at all of our college memories and she broke out of her little mundo to try new foods and explore Seville on her own.

Bri came, so we had a small Thanksgiving dinner, and I shared it with my not-so-anxious-about-pie goodness at school.


Amid lots of school work and the looming Christmas play, I enjoyed the Christmas season in the city. Brilliant lights, snacking on chestnuts, window-shopping. The Novio went to the States for work, and I followed him soon after to travel around the Southwest with my parents and sister. The Valley of the Sun, Vegas and the Grand Canyon were on the itinerary, but the extra $640.55 I won on a slot machine win weren’t!

Sadly, the year ended on a sour note when I got news that the child I had repped during my years in Dance Marathon passed away after a long battle with cancer. I don’t want to preach, but you can visit the website to see what the Dance Marathon at the University of Iowa does for kids and their families who are battling cancer.

Goals for the next year? Plenty, both personal and professional. Just be better, I guess. The second part of the year has been a huge slump, so it’s time to find me again. Be a better partner, teacher, friend. Fill up those last two pages of my passport. Figure out where to go next.

I want you to share your biggest accomplishment and goals for 2011-2012! I need some inspiration, readers!

Vaya Campamento, Parte Dos

When in Coruña, I met two other Forenex vets, Lais and Bryan. Both had met the summer before at the grandaddy of all FNX camps: Uclés, a real summer camp. The kind with friendship bracelets and roughing it. Not like Coruña camps, with their sailing classes and shopping trips. I decided I wanted to give Uclés a try in order to pay homage to my camp days as a kid.

I got that experience and much more.

Some may think me crazy for moving into a supposedly haunted monastery for two weeks, one where a priest hung himself in the third floor bedroom, one which served as a torture facttory for Republicanos during the Spanish Civil War. I didn’t even teach – I was made the Jefa de Estudios, the Director of Studies, in charge of the well-being of 173 students from elementary school up to university and 15 very tired teachers.
What transpired was ten hectic academic days where I was also to check in on classes, coordinate with the kitchen staff and camp director, coordinate competitions and a talent show and plan social events. It’s kind of amazing how these things whip you into shape. I don’t think I have ever been more organized or diligent in my life, and it showed when my teachers could sincerely thank me for following up with them.
Going along with that, working with people in such close quarters will really make you branch out. Even being the boss, I met and forged friendships with a lot of people and was amazed at how fast we could come together as a team, teachers and monitors alike. Yes, I had a ton to do, but my teachers really needed little supervision and could fend for themselves.

Among the craziest things that happened was trying to find a lost student in an enormous monastery (he snuck back to bed), punishing bullies and snotty teenagers, invading the only bar in the entire town and a gigantic botellón known as the fiesta municipal. Then there was making a few kids cry just by being the boss, a teacher missing the train back from Madrid and me scrambling to figure out how to cover her classes, asthma attacks, bedbugs and the occasional creepy occurrence and bat infestation.

This summer has certainly been a bit crazy, but nothing like my two weeks in Uclés!

Vaya Campmento!

Sevilla is a frying pan in the summer. Nothing like leaving your air-conditioned apartment at 6pm to see this terrifying sight:

I was suffocating from the heat, suffocating from boredom. July 10th couldn’t have come fast enough.

I’m currently in La Coruna, Spain, a beautiful and quirky city on the northeast coast in the province of Galicia. This is the land of misty valleys, superstitious fisherman and afternoons like this one:

I’m teaching English at an intensive language camp called Forenex for the second summer. Being an auxiliar is a piece of cake compared to FNX: I have my own classroom with 16 teenagers, am responsible for the lesson plans, decoration and language development of my students, and must give exams, grades and evaluations. For an EFL professional, it’s an everyday job. For me, its a welcome change to what I do during the school year.
This year, I’m working with the fluency level again. Don’t be fooled – my students are not fluent, but they’re nice and improving. There are two 13 year olds and the rest are 15 and 16. Since the level of interest, ability and speaking proficiency are all over the board, it’s been a real challenge to come up with interesting and creative lessons, but I love the subject matter. We did superstitions and bad luck charms (complete with an obstacle course) last week, are finishing tall tales and urban legends now, and will work on modern art next week. I’m really excited, and the kids seem to like the topics. I’m working twice as hard as last summer, but learning quite a bit in the process.
My students are, for the most part, a pleasure to have in class. They can get chatty or a bit mouthy, but all seem to respond fairly well to the activities and are eager to learn. We even won the class decorations contest last week, as voted on by the Spanish monitors (it may or my not have been a fluke…). My kids were treated to VIP treatment at their little disco and invited me along.
The great part about this camp is that we’re so close to a major city that has a lot to offer. In the afternoons we shop or go to the beach, and there’s a lot of movida at night. Coruna has a medieval fest going on this week, so we’ve been heading down to the city frequently. Last weekend, FNX took us to Santiago de Compostela for free, too:

Something fishy…I mean swiney

As the midway point of camp arrived, all of my students were getting lethargic. During the day, they have absolutely free time to rest or realx…it´s class, lunch, buses to activities, showers, dinner, parties, bed. But of course sending kids to bed at 11pm doesn´t mean they won´t stay up late talking to their friends or texting their boyfriends. Every morning this week, the kids have looked more tired and more bored with class.

For this reason, I devised a gigantic camp newspaper project to keep them interested. We had to study reported speech and expressing opinions on the grammar side with a study of headlines and oral news reading, so I split the kids into groups according to interests and we devised a masthead (Forenews) and article ideas, identified sources and wrote questions, and then I tracked down all the sources and they came to my class (some with a translator so the kids would be forced to speak in English!) In reading over the transcripts, I was impressed with their enthusiasm and great questions, and was looking forward to reading the investigative piece about who wrote on a bus seat and seeing the pictures my students took at various parties.

Then, the biggest story of camp broke: SWINE FLU CONFIRMED AT LANGUAGE CAMP. Yes, my friends, all those sick kids were coming down with nasty colds and coughs and flus and there has been at least one case of swine flu. The sickest children were contained and isolated, all the kids have been tested and monitored, and we, as teachers, are responsible for reminding them to wash their hands and not be smooching all over the place. The press is stalking, waiting at the bottom of the driveway and parents have been coming for their kids from all over Spain – resulting in a mass exodus from the camp. Yesterday I had 15 students, today 12 and Monday I´ll have just four. I understand the parent concern of so many kids with such a strange disease that has been fatal, but I think the camp is doing the best it can to continue classes and meet super high health standards. I had a monitor test my temperature and got a good report, and I´ve just been tired from going out and not sleeping so much.

I’ve got just a few more days in A Coruña. Tomorrow is parents day, so were recommended to not go out I don´t want to be tired anymore, so we´re ordering pizza and the monitors are hosting a Feria de Sevilla night for the kids. I´ve been told I have to come help teach Sevillanas to the kids, and they’re going to make me a traje de flamenco. Hope it will be fun…then off to Santiago de Compostela for the day mañana!

I can´t believe I´ll be back stateside in a week…Eleven months is a loooong, long time! Hasta la pastaaaaa. I´ll post pics of camp and my kids and los teachers soon! maybe once my computer isn´t broken…oh life.

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