I started my first week as an Auxiliar de Conversación this Monday past, and boy has it been exhausting! I don’t know where to begin. I’ll start with literally getting there.
[Note: Spanish law is very strict about what you can show of their schools and students, and not just that, but I also cherish the privacy of the community. That being said, there will rarely be photos of the students or campus on this blog. Enjoy the stock photos!]
My school commute isn’t the easiest? I mean, on one hand it’s wonderful. I take the same bus to and fro, and the bus stop is right outside my apartment. If I have to take the metro, the stop is outside my apartment as well. Super convenient.
However, the same stop that you get off at is not the same one you get on at. Let me explain. My first ride to work was for a potluck to welcome back the faculty. I got on the bus outside my apartment, and looked around for any indication as to where my stop was, what it was called and so on. No signage on the bus, nor do bus stops typically have names, so I was just watching the people on the bus like a hawk, seeing the demographics change as we rode around. I got off with a crowd of people at one stop because I saw we were driving away from my school on my GPS, and I hoofed it all the way to the building, 20 minute walk.
The second time I took the bus, I was on with two other women. The two women got off, and the bus driver tells me that this is the last stop. There are three buses that take me to my school, one is a direct shot, the other two are different routes of the same area. I ask the bus driver if he is going to my high school’s bus stop, he says, “It’s on this street.” I say, “No, [my school] is 20 minutes away.” To which the bus driver, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it says, “Basta! Basta! (Enough! Enough!)” and literally waves me away with his hand. I get off and hoof it to school again, this is a 30 minute walk.
I get to school late, and all the faculty say, “The bus again?” I say, “YES!” clearly out of breath and sweaty. I stay a while after school lets out to ask some more questions. What I discovered was that – the bus I take to work, although the same bus I take back, is not going to ever take me to the stop I need. I have different stops I get off and get on at, which is a normal thing somehow, and they didn’t understand why that confused me so much. Secondly, there are two high schools in the area, which the teachers at my school suspect why the bus driver was so short with me. He probably didn’t believe I knew where I needed to go, and because my Spanish is so poor, definitely didn’t have the patience to deal with me interrupting his oh-so important bus route.
But the school! The school is big (with no AC). A huge campus, and a very large student body. Much larger than I had back home. Over the course of three weeks I see 20 different classes. Many of them have up to 35 students. For the younger students coming out of recess (yes, recess!) they can be quite the handful. Spanish high school’s a bit different than what’s typical back home – the age range is 12-16, with an extra two years called Bachillerato that is not obligatory. I have a few classes with these students who are older and who have a firmer grip on English.
I spent all week, all 12 or so classes, four hours every day, introducing myself again… and again… and again. Talking about my name (Why is there a K? Why is there an apostrophe? But you’re American named Cristina?), talking about Maryland (Crab is a big deal… you guys don’t eat crab? Oh, y’all ain’t got no rivers or oceans or nothing nearby… yikes.), talking about my university (Yes, most of the students are black… most of the teachers too…white people can come!…yeah, they just don’t want to!). On and on and on!
I didn’t mind it! But I didn’t realize how nuanced I’d have to be for each age group. It’s something I’ll have to work on, because not only do I have a tendency to speak fast once I get excited, but I also tend to use words that are somewhat difficult for English learners, so it’s something I need to be aware of.
If anything, this week was a good opportunity to get to know what the students are into. I knew I could win over the younger students talking about Pokemon and Anime, but the older students want to know more about other stuff, but most of them were too shy to talk to me. Here’s hoping that I can win them over soon.
Okay, that’s all for now. I’ve got an upcoming post about some of the crazy questions my students have asked me and what really got them going during my introduction with them. That’ll probably go up Monday. In the meantime, let me know what questions you have and if you’ve taught abroad, share that too. I’d love to hear your stories and questions!