8 Things I’ll Miss About Life in Spain

It’s that time of year, and I’m prepping for the inevitable dose of reverse culture shock. To prepare myself I’ve made a short list of some of the things I’ll say goodbye to and miss dearly about life in Spain. In no particular order they are as follows:

1. Breakfast Break and the Siestaunnamed

Bye, Bye breakfast break.  No more going to one of the million bars on the street and eating a “Media tomate” or some “Migas” and a cafe con leche for 1.50. But, hello, large iced coffees to go! No more casual sit-down lunch at an outdoor table with beer followed by an hour or so to digest horizontally. But, hello, power bars and power naps!

2. Walking everywhere   

by JoseManuelerre, Flickr
by JoseManuelerre, Flickr

If you´re from anywhere besides the center of city, you know walking is an extra effort not just because of the physical exertion but because it´s nearly impossible to get anywhere without being scared for your life more than a few times. And if not, you may offer the suggestion and be berated by a chorus of your friends, ¨”Walk? It´s like a mile away? Are you crazy? It´ll take us like an hour to get there.” This year I will resist and succumb, surely, once again. But hey, I still have my bicycle!

3. Meeting with friends after 8pm during the week

Nope. Way too much effort. I suppose this is pretty relative, it totally depends on if you’re fortunate to live close to your friends, perhaps this isn’t an issue, but for many of us walking out of our homes and going for a cheap beer down the block is a slim possibility. You have to get in the car. You have to drive 10-15 minutes in traffic. You have to decide on a place. Blah. Blah. Friends are a weekend activity. This summer, I hope this isn’t the case, but it’s another one of those cultural tides that sucks you under.

4. Tapas 

Typical Caña and Tapa
Typical Caña and Tapa

There’s nothing like going to a bar, ordering a caña (a small beer) for a euro and receiving a small snack. If you’re lucky and there’s a bar near you in the U.S., maybe you get some peanuts or can treat yourself to popcorn, but never is it a delicious bowl of olives, a plate of potato salad, or a handful of fries and some slow cooked pork. Tapas are also a way to go out and socialize with friends and family. They’re an adventure, an exciting risk you can afford to take. Tapas is a way of life, really.

Granada is the Holy Grail of Tapas
Granada is the Holy Grail of Tapas

5. Pedestrian Rights

As you try to maintain some of the healthier habits you’ve gained living in Spain, like walking everywhere, please, remember that although it is the law of the land, pedestrians, in many cases, do not receive the right of way in the United States. People will not slam on their breaks for you like they do in Spain if you’re standing at the edge of the cross walk. Prepare to wait or to run.

6. Whatsapp

I know this is an odd thing to miss, but…Texting? SMS? What? It feels so foreign and strangely outdated to send text messages via the standard phone application and not the famed and widely used texting application Whatsapp. Many of my friends back home have Whatsapp in order to communicate with me while I’m here in Spain. but once back in the states with free texting plans, it’ll inevitably return to the standard.

7. Cheap Fruit and Veg 

All of this for less than 6 Euro (aprox. $7.50)
All of this for less than 6 Euro (aprox. $7.50)

Oh, how I will miss the Fruterías found on every other corner; their windows brimming with lush fruits and vegetables, enticing me to come in for a bundle of bananas for less than a euro. It’s cheap to eat healthy here, and that’s how it should be.

8. The people

From Madrid to Badajoz, San Sebastián to Málaga, I have encountered nothing but warmth and welcoming from these wonderful, latin-blooded people. I’m eternally grateful to those who have gone the extra mile in making me feel at home in Spain. Between their warmth, their dirty sense of humor, their image-rich language, and their exaggerated gestures, I will miss them immensely. But I shall return!

Going back to the U.S. isn’t so bad. We get to see old friends and family. Re-familiarize ourselves with the familiar, etc…  What other things will you miss about Spain?

Share your thoughts and ideas below!

Teaching English in Spain: 5 Ways I’ve Become a Better Human

As my second year as an English teacher in Spain winds down, I wanted to take some time to reflect on all the good things that have come of this experience. While a year and eight months seems like nothing in comparison to the amount of time I spent in college, or in K-12,  I have to say it has been the most fruitful and condensed personal growth I have experienced. For the newbies at this and the veterans alike, perhaps you’ll find some truth in the following 5 five ways I’ve become a better human.

1. Patience

I’ve always said the phrase in jest, “patience is a virtue” right after I had already lost patience and consequently lost the virtuous fight. This experience has taught me what that phrase really means on three levels: patience with others, patience with life, and patience with myself. This is by far the most important way I’ve become a better human.

Patience with others: I’ve never considered myself an impatience person, per say.  In fact with strangers, customers, and acquaintances I’ve always been extraordinarily patient. Then I started trying to communicate with people from a different culture in a foreign language. I suppose I learned much of the patience I’ve acquired through compassion. While I tried to function in my new environment, I appreciate immensely those who allow me to speak, give me time to sort my thoughts and finish my words before speaking for me or switching to English. I carry that with me everyday, and now in my interactions with native speakers in my own language, as well. As a result, I’ve become a better listener and a much better conversationalist. Also, my personal relationships have improved and communication has become much more positive. Speaking with family over skype can be highly frustrating with delays and cut-outs, but impatience isn’t going to solve that, in fact it’s just going to increase your risk of a heart attack.

Patience with life: What do I mean by this? Spanish bureaucracy. I’ve been forced to take a deep breath through every single process or proceeding within society. From walking in the streets with a bunch of Spaniards who zig-zag their way to their destination at a Sunday drive’s pace, to being the only person in the Foreign Consulate and waiting for 45 minutes because… I’m still baffled as to why. I’ve learned to take a deep breath and let it go. You get used to it. Also, I think we all get to the point in life where we have something ahead of us and we just can’t wait for it to arrive and we rush through the days for it to get there– we’re caught in this existential longing. It’s sort of like a dog begging at the table for food… you know it’s coming and you’re salivating for it, with a whine bubbling up in your chest. But we’re not dogs, so we shouldn’t act like them (some of us, at least).  You’ve got to live in the moment. You’ve got to live mindfully. Fill your days with patience. That’s the only way the future will unfold in the most satisfying of ways.

Patience with myself:  I’m used to being good at things. I know that sounds pretentious, but I’m a fast learner in many areas, especially athletics and language. However, Spanish has always been this love/hate relationship. I’m absolutely enthralled with it and always have been, but it’s not easy for me. Especially the pronunciation. With the thousands of miscommunications, the comparisons I make with myself and others, and despite the encouragement I receive, I’m very, very hard on myself. Way too hard on myself. I’ve forced myself to take a step back and put things in perspective. I’m doing pretty damn good and I’m sure you are too! And what’s the goal of communication at the end of the day: be understood. Of course it’s going to take years to communicate with the same nuance and intelligence you do in your native language. So breathe.  Be patient.

2. Humility

Living abroad has a way of humbling you. As you leave your bubble, your community, you leave behind everything people know of you. You are a blank slate. Undefined. This situation can be very frustrating if you don’t know who you are or don’t know how to simply just be with all your imperfections. Part of this process involves simultaneously detaching from myself slightly, going with the flow, and practicing compassion, as well. I don’t take it to heart when people don’t get me. Between the misconceptions, miscommunications, and preconceptions about me and my culture it’s important not to let your ego or pride flare up, especially when you’re up in front of a classroom with all those little eyes staring at you. Humility–It’s a beautiful thing.

3. Consistent Courage

Speaking of little eyes staring at you, being a teacher takes courage. I’ve never been someone who is timid, but it certainly takes guts to get up in front of people, whether they’re kids or adults, and give a presentation on what you know…and in many cases, what you’ve just (re)learned. In Spain I’m your stereotypical American girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. A typical “guiri” as they say here. Everywhere I go people immediately peg me as a foreigner. It’s obvious, and at first, it made me a bit shy, and slightly defensive. This made the already nerve-wracking first few experiences of going into the bank or post office even more of a call for courage. Day in and day out, my courage is tested and I have to say I’ve become even more bold than I was before.

4. Coping with Stress

Living abroad, learning a new profession on the fly, and a language by trial and error has tested my coping mechanisms. They even broke at some points. Learning a new profession can be stressful. Now double that with doing this in a foreign country. Learning to cope with stress and exhaustion is a must. How I did it? Sleep. Breathing. Patience. Positivity. Forgiveness. Laughter. You’ve got to breathe. Take a time out for yourself. Also, take time to be with people. Community is so, so important. Be patient with yourself and your coworkers. You’ve got to forgive yourself for mistakes, and of course, others, as well. Don’t think of stress as a negative thing. The best thing you can do is make all of these challenges into a fun game. I highly recommend taking a moment to learn How to Make Stress Your Friend.  Finally, you’ve got to laugh it all off. This is life and it’s not so dang serious.

5. Responsibility

Perhaps many of you had learned this invaluable characteristic in college, or perhaps you’re like me, and it has been a slow and steady progression to adulthood: aka being responsible. Every shade of responsibility is necessary as a teacher living abroad alone. You are forced to grow up, and it’s painful sometimes, but I couldn’t be more grateful to finally have my life together.

Thanks for reading! 

Stay tuned for the next 5 ways I’ve become a better human as an English Teacher in Spain.

Doing it Live: An Impromptu Trip to the Beach

We were seated at the kitchen table eating a delicious seafood paella, discussing potential destinations for a day trip Sunday. We could go to a big lake in Portugal and visit a few of sightly villages around it. We could go to Evora, a beautiful castled city about an hour and a half away and eat some delicious Portuguese fare. We were being very sensible until Maria’s mother jumped: “Let’s go tonight. We’ll finish lunch, I’ll clean the kitchen and you guys go pack the suitcases and let’s go.” Maria’s Dad, Antonio and I laughed. But where? The beach, she told us with the authority of a woman who never once depended on anyone but herself. While Antonio began with protests, I was already itemizing the things that were soon to be in my suitcase. She looked at me and said, “What do you think? Let’s go?” I responded with one of my favorite questions in life: “Why not?”

We scurried through the house throwing clothes into our suitcases, and food in a bag. We didn’t even have a hotel room. We were doing it live. Our final plan was to go to a beach town nestled into the cliffs south of Lisbon called, Sesimbra. At approximately six o’clock we took off on our uncharted, impromptu journey. After two wrong turns, two tolls, and two hours we wound our way into Sesimbra. We found one hotel on the top of a hill and asked for rooms. Booked. We went to another on the beach. Booked. The nice desk attendant called the other two hotels in the small fishing village. Booked and booked. There was one, however, out on the peak of the cape that offered a single bedroom for the wonderful last-minute price of 120 euro, or a master suite for 250 euro. Maria’s mother, being on her impulsive kick said, “We’ll take it!” My mouth dropped open. I knew this trip wasn’t going to be cheap, but I couldn’t let her spend 250 euro for a night in a hotel. I pulled in her reigns a little and we opted for the single with two cots, but as soon as we got into the car we called Antonio, who remained in Badajoz.

He searched on booking.com for places in Sesimbra. Nada. So he expanded his search and that’s when he found a beachfront apartment in Caparica de Costa for 100 euro. In unison we agreed and took off back through the winding highways of Sesimbra heading north towards Lisbon. Thrity-five minutes later,  at about 10:30,  we finally arrived at our destination.  Situated in an old building from the 60’s, when you walk into the apartment you feel like you’re not in the same structure. It hhad been renovated and had everything we could think of, including coffee.

After  the kind owner gave us a tour of the apartment, we went out to try to find some food. We were unsueccesful in all of the establishments except for a Kebab. For those of you who don’t know what a kebab is, it’s basically the taco bell of America: where you go to satisfy your late night drunk munchies. We shared a rather mediocre chicken sandwich with some soggy French fries. We left the Saturday night party burn out behind us while we retired for the evening.

The following day I woke up and waited around for Maria and her mom to wake up. For those of you who know me, you know that I’m usually the one causing the waiting, so you can imagine the change of pace. We spent about two hours walking along the beach. There was a Spring Surfest happening, so surfers, body boarders, skim boarders, and surfers littered the boardwalk and the shores.

We stopped at one of the bars on the beach and found ourselves a table that had a nice view and a nice breeze. We took advantage of the fame of Portuguese seafood and ordered calamaris, mussels in garlic, grilled cod, and grilled octopus. Each dish was truly exquisite. After we devoured the fresh seafood, or at least I think it was fresh, you never really know…Maria and her mother got ice cream and we went on the beach for a small nap.

We watched the sunset, packed up, and headed back to Badajoz. Although it was a short trip, we left feeling recharged and re-energized. Escaping to the countryside and being among nature is also refreshing, but there’s nothing like the beach that breathes new life into me.

Migas

There are a many signature foods in Spain. Most are well known, like the Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish Omelet) , Paella, Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham), or Wine…wait, wine isn’t food, but it might as well be. There are many, however, that you don’t hear about until you are living here.  One of these tasty delights is Migas.

What are they? And why are they worth writing about?

Migas, [pronounced Mee-guhs] are essentially day-old, or better said, weeks-old bread crumbs sauteed in olive oil and garlic, garnished with a fried red pepper. This version is the most basic and probably the most common if you stop for some in a high-capacity bar in a city. Migas is your classic poor man’s breakfast. It’s cheap, easy, uses basic household ingredients, and recycles the old bread most people would throw away. Developed by poor farmers in agricultural strong-holds like Extremadura, it is designed to nourish and fill a hard working farmer until it’s time to turn in for lunch. If you eat even just one plate and don’t plan on doing any laborious activities, don’t think about eating lunch. Impossible. I’m not a person who is afraid of unbuttoning her pants in order to eat more but, yesterday, at around 11:00 am I ate HALF a plate of Migas, yes half, and wasn’t hungry until 7:30PM.

Migas prepared in one of my haunts, El Viejo Bar, in Badajoz
Migas prepared in one of my haunts, El Viejo Bar, in Badajoz

Apart from being inexpensive and filling, one of the best things about Migas is the surprise it brings wherever you go. You can order Migas in one bar, cross the street and order them again and you’ll be greeted with a distinct signature plate of fancy bread crumbs. While they are a promised stomach filler where ever you are, there really is nothing better than a Migas made in the kitchen of a pueblo. That basic version I described above is blasphemy to the creators of authentic Migas. In fact, the best plate of Migas I’ve ever had was in a tiny village of about 30 people in the north of Caceres, called Roman Gordo. These Migas put the A in authentic and B in belly bursting.

The steps of these Migas are as followed:

Ingredients:

Day old or Stale Bread, Olive Oil, Garlic, Red and Green pepper, Bacon, Chorizo, Blood Sausage,

1. Slice day old French bread into small pieces and crumble onto an oven pan. Lightly spray with water, cover, and let sit overnight.

2. In a hearty amount of Olive Oil, fry green and red peppers until they’re deliciously wrinkled. Remove them from the pan and put them aside.

3. In the same pan, fry Chorizo, Panceta (a thick variety of Bacon), and Murcilla (blood sausage). Leave those rich juices behind, and put the meat aside aside.

4. About halfway through the process of frying of the meats, you can add full garlic cloves to the mix (the amount of course, depends on how many people you are cooking for… typically though, it’s nice to have at least two cloves on each plate, however, it’s important not to overpower the mixture with garlic).

5. When the garlic is toasted add in the bread. Now, you’ll need a mashing tool to mash up the bread into the Migas, the balled bread crumbs. (This part is essential, as the consistency is key).

6. Fry up an egg. Make sure you keep it over-easy, so the yolk is nice and runny.

7. When the bread crumbs are good and mashed, serve them on a plate and garnish with the Chorizo, Panceta, Morcilla, Peppers and Fried egg.

8. Dig in!

Note: You can keep it simple above, or do this however you want really, adding and subtracting ingredients from above.

Dig in is exactly what I did with these LOADED Migas complete with the above AND Ribs:

photo 5

As a delicious and authentic taste of Spain, writing about Migas feels worth it to me. Now, you tell me, was it worth reading about Migas? Share you thoughts and comments below 🙂