Where the shadow people go

I’m currently sippin’ on some almond milk with melted cacao powder and watching the sun go down at 9:30 on a Friday, and it’s still light out. It should be all the way down around 10, which is so cool! I luv u, primavera. I haven’t written a life-in-Spain relavant post since I moved here, so I’ll write a bit about my daily life, routines, stuff I’ve been thinking about lately, etc etc.

I am still doing the auxiliar program through the Ministerio de Educación, and because I have had an overall great experience with my school, I am totally enjoying the program. However, I must admit that I feel guilty at times because it’s a part time job, and it’s not physically exigent in any sense, not intellectually demanding, not even a lot of stress… well okay, maybe wrangling preschoolers can be exhausting. but my general job is to assist the teacher in pronunciation, vocabulary words, sing songs, occasionally make Powerpoints about how Americans celebrate holidays, and watch preschoolers color pictures. Last week my task was to fashion the English classroom door in a spring-themed way. And I mean, it was a damn fine door, but…..yeah.

This is my life right now, and I feel a little guilty about it! It sucks to talk to my American friends who are working their asses off trying to survive in these big expensive cities, exhaustedly collapsing on the couch and having to recover from 50 hour work weeks. Even my roommates are always like, “tienes trabajo hoy?” and I’m like “um….nope…” and maybe it’s my own self-consciousness about this, but I feel like they’re like, wut r u doing in our country, mooching off our government with your fancy private healthcare?? here I am, making a living (a tiny amount of money and not saving anything, mind you, but I can still eat comfortably) by speaking my native language. Which brings me to another thought that has been circulating around in the old noggin’ lately…

Is teaching English as a second language contributing to linguistic imperialism?

Or would I just feel more deserving if I was an actual teacher here with a full work load? Would I feel like I deserved to have the free time that I do? Am I just internalizing broader societal issues at large because I have a deeply instilled guilt complex and I overthink shit??????

I had this fear my last year of college, when I was toying with ideas on how to travel and ideally make money. Doing research led me to discover that it’s quite difficult to get a work visa within the EU unless you have a special niche set of skills, or unless you are a native English speaker. I did WorkAway volunteer work first, and then eventually decided I wanted to get paid to travel, was gung-ho on learning Spanish and wanted to go for this program. And here we are now…..and this nagging thought has again reached it’s way back to me.

I can’t speak for other countries, (though I definitely have my assumptions) but the harsh reality is that Spain as a country is completely saturated in English. (and often by extension of media, American culture).

– No lie, every clothing store that has graphic prints or words on shirts are almost always written in ENGLISH. There is virtually no Spanish to be found on the clothing here. I asked an employee at Zara about this the other day, and she shook her head, sighed, and said she didn’t know either. Vale, globalization.

– one of Spain’s biggest department stores, of which I have a clear view from my desk window, is called El Corte Ingles… The English Cut.

– Many Spanish schools start teaching English in infantil/preschool, to the 3 year olds. My 3 year olds know how to say their colors, animals, numbers, and sing basic songs in English. They continue to take English classes every year until senior year of high school, when they are 18. If they don’t start from age 3, they at least take 4 years in high school and often some more in college. That can add up to be 15 years of taking English classes in school.

– Movies are dubbed over with Spanish subtitles, but where are the majority of movies made? Hollywood. My Polish friend once told me that it can be really affecting having to see movies where Matt Damon or Brad Pitt or just yet another American white guy plays “the hero” of the story, saving the world from the apocalypse. Grody.

– Music. I thought coming here I would be surrounded by Spanish/Latin American music the majority of the time, but in every grocery store I hear Jack Johnson or The Lumineers or other current acoustic pop artists. (My roommate from Vallodolid and I have actually bonded over our teenage love for The Ataris.)

– The Spanish language is peppered with words from English. Granted, English is totally an amalgamation of a language with words borrowed from many other idiomas, but sometimes an English word will be substituted or kept. For example, “piercing,” “wi-fi,“PDA…” I even see the traditional red stop signs around here.

I guess I just had no idea to the extent of how much other cultures are saturated with my own from the time they are born and onwards. Before moving here, I had heard like 5 songs in Spanish in my entire life. Here, the majority of songs and movies and media are in english with subtitles or translated. Here, there are always stories about American politics on the news. It all feels unbalanced and unwanted and I guess it just plain grosses me out. So I’m questioning my place here, wondering if it’s actually beneficial, especially after seeing firsthand how the internet/media/obnoxious American dominant culture has seeped its way into others. And it is just blatantly not fair that other immigrants who come to the U.S. have to work in servantile blue-collar positions with no benefits, no security, no money for an expensive-ass visa. It’s absolutely wrong. What do we do about it after recognizing the glaring privilege of the situation?

After discussing the matter with some friends, I had to come to terms that this is not the first or the last time a language will hold globalized weight. Before English, it was French. Then the British Empire spread its little wings and got a little colonizing-happy (which was not single-handedly my fucking fault so chill mind, chill!). And as imprudent as this may sound, in this global economy in which we unfortunately live where food is under lock and key, everybody has to make a living. Maybe if helping people to understand my native language will help to advance their socio-economic status, then there could be worse systems in which to be a participating pawn. At least I’m going to keep telling myself that. Nothing is perfect, I guess.

So yeah… this is less of an inspiring travel blog post and more of a WTF AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE LOL post! But here goes some routines, in case anybody be wondering.


Monday: Wake up at 7:30, eat breakfast, walk/run 25 minutes to meet my carpool with my colleague Rosa, who is a truly sweet woman. I have learned so much Spanish from our morning and afternoon conversations. Actually, I often gage my level of improvement from how much I can understand and communicate with from Rosa from the beginning of the year to the current moment. We arrive at school and work from 9am-2:15pm, and then she drops me off near my house and I cook and eat lunch from 3-4pm, rest for a bit/siesta/watch netflix. I start the 40 minute trek to Spanish class at 5:50 and have class from 6:30-8, walk home, make dinner at 9pm, eat around 9:30, chill, go to sleep around midnight. I’ve definitely latched onto the Spanish eating times and am quite enjoying it, truth be told.

Tuesday: I only have to babysit for two hours in the afternoon, so I use Tuesdays to prepare lesson plans, do yoga, go to the gym when I have energy (sometimes walking everywhere is enough!) get tapas with personas, do laundry, food prep, clean, human stuff. Tuesday nights are my acroyoga class, which has been a newfound passion here in Santiago de Compostela.

Wednesday: I wake up around 9, eat a small snack (usually spirulina and orange juice), take a bus to Sigüeiro (the town in which I work), grab a €5 desayuno in a local cafe which usually consists of bacon, eggs, tostada with olive oil and tomatoes, green tea, and orange juice. I work a half day at school, come home, make a small lunch, and go to and from Spanish class from 5:50-8:30. Being in transit takes up a lot of my time here. Make dinner at 9 or 9:30, chat with my roommates, etc.

Thursday: Same morning schedule as Monday. I work a full day at school in which I find different stories to read in English (including The Rainbow Fish, the Cat and Mouse series, random videos on youtube that are relevant to any current holidays here, etc.) and assist with English classes and one Arts and Crafts class on this day. We do the whole A&C class conducted in English, and we go over vocabulary words related to the lesson, as well as reinforce ones they’ve already learned like scissors, cutting, glue, colors, etc. My school is a plural-lingual school that has just started the auxiliar program, thus the arts and crafts classes conducted in english are only for first grade. Next year, they will add second grade, and the year after third, and so on and so forth. I can see a difference in the understanding of the first graders compared to even some of the fourth graders, which just proves how important it is to be exposed to a language in order to master it, even if you aren’t fully comprehending it at the time!

Friday: I have one conversation private class with an adult English teacher in the mornings, where we meet at a cafe for an hour and I help her with words she has questions about, as well as assist with teaching expressions, idioms, etc. I enjoy this class a lot, because it reminds me how damn nice it is to live here in Spain – we meet at a cafe over morning bebidas, and it’s so laid back. I do grocery shopping, cook, clean, knit, go to the park, and have Spanish class in the evenings. Afterwards I usually get tapas with friends; tapas are small snacks that come with the purchase of a beverage, and oftentimes Spaniards substitute their dinner for decompressing over tapas with friends after work.

Saturdays & Sundays: Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the city (and from my clearly taxing life here) and so I take day trips around Galicia, to places such as Ourense to visit the hot thermal springs, La Coruña for the beaches, or other nearby places. I go by bus, which I walk 40 minutes to the bus station, or train, which I live right next door to. I have lovely colleagues who often offer to show me their villages they grew up in, or hidden gems only accessible by car, or just to take a walk around the city and its spacious parks and later on grab a drink with and converse in a bar or a cafe. Sometimes I have intercambios (language exchanges with two native speakers wanting to learn the other’s language) with people, one of whom is a famous magician, and the other who became my first Spanish friend here. She teaches me dirty words that I accidentally practice too loudly in public which always results in her doing this wheezing old man smoker laugh that I love. Sometimes I go on hikes or long walks, which is another habitual thing people do together here that I have also come to enjoy.

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Other mundane things not necessarily worth writing home about: going to the physical therapist (my back got messed up this winter from going to sleep cold b/c we don’t have heat in our apartment), going to the doctor (I’m sick all the f-ing time for some reason, probably because we don’t have heat in our apartment lol why), going to the dentist (even though I’ve consumed massive amounts of citrus in my life I officially DON’T need reconstructive gum surgery anytime in the near future!!!) and practicing Spanish at every opportunity I can. Listening to podcasts, reading basic books, watching Gilmore Girls in Spanish audio and subtitles, and meeting up for tapas with Spanish speakers. Basically my life at this point is revolving learning this language, and in the process, I’ve picked up a few Galician words, which is a loose mixture of Spanish of Portuguese. (cool fact- when I went home for Christmas, I watched Harry Potter on the plane which had Portuguese subtitles, and I could understand a good bit of what I was reading because of the Galician!) However, I can admittedly get quite lazy about my study times and sometimes my brain just wants a break, but the minute someone here starts speaking to me in English I’m like NOOO and the motivation comes right on back.

Life here is so different. It’s so natural for people to be out and walking around. People bring their children and babies out to bars, and the kids play a game of soccer while the parents catch up with friends over drinks. It’s interesting, but I think Spaniards without a doubt use and instill more common sense than the majority of Americans do. Here’s an example. I took a trip with my friend Natalie down south to Valencia in March to see the famous festival Las Fallas, a festival notorious for firecrackers, fireworks, and a huge Paganesque burning of several “ninots,” these humongous constructed figures that when burned signify the impermanence of humanity and the cycles of new beginnings. (and yes, I sang O, Valencia! by The Decemberists the whole time.) But basically, people were setting off fireworks in the streets everywhere. Left and right. You literally had to watch your step lest you get an arm blown off. And not only adults, but ACTUAL SMALL CHILDREN were setting off FIREWORKS in the STREET. WITH LIGHTERS. AND GIGGLING MANIACALLY AFTERWARDS. It was equally the most hilarious and disturbing thing I’ve ever seen…. we decided that Valencians are just a region of pyromaniacs. But my point is, I have never seen a four year old American child know how to safely light a large firework out of like a Coke can and be able to run away in time. The parents were there, coaching them how to do it properly. And it was fine! But I just kept thinking, yeaaaaah, in the US there would be lawsuits everywhere.

Speaking of the US, I go home in two weeks and I have mixed feelings about it. My plans for this summer are going to be returning to Nashville in early June, working at a summer camp in rural Tennessee for the month of July, and working in Nashville somewhere for August and most of September before returning to Spain for my second year of teaching. But this time, I will be moving to Seville in Andalucía, the region of Spain that first captured my heart. I have weird memories from Andalucía because of this one Workaway experience where I met people that had a really profound effect on me but also where the host man offered to give me a yoni massage and I was like the fuck dude, so now everytime I think of the south of Spain I think of vagina massages, but I also think of delicious vegetarian food and Romania and an accidental 8 hour hike where a neighbor’s dog followed us the entire time. Andalucían speckled desert is the opposite of Galicia’s verdent green wetness, and it will be the first time I will have ever lived in a desert. I chose it for it’s famously sunny reputation, and despite the horror stories I hear about their government not paying on time, I plan to come prepared with savings and live in gratitude that a plan I hoped would come to fruition did just that.

Part of me is deeply sad about leaving my life here in Santiago. There is nothing better knowing that I have made relationships with people that I care about and who care about me in return. I will so miss the routines I have here: the banter after work over cups of tea with Tania, decompressing over a glass of wine with Natalie, Reid and Amanda, throwing surprise birthday parties for friends, dancing in wigs at the local gay club, trying traditional Galician foods, discovering new hole-in-the-wall cafes and restaurants, indulging in the delicioso menu del dias, walking through the centuries-old Old Town (which is an actual UNESCO World Heritage site), and gazing at the beautiful cathedral that drips with detail and is embellished with gaudy Gothic architecture. Having the ability to walk to my local grocery stores, not needing a car, taking the smooth and fast train, practicing my Spanish, watching my students improve their own English, and even just drying my clothes on a drying rack. I feel like this is the first place I’ve truly lived as an adult, where I’ve learned what I need to do to take care of myself mentally and physically. I’ve pushed past insecurities to find comfort in the unknown while at the same time recognizing  when I need a few days to relish in the introvert life and just rest and gaze out my window to my beautiful view of the leaning hillsides. I’ll miss listening to my headphones as I walk from place to place, learning how to layer properly with the drastically changing weather here, the daily process of letting go of the fear of looking foolish for not being able to communicate exactly as I wish. Everything is cyclical, and everything changes. Nothing gold can stay, but chapters unfold as they do and we go with them, like it or not. I can see again how it’s best to ride the never-ending wave than fight it. There is beauty in this change, and everyday I learn how to practice finding it in all its forms. Most of all, I think I’m learning how to forgive myself for things my mind deems as past transgressions. Learning to live and walk a little lighter. The Spaniards know how to smile even when things are rough, and damn if I’m not thankful for that reminder.

Until next time,

Caroline xx


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