Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abono to pick with you

The honeymoon is over. My feet are on the ground. No more feeling like I'm in a whirlwind that won't settle down. I've now finished my orientation into my job and things are starting to get real. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's a great thing. During "the whirlwind", as I decided to call it in that third sentence, I think I was experiencing a weird mentality. I mean, I haven't had any kind of responsibilities until now so I felt almost like a tourist which was bad because I'm realizing now that I actually live here and there will be no end to the expensive lifestyle. So unless I'm making money, I need to stop spending it. Not that I've been going out every night to eat or anything like that, quite the opposite really. (As I've told about before, I've mostly been hanging out with the Colombians.) But I think I could have been being a little bit more conscious of money. Here is an example:

Hugo has a son, David, who is 21 years old. When I arrived Hugo told me that David wanted to help me find a phone. So I was in my room one time and David came in and asked me what I was looking for in a phone. I told him I just need to be able to make phone calls and send text messages. Well, he showed up a day or two later with a pretty nice phone. Now, I was going along with this whole thing because I was under the impression that it would be cheaper to get a hand-me-down phone from David. So when he handed me the phone I thought it looked a little bit too nice. So when I asked him how much it was he told me that he would only charge me 50 Euros. I didn't want to be rude so I was said OK but on the inside I was thinking "umm.. WHAT!" 50 Euros is about 75 dollars for you people who don't know. Oh! I should explain that these phones are prepaid so you aren't paying for any kind of plan or anything. What you have to do after that is buy a SIM card to put in the phone, which for me cost about 24 more Euros, which put about 12 Euros towards minutes. So I spent a grand total of 74 Euros on a phone that does things that I will never use it for, like play music and take pictures. At this point it was early on. Ya know, during "the whirlwind", so it wasn't quite hitting me how bad of a deal I was getting. Until I found out that my friends in the program all bought phones that came with cards for 20 Euros. 20 Euros!!!! Once I found out about that and the money woes started to hit, I decided I needed to say something to Hugo. I talked to him last night and at first he wasn't understanding what I was saying but eventually he figured it out. He kept swearing to me that the 20 Euro price was a gimmick they were using to reel you into a contract but I showed him online how that wasn't the case. He said he would talk to David and see if he can work out getting me the money back in exchange for the phone. It's still a little uncomfortable for me because I don't want to piss of David, but I can't afford to spend that much money on a phone. That has honestly been one of my biggest challenges so far. I guess that's not so bad.

So as I have mentioned in the past, the school where I will be teaching is in the town ofMajadahonda, which is a good distance out of the city. What is really awesome about this (to be read with a sarcastic tone), is that when you work that far out of the city the transportation costs are made to reflect the distance that you're traveling. Isn't that nice of them? Anyway, in order to have unlimited access to all of the transportation between the city andMajadahonda, I must pay 60 Euros a month to get an abono for zone B2. The zone thing works based on how far out you are going. B2 just so happens to be the most expensive one that they offer. Yay! These are the kinds of things that are constantly coming at me and are making me realize that I have to be extremely careful this next month until we get our first paychecks.

While I'm thinking about it, I'm going to go back and make all my Spanish words bigger and in bold print so they will be like key words and you guys can pretend you're learning something. Haha.

Here's some more Spanish for you: jornada de formaciĆ³n. That's what they called our orientation. I had some mixed feelings about the whole thing. I think it definitely gave me a great sense of what this whole thing is about and why we are here. Spain, and the rest of Europe really, are being very aggressive about teaching their young children English. They are putting a lot of money into bringing us here and it's a very intense bilingual program that they have here. The downside of orientation was that there was a ton of boring information and then they would try and slip in some pedagogical skills on the fly which I just don't see as being very realistic. I mean, I liked having examples of what we can do with the kids, but you aren't going to be able to make us all certified elementary school teachers in two hours. The great thing about it has been hanging out with some of my new friends. Now, I'm trying not to only surround myself with Americans, but I feel like since I'll only be speaking Spanish at home, that gives me some leeway with who I hang out with. Things are going to change once we all start working, but I think I've met some pretty awesome people so far and I'm hoping that we all hang out regularly.

In other news, I have been unable to shake this stupid cold that I've had for the last few days. I think it has been my funky sleep schedule since I arrived, plus the slight change in climate. My hope is that I can at least feel normal by the time I start work on Thursday. Tomorrow is a day off so I'll be able to rest, but then it all gets started! The great thing is that more than likely I'll have every Friday off so I will probably do one day of work Thursday and then head into a long weekend. Woo hoo!

Although this post has pretty much been dominated by all the challenges I've been facing, I hope I'm not giving the impression that I'm unhappy. There are a few things that I can think of that I know God has provided in order to keep me safe. For example, I literally think I would have already run out of money if it hadn't been for the fact that I ended up in an apartment with people who were cooking meals everyday. Otherwise I probably would have already given up on cooking at home all the time and I would have been spending more on meals out in the city. Well, that's all for now! Thanks for reading everyone.


*Pictures: 1) This is how I spent most of my time in orientation. I had 2 friends with me, one from Kansas and the other from southern California. I decided to draw their homes. 2) Then I tried to draw Maryland from memory so they could more or less see where things are situated. Not bad, right? 3) That is at the end of orientation when they called us up one at a time to make sure our documents were in order so that we can get our residency cards. 4) This is my abono . The most important part is the little ticket that says "Oct 09". I have to take that out and pass it through the machines on all the busses and metros. If I lose it, I have to pay another 60 Euros.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I have officially been in Spain for a week and it feels more like a day. It seems like I was immediately swept up in this new craziness as soon as I landed and it is hard to really wrap my head around all of it. This first week has definitely not been a good representation of how the rest of my year is going to go. Next week I have orientation and then I start working at the school by the end of the week. I'm actually pretty anxious for a routine.

The biggest thing that is going to change is going to be the loss of "the Colombians". I think I mentioned before that there are four Colombians staying with us while they present their thesis' at their University in the city. Well, I've come to really love them as we've all been kind of like a family this last week. We all eat most of our meals together and we all hang out in the apartment at night. Today I spent all day with them in Majadahonda, which I'll say a little bit more about in a minute. The whole experience has been a lot like a home-stay. Their names are John, Adriana, Jorge and Lucy. John and Adriana are both about 30 years old and they are married with a newborn at home. Jorge is in his 30s and Lucy I would say is probably in her late 50s or 60s. Lucy has basically taken on the role of grandmother to me. She calls me for meals and she takes care of me whenever we all walk around the city. She's incredibly sweet. The others have been like older siblings and have been really fun to hang out with. They have a lot of patience and take time to explain lots of things to me, sometimes 3 times before I finally understand.

As I'm typing this Adriana is trying to show me how to dance salsa. haha I don't know if she's expecting me to try but I think I'm going to pass.

Anyway, I'm really going to miss having them around.

You won't believe what one of my biggest challenges has been. I brought with me a set of hair clippers because that's how I trim my beard. For the first 5 days I didn't have an adapter that fit so my facial hair has just been growing out of control. In the States I wouldn't really worry about it because I think that kind of thing is a bit more accepted. Here, everyone is clean-shaven so I've been walking around feeling like Wolfman. Anyway, I finally got the adapter and yesterday I went to use it and I failed to realize that the outlets here put out 220 volts and we use about half that in the US. Luckily, the clippers didn't break but they made sure I was aware something was wrong with the amount of noise they were making. So today I asked the Colombians about it and we found a transformer that cuts the voltage in half, but since I already supercharged the motor in the clippers, they now always make that noise. Awesome.

Majadahonda is almost like Madrid's equivalent to Rockville or Silver Spring. It doesn't look the same, but there's a huge shopping center there and the residential areas there are very, very nice. I wasn't able to find the school that I teach at, but we tried. The only problem is Majadahonda is pretty far out of the city so I will have a hefty commute to work, but there's not much I can do about that.

Anyway, that's all for now. There has not yet been a time when I haven't felt God's protection and guidance here in Spain so I'm very grateful for that. Thanks for all of the prayers. Let me know if there's anything you want to hear more about. It's hard to know what's interesting enough to put in the blog.

*Pictures: 1. The best picture I could find of Majadahonda on the internet. It doesn't really show the part we were at, but at least it gives you something. 2. Me and Lucy tonight after dinner. Adriana was playing with my camera and we weren't paying much attention so we weren't smiling. I promise we were having fun.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Just watched last week's episode of The Office and thought it was hilarious.

Yesterday I hung out with Hugo most of the day. He was showing me a lot of the art that he has done and he introduced me to his favorite artist, Francis Bacon. We have similar tastes in art and it was actually really fun hearing him explain what he saw in the paintings.

After looking at the paintings he took me to some of the neighborhood's grocery stores and we bought a bunch of food. It's a long walk to the stores and we had so much food that my fingers almost fell off.

Last night I went and met up with my friend Erin who is in the same program as me and we actually had a class together my last semester at Maryland. She had been in contact with other auxiliars (that's what we're called) and so there were about 7 of us that went out to dinner together. They're a great group and I hope to hang out with them more.

So my biggest problem right now is that I am still sleeping like I'm in the United States. I didn't do a good job of adjusting my first few nights and since there have been a few times that I've stayed out late, I'm still not getting tired until about 4 or 5am. Today I actually slept until about 1:30pm, so I need to fix that.

The excitement of the transition is wearing off a little bit and while I'm always going to be excited to be here, I'm starting to miss a lot of people. Oh! I forgot to mention this the other day: the day that I flew out, mom and dad surprised me by telling me that they're bringing me home for Christmas! That was such awesome news and it has made it seem less daunting to be here for only about 3 months before visiting home. So I will see some of you then!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fast Food breakdown

Let me just preface this post by saying I'm sorry that it is so long, but there was a lot to tell.

Ok, so now that things have slowed down a little bit for me I can give a real update. It is currently Sunday afternoon around 5:15 pm and a lot has happened since I flew out on Thursday. I'm not going to bore everyone with intense details but I'll give some highlights.

While waiting for my flight from Amsterdam to Madrid, a kid sat down next to me and pulled out Blue Like Jazz, which is a great book and I told him I had read it and we became friends. Turns out he's on his way to Salamanca to study abroad and also do campus ministries there. So that was pretty cool.

Through a series of contacts I was put in touch with a family living here in Madrid. Larry is an American who married a British woman named Maryan and they now live in Spain with their 5 kids. They picked me up from the airport, brought me to their home, fed me, gave me some advice about living in Spain, gave me a place to sleep off my jet-lag and helped me get in touch with my landlord and brought me to my apartment the next day. I mean, I'm not sure there is a better way to transition into living in a new country.

Through ANOTHER series of contacts I found my new landlord, name Hugo, who is a Colombian artist living here in the city. He had a room in his apartment that he was renting for a great price, so that's where I am now. I think if it had not been for Larry and Maryan, I would have been very intimidated about coming to the new apartment because Hugo doesn't really speak English. However, since I was able to have that day to recover I was feeling ready to jump into things and it has been awesome! Hugo is SUPER nice and my Spanish is holding up way better than I thought it would.

So last night was something called La noche en blanco. This is basically an annual festival that they hold in September during the full moon. I haven't been able to figure out exactly what is behind the celebration, but essentially there are lots of art exhibits and people play music and dance everywhere downtown. So, Hugo has some Colombian friends staying in our apartment because they are all preparing for a big test tomorrow for their PhD's. Hugo left for a bible study last night and they came into my room and asked if I would like to go with them to see some of the festivities. In my head I was like "that will be kinda awkward since you guys don't speak English and I barely speak Spanish." Out loud I was like "...SURE!" As it turns out, my Spanish was good enough to have a great time with them and they took turns trying to introduce themselves in English which was hilarious.

Here's the part where some of you are going to make fun of me. The first thing they wanted to do was eat because they were hungry. I was kinda starving so this was fine with me. However... the place they wanted to eat, ironically, was Burger King... As some of you know, I gave up fast food last September and just celebrated a year without it. I tried to explain that to them, but I don't think I made it clear enough that I seriously NEVER eat it anymore. Soo.... they bought me a whopper meal... and I ate it. hahaha I don't even feel bad about it though because I was having so much fun and they were taking such good care of me while taking me around the city so I gladly ate my first fast food burger in over a year. I don't plan on making a habit of it.

While I was at the Piano's house (Larry and Maryan), I met a friend of theirs named Anna who is from Atlanta and just did 2 years of Young Life here in Madrid. She is leaving to go back to the states tomorrow so before she left she offered to bring me to the church she has gone to. I met up with her this morning and we walked to her church which was incredible. It's a Spanish church, but it was very much like church in the United States. They played a few of the worship songs that we sing, only in Spanish. I almost teared up a few times because there's something very powerful about singing those same songs in a different language. It definitely gives you more of an understanding about how the church is a family. It's also a reminder that God lives in Madrid too and I don't ever have to feel like I'm apart from Him here. Does that make any sense?

Here's a funny story from church that illustrates the constant awkwardness of living in a country with a different language: After the service a guy walked up to me and said something to me, while shaking my hand. Now, I thought he said 'Dios te bendiga' (God bless you) which is a common thing people say to each other, but I still have no clue if that's actually what he said. I said 'y tu tambien' and then he said something else I didn't understand and walked away. I just have this feeling that in his mind that conversation was very different than what it was in my mind. You never go very long without feeling like a moron in these situations, but that's just a part of the experience and I've decided to embrace it and share it with all of you to have a laugh over.

Ok, I realize this is super long but I think this whole process of getting settled is one of the most important parts of the whole thing so I wanted you all to get a sense of how my last few days have been. Thanks for reading!


*Pictures: My room, The obligatory picture of my plane over the Atlantic, The city during La noche en blanco, My Colombian friends working to get ready for their exams. More Pictures

Friday, September 18, 2009

Did you get lost in Amsterdam?

Well, the longer part of my journey is over. The flight from Dulles to Amsterdam was actually one of the best I've ever had. The food was good, the service was good and they had the sweet little TVs where you can watch whatever you want. I went with The Hangover and The Soloist. I wasn't overly excited about either one, but Hangover had some real funny stuff and Soloist some real touching stuff so worth watching.

Anyway, now I have to sit in this airport for about 3 more hours before I can leave. I'm thinking of getting some food after I write this. Once I am settled in Madrid later today I am going to write a more in-depth update. I have some fun stories about the travels so far. The important thing is that I'm safely in Europe and now it's just a short hop over to Spain. Talk to you guys later!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just experimenting

So Mom came in and handed me a few pictures that she dug up from when I was pretty young. I figure that pictures are going to be a big part of my blogging from Spain so I'm going to upload these to make sure I know how this works. The one on the left is of me and Dan Carson. We're enjoying our lollipops and wishing the paparazzi would just leave us alone. I'll admit, I eventually lost my cool when they wouldn't take the camera out of my face which explains the second picture.

Anyway, thanks for letting me try this out. I leave in about 7 days. It's a little bit hard to believe. Oh! I also joined twitter which I had always sworn I wouldn't do but I figure it's one more way for me to give out updates. My name on there is JBaker85. Follow me so I don't feel like a loser!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is this "blog" thing?

So I've never blogged before and I'm not sure that I'll be very good at it, but this is where I'll be updating everyone about my experiences in Spain. I leave September 17th so I probably won't have much to say until then, but if anything crucial happens I'll put it here.

I cancelled my facebook last night and if anyone is wondering why, it's because I felt like it was controlling me more than I was controlling it. I think most people can understand what I mean by that, at least on some level. Anyway, I'll be back once there's something interesting to talk about.