Spain

Lessons for a Teacher

I’ve started my 8th week of teaching English as a second language (ESL) and I’m learning a lot. (This is not new for me – I was en ESL teacher three years ago, and I taught ESL in Mozambique for 7 months). One of my favorite parts about teaching ESL is that I get to learn so much about the world without leaving home. Every class feels like a visit to a hostel in Europe. I teach adults, so I get to teach classes about alcohol, or picking up people at a bar. My students come from all over, and every class we spend time sharing about our own cultures. Here are some interesting things I’ve learned:

In Saudi Arabia, the sun is so intense that people replace the grass in their gardens 5-6 a year! While I knew that alcohol is forbidden, I learned that every town has a “foreign” compound where you can drink and do all sorts of sinful western things!

In Brazil, there’s a superstition that if you leave your purse on the floor you’ll have bad luck. However, if you put your purse on the floor of a rich home you’ll absorb some of the wealth. Also, it’s very common to have a housekeeper. Even housekeepers have housekeepers!

In Korea, they still use skin bleach. When I asked the students to talk about the first thing they will do when they get home, one Korean girl said she would lighten her skin. When I showed surprise the other Korean girls said it was common, and that freckles were not considered attractive. I’d be pretty ugly in Korea!

In Spain, the government pays for students to come to America or England to study English.

In Switzerland, you can opt out of the mandatory army, but you need to pay 3% of your salary from ages 18-33. If you’re unemployed, you still need to pay $400 a year.

I’ve learned a lot more, and I have students from many more countries, but those were just some of the stories that stood out to me. If anyone loves to travel, meet new people, and share about their culture, teaching ESL is a great job!

How many HeSos does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I’m paraphrasing here, but when it took Thomas Edison a 1,000 attempts to make a decent light bulb he said “I have learned yet another way not to make a light bulb.” That’s a pretty healthy way to look at your failures.

As I enter the fourth month of blogging, I decided to review my blog to see if I am maintaining the original spirit of the HeSo project and following through on my goals (This is all very meta, I know). I promised to be “brutally honest” about all my successes and failures. So here goes.

In August, I set a goal of publishing a piece about the similarities of Madrid and NYC. While I was in Madrid I took extensive notes, and made lots of good comparisons. When I got back home I started the article about six or seven times, and I never got past the intro.

I learned something…I don’t like writing when there’s a clear assignment. It brings me back to high school English. But I did learn that I love writing fiction!

As I was trying to write the Spain piece, a new character for an old short story I wrote came to mind. Instead of laboring on an article I didn’t want to write, I let myself rewrite the story. I finished the 20 paged short story and I’m very happy with how it turned out. Now I just need to get it published.


In my post about using your enthusiasm, I wrote that I would give a more thorough review of, Start Something That Matters and have a free give away of the book. I haven’t done that yet, but the second I have more time to reread it – it’s on. I just have a really hard time rereading books because there are so many great books that I’ll never get a chance to read even if I live to a million 😦 So this is a temporary failure, BUT I know it will soon be a success.

Riding my Flying Pigeon in Astoria Park

One of my goals was to meet people who are following their HeSo and this has been a great success! I got to meet, and interview Lisa Bourque, founder of Wild Heart Coaching. I got to learn about my friend’s new bike career and I got a bike (which I rode to Astoria park Sunday! I love my bike so much!!!). I met someone at a Halloween party who just wrote a book and we’re planing to do an interview together! Having a goal to meet and learn from people who are following their heart has made me a lot more proactive in my friendship making. I’m meeting more people than ever before, listening more closely, and appreciating the tips they have. This has been one of the best successes for me.

from geektyrant.com

When I started this project, Ifully intended to start a pie making company. I envisioned future blog posts of my I Love Lucy-esque mishaps in the kitchen. However, when I really started the planning I realized it wasn’t for me. I love to make pies, but what I love the most is making them for someone special and seeing or hearing how much they love it. It just wouldn’t be the same making them in mass. Plus I don’t even have a dishwasher. I did, however, come up with another business idea that I love and I’ve been completely psyched for it!

Overall, I’ve been volunteering more, reading empowering books, getting out of my comfort zone, meeting more people, and thinking positively. I’m looking at my slip ups constructively and learning from them rather than letting them hold me back. Because I’m public about my goals I feel a sense of accountability to my fans out there (yes, I’m a rock star). My friends are actually using HeSo as a word now! Having the blog has motivated me beyond words. I never thought anyone would read what I had to say. I never thought I would have more than a paragraph to write. But here I am on my 40th post and I’m in a much better place than when I started. My light bulb is shining bright!

Work Ethic

I’m sorry for not posting for so long. I’m in Barcelona with my boyfriend, so you know, not hangin’ around the computer much. But I did feel guilty not posting. Since I’m unemployed, blogging kind of feels like a mini job. A job that I love doing (in fact, while on a bus ride between Salamanca and Segovia I was thinking about how much I wanted to blog. Strange? If only I could get paid to ramble.) So since I wasn’t doing my mini-job, it got me thinking about work ethic.

While in Madrid I was staying at the Cat Hostel (yes, I picked it for the name, and a part of me was hoping there would be a resident cat, but that part of me was disappointed) and I decided to extend my stay for an extra night. I went to the reception desk at 11:30 and asked the guy if I could extend my reservation. He looked at me and politely asked if I would mind coming back at12 to do that. I said sure, but asked him why. He said that he was changing shifts at 12 and he’d prefer not to do a reservation during his last half hour of work. Well that just shut me up. How can you argue with that logic? I had no idea that Bartleby, the Scrivener, could get a job in this modern day.

The next day I had a leisurly lunch outside the Museum Lazarious. When I got there there was a business lunch happening between a boss and three employees. From what I could understand (they were speaking in Spanish) they talked about art, politics, philosophy, their families, vacation plans, and everything else but work. Well that´s not true. After about an hour I heard the boss suggest that they work a half day on one of the many Saint´s days that they usually have off. The three employees agreed that that was out of line and they wouldn’t do it. At that point one of the employess laughed and said they would soon start working like Americans.

I am continually getting hit over the head by how much American´s work, and how we are the laughing stuck of the rest of the World. While I was at the Language school, Don Quijote, and I told them that most Americans only get 2 weeks of vacations, their jaws droped. When my Spanish teacher complained about how in Spain people only have 4 months of maternity leave, one person from Switzerland was outraged. They apparently get 2 years of maternity leave. Yes 2 years.

It seems like everywhere else personal time is considered sacred, and no boss, no schedule, no responsibilities get in the way of it. If you’re in a store at 1:30 in Spain and you are about to buy something it doesn’t matter, the clerk will kick you out so that she can take her two hour break. There doesn’t seem like there’s any hurry to get things done. No drive, no work ethic.

And here’s where I feel torn. I’m not sure if this extreme is a good thing. I like this attitude while on vacation, but I remember it driving me crazy while living in Mozambique. I remember waiting weeks before having a meeting with my boss. Everyday he would say “manana.” It would take months for a short fence to go up, because the workers were taking breaks every five minutes. Dinners at restaurants would take hours, not because you were enjoying the food, but because you were waiting for the waiter. I would hear every foreigner say, “Mozambican’s are just so damn lazy.” And these were usually European foreigners saying this.

I’ve done a lot of traveling through Southern and Eastern Europe, and I’m always amazed by how little people work. But in Europe, they’re not seen as lazy, it somehow seems like the people are defending their rights, like their refusal to work on small holidays is a political stance. “WE WILL NOT BECOME AMERICA!” Is this hypocrisy just a symptom of Post-colonialism?Will laziness in former Colonies always be viewed as a negative, but laziness in post-imperialist countries always be viewed as an inalienable right? 

Now how did America, a former colony, escape the stereotype, and even become know as a country who works too hard? Well that must come from our Puritan background. Puritans, who were mostly Lutherans and Calvinists, believed that a certain number of people were pre-selected to be saved by God. Since it was impossible to know if you were pre-selected it was thought that a strong work ethic was a consequence of being God’s chosen one and therefore, if you worked hard enough, you were probably going to Heaven. It’s true. Wikipedia said so!

So take that Puritan background, and mix it up with Capitalism, and you end up with a country that has 24 hour Drug stores on every corner and a waitress who’s 8.5 months pregnant serving you coffee at midnight so you can finish your work reports. We are so tied to the capitalist identity that we sent secret troops into Nicaragua, and sold weapons to Iran, just to get back at Russia, our sworn enemy. And why was Russia so bad? It was presenting an alternative lifestyle to capitalism. Pure evil I tell you!

Geez! It’s not often I get to make references to Melville, Weber, and the Iran Contra affair within one conversation. I should be telling you about Gaudi’s awesome architecture (amazing) and the beach (amazing) and the old Gothic quarter (amazing), but one of the reasons I came to Spain was for the HeSo project. I’m doing the things I love, and trying to see if I can make a job out of it. So of course, work is on my mind. I’ve learned something very important about my work ethic while in Spain. I’ve realized that while I love the relaxed attitude of the Mediterranean, I also need to feel a sense of energy and accomplishment. In other words, I don’t want to work like an American, European, or Mozambican. Mmm I guess I need to travel some more to find the ideal work ethic 😉

The little Piper who couldn´t

That´s Paco on the left after getting the same note wrong 4 times in a row

There are some great street musicians here. But I´m not going to write about them. I´m going to tell you about the worst street musician I´ve ever seen. I´ve nicknamed him Paco. Paco plays the recorder. He wears brown tights and  a military vest every day. He has a mullet that´s shaved on the sides (business in the front, party in the back, army on the sides).

He plays one song, and he doesn´t play it well. He usually comes to the outdoor restaurants right after a great acordian player, or violinist is done. He walks around to every table playing three or four notes off key and then asks for money. Usually people cover their ears and ask him to leave.

I´ve watched him  since the day I arrived in Salamanca. I figured that was the first day he received the recorder and that eventually he would get better. Nope. He´s still just as bad. For all I know,  he´s been playing that song for years. I watch him at lunchtime. I´ve never seen him get paid once. However,  I have seen people offer him cigarettes or beer and ask to talk to him. They probably ask him why he plays the recorder.

So what is the point of telling you this? What sort of HeSo lesson can I glean from this? He obviously loves playing his recorder, and nothing is going to stop him. It doesn´t matter if no one pays him, and if no one likes him, he´s going to play his recorder. Can you imagine being that passionate about something? Can you imagine inspiring people not with your success, but with your perserverance? Let´s all try and be like Paco today. I´m going to go shave the sides of my head now.

Paco getting into a groove

It´s all in the details

The lucky frog´s on top of the skull

I´ve been overwhelmed by the details of the Spanish language, but positively inspired by the details of Spanish architecture. As I wrote in a previous post, legend has it that if you find the frog in the fasçade of the University entrance you will get married in a year. Single women flock to the entrance every morning to try and find it. I found it yesterday! Haha, sorry Mike.

If you think it was an easy feat think again. The whole wall is carved with intricate flowers, animals, and decorations.

The fasçade of the University entrancen

People stare at it for hours until their necks get sore. The frog is only about an inch tall and it´s high up. I should start a business where I charge desperate women a euro for each hint as to where the frog is.

Here´s a funny side note. WordPress (the site that hosts my blog) shows me what links causes people to view my blog. My post about the dreaded lisp is the most visited, and I was wondering why. I have a picture of Megan Fox at the bottom, and then I saw that hundreds of people viewed the post because of the Megan Fox tag! That´s one way of getting visitors!

And now I will show you some pictures of the ceilings in Salamanca and Segovia. I´ve been blown away by the details.

In the castle of Segovia. This was the meeting room.

This ceiling is about 30 feet high and decorated with all the kings of Spain´s history. Below each one is a description of their rule and lineage. These figures are about 5 feet tall and about 20 feet above your head.

The throne room in the castle of Segovia

This ceiling is about 40 feet high. The walls are red velet. The carved section is about 10 feet wide. The detail is stunning. You can´t help but drop your mouth when you walk into this room.

The ceiling of the Cathedral of Salamanca

The massive columns of the Cathedral of Salamanca

A ceiling of the old library. All hand carved wood.

detail of the ceiling

Each color is a different marble or granite.

Spain Travel Narrative

I’m leaving for Spain today! I’ve always wanted to go, so now I’m doin’ it. For a whole month! First I’ll be taking a two week Spanish course in Salamanca at Don Quijote language school. I’ll be living with a host family, which I’ve never done before, and honestly that scares me. Hopefully we’ll get along. Afterward my boyfriend, Mike, will be meeting me in Madrid. We’ll take the train to San Sebastian, then Barcelona, Granada, and Cordoba. Muy Bien.

from About Spain Travel blog

OK, here’s where the challenge comes in. Traveling is one of the things that supports my HeSo. And I’m supposed to be finding ways to get paid to do what I love. The obvious answer is travel narrative. So how do I become the next Bill Bryson, or Elizabeth Gilbert? The truth is I’ve been to some pretty crazy places, and experienced amazing wonders. I took a plane ride around Mt. Everest, I swam in a bio-luminescent bay in Vieques where the water glows neon green when you touch it, I had Shabbot dinner with an 11 person family in Vienna who I met only an hour before. I’ve been to Nicaragua 10 times. My family bribed a guard to get into Catherine the Great’s Palace in Russia. So how the heck do I get paid to tell these stories?

A picture I took at 30,000 ft in the air

Well let’s be realistic. Publishers are not going to be knocking down my door to give me a book deal when I come back from Spain. So what are the baby steps?

I visited a great site called The Travel Writer’s Life. In an article titled, Go Magazine Editor Orion Ray-Jones on the Kinds of Travel Articles that Glue and Editor to the Page, Christina Merchant interviews the editor, Orion Ray-Jones. Here’s what he says about how to get published:

Be original. Bring me topics that will surprise and intrigue me, and develop innovative ways to present them, both in terms of how you report the story and how you structure the language. That first-person travelogue of syrupy, adjective-laden writing about a Tuscan wine tour is too painful to bear. I know there’s wine in Italy, and unless you’re famous, I’m not interested in your diary about tasting it. Surprise me! There are so many bad clichés in travel; avoid them.

An article by Bonnie Caton said that the best way to get published is to write something unique about a small town. In other words, editors are overwhelmed with stories about wine tasting in Tuscany, finding love in Paris, and art in Barcelona, but they don’t get many interesting stories about the Socrates Sculpture garden in Astoria. That’s good to know, but it’s not going to help me right before my trip to Spain.

That got me thinking. Can I write a local story about traveling? I started looking up the American sister cities for the cities I’m visiting in Spain. It turns out Madrid and NYC are sister cities. And so my goal is to write and sell a story about similarities and differences between NYC and Madrid.

Roy Stevenson, gives these steps in his article, How Long Does it Take to Sell your First Travel Story:

1. Collect every bit of information you get, and take a ridiculous amount of photos. You might think you’ll remember everything, but you won’t. Editors love when you supply your own pictures. Make sure you take many different angles. You might take only close ups, but the editor might want the look of wide open vistas.

2. Create a long list of all the travel journals, magazines and websites that you would like to sell to, and send the query letter to all of them. Yes, all of them.

3. Be fearless. The only way to get published is to keep putting yourself out there. No one is going to read stories off of your laptop. Or at least they’re not going to pay you to do so.

So this is going to be my first attempt at making some HeSo money. Wish me luck!