Archive | September, 2010

Getting to know the city

27 Sep

After getting to know the city on foot for the past week, yesterday we decided to take a different approach – en coche. Three of my neighbors – Nacho, who helped me find my apartment, Juan and Juan – took Lisa (another American teacher) and me up to el Castillo de Santa Catalina to get the full effect of Jaén.

So far, the weather has been nearly perfect, and yesterday was not an exception. The views of the city were beautiful:

After walking a bit around the castle and the accompanying el parador, voted one of the best hotels in Spain, we headed down to the bottom of the mountain to the Parque del Seminario. The park has a beautiful view of the castle high above to the left and the cathedral straight ahead. As the sun set, we watched both become illuminated, serving as a bright contrast to the darkening landscape of Jaén.

By that time, it was getting cold and we were getting hungry so it was off for more tapas bars, cerveza and finally sleep.

Today, they came to clean and fix up my apartment so I’m excited to get to work unpacking, organizing and settling in once I get back.

Hasta pronto!

My Lesson of the Day: Nothing compares to the view from above.

Has it only been a week?

24 Sep

It’s strange to look around and think, “I’ve only been in Jaén for a week!” While things have been a little overwhelming, it’s nice to be able to look around and see all that I’ve accomplished.

First and foremost, I found an apartment. Well, actually I found two. To make a long story short, I spent two nights in my first apartment. I, however, only needed one night to figure out that it wasn’t really what I was looking for.  While my two roommates were extremely nice and welcoming, I think I developed a slight case of claustrophobia (thanks, mom!). Plus I realized that the apartment was a lot further away from things than I originally thought.  So now it’s on to apartment number two! It’s a little cheaper, a little closer to school and let’s hope I last a little longer at my new residence. My 3 roommates, who are all university students, will be coming in next week so I’ll have a little time to settle in before they arrive. Until then, I can just hang out on my terrazza and enjoy this amazing view:

The second big thing I did was get a cell phone.  Typically, having a cell phone would make one feel cooler and like they belong. However, I think my $14, pre-paid flip phone might just have the power to make me look even less cool. Especially when someone asks for my number and I have to look under “yo” in my phone to find my own number. Tomorrow’s task might just have to be memorizing my number.

The third thing, of course, is my job. I went to my school, an I.E.S. (Instituto de Educación Secundaría), which is also known as a high school back in the states. High school usually consists of students from the ages of 12-16, which are the mandatory ages for education. Then from the ages of 16-18 students can choose to pick a focus for their studies if they choose to continue. I found out I’ll primarily be working with older students, most of which might be anywhere from 16-30ish. Not exactly what I pictured when I signed up for this, but, I think it will be nice to teach older students, who actually want to learn English. More on that once I start October 1st.

Finally, I’ve been working on trying to get to know my new city. I’ve seen the catedral, the main streets, the Castillo, and many other things. I’ve also gone out some with new American, Brittish and Spanish friends found along the way. I can’t say that I’ve closed down any bars, seeing as the discotecas close at around 7:30 am, but I have had a lot of fun drinking cerverzas (which I now pronounce thervethasgrathias!), watching fútbol, and eating freetapas. So far life has been fun, but I must admit I’m pretty excited to settle down a bit and start work in the upcoming week.

My Lesson of the Day: Just because the hostal is overbooked, doesn’t mean you should move into the first apartment you find.

Hola Jaén

19 Sep

On friday’s train ride from Sevilla to Jaén, I started to get a little nervous. We crossed the countryside, passing one olive grove after another and then – out of almost nothing – rose the mountains and the city of Jaén Capital.

Even though I have looked at many pictures of the city, I have to say I was blown away with how pretty the city actually is. It’s surrounded by the mountains on one side and the sweeping valleys of olive trees on the other. While about 116,000 residents makes it big enough to be the largest city in the region, it’s still small enough to be quaint and comforting.

The most surprising thing for me were the views. Every street corner that you turn seems to offer an amazing view –  whether it be of the Santa Catalina castle that perches high atop the mountain, or the olive groves that surround the city. And then there’s the beautiful old town with narrow cobblestone streets, monumental churches and welcoming plazas tucked away between the buildings.

One of the best parts is that I feel like everything is within walking distance. And even though people have criticized the nightlife, we still found plenty to do by just wandering around the old town and hopping from plaza to tapas bars. I still have a lot to explore around the city, but I think I’m really going to like it here!

My Lesson of the Day: While a picture may be worth a thousand words, nothing compares to actually being here.

Jaén, here I come!

17 Sep

After  a week of orientation, I’m finally off to Jaén, Spain. I can’t wait to see what the city looks like in person. Some people have told me that the city is beautiful, while others don’t seem to say much at all. And then there was guy in the bar last night that tried to convince me that it pretty much just sucked. But I’m off to the train station now, so in a few more hours, I’ll know for myself what it is like.

My lesson of the Day: Men in bars are not always the most reliable source.

And I’m off!

17 Sep

The past few days have been a whirlwind!

Much to my own surprise, I actually got something done ahead of time and had all my stuff packed by Wednesday night. As I sat in my room, surrounded by piles of clothes, my mom kept saying “You really think you can get all that into that one suitcase?”

The final product: one rather-large, 68 lb. suitcase that contains about 9 pairs of shoes, several school supplies, a year supply of contacts and one yellow bear, among many, many other things.

So I left Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon for a dallas-madrid-sevilla flight. All went smooth until I got to Dallas, where I began to see some bad-travel omens.

First, my flight was delayed about an hour. Second, upon finally taking off, the man in front of me immediately put his seat back as far as possible. Third, “Just Wright” was the only in-flight movie playing during the 9.5 hour flight.

I met up with a few other people from CIEE that were flying from Dallas and together, we missed our flight and suffered through the never-ending airport lines and security checks. After waiting for around 2 hours, we were finally put onto another flight. The catch? Our original flight (that we missed) left at 11:50 am and the next open flight wasn’t until 10:45 pm.

Luckily there were seven of us there to take turns sleeping and watching bags during the 10+ hours sitting in the airport.

At 1:30 am, we finally checked into our hotel in Sevilla to begin orientation the next morning. What a day!

My Lesson of the Day: The Madrid airport code happens to be “MAD”. And don’t expect that airport to make you happy!

Visa is the name of the game

2 Sep

At the end of last week, I took a quick trip up to the Spanish Consulate in Chicago to pick up my student visa. After spending $100, a summer of anticipation and a five-hour car ride, the actual visa was a little anticlimactic. It just looks like another page in my passport — but don’t let that make you think it’s not important.

Under most circumstances, a U.S. citizen traveling to Spain or any one of the Schengen countries, does not need a passport. The normal passport stamp that you receive in the airport will suffice for the trip. However, if you plan on going for an extended amount  of time, a visa is essential.  For my trip, I was told to apply for the short-stay 90-day student visa. This means that I’m allowed in the country for 90 days, during which I will apply for an extended stay with the Spanish government.

I had no idea how essential and complicated that visas can be and it seems like they vary from each individual case. I’ve been lucky enough that the program and the consulate have been so helpful throughout the process, but I’ve definitely learned that I will be doing a lot of prior research if I ever plan on taking an extended trip elsewhere.

My Lesson of the Day: In some situations, a visa can get you a lot further than a mastercard…