Next Year

This is the first year where I haven’t renewed my application for this program. On the one hand, my experience is better than ever. I love living in this city, I get on well with the students, and I learn a lot from my bilingual coordinator. At the same time, I am starting to feel like maybe I’m not qualified enough for other types of jobs, and that feeling scares me. I remember when I was younger and felt like I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I want to regain that feeling by giving myself bigger challenges to overcome with work that, while not less enjoyable, gives me greater freedom and responsibilities.

Of course, I don’t want to leave Madrid. I don’t have a work visa to stay without this program.

It’s complicated, and something I need to figure out within the next month or two.

I have a few options:
– Get employed by an academy
– Work illegally giving individual classes
– Get employed by a company or a restaurant
– Marry someone with European Union citizenship
– Study a Master’s degree
– Start a business

This program is finished at the end of June. It will be the end of an era for which I will be forever grateful. I don’t regret it even one little bit.

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Madrid

This year, I’m living in Madrid. Each day I feel less like a tourist. I stop taking pictures because the novelty of crumbling plaster no longer calls my attention as it used to. I start to yearn for weekends in, reading books and binding homemade journals, rather than getaway after getaway to fill my passport with stamps as soon as possible.

Maybe one reason that things have changed so much is because I really love living in Madrid. Sevilla was a beautiful, warm, friendly, sleepy town. I spent lots of time laying in the sun and reading in the afternoon. When I wanted to meet friends, we’d sit outside on the terrace, stare out across the river, or cook a big meal together. When the weekend came, I was ready for excitement.

In Madrid, it’s always excitement. There are dozens of theaters to choose from, and even the most formal of them are ridiculously affordable. The Royal Theater of Madrid, bringing in Russian ballets and Italian operas, sells tickets at a 90% discount to anyone under the age of 30. Every café is competing to be the cutest, the coolest, the most alternative, the freshest, the most traditional, the most creative, the most underground, the most innovative. I can go to a café that calls its dessert menu “Orgasms” with a decor of hot air balloons and a mounted unicorn head. I can go to a café where 20 living cats share the seats with you. I can go to a restaurant that only serves 20 people each day, and turns away the rest, because the owners are young and couldn’t afford a refrigerator when they first bought the place. I can go to a café that offers brunch theater every Sunday. I can go to a café where you’re sure to see a famous singer, actor, or author every week. Then there is the physical activity: roller blading is huge. You can rent mountain bikes and take them up and down the hills in Casa de Campo for only €4/hour. Daytrip hiking is easily accessible by bus or by train. There are art exhibitions everywhere: in the world-renowned museums, in the restaurants, in the post office, in the bank. Plus, Madrid is a bustling city full of expats, students, young and ambitious professionals, big thinkers, film makers, and entrepreneurs. There are groups meeting every day at all hours to discuss the philosophy of Love, international craft beers, and original version cinema; different groups meet to explore coffeeshops or vegetarian restaurants; so not only is there plenty to do, there are plenty of people to do things with.

When the weekend comes, I’m excited for all the things I could do each weekend — including relax.

I’m trying to remember to look at Madrid with fresh eyes. I want to take lots of pictures so that I can keep the memories of this fortunate experience I’m having. And I want to remember to buy and send postcards. It’s funny and gratifying how postcards from Madrid feels sort of like sending postcards from college. I like how I’ve adjusted to life here.

I wrote this post to talk about my travel towel

After 8 transatlantic flights and multiple single carry-on weekend trips, these are my favorite and most useful possessions:

  1. Travel towel
    I bought a travel towel this year after realizing that my regular towel was taking up 1/3 of my Ryanair carry-on allowance. I’m going to tell you a secret: I use my travel towel even when I’m not traveling. It’s soft, efficient, dries quickly, and it’s a pretty color. I keep the bath towel from home hanging in my closet, and it’s still fluffy and smells like my mom’s house. Its smell is now its primary utility.
  2. Wool socks
    Wool socks were my original travel towel. I wore wool socks once, and haven’t worn anything else since. They are warm, lush hugs for your feet that always hold their shape. They wick away moisture and prevent blisters in cities where your main form of transportation is hours and hours of walking in the same sturdy boots.  When spring comes and the warm kiss of the sun wakes the early flowers, I mourn, for I know I shall have to store my wool socks and wait until autumn to wear them again.
  3. Comfortable, fitted earbuds
    Nice earbuds with squishy pads that lock them in place — and block ambient noise! — are great for running and commuting (full disclosure: bad for avoiding bicycles that are coming up behind you). I go through 2 or 3 pairs a year.
  4. Microfleece travel blanket from the airplane
    I always steal the blankets they give you for free on the airplanes. They’re warm and lightweight, and sometimes make all the difference between firing up the heater and staying cozy. Not to mention they are portable, making excellent picnic or beach blankets and good-enough yoga mats. When your guest wants to curl up in something on the couch while watching a movie, you don’t have to haul out your gigantic duvet. Always steal the travel blanket from the airplane. The more, the merrier.
  5. REI goretex jacket with chest pocket and side zippers for air flow
    I can wear this jacket any time of year. It has been one of my favorite articles of clothing since I first got it in 2008. It’s a comfortable rain jacket in the spring, and an unbeatable snow jacket in the winter with a fleece under it. Now, 4 years later, and having worn it a minimum of 500 times, I finally have to buy a new one.
  6. One small purse
    This purse should go with everything, be cross-body to prevent theft and to leave both hands free, and only just tall and long enough to fit a simple Kindle. A few inches of width allows me to fit all I need: a pen, a small notebook, my smartphone, a coin purse with my IDs, credit cards, and cash, keys, Carmex, hand sanitizer, a bag of kleenex, a city map, public transit pass, and a few bags of different kinds of tea.
  7. Go-everywhere black boots
    Every year I go through a pair of the same style of boots. They are always the same approximate width and height, black, with buckles, and I wear them nearly every day, walking hundreds of miles in them until the sole rips away from the toe. I guess, after three pairs, this is now a Thing.
  8. Long underwear
    I wear long underwear every day in the winter. I tuck them into my wool socks and pull my jeans on over them. Then I put on my black boots. Every time I do this, it feels familiar and comforting, like watching my mom make pancakes.

There are some close seconds: my sleeping bag — which I am in at this very moment –, my journal, my gold bangles from Morocco, the blue scarf my mom made, and my old Express jeans. My wall is papered with city maps from my travels.

On the other hand, my duvet cover doesn’t match my pillow case. I actually don’t have a pillow case, but a sheet rolled up several times around a pillow like burrito bedtime for little girls. I’ve improvised long-term storage out of old shoeboxes and an open suitcase propped up in my closet. I have one drawer for important papers, one for electronic gadgets and their cords, and one for Everything Else. My most silly possession is probably the Roberto Cavalli perfume.

Well, now you know everything that I own.

Sometimes I’m jealous of people who have nested, who have beautiful homes full of taste and style, and everything they need to be comfortable in every room, and every type of clothing to be comfortable in every social situation. But when I review the list above, although it may be sappy, it tugs at my heartstrings. What do my favorite possessions say about me now? That I am clean and warm, but not at home. My favorite possessions reflect my most prized value: exploring (not pictured high-priority value: eating food).

I’ve got a good life.

I love my travel towel.

The Honeymoon Period

My work schedule is hectic: this year I’m teaching 5 different subjects at 6 different levels with 6 different teachers. And that’s just my day job. In the evenings, I teach 4 additional classes at 4 different language levels out of 4 different textbooks. Today, however, is a surprise day off — a side effect of never knowing my schedule until the beginning of the week — and so I have spent it singing the song in my heart that is about how much I love this city.

A food tent at the fair in the Alameda serves piles of pastries

Heaps and piles of pastries

I can tell that I am happy here because my room is clean and tidy. I have fresh fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator. Last night when I finally got home at 10:30pm after leaving the house at 9:30am, I made a fantastic dinner that took 40 minutes to prepare. Because I wasn’t tired. Because I love my life. And also maybe because I had 5 cups of black tea throughout the day, and I was starving, and I already ate all the chocolate.

I haven’t been taking as many pictures as I should, despite the new things I’ve been doing, the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve seen. Here’s a short selection:

  • Walking non-stop all over Seville for 5 hours on a bum foot in order to look at rooms for rent, ultimately deciding just to stay where I was
  • The Feria del Marisco Gallego, during which I make an unconvincing vegetarian
  • The river at sunset
  • A Michael Jackson tribute at the Festival de las Naciones, the highlight being an 8-year-old’s pro moonwalk across the stage
  • My first night out on Spanish time, leaving the house at 3am and getting back at 7:30am
  • Watching people watching the Real Madrid v. Barcelona game (known as “El Clásico”) while eating some of my favorite food in Seville

And I know that I am already forgetting things. For example:

  • The best view I have seen of Sevilla from the rooftop of an apartment building where a German Vietnamese student lives
  • More stuff

So it turns out that all I’ve really taken pictures of so far are potential flats, boring flower bushes, and the new McDonald’s at the train station. So here’s the new Mcdonald’s:

Self-Service Ordering Kiosks At McDonald's

Employees Optional: Self-service Ordering Kiosks

McDonald's Macaroons

Those brilliant kiosks free an employee to help you customize a take-away box of macaroons with the colors of your choice

This weekend is a holiday weekend in honor of Christopher Columbus. Since I’m still too poor and poorly documented to leave the country, I plan to plan my vacation plans for the upcoming year. I admit I do this with reluctance. Wouldn’t my time be better spent pursuing a quality Spanish mate so we can marry and I can stay in Spain for the rest of my life? I think my colleague put it best: “But, eh. The young men here these days… they’re easy to find, but why would you want one?”

I’m almost afraid to travel. What if I love somewhere else more than I love Seville? I’m not sure my brain could handle the significance of that. I think my body would have to split apart into its billion tiny atoms and transcend Nirvana to be capable of that feeling.

But I bet that would be pretty cool.

So maybe I will share my itinerary with you in a few days, and you can help me look forward to all the exciting trips.

And here’s a boring flower bush:

Pink flowers with Instagram

This picture was so boring I didn’t even bother to post it to Instagram.

Buenos Días Desde España

If you’re reading this, that means I’m safe and sound in Seville! It still amazes me that I can fly over an ocean in less than a day. I love you, technology.

I love technology, but not as much as you, you see. But I still love technology.

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Everyone has been asking me if I’m excited. While I was in the United States, it was hard to say yes. To all my friends and family, old and new, who I was reunited with or met for the first time: it was so good to see you. I love you. I will miss you. And it was difficult for me to be excited to say good-bye to you. I will also miss singing while driving. A lot. Among other things:

Harleigh smiles outside, wearing her shirt with the pink giraffe on it.

This little monster.

Delicious, thin crust vegetarian pizza and craft beer from my favorite brewery

Dark beer and great vegetarian food

Trees in the sand by the water

The weather and the shore

But of course it’s not good-bye; it’s see you soon. It’s see you in June! And now that I’m in Spain, it’s time to get back to work. I have a long list of goals, and in order to accomplish them, I must master that mythical thing known as “time management.” Next time you meet me, I’ll be a punctual, productive, accomplished, fluent, capable, admirable, honorable, dependable, reliable, formidable, intimidating, strong, independent BEAST who doesn’t have time to list that many adjectives in a single sentence.

The List:

* Take salsa or Sevillanas classes… or both
* Attend a gym for weight training; or run a 5K
* Schedule 10-12 hours/week of ESL lessons on top of school
* Visit Morocco, Paris, Germany, Gibraltar, Ronda, and Barcelona
* Speak Spanish 2/3 of the time
* See a performance at el teatro Lope de Vega
* Attend the Feria in April; rent a flamenco dress for the occasion
* Build a web page (CSS/HTML/Javascript) and optimize it for mobile
* Take the GRE and apply for Human Computer Interaction programs in the USA
* Send snail mail back and forth with my loved ones

You can encourage me to meet my goals by sending snail mail to my address in Spain. Email me your address, and I’ll send you a plain envelope bearing my return address and containing a colorful piece of paper with stickers on it and various thoughts from my head.

And now I’ll take my cue from this professional napper and get some rest!

Poncho sleeps on the couch like a 'dorable.

Happy kitty, soft kitty; purr, purr, purr.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Besos,
Megan

Coursera: Science Fiction & Fantasy Syllabus

For this virtual semester, I am enrolled in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Course led by Eric Rabkin and offered through Coursera. (In the past, I enjoyed the MOOC Udacity and its course: Building A Search Engine)

Although I was disappointed in previous course offerings through Coursera, I know that the project is still learning about its own potential. I hope to continue taking courses as the technology and pedagogy improve.

However, I had further interest in this specific course because I have already taken it. I took this class on site at the University of Michigan while studying for my English B.A. I am curious how the distance education experience will compare to the live, lecture hall experience.

Inspired by a fellow coursetaker’s blog, I would like to reinforce my studies by blogging about what I’m reading and writing for the course. It’s a personal project, but I would not mind if it became a way to connect and engage with others.

The first week of the course is nearing its conclusion, and the course runs until October 1. To get an idea of what is ahead, here is the list of readings from the course syllabus:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales (Lucy Crane translation with Walter Crane illustrations)
  2. Carroll — Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems (Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse includes “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and “The Artist of the Beautiful” and his Twice-Told Tales includes “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”; The Portable Poe includes all the suggested Poe stories and poems)
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star”
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles (not available for legal, free download)
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness (not available for legal, free download)
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother

Leaving Sevilla

I’ve begun counting down the hours until I leave for home; it’s even easier now that the number is less than ten. As a matter of fact, the number is now 6. How am I spending these last hours? Right now, I’m trying my best to eat an entire funghi pizza while TV surfing; but it’s a sad state of affairs when I’m more drawn to commercials than actual programming. My mind wandered, and I decided to blog to pin it down.

The Torre de Oro framed by summer leavesAs Derek could tell you, I am hard-pressed to finish a thought if I’m not telling it to someone. Thinking without dictating is like trying to put together a puzzle around a baby (my sister will understand this metaphor). As a child, the best way for me to sort through my feelings was to argue with the mirror. Sometimes I will spend hours thinking around an issue, the harder I clutch at it the more it drifts away, yet the solution becomes clear within a few sentences of trying to explain it to someone else.

The last of my friends to leave the city, I spent the evening marking off a to-do list that included cake, hazelnut gelato, and thin-crust pizza. These are my favorite kinds of to-do lists, and yet I procrastinated: I window-shopped for colorful strappy sandals and last-minute souvenirs, bought a bright blue summer purse, and discovered a fresh-made pasta store. I felt some kind of pang when I saw the pasta store; I’d been looking for fresh pasta all year. But I couldn’t try any now; I’ll have to wait until next year. I shoved the pang aside.

People picnic by the river, overlooking the bridge and its memorable circle architectureLater on, while admiring the street glowing orange against a deepening cerulean sky, I revisited that pang. What was it all about? I know where to buy fresh pasta in Ann Arbor… but I won’t be returning to that familiar semi-squalor in run-down rental housing in a college town. I’ll return to a suburb across the state without sidewalks, where everyone is is quiet by 9pm and lights are out by 11pm — it will actually be scary to walk in the streets at night; people are suspicious of you on the street even if you’re just asking for directions; and you’re not allowed to smile at strangers’ babies. If I take a nap between 2pm and 5pm and eat dinner at 10pm, people will think I’m lazy. All the dogs are on leashes.

A street in the city center of SevilleDespite the economy, Spanish life makes so much sense to me now. There’s balance, there’s beauty, there’s culture, there’s trust. As my Spanish improves, I can see myself living here for a long, long time.

It’s easy to remember the good things about home, too; I’ve had plenty of practice mooning over the things I miss about the United States these past few months. I even have a rudimentary to-do list beyond hanging out with family and friends:

  • Finish the quilt I’m making for Derek’s mom
  • Make the two dresses I bought supplies for a year ago
  • Take the GRE
  • Try a few recipes from Herbivoracious
  • Help clean the house and get rid of some of my junk that’s in storage
  • Go fruit picking, hiking, visit the beach, swim in the pool in the back yard, run around barefoot with my niece, cuddle my kitty cat, drink a pint of craft beer, eat some tasty international food, enjoy local ice cream, get someone to take a picture of me in which I do not look like a pirate

A row of bright red Sevici bikes lined up before the Jardines de MurilloNevertheless, I felt a surge of bitterness as I carried my food purchases home. Despite my homesickness, Sevilla is starting to feel familiar. I’m going to come back for another year, and then how will I feel? We work so few hours we can barely call ourselves employed; with the remaining time, I’m forming relationships with the people and things of this city, even if it’s just change over time. The neighbors across the street are almost done remodeling. Someone broke the foot pedal of the trash dumpster on Calle Urquiza. The trees across the street from the park have bright yellow conical offshoots. The geckos are back, scurrying out of the sun to hide beneath the jasmine vines that now reach halfway into the sidewalk. I recognize this city. I have memories here. I’m going to make more. And after next year, when the idea that this is “home” no longer feels novel but is a simple fact of life, I’m going to leave. And I can never come back; not like this. And that stinks.

Fragrant purple blossoms litter the ground in Prado de San SebastianSo, what exactly do I like about Sevilla?

I like the color of the streets, here. I like the reliable distribution of stores; shoes and bazaars are everywhere, and you can count on a baby clothes store at least once per block. I like the fresh fruit stands that hand you your fruit order wrapped in thick paper cones. I like the fresh, cool mornings and slightly muggy but comfortable evenings. I like hiding from the sun in mid-day, when I’m always sleepy anyway, eating an enormous meal at lunch-time and sleeping it off along with everyone else. I like Spanish.

Wares crowd the streets during the Thurdsay market on Calle FeriaI like my bedroom on the 5th floor and how I can lean over the street and people watch. I like how I’ve arranged my bedroom and the amount of light that comes in through the window. I like crumbling plaster in the city center, the park benches throughout the city that are actually used to socialize and relax outside, the way that I can usually still hear children running around outside and playing when I go to bed at 1am.

I like the dogs who trot happily off their leashes, despite the busy streets and the foot traffic. I like that the train station is a block away, as well as the bus to the airport. A bus to the bus station is only 2 blocks away. At a moment’s notice, I can go to Paris, Rome, Ronda, Córdoba, Cádiz, Madrid. I never have to drive.

Blue, yellow, and green tiles create a repeating pattern

Looking through all my pictures from this past year, I am amazed at the things I have seen and done, and how it already feels so far away. Amsterdam? A lifetime ago! Even London is an old memory. What will I be doing in 5 years that will make Seville feel like a former life? I can’t even begin to imagine.

Luckily I don’t have to yet, because I’m coming back next year.