It’s My Class and I’ll Cry If I Want To

I didn’t just cry.  I bawled.  It ain’t easy.  Learning a new language is very difficult even when you are immersed in it.  Two days ago my Spanish teacher here in Granada pushed and pushed iCrying schoolgirln front of the class, asking me the same question over and over as if the answer was with me and I was just holding back from her.  She made me the center of attention, criticized a paragraph I wrote and told me (actually reprimanded me), “You need to think in Spanish. Not in English.” I started to melt down.  I panicked.  How can I think in Spanish if I’m not from here and I don’t completely understand the language?  At that moment, I didn’t know my name much less the difference between ser and estar and how to conjugate verbs into indefinido, perfecto, conditional, etc.  The whole reason I was in the class was to learn to think and speak Spanish.  Yet I was failing.  I felt like a little girl again.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was afraid to blink so I stared forward and tried not to move.  It was too late, I blinked and they went streaming down my face.  I was frustrated with myself, really annoyed with her, and it all came out in that moment.

Before moving to Granada I felt somewhat confident about learning Spanish. I had studied it for three years in high school with a very strict teacher who helped me to achieve a 92% on the New York Regents exam.  That was one of my proudest moments in high school.  My teacher had been really tough and pushed us throughout the year, prepping for the exam.  I also studied the language for two years at Villanova University as part of my liberal arts degree.   Now that we are spending the year in Spain I was excited to learn and to enjoy the process.  I think that’s why I got so frustrated – I was flailing or failing at something I actually LIKED and WANTED to do.  Something I chose to do.  I wanted to be a role model to my kids.  There have been days when they’ve come home from school frustrated, telling me they had cried.  I want them to learn resilience and now I’m the one having trouble adapting and feeling afraid to get back up.   I let my sons and daughter know I had a hard day and I could empathize with them.  I’m only studying two hours a day. They are at school for five.  They are studying math, science, social studies, Spanish and French.  I’m only taking Spanish.

It’s been awhile since I’ve learned something completely new and one of my life goals is to learn a new language to keep my mind sharp.  I’m starting to suffer from short term memory loss and at my age, I am very aware that things could head down hill fast if I don’t keep my mind going and continue to challenge myself intellectually.   But it’s not easy.

I was surprised at the visceral response.  My husband later confided that I looked so upset, he was afraid I might punch the teacher in the face.   I suppose in the past I had been studying as a means to an end.  In high school it was to get a good grade to get into college.  In college it was to fulfill a requirement.  But now, it’s something I want and something I need to do for myself.  And that’s where the frustration lies – not being able to do something I want to do.

The tables have turned and the kids have become my role models this week.  I have to get up and go to class – no excuses.  I have to find other ways to study and remember the information using the apps and resources available to me – Duolingo, flashcards, class materials, and watching TV in Spanish.  I will continue to talk to the local people and not be afraid to fail.  Setting smaller goals might help me too. “Becoming fluent in Spanish” might be setting the bar high for the next week or month. Perhaps trying on a new tense each day and practicing.

I salute anyone who has had the courage to learn a new language.  I have plenty of friends, many in LA who speak more than one language and I’m blown away by their ability to speak clearly and concisely and think in two (sometimes three) languages.  It takes confidence and the ability to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable.  Learning a new language requires patience and practice and resilience.  You’ve got to want it and to work for it.

I’m going to try my best to get back up and start again.  This teacher is not going to bring me down.  I’ve got this – but I can’t say I’m sad we are visiting London this weekend where I can regroup and feel confident again!




School Days In Spain

Our kids are starting their third week of school here in Spain and it’s been pretty successful so far.  The students have all been very welcoming to my kids, except for one third grader who keeps “necking” my son (that’s when someone smacks you hard in the back of the neck).  My son just laughs each day because that kid is really small compared to him.  We’ve only had a few teary days of feeling overwhelmed and the kids seem to have great teachers and classmates who help them out.  The parents have also been very friendly and supportive and some of them who are bilingual have reached out and offered to help me if I ever have questions.

There are some real differences in our school here compared to Los Angeles.  First, the img_8496class size is much smaller.  There are only about 17 kids in a class which helps when my kids are trying to learn the language. In LA we had almost 30 in a class.

Here in Granada, the teachers are called by their first names.  This seems to work well here and doesn’t seem to be disrespectful at all.  Coming from a military family in the U.S. it is much different than the way I grew up.  Even my parent’s very best friends were Captain “this” or Colonel “that”.  We would never dream of using their first names. It would be considered disrespectful.  In Los Angeles it varies and many kids call adults by their first names.  I generally don’t allow my kids to do it unless they’ve known the adult for years or they have been invited to use their first name.  Sometimes we may put Miss, Mister or Coach in front of an adult’s first name which seems to work as well.

The students here seem to absolutely adore their teachers and aren’t afraid to hug and kiss them.  On the first day of school I was surprised to see one of the male teachers with boys and girls literally hanging all over him and hugging him.  It was really sweet and that would never fly in the U.S.  Sadly we’ve become such a litigious society that it would be frowned upon and teachers would be at risk of getting in trouble.

The school hours here in Spain are much more my style – a start time of 9 am to 2 pm. The  kids have a snack at school but then go home at 2 pm for lunch.  Other kids stay at school past 2 p.m. and take part in the comedor, where they have a four course meal served to them.  My kids didn’t get a seat in it (we are on the waiting list) but I’m hoping they get to go at some point this year.  The kids aren’t so sure because we’ve heard the food is very eclectic and you are made to finish each course before proceeding to the next.  My kiddos are plain eaters so I’m not sure if they’d be too excited.

The curriculum here in Granada includes Spanish, English and French.  They have the option to learn religion but don’t have to do that.  I do think it’s nice that there’s an option.  In the states religion would not be included in a public school.  Rather, that type of education would be an after school activity (unrelated to school) and most kids seem to abandon it after their sports or dance schedules get too hectic.  I’m glad they have an option to keep that in the school here.

One major difference is that the restrooms are devoid of toilet paper and soap.  Yes, there is not toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms at school.  I know,  I was pretty horrified too and went out and bought both right away for each backpack.  I learned that you can get toilet paper by asking the teacher, which would seem pretty awkward in the states.  Here, it’s normal.  Apparently the kids waste it and it’s more ecological to ration it out.  In regard to the soap, I’m not very excited about that.  The list of materials we were supposed to send our kids with included wipes.  I like good, old fashioned, bubbly soap.  I’ve been vigilant about my children’s cleanliness and have armed them with the necessary items.  The issue of toilet paper and soap is not just at our school. I’ve been to the schools in the surrounding areas for sports and it seems to be the case in each of them.

BUT…my kids are thrilled that the fifth and sixth graders have the opportunity to go on an excursion.  The fifth graders will head to the Sierra Nevada Mountains here in Spain for a ski trip for a week.  The funny thing is, they aren’t sure when.  Maybe March, maybe April, they haven’t decided.  That’s much different than how we would do things in LA.  The trip would be scheduled very far in advance and parents would have plenty of questions.  Here, we are just waiting until it snows.  The sixth graders will apparently go to a camp in the mountains for a week in the spring.  I’m looking forward to learning more about it and would love to chaperone!

I was happy to see that so many parents are actively involved in the school and in their child’s education.  I’m so thankful for the warm teachers and administrators who have welcomed my children into the school and have accommodated their needs. I’m looking forward to the year and watching our kids grow!