¿The End? (Galicia and Beyond)

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Ladies & Gentlemen, faithful friends and followers of my sporadic posts on this blog, the end has come. It is time to say goodbye. The electric has been cut off at the house and every minute it is a little more vacant. Students have all left for summer holidays. Books are being packed away at the school. There is such an excitement in the city these days with the ongoing EuroCup and Spain’s advancement into the Finals. To see them win it all would be such a buzztrip. We shall see…..

So, in accordance with what I decided a little while back, this entry shall conclude the blog series as my first year at Andel has effectively come to a close. We will have a party this afternoon and then go our seperate ways until the next course in September. Unreal. It is over! The time has come and flown like the blink of an eye. I hope that I can put my last words here to good use. Where to begin when you are trying to capture the end. Let’s take a look at where I was, where I have been, and where I might be going. What have I learned?

I immediately think about who I was before moving into this country to work:

I think I was extremely naiive, ignorant in some ways (very simplistic view of things)…a giddy laughaholic who was always ready to use exagerrated gestures just trying to have fun and experience things. Of course I also had a very serious, hardworking side that sometimes entered into uptight territory. I would say that aspects of this personality have carried with me, but I definitely feel that I have shaked off a lot of innocence and badly formed thinking. Human nature is just so darn complex and continues to surprise every day. It never fails to bemuse me. I try to avoid too many concrete conclusions about just anything yet because I still feel that there is a life time and eternity ahead of me for learning…

My first months here in the country leading up to Christmas were magical. The only sensation that comes to my memory is a real excitement, a complete bewilderment and eagerness to know the country. I was meeting so many people, reading a lot, working on personal projects, putting work into a bigger project, and seeing all the sites and scenery for the absolute first time. My memories are just fantastic. I remember ending out the school year in Andel with so much celebration, so much joy, so many jokes and lots of laughter. There is a funny picture of a few of us teachers singing together that I will try to upload. Lots of spontaneous Spanish learning as well. That was really exciting. All illusion and imaginings for absolute bliss (certainly has been at times).

I left for the United States with a sadness to depart from Spain. Things went out on such a wonderful note in 2011. I had started to get into a groove at the school, we were celebrating Christmas a whole heck of a lot, I have memories of the color Christmas Blue and some great Christmas tunes in my ears, and the projects completed by the students (A Christmas Carol for example!) in the lead-up to the holidays. Magical. Christmas time in Rockaway though, is as good as it gets. For sure.

I came back to the school with every ounce of determination to work my butt off and take advantages of all my capacities. I was very eager, I wrote down a whole list of fairly ambitious New Year’s pledges, and I really did rock for my first month. I completely maximized all my tutoring hours so that I was effectively doing 8:00 to 9:30 days. It was fine, but also very limiting and it turned me from a free-spirit to a mindless worker. That is never good, especially in education! I love the job and was devoted to doing as much as I could, but it must be remembered that it is also exhausting. It is very important to get downtime and I really wasn’t doing that.

My February trip to Paris was one of my favorite experiences during these last few months. I met such a nice group people that I really enjoy and will be staying in touch with through the years. There was something very movie-like, script-ready, cliches-come-true about it. It also completely broadened by perspectives on the South American world and opened me up to a whole new reality. I grew a lot and had so much fun. The city scenery was also breathtaking and, as I said in my Paris entry, I will have to return.

Then we had a new Assistant Teacher join the staff which was really interesting and different. He brought a different spirit to the job in many ways and was a funny guy. We had a series of two English Weeks in the school which was fabulous and fun! One week filled with different games, competitions, dramas, songs, cultural presentations, and even an Andel News & Weather in English. I feel that my boss is a very creative, imaginative, smart guy and he really knows how to put together an event. He has taught me a lot.

Then a string of visitors! My sister’s, Becca, Nick Fillippis during Holy Week. It was a pretty rocking period of time as well because it really got me out doing touristy things. We saw a lot of the country and had fun. I was balancing this with the working week which was a little hectic, haha, but exhilirating. Reconnecting with your friends and family abroad is pretty incredible. It cuts you free from the previous context of your friendship and you can learn a lot more about each other. Some ´real´ encounters.

When all of that ended I was kind of left wondering for a period of time where the party had went. Haha. We lived really well with the visitors so it was kinda strange when it all ended. That’s when I decided that it was time to get ready for the center and that change was my best decision here. More friends, more life, more culture…better in every sense of the word. I am living and happy.

The Internet is soon going to be shut off, I still have to pack, and I must finalize details for the English Course…all of the goodbyes have begun and it’s amazing watching the evolution of the meaning of a goodbye as you get older. For me, it is now still sad, but something really beautiful as you watch people go down their own paths to pursue what they want. People come and go, but there are always a lot of precious memories to hold onto.

There are so many stories, so many more memories, so many details and tidbits…this blog may receive an occasional Appendix from me as memories are ready to exit from my fingertips. I have also been reading Ernest Hemingway…I am starting to get on a roll with his stuff, and have now read more of him in Spanish than English. I feel a little bad about that, but it is as it is. His life and writings have been inspiring me. Anyway, I will be posting chronicles in here when my inspiration arrives.

Goodbye for now everybody! It has been such a pleasure to write this blog and it has been an immense honor to have been followed by so many dear friends. I have been thinking about you all and it’s going to be great to hang out Jersey-style summer time side! See you soon. I go to Galicia now. We’ll talk later.

Un abrazo,

Conor Joseph Byrne

Social Living

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Spanish people, in my experience, are  warm, friendly people. I remember returning to the school from Christmas holidays and receiving hugs from all the teachers. People ask about your life out of a natural curiosity. I see fellow Spaniards meeting each other for the first time and really striking up an easy human connection. In the streets people stop to talk to one another. Departing from the locker room every time I finish swimming you say ‘adios’ or ‘hasta luego.’ It would actually be strange and awkward to exit without saying a word.

It’s interesting because I guess that you begin to ‘catch’ these tendencies off your surroundings. I regard myself as more of a lone ranger, I think I always will be, but more and more I see myself inclined toward doing things with an orientation toward social planning, an inclusion of other people, and to share moments with others. There is something very fulfilling and nice about doing things in this way. On top of this, you really can build a life around futbol. The EuroCup is running at full steam and we have just seen Spain advance to the next round (although they didn’t exactly push Croatia around now). There is futbol almost allll year round. Never had much of an interest in it, but the social element that surrounds it makes it a lot of fun and you would be a little lost in society here without some working knowledge and conversation bits on the sport.

City living has so many huge advantages too as you can make so many plans on the spot without having to worry about transport, time, etc. I love it here. Now to start thinking about my living for the Fall…..

Living

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     One of the first immediate comments that I have to make is the fact that a change of life in a different country eventually becomes ‘normal.’ Let me expand that. No, of course it’s never completely normal. You can’t as thoroughly express yourself as you would in your native language, there are lots of cultural norms and modes of thinking that continue to escape you, and just turning on the news and hearing the conversations of the streets tells you loud and clear that things are not the same. I remember I used to get all sorts of giddy sensations in my first months here. So many funny details that appear to have no explanation (but of course do), seeing the slightly different road layouts, the way people walk, the use of eye contact, the general assumptions of the average person, it was just unbelievable. Jokes…the tone of voice, the rhythm of the language, what is valued, what goes unvalued, what excels compared to the USA, what lacks compared to the USA…

     It will take me a good while longer, more conversations, historical perspective, and further integration into the country to ‘get it,’ but at the least I would say that the shock, the confusion, the bewilderment has just about passed. Without a necessarily deliberate intention, you take in these daily differences and place them as a part of your own living experience. For me it begs the question of what you are inheriting with these types of experiences. To what extent ought someone integrate and move with the flow of the culture and to what extent should differences be examined and maintained – not because either way is better or worse but because your differences are part of your human construction. Just things swirling around in my mind. Conclusion though: I feel like I am growing into the society more and more here and I feel I fit. It’s cool!

     This first phase of Spanish living really is winding down. The school is wrapping up its school year (just about two weeks remaining) and the same can be said for the house here. We had an end of the year celebration at the school. All of the grades marched out to a big field, carrying flags and banners and accompanied by classical music…the effect was nice. Awards were presented for children with high achievements in academics, character, and English. After that was the students did a demonstration for the upcoming Olympics…very elaborate and cool. Then…English Show! The second grade did “The Wheels on the Bus, the third grade did two dialogues, the fourth grade did an Andel School News & Weather Report, the 6th grade did two presentations, and the 5th grade closed out with Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” It was great. The kids loved it, the parents had a lot of fun, and it was a great demonstration of just how much the students can do in English with help and guidance.

     We also had a nice grand BBQ/party at our house over the weekend. We started at about 2 pm and bed time was at around 6 am or so?? Incredible. We had a nice mix of people – majority Spanish, but also an English teaching crew which was cool, a French ex-patriot, and an English lady as well. It was a fitting last hoorah for the gorgeous house we’ve been blessed with. I will miss it very much.

     Not much more to say except that I will most likely be phasing out this blog as well. It’s original intention was to stay with me through the course of the school year and this all initial narrative in Spain seems to fit just perfectly within that time window. Then it’s Galicia, a bit of a stay in the USA, and then back to the USA. So the purpose of this blog will be needless as I will have physical contact with enough of you!

La Vida es un Carneval

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Two nights of festival in Getafe this past weekend. Wooh! Spain loves to have fun. Pleasure is important. You only live once. There is a lot of emphasis on joking, living in the moment, and enjoying yourself. This suits me just fine when accompanied by a hard work ethic. It is nice to create and produce, and it is equally as nice to have the opportunity to just relax and have a blast.

Is this fun factor all that different from the United States? Not necessarily. The United States definitely has plenty of opportunity to enjoy yourself. It is that the two countries practice this concept differently. As far as I know every municipality of Spain hosts annual festivals and these events bring out hundreds or thousands of friends and family to the streets for a few nights that will easily go on until 8 or 9 in the morning. Music pulses loud and clear. Bottles are passed around without a problem. The police presence is not too apparent. The closest sensation I have had with this in the USA would be some of the bigger rock concerts/festivals I have seen.  You meet so so many people and it is a really great time. And this is a festival for a town of the country. You could participate in a mountain of much larger festivals that the country is known for throughout the year: La Tomatina in Valencia gives you the opportunity to assist in throwing hundreds of thousands of pounds of tomatoes, the Ferias of Sevilla is a week of dancing, flamenco, and color, the Fallas de San Jose bears witness to the burning of gigantic figures constructed out of special paper, you can run with the Bulls in Pamplona. It goes on and on…..

At work we break three times: the first is from 11 to 11:30, our lunchtime is between 12:30 and 2:00, and at 3:45 we have a final fifteen minute period of recreation…it amounts to almost 2 and a half hours of rest! Granted this is somewhat exceptional as it is a primary school schedule so part of this is designed around the children. Furthermore, many of the teachers use this time planning or monitoring the playground so it is not as though it is entirely free time either. But different, huh? There is a lower sense of pressure, urgency…something that I can not put into words. It is incredible.

What else? Most of the banks close by 2:00 pm. On Sundays almost all commercial shops are closed as well. Families are usually together for lunches that can last for hours. I like that a lot. You can build a whole social life around the football scene. You could spend most weekends at the bars watching matches and subsequently talking about the ongoings of the football world throughout the week with your friends.

It is really hard to account for all the little (and sometimes big) differences that exist between the two countries, because you are really getting at the entire mentality of a country that has been culturally constructed over the course of centuries of history. You can’t read about it, you can only experience it. Neither way is better nor worse, but just very different. It is a whole other way of experiencing life, of processing reality…it is incredible. So come to Spain and kick back here with a few beers and friends.

The Support System

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One of the absolute most critical keys to my personal achievements and happiness that I felt at The College of New Jersey was the phenomenal circle of support that I had cheering me on there. Outside of friends I met some of the greatest mentors in the form of fantastic, knowledgable, personable and available professors (great gift of TCNJ’s size), bosses/managers who ended up guiding my work habits, teaching me organization, informing me of professional opportunities, my internship colleagues/mentors who offered me a wide array of perspective (alongside the clients I worked with), spiritual guidance from a name that goes without saying, and all the employees of the college who offered anecdotes on life that were priceless. This is the unique character that TCNJ possesses and I feel very blessed to have benefited from that. Yes, I will be receiving a small sum from The College for my salesmanship! This just in…blog name soon to change to “The Public Ivy.”

A very difficult aspect of planting yourself in a new country is seeking out a good group of people with various experiences, education, and opinions (I think diversity of thought is so so so important). You start out your experience really naiive, vulnerable and unsure of just about everything. This fact might lead you to latching onto help too readily or denying assistance when it is much needed. I have done both. Outside of that, there is an adjustment from becoming student to professional, from being within a culture and understanding its subtle details of communication to being on the outside, and much more. Finally, life is not YOU-centered after college. That has been a healthy wake-up call that I am slowly adapting to. University life is very much a bubble in that sense.

8 months later and I have a few good, older people here who have definitely shaped up my experiences. It took some time, I made some mistakes, but I feel very grateful to have an understanding with some people whom I have a lot of respect for. I hope to learn from them and see what guidance and direction they will contribute to my life! Of course, peers of the same age are great because you are more or less in the same spot in life (although the 20s and 30s place people in sooo many different positions  that age really is relative), and they are your crew to have youthful fun with. It’s important to have a mix of people in your life, obviously enough.

With a support system in development I am very happy that I will be here for another year. So much of my first 8 months here has just been getting a feel for it all, meeting people and developing strong relationships, improving my working abilities, getting  a grip on the language, and extending my social life (much improved since moving to the city). With a year 2 I am in a much better position to make greater contributions to my projects here and ideally I will leave a meaningful impact. I try to make ‘micro-impacts’ – smiles, cheerfulness, etc. – but let’s see if that granddaddy ‘macro-impact’ on life can swing down his hammer.

I was in Chinchon yesterday and it is a very typical Spanish town with castle ruins and an enormous plaza. Fun fact: the 1987 film The Falling was shot here. Interestingly enough, another film was being made during our visit. It is a Venezuelan/Spanish joint effort about Simon Bolivar. You just might catch my shadow in one of the scenes! The plaza had a really cool market set up filled with clothes, bags, etc, there is a nice running fountain there which traditionally was used to wash clothes, and there is a gigantic church overlooking the plaza. It made for a very nice effect. I had lunch on a balcony overlooking the plaza and it consisted of an egg dish with meat through it yum, and a nicely prepared leg of lamb, and then flan to keep the sweet tooth happy. After that I saw the First Communion of the 3rd Grade students of my school and that was  very pleasant. The students get very excited for these events and it is a nice feeling to come to support them for these things. As it is, maybe, just maybe I make up some small part of their support system!