National Garden, Athens, Greece

Two Week Intensive French Classes in Montpellier

I was lucky enough to take intensive French classes in Montpellier because after Madagascar, there was a lot of uncertainty – would I actually go back to London? Would I move back to California* like I’ve been dreaming about for a few years now? Look for another position in the field with a more robust health care system? Or even take a few months off just to focus on language?

Then I got offered my current position back at MSI and the decision was made. I’d be moving to London and happily back in with G! I had a few weeks to play around with before my start date, and learning French is something that has been on my list of goals for years. It would be a huge career boost, and despite taking a course at MSI in early 2018, I still felt like I lacked even the most basic building blocks of the language. So I decided to book in for an intensive two week course in the south of France at LSF French school. I decided on this school because of price, location (I’d never been to the South of France, I liked the small size of the city, and the weather was meant to be lovely – though I had terrible luck in that regard), and reputation – it had loads of excellent reviews.

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier

French Classes in montpellier

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Host Family Life

I stayed with a host family which is very out of character – I highly value independence and privacy. I did it because it’s meant to offer the best opportunity to learn French, and while I don’t regret having done it, I wouldn’t again.

Pros:

  • You can practice French in a natural environment with people who have to be patient with you. You’ll learn how people speak colloquially, learn words about everyday living that may not come up in class, and be exposed to the language basically 24/7.
  • You can see how locals live, which is something I think is important when visiting a new place – to get outside of the tourist bubble. I was quite far out and had to take a 25-minute metro ride into the city centre every day, and while this wasn’t ideal it did allow me to live a bit more like a local than tourist.

Cons:

  • Every family is different, and you’re inserted right into someone else’s family. Two weeks is a bit of an awkward amount of time. It’s difficult to get close, but you’re right there there for long enough to feel a bit involved – there was some personal drama with the host mom that happened while I was there that I was a bit caught up in – very awkward when you’re an outsider who doesn’t speak the language.
  • In my experience, the expectation was very much that I would spend as much free time with the family as possible. I spent 90% of my time in the library studying, and I think my host mother felt a tiny bit put out by this. I didn’t sign up for catered food, but started feeling guilty if I didn’t eat with the family every night anyway (with my own food obviously), and even at nearly 30 years old, they very much wanted to know my whereabouts at all times.
  • I think the biggest issue I had was that I came in as a complete beginner. The family didn’t speak English, and I think a few decades ago the model would have worked where I’d have been forced to gesture until I could speak, and then speak and build from what I was learning each day, etc. Instead the host family used Google translate to communicate with me. I did eventually ask them to at least speak the words as well, so I could hear it in French, and it wasn’t terrible both seeing it written out and hearing it out loud. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that right away, and for a while it felt like the only things I was learning were from listening in on their conversations to each other.

These things all might be very expected for a host family, and even desirable for some people. It’s also just one experience – I’d stayed with one other host family when I was in Guatemala for a few weeks in 2010, and in that instance we had breakfast together every day, but there were no expectation to spend free time socializing together. They were very happy to help when needed and would have a chat in Spanish at the end of most nights, but I still felt quite independent. That wasn’t the case here, and I think will be hard to know what kind of situation you’re getting before arrival.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

What Can You Learn in Two Weeks?

A lot, actually! I was lucky that I was in a small class (there were only four of us) and we were all really motivated to learn. We also came in at complete beginner, so were luckily all at nearly the exact same level. I had class from 9 – 12:30 every day and then and extra 90 minutes in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I spent every afternoon in the library studying, and the library was usually quite full. When I came back I joined an A1.2 class in London, was pushed up to the A2.2 class the next week, and that was actually the right level! This is the result of London labelling classes as more advanced than they are (I found the same thing when I tried to do Spanish classes here as well), but also due to my time at LSF – I really did come back quite good. I learned far more in two weeks than I expected. I’ve since forgotten loads, but I know with a bit of dedicated study, my new class at MSI, and hopefully a few more trips to LSF, I’ll get there.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Looking to take French classes in montpellier?

I have a lot of good things to say about LSF. I think they’ve nailed the model, have excellent, well trained teachers, dedicated students, and I 100% plan to go back to the LSF for French classes in Montpellier in the future. I think language lessons can be extremely hit or miss, and I am really comfortable telling you LSF is a hit. They know what they are doing – they aren’t the cheapest but this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for, and if you’re serious about French this is a place you can go to improve. Also Montpellier is not a bad place to spend some time! It’s got a gorgeous old town, is a small-sized city, perfect for learning a language, generally has fantastic weather, and has great food. What more could you want?

Montpellier, France

*This would have been difficult to do as I don’t have health insurance in America anymore. If I got sick now, it would be nearly impossible to move home with my family to receive care. Another reason America’s HC system needs overhauling and another reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the upcoming primaries and election!

Hasta Luego, Logroño

Well, it’s been awhile, hey?

I’ve finished my year of teaching, and had originally planned to spend the summer in Logroño taking intensive Spanish lessons. Due to some unexpected family circumstances, I’m actually in the process of moving to London/in with G! But worry not, because I have quite the backlog of travels to update on, and a three week trip around Eastern Europe I’ll be leaving for in just a few short weeks. Lots of writing to do before then!

So, how about a quick wrap up of my year in Logroño? I say quick, but I have no idea where to start, really. It was one of the best years of my life, but nothing like I expected. I was expecting something a bit more like studying abroad–a huge crew of friends, drinking maybe a bit too much, feeling like a real visitor. Instead, oddly, I felt at home immediately. I don’t think my schedule or life changed much from LA to Spain. You know, other than a daily siesta.

When I first arrived, at 1 am, jet lagged, lost, overwhelmed, and desperately missing Katie, I parked at Parque Espolon and walked from the beautifully lit park to my flat just around the corner. As I saw my new home and roommates for the first time, I immediately knew it would be an easy settling in process.

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first night

last morning

Logroño, I hope, will always feel like home. I know the art store next to my flat, the chocolatier a few doors down. The grocer who always gave me a discount on fruit. The bus driver who would wait that extra 30 seconds as I ran from the school right as it was meant to be leaving. Seeing the pilgrims walk the camino I used to dream about, years ago in Boston. It’s a small city, and I know the streets well. I walk them and feel capable and happy. Even Spanish, which sadly I didn’t come close to mastering, stopped being a barrier. Stopped being anything I worried about. I went to the dentist for x-rays, I got my cat a pet passport, and then went back to get it fixed when it was filled out incorrectly, twice. I got a bike fixed, went to the doctor’s a few times, finagled myself a last minute regreso, filled out all my renewal paperwork, and then amended it twice. By the end, I even made some dreaded calls–no hand gestures or facial expressions to rely on. I don’t speak Spanish. But I survived in it. And I’m going to keep taking lessons here in London.

I made friends, but not how I expected to. Other than my roommates, my American/English friends were few. But the kids I taught? They were friends. After my last day all my students found my instagram and one messaged me saying her parents wanted me to know if I ever needed anything, they would try to help. The English teacher and I had plans to meet up and speak only in Spanish. She left me with pages and pages of worksheets the students had had to translate from Spanish to English. I have to do the same. My last days at school I had dozens of letters and gifts from my kids, and it was the sweetest goodbye. Sometimes they were monsters, but I came from a tough industry and luckily a bunch of 6 year olds did not have the ability to phase me. And when I had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency, one of the families I gave private lessons to helped me sort my paperwork and another looked after my cat for almost three weeks, just happy to help. I really met the best people.

 

I’m sad to have left, but so deeply, incredibly glad to have had the time there I did. Am I done with Spain? I don’t know. I want to explore the south so badly–had I gone back next year I would have been in Granada, and that I think will always feel like the city that got away. But I have other things I need to do. Start a life, a daily life, with my incredible partner. Also probably live in Italy, and Mexico, and maybe Amsterdam? But I know this… I’ll go back to Logroño, walk the streets and remember it as home. And I am definitely not done with Spanish.

Hasta Luego, Logroño!

 

 

 

 

Goals for 2017

I super belatedly posted my 2016 wrap up, so now it’s time for the obligatory goals and resolutions post. How boring, right? Um, maybe to you guys! As I think is clear by now, lists and goals are my happiness bread and butter. This is basically my favorite time of year.

  1. I start this year much like the last. One of the main things I want to refocus on is my health. I was successful last year mostly, but the move to Spain really threw me off. The food here! It’s delicious, but man is it unhealthy. It’s all fried and meat and cheese. And it all comes with basically free wine. I haven’t been able to find a pilates class, and it’s too cold/wet to exercise outside. This has led to a lot of inactivity and a lot of unhealthy eating. It’s time to make a change! I want to drink more water, start taking a daily multivitamin again, eat healthier, and exercise (much) more. Also I’d like to get on a more normal sleep schedule, because apparently sleep is a little important.
  2. I want to keep working on my Spanish. It has improved massively from when I first arrived, but I’ve never been more than a high beginner, and the weeks away in December have really set me back. I want to try to do three classes a week, Tuesday – Thursday, and instead of reading 10 books in English this year, I’ll read 10 books in Spanish.
  3. I want to write as much as possible and recommit to this blog. So no more weeks/months between posts–I want to be able to look back on this time and have a complete log of what I was thinking and doing. I’m going to try to commit to a schedule of three times a week, which will definitely take some planning but it’s not like I don’t have things to write about!
  4. I want to volunteer more. The election, and I think also just the result of living internationally, has really made me feel a duty to dedicate more of my time to improving the things about the world I think are unjust or underserved. It’s time I do more. I want to try to do something based in the US, possibly here in Spain if that language barrier doesn’t get in the way, and internationally.
  5. I don’t know how possible this will be, because I make so little money I only break even at the end of every month here, but I hope to save an additional $2,000. I’m not sure how I’ll do this, I’m looking into VIPkid, or maybe getting another private lesson where that money is solely put into savings, but I hope I can at least come close. In addition to this, I want to start tracking every cent I spend, so I know exactly where my money is going!
  6. I want to go to new places. So far this year I have the following trips either booked or planned. Obviously things change, so this is tentative, but so far I have:

JanuaryBelgium. I actually just returned from here yesterday! I went to Bruges and Brussels, and there is a full post coming soon. I also did a day trip to Pamplona.

February – I’m not totally sure what February will be. I know Gareth is coming here for my birthday/THE SUPER BOWL (!!!), but I’m not sure if we’ll try to plan anything else that month.

March – I’ll be going back to London in March, and my friend from LA will be in Europe, so I’ll be meeting up with her somewhere!

AprilSpring break! I’ll be spending most of it in Italy and Slovenia, but I might try to add a trip to Budapest and into Transylvania, Romania to the end of the trip.

May – Again, nothing is really planned here yet. I’ll have to go to my new city to do my renewal forms so I don’t lose my visa, so (hopefully) a trip to Andalucia, and maybe Portugal or Palma?

June – This will be another big travel month. Hopefully I’ll spend a few weeks in Lebanon volunteering with refugees. Then I’ll go back to the states, and road trip from the north down the west coast to LA, where I’ll see my friends.

July/August – These months are super unclear. I have a few options. Au pair, work in summer camps, move home, or do a work visa for a few months in Australia?? Not sure, but I could really wind up anywhere. Exciting/terrifying.

September – I’ll return to Spain and find a place to live/get a new life set up. And hopefully take a few weeks to do a cheap overland trip from Zagreb all the way down to Greece!

From there I have no plans, but I’ll be teaching again starting in October and will probably fit in a few more trips as well. Definitely to the southern Spanish cities, and hopefully to Portugal and/or Palma if I haven’t made it there yet.

And lastly, there are a few 30 before 30 goals I think/hope I could accomplish this year.

  1. Go to Italy
  2. Go to Greece
  3. Stay in Shakespeare and Co bookstore
  4. Learn to cook 5 meals very well
  5. Run a 10k (or maybe a 12k Spartan race? I’d count it 🙂
  6. Learn Spanish. I hope to make that my main focus this year, and by January of next year, feel confident saying I speak the language.

So, I’ve got some plans and things to focus on. Maybe a few too many things to focus on, but that’s a problem for future Kristen!

Spain – Two Month Update

I’m a little late with this, and it’s actually been about two and a half months, but oh well. Here are my updates!

Central Theme: I still love Spain! Shocking, I’m sure. 

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what Logroño looks like right now

I FINALLY finished everything I need to do to be able to stay in Spain long term. I picked up my ID card from the ayuntamiento on Friday and can finally stop worrying about complicated Spanish paperwork!

Spanish

My Spanish is getting so much better. I’m definitely not speaking perfectly, but I’m getting my point across, and I’m FINALLY at the point where I can speak without taking forever to think about each word I want to say before saying it. For more difficult things, like bank account problems, or maybe getting a kitten(?!?!) to make Brady less lonely, I have my bilingual roommate come with me. Also the more I learn the more I realize how little I know, but in most general situations I am totally self sufficient.

Social Life

My two roommates are awesome, I met a great British girl, and honestly I’m spending like every other weekend with Gareth. Other than the Katie shaped hole that will never ever go away, I’m really happy socially. Also though my schedule SOUNDS really open, I’m actually working from like 9-9 every day with the downtime during a siesta in the middle, so by the time I get home it’s late and I’m so happy to just hang out. Basically I am old and the Spanish nightlife is something I am no longer able to keep up with.

We did have a Halloween party, which was fun because Halloween isn’t really that big of a deal here, so it was an American/Auxiliar bonding session.

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Schedule

I teach at my school 12 hours a week, 4 hours a day on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I do private lessons from 4-6 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Spanish lessons from 8-9 on Mondays and 7-8:30 on Tuesdays. I have Wednesdays off from the school but I have a Spanish class 1-2, and then private lessons 3:30-8:30, and then Thursday I work at the school, do private lessons from 3:30-6:00, and Spanish class from 7-8:30. It feels like a lot, teaching is exhausting but I LOVE my private lessons, the families are all so nice and the main reason I feel connected to Spain.

The school is still not ideal. I’m supposed to be an assistant but I’m being treated as a full teacher with my own classroom and such. As someone who doesn’t speak Spanish and is NOT A TRAINED TEACHER it’s pretty hard. So that’s my schedule. Also EVERYTHING closes from 2-5 which is the worst cause it’s mostly the only time I have off, and nothing is open on Sundays. I am bad at planning ahead and this leads to me eating a lot of rice.

Logroño

Logroño continues to be such an amazing place to live. A little while after Halloween they had a festival because it was the anniversary of the last “witch” to be hung in Europe–she was hung in Logroño. There were stalls selling tons of handmade crafts and food, and they put on a truly creepy show about the history of the event. And then, because it’s Spain, we all got to go on stage and drink mead from the cauldron.

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The weather is starting to change. At first the cold was killing me–and by cold I mean about 40 degrees. All through college I used to sleep with a fan in my window–even in the winter! My roommates hated me! I loved the cold. LA changed that. Changed me. When I first moved there I hated the lack of real weather–sunny and 75 was horrible. Now I love it so much. If the sky isn’t a perfect blue, I feel instantly depressed and lazy. That said, eventually I realized I would feel better if I bought a coat and scarf and gloves, and actually prepared for the dropping temperature. Shockingly enough that has really improved my outlook. Now I’m enjoying the diverse weather (though the fact that it gets dark at like 6 is still depressing). It’s raining right now and I have my big windows open, and I’m sitting in bed drinking tea. It’s really nice.

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Travel

Gareth and I hiked part of the GR 93, which was fantastic.

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We also went to Copenhagen, and it reaffirmed my total and complete love for Scandinavia. Iceland is still my favorite place I’ve ever been, but Copenhagen came close.

Upcoming Travel

It’s Thanksgiving week, and I leave tomorrow for London! We’re having a proper Thanksgiving meal with a Turkey and all the fixings. I can’t wait! I haven’t been to London since my birthday and I REALLY miss my friends there.

I get back to Spain on Sunday and leave that Friday for 10 days of Christmas Markets! Gareth and I are doing Berlin and Amsterdam, and then I’m meeting one roommate in Prague for a few days before we’ll head to Poland and meet our other roommate for the weekend. I’m SO EXCITED. If you know anything about me it’s that I LOVE Christmas. And Thanksgiving. And markets.

About four days after I get back from Poland my mom arrives for the holidays, which I’m so excited about I can barely type the sentence. She’s never left the states! She’s coming to SPAIN. She didn’t even come to LA. I can’t wait to show her around,  I think she’s going to love it here. Also our moms will be meeting for the first time, which is exciting and scary and wonderful.

The Election

Also, the election happened. I haven’t said anything about it because I really don’t know what to say. Actually, I thought that was true and then I started typing and the words were flowing. So this will be a separate post. Not a happy one, but that’s the general theme of the entire election, so why stop now.

Spain – one month update

A little over a month ago, I was racing around LA trying to finish a huge to-do list before the flight that would take me first to Zurich, and then on to Madrid. It is crazy to think it’s been a month, and I’m going to be super cliched and say it feels both much longer, and much shorter than that.

Before I came, I got a serious case of cold feet. I started doubting everything, and felt pretty crazy to leave a life I liked/had put in so much work into building. I tried to have realistic expectations, knowing when I first arrived I’d be homesick, that the language barrier would be a problem. I was prepared for it to take some time for me to feel settled.

But amazingly, it took almost no time at all. After a delayed flight and a road trip from Madrid to Logroño with a VERY tired Kristen behind the wheel, I arrived in Logroño at 1:30AM. I parked my car and dragged my suitcase to my apartment (because cars aren’t actually allowed on my street), and stepped into my new home for the first time.

my street

my street

And guys, it was GOOD. My room was basic but pretty. The apartment was bigger than I was expecting, and my roommates were so nice and just as excited as I was to be here. And the city? It was still lit up and beautiful at 1:30 in the morning, and I instantly felt so sure I had made the right decision coming here–a feeling that has never once wavered.

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Gareth came to visit about 5 days after I got here, and we did some pretty cool things, which will be a separate post. Something worth talking about, though, is that we are now in (nearly) the same time zone! That one small detail has changed everything. I can call him when I wake up on my way to work, we can talk at lunch, and before bed. In LA there was a cut off from 2:00pm until maybe 11:00 or midnight where we just couldn’t talk, and that is like half the day! It sucked! Also we are going to see each other basically every two weeks from now until January 8th. What will we even DO with such regularity? Probably get very sick of each other!

My first week here was San Mateo, which is one of the two biggest festivals in La Rioja, the region that Logroño is in. It was really fun, and a great introduction to the city. There was also a marching band that went by my window hourly for the entire week, which started out as cool and then got dramatically less so as time went on. Now that San Mateo is over, there is a guy who plays gorgeous classical music every night, and it fills the apartment and is SO LOVELY.

I can’t begin to explain how much I love Logroño, and how lucky I feel to have been placed here. Originally, I wanted Madrid so badly I didn’t even tell anyone I had applied to move to Spain, but to Madrid. That was all I could picture. And now, I wouldn’t trade Logroño for anything. It’s small and cheap (my rent is 180 euros a month, for real), it’s not touristy at all, it’s beautiful, it has amazing food/wine, it’s close to all the major northern cities, and the people are so so so nice. There’s a belief that the people in the north are cold, and I don’t know if I’m just not far enough north, or if the stereotype is just completely wrong, but the people here are insanely nice. They never get annoyed with my terrible Spanish. Every family I’ve met for private lessons has told me if I ever need anything, to come to them–and they actually mean it. If I need a ride somewhere, help figuring out how to buy a bus pass, recommendations on the best bodegas, etc–they are so happy to help. I think my Spanish is improving so much because I have no worries about speaking it, even though it’s bad. There is zero judgment, so I feel fine to say or ask whatever I need, sometimes again and again haha, until they understand me.

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I’m taking Spanish lessons four times a week, for five hours total. And my Spanish really is already improving. This month there is a pop up book fair in the park next to my apartment (can I say again how much I love Logroño), and I bought The Little Prince and have been (slowly) reading it. My Spanish is still terrible but for the first time in my life I have hope that I might not be incapable of learning, that maybe by the time I’m done here, I’ll actually be good–or at least somewhere close to good.

For work, I have two jobs, both teaching English. One is at an elementary school, and one is doing private lessons after school’s out. I love the private lessons. They are exhausting, but the kid/s really pay attention and learn, and all my private students are super nice/cute/funny and I love hanging out with them. Plus I get to practice my Spanish with their parents, the super nice people mentioned above. I interviewed at multiple academies and quickly realized finding work in either an academy or through privates lessons would be super easy in Logroño. So I went for the higher paying option, and though it’s only been three weeks, I get the impression it’s a bit more secure than I originally thought. No one has canceled yet.

My school is a bit tougher. I’m supposed to be a language and culture assistant, and because I’m not meant to be teaching alone, no experience or training is required/provided. However, my school (breaks the rules and) puts me in my own classroom with the younger kids, which is REALLY hard, especially on the first day. The kids don’t know who I am. They don’t know enough/any English–and I don’t know enough Spanish–to accomplish ANYTHING, so mostly they run wild while I try not to let them hurt each other. It’s not great but week two has definitely been better than week one, so hopefully as I learn more/they get to know me better, it will keep improving. The teacher for grades 4-6 stays with me like she’s supposed to, and I love those classes because the kids understand me. Plus the entire school treats me like a celebrity–when I walk down the hall every student runs up and says hello and tries to talk to me. It’s pretty cute.

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I do miss things from home. Mostly people. Katie. And Mexican food. There’s one Mexican food place in Logroño and guacamole is twice as expensive as a burrito… you can imagine the size of the burrito. I miss my pilates studio and the beach. But I still plan on going back to California eventually, and until then, Logroño is a perfect place to be.

Until next time, or as literally every single person in Logroño says, ‘sta luego!