Last Few School Days of 2016

During the last week of school before the Christmas holidays, a number of exciting events happened that I helped orchestrate and/or in which I participated.

On Tuesday, Villablanca (the high school where I’m working) hosted a charity race for hunger. Students could enter by either bringing 5€ to school or they could bring in a kilogram of non-perishable food. But hosting a race doesn’t come without its fair share of logistical hassles! First of all, due to not wanting to pay for police to monitor the racecourse, we had to keep the course completely within the bounds of the school. Cati, Jorge, Iván (the physical education teachers) and I decided that we could make the race go around the soccer and basketball courts and then around the little garden on the school property. The students had to run (or walk) the course three times, totaling about 3km. In order to make sure the kids actually did this, they were given a rubber band after completing each lap, and only when they showed us three rubber bands on their wrists were they allowed to cross the finish line.

The race itself was wonderful organized chaos. We actually had two races – three classes of 2nd of ESO (8th grade) ran during fifth period and the other three classes of the same grade ran during sixth period. I cheered my heart out for the kids (while simultaneously making sure none of them were cheating by cutting across the racecourse!) The best part, however, was right after sixth period, when we were able to help load cart after cart full of food for the homeless shelter down the road in Vicálvaro. Also during seventh period, some of the 9th graders joined us on the recorder for the medal ceremony, playing Chariots of Fire as the male and female winners got their medals placed around their necks.

Thursday was the last day of school before vacation and we had our choir and recorder concert. I assist in classes with Victoria and Belén – the two music teachers at IES Villablanca. Partially because I enjoy working with them so much, and partially because I enjoy singing and miss my high school chorus days, I decided to join the Villablanca choir. The choir is about 80% students and 20% staff members and we practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during our break periods.

We have been rehearsing feverishly these past few weeks, and it was worth it for a wonderful concert, performed in the auditorium of the local public library. Many students, teachers and parents came to watch us sing in English and Spanish.

When I returned home to Boston for the Christmas break, I slept for 12+ hours for many nights (days?) in a row. A large part of it was due to jetlag, but I think some of it had to do with the wonderfully exhausting last week of 2016 I had in Madrid.

Until next time,
~JK

 

 

October 2016 – First Month of School!

Contrary to popular belief (i.e., if you’ve only read my most recent blog posts and looked at my recent Facebook photos), I am actually teaching here in Spain! I wanted to provide a quick recap of what life is like working at IES Villablanca.

IES stands for Instituto de Educación Secundaria, which essentially means a combined middle and high school. IES Villablanca is a bilingual school. This means different things for kids of different ages, but essentially between 1-4 hours of class per day have to be taught in English.

And that’s where us auxiliars come in handy! I’m one of six English language and culture assistants at IES Villablanca – four of us (Carol, Jake, Scott and I) are from the US, Georgie’s from England, and Leila is from Ireland. While we never work in the same classroom together, we do take our breaks and spend our free periods in the teacher’s lounge together and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them better.

My schedule is a bit unique in that I’m working on an A/B week rotation. During A weeks, I help out with 5 music classes and 11 physical education classes. During B weeks, I still have the same 5 music classes, but I also have 5 prep periods and 6 periods where I’m teaching English literature and history.

In terms of the work itself, it varies greatly. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been asked to talk about Harvard, life in America and growing up in Boston. I’ve also been tasked with teaching a workshop on Greek dancing as well as explaining in detail the different parts of the ear and how one perceives sound. This is precisely what I enjoy, though – the fact that no two days are the same at IES Villablanca.

I’m working with six different teachers and it’s been very interesting to see their unique teaching styles and ways in which they interact with and discipline the children. I’ve also gotten closer to the kids as I spend more time with them. One physical education class already knows my love for Beyoncé, and many students will say hi to me by name in the hallways, which just makes my day. In fact, one student saw me in the metro station near school and ran all the way down the up escalator to say hi to me and tell me about his day.

TGT: I’ve been keeping a journal recently, marking down Three Good Things for each day, so over the past month, some TGTs include:

1) Going on a wonderful hike on the outskirts of Madrid with Jenna and HikingMadrid 2) Having really wonderful and in-depth conversations with my flat-mates about a variety of topics 3) Running in my first race (a 10k, up and down one of the main streets of Madrid!)

Hasta pronto,
~JK

 

Mallorca – A Different Type of Solo Travel

After spending a week in Madrid after my trip through Sevilla/Lagos/Lisbon, I came to the realization that if I wanted to go anywhere else before school started, I’d have to go there by myself (because many friends already had different and overlapping travel plans). I absolutely love the beach/swimming/anything aquatic, so I figured that the Spanish island of Mallorca would be a great (and relatively inexpensive) place to go.

I found discounted Ryanair flights and booked an Airbnb (which actually turned out to be cheaper than any hostel I could find, and more centrally located!) My Airbnb host was a wonderful woman named Patricia who gave me lots of helpful hints for what to do and where to go in Mallorca.

I soon realized, however, that traveling solo and staying in a hostel is incredibly different from traveling solo and staying in an Airbnb. In Mallorca, I was truly, 100% by myself. There was no one with whom I could go to a communal dinner, no one whose plans I could join to explore the city and no one with whom I could strike up a quick conversation.

And as a result, for the first time since crossing the Atlantic, I felt quite a bit of homesickness. I really do credit my wonderful roommates back in Madrid with keeping the homesick feelings at bay during my first few weeks in Spain. I joke that living with 6 other people is kind of like being back in Quincy house again. I love working on my computer in our common area (as opposed to my own bedroom) and it’s so nice to have people to talk to and unwind with at the end of the day.

But even with the twinges of homesickness, I was able to have a blast by myself in Mallorca. I rented a bike during the first few days and was able to follow this incredible beachfront bike path for what must have been about seven miles around the island. I went on a snorkeling day-trip, wandered around the gorgeous cathedral and marveled at the island’s historic castle.

I was craving a bit more adventure, and after checking out TripAdvisor, I saw an ad for a cliff jumping adventure package. To be honest, it looked a bit sketchy (and I wanted to sign up for the next day) so I decided to call to get a better feel for the company. They answered all of my questions and I ended up getting a spot for the next day (probably because this was the middle of the week!) 18 hours later, I was in a van with a driver, and three Swedish tourists and we were off on our adventure.

This turned out to be a remarkable experience. After about an hour drive and 10 minutes of hiking, we arrived at the cliffs. The “smallest” cliffs were about 3m high and the tallest ones we could jump off of were about 10m tall. They started us out slowly – we simply jumped off the cliffs into the water, swam a bit, and then climbed up some rocks to do it again! After a few jumps at each level, we would increase to the next highest cliff. The day ended with a wonderful zip-line across two rock areas (except during this zip-line, you had to jump off into the water halfway through!)

The loneliest parts of the whole trip were when I would wander to find dinner by myself. It wasn’t all bad, though, because when I ordered a whole serving of croquettas I realized I would be eating them all! I also tried a delicious ice cream shop per the recommendation of Patricia and got to watch part of a soccer/fútbol game with some of the island’s locals.

Overall, Mallorca was a beautiful, action-packed trip that showed me what it’s like to truly travel by myself and explore a city on my own.

TGT: 1) Cliff jumping/rock climbing adventure 2) Biking all around the main/touristy parts of the island 3) Touring the inside of the Cathedral

 

Hasta pronto,
~JK

First Solo Trip – Sevilla/Lagos/Lisbon

I have been very fortunate to have traveled a lot in the past four years, but I have never traveled somewhere completely by myself. With the cast of RENT singing in my head, I realized that there truly was no day but today.

For a bit of context, I had signed up for a company called Discover Excursion’s email listserv and they informed me that I had won a free trip to Portugal. Not one to say no to anything free (and definitely not one to say no to free travel), as soon as I was able to secure an apartment in Madrid, I decided to book this trip for the upcoming weekend.

The only “problem” was that the trip left from Sevilla. And by “problem”, I mean “amazing excuse to go spend time in Sevilla, my favorite city in the world”. I took the train down on Thursday morning and, after dropping my bags at the hostel (since my host mom was still away on her cruise, so I couldn’t stay with her!) I was able to explore the city on my own.

I’ve had many conversations with people in the past few months about what “home” means to them. The general consensus among my recent-alumni friends is that while Harvard was most definitely our home for the past four years (and particularly our home during our senior year – looking at you, 6th floor Quincy seniors) at the current moment it definitely is not our home anymore. I refer to Madrid as my “home” now, but emotionally it doesn’t feel like home…yet.

As soon as I stepped out of the Santa Justa train station in Sevilla, however, I truly felt like I was back home. This feeling became stronger and stronger as I navigated the busses to my hostel, rented a bike (which is what I used to do all the time when I was studying abroad) and wandered around the Universidad de Sevilla and the amazing Cathedral. I went to Tabernas Coloniales for dinner and finished the day eating ice cream from Rayas underneath the “mushroom” building – the only modern architecture building in the middle of this history-filled city.

The next day, I had two fortuitous events happen to me before I even left for Portugal. First, I was crossing the street while wearing my Delta Gamma fanny pack and ran into two DGs who are also studying abroad in Madrid, but had taken a train down yesterday to go on this trip to Portugal!

And then I just happened to strike up a conversation with a girl named Carol. Carol, like me, had won this trip to Lagos. Like me, she was a CIEE auxiliar in Madrid (but that’s not too remarkable since there are over 500 of us!) The most serendipitous part was that Carol will be working at the same bilingual high school as me! Carol and I really hit it off and ended up going to dinner both nights together and chatting till the early morning about our lives, our anticipation for this upcoming year, and our goals for our time in Spain.

The Lagos trip was wonderful – definitely a bit more geared towards college-aged students, but fun regardless. Highlights included learning how to surf, going kayaking and snorkeling in the beautiful grottos cut out from the rock formations along the coast, and watching the sunset from Sagres, the “end of the world” (the most southwestern point of continental Europe).

On Sunday, instead of heading back to Sevilla with the rest of the group, I caught a bus up to Lisbon. I spent two nights in a phenomenal hostel called Yes! Hostel. Not only was Yes! centrally located, but it also was clean, safe, and had wonderful, energetic staff members.

During my first day, I went on the free walking tour that the hostel offered throughout (what seemed like all of) Lisbon. After that, I decided to go to the aquarium. I love absolutely aquariums (case in point: I once got out of a job interview in Seattle early, and decided to spend the majority of the rest of my free day at the Seattle aquarium). The Lisbon aquarium did not disappoint – I wandered from room to room, looking at exhibits depicting all of the major oceans and their surrounding habitats. I completely lost track of time and was shocked when, three hours later, they announced that the aquarium was closing!

I then headed back to the hostel for an amazing dinner. Knowing literally no one, I timidly sat down next a group of Australians and ended up having such a blast talking to them about their travels, my time at Harvard, and what they had planned for the next few weeks. In the end, they even persuaded me to do the hostel-sponsored pub-crawl around Lisbon with them!

The next day, I went to the Jerónimos monastery. This beautiful building consisted of a museum, a cathedral and a gorgeous outdoor courtyard surrounded by stunning architecture. I then wandered down the river to the Torre de Belém – a tower that I would describe as a precursor to the modern lighthouse. It was an interesting climb up the 93 cramped, winding steps, but it was worth it for the beautiful views of the Tagus River and the rest of Lisbon.

I then took a night bus home to Madrid (which took about 8 hours, and during which I got no sleep, but that didn’t really matter since I was able to sleep from 6am-noon on the day that I returned to Madrid!)

TGT: 1) amazing day in Sevilla visiting all of my favorite sights and restaurants 2) delicious and entertaining dinner at Yes! Hostel 3) exploring around Lisbon

Until next time,
JK

First week in Madrid!

Wow, what a week it’s been! We arrived at the hotel that CIEE had arranged for us to stay at (and by us, I mean 150 English-teaching auxiliares from the US) on Monday. I was actually placed in a room with Melissa, one of my best friends from High School! Upon arrival, though, I promptly took a three-hour nap. The only thing scheduled for that day was a welcome dinner, where I was a bit loopy due to lack of sleep.

The next few days were scattered with orientation sessions and apartment searching, which is quite the process in Madrid. The highlight of my week, however, was meeting my host mom from Sevilla for a lovely lunch in the middle of Madrid! Many of you may already know (since I tend to talk about it incessantly) that I studied abroad in Sevilla during my junior fall semester. I chose to do a completely immersive program with CIEE, including living with a host family. When I told Antonia (my host mom) that I would be living and working in Madrid during this upcoming year, she was thrilled to hear this news, but even more excited because she would be in Madrid on Sept. 2nd.

We met up in Plaza Puerta del Sol and it was so good to see her again! She was with her sister and two friends, and they were stopping in Madrid for the day before flying out to go on a cruise in the Baltic (I joked that she had more travel plans than I did!) The lunch proved to be a great test of my Spanish as the women were talking very quickly. We all ended up ordering the same thing – a delicious Caesar salad and a “broken egg” and potato dish.

The time passed very quickly and we talked about a variety of topics – from my recent graduation, to how Antonia’s family was doing, to whether or not I should come to Sevilla for semana santa (holy week) and/or la Feria. Antonia then showed me pictures on her phone of her dressed up in traditional clothing for the Feria festival that happens in Sevilla every spring (which is such a big deal that Snapchat even does its own story for the occasion!) She then said I would be welcome to stay at her house for Christmas if I so desired.

After meeting with Antonia, it was back to the “real world” of apartment searching. After 25+ whatsapp messages to different potential landlords, 6 visits to apartments and lots of schlepping around Madrid in 90+ degree heat, I was exhausted, to say the least. By the time Saturday rolled around, I had 4 apartment viewings lined up. When I arrived at my first one, though, something about it felt different (in a good way).

First of all, the whole apartment was new and beautiful. Another positive was that the landlord was there with her whole family – her daughter was helping answer any questions we had in English and her husband was putting the finishing touches on the apartment. After about an hour of thinking and reflecting, I decided to go for it and sign my first official lease to rent a room in the apartment! It was a somewhat risky decision, but it has been turning out to be more than worth it.

Though I am paying a bit more than I had originally hoped to, I have a beautiful balcony looking onto the street below me. I also have a collection of wonderful roommates (none of whom I knew before!) – three others are CIEE auxiliaries like myself (Maggie, Sterling and Bianca); a German pre-med student studying in Madrid (Nina) and two working Spaniards (Luís and Paula). We each have our own room and share a kitchen and three bathrooms.

Even though I’ve only spent about four nights in my room, I’ve been able to have wonderful conversations with my roommates and have already made some delicious meals. Overall, it was an incredibly stressful, but also very rewarding, week.

TGT: 1) Finding a wonderful apartment with amazing roommates 2) having lunch with Antonia 3) having a great catch-up dinner with Melissa once we had each moved into our respective apartments (at the same gluten-free pasta restaurant where we had met up when we were both in Madrid two years ago, when I had come from Sevilla and she had come from Granada!)

Until next time,
JK

Intro to Life in Madrid (and a summary of life since Mumbai)

Hello again!

First of all, I must apologize (and simultaneously thank HCAP Mumbai). As you’ll see if you scroll down, I never got to finish blogging about my time in Mumbai, largely due to the fact that we had such action-packed days and nights (I’m sure you can only imagine how in my element I was dancing the night away to Bollywood music!) Suffice it to say, it was a phenomenal trip. Highlights from the rest of the trip include a beautiful waterfront yoga session while the sun was rising, visiting multiple temples, walking to a mosque at the end of its own manmade island, exploring the Elephanta caves and getting a tour of the Girnar tea company’s facilities.

And now for a quick summary of life since then: I graduated from Harvard this past May with a degree in Psychology and Global Health. I spent this past summer working as a clinical research assistant at McLean psychiatric hospital in Belmont, MA. I was a research assistant for a study involving cardiovascular medication adherence in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (interestingly, heart disease is the number one killer of this population). I learned so much during my time as an RA and got a lot of patient interaction as well.

I was fortunate to be living rent-free this summer, but the unfortunate part of that was that I was living in “my” (my family’s) house while the rest of my family was with my grandma on the eastern end of Long Island, NY. I went down to see them most weekends, but during the week, things got pretty lonely. Thankfully, I had a bunch of friends still on campus and because I took an Indian dance class in Central Square every Monday, I was able to see quite a few friends over the summer!

And that pretty much brings me to right now. I’m currently on flight one to two – this one is from Boston to Lisbon and the second one will bring me to Madrid. In Madrid, I’ll be a Language and Culture Assistant at IES Villablanca – a bilingual high school on the outskirts of Madrid. I essentially will be at the beck and call of the school – I could be asked to teach the English language (which, if you know me, is an ironic request since English in general, and spelling in particular, is definitely not my forte) or I could be asked to teach a subject, such as science, history or social studies, in English.

I’ll start teaching on October 3rd. For the next four(ish) days, I’ll be going through an official orientation with CIEE. CIEE is the same program I used to study abroad in Sevilla during my junior fall semester and I’m really excited to be working with them again. CIEE is putting us up in a hotel for 8 nights, and during that time, we’re supposed to find an apartment into which we can move. This is by far what I am most nervous about, but CIEE warned us not to sign any leases before we actually viewed the apartments in person because there are a lot of scams out there.

That’s all for now, but of course I’ll end with today’s TGT (three good things): 1) drinking two homemade smoothies courtesy of Momma Krimsky before heading to the airport 2) getting so many “safe travel” calls/texts/Google Hangouts from friends 3) fitting in one last brunch – homemade challah French toast (yes, a lot of my good things are food related, shocking).

Hasta pronto,
JK

 

 

Sunday 13 March

Today I was up at 7:45…or so I thought. Due to a lack of wifi, I had manually set my phone to Mumbai time, which normally would have been fine. This past night, though, was daylight’s savings time and as a result when I came down for breakfast, the man at the front desk of the YMCA politely informed me that breakfast didn’t start until 8am. “I know” I said, pointing to the clock on the wall….only to realize that it was only 7am because my cell phone clock had automatically “sprung forward.”

I was now wide-awake, though, so I decided to do some exploring around the area. I walked down the road where the YMCA is and eventually wandered into a church. I also walked around a convent school and saw some other beautiful buildings. Soon it was 8am and time for breakfast. I had a delicious egg omelet with some toast and tea. I was eating breakfast by myself, however, since Niamh had gone to Starbucks to use their wifi and no one else was up yet.

I actually found breakfast to be wonderful. Like many Harvard students, I feel as though I have not been able to catch my breath this semester (I was in Seattle about a week ago for an interview, have been having Ghungroo and/or Expressions rehearsals anywhere between 3 and 8 hours per week, am still actively trying to find a job/fellowship, etc.) I realized that this was the first time since January break that I had really been able to take a step back, breathe, and enjoy being alone for a bit.

Eventually the other Harvard delegates did come to breakfast and I decided to go to Starbucks with Niamh and Shao. One thing I’m simultaneously loving and hating about Mumbai is the lack of wifi. On the one hand, it sometimes sucks when you can’t reach your friends/family members, but on the other hand, it’s so liberating to not be constantly checking my cellphone (and I feel very popular when I have a bunch of snapchats, whatsapp messages and emails buzzing on my phone when I turn on wifi after not having used wifi for two days!)

After breakfast, we headed to the train station for a 20-minute train ride to the edge of the second largest slum in Asia – the Dharavi slum. Before going into the Dharavi slum, I thought I knew what I’d be seeing – absolutely terrible conditions, miserable people and lots of disease and unsanitary conditions. I’m a global health secondary and I’ve read case study after case study regarding the slums of India and how healthcare is such a dire issue there.

But here’s where the “magic” of HCAP happens. Instead of reading about another case of malnutrition or malaria in an Indian slum, we were able to take a guided tour through this slum and really see all that goes on inside. It turns out that Dharavi is like a city-within-a-city. There are hospitals, schools, houses, places of worship and work places. People live and work inside the slum, and yes it’s true that the conditions are not ideal, but there is running water and electricity. It’s also ideally located between many train lines and major roads.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos, but it was an incredible experience getting to see workers sort plastic and recycle old plastic materials in the industrial quarters and then literally travel single-file through the incredibly narrow passageways in the residential quarter. We were also able to go onto the roof of one of the buildings and see out over the entire slum. It felt good to have some of my misconceptions about slums absolutely shattered as a result of going on this tour.

After the slum tour, we took the train back to Ashuli’s house. We were all pretty exhausted, and it was so nice to just relax with air conditioning (and this amazing view of the sea!) We had a delicious (homemade) lunch and then lounged around some more, listening to music and telling stories.

Once lunch was done, we headed back into cabs to go to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) museum. Many of us Harvard delegates were asking what “type” of museum this was, and the Mumbai delegates were having a tough time answering that question, but after exploring the museum, I can see why. (As SNL’s Stefan would say), this museum has everything – there was an exhibit about prehistoric people living in India, paintings from the colonial period, a room dedicated to glass vases and everything in-between. My two favorite rooms were the history of Indian clothing and the history of medicine in India.

While I was enjoying the history of Indian medicine room, a man approached me with his cellphone. Because he was with his wife and child, I assumed he wanted me to take a photo of the three of them. “No, no, no, you!” he said, pointing at me. And sure enough, he held up the camera and we took a selfie together. Then, for some reason, all three of them had sunglasses on their heads and I just so happened to have my bright yellow sunglasses on my head, so when they put their sunglasses on for selfie #2, I did the same and we all laughed.

After the museum, we went on a guided walking tour of the surrounding area with the Mumbai delegates. The sun was setting and even though it was still pretty humid, the weather was perfect. We walked past the high court of Mumbai, around a central park area and also saw a fountain, library and schools.

After a quick shower, we were off to dinner, this time within walking distance from the YMCA. It was so nice, just sitting, talking and laughing with the Harvard and Mumbai delegates. I was also pleasantly surprised by my ability to eat the food. Some of the sandwiches we ordered were pretty spicy (to me, at least) and Poorva suggested that I try it with ketchup, to ameliorate the spiciness (which, if you know me, worked pretty damn well!) We then headed back to the Y, ready to get some sleep. I cannot remember the last time I was able to get more than 10 hours of sleep!

TGT: 1) Slum tour 2) delicious and beautiful lunch at Ashuli’s place 3) wandering through the museum

Until next time,
JK