Back to School

It’s my favorite season: back-to-school.  And for the first time ever I’m back at school not as a student, but as a teacher! Monday, September 23rd was the first official day of classes for 400-some Spanish youth who attend the Instituto de Educación Secundaria Ría del Carmen (that’s a mouthful).  So what is school like in Spain, you ask?  Well, I’d recommend pouring yourself a glass of vino tinto and settling in, because I’m about to explain the Spanish education system to you.  There will be a quiz later.


I’m working at an Instituto de Educación Secundaria, which is comprised of students in 7th-12th grades.  Spaniards attend primary school through 6th grade, then graduate to a secondary school, which they are required to attend through 10th grade.  After 10th grade, however, there are various paths available to the students- including vocational training or college prep- for what is roughly the equivalent of 11th and 12th grade.

I’ll be working primarily with 7th-10th graders who are part of the bilingual program at IES Ría del Carmen.  Besides going to English language class everyday, they also take 2 or 3 other courses taught in English, such as social studies, math, and art.  About twice a week, I’ll take over their English language class, for the privilege and honor of teaching the Global Classrooms program.  Global Classrooms in the international version of Model United Nations, which is being taught in over 20 cities around the world.

The 8th, 9th, and 10th graders in the bilingual program all participate in Global Classrooms.  Each grade level is given a topic of international interest to research, and then students are paired up, each pair representing a different country.  The students work from now until the spring to learn about their country, write a position paper, and prepare for the regional Global Classrooms Conferences, held each February or March in Cantabria.  During these conferences, the 16 secondary schools in the region will organize various conferences to allow the students to gather together, to present, discuss, and resolve the topics they’ve been researching– all in their second language, English.  I have two groups of 8th graders (segundos, or “second years”) two groups of 9th graders (terceros, “third years”), and one group of 10th graders (cuartos, “fourth years”)- and I meet with each group at least twice a week for Global Classrooms.

During my first week of school, I’ve learned a few things:

  1. When asked to name as many of the 50 states as they know, most Spanish students will include “Hollywood” in their list.  Hmm…
  2. Spanish students ask smart questions that I am ill-prepared to answer: “What is your opinion of the Spanish Prime Minister?”  and “Is there an [economic] crisis in the United States?”
  3. They also ask dumb questions that I am ill-prepared to answer: “From what country do you like the boys?”
  4. Bring a snack (or two or three) to school, because you won’t get to go home for lunch and siesta until 2 or 3pm.
  5. Students want to be taught– not talked at.

If you’re still reading this, and you’re not my mom, dad, or Grannie and Gramps (love you!  I’ll call you sometime soon!), I’m honored and impressed.  You don’t have to take the quiz.



  • It rained today (surprise surprise! ) and I did my first shameless running-after-the-bus-with-umbrella.  You see, I was catching the bus from a new location, and I had a rough idea of where it would pick me up…and I was about a half a block off.  Not know exactly when the next bus would come, I decided to run in favor of standing in the rain.
  • Having caught the bus, I went to school to start lesson planning.  Today I worked on a power point about myself and the grand state of Michigan from where I come.  Next week Monday, when I start school, my students will learn five reasons why I love my home: (1) The Great Lakes, (2) it’s shaped like a mitten, (3) the cities, (4) and beautiful outdoor activities, and (5) the four seasons.  I’m hoping my Spanish students will all have Michigan accents come June.
  • Stopped by to say hi to my friends on my walk to the bus after school


  • Took an evening stroll to find a nearby dance studio and inquire about classes.  The “paseo” is possibly one of my favorite Spanish traditions.  Between 7-8pm the streets are filled with people walking their dogs, pushing children in strollers, window shopping, grocery shopping, sitting at a bar or café, enjoying a glass of vino or reading the daily news.  I also stopped at the milk machine and the grocery store.  I had a very nice conversation with the lady at the deli counter about Cantabrian cheeses and feel much more informed about the variety of quesos here.
  • I pet a dog.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s more or less agains social norms to ask a Spaniard if you can pet their dog.  Lana (the dog) was tied up outside the fruit stand by my house, being watched by her 8 year old owner, so I summoned the courage to pet the cute canine.

School starts on…well, I actually don’t know when school starts.  When I met the teachers in the English department yesterday I asked when the students start classes and they told me hopefully on Friday.  But if not Friday, then Monday.  It depends on when they finish putting together the schedule.   Regardless, my first day will be Monday.  I didn’t think I’d be going back to school this fall… but I could not be more excited!

Side-note: If you happened to write down my address when I posted it last time, please note the following change- my postal code is 39003 (not 39006 as I originally typed).  I fixed it on the last post and you can find my corrected there.  And if you already sent me something, don’t panic.  I’ll get it anyway!

Also- miracle of miracles- I have internet at my apartment now!  So if you want to Skype, send me an email, Facebook message, or “Whatsapp” me and we’ll find a time to chat 🙂


Welcome to my new home!


Let me give you a quick tour…


On the left we have the kitchen.

IMG_8180 IMG_8181 IMG_8182

The living room and dining room.


And there’s a bedroom and full bathroom on the first floor, as well.  Another Fulbrighter, Yanique, is moving into this room today.

Let’s go upstairs.


Ally (my newest friend and fellow Fulbrighter) and I have the two upstairs bedrooms.


Excuse the mess.


I have lots of lovely storage space.

We also have a full bathroom upstairs, equipped with a miniature tub/shower, and a bidet!  Just what I wanted!


Thanks for visiting!


Just a few housekeeping notes:

  1. We are currently unplugged; we have no Internet access in our apartment right now.  We ordered it yesterday, and are really hopeful it will be installed in the next week or two, but since we’re on Spanish time, I’m realistically estimating we’ll be up and running by October 1.  Just so you know, my Internet access is quite limited right now…
  2. …So letters are more than welcome!
  3. Or you can download the app “Whatsapp” on your smartphone and text me whenever your heart desires.  Although I’m still adjusting, I am now the proud owner of a smartphone!  Shoot me an email or facebook message if you want my number and/or address!
  4. Email is probably the best means of communication for me, until further notice.

Hasta luego!