Now that I have had more than 3 full weeks of classes at my school, I have some time to reflect on my experience. Besides embarrassing myself in the lunchroom (I will explain later) and getting lost (8-10 times), things seem to be going generally well now!
However, my school is a lot different than what I am used to back in the United States. To begin, my school is an all girls Private Catholic school (and although I attended a Catholic University), I had never experienced this type of learning environment before. There are all age groups at my school from very little kids (Infantile: 2-5), elementary school level (Primary) and high school level (Secondary). The students call me “Miss Amanda”, and all teachers are called by their first name, not last. For example, “Senora Susana” or “Miss Maria”. I also have not seen one student using a cell-phone. EVER. It’s very bizarre because when I substituted in the US, I was always catching students on their phones.
Here are some other differences I’ve noticed and had to adjust to…
The Bell Schedule (or lack thereof)
I honestly do not understand the bell system here still. To begin, the bell is LOUD and almost sounds like a fire alarm. It lasts about 30 seconds, so you can’t talk or understand anyone for that time. It also rings 5 minutes BEFORE the class ends (or so I’m told?) So it is ambiguous when class is actually over. The bell also does not ring again to signify that you need to be back in class, so start times are also unknown. Sometimes it takes 5-10 minutes to rally all the girls into the classroom before you can start again. “Tardiness” doesn’t seem to be a problem here, it is just part of the norm. (Even the teachers show up to class late!)
School Set Up
Whoever architecturally designed this school must have been a little tapped. Let me explain. There are 4 floors of the school. Let’s say you enter through the entrance and you are trying to get to the high school area (which is where I keep my bag and go for breaks)…you must first go up two flights of stairs, but then the staircase stops! Then you have to walk down the hallway to the other staircase and continue going up. The first few days I was so confused on where I was or what staircase I needed to get back to my classes. However, I’ve slowly but surely figured it out.
Also having all age groups in the school is a little stressful to me. We will be in class working on something and in the hallway you can hear screaming and crying, while they bring the younger kids outside to play. It’s honestly a little chaotic and distracting, but no one here seems to be phased by it.
I can’t really compare this school to other Catholic schools in America but it is different than what I am used to. October is the month of the Rosary, so every morning in our first class we take 20 minutes to pray. Most of the prayers are said in Spanish so I stand quietly and try to understand. Occasionally they say some prayers in english, but to be honest, they are prayers I am not familiar with. “This one you can join us for, because it’s in english” -Every teacher/student at my school. It’s a little awkward when I don’t know it, but I’ve googled some prayers since then as research. (Don’t judge me)
I know that not all schools in Spain are like this, but since this is a Private Catholic school, from 11:00am-11:30am there is a break period. The teachers congregate in the teachers dining room and enjoy coffee, tea, juice, fruit and breads. Every day there is this spread and I really look forward to it! It’s the perfect time to hold me over until lunch.
Lunch is from 2:00-2:50 at my school. Since lunch is their major meal of the day, there are two courses served, along with fruit for dessert. Funny story though: On my first day, I didn’t realize there were “courses”. All the food was laid out on a table with plates, bowls, forks, etc. I took a plate and put a little potatoes, veggies and ham. I was content with eating my meal until one of the teacher’s I work with (a very sweet woman) asked me if I knew how lunch worked here. I was confused and said, “I think so?”. She told me that the potatoes were the first course, and the veggies and ham were the second course. I had been so distracted by my food that I didn’t realize everyone around me were eating the potatoes (which were actually considered a “soup”?!) from a bowl, with a spoon…while I was eating them with a fork off my plate! I was very embarrassed but no one seemed to notice (or at least they were good at pretending not to). I am grateful that the teacher warned me, because I probably would have made the mistake everyday! The other day we had soup and salad for lunch…I had to wait 5 minutes to see which was considered the “first” course. (It was the soup, by the way).
Teacher / Student Relationship
Although I was very friendly with my teachers in school, it is much different in Spain. When I work in the elementary school, many of the girls come up and give me hugs, or want to kiss my cheek. My program warned me that this is completely normal and acceptable. Often times parents will ask there kids, did you kiss your teacher goodbye today? I like getting hugs from the little ones, because they are always excited to see me, but sometimes I get blind-sided in the hallway with a sneak-attack hug and it always surprises me! It will take some getting used to but it’s nice.
The Overall Day
As you may have realized by now, the regular school day here is much different than in the States. (For example, we eat lunch at 2pm!) Not all schools in Spain are like this, but my school starts at 9am and goes until 4:30pm. I am usually at school all day, but I have breaks because they are not always having English classes. Even the little ones (3-5 year olds) are at school all day long! It seems like such a tiring day for them. (It is for me at least, hah)
Fiestas / Celebrations
Lastly, I want to talk about the fiestas the school has. Two Friday’s ago (I am still not 100% sure the reason) we had no classes all day. In the morning we had a mass, followed by activities and fun things for everyone to do. It was almost like a field-day but for all ages of the school!
Also, when it is a “fiesta” day OR a teacher’s birthday, there are snacks and tapas served in the teacher’s dining room along with lunch. You also will not believe what else is served: BEER. This honestly really confused me but it seems to be normal during a celebration. Many of the teachers have 1 or 2 drinks at lunch and then go back to class! I have honestly been too nervous to have a beer. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll treat myself to one, but it feels strange having a beer in such a professional setting!
I hope you found this blog post interesting! I know I definitely struggled (and am still struggling) with these differences, but I know everything takes some time.
Much love, Amanda
P.S. The girls in high school are going on a field trip to go surfing tomorrow…………what?!!!