Friday, July 29, 2011

Get me some good edumacation

After 3 years of working at the Win-Win School of English, which was an after-school academy, I have officially changed jobs.  Starting in September, I will began full-time at The English School, an actual school, working in the 1-year old classroom.  At that age, it's more like daycare in English, but I will officially be part of the Spanish Education System, which is a bit different than ours.  Some of the differences between our system and this one are understandable but some really throw me off, so I thought that in light of my job change, I'd share a bit about the education in this country with you.  Also, putting up a few photos of the place I will work - a great big villa :)

For starters, the similarities are expected - free education and more or less the same breaking up of the age groups.  From 6 to 16, public school is free for all children and required.  From 6-12, kids go to Elementary School, just like us, but here, it is called colegio, which you can see how easily translates to 'college'.  This creates a lot of confusion with Americans when we say we went to COLLEGE somewhere.  They kind of look at you like, 'why do I care where you went to Elementary School?'.  Next students must go to Middle School, which holds kids from 12-16.  This cycle of schooling is called Educación Secundaria Obligatoria and is shortened to ESO.  At 16 though, kids can either start working, study at a vocational school or continue thier studies at our version of High School - called Bachillerato here, which also gets confusing with our usage of Bachelor's Degree (which here would just mean you finished high school).  

My part in this scheme will be the Pre-School part, which is not required, but free for kids from age 3 on and is considered an integral part of the education system.  Seeing as The English School is a private school, this program isn't free, but probably has a pretty steep price.  If you want your children to learn in a different language, you need to be ready to pay the price.  In Basque Country, the public schools are mostly taught in Basque.  Spanish is taught like a foreign language.  So, at the school where I will be working, the classes are taught in English and both Basque and Spanish are requiered subjects just like math and science. 

Moving on from Basque and Spanish as required subjects,I was suprised to learn that philosophy is also a required 1-year class, something that never was offered at the good old Kelso High School (Go Hilanders!).  Upon entering high school, students select a 'track', which is sort of like a major but at the high school level.  This are normally divided up into Arts, Nature and Health Sciences, Sciences and Engineering, Social Sciences, and Humanties.

After studying the Bachillerato, students take a version of the SAT test, here called the Selectividad.  Admission to Universities here are determined by a cutoff grade - which is a combination score of the grades the student earned at 'high school' and thier exam scores on the selectividad test.  If you don't meet the cutoff score, you can't even apply for the program.  Harsh no?

Something a bit unharsh about the schooling here to me though are the grades.  Throw that A, B and C stuff out the window.  Here they do it with a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest.  But here's the can pass with a 5!  Only knowing 50% of the class, you can technically pass.  Can you pass an American class with a D?  Here a 10 is excellent, 9 above average, 8 and 7 average and 6 and 5 are passing.  You only fail if you know less than 50% of the coursework, earning a 4 to 0.  I find that strange.

Another oddity for me is that here the student don't call thier teachers Mr. or Mrs.  Just first name basis here.  I told my older students that in the States I would definitley be addressed as Miss Gonser (or I guess Mrs. now), which garnered quite a few laughs.

I guess in the end, students here also get a good education, just take a different route.  Although I doubt I will be changing lives at 1 year old, I will be an active part of the education system.  I chose the job change mostly based on the working hours, the closeness to my house and the benefits.  As the year goes on, I will let you know how my decision goes...fingers crossed it's good!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Jazz Festival with a Basque twist

As you may remember from last year, San Sebastian hosts an annual Jazz Festival where bands from around the world come to share thier jazzyness.  Joseba and I of course just had to go!  Last year we saw quite a few jazz concerts, but this year it seemed as if there were less 'jazz' acts and more alternative/electronic/indie groups.  So, while we got our fill of jazz on the side stages, we also saw some popular bands that rocked thier concerts on the beach to a swarm of people on the sand.

One group that we found quite interesting was Crystal Fighters.  I am not sure if they are popular in the States or not, but over here they are kicking up quite some dust.  An English band that formed in Navarra, Spain (where Pamplona is), this electronic group was a headliner of the festival.  While not jazz music whatsoever, I was happy to see a lot of Basque instruments in thier act.  And seeing as we didn't take a single picture (all the ones on here are from the internet), I figured I could atleast take an opportunity to introduce you to some of the strange instruments this band used that are oh-so-Basque.

First, if you click HERE you can see Crystal Fighters live playing a song that incorporates one of my favorite Basque instruments - the txalaparta (pronounced chal-a-part-uh).  More or less a wooden xylophone, this two-musician instrument is quite traditional and weaves its way into the Basque cider tradition.  After making the cider (sargardoa in Basque), the same wood that was used to press the apples was used to summon up the neighbors to come over and taste the ready-to-drink cider.  While everyone happily drank the cider, the txalaparta was then used to play cheerful tunes to create a celebration of the harvest.  Nowadays, this percussion instrument is very popular and from the times I have seen it played, incredible.  With a few wood planks layed over two sawhores (sometimes covered with Basque sheep-skin or corn husks) and played with two large 'drumsticks' vertically, the music that comes from this simple instrument is crazy!  Made more and more popular by talented Basques, it is becoming more popular in different parts of the world.  With this Crystal Fighters group and thier Basque influence, they are bringing it to a world stage. 

Another instrument they play is the danbolin (a type of drum), which is normally accompanied by the txistu (a Basque pipe).  If you saw the videos from our wedding and remember the dance that my roommate did for us, maybe you caught a peep at the man in the corner playing both of these instruments simultaneously.  In Basque, txistu also means 'to whistle', which is probably where this instrument gets its name seeing as the sound is similar.  Normally the 3-holed flute is played with the left hand leaving the right free to bang the drum.  These instruments are seen in almost every parade or celebration and nowadays are a symbol of the Basque folk music revival.

An instrument that we didn't see at the Festival but that is worth noting is the trikitixa (prounounced trick-a-treesha) is a 2-row accordian that is all the rage here.  In the States I think we have an image of the accordian being something a nerdy kid plays or something you hear on the streets of Italy or France while drinking wine and slurping spaghetti, but here, the accordian is a well-respected instrument that fits in nicely in the Basque music scene.  Not such an old instrument, the trikitixa is rumored to have been imported in the late 1800s due to a photo taken in 1890 at a railway junction in Navarra.  How it was imported is up for debate - railway via the Alps through France or Bilbao's port from Italy.  Regardless, it is still makes up an important part of Basque music and is usually accompanied by a tamborine and a singer.  About two years ago I had a 12-year old girl student who took trikitixa classes, so I definitley believe that the accordian is still on the up-and-up over here!  But don't be expecting me to impress you with my button-pushing and blowing any time soon!

Well, since I didn't have much Jazzaldia news to tell you, I hope a swift overview of some Basque instruments I have learned of while here entertained you for a bit.  If you are intersted in seeing some Basque music, I will leave you a few links to youtube to listen and get a feel for what we see during each celebration/parade/festival/(basically any reason to be with your friends in the street!) to enjoy! 

Txalaparta:  a pair of famous sisters making incredible beats!
Txistu eta Danbolin:  not the best quality, but you can get the feeling how these street bands just take over the entire road with thier drumming and piping.
Trikitixa:  you can even hear the old men in the background saying 'OPAAAA', kind of like 'hooray' or 'cheers'


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our the middle of the street

As promised, I am putting up some pics of our OUR first house.  We are completely moved in, but still tweaking things here and there - hiding the cords, organizing knick-knacks, deciding exactly how we like everything, but now that everything is atleast unpacked it feels like our house - which is amazing.  So please, come on in!

Here is a pic of our moving days - all nice and sweaty, but happy campers!  It was basically two moves - my stuff at the end of June and Joseba's stuff soon after and into the first week of July.  Our strategy was to pack, transport and unpack, which in the end boded well for us.  I think we only ended up using about 10 boxes for the entire things and just used them over and over.  Quite nice that on the last day we only had a few boxes to unpack instead of weeks worth of moving. 

When we decided to get married, we knew that of course we would be living together.  We didn't immediatley look for a new place, seeing as Joseba had a huge farmhouse in the countryside that would be perfectly fine for us during the summer.  Then out of the blue, this apartment came up online and we both liked it immediatley.  We sent and email but sadly they didn't respond as quick as we had hoped.  Turns out, the real estate agent's office was honestly next to my old apartment, so one day after a jog I stopped by and told the agent, Lina, that we were interested.  We made an appointment to see it the next day! 

As soon as I walked in, I mostly fell in love with the built-in bookcases.  I am a sucker for bookcases.  On top of that, although the apartment was filled with baby things (play pens, toys, etc), you could see that it was quite a nice little home - light wood, a lot of light, newly renovated.  The landlord was there and also seemed quite nice and said they were only moving because with 2 kids in a small apartment, its a bit difficult.  I played the whole 'we are going to be newlyweds looking for a place to make our first home' card and they loved it!  I took some pictures and asked a million questions and then after ran home to email Joseba and tell him how much I thought it fit us.  He quickly then made an appointment to see it the next day. 

There are tons and tons of apartments in Donostia, but most of them are 'student' flats, meaning they are only rented from September to June...which obviously isnt what we were looking for.  So the fact that this one was near the city center, was a good price, was a long-term contract and a lovely house, we were convinced it was for us!  The next day Joseba came to see the place, always keeping in mind his projector and screen (a little cinema fan I have here!) and if it would fit.  He also liked it too and since we had talked before and decided if he liked it too then to BOOM say we will take it, because we already knew there was lots of interest.  So, it was done - the next day I turned in the deposit and we got the ball rolling. 

After our wedding we signed all the contract papers, blah blah blah and during the last week of June were handed the keys to start the move-in!  So exciting the first day to come in together - to OUR house! 

Although I have lived in San Sebastian for 3 years almost, I barely ever came to Egia - the name of our new barrio (neighborhood).  It's only about 10 minutes from where I used to live, but instead of the flat land that runs into the beach, this part of town is all on a hill and quite a work-out to get around.  What used to be mainly agricultural land, Egia was really just a hodgepodge of little villages until about the mid-1800's when they started connecting and creating a small community in the area.  Around the 1950's, with San Sebastian expanding and people looking for cheap housing, many renters flocked to this neighborhood for the prices and closeness to the center.  During that time, most rooms were rented by young people, but it seems to me that most of them rented...and never left, because the median age around here is quite high.  Most of the cafés have older people in them, but I am starting to notice younger people around too. 

Egia is known for it's music scene (which was a big selling point for Joseba) with two good concert venues near - one 2 minutes from our house.  With the concerts, a stand-up comedian bar and some hip restaurants going up (a delicious vegetarian restaurant we tried the other day), people are starting to say our neighborhood is the next cool thing.  Fancy that - we are trendsetters!  And although we live 2 minutes from the main drag, our street is set apart, so it seems like we are in a quiet little part of town. 

The apartment is a 2-bedroom but we use one for us and then one for an office/music room.  While much smaller than Joseba's last house (3 bedrooms all to himself!) and a bit smaller than my old apartment, it seems like a good size for a couple - enough room to be together and still enough room to respect each other's 'alone time'.  Right now he is in his office and I am in MY chair (that brown one in the photos).  It's great!  As you can see from the photos, we have decorated with warm colors and a mix of our things from travels.

When we moved in we had mostly everything we needed but couldn't resist a trip to Ikea.  After 6 hours inside (I'd guessed we'd be inside 2 hours MAX) we came out with some more things to make it seem more ours.  I am sure as we live here we will continue adding things to the bookshelves, rearranging things, changing photos, etc, but for the time being I am estatic that it now feels like home.  The one room that still needs the most work is the office/music room - right now it's sort of a 'where do we put this' storage room, hence I didn't put up a photo!

Being it the first home we will live in together, I know it is going to have so much meaning down the road.  For us the past few weeks have been a succession of firsts.  First dinner (delivery Chinese, which gave Joseba food poisining), first time we slept in the bedroom together (the first week I had such a bad cough, I slept on the couch), first romantic dinner at the dining room table (Joseba and his chefly abilities), first movie with the projector screen (The Adjustment Bureau), and so on.  

Now you all know what I have been up to and where we are 'making our home' as The Daily News put it in thier announcement of our wedding!  Hope all is well with everyone and hopefully one day, although our apartment is small, you will be able to come and visit our humble abode.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ezkonberriak! (Newlyweds)

Hi everyone, just a quick blog here.  As many of you know, our announcement of the wedding came out in The Daily News a few weeks ago.  And recently, it also came out in Orio, in thier monthly magazine.  Although it is entirely in Euskera, I figured you might like to see the language.  Our names are the first under EZKONDUTAKOAK.  The announcement says 'Joseba Brit Elola and Amanda Maye Gonser, in Orio, on June 18th.'  If you figured that out - awesome!  You can read Basque!


Monday, July 11, 2011

The English School Days

Well, this summer, seeing as my regular job is finished for the school year, I started looking for a summer job to keep the income flowing.  I called around San Sebastian offering up my help for 'colonias' (colonies in English), which are basically the local version of summer camps.  A lot of places provide summer camps all in English and are usually looking for summer help and more than anything, native speakers - both of which I was offering!

The one that was the most appealing offer though was a summer program at The English School.  Normally I teach at an academy and the kids come after school, but The English School is a real school.  It is daycare through junior high, all taught in English.  The students study math, history, science, etc in English and then have Spanish and Basque classes like normal subjects.

When I called, the summer coordinator, Begoña, said they weren't looking for a teacher at the moment but to pass anyways with my resume.  So, when I left my house the next morning, resume in hand, I thought the 'interview' was going to take about 10 minutes max.  In the end, it was over an hour and she offered me a job right on the spot - full-time for the summer working with 2-year old kids.  Estatic, I accepted and left what I thought wasn't a real interview with a real job!

Win-Win finished on a Friday and the next Monday I was at the new job!  The kids I work with are adorable, but a handful to say the least.  I have 6 2-year olds and one 1-year old who is attached to my hip or the tears start to fall.  The kids arrive any time between 8am and 9am and I arrive at 9 and we head to class.  Since I am used to teaching kids 4 years old or older, its quite a difference to teach such young kids.  I wouldn't exactly say it is TEACHING, but meerly babysitting in English with a tad of vocabulary.  We have 'class' for about an hour and a half and then recess.  Since my kids are so young they eat right after recess and then we put them down for a nap.  Eating doesn't just involve watching them eat,  no siree, I feed a lot of them and they have to wear little aprons so when they eat they don't get it all over thier clothes!  And before nap, I always need to put diapers on them, just in case.  An honest question in my interview is if I knew how to change diapers.  Strange question but definitley valid.  And yes I do.  It's been awhile, but I have had my fair share of diaper experience.

Not only do I like the kids (awww such cute mischevious smiles they get!) but my co-workers are great too.  My boss, Begoña, along with two other teachers - Marissa and Sheila - are from here and another Heather, is from Manchester, England.  We all get along very well and speak a mix of Spanish and English.  

Some days we go on field trips, like last week when we took them to the amusement park in San Sebastian.  It is on top of Mount Igeldo and has amazing views, which us teachers loved but I don't think the kids even noticed.  I thought I might share a few photos with you all so you can see what I am up to lately besides making our house a home and trying to get some rays at the beach.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ezkonberriak! (Newlyweds)

Hi everyone.  Just wanted to let you all know that I have posted tons of pictures and some videos of our wedding.  If you click HERE you will be directed to another page.  It might ask you for a password.  If it asks you for a password, email me.

Married life is treating us well.  We are busily working to make our new home feel like ours.  Will of course post pics of that soon too.  Needless to say, we are happy to be husbana and vife!

Hope you enjoy :)


Friday, July 1, 2011

Last 'NEW' address for awhile

I have lived with my fair share of people since I moved away from home.  Twenty-one people to be exact.  But now and forever more, I will have only one roommate - Joseba!  In these last few days with Monste, my roommate and good friend, I sometimes get hit with this 'oh my gosh you're never going to live with a girl again' thoughts.  But then when Joseba and I go to the apartment and start moving things in slowly, like we have been doing for the past few days, and say we decide where to hang a poster together or where to put a candle, I get this 'oh my gosh you're going to live your life with the man you love.  and on top of that, you're going to SHARE a life with him' thought, which is something I obviously have never had.  It's an amazing thought that I am sure most of you have experienced once before in your life.

It's great to see the apartment taking form now, some of his things, some of mine.  Since we are still in the process of moving, I don't have any pics to post, but as soon as we get the house how we like it, I promise I'll put some up.  But, I'll tell you it is a small but livable place, blonde wood floors with an open dining/living room, very bright and airy and currently decorated with a hodgepodge of Joseba's travels, my knick knacks and tons of empty boxes!

For those of you wondering about my new address, here it is:
c/ Baztan 4  4-B
20012 Donostia - San Sebastian
Gipuzkoa, España - Spain

We are OFFICIALLY living there now, so send away!