GOODBYE ECIJA

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With the Academy Directors

Friday night saw me bidding  a sad farewell to the last group of my lovely students who have been a part of my life since last September. I have to admit I shed a little tear (and so did some of them). My walk home, after handing in the keys to my boss, was filled with mixed feelings. I knew this was the last time that I would be treading the familiar route, one that I had walked four times a day, in all kinds of weather. As I walked I said a mental goodbye to the places I regularly walked past. Sometimes in the freezing cold, other times with sweat pouring down my face.

One of the things I am really going to miss about being there is the lovely long break in the middle of the day for siesta.  My break was usually 3 or 4 hours, depending on the timetable and whilst it was a bit strange at first, and I never used this as a siesta time, I soon developed the habit  of using these times to work on other projects or simply relax with a good book.

I arrived struggling to speak Spanish, and even more, the accent of Andalucia but now I surprise myself with how much I actually understand and am able to communicate. I think I surprised some of my colleagues and students too. Whilst I am by no means fluent I can get by very well. You can read about my early adventures in the Spain tab of my blog, but my most memorable occasion is the gas bottle episode.

I became accustomed to the fact that all the shops close for lunch and on Sundays, including many of those in Seville and Cordoba too. I learnt to organise myself around their opening hours and Sunday was truly a day or rest and recreation.

Whilst I still registered that the church bells peal out every hour, every day of the week, even through the night. I got used to it and it became a familiar part of daily life in a little Spanish town.

I loved sitting in the Salon (the main square that is more correctly named Plaza Espana) especially in the recent months when the daylight lasted until about 10 o’clock, and at the other little bars having a tapa and watching whole families or varying generations all eating together, the children and dogs all playing sociably. I didn’t enjoy the dog poo that I need to keep a sharp eye out for!

It’s been a great learning experience. Learning about the rich culture, both ancient and modern, learning about the people and the local customs. All in all it’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn first hand about life in a small Spanish town away from all the commercialism and tourist hubble-bubble of the larger cities.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. Thank you Educalia Ecija and all the fabulous people I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with during my time there.

Michelle

 

My European interlude is coming to a close

Whilst I have enjoyed every moment of being in Europe and have loved teaching, mentoring and coaching, it is time to return to Australia – at least for a while.

I have cherished being in my little apartment and not having to worry about anything except myself and meeting a few deadlines. Well, OK, more than a few! I’ll admit that I haven’t entirely squirreled myself away in beautiful Ecija; I have kept up with clients and projects and taken on new ventures further afield thanks to modern communications, but I have made the most of my idyll here and been very present to the charms of a different culture and life experience, including the cold winter! I extend my heartfelt thanks to all those here who have been part of this wonderful sojourn for me. As usual, it is the people who make the experience special.

San Juan, EcijaI’ve needed these months alone to renew. To focus on what is important to me. The past 3 years have passed in a blur where I hardly had a moment to myself so it has been a real luxury to just be able to run my own timetable. I thoroughly enjoyed coming home to a quiet apartment, to spending weekends exploring local sites, or sometimes venturing further afield to Seville, Granada, Cordoba or Malaga. I had no one to worry about except myself. It might sound selfish, but actually it’s been more of a lifesaver than anything else and once again, it has given me an additional opportunity to develop and grow as an individual which provides additional experiential tools that I am able to bring to my work.

Sasha's graduation day - Batchelor of Journalism
Sasha’s graduation day – Batchelor of Journalism from Bond University

During this time in Europe I have been able to consider what it is that I really need in life to feel content. When my husband of 30 years decided to leave, and I bought him out of the house, it was a massive struggle to stay afloat financially, but I’ve managed. I only bought the house so my kids had a home base. I had a 5 year plan, of which the largest part was to see Sasha (who was then 16) successfully finish school and then university. Once Sasha graduated, I was in a position to pursue the next stage of my plan, which was to base myself in Europe for a year.

Whilst here, living a simple Spanish lifestyle, without the trappings that go with having a family home, I’ve come to the conclusion that, on a personal level, I actually need very little to live on. I can be happy in the moment as long as I know that my family is cared for and safe. It’ll be five years this August since Steve and I split up. It’s been tough for me, but at the same time liberating and life affirming as I know we (Wayne, Sasha and I) can manage on our own. Together we look after the house, each other and our dogs. We’ve become a closer family unit even if it meant a bit of a struggle at times. I feel that the kids and I have bonded more closely, and it’s also been a defining moment for both of them as they have stepped up to take more responsibilities. We have jointly made decisions about our future directions and I am extremely proud of the two beautiful people that they are.

It is now time to sit down and decide what the next step will be. What do I really want to do?
Michelle

Exploring the Albayzin – Granada, Spain

The school year is drawing to a close, at least here in Europe, which means so too is my time here in Spain. I’m making the most of the last few weekends and have been to Granada, Cordoba and Seville this month. Distances are not as vast as at home in Australia, so even though I don’t have a car here, it’s fairly easy to get about from one area to the other. I’m using buses, BlaBla Cars and lovely students who kindly give me lifts if they are headed in the direction I want to go.

Although it’s only a month since my very first visit to Granada, there’s a magic about the place that drew me back once again. My first stop was the cake shop where I indulged myself in not one, but two of the most delicious Arab sweets. It was then down to the serious business of leisurely exploring the Albayzin area, the old Arab quarter. Although I’d visited there before, I didn’t really have enough time for a proper exploration on my first visit.

It’s a very ancient area of the city, also UNESCO world heritage listed, built into the hill on the opposite side of the river to the Alhambra. A series of narrow, steep and winding alleyways offer surprise views and scenes tucked around each b20150430_155323end, including glimpses of the Alhambra in all its glory. There are some areas where cars can squeeze (and it’s definitely a squeeze) along, but for the most part it’s all very, very narrow and you can imagine donkeys being more suited for trekking up and down. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to lug my groceries home from the supermarket, although the idea of a small flat in this area has masses of appeal! I also reckon walking up and down the steep slopes would soon cancel out the sugar ladened cakes I’d be consuming each day if I lived here. Flat shoes are a must and it was with great amusement that I watched a few fashionable young tourists teeter around on their platform shoes.

There is a little bus that you can take up and down, and it’s very cheap (E1.20). We took the bus last time as we were pressed for time. This time my explorations were all on foot, both up and down, round and through the various nooks and crannies, including a visit to the mosque whose gardens are open to the public. The view from here of the Alhambra is pretty spectacular but without the crowds at the Mirador S. Nicholas which is right next door. I also took the big camera this time, so have better shots, but these here are straight from my phone.

My attic room
My attic room where I enjoyed a sound sleep.

By the time I got back to my hotel at around 11pm, my poor little footsies were pretty tired. It was a most welcome relief to slip off my shoes, wiggle my toes and settle back with a glass of bubbly in hand before dragging myself into the shower. The hotel was a converted 16 Century mini palace located right on the Darro. My room, which I’d booked at the last moment, was in what was obviously a converted attic space. I slept like a log!

wpid-20150607_110042.jpg wpid-20150607_105538.jpgSunday morning saw Wayne and myself enjoy a leisurely breakfast before doing some serious haggling for leather bags. Our purchases left us thirsty – shopping is hard work – so we headed  into yet another colourwpid-20150607_125119.jpgful square, for refreshments and watched the local townsfolk go about their regular Sunday businewpid-20150607_124841.jpgss.  In the afternoon we headed back to Ecija which is a total contrast to Granada and certainly a whole lot cheaper in terms of eating out. I guess I’ve been spoilt spending all these months in a little local place where I’ve got used to paying local prices. I reckon I’m going to be in for a rude shock when I am back in Australia again. However, I’m really looking forward to a bowl of laksa!

Michelle

Pleasures in simple moments

The sun has gone on holiday. I’ve had to drag out the heater again, pile on jumpers and walk home in the rain – luckily I have a trusty brolly in my bag.

Despite the gloomy weather this as been a brilliant day which stared with a lovely email from ve540447_296256847127709_197996310287097_675934_299281390_nry dear friend (Susan) sharing all her news,  lots of nice comments, including one from a very old friend (Geoff) on my blog from yesterday.

A couple of hours later I received an extremely excited text message from a student with the news she’d passed her English exam (heaps of smiley faces told me she was pleased). The positivity continued with fun and laughter in subsequent classes and concluded with a really amiable conversation group this evening. Nothing earth shattering BUT I enjoyed every moment.

Happiness can be found in the simplest of things and by taking pleasure in the joys others experience. Make someone happy today by showing how much you value them as an individual. Pick up the phone, send a note, a text or whatever you fancy. Go on……reach out and bring a moment of happiness to both your lives.

Michelle

Appreciating the English language

As a reader and a writer from way back, I’ve always enjoyed the richness of the largeEnglish language. Words paints a vivid picture for the reader and the text just seems to effortlessly flow when the author hits upon the right combination. In contrast the wrong choices of structure and vocabulary, cause even the most interesting material to become cumbersome.

Whilst I’ve always appreciated the wide selection of vocabulary available, I’ve never really given it a great deal of through until recently. To be more precise, it’s been my move into the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages that has caused me to pause and think on the vagaries, complexities and challenges that English provides.

You might like to check out this blog which is updated each Saturday with the word of the day. It comes with a short story using that particular word. It often introduces me to new vocabulary and the stories are interesting reads.

As I grow older I appreciate how very fortunate I am to have grown up as a native English speaker, but more so to have met people from so many different countries who also speak English as their first language albeit, with varying accents and expressions.  It’s this wide international experience, coupled with my formal training that has helped me become a more effective teacher. There are so many different ways to say the same thing that it’s no wonder people studying English get confused!

Michelle

International Women’s Day 2015

This is thhttp://www.internationalwomensday.come first year, in a very long time, that I have not attended any International Women’s Day (IWD) events as none, as far as I am aware, are being held where I currently live. My contribution this year to IWD has been to include the day as part of my English language lessons, providing a reading piece, vocabulary list and encouraging discussion as it falls in line with the our ESL topics.

The class discussions, where the majority of students have been women in their early to mid-twenties, have been interesting and thought provoking because, although some had heard of IWD, none of them were aware of the history or knew much about why this day is so significant.

In 1910 women from a number of different countries were attending a conference on Copenhagen, Denmark at which Carla Zetkin, a German delegate, made the suggestion that an annual day should be set to mark the struggle for women’s rights. Obviously other attendees thought this was a great idea and so IWD was born.

Why the 8th March? Well, this was the day of the very first protest March was held in New York in 1857 to demonstrate against the horrific conditions faced by those women who worked in the garment and textile industry.

Over the ensuing years IWD has grown to become a movement that has highlighted so many concerns that affect women. Issues have included gender equality, women’s health issues, violence against women, disarmament and education to name but a few. Check our further details here on the UN page for 2015 as there’s some great reading there.

I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of IWD events ranging from breakfasts, lunches, dinners and public marches. I’ve always learnt something each time I listened to a speaker at the each of the events and been grateful for the wisdom they have shared. A collaboration of women is a most powerful thing.

Clearly the key to improving the world in which we live comes down to education, not just for women but for everyone, because it is only through education (both formal and informal) that we can begin to understand that there is more than just our own little world. Through education the world is opened up, we become aware of alternate ways of living and thinking. We learn about collaboration, we learn about respect and we learn about those who have gone before us, often making sacrifices, to pave the way for future generations.

We should never underestimate the power of the individual to make a difference and women joining together are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Michelle

Making friends

How and where we make friends is something we’ve been discussing as part of the English course I teach. On a personal level, as part of my online blogging activities, I’ve also been meeting my electronic neighbours so I thought it timely to share this link to a blog I wrote last year on the topic of friends.

If you decide to take the time to read the old post I’d love to hear your thoughts on the magic of friendship.

Michelle