Welcome to My Fulbright Year

It has been ten days in Ourense, fourteen in Spain, and I am settled into my apartment, school, and looking for structure in my weekly schedule. The last time that I blogged from abroad, I committed to writing every ten days about the past ten days. Because of that, I have a journal of my day to day life in Buenos Aires and traveling throughout Argentina.

As my Fulbright Spain year begins, I realize that this time around is very different because my experience is not going to consist of trips every weekend and eating out at cafes for lunch every single day. My day to day life in Ourense, a city of 100,000, moves at a different pace. Because of this, I am going to try to post regularly, but less about my daily happenings and more about the important moments.

Today, on a Sunday afternoon not so different from many spent in Lincoln, NE as a university student, the Sunday Scaries have hit me. Between the work that I need to complete tonight before returning to the classroom tomorrow morning, the pending law/grad school apps, the unanswered emails, partially completed online coding lessons, and the episode of Chef’s Table paused on Netflix, I have PLENTY of ways to occupy myself. However, with my family & close friends far away, these tasks feel a little empty and finding purpose to move past this Sunday afternoon anxiety is a little tricky.

If I were in Lincoln, NE, I would find refuge at my grandparents home, at Banhwich Café, at the mini golf course, delaying my responsibilities further. But I am in Ourense, Galicia, Spain where everything is closed on Sundays, and I am very far from home. So instead, I am going to blog while listening to the Lumineers and soul search a little about the person that I want to be during this Fulbright year in Spain.

Last week at Fulbright Orientation in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, the Fulbright Spain Commission kept us grantees extremely busy. From daily wake-up calls before the sun had risen to tapas & tinto served until nearly midnight every night, I was occupied, excited, and exhausted throughout every single day of orientation, especially because I was overcoming jetlag. During the daily information sessions, I was surrounded by new friends, who were buzzing with questions and aspirations throughout sessions regarding housing, gaining residency cards, language classes, volunteering and so much more. Throughout the four days of orientation, I made some great gal pals who I cannot wait to visit throughout this next year!

Following orientation on Thursday afternoon, I headed with a few other Galicia grantees to the train station. Soon, we were off to the Northwest of Spain. Five hours later, I stepped off the train alone (the others on the train with me were headed to Santiago & A Coruña) with my 57 pound suitcase, carry-on suitcase, and backpack and rolled over to the Ourense Taxi stand. Within the next two hours, I managed to drop off my luggage at my piso (apartment), begin my phone plan with Orange, buy sheets & a duvet set from Zara Home, and grab some Kebab for dinner. Around midnight my two roommates, fellow Fulbrighters Jacob & Austin, came home from the train station. The first weekend in Ourense went by quickly securing documents necessary for residency, visiting stores to find decorations & food, exploring the city’s landmarks, and hiking with other Fulbrights Austin, Emma, and Melody.

Monday September 17th was my first day of school. I arrived at my school IES As Lagoas in the late morning to meet my bilingual coordinator Jose Luis and a few other teachers. The following day, I returned to meet Manuel and Raquel the music teachers. (Fun fact: Raquel’s sister, Christina Pato, a Galician bagpipe player & pianist,  performed with Yo-Yo Ma in Lincoln, Nebraska four years ago for an EN Thompson Forum that I attended!) On Wednesday, all Galician Fulbrights traveled to Santiago de Compostela (which is about 1 hour from Ourense) to be officially welcomed by the Xunta or Government of Galicia as English language assistants hosted through their department of Education. Jose Luis, my bilingual coordinator, drove me to the presentation at La Cidade da Cultura, a magnificent compound of buildings up on a hill overlooking the city of Santiago designed by American Peter Eisenman.

My final day of class related events for the first week was on Thursday when I attended a class for the first time. I was in a 1st Baccalaureate English classroom with 16 and 17 year-old students. I did not know in advance that I would be leading the class for the hour. I began by introducing myself in depth and then asking each student to introduce themselves to me with a little about what they did this summer. The English level of the class was very high; the students were easily able to understand me and tell me about themselves. The teacher then asked the students to tell what sort of things I should do to occupy myself in Ourense. Some students told me about festivals like Carnival or the Chestnut festival. Others told me that I should go surfing, to the roman hot springs, and party all night! We had a short conversation about alcohol, and what the differences in the laws in the United States and Spain are. The excitement in a few of the students changed as they realized that I would not encourage drinking underage, but they were still eager to tell me about what they normally do on the weekends. The teacher openly asked many of the students if they drank and the students would giggle and then say yes.

This last weekend in Ourense, I spent a good amount of time with the other Fulbrights: Emma, Melody, Tanner, Austin, Shannon and her boyfriend Jack. We all met on Friday afternoon for drinks and then headed over to Ourense’s Craft Beer Fest. There were many bands covering U.S. alt. rock songs in Spanish and a variety stands with chicken strips, pulled pork sandwiches, and nachos. Saturday included a trip to the Outariz Thermal Baths outside of the city, and Tanner brought his Colombian friend from Ourense Fran and the nine-year-old son of Fran’s girlfriend, Peter. We took a small tourist train 40 minutes to arrive at the springs, and then spent the next hour hopping between freezing, scalding hot, and tepid thermal pools. That evening, the whole group met again to get some pulpo (octopus) and drinks in the heart of the city.

And now here I am, late afternoon on Sunday September 23rd. In the last two weeks, I have felt that I had the world at my feet, scared to let go, inspired by service and the classroom, and just a whole big jumble of feelings. As my routine becomes more set this week with 16 hours in the classroom, workouts at the gym, meal planning, an upcoming weekend trip, and all the other aspects of day to day life, I will settle more into who I am and who I want to be at this time and place.

After a few cathartic hours of blogging and processing the last two weeks, I am signing off with little more direction about how to make my Sunday afternoon and evening productive before the upcoming week. Thanks for reading about my experience so far, more updates to come!

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