Saying Goodbye to Ourense

Three weeks ago, I left Ourense with a heart so full with gratitude and love for the city of Ourense and the people who call it home. In this post I will share about saying goodbye to my brilliant students who befriended me and showed me immense kindness, to the teachers in the bilingual department who supported me endlessly and who became my family in Ourense, to my private students who filled my evenings and mornings with purpose, joy, and friendship, to Shannon my best friend in Ourense who faced all aspects of Fulbright España with me, to the city of Ourense and it’s mountains, rivers, cafés, and tortilla, and finally to the Fulbright Spain Commission in Madrid.

My Final Days at IES As Lagoas

My first experience truly teaching was magical. These students supported me and cheered me on as I led them through lessons on social justice, the bilingual music book, and ethical values!! One of the best aspects of being a teaching assistant instead of a full teacher, is that these students became my friends. I cannot wait until our paths cross again!!

My final week at IES As Lagoas was a party every single day. Balloons, dance routines, and cake all included in the festivities. Here you can see me with my bilingual coordinator, José Luis, who has become a great friend and who’s support I am eternally grateful for.

My “Going Away Party” continued into the teachers lounge with a full array of my favorite Spanish foods, very kind words by José Luis and the director Carlos. I spent the entire day from morning until evening celebrating with food and friends.

Here you can see me with Encarna and her students who brought a whole loaf of cake for our class party!! I spent most days of 2019 teaching with Encarna. I am so grateful for her friendship and feel that the time has passed far too quickly together!

Thank you to the wonderful students of IES As Lagoas for making me feel so incredibly celebrated!! As Lagoas forever has a place in my heart. The joy that 1ESO through 1Bach (7th grade to 11th grade) brought me this year defined my entire experience teaching as PERFECT.

Over the course of the year, I focused on teaching Human Rights through the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Defender Curriculum. Here you can see month by month what I taught to my students at As Lagoas:

  • September: Introductions, Firearms in America & Europe
  • October: Columbus Day vs. Indigenous People’s Day Debate, Human Trafficking & Declaration of Human Rights, Halloween
  • November: The US Election System & Midterm Elections, UN Day for the Elimination of violence against women, Thanksgiving, Popular U.S. Music
  • December: American TV, Happy Holidays (Christmas, Hannkuah, Kwanza)
  • January: Introductions + Find Someone Who, MLK Jr. Legacy, The American Dream
  • February: Popular U.S. Music, Making Travel Plans, President’s Day & US President History, Black History Month Presentation + Jeopardy
  • March: Women’s Rights & Gender Equality
  • April: Media Literacy, Climate Change & Sustainability, Introductions + Find Someone Who
  • May: Prepositions + Simon Says & Four Corners, Present Continuous + 20 Questions, The American Dream, Differences in Spanish and US Schools, Practicing Questions & -ed Endings
  • June: Summer Plans (Future Tense) & Goodbye

The Bilingual English Department

Following a day of parties in each English class. The Javier, Encarna, Angela, Amparo, Chus, María José, and José Luis all took me out to lunch following school. I could never get enough of time spent with these friends, and I very much look forward to the day when we can meet again in the future. This is my Ourense family, and I am overwhelmed at the support that they offered me throughout the year (even visiting me in the hospital when I was sick this year). ❤

I spent many afternoons chatting with Javier chatting about the state of affairs in the US, about his world travels, and about our lives and families. His friendship became so special to me during the year. Our goodbye hug brought me to tears, but with all of his travels, I know that I will see him again very soon (and probably in the US!).

My bilingual coordinator José Luis showed me so much love and support this year. I feel so incredibly lucky that he was part of my experience abroad. His selflessness and devotion to teaching and supporting me as the Fulbright TA were essential to my success and satisfaction this year. I cannot say enough about José Luis’ kindness welcoming first to Ourense and IES As Lagoas, but later to his family. I am forever grateful.

I spent a lot of time this year with Raquel from our weekly meeting to chat in English all the way to Vienna, Austria leading a group of 10th grade students!! I loved learning about Raquel’s life, her family, and her ideas. She was a friend and confidant from day one in Ourense. I know that our paths will cross again in the future, and I am so grateful for the kindness and support she shared with me this year!

Saying Goodbye to my Private Students

Saying goodbye to Carmen was nearly impossible. In my final days in Ourense, I found myself at her apartment nearly everyday, for classes, excursions, and lunch.

Carmen treated me to a Galician excursion on my final week in Ourense. She took me to her finca, which is like a country house. Where she showed me her garden, we shared coffee, and then she gave me a beautiful pair of pearl earrings shaped like daisies that I will cherish always.

After seeing Carmen’s country home, she then took me to see the oldest ruins in Galicia. A monastery called San Pedro de Rocas, from the year 573. Carmen and I hopped along the ground filled with graves carved in the rocks and talked about how depressing it would have been to live in that time period. Conversations with Carmen all year long were always humorous, stimulating, and joy filled.

Our next stop was to a traditional Galician pottery shop. Carmen chatted with the owner, bought a pot, and I was given a demonstration in Galician from the wheel, to adhering the handles, to glazing.

The final stop on our excursion day was to a castle. I told Carmen that I had not been to castle yet in Galicia, and she made sure to fix that immediately. We went to the castle in Maceda, had a drink and a snack, and then returned back to Ourense after a full day of excisions and great company.

When Carmen dropped me off at the end of our excursion, I told her that I would come back the next morning to drop off some kitchen items that she could help me find a new home for. Goodbyes are really hard, and so instead of saying goodbye, she invited me to come back to eat lunch with her family a few hours later.

My time with Carmen this year as been so special. She is a retired English teacher from IES As Lagoas, so she fully understood every aspect of my work. She offered me so much support and joy everyday that we met, often so early in the morning that she would see me in a variation on workout clothes turned pajamas. Although I was Carmen’s “teacher,” it seems silly to say so. She was my teacher, my friend, and my family in Ourense. I know that I will see Carmen again, and that motivates me to get back to Ourense soon! I have so much love and gratitude for Carmen.

I began teaching Carla in private English classes my first week in Ourense. We played A LOT of Go Fish during the year. Carla kept me laughing always and was always a huge highlight of my week. I am so grateful for Carla. She was one of my best friends in Ourense, and I cannot wait to see what she will pursue in this life. ❤

This first picture is of Anxelica. I only spent a few weeks teaching her, but she was always so kind and diligent. A wonderful student!

Ana Clara is in the next two pictures. She surprised me with Ben & Jerry’s during our last class together because she knows that I love it!! I also love Ana Clara! She was one of my best friends in Ourense too. I told her when my dog died, when I got into law school, and all the little things in between. Ana Clara was a constant in my life, every single Wednesday afternoon for the entire year, we got to spend time getting to know each other. It was also so special!! ❤ Love you Ana Clara!

My final student was Laura! Laura taught me more about girlhood than anyone else this year. Many trips to Claire’s, the candy store in the mall, and to surfing the web looking for LOL Surprise! toys was eye opening. Laura made me work hard during our classes, saying everything in both English and Spanish to get a response. But once again, her kindness and joy was always a highlight of my week!

I had a few other students less regularly, Antón, Adriana, and Celso. Each student brought me different joys and challenges. But I loved spending my evenings teaching with families in Ourense. It brought me purpose and helped me to feel as part of the community of Ourense.

Shannon & Emma in Ourense

Shannon was one of my constants during this last year in Spain. She was also a Fulbright ETA in Ourense. We had a lot in common. Matching jumpsuits, purses, preferences in television and food. We were a great match, awesome travel partners through the whole UK, and great supporters in Ourense.

During the final two weeks in Ourense, Shannon and I spent a lot of afternoons together doing all of Ourense’s best activities.

The tourist train to the thermal baths:

Hike to Monte Alegre:

Cemetery of San Francisco & Claustro de Santo Domingo:

Goodbye Shan. Love you, thank you, and I’ll see you again.

Goodbye to my Favorite Places in Ourense

Running and walking along the Río Miño:

IES As Lagoas, the roses outside of Carla’s private lesson, the paseo <3, arco de vella tortilla, spending days at Panatier cafe working, Galician beer (only tried it once), and some views of my favorite streets on the paseo or in casco viejo.

Goodbye to the Fulbright España Commission in Madrid

Two weeks before I said goodbye to Ourense, I traveled to Madrid for the final Fulbright España Commission event. I was so grateful for the opportunity to say goodbye to some great friends that I made along the way this year like Farrah, Mike, Maggie, Clara, and others.

Final shenanigans:

Saying Goodbye

I said goodbye everyday for about two weeks in Ourense. I found it impossible to end connections with people who have brought me an immense amount of love and joy this year.

On my final day in Ourense, I went to IES As Lagoas to have coffee with the teachers and drop off some final plates of cookies for all of the department of bilingual English/music/ethics teachers. To say goodbye to Elisa the German teacher who has supported me greatly this year even though not part of my department (thank you Elisa!!) and to say goodbye to Raquel and Javier which left me teary eyed after some hugs.

From As Lagoas, I went to Carmen’s house to say goodbye and was invited back for lunch in a few hours. I spent lunch with Carmen, her husband, and son, speaking a wonderfully effective Spanglish. Carmen and I said our final goodbye following lunch. I hope to return to Ourense to see Carmen in the next few years. ❤

Finally in the evening, José Luis picked me up at my apartment, showed me his daughter apartment that he has helped to completely renovate for her, and then brought me to his apartment to have dinner with him and his wife. They are the most kind and accommodating company. Following dinner and dessert. They walked me home through the dark and quiet Ourense, and I said my goodbye teary-eyed at my apartment door. I will never be able to thank José Luis enough for his generosity and support this year. I look forward to the day when I can see him again in Galicia.

Following dinner, I went to sleep. When I woke up, I said goodbye to my roommate Austin who has been one of my biggest confidants and supporters this year. We spent so many evenings talking in the kitchen, and he saved me from every really feeling too far away from home. Austin and I hugged goodbye, and he helped me get my suitcases out of the apartment.

I rolled my suitcases around the corner and met my BlaBlaCar driver who took me from Ourense to Vigo, where I would take a bus to Porto.

My feelings for the people and the place were best expressed in my end of the year report submitted to the Fulbright Spain Commission:

  • My bilingual coordinator José Luis, is without a doubt the most generous, humble, kind, intelligent, and culturally engaged coordinator possible. He made my experience wonderful. From his unwavering support at school with teachers, with the government, with the subjects I taught, and even with medical issues, being my emergency contact when I had to stay at the hospital for one night following a possible appendix scare.
  • IES As Lagoas, must be one of the better secondary schools in Spain. I can confidently say that it is the best institution in Ourense, due to the high english skills of the students and staff (even teachers that do not teach english!!). I believe it must be one of the best run and organized schools in Galicia and honestly all of Spain.
  • I have been absolutely enchanted by the students, teachers, and Ourense. As Lagoas deserves a humble, respectful, and fierce advocate for human rights to teach the gracious, brilliant, and hilarious students.
  • I cannot say enough great things about my bilingual coordinator José Luis, the students who at 12 are critical and in touch with society and the world around them, the fellow teachers who share chocolates, stories, and kindness with me and the students, the welcoming atmosphere of the school, and the very special city of Ourense in the heart of Galicia.

And just like that it was over. I said goodbye to the best year I could have ever imagined in Ourense. This beautiful city tucked in a valley of mountains with a beautiful river and perfect paseo stole my heart. I will return to the people in Ourense in the future, and I look forward to that day.

I said goodbye to Ourense, and now I just had to get myself home to Omaha. This is the second to last blog about my Fulbright year. There is one more to come about my journey home with a few days in Porto, Portugal.

Thank you for reading and making it nearly to the end of this journey with me. ❤

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