Siestas, Tapas and Sunshine in Madrid

June 7, 2016

by Laila Sholtz-Ames

                            Siestas, Sunshine and Tapas

In September 2015, I packed all my bags, got on a plane and took a leap of faith.  I was off to start my new life in Madrid and I was nervous, scared and excited.  The previous year I was teaching middle school in Boston, in a job I loved (kids) and hated (conniving coworkers, difficult bosses and long work hours). I had nothing to lose.  So I accepted a teaching position and accepted an admittance to a masters program in teaching bilingual education.  I could not wait to see what Madrid, Spain had in store.


First Impressions

The first week was a bit of a blur, a mix of new faces, new places and jetlag.  I left Boston the same day as my friend Lauren’s wedding.  I rushed back to Cambridge, changed out of my bridesmaid’s dress, my friend Smey drove me to the airport and it wasn’t until I was sitting on the plane, with my passport in one hand and my Madrid guide book in the other that I realized I was really, truly moving to Spain.  I could barely sleep on the plane, I had such a mix of emotions.  Did I make the right choice? Will I like Spain? Will it be hard going back to school? I was still mulling over these questions and more when I landed at 6am the next day.  Orientation had started the day before, so I had decided that I would rush over to my new apartment ( I found a place before I left Boston), get on a train to Alcala for my Masters in Teaching orientation and then begin my list of things to do, like getting a phone, paperwork and grocery shopping.  


The University of Alcala is pretty in pictures but even better in person.    I could barely keep my eyes open, but they gave us a tour of the campus and I knew that I came to the right place.  Alcala has the feel of an old European city, with brick buildings and little rose gardens in Cervantes Plaza and quaint little restaurants.  It makes me want to spend more time in Alcala.  All classes are on Fridays (afternoon and evening) and the rest is online so I will only be there once a week.  The rest of the time I am teaching at a bilingual school in Torrejon de Ardoz (55 minutes from Madrid).  



Torrejon itself isn’t really much to look at, it’s an airbase and a bit run down but the school itself, IES Luis de Gongora, is lovely.  I have 3 PE classes, 5 English classes, 2 technology and 6 social studies classes and because it is a bilingual school all the subjects (except math) are taught in English. Not all the students are in the bilingual program  so many of the classes are only 12 or 14 students, while non-bilingual classes are 30-34. A few things I noticed about Spain and schools.  Students call their teachers by their first name and they are shocked when I said my students called me Ms. Sholtz-Ames.  Students often use curse words and come to school with shirts that say  “ exciting” English words.  But what I do love about my students is that they are really engaged and are interested in a lot of my lessons.    The teachers at my school are very helpful and open, they always say “hola” in the hallways and invite me to grab tea and churros at the cafeteria.  At my school in Boston, things were very strict. My supervisor constantly told me what I was doing wrong and I was reprimanded for not giving enough negative reinforcement.  I was not appreciated. But here, teachers thank me and tell me that they like my classes.  It’s a world of difference.

A perfect sunny day in the Plaza Mayor (main square).

A perfect sunny day in the Plaza Mayor (main square).

Last, but not least, I can’t talk about Madrid without talking about food. I live in Lavapies, the most international barrio in Madrid. One girl said that Lavapies had too many foreigners (she was American) and that’s probably why I love it.  There are Indian, Peruvian, Turkish and Chinese restaurants and stores and tons of vegan and vegetarian options.  A few months before I started looking at vegan places and I found that 5 or 6 are within a 10 minute radius of my apartment.  In addition, I found a vegan health food store so I’m pretty sure I picked the right neighborhood.  The narrow, cobblestone streets feel especially Spanish and they are filled with Spaniards enjoying tapas and drinks at every hour of the day.

The Old City in Madrid

The Old City in Madrid

Spanish Stereotypes

The stereotype is that Spanish people love three things: Siestas, Sunshine and Jamon (ham).  The ideas behind the siesta is that you come home from work and eat lunch around 14:00, take a nap and then wake up a few hours later refreshed and ready to return to work.  When I lived in China many years ago I scoffed at the idea of a “siesta” (they have a similiar idea though earlier in the day) but after a few weeks I really started to look forward to it.  Here I generally take the time to catch up on writing, improving my spanish or Skyping with friends and family back home in the States.  Jamon is also something I don’t partake in- as a vegan I will happily try any meat-free option but the real stuff I leave for the Spaniards. Indeed nearly every restaurant or bar advertises jamon anything- croquetes, sandwiches, or just on its own.  Sunshine is something I appreciate as someone who grew up and lived in cold climates all my life.  Not only is the weather warm and welcoming the people are reflections of the climate. They are talkative, kind, inquisitive and easy-going.   The people are one of the reasons why I cannot wait to stay here for another year.  
Stay tuned for more adventures in Madrid!

My neighborhood in Madrid, Lavapies. Winding streets

My neighborhood in Madrid, Lavapies. Winding streets

Keywords: Spain, Madrid, Travel

Laila Sholtz-Ames

By Laila Sholtz-Ames

I grew up in Maine but caught the travel bug at a young age. After studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain in college, I immediately fell in love with the country and vowed to return. Eight years and countless countries later, I am in Madrid teaching English and finishing a Masters program. I lived in China and traveled around Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Italy and Germany. When I'm not traveling, I enjoy cooking vegan food, writing, reading books, learning languages and biking.


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