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Teaching,Turkeys, and Travels

Hello All,

I am now two-thirds of the way finished with my time in Portugal – six weeks down, three weeks to go. I’ve greatly enjoyed the program, and am very appreciative of the way the teachers have worked to involve me in lesson plans and make sure I am well taken care of. In addition to my regularly scheduled 12 volunteer hours, I have three hours a week with a Portuguese tutor, and I regularly visit high school classrooms to show them the presentation on American history and culture that I mentioned in my earlier posts. It keeps me busy, and I feel like I am growing from the experience while making useful contributions. That said, I think I will be ready to get back to the US when the time comes. I travelled for several weeks before arriving in Portugal, so all together, I will have spent three months in Europe by the time I get back to America.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was planning several lessons on Thanksgiving. The teachers have been enthusiastic about the opportunity for their students to learn about American practices and customs, and as Thanksgiving is so important, it was a no-brainer for me to include some material on the holiday. For the older kids, this meant a powerpoint presentation and vocabulary exercises. For the younger kids, this meant an arts and crafts activity that every eight-year-old American is a pro at – hand turkeys! In order to demonstrate for my classes, I made my first hand turkey in probably 15 years or so. Below, you’ll find my hand turkey and the work of my first grade class. You will know which one is mine, because it takes up most of the page.

Outside of the classroom, I have continued to travel on the weekends. I only work Monday through Thursday, which means I have Friday through Sunday free. The best part about visiting Europe is how close together everything is. Before coming to Portugal, I visited six other European countries, and since arriving, I have travelled to Spain and the Netherlands.

Last week, I visited Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Spain’s unique northwestern region of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is famous for being the end point of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage that is today a major tourist attraction. Numerous walking paths converge on Santiago de Compostela from as far away as Switzerland, culminating at the famous cathedral that is believed to be the burial place of Saint James, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. Today, the city’s medieval architecture style remains, but Santiago de Compostela is a bustling, active university town. I found “hipster” (to use an American term) coffee shops and bars with poetry readings and live music, and posters with activist political messages were in numerous shop and apartment windows. This made the city a fascinating contrast of old and new.

This past weekend, I took Thursday off work and flew to Amsterdam for a long weekend. The city lived up to its world-famous reputation. I immediately noticed the city's the unique infrastructure, as I saw far more people walking, biking, or riding trams than driving cars. The city’s famous canal belt is post-card ready, as are the houses that line it, and there is no shortage of things to do. I visited the Van Gogh Museum, took a guided boat tour of the canals, and went to a tasting of Dutch cheeses. It was a full two days in a beautiful and unique city.

I suppose the takeaway from this blog post is this: If you teach abroad with CIEE, you'll have a great experience getting to know the country you teach in. But if you're lucky, you may get to experience other new and exciting places too!

Below: Hand Turkeys, and scenes from Santiago de Compostela and Amsterdam



Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey

Thanksgiving in Portugal

    While many people in America are gathering today with their families, feasting on too much food, and sharing what they're grateful for, the last Thursday of November in Portugal is just another day. Kids are still in required to attend school, adults are still showing up for work, and there is no feast come supper time. It truly is just another day.

    Fortunately, for me, this provided the perfect opportunity to share a little of American culture with my classes. While I wasn't the one who got to explain what it is or why we celebrate it, I was at least able to share with the kids a day in the life of an American on Thanksgiving Day.

    As today is my longest day volunteering, I didn't really plan much for my family for dinner. If anyone knows anything about Thanksgiving dinner, it's that it takes HOURS to prepare. I remember my mom would always start a day or two early in order to ease the workload. Granted, that's when she's cooking for more than 15 people, but to spend days preparing a meal? No thank you. And the idea of having my very first Thanksgiving where I'm the cook, preparing a meal for someone who's never had those types of dishes before and is expecting something marvelous when, in reality, it's only so-so - I can't deal with that kind of disappointment in my life right now.

    So, instead of slaving away in the kitchen hour after hour preparing food I don't really fancy myself anyways, I decided to choose one recipe I really like from Thanksgiving: persimmon pudding. 

    Yes, yes, I know persimmon pudding is more of a fall thing and not a Thanksgiving thing. At Thanksgiving there is always pumpkin pie, but persimmon pudding is also an Indiana thing and seeing as how the area of Portugal that I'm currently located in has fresh persimmons this time of year as well, it seemed fitting.

   My family had never tried persimmon pudding before. They had only ever tried the fruit itself. (Opposite of me - I still haven't tried it!) 

    I was a little worried since it was my first time ever actually making the pudding, but they seemed to really like it. Victor even went for seconds! 

    I'm starting to really consider making that dinner, though... maybe tomorrow I'll find the energy. Until then, I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to volunteer here. I've experienced so much since my first day and I'm extremely lucky and even more grateful to have this family to share this experience with. <3 

    

Brrr

After a long period of sunshine and warm weather, it's finally starting to feel like winter here in Samora Correia. Of a morning, a thin layer of frost covers the cars parked alongside the streets. People walk about bundled up in their winter coats and toboggans. Some have even began to wear gloves.

The leaves, however, are still a little late to the party. Confused by the high temperatures we've been experiencing, only recently have they began to change color. In fact, their shade matches that of the burnt orange rooftops and accents of the white houses I pass by each day. Matched against the clear blue sky, it's almost postcard worthy. Below me, fallen leaves flood the cobblestone streets. It won't be long until the limbs are bare, with nothing left to display.

And while the temperature outside has only begun to appear like winter, most of us have been suffering from the cold temperatures within the house for weeks. Every night at dinner, both my host mom and I are wearing at least two layers. Sometimes I'll even wear my winter coat and scarf to the dinner table - not even kidding. Granted, this is mostly for my lack of clothing to layer, but seriously, that's how cold it feels inside the house.

According to a local, most of these houses were constructed of concrete. So, they were constructed fast and they were constructed cheap. Because of this, there was little consideration for insulation and central heating. Therefore, the majority of houses here in Portugal do not have central heat. Brrrr.

Looking at this issue on a bigger scale, Portugal is one of the most expensive countries within the European Union when it comes to energy prices. Perhaps, this is part of the reason why Portuguese people decided to opt out of central heating when the time came to construct their homes. 

On the bright side, there is almost always a space heater available. Obviously, they still require the use of energy, so I'm not quite sure which is worse in the long run, but it's good to know you won't freeze to death. So, if you plan on volunteering to teach abroad in Portugal in the fall, be sure to bring plenty of layers!!! 

Volunteering to Teach Abroad with CIEE

    Well here I am, in week 5/9 of my time here in Portugal. Now, with 5 weeks already behind me, I feel like enough time has passed that I can finally comment on my experience "volunteering" to teach in the schools. So without using any words to describe how I feel about it, here is the beautiful Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo to explain how I feel:

via GIPHY

    Maybe I should start off by saying that my experience is very different than what I hear from some of the others. So let me try to explain:

    I volunteer at 3 different schools here in Samora Correia and assist with 4 separate classes: two kindergarten and two 1st grade. Each week, I dedicate 3hrs per class, making for a 12hr work week. (Not so bad, if I do say so myself.)

    For each class, there is the teacher of that class and then there is the English teacher that visits daily during the English hour. While I currently work under 2 different English teachers, I only spend 3hrs with one and 9hrs with the other. While I get along quite well with both of these teachers, the one I work with most isn't always the most organized in her lesson plans... or the most cheery, which created a small amount of unnecessary stress in my experience the first couple of weeks.

    While I'm by no means an expert in English immersion programs, I think part of the stress everyone has been feeling is due in part to the fact that most of the classroom teachers this year are different from last year. So, instead of already having one year of experience working within this project, they're having to start from scratch and learn as they go. Because of this, everyone is unfamiliar with each other as well. Which has, no doubt, created a lot of chaos and tension when it comes to implementing ideas and activities within the classroom. In fact, during my "observation" period the first couple of weeks here, I spent a lot of time court-side with the children as we watched the teachers bicker back and forth over disagreements. It finally got to the point that I felt the need to suggest a group meeting for all those involved in the project. Although I wasn't asked to attend, I was hoping the results who show that everyone finally cleared the air and maybe, just maybe, they found a way to work together. 

    Since then, things seem to be looking up. Thank goodness.

    Another issue I've had, rather, a disappointment is that, thus far, I feel as if I'm not making as much of a difference as I had originally hoped to. In my role as the language assistant, I'm not responsible for planing any lessons, I never have to grade anything, I don't even have to think about the class if I don't want to, all I have to do is show up. I'm fine with that. However, what's disappointing is that once I'm in the classroom, I don't have much of an opportunity to really involve myself.

    When I'm not observing and providing the occasional assistance with an unfamiliar English word or pronunciation, I walk around the classroom and comment on the children's drawings. Sometimes I watch them work as they try to write the number 6 a dozen times. A lot of the time, though, I'm helping corral the kids when it's time to line up for lunch or silencing the children when they're being too loud while the teacher is talking.

    Occasionally, I'm able to administer an activity. For example, one week - only because the English teacher was late getting to the classroom - I was able to teach one of my kindergarten classes the Itsy Bitsy Spider. Last week, I was able to teach the kids the Hokey Pokey. This upcoming week, I was told that I will be given the opportunity to explain a little about Thanksgiving (the PG rated version, of course) and I'll even be able to help the kids create hand-feathered turkeys, like we used to do in school when I was their age. Other than that, I haven't had many opportunities to really... do much.

     Granted, I know this hasn't been the same for everybody within the program. A few of the others have actually had opportunities when it comes to exchanging culture and providing knowledge over particular subjects. For example, one girl was able to be a part of a panel group discussion about the Syrian refugees, something relevant to her culture and experience. Another guy in our program recently had the opportunity to present to his classes over American culture, history, and a little about the life in the region where he grew up. So, that's not to say that being a part of this program we never get the chance to teach. Some do. It's just that for me, that opportunity only comes once every now and then. 

    Maybe the difference in my experience is partly due to the difference in ages groups that each volunteer deals with. Perhaps it is also due to the fact that, unlike me, the others are not working under an English teacher because for them, they are the English teacher. Maybe...maybe... All I really know is, I'm going to have to work extra hard to leave any sort of footprint here. 

    

São Martinho, Castanhas & Magustos

Here in Portugal the 11th of November is recognized for a certain special holiday: St. Martin's Day. Martin (or Saint Martin of Tours, as they called him) was a Roman soldier who was stationed in France during the year of 397. According to local legend, as he was wandering the streets horseback during a cold winter storm when he came across a beggar in desperate need of warmth. Martin, the noble man he was, took his sword and cut his cloak in half, so that he could give that half to the beggar. Immediately after, the clouds parted and the sun began shining high in the sky. Supposedly, the beggar that Martin clothed was Jesus.

Ever since, the warm and sunshiny days seen during this time of November, amongst all the cold, rainy days Portugal typically has during fall (although this year has been quite an exception because almost all days have been warm and sunny) are called St. Martin's Summer. All thanks to the kind deed of this Roman solider. 

At school, the children celebrated all day long with games, activities, songs.... and chestnuts!

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Apparently chestnuts are harvested around this time, which is why they are so prevalent during this holiday. It could also be related to the idea that the chestnuts' shell looks like St. Martin's two-pieced cloak after the they've been salted and popped open. - Someone actually told me that. Who knows.

It was a fun experience for me as well as I was able to learn a little about Portuguese culture this day. I was even able to try out my very first chestnut! (Fun fact - chestnuts are not nuts... they're fruits. Who would've thought?)

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However, the celebration doesn't end there. In addition to all of the roasted chestnuts, this time of the year is also known for the Magusto, celebrated by tasting some of the recently matured wine many have made in-house in the previous months. (It's also common to hear a lot of people drinking agua-pe or jeropiga during this time as well. Honestly, I only know the names, I haven't had the opportunity to try them yet, but I'll let you know if I do! ;))

Exchanging Cultures

Hi All,

As the weeks go by, I am getting more chances to participate in the classroom. One of my primary goals is to help introduce the students to American culture. Last week, I gave one of my classes a presentation on American culture and history, with an emphasis on the Mountain West region where I grew up. The presentation went well, and I will have the opportunity to give it to several other classes this week. I am also planning to teach my elementary classes duck, duck, goose, and am putting together a lesson about Thanksgiving.

Of course, this cultural exchange goes both ways. This has been a great opportunity to learn about Portuguese customs and ways of life, and I thought I should share some of my observations with you.

First, the cuisine. Trying new food may be my single favorite part of travelling, and I always try to sample the local fare. Below, you will find a picture of a typical Portuguese plate:  fish, roasted potatoes, and spinach, with a glass of red wine on the side. Given Portugal’s location on the Atlantic, it follows that seafood features prominently in the cuisine. I have eaten fish fried, grilled, roasted, and as part of soups and casseroles. The picture below is of salmon, but the most commonly eaten fish is bacalhau, or codfish. One of my coworkers told me that there are 100 different traditional ways to prepare it! Portugal also has an abundance of delicious soup, the perfect warm snack on cold, rainy autumn days. And of course, Portuguese love their coffee. I like to order mine as a meia de leite, which is an espresso shot with steamed milk, alongside a pastel de nata, a popular cream pastry which originated in Lisbon.

Like other Southern European countries, Portugal has a strong wine culture. The country’s unique wines span the spectrum from Vinho Verde, a crisp, sweet white wine, to Port, which takes its name from its origin city (Porto). Red Port tastes like liquor, at least to my admittedly inexperienced palate, and is often served with desert. This weekend, I traveled to wine country with my host family. It is remarkably beautiful, with rolling hills colored by rows and rows of colorful terraces on which the grape vines grow.

Finally, just as I will teach my students about Thanksgiving this week, I have also been exposed to traditional Portuguese holidays. In Portugal, November 11 is São Martinho’s day. The Portuguese commemorate the day by eating roasted chestnuts, which I had never heard of before outside of the famous Christmas song (“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”). My school ordered the chestnuts from a local bakery, and had all the students and staff come outside for a party when they were delivered.

Hope you enjoyed reading! Until next time,

Kevin

 

Below: Me presenting in class, a meia de leite with pastel de nata, a Portuguese dinner plate, pictures from wine country, and chestnuts. 

Presenting
Presenting
Presenting
Presenting
Presenting
Presenting Chestnuts


New Perspectives

Hello All,

I have now been in Portugal for three weeks. After two weeks observing the classroom, I began to take a more active role in lessons this past week. I have also visited more sites around the country.

As I mentioned, I don’t have much experience with children. This has added another learning experience into the mix, but it helps that the kids treat me like something of a celebrity (quite the ego boost, even though I'm not sure I'm worthy of the distinction). I have also enjoyed the chance to see elementary school education first hand, since I have not spent time in an elementary school classroom in over a decade. Today, the teacher I was working with brought examples of different kinds of old technology from throughout history. Alongside centuries-old navigation instruments, such as a globe that with an inaccurate depiction of the Americas, she included a film-based camera from her childhood and a 1990s cassette tape. This was a fourth grade class, so the students were born around 2007, the year the iPhone came out. It occurred to me that they may never have seen these devices that I used at their age– and I am only 23!

I have also had the opportunity to visit with several high school classrooms to help them practice English. With the younger children, my primary role is to introduce English vocabulary into lessons. Many of the high school students can speak English at a conversational level, and enjoy the opportunity to ask me questions about my personal background and American culture. When studying languages in the past, I always jumped at the chance to speak with natives, so I enjoy helping students of my own language do the same.

Outside of the classroom, I have continued to explore Portugal. I spent last weekend in Lisbon, and I already consider it one of my favorite cities I have visited. It is visually striking, with white buildings with red tile roofs situated between rolling green hills and the blue sea. The white buildings provide a canvass for the creative and colorful street art for which the city is known. At night, the winding streets come alive, as revelers pack the countless taverns, dance clubs, and wine bars. I had the opportunity to attend a fado performance, which is a traditional Portuguese folk music. When I travel, I seek out live music performances and unique cultural experiences, so the fado show was a great way to enjoy both at once. Meanwhile, back in Porto, I attended a Champions League soccer match with my host family. The home team, FC Porto, won 3-1. I am a big sports fan, so attending a European soccer game was high on my bucket list.

That’s all for now. This weekend I will visit Vigo, Spain, about two hours north of Porto. Next week, I will continue to take on more responsibility in the classroom – I even have to plan a whole lesson! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Best,

Kevin

Below: Lisbon Skyline, Lisbon Street Art, and me at the Porto match

Lisbon skyline
Lisbon skyline
Lisbonart
Porto match

I discovered something beautiful

After discovering that Escudeiros was closed due to the strike, I decided to take my newfound freedom and wander around this part of Samora Correia that I hadn't fully explored yet. That's when I discovered something beautiful.

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Not far behind the school, at the very end of a cobblestone walkway, I found these two wooden structures longing to be used. Unsure of what existed beyond these structures, my curious feet went exploring. 

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Here I found myself at the very end of the wooden pallets, staring at a beautiful blue river. To the right I could see a couple kayaks afloat. In either direction, the river continued far as I could see. Finally, nature.

Curious of what else I might find, I hopped back onto the path following alongside the river and I continued.

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While the walkway was quite short (I followed both ends to satisfy my imagination), it felt nice to finally find a place where there's nature. This is my diamond in the rough. The hidden beauty of Samora Correia and I found it.

The best part? I don't even have to walk too far to see it. 

O dia da greve

Today many schools, hospitals, and other various entities of the public sector were shut down do to a country-wide 'greve' (strike).

While little details about the strike were actually mentioned to me, I do know one thing: the workers were demanding more money due to a recent loss in pay cuts. 

I forgot about all this until I reached Escudeiros, the school I assist Fri mornings.  After my 20min walk, I reached the white gates protecting the main entrance of the school. There I stood pressing  the bell. Once, twice, three times... I waited 10 minutes before it hit me.

Ahhh. The greve.

I continued my journey to the next school. Sure enough, it was closed.

Uncertain of what to do with myself, I saw kids playing outside of what they call 'the main school' and decided to find solace in the teachers lounge, where I knew there would be wifi.

While many teachers were out protesting, those who decided not to, still had to be present at school, even if their children were not. At one point the lounge was crowded with floaters, trying to pass the time. 

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There haven't been many updates on the progress of the strike, but I'm hoping to provide that information soon.

Up in Smoke

 

via GIPHY b

We were warned about the smoking culture in Portugal prior to our arrival, but even then, I had no idea it would be so prevalent. Literally, everywhere you go, someone is smoking. Cigarette butts flood the sidewalks, the train tracks, the bars. And the smoke, the smoke is almost inescapable. Thankfully, most of the restaurants I've been in have not allowed smoking. That is, unless you decide to sit outside to enjoy the live music or people watch - then you better be prepared.

Apparently it's still pretty common that many families smoke inside the house as well. Granted, we have this in the US too, but I was lucky enough to not have to deal with it much growing up. After my parents got divorced, my dad started smoking inside the house with his newfound freedom. The more I visited him, the less I cared to spend time there because I hated the idea of jeopardizing my health all for the sake of his vice. Ultimately, it hindered our relationship because he wasn't considerate enough of my feelings towards it. 

On the CIEE Application, there is a section you're asked to fill out that is basically a family matching questionnaire. On this questionnaire you are asked your preference on living inside a smoking home. If you've read any part of this blog, you already know the answer I chose. Even though that was and still is the most important question to me in the questionnaire, I was not paired with a non-smoking family. In fact, both my Portuguese mother and the father smoke inside the house.

I've already have a couple discussions with them about how I feel about smoking inside the house while I'm there. Thankfully, they've started to accommodate my requests. The mother will occasionally smoke outside, but most of the time she will shut her door and open a window. The father doesn't seem to be smoking as much anymore either. Thank goodness. 

I hated the idea of irritating them or tarnishing the relationship I've already built with them by continuing to nag at them about smoking inside, so I'm thankful they've been considerate of my feelings towards the nasty habit.

Other than the whole smoking issue, I really like my host family. They don't seem to go out much, homebodies I would call them, so we don't often do things together outside of the home, unless there is a birthday. However, this couple can really cook. Most nights the meal is an experiment of some sort, using whatever is in the pantry or the fridge. I adore that type of cooking. Mostly because I've never been able to shy away from a recipe or whatever I'm working on turns out to be a complete disaster. I hope to share a few of my own recipes with them as well. 

Although I haven't found much in common with my family yet, I got to thinking... Seeing as how the pasteis de nata are one of the most typical pastries (and best kept secrets) here in Portgual - so much so that even my host mom doesn't know how to bake them - I suggested that we learn together. Not only so I can bring the recipe home, but mostly to create an activity for the two of us to do together. I think it would be nice to spend a little more quality time with them. I just need to figure out how to make that happen... but that will have to be a blog for another day. 

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