English Immersion Programs

Are you a native English speaker?

Have you always wanted to see Madrid, Prague, Bucharest, Budapest or other places in the world?

Are you a person who is easy to talk with?

Would you like to help non-English speakers improve their English?

Are you an active listener?

Would you like to meet other “Anglos” from around the world and share their experiences?

Can you talk about a variety of topics?

Are you social?  Can you play charades, or sing, or just have fun in a group?

Do you have a talent you could share with others?

Do you have  week to share your knowledge and abilities with others?

Would you like 6 days, all expenses paid in a resort or four star hotel?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions you may be interested in participating in an English Language Program.

Lately, it seems like I am the poster gal for these programs.  When people ask how I can travel so frugally and what I do in my varied volunteer jobs, interest in English Immersion Programs seem to get the most attention.

The first thing you need to understand is that you must get yourself to the venue.  That means that if the program is in Budapest, then you must also be in Budapest at your expense.  So this works well if you are already traveling, like me; or, if you can plan ahead for vacation time in order to find cheap tickets (off-season travel, guys!).

The second question is something like this – Do I need to be an English teacher?  NO!  You are not teaching grammar, or sentence structure or verb conjugations.  You are offering real live English conversation to people who want to improve their English speaking skills. Period!

Having now done 5 of these programs I feel confident in sharing what I have learned. The programs are structured.  The coordinators are professional. You are treated well by the organizers and held in esteem by the participants.  You will get more from the experience than you give, and you give quite a bit during the week.  The accommodations have been lovely each time no matter the venue or the organization holding the program.

Are you interested yet?

The caliber of people you will meet is amazing, like a physician who gave up his profession to become a perfume entrepreneur; or, an elementary school teacher who motivated his class to write a book, which was subsequently published and copies of which now reside in many school libraries throughout Spain; or the woman from New Zealand who had been teaching English in Siberia for 6 months and came home with pockets full of money.

And, the food!  A Michelin 2 star chef at an exclusive golf resort in Poland who made lavender ice cream for dessert one night. A delightful Spanish wine with dinner, at the mountain resort a few hours from Madrid.

Accommodations are lovely.  Below is my room at the mountain resort in Spain, followed by the golf resort in the Czech Republic, near Prague.

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So, you ask, what is it we will actually be doing?  The programs are similar and provide opportunities for the “student” to speak on a topic, one-on-one (with you) and to incorporate specific words into that conversation along with one idiom.  Your job is to participate in the conversation (but not to control it), to assist with words that may be unfamiliar and to explain the idiom.  These sessions are 50 minutes each and you will have about 6 each day.  You will also be conversing during your meals, and in the evening there is some type of entertainment that you will be a part of. Each program also has individual differences, but these are the basics.  You will be involved with the participants from 9 am to 9 pm. This is why it is immersion!

These photos are from the riding academy.  Our breakfast buffet and a snap shot of a group of participants giving a presentation.

So, how do you become a part of this?  You can type “English Immersion Program” plus the name of a country and search or if you are interested in Spain, go to Vaughntown.  If you are interested in eastern Europe go to Angloville.  Sign up, get accepted and then look at their calendar and choose your program location.  My suggestion is that you choose your programs early, because they fill quickly.

If you have a 2 week vacation, your plan may go something like this: arrive at your destination (Prague) 2 days prior to the program date.  Relax, see some of the city.  Day 3 join the group and participate in the program.  End of program, return to destination city and enjoy the rest of your free time.  You have paid for 7 days in a hotel, hostel, B&B or couch-surfed; and met some interesting people, perhaps made new friends and gave someone additional confidence in speaking English! Not a typical vacation, but who wants typical, anyway?

An additional benefit of Angloville is that they offer the opportunity city to earn a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification which is easier and much less expensive than getting it online.

There are smaller organizations that offer these programs in Poland and you can find them online.  I have not found any in Italy or France.

If you decided to do a program let me know.

See you there!

Marzapan, The Alcazar & Don Quixote

Where can you enjoy all of these things in one place? Yes! Toledo, Spain, a mere 33 minutes by Spain’s AVE, high speed train from Atocha station, Madrid.

Let’s start with what is marzapan/marzipan/marzepan?  It is a confection of sugar or honey and an almond paste. Marzapan is often formed into fruit shapes and colored to look like apples, pears, bananas, grapes etc. It is also used to decorate elaborate cakes, or just covered with chocolate. Marzapan is most often seen during the winter holiday season.

When I was a young child I would sometimes be invited to my great-grandmother’s house which now belongs to the local historical society. Gramma Grayce was a very thrifty woman and as such she was stingy with treats. I was allowed one piece of marzapan fruit and one only. It was a big deal to a 6 year old. The marzapan usually lasted about 15 or 20 minutes melting in my mouth.

So, those of you who have had marzapan are now thinking…how did she keep from swallowing or chewing for that long? It was not difficult, because many years later I learned that gramma Grayce had kept that box of marzapan in the house for several years, just in case she had company. This was no longer marzapan … It was now rock candy!  And, no one ever did visit, except me! Marzapan is soft, not a hard candy; and Toledo, Spain is famous for its marzapan.

Marzipan recipe with photo

So, did I purchase marzapan in Toledo?  YES, fresh, soft, delicious marzapan! If you are watching from the other side gramma, that was a dirty trick to play on a 6-year old.

Walk up the street with me  (yes, up, because Toledo is built on a steep hillside) to the imposingly interesting Alcazar.

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A square building with 4 turrets, one on each corner with more than 8 floors to climb.  The interesting part of this structure is that each side is different, because it was restored under four different rulers over hundreds of years.  It is now a military museum and the La Mancha regional library.

Toledo history with photos

Imposing Alcazar standing guard over the old city of Toledo.

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Unlike other historic cities, Toledo is not surrounded by modern structures.  The new city of Toledo is at the bottom of the hill.  All of the original buildings and cobbled street are much like they were in the past, with the exception of shops along the streets.

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Can you see it?  Look closely.

I felt it before I saw it.  Cool, wet, soft.

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Yep,  every 30 seconds a mist would be emitted from tubing in the umbrella to keep the diners refreshed.

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Cellphone, schmellphone.  When you live in a small town, just walk over to your neighbor and call up to the balcony.  You not only save money, but you get some hill-walking exercise as well.

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Can you believe that cars actually drive these streets?  When you hear one coming, you pop into the next doorway and watch your toes. Uphill again!IMG_20160614_124639

Did I mention that Toledo is built on a BIG hill?

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And, as we continue up the hill who do we see, but Don Quixote and his sidekick Santo, plus me and my two friends. Do you notice that I dressed to match (somewhat) the breastplate of Don Quixote’s?

As I speak with people along my travels, there seems to be a trend that younger people do not know The Man From La Mancha, Don Quixote or the famous name Cervantes.

 Although they may not have known the name Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote is world famous.  Cervantes is credited, in the literary world with the first best seller, which now has been translated into 60 languages; and, it has been reported that several world famous writers as well as Pablo Picasso were influenced by Miguel de Cervantes story of an old man who “tilted at windmills”.

The moral of the story is to dream the impossible dream, fol!ow your heart, no matter what others may say or think.

Perhaps this will encourage you to dream!!

The Impossible Dream, The Man From LA Mancha musical

 

 

 

Ahhhhh! Avila, Spain

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City of the Knights, birthplace of Saint Teresa, UNESCO designated as the world’s best walled city; and home to mystic, San Juan de la Cruz. Pronounced Ahh-vee-la with the accent on the first syllable.  Almost like taking a breath upon seeing it for the first time.

Look at the size of these stones.  How to lift and place them without a modern crane?  And look on the right side, at the level of each row.  When considering the circumference of more than 8,000 feet around this wall, with turrets, it is mindboggling to me.

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Artist painting the cathedral.  The inside of the walls are speckled with painters and paintings for sale.  This guy had the most onlookers of all the painters I saw.

A little history for you, now.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, this land was inhabited by the Visigoths (German warriors) until displaced by the Moors in 714 and recaptured by the Christians in 1088 who began construction on the wall about 1090. This fortification was built on Roman ruins, designed by Moorish architects, construction was managed by Jewish engineers and craftsmen and labor contributed by the Christians. How’s that as an example of everyone working together.             

History and photos of Avila

This magnificent structure is 53 miles northwest of Madrid and is one of the highest cities in Spain. The fortress is 8,202 feet in circumfrance with 90 massive stone turrets, and 7 gates. Obviously built to withstand military attacks and protect the city.

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Although the history of Avila is of interest to me, I was surprised and intrigued by the history of St. Teresa.

See: YouTube, Biography of St. Teresa of Avila.

When the tour guide started speaking about St. Teresa, I was only half listening; instead, my attention was on the massive walls and turrets of the city.  However, when he said that in a dispute with the religious leaders of Avila, she left the city, stopped at the top of the hill, took off her sandals and shook the dirt from the bottoms saying “I take nothing with me from Avila, not even the dirt from my shoes” I knew I would have liked this woman.

Her story was interesting when you consider that during her time convents were not necessarily a place to find religious solitude, but instead, a peaceful interlude for people of means.  Nuns could have personal items and relationships with people outside of the convent.  The church was more interested in money than prayer at this time.

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Her widowed father sent her to be educated by the Augustinian nuns after the death of her mother.  She appreciated the structure and solitude of her surroundings; joining the Carmelite order at age 21. Later in life she suffered a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, until she experienced a vision that changed her life forever and spurred her to vigorously reform the Carmelite order to it’s original austere religious tenets.

As a very devout woman, who was known to have experienced many mystical visions; but was often counciled by other priests to “keep her visions to herself,” St. Teresa was an unstoppable force on a mission to reform the church: and, was not known for always doing as she was instructed. She, with the help of St John of the Cross, established more than 14 monestaries prior to her death.

After her death, she was reburied several a times and in several places.  Her body was dissected with pieces going to chapels, and private residences of the rich who wanted a piece of this mystic/saint. (I guess it was like having a rabbit foot – which was never good for the rabbit).

At the same time as St. Teresa you have the mystic, poet, reformer of Spanish monasticism and helper to St. Teresa in restructuring the Carmelites, St. John of the Cross, also in the area of Avila.

St. John is regarded as one of the greatest Spanish poets, and one of the greatest mystical poets of all times. There is a book, “Flame of Love; Poems of the Spiritual Mystics, St. John and St. Teresa of Avila”. Together with his writing of “Dichos de Luz y Amor”  are the most important works of Spanish mystical literature today.

If you ever find yourself in Madrid, with time on your hands, I would suggest a short train ride to Avila .. Or .. Toledo, which is my next blog, or Segovia.

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Vaya con dios, amigos!

 

 

LUCK

Let’s talk about LUCK!

How lucky it was to find an opportunity to live with a lovely family within 2 hours travel, of not one, not two, but three UNESCO World Heritage sites. And, how lucky that this family encouraged me to take a day trip to Avila – the best walled city in the world, according to UNESCO, and they should know.

Then, add to that the fact that this family took me to Toledo, which as it turned out also had a permanent exhibition of the Knights Templars, whom I have added to my bucket list this year.  And, which prompted a return visit to Toledo.

And, then there was Aranjuez just two metro stops away .. That I did not know about before meeting Susanna and her family.

OK, your first question: How did I find this family in the first place?

Answer: a subscription website “WorkAway”.  Where you enter your parameters and simply hit Enter.  Whammo, up comes opportunities that match your wants.  Now the ball is in your court, and you make your request of the family, group, hostel …….

Question 2: Who pays what?

Answer: It is your responsibility to get yourself to the site.  Typically, your accommodation is free and often your meals are also free.  This information is in the description written by the person looking for a volunteer.

So far, luck is just knowing where to look, and how to apply.

It helps if you can speak the language of the host, even a few well known phrases will help. But there is always Google translate.

Many foreign hosts speak English at some level, or they want to practice their English.  I have found that even making an attempt at the host language puts you in a better position.  When you can express yourself, things are easier and your host may direct you to things or people who can help you.

Next question: Am I going to work a 40 hour week?

Answer: That should be communicated in the advertisement on the website and, confirmed verbally, or in an email before you say YES.

Now there is a very small chance of having “bad luck” with the host.

So, my job with Susanne’s family was to engage her children in English conversation.  To that end, I armed myself with some English workbooks, card sets and stickers from my local dollar store, to use with the girls.  I was given a private room and bath.  There were no tasks assigned during the hours the girls were in school.  So, I found small household tasks to keep me occupied while in the house.  Susanne scolded me for doing her ironing and I countered by explaining that I did not like being idle, and since it was my choice (and she worked) and I wanted to help; she relented.

Doing a bit more than expected can pay dividends, like being shown around a World Heritage site like Aranjuez, and it’s local market.

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The Royal Palace

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hair do-dads, anyone?

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hats, accessories, shoes, scarves, clothes, fruits, veggies, candy, books, and sunglasses

In addition to the World Heritage sites, I was also included in family activities like swimming at the community pool, having a girly day of mani-pedi treatment. (That is a manicure/pedicure, guys).  Went to the movies, attended a Madrid young singers event in which the youngest daughter participated, and enjoyed the jacuzzi on the patio.

When it was time to move on to Ireland for the summer, Susanne asked when I could come back.  She said she was pleased and had shared this experience with others. One of her friends also wants Anglo females to stay for a few weeks at a time, during the school year.

Ok, calling all Anglo females that would like to visit Spain during the school year.  Anyone feel LUCKY?

 

 

Manneken Pis, Comics & Waffles

Yes, I thought that would get your attention

Where do you think I am?

Brussels, Belgium, you are correct.

I got here by flying into Amsterdam where I waited 2 days for KLM/Delta to find my luggage. It was not a good start on my 3 planned days in this beautiful, charming, artistic, yummy city which is the home to NATO, the European Commission, capital of the European Union and host to two World Fairs.

And, home of some of the most sought after chocolate and praline delectables . . Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus chocolatiers.

The FLIXBUS journey from Amsterdam was uneventful and rainy except for the 3 minutes transiting Antwerp and a quick view of the port.

Ahhhh, Brussels. I anticipated how nice it would be to relax at the Escalle hotel (a hostel, actually) just a few hundred yards from the train station. Alas, it was not to be and I was beginning to wonder if the great travels of the past year were now going to be my trials and tribulation of my future year.

The desk clerk wanted to actually see my reservation printout. This was a new twist. Usually, you showed your passport and whiz bang, you had your room. Something was “afoot” as Sherlock Holmes would say. And, it was. “Someone” had taken my reservation on a date when the hotel was closed for renovations.

The man started quietly making phone calls, ignoring me entirely. So, I sat with my 2 wheeled suitcases and daypack and waited. Although, ultimately this was my problem, I wanted it to be their problem to solve. The longer I sat, the more annoyed I became. Eventually he said they had a sister accommodation just 10 minutes away and I could easily walk there.

No thank you! I did not want to walk, with luggage to an unknown hotel/hostel in a city where streets were unfamiliar, curvy, and went around traffic circles. What about a taxi, after all it was close (he said). No, they could not pay for a taxi.

Oh, there is a woman entering the lobby. A quick conversation, heads together. She is going to the other location, you can walk with her. (Note: a 10 minute walk for a middle-aged man, who knows where he is going, and who is not pulling 2 pieces of luggage is 10 minutes. It is not 10 minutes for me).

It was actually 22 minutes, and I discovered the next day that there was a much shorter route available.

By the time I reached my final destination at the Aviation Hotel/hostel, I was “knackered” as the British would say.

They do deserve a round of applause .. my 5 bed dorm was now upgraded to a private ensuite room with a bit of a view, and I was well received and taken care of for the entire stay.

Now the fun begins. First stop WAFFLES!  Even in the drizzle of the day, customers were lined up out into the street.  Finding a place to sit was a challenge, but with my stealthy ways, I spied a couple slugging down the last dregs of coffee and I pounced, offering to clear the table for them.  It works every time! Sorry this blog does not offer taste-o-rama.  You will have to take my word and the hundreds waiting in line who came by bus, car, metro, train, plane and on foot to bite into these waffles.

 Use  YELP BRUSSELS  to find The Waffle Factory, just down the street from Manneken Pis and the architectually stunning, UNESCO designated town square.

Now shall I talk about the fries, beers and chocolate pralines?   No .. I don’t have that much space.

But, did you know that Brussels, among all its claims to fame, include the comic strip? Yep!  It’s true, and as you walk the little cobbled streets and turn a corner, you may see a huge cartoon mural like these:

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If you have ever seen the comic tin tin, or Lucky Luke, Cubitus, or Gaston Marsupilami you can thank an artist in Belgium.

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Or other artsy stuff like this ..

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Although Brussels, is brimming over with art, food, history, and political “intrigue” it also has the most congested traffic in Europe or north America (info: platform inrix).

All that aside, lots of people come to Brussels to see the Manniken Pis.  Yes, it’s a bronze statue of a little boy taking a wizz, created in 1618-19; and there are half a dozen stories that go with the statue; and, the government of Brussels dress this little bronze boy in costumes.  Yes, there is actually a contest with specific rules (Versachi watch out), to see what the boy will add to his already overflowing closet of 900 outfits.  See link: Manniken 

Historically Belgium is catholic, but surveys have found that in Brussels only 10% of practicing catholics attend church. Brussels is an international city in many ways, and as such has a wide variety of belief systems including Muslems, Jews, Eastern Orthodox and Buddhist practitioners.  Among these you can also find atheists and agnostics.  It is interesting under these conditions that the educational system requires students to choose 2 hours of religious studies each week.

Final note on this:  Belgium does NOT collect ethnic statistics.

Next stop Spain, where I will live with a local family for 3 weeks; and my only job will be to speak English with the children.