Monday, December 14, 2009

Right Where I’m Supposed to Be

The holidays are upon us! I feel like Madrid kind of cheats. It gets you all caught up in the nice warm weather so much that you forget just how awesome the cool breeze of fall is; how nice it is to have a steaming cup of hot apple cider while you sit on a porch swing watching the auburn and hazel leaves fall slowly to the ground. We’ve gotten a bit of that, but as soon as we start to enjoy it “winter” is here and the little bit of fall that we had is jumping out of the way. So, Christmas in Madrid has begun. Millions of lights are scattered all over the city and despite the warmer weather and lack of snow you are reminded that the time for Christmas songs and candy canes is here.
The little bit of working that I have been doing has been postponed several times already for one holiday after the other (and we haven’t even got to Christmas or New Years yet). Normally I’d be doin a fist pump in the air but after looking at the empty bank account and the coinciding empty refrigerator I (gulp) want to work. Oy, what is this city doing to me? I’ve even started reading books again to pass the time along. Goodness gracious.

In January I’ll be starting some new work which will be nice. Like I said, I need the money and it’ll keep me busy. So far I have another adult and two kids but this time the kids are a little older (9 and 12 I think). I decided that teaching young kids in this profession, at least with my cash flow, should be avoided. Please believe I LOVE little kids, it’s just that it’s so difficult to find resources, then finding the money and place to pay for or print these resources, then lugging these resources around the city to each individual home. I’ve had such a time thinking of stuff to do with my 3 year old. The past two weeks we’ve just been playing with crayons (no not coloring, literally playing with them) practicing counting and of course our colors. It’s so tough though when you don’t have a bunch of things to do that are hands on with children that age when writing, conversation, and reading are all off the table. So, it’s much easier to have an adult that you can practice grammar or pronunciation with or just have a conversation with. Some of my colleagues disagree but for me adults are where it’s at in this game. Sorry kiddos.
So the plan for the holidays is to hang out with my sis and mom for about a week (Poppa Gillens was a little bit too nervous to fly over the great pond and hang out with his son. You should scold him if you get a chance.) and then skeedadle up to Paris to celebrate the New Years. I’m pretty stoked for both. I’ve already got a list of stuff that me and my two ladies are going to do here. It’ll be great to see them and will be fun to show em around my city. Can’t wait. New Years has been a task. Finding an affordable way to travel is very complicated last minute, especially if you’re rookies like us. We’ve finally (maybe) found a cheap way to get there (bus) but it’s a 17 hour trip and the website so far refuses to take any of our credit cards. We’ll see what happens. I’d really like to see that big tower lit up with fire works behind it at the stroke of midnight.

So, I was told by several friends that I sounded very somber in my last post. I need to clarify that I’m not at all depressed or sad. I promise. That said, these past two months haven’t been the easiest two months to get through. I could write you a lengthy list of the issues that I’ve been dealing with since I’ve been here or the things that have been weighing on my heart but I think I’ll spare you. The list is pretty extensive, but through these things I have learned quite a bit about myself as a man, as a Christian and as a friend. We’ve been going through 1 Peter with my Bible study group which talks about rejoicing in our tough times and being “refined” through hardships. This has become evident here. I feel stronger and more independent every day and I am learning more and more all the time. Last year I was so blessed. I was surrounded by friends and family, was involved with a great Bible study, I had a perfect job that I loved, I lived in the city I grew up in and I went to a phenomenal church. Here, things aren’t so easy or comfortable. Oftentimes familiarity and accessibility are replaced with confusion and inconvenience. Friendships aren’t absent but they are in the beginning stages verses the solid old friendships that I had back home. My identity is thrown out into the open here and I am forced to analyze what it really is…who I really am. Despite this being a challenge though I believe I am here for a reason. I know that if I return home to Cincinnati or if I move to another place that is again unknown and unfamiliar to me, I will be stronger and will be at peace. I will know that no matter what happens I am in God’s hands. I am not lost. I am not loneliness. I am not uncertainty. I am not doubt. I am not frustration. I am Benjamin Adam Scott Gillens. I am here. And I’m gonna be just fine. I guarantee it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Finding Myself and a Few Other Things

Although I have only been here for about two months, there are a few things I have discovered during my time here in Spain:

Discovery # 1: I have soooooooo much room to grow as a teacher.

So this is not so much a discovery as it is an affirmation of a sneaking suspicion that I had last year. After getting into my first few courses with my new students I discovered how difficult it is to create lesson plans, execute those lesson plans, and subsequently augment those lesson plans when your kids look at you like what you’re teaching them is the lamest OR the most confusing thing in the world. Having a good amount of resources and teachers to give me pointers at Glendale is dearly missed. All that said, I haven’t exactly bombed in any of my lessons, I’ve just been learning…discovering, if you will, where I need to grow.

Discovery # 2: Money is not everything…not even close…but it’s something

Oh, money. I haven’t had much of it the past 7 years of my life and the bit I have had has belonged (and still does) to the U.S. government. Coming here some things have been difficult throughout the transition process. One of these things has involved the initial lack of income that became ever so apparent each day. I noticed how I have become accustomed to viewing things as guarantees in life…food, comfort, money for leisure, etc. When my budget gets even somewhat close to challenging the “norm” of what I am used to, it’s amazing how both my pride and my perspective are affected. I realize that salad dressings and ice cream are not too high on the priority list when compared to bread and eggs. I am reminded that I need to keep in mind how much money I have for rent when I go out to enjoy a night in the exciting (sometimes pricy) city of Madrid. But still, when I come home that same night and lay in my bed with a blanket and pillow…I know that there is so much that I have to be thankful for and how truly far from poverty I am. As low as my bank account has gotten I have never had to worry about where I was going to sleep that night…or IF I was going to eat rather than WHAT I was going to eat. I think it is so vital to firstly keep in mind what we have been blessed with and secondly to take advantage of where we are and what we have been given. Time is short. Money is fleeting. Life is now.

Discovery # 3: I need Jesus.

Ok, so I’m cheating again. This wasn’t really a discovery either, but I got hit in the face so hard with this when I came here that it had to be mentioned. When people have asked me if I liked being here or not I have answered yes every time. However, that does not mean that the transition has been easy. I have definitely enjoyed so much of this experience already; the people I have met, learning the culture, the (mini) adventures I have gone on inside of Madrid. Again, these things have come tandem with many difficulties as well; the language barrier, making friends, living on a limited amount of money, finding work, learning how to teach, learning my way around the city, figuring out what I’m doing next year…figuring out what I’m doing with my life. Every time I am met with hardship, however, I am reminded that the source of my joy…the reason that I live…my true purpose in life is still right there. I told one of my friends that one of the things that has kept joy in my heart has been knowing that no matter how terrible things go here in Madrid or how few friends I find here, I can be comforted by the fact that I have a home back in Cincinnati. I have friends in the U.S. that I love with all of my heart that would welcome me back and love me. I am comforted by the fact that there is more than the here and now. I always have something to hold on to.
This is magnified one hundred fold when applied to life and my relationship with Jesus. There are many days when I am tired of the routine, tired of being single, tired of looking for an identity or a purpose or a place where I fit in. But, I know that no matter how difficult or tiresome life gets or how lonely and out of place I feel I will always have a home. I will always have someone that loves me. I don’t have to act a certain way. I don’t have to gain approval. I don’t have to earn anything. I am loved. And I am His.

Discovery # 4: Spain is not (probably not) HOME

I have only been here for two months, so I think it’s a bit too early to call this a complete discovery. There are many things about home that I miss. Firstly, I would have to say I miss the comfort. I usually had a nice bed to go home to with big comfortable blankets. I had a television and air conditioning. I had a dryer to dry my clothes on so they were soft and warm instead of dry and itchy when I put them on. When I wanted to find something I’d know where to find it and it was usually close. Here a lot of times I have no idea where to find what I want. I’m not sure if it’s cheaper (and probably is) somewhere else. And, I might have at least a 15 minute walk or a 15 minute metro ride to get there.
Secondly, the other big thing I miss is just accessibility to certain things. There are things like; cranberry juice, Neutrogena products, raisins, peanut butter, Pandora radio, watching the NBA or Football, Skyline Chili, Chipotle…I could go on but for my own sake I need to stop.
Thirdly, of course are the people. One of my faults in life has been not being able to let people go and wanting to fix problems that I can’t fix. Being in a different country has forced me to put the problems of my family and friends in God’s hands where they’re supposed to be, but has also made it harder to deal with when someone I love IS having a tough time. That added to the fact that it’s always hard to make friends initially. I made a few friends fairly quick here, but of course they don’t compare to the relationships I have back home.
All that said I’m not sure if these feelings are just due to the process of moving to another country or if I actually want to be back in the States. I’m not sure just yet…not just yet.

Discovery # 5: I don’t know what I want in life.

So this is something that most people figure out early in life but it’s taken me a while. I know a few things: I know I want to serve Jesus. I know I want to help people. I know I want to be around people I love that love me back. And, I know I want to get married (someday). Other than that, I’m not sure what the heck I want. I have no clue what kind of job I want to do. I have no idea where I want to live. I can’t even figure out if I like some things or not. Take teaching for instance: This is something I’m somewhat good at. I love kids. I would be able to coach. The whole summer break would be an added bonus (I know you hate to hear this one teachers but I can’t deny that it does make it all the more appealing). But still, in the end if I’m being truly honest, I would have to say that it’s not something that I would wake up in the morning and say “I can’t wait to go to work today!” Does this happen? Do people REALLY find jobs that they’re passionate about? If they do, are they just lucky or did they work to get there somehow? I have passions but I have yet to figure out how to mold them into a profession. They’re either not applicable to the workforce or I’m not good enough at them to do them professionally.
But guys, this discovery that I DON’T know what I want was actually a pretty big step. I have been doing the same things for so long (school, working out, hangin out with friends, working whatever job I happened to be working at at the time) that I just assumed that this was what I was supposed to be doing. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but were my time and money and energy being utilized to pursue the things that I ACTUALLY want in life, that I actually will find joy in? I told a friend that it’s not so much that I don’t know what I want…it’s just that I don’t know where 1. What I want. 2. What’s realistic and 3.What God wants meet. So, realizing that I don’t know these things has made me take a step back and look…and think…and pray…and hopefully eventually find myself.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My First Steps

Even as I sat in the train station waiting for my "train to adventure" to arrive, I expected something to go wrong. I have grown to doubt and even expect sometimes that things will not work out the way I want them to. Many times this has turned out for the best: not getting the job and getting a perfect one instead (I'm talkin about you Glendale), halting a (who knows) possible successful run at basketball because of a freak elbow injury to instead being able to devote a good amount of time to people I love, never hearing a clear calling from God as to what the heck I'm doing instead being able to live each day in faith; waking up, breathing in the new day and never expecting or wanting more than what is there. But this time, I (foolishly perhaps) didn’t want to be shown an alternate thing, even if it turned out to be better. SPAIN had been pacing back in forth for a year and a half in waiting and I was ready to tell it to sit down and relax. “I’m on my way”. Perhaps it isn't even Spain. Maybe it's just change, opportunity, adventure...or just the chance to have something to make mine. I have no wife, children or career that I can call my own. Stepping off of the plane I in some way felt as though I had my own story, my own existence. But it happened. A train ride, two flights and a cab ride and I am breathing in Spanish air.

I am in Spain.

So my buddy Kevin and I chose to use our daytime for apartment hunting, church hunting, looking at Skype, and finding info about the city and our school. At night, we WALKED. We walked all over the city till our feet hurt (literally, we didn’t even use the metro until we had already been in Madrid for two weeks). We got lost and argued about which direction was north at least once each night, going from street to street each one jutting diagonally to the other. Waiting around the next corner could very well be a beautiful park with multiple fountains and ancient statues or an abundance of lights and people eating tapas or a string of shops and stores selling just about anything you could possibly want. I will say despite it being cliché that this city is alive only because if it can be applied to any city it is certainly this one. Dinner doesn’t even happen until at least 9:00 on weekdays and 11:00 on Friday and Saturday. Bars are EVERYWHERE and are about as diverse as they are numerous. There are karaoke bars, discotheque bars, Jazz bars, tapas bars,salsa bars,flamenco bars, traditional Spanish bars, and Irish pubs. And there are just as many restaurants as bars; paella, churros, gazpacho, kabob, pasta, shrimp, tapas and more. Every night is an opportunity to eat, drink and have a night on the town. The city really doesn’t ever sleep (except on Sundays). My instructor here told me that people almost never walk alone and that you will get the least amount of sleep in your life while living in Madrid. I have found both to be true.

Within the first few days of apartment searching, a man had an ad for a two bedroom apartment in a good location in the city. We of course sent him a reply in interest. Initially he seemed very legit. He gave us the address of the apartment, offered to show us papers that he legally owned the place and even told us a little info about himself and his family. The only problem was that he no longer lived in Madrid. His job took him and his family to London so we would have to mail him the 500 Euro deposit before he would send us the keys. This of course didn’t fly. I suggested that he send the keys to a friend or lawyer here in the city and then we could give them the money. He never once addressed this option. He even got pretty aggressive and angry in his words telling me that he was getting tired of “all of these e-mails back and forth!” and saying “if you can’t have trust in this world, what can you have!” Howbout 500 Euros? We kicked him to the curb and went back into the tiresome and frustrating search for a somewhat cheap, somewhat comfortable, somewhat close apartment. We eventually found a great studio for two people for 800 (utilities included [more pics on facebook]) a month in the heart of the city. It’s not a palace but its home for now. And we didn’t get scammed out of money we didn’t have to lose (a few of our classmates weren’t so lucky).

My classes to get certified to teach English started on the 28th. They last from 9:30 to 3:00 which isn’t terribly long and we have several breaks throughout the day which makes it feel like it’s going a little faster. We have covered teaching methods (both good and bad), public speaking, common difficulties for teachers and students of English, and LOTS of grammar. I had assumed that I would be ok with my knowledge of grammar because I practically majored in it and I have done reasonably well, but I’ve certainly built up a considerable amount of rust that needed to be scrubbed off. The teaching methods portion has been really awesome too. When I worked at Glendale I felt very under qualified and obviously lacking experience going into the year. Luckily I had a sweet staff that was merciful when I made a mistake or when I just didn’t know what the heck I was doing. So this has been really helpful as far as giving me at least a little educational instruction. I’m gonna get my first students two weeks from now. I have 3 sessions scheduled so far. The oldest kid is seven and the youngest one is three. I’m not exactly sure yet what my lesson plans are going to involve but I’m thinking they’re going to have lots of pictures, crafts, singing, dancing and coloring which I have to admit I’m kinda excited (and a bit nervous) about. For some reason having my one year of experience working with the muchachos at Glendale didn’t shake all of the jitters out of my system.

As you know my first two loves are Jesus and basketball so I wanted to get plugged in as soon as possible to both of em. I just recently found a basketball league that plays every Sunday and practices every Wednesday. The talent level isn’t spectacular but hey I get to feel the leather on my fingertips and work up a sweat at least twice a week. I’ve also found two churches (one English speaking and one Spanish speaking) to go to. I’ll go to the Spanish one this weekend for the first time. I went to the English speaking one this past Tuesday. It was a sort of house church thing with a dinner and the whole shabang. It seemed pretty cool.

That’s all for now homies. Despite having a great time here, I miss you all so much I try not to think about it. Skype isn’t working all that great lately but I’ll continue to try to call and I’ll certainly be in touch by e-mail. Let me know what’s goin on on your end. Till next time.