The Barcelona Four…

…are not in this picture.  The Barcelona Four decided to spend the weekend in, well, Barcelona.  An awesome idea!  Fantastic!  Outstanding in all respects but one!   They did not tell ME!  Barcelona is a marvelous city and about as far away as you can get from Toledo and still be in Spain.  I’m not going to micromanage these people, they are adults, but the University and their parents , especially their parents I’m pretty sure, like to think that I am keeping tabs on things. I’m not naming names, they know who they are, but forevermore they will be the Barcelona Four to me.

Long weekends are great, except when they’re not, so I  wanted to touch base with everyone today and make sure that all is well.  We all went to one of their hangouts and had a coffee and pastry and I got to hear some stories.  It was everything I needed to get a full night’s sleep tonight!  Almost everyone has at least one story about having to work themselves past a communication problem or some weird encounter in a restaurant or store.  I learned where you can get the “best hamburger in town” but, being from the land of THE best hamburgers in the WORLD, Texas, my jury is still out until I have one myself.  These hamburgers will get their day in court muy pronto.  Did you check out Mary’s shades in the picture?  Aren’t those great?!  If you click on the pictures you get a larger version.  That’s one of Spain’s military academies in the background.  On occasion there are some loud booming sounds coming from their general direction.  There’s also a guy in town who sets off what must be a pretty good firecracker when his teams score a goal.  He either has a lot of teams or his TEAM is very good!

Anyways, some couldn’t come for coffee and some came late because their host families were having other family and friends over and making a big deal about the day.  This is the best way to meet good people and get invited to see and do new things.  I’m happy that everyone else is happy and making friends and getting out and speaking lots of Spanish and are being taught many local customs by their families and a hundred things I was told over coffee.  What a great time!  Just so they show up in class Tuesday morning with their homework done and ready to do some work and EARN that college credit that costs so much.

I think I did a good job in choosing the group, even the Barcelona Four, and everything is looking up from my perspective.  I gave control of the Facebook page to Hannah Grace yesterday and she is setting it up so that the students will be posting a lot of their pictures there.  I’ll probably lose a big chunk of my audience to someone else doing a better job at my own web page.  It’s all good!  I will have more pictures and commentary here, as I go, so, for a comprehensive take on what we are up to, check in on both from time to time as well as the other blogs.  I have yet another good one I want to link to but, again, there is some technical issue and my IT department has been slow to respond.  It may have something to do with having a two month old, first baby ruling the roost so I’ll just be patient.  In the meantime you might check out what Lucas Reilly has been up to at:

He is about to graduate with a degree in photojournalism, if I decide to pass him in his classes here :), and has good stuff.

The Barcelona Four are currently on the bus back and I’m pretty sure we’ll have some new adventures to talk about in a day or two.

Pants on Fire

This is not how it was supposed to go.  I put the two weather feeds on the blog so that everyone back in Athens could have one more reason to be jealous of us.  Apparently Athens is going to have a much milder time of things for a while and we are being warned about an impending cold front.  This Spanish cold front wouldn’t even be noticed back at O.U. but we’re still losing this race and I DON’T LIKE IT!  I consulted the National Weather Service, the European Weather Agency and the all-knowing Wikipedia.  Someone’s lying and I DON’T LIKE IT!

The Patron Saint of Toledo, and dozens of other places, has his day this coming Monday and we’re all looking forward to seeing what Toledo is going to do.  We have been warned that all the shops, banks, etc. will be closed.  Hopefully so that they can get out the fireworks and such.  There will be some concerts here and there but I’ve yet to find a full rundown of events.

Everything is running smoothly and I’m feeling a little ignored.  I was THE most important go-to guy for a couple of days but everybody has seemed to figure out what needed figuring out and they are all out doing what college students do.  One of those things is to avoid all contact, as much as they can, with their professors.  It is actually a very good thing that they are settling in, and what I hoped for, but, it was nice to be needed if just for a couple of days.

Another student has a pretty good blog going but my blog won’t let me add it.  I get some error code with some complicated coding language that looks to me more like the math they use to decide where all the asteroids are going to be on any given moment.  My friend back at O.U. understands these things and I will get him on it but in the meantime you might check out, (Emily Bohatch), to get a dose of some of her insights into things.

Not My First Rodeo

What an awesome walk to “work” this morning!  Up and down narrow, cobble-stoned streets with the Cathedral’s bells ringing and all the doves cooing from the balconies and rooftops.  I’m pretty sure they are pigeons but after a long discussion with the ESTO director, well, she used the Spanish word for dove and I explained about my ideas of pigeons versus doves but she wouldn’t be swayed.  Why is it there is never a good ornithologist around when you need one?  Whatever the heck they are, they really added to the morning.  The sun was just coming up and golden against all the stone buildings and, …and I don’t know.  The morning just seemed custom made for a great beginning.

Being “not my first rodeo”, I understood a little better than some of the students that I was only half-sure of where I was supposed to be and left early enough to feel my way around the buildings where the majority of classrooms are.  The University bought up several blocks of centuries-old churches, a monastery and a convent and restored them into a beautiful, interconnected complex of patios, classrooms, the main library and I don’t know what else.  The photo above is of all of us with Dr. Juana María Blanco Fernandez, the Director of Academics, in front of my very first classroom in Spain (the door on the right).  A couple of people got there late this morning, I guess this WAS their first rodeo, and someone would get an “I’m lost” text and someone would go out and find them.  It all worked out just fine.  I have grilled a lot of the students and have been told some stories.  Yesterday had many thinking themselves lost at some point in their wanderings, a couple of people were “locked-out” of their homes (really just one of those tricky-lock things) and, I don’t know if one student even knows this, but his “mom” got worried that he hadn’t made it home at some point and was already calling Leticia at home before sending out the cavalry to find him.  Leticia says it really wasn’t that late but the host families sometimes over-worry, especially on the first day.  I’m not going to rat out the offenders.  Nobody did anything that isn’t expected as we get settled.  When I studied abroad in Mexico a hundred years ago, I had one of those tricky-lock moments.  It was aggravated by the fact that across the street was a bus stop full of waiting people having a good time watching the gringo who couldn’t even open his own front door.  It’s hard to preserve one’s Joe Cool image in these situations.

I think we’re off to a good start!

The best laid plans…

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley – Robert Burns 1785

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – Charles Dickens 1859

I’ve got a little black book with my poems in.
Got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb in.
When I’m a good dog, they sometimes throw me a bone in. – Pink Floyd 1979

So while I was last writing about metaphorical storms, real storms were headed for the same airports as the students.  It was a long day but now everyone is where they’re supposed to be and classes begin in a few hours.  The flight I most expected to be delayed, Chicago, got here right on time.  Almost everyone else got here late.  There was nothing to do but sit or stand next to the exit and scan every face that came through the door.  Finally, after almost four hours of waiting, Mara, Emma and Helena came rolling through with their big luggage and tired smiles.  It was, for me, a lot of fun to see my people finally begin to arrive and describe their ordeals in Spanish.  Maggie, from the Chicago flight, slipped through while we were yukking it up and, according to her, looked at a hundred bald guys before she finally saw my bald head walking by.  She cracks me up!  How she knows that I won’t freak out and give her an F on everything, I don’t know.  I need to start wearing ties or something.

After collecting everybody from Terminal 4 that was going to be there for a while, we went to Terminal 1 and found that bunch standing under a big “Lost and Found” sign.  You just can’t plan something so perfect!  Someone in the group has a good sense of irony.  I hope someone got a picture.

Somewhere around 10 or 11 we had all but two.  Chris was on the plane with the longest delay and Kylie got to Lisbon too late for her connection and spent the day waiting in line for a different flight to Madrid.  She did a good job of it but I had to cut the bus loose to get everybody else to Toledo, to their families, and something to eat.  So I wandered around, slept some and read some for a few more hours until finally Kylie came through the door grinning and we took the train back.  It was a really long and anxious day until we got to Toledo and, consulting a list I had, we took a taxi from the train station to her family’s house.  There was a typo in the address and we had to guess at which button to push and while I was having a strange conversation with some poor woman who answered her intercom, “dad” and “sis” came walking up behind us.  They were waiting for us at the train station but we didn’t know that and they didn’t know what we looked like.

But anyways, what a great family!  They were super nice to Kylie and invited me to have dinner with them.  While mom was preparing dinner, dad took us in his car on a tour of Toledo where you get some really nice views like the one attached to this article.  I think that Toledo at night is the prettiest city I’ve ever seen.  No exaggeration.  Beautiful!  He took us to an old restored inn, a tapas bar now, with a roaring fire and really, really good olives.  We had something to drink, nice conversation and then went home to a real meal and more getting to know each other.  Good people!  Good food!  A really nice way to end a pretty stressful day.  It was great watching Kylie use her Spanish in her new home and I also enjoyed spending time with her all the way back to Toledo.

I hope that circumstances allow me to get to know my students better than I usually do on campus.  Months ago when I was interviewing candidates for the program, I allowed time for each student to ask me anything they wanted.  One of my questions to each of them had been “What one thing about the program interests you most?”  When I asked Mara if she had any questions for me, she returned my own question and caught me by surprise.  It is a complicated answer about wanting to work on something important to my sense of why I became a teacher in the first place.  In short, it is something personal and hard to explain in a few words.  As frustrating, tiring, and just plain long as today was, it is days like today that I’m looking for from the program.  Not the waiting part but the being in the right place at the right time when, out of the blue, something really special happens part.  As Pink Floyd says, sometimes life throws you a bone!

We’ll see what happens today when classes begin.

The Calm Before the Storm

I’m done with airports and trains for a while. I have a few things in the fridge, my clothes are in the closet and Willie is singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (from my laptop, I’m pretty sure he is nowhere near here). This has been one long day getting settled into my apartment in Toledo (the one in Spain) and right now is one of those moments that never last long enough. Thirteen months of ups and downs, 600+ hours of work, writing and answering 1500 e-mails, filling out forms and going to workshops and attending meetings on this, that and the other. Indulge me patting myself on the back and feeling pretty good right now. Tonight I sleep with a sense of satisfaction and peace that is way too rare. I can sleep-in tomorrow, go down the block to one of a dozen cafes and read the paper, drink a very good coffee and watch a Saturday morning unfold in a very special place.
The calm before the storm.
Tomorrow night I go back to Madrid and find a hotel near the airport so that I can get up with before the chickens to be standing at the gate when the first of twenty eight of my students comes off the planes.  They will be arriving on nine different airplanes arriving at three different terminals from 6:00 a.m until 8:45. Somehow I’ll get all of them and their luggage on the same bus with Hannah Grace and Leticia from the University here.  From there we will all go to Toledo, passing into the walled city through gates built centuries ago to keep out some very determined armies. In a medieval building on a narrow, cobble-stoned street, everyone will be met by their families and taken to their new home away from home to begin what should be the one semester of their academic career that they will most remember for the rest of their lives.

I like my apartment.  It has everything I need and many modern renovations.  I am fascinated that the structure was built in the 16th century.  I have exposed ceiling beams that were hand-carved and placed there some 500 years ago by people who could have never conceived  of some guy from across the ocean sitting beneath their work and communicating to potentially anyone on the planet with a little machine. I doubt they understood much about the idea of a planet (or an ocean).  I’ve read that in medieval times most Europeans never wandered more than five miles from their home.  I wonder though, when they were done with their work, if they had the time to pause for a moment and feel this good about all they had built.  If so, what was the storm after their calm?  There’s always more work to be done, the next step to be taken.  I doubt that they were as excited as I am about the next day’s labors.  And the next, and the next…
The calm of this evening is really, really nice but, by tomorrow evening, I will be ready for the real work to begin!  Let’s see what develops.

To begin:

Hi!  I’m Keith Woodall and I am a Lecturer of Spanish at Ohio University and in a little over a month I have the privilege of leading a very special group of 28 Ohio University students to Toledo, Spain where I will teach and direct the program with the help of our Teaching Assistant, Hannah Grace Morrison, who is a student in our Master’s program.

Among our students we have several Business majors, Journalists, Photojournalists, one Pre-Dental School, one Pre-Medical School, one who is studying to be a Midwife, various people from Visual Communications, Speech Pathology, Psychology majors, one accountant and one studying Actuarial Science.  Several are enrolled in the Honors Tutorial College and all are either minoring or double-majoring in Spanish.  We are from all parts of Ohio but also have three connected to Alabama.  We come from as far east as Boston and as far west as Texas. There are eight musicians, four athletes, and twelve who have done a lot of great volunteer work in their spare time.  All are nervous and excited for the opportunity to travel to such a beautiful, historic and exotic place to study for a semester.  I am proud to be directing such a group, the best, I believe, that our University has to offer.  If Ohio University had a Seal Team Six, this would be it!

Hannah Grace and I will be arriving a couple of days early to make sure that all is ready for the most intensive, academic and cultural, life-enriching experience that any university could offer.  If this isn’t the best study-abroad program ever, I would like to see the one that is!  Big words, I know, but this group is going to accomplish a lot and I’ll be posting our achievements for the world to see.

Some of the students are also blogging and I have them linked on the right margin of this page so that everyone will have the opportunity to get a variety of perspectives on what is going on.  Stay tuned…!