If my maths teachers could see me now

Intermediate School 

For the record, if you’re not from NZ, intermediate is a two-year school after primary school (elementary) and before high school (often called College in New Zealand). Intermediate is most Kiwi kids’ 7th and 8th year of schooling, and students are usually 11-ish when they start, like the first year of Hogwarts, but with fewer owls. Because we start school at 5, we have 13 years of schooling, now called Years 1-13, although when I went, it was New Entrants and J1, J2 (J standing for Juniors), and Standards 1-4 at primary school, followed by Form 1 and Form 2 at intermediate and 3rd-7th form at high school. Kindy (Kindergarten) is for 3 and 4 year olds.

In 1996 I first started to get the idea that maths wasn’t cool. Also, it was a bit boring, and we seemed to do the same stuff over and over again. Continue reading

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How do you do that?

I had a question from a student.
“How did you learn to like reading?”
I thought for a moment.
“I don’t remember not liking it.”
His face fell.

Here is a student who wants to learn. This is the thing all teachers dream of. We think our jobs, nay, our lives would be so much better (unicorns and rainbows!) if only all students would feel this way. It’s a lot to ask. Teenagers are not well known for thinking logically, taking responsibility or making good decisions. Wanting to learn, and figuring out how to learn, are not easy things to do. Continue reading

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Word Crimes

Word Crimes. I love the general response to this song. For a long time, I’ve been that person who corrects everyone else’s spelling and grammar, both online and in person. Some of you may remember passing me notes in lectures only to have them returned with proofreading marks all over them. I would like it to be known that I never intended to be hurtful or imply stupidity when doing this (although it’s always tempting to write, “You can’t even [spell, use apostrophes, capitalise],” when dealing with people I don’t agree with online), but I realise now that sometimes people are offended and I come off as condescending and/or cruel. As someone who has always loved the sometimes seemingly arbitrary rules of the English language, it has taken me a long time to understand that some people just don’t get it, and just don’t care. Continue reading

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I are Englishee teachuh

It wasn’t easy, but I finished my CELTA training. I’m now qualified to teach people how to speak good Englandian (/ɪŋ’glændɪən/). Although I’d like to go with more of a NewZilnd approach, I often find myself Europising (/’jurə,pɑɪzɪŋ/) my language, which generally involves introducing myself as /ema/ rather than /ɪma/ and pronouncing ‘r’s that don’t exist in New Zealand.

The final week was somewhat of a struggle, and for reasons I don’t really wish to divulge, I ended up handing in my last two assignments a few days late. My final lesson got trash-talked by the tutor, but other than that, I’m pretty much happy with how it went. I think if they were assessing me on everything up until day 18 (the course was 24 days), I’d have gotten a really good grade, but I think now I’ll have to settle with just a pass. It was a really useful course and I’m sure my teaching has improved and will continue to.  After my final class, we had a bit of a party with the students – everyone from the upper-intermediate class was there except for Merce, and from the pre-intermediates Mari Carmen and Maria Jose also showed up! It was nice to get to talk to them on a personal level and share some jokes.

I ended up doing my final lesson on the song Moonshadow, even though my tutor didn’t think it was a good idea. I didn’t have to time to find a new one and write a decent lesson plan and design new tasks for it. I made the song work in class, and I think the students engaged with it, but my tutor didn’t like it right from the start. Don’t get me wrong, she had valid reasons for not thinking it was appropriate for the level I was teaching, but I do think she closed her mind to it a little too early on (i.e. before the class even started).

I finished the last assignment this morning – it took me all of an hour – and handed everything in this morning at 11am. Kate, Simon, Penny and I retired to the Porxada square for drinks in the sun. Steve came out to join us, and so did Penny’s sister Anastasia. It was a super hot and sunny day, but not yukky sticky hot like Korea was. It was really just lovely. Kate, Simon and I went for lunch afterwards – Menu del dia – and were thoroughly confused by the menus until we realised they were in Catalan, not Spanish! The meal wasn’t great but the company was and it was nice to spend some time with my co-trainees with no stress hanging over us.

I got home full of determination to catch up on everything I’ve avoided in the last week – cleaning, cooking, washing, blogging, emailing, exercising, writing – and promptly fell asleep in the sun. Happyface.

Final comments on CELTA: it’s definitely worthwhile, but I recommend choosing the five week option (like the one I did) if you can’t find a part-time course. I don’t know how anyone gets it done in only four weeks. And yes, it’s overpriced, but I’ve resigned myself to overpriced education. It’s an unhappy fact of life. I receive my report within a week, and my certificate in a couple of months.

In other news, I’m not going to be teaching English at summer camps in England this summer as I thought I would be. I got a much better job offer, from Pax Lodge in London. Pax Lodge is one of the four World Centers of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), and I will be taking the position of Guest Services Co-ordinator. It’s a six month live-in position, and anyone who knows me will be aware that I’ve been a part of the Girl Guides movement since I was a seven-year-old Brownie in 1992, and I love it. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to work for an organisation I care about that’s doing good things in the world. It means my teaching career is on hold, but for now, this is the better option.

Speaking of good things, tomorrow (5 June) is World Environment Day. I only just discovered this so I’m not yet sure what action I will take. I’ll probably do something really simple like walk around the neighbourhood picking up rubbish.  A friend I met in Korea (Cliff) started a facebook group called Month Without Plastic in response to the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico (as if we didn’t have reason to dislike BP before). It’s going to be insanely difficult, but I’m willing to face up to the challenge. I dare you to try, too. Try even living a normal day without buying any new plastic. A week, even. Do the full month. I don’t claim the idea doesn’t have flaws, but I think, at least on a personal level, it will be an interesting experiment and we will all learn a lot about how big a part of our lives plastic plays.

I intend to blog about my attempts to not buy any new plastic from the 17th of June until the 17th of July. Keep an eye out. I’ll also be providing links so you can find out more information, and trying to settle into a new job at the same time (I start in late June), so check back.

Tomorrow I’m gonna do all that cookingcleaningwashing etc stuff, then get writing some more.


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Montserrat rocks!

Another week down, I’m now more than half way through my course, which seems ridiculous, because I only just started! We’re having a change of class this coming week, so for the rest of our time we’ll be teaching upper-intermediate students instead of lower intermediates. Will be fun to get to know a new group of learners and try out some new stuff with them.

I recently realised a grave error made by Kate, Simon and myself. Having neglected to get our drink on together early on in the course, we have doomed ourselves to eternal polite-classmate-ship. I understand Simon’s hesitancy to spend time with Kate and I outside of class time – after all, he’s more than twice our age, and he’s a reserved and very Britishly polite guy, so he’d probably think it was inappropriate, but let’s be honest, there are three of us on the course, we’re all going through the same thing, it makes sense for us to be friends, right? I’ve been known to voice my opinions on old people in the past, and I’m clearly not a fan, but ‘old’ in my book doesn’t include people who travel the world and learn new things and are generally self-sufficient. It’s the feeble old snails-pacers who do nothing but complain all day and judge young people and create a burden on society who I don’t like. There’s a difference.

Of course, it didn’t have to be alcohol that theoretically could have brought the three of us together, either, although that is the best icebreaker I know of. There just seemed to be a reluctance right from the start to bond on a personal level, spend any time together outside of class, or even share jokes. The three of us seem to be quiet keep-to-ourselvesers. I’ve made efforts, but to little effect.

Yesterday, however, Kate and I spent 13 hours together, and it was a good day. We’re still not close friends or anything (there’s a reserved politeness between us – she keeps apologising for wanting to do things. Um… you’re out of your home country for the first time in your life: you can do anything you want!) Maybe it’s me, I’m beginning to wonder – do I keep people away? I like to think I’m approachable and non judgmental (okay, except when it comes to annoying old people). Maybe not. Oh well.

We arranged to meet at 8.45 at Granollers Centre train station. I didn’t leave the house until 8.11, so had to half run to get there in time (oops), but we left for Barcelona on schedule. Now, anyone who has travelled with me before will know I’m the type of person who likes to know where I am on the map, and what direction I should go in next at all times. I’m the organised one, the one who shows others where to go and how to do things. Not yesterday. Kate had done all the online research and I followed like a lost puppy as she led me off the train at the right time and onto the correct platform to wait for the next one. It was quite relaxing, although she does tend to worry too much. I guess that’s why I usually like to do that stuff, then I know I’m the only one who’s worrying (if I am, which, to be honest, isn’t actually all that often, and probably should be more often, considering the amount of times I travel alone). I don’t like other people being stressed when I’m trying to enjoy myself. If I’ve organized everything, then I can reassure people there’s nothing to worry about. Of course, I constantly try to reassure Kate that there’s nothing to worry about – for example when she’s apologising for the train being late, or going crazy thinking about a class she thinks she messed up when clearly it was a very good class and she has nothing to be concerned about – but it never seems to do any good. Some people like to worry, I guess.

So it was without any unexpected even that we arrived at Montserrat, a monastery in the hills about an hour and half from Barcelona. The rock formations in the hills are strangely fascinating, and I kept expecting to see faces looking down at me from them. For some reason, the first thing I thought of when we got off the train was Mount Rushmore. Having never been in the U.S.A, I’ve never actually seen Mt Rushmore, so I only have vague memories from pictures and films to go by.


The train ride to Monistrol was long and uneventful. Kate and I kept setting each other off with yawns – a contagious cycle. The last ten minutes or so was nice, though, as we got well out of the city and into the green country, where grey rocks jut into the sky. At Monistrol, we changed to the cremallera (track train – although I’m not sure why it needs to be specified as a track train, as I’m pretty sure other trains use tracks, too) to get up the hill. With the scenery, this was a far more interesting ride, and we arrived at the top full of expectations for a day of exploring.

The basilica at Montserrat

We first headed to the Basilica and wondered at the long line that extended out the door to the right hand side. Inside, we realised the queue was for a close encounter with the virgin statue, famous for some reason or other, that was high above the altar at the front of the room. The stained glass windows were pretty and it was pleasant inside, which is basically my impression of every church or basilica or similar building I’ve ever been in as a tourist. I just can’t bring myself to get more interested than that. Although I did notice the pipe organ looked cool, and there were stands in the alcoves of the upper floor that looked like they were sniper rifles pointed at various places throughout the place. If they’d been manned I would have been a bit freaked out. I people watched for a short time – the most fascinating thing to do nearly anywhere, but particularly in a church – then left. Wandering through a side door, we discovered rows of prayer candles and a cute statue of I-don’t-quite-know-what, but that reminded me of the Peter Pan statue in the Dunedin Botanical Gardens.

Prayer Candles

I suspect it may be a flowerfairy

But that feather-covered spinal fin confuses me

Kate wanted to see the virgin statue out of artistic curiosity (one of the things she kept apologising for, and I kept assuring her was quite alright), but we decided the line was too long and headed off to explore the area. We deftly avoided the audio visual complex, although we’d paid for it in our combination ticket, and found somewhere to buy sunscreen and refill our water bottles. It was a beautiful day and if I hadn’t bought that sunscreen I would now be in a considerable amount of pain. We took a path that said “Via Crusis” and was supposed to be a 20 minute walk. I got distracted and took us up a steep, rubbly forest path past rock climbers that eventually ended in a dead-end, at which point I cheerily turned around and walked back. I don’t think Kate was quite as chuffed with me as I was with myself. It’s nice to be the fit one for once. The track was shaded and birds sang, but I suspect Kate missed some of its beauty for all the worrying she was doing.

Trick of light

We stopped for lunch in the dappled half-shade of a tree, where I took photos of a monument through the tree, which puzzled me when I looked at them today: it looks like part of a branch is invisible and you can see the monument behind it.

Or maybe it’s just my overactive imagination.

After lunch we took the funicular up above the main monastery and from there took another enjoyable jaunt around the hills, for magnificent views good exercise and just generally exploring. We accidentally interrupted a couple of guys getting stoned on the very edge of a terrifyingly steep drop-off, sat in the sun, and found some goat droppings. Again, I don’t think Kate garnered quite as much amusement from the detour as I did.


happy trail

When we got back to the bottom of the funicular, it was ice-block time (although Americans get strange mental images of people carrying massive blocks of ice on their backs when you call them that instead of popsicles). I sat in the sun and read Bill Bryson’s entertaining Notes from a Small Island while Kate got in line to see the virgin. By the time she came out, clouds had covered the sun and we took another short walk for more views before heading back down the mountain. It got quite blustery, although not quite chilly just before we caught the cremallera.

The train back to Barcelona was again uneventful; we had dinner (Paella, chicken and chips and custard and strawberries for dessert!) near Espanya metro station, and got on the unusually crowded train back to Granollers. We arrived at 9.45 and both felt good after a nice day out sightseeing. Kate lives in Granollers, so probably got home around 10. It took me 45 minutes to walk back to the empty house (Raquel and Guillem are away for the weekend), and when I got there I was exhausted. The dogs greeted me happily and I gave them some food before intentionally hitting my pillows with my face.

Writing? I’ve been doing a lot of character development lately, building up more solid ideas of characters I want to work with in the future, but don’t have stories for just yet. Also finished my second assignment for CELTA and have been kept busy with lesson planning.

Am enjoying the twice weekly markets and the sunshine and the teaching and the learning. Miss the friends and whanau at home. Generally enjoying myself.


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I found the house of books

I have to say, Spain has really put on the weather today! Sadly, I’ve had to stay inside all day doing my assignment.

We had a long weekend. A local* holiday meant I didn’t have to go to school on Friday. Despite this, I’ve still had a very unproductive weekend. I did, however, go to Barcelona for the day yesterday. I sat on the tourist hop-on-hop-off bus and listened to the seemingly random commentary. I wandered around the streets, enjoyed the architecture (okay, mainly just the Gaudi stuff. Architecture in generally doesn’t interest me, but it’s hard not to be taken in by the whimsical world of Gaudi), ate a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (Ben, Jerry, you need to make your move on New Zealand. If you don’t, I may never go home), and found a bookshop. Wallet lighter, bag heavier, I returned to Canovelles in the rain. It’s only a half hour walk to the train station and half an hour in the train to Barcelona, so I really should do it more often. Because it was raining when I got back, I waited for a bus instead of walking, and successfully caught it, and even got off at the right stop! In addition, I made old people smile by standing up so they could take my seat when the bus got full. Okay, so old people are my least favourite people in general, but they’re still people (well, I have no proof otherwise, so I’m running with this assumption), and making people smile makes me happy.

You know what else makes me happy? Not writing assignments. Pity it’s not something that I have experienced this weekend.

I’ve also not written anything else, except for a few HNZ things (if you don’t know what that is, you probably don’t need to know, unless you like geeky text-based roleplaying things, and then you should email me for more info). To be honest, I haven’t even written any lesson plans, which I really should have done.

In terms of things I have done: I watched the first five Harry Potter movies in a row. I read Yes Man. I spoke fragmented Spanish to the girl in the chocolate shop. (A whole chocolate shop!) I did some stretches on the terrace in the sun. I began The Seven Pillars of Wisdom but felt guilty about it because I haven’t done enough work on my assignment yet. That’s about all. Oh, I played with the dogs and chatted with Raquel and considered going for a run, but decided against it, simply because I don’t actually like running, no matter how good I feel afterwards.

Meh, another crap post. Feel like I should get back to my assignment instead of trying to make it better.

*Local meaning only Granollers. Five minutes down the street, you move into what is technically another town, and everything is open.

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Fun in the sun and everything but Spanish.

Whatever I do here doesn’t really matter. Anything’s gotta be better than my last post.

Woke up this morning to an eerie mist blocking the view. Usually I can see mountains and houses and the chickens next door. Today I could see white. I’d slept in because I stayed up late last night doing my assignment, but getting up at 8 instead of 7 doesn’t really matter when you don’t have to be anywhere until 9.45. Even if it takes 25 minutes to walk to where you have to be.

I was going to bike to school for the first time, but I couldn’t find the helmet. Cool kids wear lids, and I’m cool enough to not want to ride without a helmet, so I walked. Nit, as always, wanted me to play with her before I left, but I wanted to get to school early to ask about the assignment I’m working on, which is going disastrously.

The whole assignment is supposed to be 750 – 1000 words. There are 7 pages of analysis, plus a lexical set list. I finished the first page of analysis and had 424 words. Uh-oh. Definitely over analysing. I asked Kate and Simon, the others on my course, and they both said they were struggling to get enough words. Double uh-oh. I asked my tutor, Penny, and she said I must be over analysing. Ok, so I showed her what I’d done. Her response to each section:

“That doesn’t look like too much; that looks fine; that’s about right; no, that’s fine.”


We chatted a little more and she suggested I just try to cut out some of my examples, so that’s what I’ll do. However, if I get graded down for not having enough examples, I will get growly.

Most of today was revision for me, going over learning styles – something I’ve done a hundred times at school, and half a million times in Guide trainings, so it was pretty cruisy. And today’s lesson wasn’t assessed so I didn’t have to do the bajillions of paperwork. Hooray!

By midday the mist had burnt off, and it was a gorgeous day! After school, there were people everywhere in all the little squares around town, chatting and playing, or watching the kids play. I went to the Mercadona near school to get some more bread – the supermarket in Canovelles doesn’t have grain bread – and ended up with 20 Euros worth of everything and had to get a taxi home. Well, I didn’t have to, but I did, because I didn’t like the idea of a half hour walk with a million kilos of groceries as well as my kazillion text books.

By the way, none of the numbers in my blog are exaggerated. Not one.

The sun was still shining when I got home at 7, so I played with the dogs for half an hour. Vincy used to just watch me and Nit play, but now he joins in. It’s great. The dogs think the object of the game is to get the ball that I have. There are three balls. All flat, because they have been destroyed by the dogs, but that’s no problem. I start with one. I dribble it around until Nit tackles me and runs away with it in her mouth. Then I find another one. I keep kicking it near to Nit until she decides she wants it more than the one she already has, because I’m playing with it. She drops the first ball and attacks the second one. I dribble the first one and kick it near her again, and this repeats until Vincy decides he wants to play, too, then he gets the second ball, and everyone is confused for a moment, because each of the dogs has a ball and I don’t. I find a third one (there are 4 or 5 lying around in the overgrown grass), and start playing with it, and basically we all try to get a ball that someone else has. It’s lots of fun. Vincy always gets tired first, then me, and I don’t think Nit ever tires.

Nit + ball = fun!

Other than schoolwork, there’s not a lot going on for me. Except major confusion in the language department. I guess I’m still in Korean mode ( lived there from July 2008 – November 2009), because whenever I bump into someone or someone holds a door for me or generally just anything where normally I would say ‘excuse me’ or ‘thanks,’ I bow and mumble “gamsa hamnida” or “komapsumnida” (감사합니다, 고맙슴니다). Even when I remind myself not to speak Korean, the bow is so ingrained in my habits that I can’t stop myself. Some people look at me a little strangely.

I can understand very basic Spanish, so when someone asks a question, I can generally answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  However, what comes out is not ‘si‘ or ‘no,’ as it should be, but “ye,” “ne” or “ani” (예, 네, 아니). The first two are yes, the third is a shortened version of anio (아니오), which means no. When I try to think of Spanish, I end up thinking of Korean, which is absolutely no use, although bbang (빵) does sound similar to pan, or bread.

Sometimes, without even thinking, I come out with Finnish for absolutely no logical reason. I haven’t been in Finland since June 2006. The only connection I can think of is that I am surrounded by people speaking English with Spanish accents, which was also often the case in Finland, because there were so many Spanish Erasmus students there. Out for a drink the other night, I said “kippis!” instead of ‘cheers’ or ‘salut,’ although I did manage to stop myself before bringing out “höligenköligen,” or however you’re supposed to spell that. Whenever someone says “Bale?” I say “Kyllä!” Apparently I’m not so good at separating languages that aren’t English.

On the plus side, I haven’t tried to speak to anyone in German, yet, except Raquel’s boyfriend, Guillem, who is studying German and has a big exam coming up in a month. Every time I ask him a question in German, he puts up his hands in an “I surrender” gesture  and refuses to answer. Guess I’d better stick to the old inglés.

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Look! I survived my first week of structure since November!

It was more difficult than I’d hoped, but I stayed awake through all of my classes and even managed to go out for a few drinks with some other teachers and some students last night.

I’m officially over my jetlag but that doesn’t mean I’m thinking straight.

The sun has been out today and I’m in a good mood, although I’ve made very little progress on the assignment that’s due in 4 days.

Finished watching the movie I started the other night while trying to stay awake, and I fully recommend it: The Fall is sweet and beautiful and made me laugh and cry and laugh again.

My thoughts are very disorganised today, so not much I can really write about. Need to focus. I wonder if I can get hold of any bergamot essence here? I used to put it in my oil burner it when I studied in high school and it helped me concentrate.

Haven’t written anything new this week – too many forms to fill out for my classes – usually about three pages of lesson plan, three of aims and analysis, two of notes, one of evaluation, one of observation. The thing I always hated about being a Brownie leader was the paperwork, and I can tell it’s going to be the same with teaching.

Bleh, too lazy to find photos to put with this post. Hopefully I’ll finish my assignment tomorrow and be able to write more after that. Ooh, and I may be going walking in the hills tomorrow! Yuss.

Again with the disorganised, just remembered to mention that we have dates for a mini-Oulu reunion in Barcelona on the weekend of the 19th and 20th of June. Soraya and Alfred live in Barcelona, so they’ll be there; Maite and Maria are flying in, and hopefully some others, too! Yay.

Ok, gonna go do some more work and get my head together.

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A Greek lesson and the river’s revenge.

Γειά σαϛ!

The Greek Alphabet

So, anyone who’s spoken to me in the past couple of months would have heard me brag about how I’m escaping the nasty New Zealand winter for the Spanish sun. To those people, I now apologise. I could see my breath when I was walking home from course today.

I think the river Congost read my blog and was offended at being called ‘piddly,’ because it rained all night and all day, and now the Congost looks slightly more impressive. I got drenched going to school and now it’s only 10º. But it’s okay (I keep reminding myself), the rain is only supposed to last a week, and next week, it’ll be sun sun sun for me! Just in time for when my course-load goes berserk.

I made myself stay awake last night by watching a movie. My body resisted, but I forced my eyes to stay open until it ended. I actually quite enjoyed the movie (The Kite Runner), but I was so happy when it was over because it meant I could go to sleep. That was 11pm. I woke this morning at 6.30am. It’s an improvement on the night before, but I’m still shattered. I wish I was one of those people who could function on just a few hours of sleep a night, but I’m not. Usually I need around 9. Seven and a half doesn’t cut it. Now it’s 7pm and I want nothing more than to crawl into bed. The cold isn’t helping.

Today was the first day of my CELTA course (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). There are only two others in my class: Kate, a girl my age from New York, and Simon, an older Brit who likes to spend as little time in the UK as possible. No cute boys. Sadface.

Most of the day was taken up with administrative and introductory stuff: explaining the course, the assignments, a tour of the building, doing paperwork and so on, but we also did some learning. “Γειά σαϛ,” said Penny, and motioned for us to repeat. “Yasas?” we replied, uncertain. Penny smiled approval at us, “Γειά σαϛ,” she said again, and waved ‘hello.’ The whole lesson was carried out in Greek and it was really interesting to experience that: being taught in an entirely foreign language. It was amazing how well Penny was able to explain what she wanted of us just with intonation and body language. She was speaking as well, of course, but we had no idea what the words meant. We introduced ourselves, learned the numbers 1 to 6 and five different types of drink, and practiced ordering a drink at a cafe. Not bad for beginners. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly experience the fear and embarrassment many students apparently feel when they enter a class room where they don’t understand a word, because I associate learning – and language learning in particular – with fun. I can totally understand being anxious when you’re in a foreign country and you don’t know where you are and you don’t understand anything, but in a class room, I can’t relate. I can imagine how scared some people might be, though, which I guess is the point.

We meet our first class tomorrow – we’ll be working with two different classes throughout the course – and we’ll be left to our own devices with them. Well, with a ‘getting to know you’ lesson plan designed by our instructors, but the instructors won’t be there overseeing us. There’s no homework tonight, so I’m left with nothing to do but think about how good bed would be right now. I could get a head start on the first assignment, but all I can do at this point is read about the grammatical structures we have to analyse, we haven’t learned the rest yet.

I’d love to be able to use this time to write more stories, but I’m literally falling asleep on the keyboard, so it might be movie time again. I dislike you, jetlag.

xoxo Emma

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