Booty from the woods.

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For JL

This photo is especially for my brother, JL, but here it is for your enjoyment as well.  These guys live just up the street from me.

Have a good week!

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Weekend In La Rioja

This weekend: bike rides from one little town to another, tomato salad with Idiazabal cheese, paella, gorgeous sunsets, a tour of the Marqués de Riscal winery, and, most importantly, nice people.  I’m a lucky girl.

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This Year’s Goals

Classes start at Zaraobe Institutua on Monday and I’m pretty excited about it.  You know that back-to-school feeling where you sharpen all your pencils, label the tabs in your binder, and flip through the crisp, blank pages of your spiral notebooks?  Everything feels ready for the possibilities and opportunities for learning the new school year will bring.  I can feel the anticipation in the empty halls at school and it makes me miss being a student so very much.  Luckily, learning doesn’t have to stop when school ends.  I’ve definitely got some plans to keep learning this year.

My main activity and the reason I’m here in the Basque Country to begin with is to teach English.  But this takes up less than 20 hours of my time each week, so I’m left with heaps of free time for other pursuits.  With these two points in mind, these are my principal goals for this school year:

  • Do a great job at my school.  I love the teachers I work with, the students are pretty fun to be around most of the time, and I feel like I have a place here.  This will be my third year, and quite possibly my last, as a teaching assistant here.  While I always strive to do a good job at whatever I undertake, this year I want to do my absolute best, go the extra mile, give more of myself.  It’s hard for me to imagine a new teaching assistant taking my place next year and I’d like the teachers from the English department and my students to feel the same.
  • Take and pass the Euskara A2 Exam.  The Official Language Schools give leveled exams in June every year and this coming June I’ll be sitting the A2 exam for Euskara.  I’ll be starting up again with twice-a-week classes at EPA (Educación Permanente de Adultos, adult continuing education) the week after next and continuing to study on my own as I have all summer.  I figure that even if I don’t end up passing the exam, in preparing for it I’ll have at least made a lot of progress.  With a bit of luck I’ll finally be reading my copy of Harry Potter eta sorgin-harria in a couple more years.  I can’t wait!
  • Practice the cello at least 280 hours.  Yes ladies and gents, I am incredibly happy to announce that I will be learning to play the cello this year.  Back in June I enrolled at the Municipal School of Music here in Amurrio.  I’d planned on keeping it a secret until around Christmastime when I’d send a little video of me playing a simple holiday song to my family and friends back at home.  Then, about about two weeks ago, my little sister mentioned in an email that she was planning to begin learning the cello this year and join the high school orchestra next year.  I couldn’t contain my excitement and had to tell her that not only has she “inherited” my love for sweaters, fall weather, a new school year, and learning (all of which she mentioned in the same email), but we seem to have a special sister connection that’s unaffected by the continent and ocean between us.  So, the secret is out.  I have my first lesson this coming Thursday the 13th.  If I’ve calculated correctly, there are 40 weeks in the School of Music’s school year.  My goal is to practice at least an hour every day and see how much progress I can make in that time.
  • Take advantage of everything my current situation has to offer.  I live in a beautiful place with a rich culture.  I have time on my hands.  I’m still young and in good health.  I speak Spanish.  The only person I’m responsible for is myself.  I have a huge amount of freedom.  Considering all this, I want to meet more people, try new activities, climb more montes, practice the Euskara I’ve learned and learn even more, ask more questions, see new places, read more books about the Basque Country, push the boundaries of my comfort zone.  I hate the thought that this might be my last year living here and that in the future I might never spend more than a few weeks at a time here visiting, but it’s a possibility.  Now is the time to engage.

What are your goals for the 2012-2013 school year?  Will you be learning something new?

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Pictures of Amurrio In August

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Euskara’s Status in the World Today


Last week I came across an interesting presentation about Euskara through the blog A Basque in Boise on EITB English.  This past July, Lourdes Auzmendi, of the Basque Government’s Ministry for Language Policy, spoke to delegates at the North American Basque Organization (NABO) Convention about the Basque language’s current situation.  Her full address is definitely worth reading if the language or languages in general interest you.  Here are a few statistics and observations that stuck out to me:

  • The most recent data shows that approximately 930,000 (nearing a million!) people are able to speak Basque in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (Spain), Navarre (Spain) and the French Basque region combined.  Less than 1% of these speakers are monolingual as nearly all of them also speak either Castilian Spanish or French.
  • In the last 10 years the number of Basque speakers in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (the provinces of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Araba in Spain) has increased by 181,000.  However, only about 20% of Basque speakers use the language on a regular basis.
  • 60% of parents choose for their children to be educated in Basque, 22% opt for a bilingual model, and the remaining 18% have Basque as a subject.
  • I like what she says about Basque outside the schools because this is what I’ve observed where I live: “The main problem that schools face is that children whose mother tongue is Spanish identify “Basque” with “homework”. They usually forget about Basque as soon as they step outside the Ikastola. In general, children in non-Basque-speaking areas speak in Spanish at home and in the street, unless at least one of their parents is Basque-speaking. Despite this, the school has proved to be the cornerstone in the process of reviving the language.”
  • The EGA is an comprehensive exam that proves fluency in Euskara if passed.  Some high school students go through the stress of taking it when they are 16 or 17 while they are still using the language daily at school so it’s fresh in their minds.  They usually take it either because their intended career will require it or just in case they need it for a job in the future.  The exam is given in three parts, each separated by two or three months.  If you fail one part of the exam, you cannot continue in the sequence and have to wait until the next year to take all three parts again.  So, a student who passes the first part in January, but fails the second part in March, cannot sit the third part and must start over again the next year.  If I’m interpreting this statement correctly, students who do their studies in Euskara no longer need to take the EGA exam: “. . . we have drawn up a decree that states that those students who have studied up to High School or University level in Basque no longer need to take exams that provide proof of their proficiency in Basque; from this moment on they will have, as the case may be, their B1, B2, C1 or C2 Common European Framework of Reference Language qualifications directly recognized.”  Wow.
  • A complaint I’ve heard before, evidently a common one since Auzmendi addresses it, is that in its quest to normalize the use of Euskara in the region and respect citizens’ language rights, the Basque government discriminates against potential government employees who are monolingual by requiring all civil servants to speak Euskara.  Her rebuttal: “This is utterly false. Currently, only 44% of Basque Government employees have a qualification that provides proof of their knowledge of the Basque language. That is: it is possible to be a Basque Government employee, even at a high level, without knowing a single word of Basque. Sometimes we forget that the administration is there to serve its citizens, and not the other way around, and that this service includes respect for the various language options that exist in our society.”  Nice.  Also, 44% is quite impressive.
  • And finally, this inspiring sentence: “Some people who have learned Basque as adults have obtained such a command of the language that they have become famous writers in Basque or even members of the Basque Language Academy.”  I can’t imagine reaching that level myself, but it makes being able to read Harry Potter in Basque someday seem like an achievable goal.
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Summer, Part 3: Outside and Inside

On July 31st I hiked in the area of Itxina at Gorbeia with my friend from Amurrio, M, and a guy she knows.  We walked for about five hours over ground that seemed to have rocks growing out of it and through shady birch groves.

I’ve gone a couple of times with M to count butterflies in a sector near Orduña she’s responsible for monitoring during the summer.

While she’s on vacation, I’m mice-sitting four white mice that M, a graduate student in biology, couldn’t bring herself to feed to her snakes at the lab.  Aren’t they cute?

Except for the time that B was here visiting, I’ve tried to maintain a daily study schedule for Euskara.  I’m working my way through the second Bakarka book, which is focused mainly on grammar, and an awesome book of easy readings I found at Elkar called Ehuneko Ehun (“100 per cent”).  Each of the 100 pages has a reading of 100 words or less about a different subject in areas like society, history, environment, etc.  So, it’s like a second grader’s schoolbook, but I can understand it!  Each weekday I read the previous two days’ readings plus a new one and my vocabulary is growing like nobody’s business.

I’ve also been going to the library frequently to study and look for interesting things to read.  There’s a table next to the stairs on the second floor that’s covered in old books that people don’t want anymore and anyone can take them.  These are the ones that have caught my eye so far.  I’ve started reading El Hombre del Traje Gris first because, well, it has Atticus/the dad from The Yearling on the cover.

Posted in Basque Country, Euskara, Hiking, Life | 2 Comments