Without fail, and in perfect British English, the first question is always, “Have you got a boyfriend?” *

I find myself standing in front of group after group of high school students, and of course they want to know about my dating life. The teachers introduce me enthusiastically as “Cassandra, from the United States. You can ask her anything. Make her questions!” The students take this offer seriously. They want to know:

–       Do you like hot dogs?

–       Have you been to Seattle?

–       What do you think of America having a black president?

–       Do you know Michael Jackson?

–       Do you like Hannah Montana?

–       What’s your favorite soccer team?

–       What’s your favorite color?

(Sometimes this came out as What is your color favorite?)

–       What do you think of Spanish men?

–       Do you prefer blondes?

–       What is your favorite drink?

–       Do you eat fish and chips?

–       Which is better, Arkansas or Spain?

Two boys threw me question after question about guns and hunting. (“Do you have a firearm?” “Have you shot a gun?”) Then, they shocked the teacher by asking if I had a tattoo. “That is very, very personal,” she responded for me, shooting the boys a glare reserved for special occasions.

The students I’m working with span the ages of 12 to 19. There are many immigrants from South America and Africa, and, as one teacher pointed out, there are also a number of gypsies. To my untrained eyes and ears, most of these groups are difficult to differentiate from the native Spaniards. The easiest minority to pick out is that of the deaf, of which there are two or three students in each of my classes.

Interesting school observations:

1)    All of the departments have individual meeting rooms as well as a collective teacher’s lounge.

2)    Today the aforementioned teacher’s lounge was filled with sweets, as one of the educator’s was celebrating her patron saint’s day.

3)    The older students are allowed to leave the campus during the twenty-five minute break. They go to the corner bar for a coffee, or to a nearby bakery to pick up something to eat.

4)    Dress codes seem nonexistent. I’ve seen students wearing belly shirts, spaghetti straps, and every sort of facial piercing imaginable.

5)    There is a locked gate to the school, and the main door is locked, as well. Each time I need in or out I have to buzz the secretary who then opens the door. (This created quite a difficult moment my first day of school when I arrived and wasn’t sure how to enter the premises. I obnoxiously rang the secretary’s bell 6 or 7 times before the poor man came outside to show me which part of the gate was open.)

The outside of my school (and the tricky gate, which is normally closed)

*The only variation on this theme was “Have you got boyfriends?”