A Few Months in the Canaries

(by Doug)

June 3, 2001

Hola.  This is just a short little entry.  I thought that some of you might be wondering what kind of house a student in another country lives in.  I can assure you that I do not live in a mansion.  Actually, I live in a fairly small apartment that I share with a few other people.  Most people on Tenerife live in apartments.  People live very closely together here in pretty big buildings.  There are not many houses with large yards like in America.  One of the reasons for this is that Tenerife isn't that big of an island.  Also, a lot of the land here is part of a volcano called el Tiede.  The mountain is too steep to build on, and who would want to live that close to a volcano anyway?  So, most people live in a very narrow strip around the outside of the island. Bye.



June 2, 2001

Hi Everyone.  I'm back after a little break to do some sightseeing and some work.  I would like to share with you the details of a trip I had to take some time ago.

If you go to school in another country, for the most part you will need to get something called a "student visa".  A visa is something that is added to your passport so that you can enter a country.  Different visas have different rules.  For example, my visa here in Spain says that I am only allowed to stay in the country so long as I am working at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, and that I'm not allowed to have a job anywhere else.  Other types of visas may let you enter a country to find a job, to be a tourist, or to seek safety. 

One of the requirements of my visa is that I had to register with the local authorities here on Tenerife.  That way the government of Spain can keep track of the various foreigners in its country.  To help me register with the authorities, my friend Monica offered to translate for me.  We had to drive from La Laguna where the Instituto is, to the Capital of Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife.  Santa Cruz is the biggest city on the island of Tenerife. It is a port city and boats from many places stop here.  We had to go to the Immigration Office.  The guy behind the window gave people paperwork to fill out and also a number.  When they call your number (just like at the meat counter in the grocery store) you get to go back to an office. 

On this day, we had a high number, 23.  This meant that we had to wait a long time.  Waiting, though allowed me to people watch in the waiting room.  There were people from all over the world in this room.  I met people from as far apart as Liberia, Canada, and Germany.  They were waiting to either be allowed into Spain or to be allowed to stay in Spain longer. Eventually, we got called to a back office. 

Unfortunately, the papers that I brought with me from America (papers that the Spanish Embassy told me to bring) were not the same papers that the people in this office wanted.  So, I couldn't register with the authorities at that time.  I would have to go back again.  It was very frustrating because we had to spend a few hours waiting in the very hot waiting room.  But, sometimes that's the way life goes.  To feel better about ourselves afterwards, we went swimming. 

All in all, it was a pretty fun day.  Adios.



April 22, 2001


Don't worry, the pictures are coming.  I don't have a digital camera like Todd and Kristi, so I have to develop my film and scan everything into the computer.  I have developed pictures, but the computer and scanner speak Spanish, so I have to get some help. 

Actually, I wanted to write this letter about speaking Spanish, or language in general.  Have you every counted how many people you talk to during a day?  Have you ever wondered how many people you actually need to talk to during a day?  By living in a country where I don't speak the language, I've had to learn a lot about these questions. 

Before coming to la Canarias, the only Spanish I knew came from Sesame Street.  (How many words do you remember from that show?)  It's hard to talk to other adults when I know less Spanish than most 5 year olds. A lot of times, the only way I can talk to people is by using non-verbal communication.  That can be very frustrating.  It hurts a little bit when I have to say "No habla Espanol" ("I don't speak Spanish") a number of times during the day.  I'm working hard to learn Spanish, but learning a language is something that takes time and practice. 

Here's an example of how important language is in the little details of life: When you see my pictures soon, you'll notice that I need a haircut.  I realize this and want a haircut too.  How much language do you have to know to get a haircut, though? 

You have to find a barber shop. 

When you walk in door, the barber will either tell you to wait or sit in his chair. 

You have to tell the barber how short and in what style you want your hair cut. 

Do you want your hair washed? 

When the barber is done, he will ask you if you like your haircut.  You must answer him one way or the other. 

You have to pay the barber. 

All in all, that ends up being a whole lot of words, and some complex ideas that you have to be able to communicate in a different language.  No, I haven't gotten my haircut yet.  As it turns out, my Irish friend got his head shaved as a result of miscommunication with the barber (I'll put his picture up soon).  I'm very scared now.  I would much rather have long hair than no hair.  Maybe I'll try to go next week.  

It's been a pleasure writing to you.  I will speak with you again soon. 

Adios, Doug 

To participate in activities about language, 
see Doug's Projects: The Use of Language, Non-verbal Communication 
and The Words We Use.  

Also see Why O2B Explorers? by Doug.



April 10th, 2001


My name is Doug Ratay, and I'll be joining Todd and Kristi on their website for the next couple of months. They asked me to tell you about my travels in the Canary Islands while they travel around the rest of the world. 

I am in the Canary Islands, because I am an astronomer (actually, an astronomy student). Here's a picture of me from a few years ago, so you can have some idea about me. 

Normally, I study astronomy at the University of Florida. But, I got a special scholarship to be able to come to the Canary Islands to study for the next three months. 

So where are the Canary Islands? The Canary Islands are located off the west coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. They are actually part of Spain, though. Not many Americans know about the Canary Islands, because they are pretty far away, but this is one of the biggest places for English and German tourists to go. Why do you think that is? Because it's beautiful and warm here. 

I am studying at the (get ready with your Spanish) Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. That translates to the Institute for Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (not that hard to translate). The institute is located on the Island of Tenerife. Astronomers from all over Europe and the rest of the world come here to work. 

Why do they come all the way here to work? I'll save that for next time. You'll be hearing from me again in the next couple days. 

Adios, Doug