With just over a month left now, I’m very keen to tick as many destinations off my Spanish bucket list as possible. Being on the borders of the Basque Country, Bilbao was something which had to be done, especially after getting a taste of this unique and often overlooked province of Spain in San Sebastián. So it was music to my wanderlustful ears when my flatmate from Bilbao itself said I could tag along on her weekend trip home. Continue reading
It happened that the very same year I’m living in Aix-en-Provence, Budapest Festival Orchestra was giving a concert in the city. It also happened that my father is playing in it, which led to a very unlikely family reunion. I managed to get some tickets for those of my friends who were bored by the Aix music scene (there is no such thing).
My initial enthusiasm to write this blog has been seriously disrupted by the events in Paris and the frenzy that broke out afterwards. First, I absolutely hated the idea of writing anything other than condolences. Not as if I had anything against people sharing their thoughts, but especially during the first days, Facebook was full of hysterical and later deleted statuses, pointless debates, and religious expertise. The second thing I really wanted to avoid was to take up the role of the survivor or someone who is really involved; Aix is 750 kilometres away from Paris, and although Marseille is close, this place is hardly targeted by anyone other than tourists and exchange students. Continue reading
BB here. I’ve gone AWOL for the best part of a month, if not for want of things to report (there’s a routine to work here, even with teaching) then for the simple fact that I try to keep my feelings tempered here, compared to the emotional splurge over at Barnabas Abroad. Consequently, the past month has been heavy on the heart, so now would be a good time to look back and give you some reflections of everything I’ve got up to since then.
Where did I leave you? With my living a double life? Well, things have continued more or less much in the same vein. There were a few more administrative blips this month, as one might expect in a school, some of them more pressing than others. As one of my jobs out here is as a fully-qualified teacher (only, without the qualifications part…) I’m expected to teach the full material contained in Spain’s ever-popular and notorious Cambridge English course, from the plasticine-peddling six-year olds to the bright minds in the upper sixth, who would be much better off discussing the Syrian crisis with their English level than what they do at the weekends. (Nope, still not entirely clear on the legality of that…)
This has come with several problems… most notably the one I’ve already pointed out: that I’m not a fully-qualified teacher. That they expected me to start work right away, with the pay and status of a part-time teacher, but all the duties of a licenciado, struck me as mighty unfair to begin with, especially when I got my wrist slapped early on for not being firm enough with the students; for lacking the disciplinary techniques that my colleagues use. The ones they learned, I guess, when they trained as teachers. Well, I’m certainly learning them here, and I’m being paid for it, so I suppose it’s not a bad thing. But it’s tough. Especially when, in the lower levels, discipline amounts to a system known as ‘apuntar’, where miscreants have their names written in chalk on the board. Apparently the system works, though don’t take my word for it; no sooner as your back is turned, one of them is up on his or her feet and rubbing out the apuntados, and then somebody else gets up to write them again, adding as they see fit. Repeat as necessary. Ideally, they wouldn’t be up at the board at all, but there’s no stopping them. Whilst you’re busy holding one down, two more wriggle out between your fingers. And then, with five minutes to go, one of them has the cheek to complain that they’ve only done three exercises with me, whereas with their other teacher they get through three pages. And I’ll probably get in trouble myself for that. It’s a nightmare.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you state your capabilities very clearly before signing yourself up for something. I thought they were employing me as a language assistant. How very wrong I was!
Second is Erasmus+. Oh, Erasmus+. I suppose I should be thankful that it’s the only pen-and-paper administrative blip this month, but it’s still a pain in the neck. How, for instance, am I supposed to obtain a signature from the Sending Institution up in Durham, to confirm that I have arrived at the Receiving Institution here in Villafranca (which also needs a signature, by the way), and then scan them (in a school with no scanning facilities) together with two other pages into a multiple-page document to be passed on to the International Office? Piet Retief, but it’s a nightmare of a different kind. All it means is that in the time it takes to send a paper copy of my form to Durham and back, it’ll be some months before I see my Erasmus grant. Which, in the current state of things, is not a travesty. But it’s an annoyance, at the very least. Future year abroaders, take note: you would be far better served obtaining said signature from the International Office long before you go. Trust me, I’m not the only one touting this advice. Get several copies, even; Spain and France do so love their paperwork.
Lessons continue to surprise me. If I’d known I’d have been working in more of a teacher role, I’d have spent the summer (or rather, the few weeks I had between leaving Jordan and coming here) planning the year’s lessons. As it stands, each weeks’ lessons have been rather touch-and-go, but this week takes the biscuit. I had a lesson planned on stereotypes, but after everything that happened over the weekend – Lebanon, Iraq, Paris… the full works – I decided to risk it and test the waters with a liberal approach to Islamic State, Islamism and the War on Terror… in my Monday morning class of fourteen-year olds. When I say liberal, I mean asking them to be as open as they liked about how they felt about what they’d heard, and then discussing some of the views that came out. To my relief, some of them were ahead of the game, and quick to correct their peers (‘Muslims’ to ‘Islamists’ etc.), but better still were those who, at the end, said they were shocked that they had no idea what had happened in Lebanon, and thought it was unfair that Paris got so much attention. I managed to rein in my liberalism for the most part, but if I can open a few eyes in my time as a teacher, I’ve done my job; or rather, that’s the way I see it.
On a final reflection, I think I’ll debunk the British Council curse; that is, the warning you get from Durham (or any other University, for that matter) on what happens to your second language when you necessarily prioritise your first in an eight-month British Council assistantship. You have to study. I foolishly left my al-Kitaab behind when I came out here (for pity’s sake, the thing weighs a ton) and consequently my Arabic level – or at least, my confidence in it – has plummeted. I noticed as much when I tried to talk to a Moroccan stall-holder at the Fiesta de las Tres Culturas in Caceres this weekend, and found that all I could say was that “it had been a long time since I’d spoken much Arabic”. That’s both the fault of spending so little time – comparatively – in Jordan this summer… and too much. I’m spending twice as much time in a Spanish-speaking country compared to an Arab-speaking country this year, which is counter-productive in several senses; not only was my Spanish already near-fluent before I came here, but my Arabic could really benefit from more immersion. The two should, in all likelihood, have been swapped. But since I’m not the wealthiest kid on the block (to put it lightly) and as the current global climate forbids us from working in an Arab country, I was limited to summering in Jordan this year.
And that, in retrospect, was little more than a death sentence for my Arabic.
Looking back, I suppose it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The school was top-notch and the company was fantastic, at the very least. I’d like to use the rule of three to list one more good thing, but… I can’t. The truth is, I look back on those two months in Amman as one of the lowest points of my life. I’m not a pessimist, but Amman made me one. Going for a British Council Assistantship left me with little choice, so you might say I brought it upon my own head, but I can safely say that if my interest in Arabic took a knock at any point, it was out there, long before I came here and Spanish took over my life.
And there’s the biggest boon of the British Council Assistantship. You will be completely engulfed by that country, its language and its people for all of those eight months. Before I came here, I adored Spain. I worshipped it. Now, I’m actually seriously toying with the idea of living and working here. It’s done wonders for my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my health and my well-being in general. If Amman was sapping the life-force out of me day by day, Spain has me on a constant overcharge. Seriously, it’s as though there are sparks coming out of my fingers. I truly believe I’m where I’m supposed to be: in a village, in rustic countryside Spain, where new characters leap out of every door and balcony and into the pages of my books. It’s the typical Year Abroad gamble; you could end up hating it, or you could end up falling in love. I’ve had both.
So now I’m just wishing that Morocco delivers the goods in 2016 and re-inspires me, as my Arabic could really do with a boost!
I think that will do for now. Until the next time, don’t let the events of the weekend get you down, keep smiling, and remember; when you learn to laugh at something, it’s not scary any more. To that end, I suggest you give Four Lions a watch if you get the opportunity. BB x
I’m well into my second month here now, and I’ve begun to realise that I’m feeling very settled-in. …TOO settled-in.
The people of Tokyo have quite a distinct set of mannerisms to other places in the world, and I have definitely adopted basically all of them. I’ve been told several times BY Japanese people that I’m very Japanese, or have a Japanese spirit. It’s a relief to know that I fit in, especially since the white-person stereotype here is something along the lines of too loud, too open, socially tactless, overly-sexual, not Confucian in any way at all… Yeah, you get the picture. But I’m sure that when I return home, I will be renowned as the girl who acts really weird. So here is a brief account of what happens to you when you come here and you’re susceptible to picking up mannerisms… Continue reading
This month I visited Göteburg in Sweden, attempted to begin learning Danish and became the proud owner of a bike. It’s been an exciting month. The weather has started to worsen for winter, but I’m not sure it’s fully committed yet. It was cold and rainy this week and warm the week before and warm and sunny today. It does mean as a British person I have an endless supply of small talk about how the weather is ‘surprisingly cold’ or ‘quite nice’ or ‘better than yesterday, isn’t it?’ so I can’t complain. Continue reading
Okay, so I’ve now been in Heidelberg for a month and it’s safe to say that I’ve learnt a lot. Owing to the fact that I’ve just been doing a Sprachkurs (language course), I’ve been able to have a lot of fun, but of course there have been many, many things to get used to in moving to a new country and uni!
Believe it or not, when I’m not travelling or sunbathing I’m actually working here in Spain as an English language assistant. Last week I helped in a class based on pronunciation. The teacher rightly told the students that they can get by in England with a Spanish accent but they need to pronounce words more or less correctly in order to be understood. In English there are so many words that sound similar but can give completely different meanings so it’s important that the difference can be heard. There’s a ridiculous amount of these words if you think about it and for those learning English these words sound mostly identical, causing all kinds of confusion. For example, bird, beer, bar and bear all sound the same to many Spanish students. English is a lot tougher than we realize. Continue reading
As every good follower of old fishwives’ tales knows, bad things happen in threes. Recently, I left my phone in Wales, left my keys for my room in France at home and then my bag fell off my desk and smashed my laptop screen into a spider’s web. HOWEVER, on a positive note I think I’ve used up pretty much all my bad luck for a good few months because everything else is going very extra well. Continue reading
Don’t worry, I haven’t actually started exercising or anything.
HOWEVER, the most common questions I get from my friends and family are related to that ever-present elephant in the room – the language barrier. Coming from a non language degree background it’s even a bit of a mystery to me as to how I’m doing this, but seriously why not just throw yourself in at the deep end from time to time? There’s no better way to be learn a language than to be immersed in it and I’d been learning (/attempting to learn) French for such a long time that coming on a year abroad was really a last ditch attempt at being able to communicate in the language.