TEFL life: a few more lols

A while ago I promised that I would continue to post about the embarrassing and ridiculous things that happen to me during my new career as an English teacher. I teach all different ages but a large proportion of my students are children between the ages of five and nine and, as any teacher knows, kids are ridiculous. Add to that the fact that I’m an overgrown child who still laughs at toilet jokes and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I feel like it’s entertaining for other people, however, so I’ll keep writing about it.

Here, as promised, are a few more ridiculous happenings from my TEFL life:

1)Recently I was teaching a group of nine-year-olds how to describe people, places and things. I used pictures of celebrities as an example. When I asked one of my students to describe Obama (bear in mind that at this point they only know words like ‘tall’, ‘short’, ‘fat’, ‘thin’, ‘old’, etc) he said ‘BROWN’ repeatedly and, when I pressed him for another word, he said ‘MORE BROWN’. He wasn’t wrong, to be fair.

2)I have no idea where he got it from, but one of my twelve-year-old students recently learned the word ‘nipple’ (not from me, I promise). Now he uses it for everything. He even put it in a piece of writing which was meant to be about the weather. Note to self: stop playing inappropriate rap music in lessons or his next word of choice might be worse.

3)Another of my twelve-year-olds asked me recently if we could do some speaking practice with a textbook exercise about food and mealtimes. In the middle of my explanation he put his hand up and said “Can we do oral?” Of course, he meant the exercise (I hope). Being the highly professional teacher that I am, I laughed for about twenty minutes straight and to this day none of the poor bastards know why.

4)Spelling is also a barrel of laughs. One of my students wanted to show me how she had learned the spellings for a list of classroom words, including ‘bookcase’. The letters B and P often get mixed up so she wrote ‘POO CASE’ and when she asked me if it was right, I again laughed for twenty minutes straight.

5) This week a student asked me what ‘bubble butt’ meant. That one is definitely my fault, must change my background music.

Given that I spent six years in the PR industry, several of those in B2B which requires you to be serious AF at times, you’d think I would have grown up a little bit by now…

Please, we both know I’m a phenomenal dancer, but this is ridiculous

It was approximately five AM and I’d lost everyone I came to the bar with. I’d managed to obtain a free gin from the barman by telling him an appalling joke, I was already a few gins down and I had inadvertently wandered into what appeared to be a Spanish stag do.

The aforementioned laddy lad collective was deep in conversation until suddenly the DJ dropped ‘Mi Gente’ (for possibly the third time that night). Without putting down their drinks or any form of preparation, the entire group burst into what appeared to be an elaborately choreographed dance. I’m not talking about a sloppy ‘YMCA’ rendition or a half-assed attempt at the Running Man. These guys were good.

‘Are they dancers?’ I asked one of my friends, who had appeared as if by magic from the smoking area.

‘No, they’re students,’ she said, bemused. ‘One’s in some of my classes,’.

Everyone who knows me is aware of my magical transformation into Chris Brown after a few drinks (minus the dark past and male appendage). But damn, everyone in Spain puts me to shame.

It’s a fact of my new life that I’ve yet to meet a Spanish person who can’t dance.

Go to a student bar and even the most plastered of individuals can still shake it. Dance with a boy and he’ll twirl you around the dancefloor without being too corny (most of the time). Regardless of the music genre on blast at any given time, it seems everyone here can bust a move, even old people.

In the UK, it’s a bit of a different story. Of course this is a massive generalisation but in my experience, it’s rooted in fact – people in the UK are, by and large, not great dancers. Fellow white people, I’m talking to several of you. We get by at weddings and formal events with an awkward offbeat shuffle. On nights out, we give it a couple of rave hands and we’re done. In my student days, most of us actually weren’t able to dance due to the amount of alcohol consumed. Dancing isn’t really a priority for us, we’re just trying to get through the day without offending anyone.

Once, years ago, I went dancing with a bloke I’d been on a couple of dates with and he actually HOPPED ON ONE LEG for the entire evening. He had another leg, he just didn’t use it for dancing purposes.

In my first week in Salamanca when a boy asked me to dance, we actually danced. I felt like I was in an episode of Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing With The Stars for my friends across the pond). The boy may have been a foot shorter than me and wearing questionable shoes but I temporarily fell in love with him.

Here, even the awkward dude in the corner still has rhythm. Even the Inbetweeners-looking guys, sneaking into the bar past their parents’ curfew, can smash out a few decent moves. As someone who loves to dance, it’s a revelation – I’ve never been anywhere else in the world where the ability to drop it like it’s moderately above room temperature is so universal. France, nope. America, forget it, they’re as bad as us. China, heeellll no.

I’m going to continue my study into why everyone in Spain can dance, to see if I can find any exceptions to the rule (haven’t yet). It’s becoming a bit of an obsession – I was teaching my class of five year olds numbers last week and I accidentally taught them to say “seVEENN” in a Len Goodman style. You can take the Brit out of London…






Breaking up abroad, or, turns out he was a bit of a knob

In my last post, I wrote about the difficulties of moving to a new country. I talked about how hard it can be, trying to fit in, assimilate to a new culture. It was a bit of a downer, to be fair – I normally like to write about positive experiences but this week, something happened that sent my fragile new world into a tailspin.

Some of you have read my previous post about how I misjudged someone enormously when I first arrived in Spain, and what I thought was going to be months of bickering turned into a love that I hadn’t expected, or experienced before. WELL GUESS WHAT EVERYONE, it looks like things didn’t work out. Having long been an advocate of long distance, a believer that if something is meant to be, it works out, I went all in on this one and got absolutely crushed, something to add to my list of living-abroad-challenges. So today I want to write about that. More funnies soon, I promise.
It’s always tough, when you meet someone special and you’re on different paths. Rose tinted specs, a friend said to me a few days ago, and she absolutely nailed it. You conveniently forget your future plans, overlook any possible flaws, so you can enjoy your time with them. As the deadline date looms, you try desperately to make those hours, those days, the best of your life together. You panic when they don’t work out how you planned. You cling onto them for every second you can, which is unlike you, but you can’t help yourself.
Eventually you say goodbye, tear-soaked, at a nearby airport. You have to say goodbye twice because the silly bastard leaves half their belongings in your car. You go home and hide under the covers. You unironically watch Bridget Jones. You prepare yourself for the difficulty of living apart, the added obstacle of their new location being somewhere remote, difficult to access.
You start to settle into your new life. You miss them terribly but you’re grateful for the conversations you have every couple of days. You know it’s difficult for them. You drop an extortionate amount of money to go and visit them because going three months without seeing them seems like the worst form of torture to you. After a beautiful few days together, you have another tear-stained, heartbreaking goodbye. You’ve already had your heart broken for this person multiple times, every time you say goodbye, but you’re ok with it.
When you return to your adopted country, the sporadic conversations continue. They’re loving, supportive, kind. You start making plans to visit them in their next destination, even further away. When you’re having a tough day, you’ve made yet another cripplingly embarrassing mistake in your new language, work is getting too much, it doesn’t matter. You have them to support you, to guide you. You CAN do this.
Then one day, for no apparent reason, everything stops. They disappear for a week with no explanation. You understand their need for solace and space, but in your current situation, alone in a new place, that doesn’t stop you from hurting. You start to panic. Something must be wrong. One day, you’re scanning some photos of their current workplace and you come across a photo of them with someone else. It’s silly flirty behavior, it’s harmless fun, but in your current state it’s like a knife in your heart and one in your back. You remember the doubts you had about them in the beginning, the things people said which you dismissed. Maybe they were right.

You have to contact their coworker just to speak to them, feeling embarrassed but also desperate. When they’re finally available to talk, they’re cold, uncaring. They can’t understand why you’re upset. The argument (conducted by a messaging app because they won’t speak in person) is brief, but damaging. You don’t hear from them again for a few days, bar a piece of music they send you which they’ve written. It’s a bad song, hastily written, the lyrics a thinly-veiled ‘fuck you’.

After that, they won’t talk to you. They let you stew in your own pain for days more. You barely make it through those days, dragging yourself from your dark bedroom to your new job and trying not to break down in front of your students. You can’t eat. You feel sick all the time. Eventually, you can’t take it anymore. You spend two days writing a strongly worded letter, burn all their belongings, accidentally set fire to your curtains by accident in the process and, eventually, you walk away. The person you thought you’d end up with has turned into someone you’re not sure you ever want to see again.

The pain of a long distance breakup is that you’re never really ‘face to face’. It makes it that much harder to piece together what happened, to understand why things ended the way they did. The pain is soul destroying. Some days you can’t breathe. Some days you cry so much you don’t have any tears left. Some days you can’t eat. You’ve been in so much pain for weeks, being away from them, it’s almost like you’re used to it now.
Eventually, though you can’t see it yet, this will make you stronger. It will help you to continue your journey in your new country. It will give you wisdom and power you never thought you had. It will make you realise you dodged a bullet.
I wanted to take down the post I wrote about him, all the good things I said. Because they turned out not to be true. But I can’t. Partly because I like the way I wrote it, partly because I want to always remind myself never to fall for someone so readily again. Partly also to remind me to trust my gut when it comes to people. I stand corrected, my first impressions were right.

I want to write about mental health and living abroad because everyone else is writing about mental health but seriously this is important

This week, on World Mental Health Day, I did what I always do. I read through news articles, I talked to my friends and family, I looked at horribly basic inspirational quotes on various social networks. It’s always inspiring to see people talking more, doing more around this issue. It always makes me feel better when I think about the issues I’ve overcome myself.

Except this year it didn’t, because I felt like shit.

Dealing with any kind of mental health problem is difficult. Similar to physical invisible illnesses, you can’t see it. Dealing with it on your own is incredibly tough. Dealing with it on your own while travelling or living abroad seems like an insurmountable pile of wank. I want to share my own recent (and current) experiences because I think it’s important to know that it’s not all tapas and Instagram-worthy pictures of cool doors in my life at the moment.

When I came back to London this Summer for a few weeks, a friend commented on how amazing my life looked. “You’re really living the dream, aren’t you?” he said. “I mean, your Instagram is poppin’, you’re loving life, I wish I could do something like that!” It’s funny how different things look on the surface. For a large portion of my time in Spain, I was loving life. But things changed unexpectedly and I stopped even liking it very much.

In previous posts in other lives I’ve talked about my anxiety and OCD issues. Usually fairly well contained, they occasionally erupt, turning me into a slightly weird sad creature who hides in the corner and is frightened of everything. They’re typically related to health concerns, usually in the gynaecological region. During my university days (I’m renaming them The Experimental Period) I was terrified of STDs to the point that my brain created physical symptoms in my body which turned out to be nothing. For over two years I had an obsession with whether I needed the toilet more than the average person. At school I was scared of throwing up, so I felt sick all the time. None of these issues ever stopped me from living my life, they were just extremely annoying.

When I first moved to Spain, I thought I’d gotten rid of these issues completely. I was euphoric some days because everything was NORMAL FOR ONCE. Then, midway through my time in Barcelona, I got sick. Super sick, the kind which required multiple different kinds of medicine. Due to excessive alcohol consumption, terrible diet and behaving like Keith Richards, I didn’t recover properly for weeks. By then, of course, the damage was done. I was obsessed with physical symptoms which I was actually creating in my mind and I went on another spiral. I’d tried CBT in the past, with some success. I’d tried anti-depressants in the past, which took away part of my brain, so I stopped them. This time, I resolved to beat my issues without medical intervention.

I thought the issues would leave me when I returned to Spain after a brief trip home. What I hadn’t prepared myself for, however, was all the other problems I’d have to deal with, on top of trying to beat a very difficult illness on my own. Living in a city where very few people speak your language is tough. Adjusting to a new, alien culture is tough. Trying to learn that language while you’re simultaneously working in a job that requires you to speak English is tough. Starting a new job in a new industry is tough. Missing your friends is tough. Trying to make new ones and establish new hobbies, activities, in a new language, is tough. Being away from the person you love and then unexpectedly losing them is tough (don’t worry, he’s not dead). I added depression to my list of problems and wondered how or when I would ever feel normal again.

Even though I’m making friends, I’m getting a decent grasp of Spanish and I’m enjoying my work, I’ve never felt more alone in my life. There are days where I have no idea what I’m doing, days where I feel so bad I don’t want to leave my room. There are also days where everything is brilliant. Recently, a few days ago, there was a day that was so unexpectedly bad that it caused me actual physical pain which still hasn’t left me. I know this is not forever but when you’re balls deep in it, you wonder if things will ever change.

Things do and will change. This is for anyone who’s ever felt terrible and doesn’t really know why. This is especially for anyone who’s struggled while travelling or living abroad. Anyone who’s ever felt guilt or shame because they’re not having the time of their lives, all the time, in their adopted country. Everything seems ten times worse because it’s not familiar, it’s not home. But it will get better. It does get better. Don’t give up – get help if you need to, talk to people if it helps. Take care of yourself. Fight. Living abroad will help you grow and change in so many ways, but first you have to work through the rough patch.

I’m combatting my current slump with exercise, talking to anyone and everyone and throwing myself into a couple of music projects. This is therapy for me too.

It rained in Salamanca today, after not having rained for months. I thought I would never see rain again, then this happened. I think this is the universe’s very corny way of reminding me that things change.

I’m here if you want to talk.

I don’t care how much babysitting you’ve done, nothing prepares you for teaching kids

Teaching in Spain was my first experience of working in education – before that I’d been a PR manager. During those few years of my life I thought nobody had it worse in terms of stress. I envied teachers like my mother who had huge chunks of holiday where they could do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for six weeks straight. I genuinely thought teaching meant hanging out with kids for a few hours each day, then doing whatever you wanted.

I have newfound respect for teachers everywhere. On top of the mountains of planning, marking, actual teaching time, occasionally receiving abuse – which all teachers deal with from time to time – there’s the added ridiculousness of teaching children. You not only get to teach the little angels, you also take on the role of babysitter, which is a challenge in itself. The challenge becomes even more difficult when he aforementioned little angels don’t speak your language and you can’t tell them to settle down, get off the table or STOP PAINTING HER HAIR SHE DOESN’T LIKE IT. Here are a few highlights from my first few weeks of teaching in Spain:

1)When I lost one of my six-year-old pupils. Seriously, I lost him. He dashed out of the door at the end of the lesson with one of his classmates, then five minutes later his mum arrived wanting to know why he hadn’t left with everyone else. I managed to explain in very bad Spanish that he had most definitely turned up to class but for some reason she didn’t believe me. At one point she started eyeing my cupboards suspiciously. He turned up to his next lesson and hadn’t lost any limbs, so I can only assume everything turned out fine and he wasn’t abducted.

2)When I lost another one of my pupils for ten minutes. He’d asked to use the toilet then vanished into thin air. When I went to investigate his whereabouts, the toilet appeared to be empty. I searched the other classrooms to no avail and eventually found him hiding in the corner of the bathroom doing a number two. I would love to be that open with my bodily functions…

3)When I accidentally played a profanity-ridden dancehall track to a group of nine year olds as background music. They sure as hell can’t speak English but they now all know what ‘pum pum’ means.

4)When, in a desperate attempt to appear cooler to a class of apathetic teenagers, I sang ‘Despacito’ at them. I still can’t remember why, or even what the purpose of the damned lesson was.

5)When I said ‘fucksticks’ because I couldn’t find the right page and one of my pupils decided to repeat the phrase incessantly for the rest of the lesson.

6) Whenever I’ve tried to tell a joke. Now I know why I was too scared to try stand up.

7) When I told one of my older students the best coffee shops to visit on her upcoming trip to Amsterdam. I got weird looks from everyone for the rest of the lesson, although maybe I could use a ‘sorry I was high’ excuse for my musical outbursts (Despacito round 2, anyone?)

Becoming a Spanish resident, or, what the eff just happened seriously I don’t know

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ll know that travelling from the UK has become a little more difficult. This is due in part to the monstrous mistake that is Brexit, also to the increase in terror attacks happening worldwide. It’s not just the UK of course, the whole world is feeling the strain, but I can only speak from a British perspective. Thanks to Freedom of Movement continuing for Brits for at least another year, it was thankfully easy for me (although much more expensive), to get to Spain. Getting legal, however, was an entirely different story.

This is the first time I’ve been an immigrant. I don’t have any relation to the migrant experience, bar when my grandfather’s family made the perilously long trek from Scotland to the East of England. The closest I came before this was some vaguely stern questioning when I arrived in Morocco. I had no idea how long, arduous and moderately hilarious becoming a legal resident of a new country could be. And so, with complete ignorance, I set off with my colleague at the English school, a fellow Brit, on a perilous journey to gain my NIE.

I compare my journey to becoming a Spanish resident to the quest undertaken by Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, only with less hobbits. It was RIDICULOUS. I can only imagine how complicated the process is in the UK, but in Spain it’s an absolute nightmare. My journey was as follows:

Part One: In which my colleague and I got up very early, arrived at the Oficina de Extranjeria with various piles of paper and identification, only to be told that we couldn’t register because we weren’t registered in the town yet.

Part Two: In which we journey to the local town hall to get registered. After a painful ten minute conversation in extremely bad Spanish, a few panicked phone calls to another colleague for translation purposes and a long and arduous search for a pen, we get registered.

Part Three: In which we make the long trek back to our place of work to make multiple photocopies because the guy at the town hall took all of ours.

Part Four: In which we go back to our first destination and register for our NIE numbers. I engage in a very slow conversation with a member of staff, get laughed at a couple of times and eventually am presented with my number, another pile of papers, plus instructions to come back in a couple of weeks to get the actual card.

Part Five: In which I have to go to the bank and pay 3.74 exactly for the privilege of having a form filled in, the purpose of which I cannot remember.

Part Six: In which I take my bank form to the Ministry of Justice for a criminal record check. Due to the accidental hiring of a paedophile in a nearby town last year, anyone working with children must have a form to prove they’re not a sexual deviant.

Part Seven: In which I journey back to the first office (again) to get a form to get my card. I have to make an appointment to come back another day and pay ten Euros for the privilege.

Part Eight: In which I cry for ten minutes because I don’t know what’s going on.


After about four weeks of this ridiculous activity, I am now a legal Spanish resident. I hope it ends up being worth the bother…

In defence of romance while travelling, or, why I was wrong to think that cute boy from my work was a knob

He was playing a song he’d written. It was dusk and we were lazily gathered amongst the ruined bunkers, watching the sunset. Beer cans littered the floor. People were laughing, joking, but many stopped when the music started, listening intently to his playing, confident and uninhibited. One or two girls eyed him hopefully. He stared out over the city view as he sang, his eyes fixed on the horizon, or the clouds, or an idea, a thought that none of us were privy to.

God, I hate this bloke, I thought to myself.

I’d come across him once or twice during my initial days in Barcelona, usually as a grumpy night receptionist at the hostel where I would eventually end up working. He was undoubtedly attractive, I grudgingly admitted to myself. But he knew it. The hair, the tattoos, the sexy accent, the dippy American and Brit girls hanging around him at every possible opportunity. He was a talented musician, I acknowledged that too. But it seemed to me that he utilised his talents solely for the opposite sex. He was standoffish, superior, so serious.

One week, I didn’t see him smile for three consecutive days. Without doing very much, he made me feel like a child that was permanently in trouble. I heard stories of the female guests who had fallen victim to his charms. A couple of them even came back to visit. Surely he can’t be that good in bed, I thought. When we started working together I felt a slight sense of annoyance that I was going to be stuck with this new exotic version of a fuckboy.

What a knob.

Of course, my annoyance stemmed from the fact that I had a huge crush on him.

Working together turned out to be less traumatic than I had expected. We butted heads on several occasions, argued, some days it seemed like we would never co-exist peacefully. But the more time we spent together, the more I realised I’d been a little unfair in my initial judgement. The seriousness was actually a genuine passion for his work, a desire to do things well and do them properly. The ‘look at me I’m so mysterious and brooding and foreign’ vibe I’d initially picked up on was actually a deep spirituality and connection to the world around him. The near-constant impromptu concerts came not from arrogance, but from a deep love of music. When I listened, really listened, to the songs he had written, I discovered just how talented he really was, how intelligent, how insightful. He was funny. He understood people. His often brutal honesty commanded respect, not abhorrence.

Here, amongst a generation of protein-packed poseurs, dickpics and complicated internet-based misunderstandings, was a truly genuine human being.

Maybe he’s not such a knob after all, I thought to myself.

Our chronology was peculiar, as is so often the case when you meet someone outside of your regular routine. We lived together before we knew each other. We lived together before we were friends. He saw me naked before our relationship became sexual (profuse apologies to all my previous housemates for my inability to wear clothes). We slept together before we made love, curled up on a tiny single bed, half-dressed. We were both somewhat involved in other romantic entanglements. I hated him at the same time that I fell in love with him. These things never did run smooth.

When we finally kissed for the first time, in the most romantic of settings – a hip hop club in the Placa Reial – it felt like home, like familiarity. When, not long afterwards, we consummated our relationship, he was totally present, totally uninhibited. Something I thought didn’t exist in men of my generation.

Later that summer, when I became sick and spiraled into the OCD and anxiety that have at times, threatened to destroy aspects of my life, he was unwavering. A relationship barely two months in the making and he was subjected to me, stripped down, bare-faced and tear-soaked, in the midst of a panic attack that lasted on and off for several weeks. He stayed. Where others would have dismissed it, would have left, where others before him had dismissed it, he stayed. He scooped up all my anxiety, my confusion, my depression, into a big ball and made me better. We left Barcelona eventually, stronger, closer, more connected.

I tried so hard to sabotage it, as I always have done when something truly wonderful comes into my life. I told myself countless times that my first impression of him had been correct, that when we eventually took our separate paths, he would forget me in an instant, move on within minutes. I was mean. I was inconsiderate. It never happened, of course. Something in him said to me, to my innermost self, “Try all you want, I’m not letting you go”. And he didn’t.

We had to separate, eventually. The curse of travelling couples who meet on the road. Soon, we’ll be separated by even more land mass when he travels further afield. In a previous life, I would have left it, moved on, succeeded in sabotaging the fledgling relationship, replaced him with someone inferior. I would have convinced myself that I didn’t deserve him, that what we had was nothing.

The new me took a look at the old me and said “Fuck you, you’re not screwing this one up. This is a real thing, don’t you DARE do what you always do. You’ll regret it forever”.

It’s not easy, where we’re at now. Being separated from the person you love is like having your arm ripped off. In a few short months we’ve done and been through so much together and to me, that tells me, more than anything else, that this is worth the distance, the poor WiFi connections, the tears, the empty beds. I was sceptical before. When you find something real, distance and proximity should not be a deciding factor. Make it work, however you can. Set your own rules. Do what you have to do to make it work, because it’s so rare to find something, someone, like that.

He makes me laugh. He’s incredibly intelligent. He’s articulate in both Spanish and English, without being pretentious. He works harder than anyone I know and puts his soul into everything he does. He commands respect from everyone he meets. He’s honest. He’s wonderfully weird. He has beautiful hair. He makes me want to work harder, to be better, to overcome my demons. I respect and admire him so much. He is himself, unapologetically. And I’m so proud, so honoured, to love someone like that, to have their love in return.

I guess he wasn’t such a knob in the end.

Update: sadly since posting this, my first impressions did turn out to be correct and we split up.