Tips for being a legend when you’re a new teacher abroad and you’re peeing your pants on a regular basis

Catchy title, eh?

Seriously though, important topic. To be fair, I’ve only been at this gig for about two months, so I’m by no means an expert. Before my relocation to Spain I had zero experience – I mean, I taught someone how to dougie once at a party (badly), but this is DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

My previous life as a PR professional (I use the term ‘professional’ very loosely) taught me the complicated art of thinking on my feet, which is of course essential for teaching. Without this, I’d probably be dead right now, real talk. But other than this vital skill, I feel like I was totally unprepared. I feel like this is more of a problem when you’re in a new country – things don’t only go comically wrong, they go comically wrong in two languages.

So without further ado, or much ado about nothing (double negatives, very important for Spanish), here are some of my tips for being a legend when you are a new teacher in a strange country, and you have, at least in the beginning, no idea what you’re doing:

Music, the universal language

It’s no secret that I’d rather be making music than doing almost anything else, so I decided to incorporate it into my classes. Despite the occasional telling off because apparently other students in the academy ‘don’t like trap’, it’s been super useful to get people talking and also break the ice. With my advanced classes, we listen to English language songs and analyse them. For the kids, we sing songs and occasionally I allow a game or seven of musical statues. For one of my students, we dance to Michael Jackson (don’t ask).

Never underestimate the power of drinking games

Disclaimer: no alcohol was used in the teaching of these classes. This one was a total accident but I wanted to get one of my adult classes thinking about a certain subject, so we played Categories. Halfway through a game one of my students put his hand up and said “Wait, Beth, I know this game, we play this when we get drunk”. EXPOSED. But actually, it worked really well. I’ve also adapted several card-based drinking games and they’re super effective. So if you’re in your first weeks and you need a warmer or cooler idea, go nuts! No Centurion though, that’ll backfire.

Even if you only know one game, little ones will love it and become addicted for several months

Bingo is like crack to six-year olds. As long as you mix it up in terms of topic so they’re learning something, you can carry on doing it for weeks. They literally never get bored of it.

Bring cool stuff to class so your students think you’re cool

Again, accidental discovery. I bought some of my DJ equipment to class once because I was practicing that evening at a friend’s house. I left my controller on the table and my group of 12-year-olds went nuts and now they think I’m super cool (which obviously I am but it’s nice to be reminded).

Work smarter, not harder

Be disgustingly organised, even if you’re not. Plan in advance, work out when your free time is and reserve time for school prep/planning/marking outside of your lessons. Also reserve free time and keep it for just that, FREE TIME. Nobody likes a stress head. It’s super overwhelming at first, but do things which make you feel good and relaxed. For me it’s yoga, dancing, meditation, and watching compilations of Will Smith dancing on the Fresh Prince. Little things…

Put inspirational stuff up in your classroom to remind yourself that you’re doing great

Whenever one of my kids makes me a picture I put it on the wall. Last week one of my nine-year-olds made me an adorable heart-shaped letter that said “I love your Inglish class”. Sure, he can’t spell but the sentiment is there, dammit. I also include inspirational quotes; for example “WOO, ha ha”-Will Smith; and pictures of other inspirational educational figures, including Mr Schneebly from School of Rock and the Dean from Community.

Bottom line is, if your students are having a laugh, but still being challenged, then they’re learning. The rest is kind of up to them. But a few pretend drinking games don’t go amiss, of course…

 

 

 

Some stuff I have allegedly learned since I staged my own personal Brexit

I was putting my life in order the other day and I realised it’s been one year since I made the decision to leave the UK. It happened about twenty minutes after I arrived back from a trip to Barcelona – the first ever trip I took completely solo. I remember being back in London, sitting in the middle of Lincoln’s Inn Fields on my lunch break, getting unnecessarily tearful over a One Republic playlist (joking aside, Native remains one of my top twenty albums).

Eff this, I thought. I’m leaving, and I don’t know where I’m going to go.

That was my turning point, and since then, a lot of crazy stuff has happened, but I don’t regret it for a minute. This entire post exists because I’m coming off about three days of hangover/lack of sleep, but this is meant to be a deep, existential look at all the important life lessons I have acquired during my time travelling and living/working abroad. Or something like that.

Anyway, here’s some things which may or may not be useful to anyone:

Being by yourself actually isn’t terrible
I’ve always been one of those people who hates being on their own. Back in the UK I was constantly surrounded by people and on the rare day or evening where I found myself without plans, I would descend into a pit of existential despair, usually with chocolate.

Ditching your familiar surroundings to creep around the world means you’ll be by yourself a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you live in a society based on constant connectivity. It will be difficult – you force yourself out of your comfort zone to make friends, speak in a new language, to do anything. But it’s so worth it in the end because not only do you become a master of self-sufficiency, you also end up liking yourself a whole lot more in general. Which is never a bad thing.

I never had it that bad before

I basically never had problems back in the UK. Worrying about being ten minutes late for work because my bike had fallen apart, occasionally misplacing my keys, wondering which type of gin to buy, etc. Having to navigate literally everything in a foreign language, getting horribly lost, strict budgets, having to leave my fantastic group of friends and going through a breakup, all at the same time, means I will literally never complain about anything again. Maybe.

Things are a lot more intense

See above point. Getting lost in a supermarket or accidentally buying something non-vegan (VEGAN HUMBLEBRAG IM SO HEALTHY) is so much more of an emotional experience. It gets easier, of course.

Things are also a lot more ridiculous

So many stupid things have happened to me in the last few months, probably more than happened in total during my time at university. I won’t disclose everything on here (some things even an oversharing Millennial should keep a mystery) but I did accidentally co-found a possible cult where everyone a got matching tattoos (six people and counting y’all). Personal highlight.

Fuckboys are the same in every language

Literally. I can now understand ‘U up?’ in about seven languages. Initially, the dating pool in a new country is exciting because it’s different, but don’t be fooled by the sexy accents. BE STRONG MY FRIENDS.

Genuine, wonderful people are everywhere

When people travel, sometimes they adopt weird white rasta dreads, take up the bongos and talk overly loudly about how the tourist trail in Southern India is SOOO MAINSTREAM YAH. These people are terrible. More often than not, however, people actually become better, more genuine versions of themselves and you make some truly wonderful friends.

When I was living and working in Barcelona, I was dropped into the middle of an apartment with about 12 other people, none of whom I had ever met before. Literally every single one of them was excellent and even though we came from comically different backgrounds, we became super close in a short space of time. Because everyone was just themselves. This whole experience restored my faith in humanity and also means I have lots of free places to stay when I’m travelling out of Spain (thanks mates!)

I’m a surprisingly good rapper

Unrelated but since moving to Salamanca I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot more musical activity, my favourite thing in the world. This has included numerous rap battles. I’m actually quite good.

 

In closing, I think what I’m trying to say is, if you’re thinking about it, even just a little bit, DO IT. This has been the most ridiculous, traumatic, confusing, stressful, but also happiest time of my life. GET ON IT

 

 

 

Staying healthy abroad, or, PUT DOWN THE AIOLI YOU’RE A DISGRACE

I’m an advocate of balance. For example, eat healthy most of the time, but have twenty burgers at the weekend. Drink lots of water, but also lots of gin. Work out consistently but also sit on your butt and watch terrible TV (MTV’s ‘Are You The One’ has gotten me through a lot of hangovers). Don’t smoke (crack). Look after yourself but also indulge where it’s appropriate. You get the idea.

Keeping the balance can be difficult when you relocate to a new country. In London, I was fairly good at keeping healthy. I ran (sometimes from the cops, but sometimes marathons), practiced yoga and meditation, ate various green items and kept my blowouts to the weekend most of the time. When I moved to Barcelona earlier this year, the balance tipped very much in favour of being a massive lad and drinking buckets of gin, eating buckets of aioli (a friend describes it as the younger, hot cousin of mayonnaise) and being a disgusting mess. I was only living in the city for three months, so all efforts to keep healthy went out of the window alarmingly quickly.

Now I’m a little more settled (for the next year anyway), I’m still working out the balance. So, for anyone who’s wondering why mid-travels, they’re starting to resemble a Christmas ham (*Peter Griffin voice* GUILTYYYYY) here are my tips for attempting not to die during your time abroad:

Don’t deny yourself the good stuff

Accept that every new destination comes with new local delicacies to try. Get involved and don’t beat yourself up for having a few extra treats, especially in the beginning. I tried doing this in my first month in Salamanca, when I decided to go vegan for a month, literally because someone bet me I couldn’t. Living in the jamon capital of Europe, I was utterly miserable. BE NICE TO YOURSELF YOU DICKS.

(NB the same rule goes for alcohol and/or recreational drugs. Do your thing, but recognise that your current situation might not be entirely in the ‘real world’ and practise moderation)

Don’t overcompensate

To make up for months of self-abuse (no, not that kind) in Barca, I started working out multiple times a day when I first arrived here. Unless you are a professional athlete, or training for a competition of some kind, you probably don’t need to be doing this. On a vegan diet which I hadn’t entirely figured out, I ran out of energy very rapidly and ended up making myself moderately ill. Small steps are key to keeping healthy and also much easier to fit around your travel schedule – nobody wants to miss one of the modern wonders of the world because they had to do sit ups.

Find a workout routine that works for you

When you’re abroad, especially if you’re backpacking, there’s no point in locating a gym in every new location, however exercise shouldn’t be neglected. Endorphins got me through my first difficult through weeks in my new city, plus my recent breakup. Find something that works for you that doesn’t involve a pricey membership. For me, it’s yoga – I cannot recommend enough the amazing Lesley Fightmaster, a US-based instructor who has several free programmes on her channel. Currently on day 59 of her 90 Day Yoga Fix and I love it!

Join a Zumba class

Seriously. I used to think Zumba was for trophy wives and old people. Now it’s my favourite Saturday morning activity. You haven’t truly experienced it, in my opinion, until you’ve been to a class entirely in Spanish. Minus the good old British reserve it’s about ten times more fun. If Zumba’s not your cup of tea, classes in general are great for meeting people and having a laugh while simultaneously practising self-care.

Balanced diet people!

I’m 27 and I’m only just starting to realise the impact food has on your overall health, both physical and mental. I’m lucky in that my metabolism is fairly unchanging – I don’t really lose weight, but I don’t really gain it either. That said, I’ve adopted a mainly plant-based diet, sticking to vegan food during the week. I feel more energetic, healthier, and actually, happier. It’s not easy to keep a specific diet going when you travel a lot but making small changes helps – for example, I sacked off cow’s milk in favour of soy milk and gradually phased out cheese. Much easier than going cold turkey (cold tofu?) and feeling super sad all the time because I can’t have cheese, my one true love.

Meditate

My doctor back in the UK recommended meditation to help with my general anxiety issues during a particularly stressful time at work. I’m not very good at being consistent but I can honestly say that meditation helps with so many things. Particularly if you move around a lot, it’s a great mental exercise to keep you centred and balanced and help you to deal with things like big life changes. Headspace is my favourite app, with programmes for everything from depression to pain management, self esteem to gratitude. Calm is another good choice if you like to have soothing rainforest sounds in the background when you’re trying to switch off

Take time for yourself

Once a week (sometimes twice) I stay in, cook something usually a bit trashy, watch awful TV and do horribly stereotypical girly things like a manicure or putting weird pink colours in my hair. I’ve always done this and, while it can be tempting to go out and be a big lad every night if you’re in a hostel-type setting, or living in a notorious party city, PACE YOURSELF

Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I’m not even friends with any doctors. These are just some ideas I’ve collected during my own travels which seem to work well for me – I pass my wise owl wisdom on to my fellow nomads. Be happy and be well (and have a few gins too).

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.