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

 

 

 

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…

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…

If you want to live in a new country, get used to being embarrassed

It’s a little known fact that I am very, very, VERY easily embarrassed. By everything. For all my outward confidence, inside is an awkward teenager who can’t do, say or think anything without feeling some degree of shame. I’ve come to realise that it’s something that goes hand in hand with being British – we’re almost embarrassed to exist at times – but knowing you’re not alone doesn’t make it any easier. I am horribly embarrassed, a lot of the time, about everything.

I thought that my issues with chronic embarrassment would improve when I moved abroad for the first time. Lord knows why, I was probably drunk. They’ve actually gotten way, WAY worse. Navigating a new job is difficult enough wherever you are, but a new language and a new culture on top of that can be damn near impossible if you suffer from similar hardcore embarrassment issues. But for anyone reading this, I want you to know: IT GETS BETTER.

To help those struggling with expat-related embarrassment, please see below for a list of horrific things that happened to me in my first weeks in Spain:

  1. Pretty much every single conversation I had. My Spanish is improving, but practicing with very patient friends and a language app is not going to prepare you for an onslaught of full-speed European Spanish. You’ll mishear everything, ignore important words and typically answer any question with ‘yes’ before shuffling off into a corner.
  2. Food shopping. Several times I ended up with the wrong items, forgot to use the complicated weighing machine for fruit and veg which is so popular in Spanish supermarkets. I ordered a milkshake by mistake in a coffee shop (I’m vegan) because the picture looked like a fruit smoothie. I forgot the word for aubergine on SEVEN separate occasions.
  3. Making friends. Difficult enough when you don’t have much of a personality in your new language yet. Apparently even difficult when making friends with those who do speak your native language. A couple of weeks ago I went on a tour of some local street art, recommended to me by a colleague. I bought a bottle of home-mixed G&T because, why not? Also it was Tuesday. During the opening talk, I opened the bottle and, due to it being jiggled around in my bag, the top flew off, went about fifty feet into the air and hit another tour-goer on the head. I spent the rest of the tour hiding at the back pretending I couldn’t speak English OR Spanish.
  4. Speaking in general. I’m incredibly lucky to have friends who are patient with me, who help me when I don’t understand something. I still mess up though. I told my landlady I was ‘horny’ to meet our new housemate, not excited. I told another housemate we were having ‘dicks’ for dinner instead of chicken. I found out today that I’ve mispronounced a certain word every single time I’ve said it. Nobody has ever bothered to correct me.

Moving abroad is a wonderful idea, until it isn’t. There are a huge amount of obstacles to overcome and for many, it’s a daily struggle. Being chronically embarrassed at home means you’ll be twice as bad in your new country. But it’s all part of the fun, part of getting out of your comfort zone and into a new environment which will challenge you in ways you never thought possible and, ultimately, help you grow as a person. My advice is to go with it and write about it so everyone else can have a good laugh at your expense.