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…

 

 

 

 

 

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…

The crippling embarrassment and comical ridiculousness of learning a new language

When I lived in Barcelona, most people spoke better English than I did. No joke, Most cosmopolitan cities in the world boast a plethora of languages, with the Queen’s native tongue being fairly high on the list, but this was ridiculous.

I spoke English all day, every day, and despite attempts when out and about, plus the advantage of a Spanish-speaking boyfriend and several Spanish-speaking friends, we all kind of got stuck in English. The hostel we worked at took mostly guests from North America, Australia or the UK, and those who weren’t from those particular reasons still spoke excellent English. My colleagues were a mixture of Europe, the US and South America (with Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay represented respectively), but even for them it made more sense to continue in English. Locals, sensing my trepidation when I tried to order groceries, kindly switched to English (partly because they would have had to wait an additional twenty minutes for me to respond to them).

It was a nice introduction to my new country of residence, in a way, however now I’m living in a much smaller city, I’m wishing we’d all made a bit more effort as I’m getting to grips with the difficulty and general hilarity of learning a new language.

Salamanca has many English speakers – students from overseas, young people, a few expats here and there, however it’s not uncommon to come across someone in their twenties or thirties who doesn’t speak English. Even those who do will continue in Spanish in shops and restaurants, and why shouldn’t they? This is Spain after all. I’m happy that my new city is pushing me to learn Spanish, but it’s bloody hard work.

This is the first time I’ve really worked to learn another language. Most of my English friends are monolingual – unless we had a strong aptitude for a language or had family to keep up with, we were never encouraged to continue much past GCSE. I have a decent level of French but I’m nowhere near fluent, and although I have a handful of useful phrases in German and Italian, I can’t claim proficiency in either of those language (apologies here to my Italian auntie). The older you are, the harder it is, not just because of the human brain’s capacity to retain information, but also because of the additional shame that comes with messing up. And boy do I mess up. My understanding of Spanish is decent and I can write reasonably well (albeit with some dictionary-based guesswork). My spoken Spanish, however, is still comically slow and full of errors.

Here’s a typical conversation in my house (translated into English to show you how difficult this language lark is):

My flatmate: ‘What’s for dinner? Smells great!’
Me: ‘Dicks (pollas). Um no, wait, I mean chicken (pollo)’
My flatmate: *dissolves into laughter for the next ten minutes*

Here’s another typical conversation:

Friend: ‘We were just saying that normally, A has a beard, but he’s gotten rid of it!’
Me: ‘Ah that’s a shame. I am beard. My dad is a beard. My boyfriend is a beard’.
Friends: *tumbleweed*
Me: ‘I mean, I like beards’.

See what I mean? As a child, I would have found the above hilarious. As an adult, I still do, although I feel a huge sense of shame and embarrassment at not yet being able to form sentences. I feel bad for new acquaintances who have to speak to me extremely slowly, as if I’m recovering from a severe concussion.

I sometimes worry I’ll never get it right. I want more than anything to speak Spanish fluently, to be able to think and dream in Spanish, to speak to my boyfriend’s family in their native language. I don’t want to be the one everyone has to translate for, the one everyone has a little bit less respect for because they didn’t make the effort. It’s sheer determination right now that is spurring me to keep going, to keep trying. I will, for comical effect, be making a documentation of all my errors, because when I get really good I can look back on them and laugh. A lot.

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Spain: first impressions from a cheeky expat

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that I recently jacked in my job and London life for something more, shall we say, not London-y. I chose Spain for the culture, climate, people and of course, some of the sexiest music known to man. I’d visited the country several times during my life, everywhere from beautiful Salamanca and exciting Madrid to the frankly embarrassing UK-On-Sea, Salou. I knew I’d made the right decision in terms of weather, food, et al, but had I made the right decision in terms of lifestyle?

As I write this, I’m on month No. 4 in Spain, having spent the past three in Barcelona working in a hostel. I spent the next month in rehab (aka my parents’ house) to save money and more importantly, my liver, before returning to Spain and to my new home Salamanca, to take up a teaching job.

In Spain, everything runs about four hours behind UK time. They might be an hour ahead, but nobody’s rushing here. Even the average walking pace is slower. Granted, I spent six years in London where everyone moves as if there are tiny segways attached to their feet, but here people actually amble. This can be hell if you’re carrying large bags of shopping up the hill to your apartment and stuck behind several old dudes, but there’s something to be learned from the Spanish way of walking. You’ll get there eventually, so why rush?

Spain is weird. It’s not just the slow walking, everything is done with a kind of laissez-faire attitude which is both something we Brits could learn from, and incredibly annoying. During my first week in Barcelona, I made three trips to get my social security number. One didn’t work out because the official I was scheduled to see was out at breakfast, the second time he couldn’t find his pen. This is not a joke. Government workers especially can afford to be very chill because of their job security, but this attitude extends to everyone – office workers, bartenders, bus drivers, possibly strippers. Everybody’s chilling.

I’ve experienced a lot of this first hand when it comes to work here. My first hostel job in Barcelona required me to ‘just show up on Monday’ and they actually seemed surprised when I did. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long, there wasn’t much to do. Or maybe I was just four hours early. My second hostel job, while much more ordered in terms of activity, still left me with hours of chill time that I didn’t know what to do with. In London, we’re used to getting up at the crack of dawn, going to bed exhausted around 11pm and not really stopping much in between. Lunch is a hurried sandwich inhaled at your desk in between emails, not a leisurely two-hour affair. Dinner is whatever you throw together when you’ve finally gotten off the tube, not another leisurely two-hour affair. It takes some getting used to – I spent my first weeks in the country feeling like I was permanently skiving from an imaginary job, hiding from a boss that didn’t exist.

On top of the dramatically reduced pace of life, there’s the language barrier. I’m learning Spanish, but it’s a slow process. In Barcelona, everyone spoke English and my job was at a hostel for backpackers, chiefly from the US, Australia and other such places, so a knowledge of Castellano or, for that matter, Catalan, wasn’t a necessity. In Salamanca, where I’m now based, it’s a different story. You can easily go a full day without hearing a word of English, particularly if it’s out of tourist season. To be fair, that’s the whole reason I wanted to work here, to improve my Spanish, but it’s definitely a culture shock. Translating everything in and out of Spanish in your head is exhausting. It took me fifteen minutes to order a baguette yesterday.

Despite the difficulties, I’m (very slowly) becoming accustomed to the lifestyle here. I stand by my decision. It might be slow, it might be relaxed to the point of madness, but the Spanish lifestyle – indeed, the Mediterranean lifestyle as a whole – has got something right. Life isn’t something to be rushed through. It’s time we were all a bit more chill, a bit more ‘whatever’.

I’m embracing this because I wrote this post four weeks ago and couldn’t be bothered to publish it.