No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #9

So, it seems fitting that this is only my ninth post about my time in Spain. As a person who likes round numbers, it leaves a door open for future opportunity to return. For this last post, I have complied a list of things I’ll miss about Spain, as well as those things I’ve been missing from the UK. I came to the country not even a beginner in Spanish, and have since done an online test (from a language school in beloved Battersea, of all places) and the test placed me as a Pre-Intermediate 3 (A2.3 on the CEFR). I have been in Spanish lessons all June, and spent last Saturday reading a story book at the pool, plus the doorman to my building just said I have improved (though he seems to say that a lot!) I’ve been to Granada, and will be finishing my trip in the beautiful Cadiz, where I’ve never been before.

So, here we go with Spain vs. UK.

Weather

So, it’s always around 10 degrees warmer here in Andalusia. That said, it is very hard to keep to a good temperature because it is so expensive. In winter, my apartment just has a choice between air conditioning and an electric radiator. In summer, it’s windows or air con. Bills have been expensive as it is, so it doesn’t feel like much of a choice. The fact there isn’t central heating makes as much sense to me as the UK not having air con (so, equally silly). The summer sun is more reliable here, but I’ll be back to the UK’s unpredictability soon enough.

Food

Whilst away I’ve missed roast dinners, and despite getting my fill over Christmas, I’m salivating now just writing the word gravy (which, by the way is really hard to describe in Spanish – un tipo de salsa?). My favourite Spanish dishes can be had in the UK, and with that in mind, what I appreciate in the UK is the variety of cuisine, and it has made me want to try food from even more nationalities. Even with the summer heat now, the lack of gardens also means a lack of BBQs, which I’ll also look forward to sinking my teeth into on my return. What I will miss most is the availability of churros con chocolate, which are a dessert option in some restaurants, but here are a staple of any good cafe. As well as that, I love that sandwiches are generally plain (no mayo), and on massive delicious bread. Like this tortilla one.

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Drink

Anyone who knows me will know my chocolate and milk habit, which I have as an evening treat – a reward for my hard work. Milk in Spain is not the same, and generally tastes sweeter. I did manage to find a decent skimmed milk, and have recently been popping a mug in the freezer so it is extra chilled. On the other hand, I have no idea how I am going to fill the void of both still lemon juice, and tinto de verano or vargas.  Yes, I can get lemon juice in the UK, but it comes in relatively expensive cartons, and not the nice big bottles you have here, and you can get a bottle of vargas for under a euro. It is so fruity and has low-alcohol content, so it is delicious.

Places

There is an Irish pub in Córdoba, but just isn’t the same. A good pub maintains what is meant by its full name: public house. They are cosy, family-friendly, and serve proper pub food (see: gravy). British children often grow up going to pubs, usually with a playground to accommodate them and I have many fond memories of The Leather Bottle, playing wit friends and eating salt-and-vinegar McCoys with a blackcurrant cordial. I’ve now changed that order to a pint, but what I will take back with me is the smaller measures in Spain. Obviously, they’re more liberal with the spirits (best gin con limón ever), but I love being able to get just a caña or maceta. I feel like I might start getting half pints when back in the UK. Another plus here is that you can get cheap tapas whilst drinking, and sometimes it’s even free.

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Entertainment

I feel a great connection with Spanish music, and have also enjoyed some of the flamenco fusion nights, which are filled with people of all ages, often dancing traditionally. The festivals in May will definitely be calling me back. This kind of culture just can’t be found in the UK if we think about what is traditionally British in terms of dancing… Morris dancing? I’m sorry, but no thank you. In my opinion, nothing quite matches the dancing here, and I would love to learn the sevillianas so I can feel more of a part of it. Despite this, I know I can learn this dance back in London, because again, the UK trumps every time when it comes to variety. I am spoilt for choice having had the fortune to grow up, and still currently be able to live there on my return.

Lifestyle

As much as I miss my family, having lived with my parents for the past five years, living on my own in Spain has been a dream come true. I paid about half my salary to live alone, but I relished this space, not to mention my independence. I’ve been eating less meat (mostly only when I go out), whilst meat or fish is a staple with every meal with my dad’s cooking. For the time I was living and working in London post-university, I started not to take lunch breaks, yet now having the long ‘siesta’ afternoon breaks (I don’t siesta), I have appreciated the importance of a proper break away from work at lunch, cooking my main meal during this time. Of course, this is made easier by living less than five minutes walk away from work. That glory is what I am most going to miss. Still, working in the day time is preferable, but it’s likely that any TEFL work I do back in London will be evening work too. That said, I find this kind of pattern means I see work as part of my day, rather than something to get over and done with.

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People

I’ve made friends here, and I hope to come to visit them next year. That said, a year just isn’t long enough, especially with the transient nature of this work, and if I had better Spanish I would have liked to make more Spanish friends (a lot of the locals who engage with English teachers tend to be men…) I just wish I had come sooner, but like there aren’t enough hours in the day, sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough years in the lifetime. In some ways, I have found it difficult to be away from friends and family, and this was more so when hearing of the news of terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, another fire in Bethnal Green where I used to work, and more personal matters, such as my Great Uncle passing away just last week. I was lucky in that I had friends and family visit, but I am so looking forward to seeing all my friends in the UK again, friends I’ve known from age four, from secondary school, from university, from poetry.

Home

This brings me to one of the things that makes me feel most at home in the UK: our lovely poetry communities. I have already signed up to take part in the Poetry Cafe fundraiser. I’m also going to be at Edinburgh Fringe festival with She Grrrowls (Black Market Room 1, 7:20-8:20 pm). I am feeling anxious, but also excited. So many of my friends have achieved such amazing things in the time that I’ve been gone, and I just can’t wait to see them doing these things (and join in a bit too, hopefully). There’s so much that I want to do, including continuing learning Spanish, and although I obviously won’t be able to do this in the same way without physically being in Spain, to have only been to one poetry event, this is possibly the number one thing that I missed in the time that I have been gone, because I was almost starved of it.

So, I leave here in July, relating to this quote from Suzannah Weiss: Few are familiar with the concept of going somewhere, loving it, and, nevertheless, leaving.

 

Late Bloomers

It was recently National Poetry Day, and a feeling waved over me that has been kept at bay since being in Spain. It has been around a month now, and I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. Aside from the usual stresses that come and go, especially when settling into a new place, I have had no doubt that coming here has been the right decision.

Yet, I still feel a pull back to London, something partly a fear of missing out (FOMO), but also more than that. FOMO has become all the more common since the age of social media. This means that I am seeing so many of my peers in poetry do all these amazing things I wish I was going. To be clear, I am pleased for their success, but I feel a gnawing at me that I have never really given myself a chance to truly reach my potential in writing.

I know that with full dedication, I am capable of doing what others are doing, in carving a space in the poetry world where it is possible to make some sort of living from what you love doing. So, I know that I want to return, to give myself that chance to blossom without having to dedicate so many hours to a full-time job. At twenty-eight, I will be doing this much later than anticipated, but I wouldn’t necessarily be where I am now if I had done anything differently up to this point. And, like I said, I’m happy where I am.

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Beautiful Cordoba

The point is, that one of the things that has been infringing on my contentedness is my own habit of comparing myself to others. Especially when others are younger than me. I berate myself for not having that version of success, for not doing what they’re doing. Even when I’m actually doing something completely different, with its own set of goals. I mean, how amazing would it be if, by the end of the year, I could actually speak Spanish. If I could write and perform poems in Spanish. I’m having an experience that may just be for this one year, and so I need to appreciate every moment of it.

I came here to learn Spanish, to make that my priority. I’m going to be having around 8 hours of lessons a week, plus homework, plus living somewhere that I can gradually use it in everyday life. The concierge at my block of flats already told me that I was getting better… after I asked how he was. I’m in the lowest group at A1 level, but I hope that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of Duo Lingo, that I can improve. I’m also obviously working to teach English as a foreign language, and still acquiring a whole lot of skills whilst doing it.

I’m still writing all the usual things – poems, stories, articles… blog posts! Just because I’m not earning money for the writing I’m doing at the moment, doesn’t mean I have to hand back my “writer” badge. So, in the vein of these thoughts, I wrote a poem that I started in the early hours of the morning following National Poetry Day having been busy with things not poetry related. It’s dedicated to all the late bloomers out there. Enjoy.

Patience and Dealing with Uncertainty*

When I attended CBT, one of the biggest revelations that emerged was that I have great difficulty dealing with uncertainty. This makes me incredibly impatient with myself, and other people. This is exacerbated when there’s a problem. Anxiety affects people differently – some people put things off, but, for me, I feel that I can get rid of that anxious feeling if I can deal with it as soon as possible. To the extent that, even if it is not possible, I will try to make it possible. The same goes for when things don’t go as planned; it’s like forcing a jigsaw piece into the wrong place, and it never does work.

Dealing with uncertainty means you have to accept that something is out of your control. I’m currently undergoing a learning process as to how to actually do this. Accepting we can’t control something does not mean stewing and constantly thinking about whatever it is, and doing things surrounding the matter. What I think it means, is taking a step back, and occupying yourself with something different.

As I write this I’m currently waiting for a number of balls to get rolling. Or rather, dominos, as they are all linked together. My patience is being tested since moving to Spain. The first test was finding a place to live. In my head, I had about a week, had booked a hostel, and imagined having viewings every day, and simply selecting which one I liked best. I remember it being quite simple at university in Norwich. However, the reality didn’t quite match up to my expectations, which is one of the main points about uncertainty – your mind tries to manage the uncertainty by creating these imaginary scenarios, none of which are really helpful.

I managed to arrange one viewing, but I didn’t know what to say to the agent when I came out. What I learnt from this was how important aesthetics are to my wellbeing, and I tended to much prefer the more modern spaces, with light rooms and bright colours. After finding out that the next day was a public holiday and I couldn’t go to any viewings, I spent the rest of the evening trying to arrange them for the next day.

¿Habla usted inglés? This was not Norwich, it was Córdoba. I couldn’t speak Spanish, and after a negative answer, I translated a few key sentences through Google for the next attempt. The person on the other end of the phone understood me… but I didn’t understand their answers. Both conversations resulted in them hanging up on me. After just one successful conversation with someone needing to call back because they were driving, I gave up, and they didn’t call back.

I spent the next morning continuing my search online, and then walked around the city with one of the other new teachers. The day after I had the idea of texting instead of calling, as well as getting some help from my place of work. In the end, I managed to find the perfect place through the agent I’d first met. However, when I was unable to get enough money out for that evening’s contract signing, I was upset and frustrated. I wanted to do it immediately, but it was impossible. I was up late that night on the phone to Barclays to try to retrieve the PIN for a card I didn’t usually use, to make sure I would have the whole amount needed the next day. This was a waste of time, as I then easily got my mum to find it for me at home.

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So I was able to get the money the next morning and moved in that afternoon. Having a base now is helping with the next set of challenges. I still have to wait for an NIE number, which I need to be able to open a bank account, which I need to be able to set up the Internet. I also need to wait for my timetable before I can really start looking at course books or planning any lessons. I have no choice but to wait. Obviously, my impatience isn’t solved overnight. However, I’m trying to make the most of the free time I will be wishing I had in a week’s time, especially currently being without the distraction of Wi-Fi.

I have done a lot of walking, and a lot of shopping for things I needed in my flat, as well as a lengthy exploration of supermarket shelves. But I have also written a short story, a poem, and a couple of articles. I have played Adventure Time Card Wars, and completed puzzles in a puzzle book. I have been reading books, magazines, and my Spanish phrase book. I have even meditated. I tried watching TV, but my Spanish isn’t up to that level. And lastly, I’ve been cooking again, which I haven’t done on a regular basis since university (and I graduated in 2011).

So far, I’ve been distracting myself from thinking about my fear of everything I’m uncertain about, and it’s been working. It also helps to reflect back on what I learnt from the previous few months travelling and working in Vietnam. I’ll being working mornings and evenings, with a big break in the afternoon. In Vietnam, like many language schools, it was similar deal. What I learnt was actually how adaptable I am, so knowing this about myself now has challenged preconceived notions of myself, and also means I can reassure myself that I will find my routine, but that there is no rush to do so. Meanwhile, I’ll try to enjoy a slower pace, and ease myself into what is a big change in terms of both job and country.

*Note: I wrote this when I came to Spain in September and wanted to try to get it published elsewhere, but it’s been so long now and it’s out of date, so here it is!

CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

So, I passed my CELTA course! From mid-September to mid-December I went to International House every Monday and Wednesday after work, plus some Saturdays. I expected it to be a lot of work. It certainly was hard work, but there was a lot that I didn’t expect. It wasn’t a walk in the park – it wasn’t simply a case of getting on with it and putting the hours in. The worst lesson I had was when I had planned for ten hours! The fact that progress wasn’t linear meant that it ended up being quite an emotional journey, and finishing on my final TP (teaching practise) was anticlimactic, because it wasn’t my best lesson. I wasn’t yet perfect.

By the end, I had managed to pass all my assignments the first time, had bounced back from my #weak lesson – managing not to fail any – and had saved lessons when I had made them too difficult for the learners. I’ve always had high expectations of students, but by the end of the course I definitely learnt when I need to lower the level of challenge! Although you accept the fact you’re being observed by five people every lesson, there must be an underlying nervousness that comes from that, and I 100% feel confident and relaxed about moving forward into this new profession. Initially I was a bit disappointed not to get a “Pass B” grade, but I’ve since understood just how hard it is to get them – with these trainee teachers getting Above Standard lessons, what was I thinking?

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The move itself is a sideways one. I work as an Academic Mentor for English, so I teach language skills every day, but in a very different context. I see it as a another string to my bow, but, like any, one that needs honing and developing continually. In the future, I hope to have this as part of what I can offer whether tutoring or teaching. After volunteering at work and after work next year, my dream at the moment is to find a job in Spain in September/October. Having a Spanish name and not being able to speak Spanish is a constant disappointment. I admire my grandmother for learning so many languages, and feel that with enough dedication and some time actually living in the country, maybe I’ll be able to grasp enough of the language to at least hold a conversation.

What I really wanted to write about here is my journey through the course, and other than the certificate that should arrive in a couple of months, I gained so much from doing the course. I wanted it to be a good investment, so opted for the CELTA, which is around £1,600. I worked out the most convenient location and time, and it happened to be one of the most reputable places to do the courses. International House has centres all over the world, and though it may be unrealistic to expect to work within the organisation any time soon, I was particularly inspired to know that many people who work there also have creative practices they do alongside ELF teaching.

As so much of my time was taken up by the course, I could no longer attend poetry events I wasn’t featured at or running, and couldn’t visit my boyfriend all the way in Norwich. It meant we took some trips to half-way points like Colchester and Ely. What started as a seed that was planted by my boyfriend’s desire to live abroad has blossomed into a dream of my own. Now I’m left hoping he still wants to travel with me on my mission to see the world and to soak up some Spanish sun, or anywhere I can learn Spanish and be in warmer weather than the temperamental UK.

The past three and a half years I have been so focused on attending events that I had been doing it out of obligation rather than feeling I had a choice in the matter – a feeling shared by others in a similar position. Not being able to attend events has given me a renewed perspective. I now I feel I am able to prioritise other things, like actually writing, and taking care of myself both physically and mentally. Since Christmas Day I have been participating in an online challenge to write a poem per day for 12 days (The 12 Days of Form) and I have so far been able to rise to the challenge. The rollercoaster ride of the CELTA has shown me what I can achieve within the space of a few months, and I feel I am able to set myself practical goals, and writing is a lot more tangible than performing at random events.

Lastly, I saw a couple of members of Kid Glove, and after a difficult period leading up to our show and some time apart, it was good to reconnect as friends over a pint, new MAC make-up and pub grub. On the course I also met a great bunch of people, and we had a massive celebration on the last day of the course – great Korean food, and drinks at good old ‘Spoons. As much as I try to make time for friends, I want to be more flexible to see them too. Let’s see if performing at less open mic’ nights will give me more time to do other important things!

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I do still want to perform, but hope I can be more free to attend events on my terms, rather than feeling like a puppet to whatever voice in my head. I want the time to write, to work on memorising newer pieces, and my boyfriend Matt has a fancy new camera he is keen to use to record a piece. Working and commuting take so much out of me, people in the same role are surprised that I manage to go home and be productive. So, by going out less I needn’t feel like a failure. I’m an introvert at heart, and I think it’s about time I embrace that and finally get a good lot of writing done. It’s still cold outside after all.

Now, onto today’s form: the ballad.