Freelance Reflection #67

I’m fully feeling the anticipation of the nine weeks of TEFL work I’m doing in July (despite having started anxiety medication). Changing schools after the first six weeks, I’m hoping I’ll be less phased about going straight into a new school without a break. I feel more confident in some ways, but I can’t stand being observed and haven’t taught in this way for so long for years now! I’m doing a lot of teaching Macbeth at the moment, which is all good, but it’s also for 8 hours a week, so for the sake of my mental health, I’m giving myself a break from that before I plunge into teaching for 20 hours a week (this is all plus my regular 7-8 hours of usual tuition). So, I’m thinking about how I can balance things to make my summer as stress-free as possible. I’m thinking as much reading in the sun as possible! That’s my happy place, and where I fortunately spent part of my birthday – along with the Louise Bourgeois exhibition, eating pan-Asian food, and dancing at The Shard’s silent disco.

I’m slowly getting on top of things, but I feel sad that I’ve not been able to dedicate time to creative work. I feel inspired by so many things – I’ve seen loads of bands, including Dry Cleaning supporting Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who do spoken word over drums and guitars, which I love, and I’ve loved watching Jake Rooke’s Big Boys on Channel 4. Another peer, Bisha Ali, has also got Ms Marvel on Disney! I’m hoping I’ll be able to find balance and prioritise creativity in September… when I’m also going to be starting my MA to become an Art Therapist. Anyway, I’m hoping at least that I’ll be able to save well to pay my first year in instalments, but if I have more donations, I’ll also be able to create more… which is also a part of what the MA is about, becoming a therapist, whilst continuing your art practice.

My top 8 favourite things about Córdoba.


1. It’s beautiful.

When I first moved here, I walked around the streets in disbelief that I had the fortune to spend a year in such a beautiful city. Being surrounded by beauty has a way that lifts the spirits. Sure, it was bathed in summer sunlight then, but even in winter, it often is still and the fresh chill in the air doesn’t make the streets any less beautiful. I love the traditional cobbled streets, white and yellow houses with balconies, and the statues that are still popping up around the city. I was also lucky enough to bag my own apartment in the centre, which is equally as pretty inside.

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Pretty, even in the rain.

2. It’s chilled.

The general vibe of the city is pretty chilled out. People are friendly, and forgiving for those like me who struggle to speak Spanish. This means I can enjoy my job relatively stress-free, and day-to-day life is easy-going. Whatever reason for the happy-vibes here, it has had an enormous impact on my wellbeing and mental health. I used to find it hard to relax, but now whenever I get a voice that says what I “should” be doing, I am able to justify my decisions, whether that’s going for a long lunch at De Tapas instead of staying in and being “productive”, or whether it’s taking time out of Spanish classes (which had been stressing me out) and going swimming instead, or even just making more time to indulge in reading. I write poetry regularly and naturally, and whenever I sit down with the intention to write a short story or article, it feels unpressured and enjoyable.


3. It’s sunny.

Okay, I’m not going to lie, the weather was one of the main motivations for moving here. My first focus was that I wanted to learn Spanish, but I didn’t even look at places in the north like San Sebastian. Long days, that are often sunny and often without rain, are naturally going to make you feel good. With bright blue skies, you can’t complain.

4. It’s small.

Along with the sunny weather, something that is paramount for my mental health is not having to travel on tubes and trains everywhere. Growing up in London, you get so used to its chaos. I’m a highly sensitive person, and I’ve been reminded of certain aspects of this recently – parts of myself that I hadn’t truly taken note of, having not realised the emotion impact. It is absolute bliss to be able to walk everywhere. It’s under five minutes to walk to work, under two to the gym, and the friend that lives furthest from me is only a twenty-minute walk. I’m surrounded by restaurants and shops. Everything I could want is practically on my doorstep. Sadly, it’s impossible to find this situation in London – either too expensive or too difficult to live near work. I know I want to come back to the UK, but moving back in with my parents is a massive compromise on the happiness and independence that I have here.

5. It’s clean.

This point doesn’t need much explaining. It goes along with the beauty, that it needs to be maintained. During the night, the streets are washed down, made fresh and sparkly clean for  the morning.

6. It’s cheap. 

Again, the fact that I can afford an apartment on my own, with a fairly modest wage, right in the centre of the city, is incredible when compared with the UK. I can eat well for less, and eating and drinking out is cheap to, having already mention De Tapas, where you can get a caña for 60 cents, and a small dish for 90 cents. It’s 2.50 for churros con chocolate at Marta’s, and you can get an ice-cream for between 1-3 euros, depending on size. Perfeco!

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These skewers from Mercado Victoria are the best!

7. The food.

So, speaking of food. I had to change this from 5 to 8 things, because I couldn’t leave out the food. I love the typically Spanish dishes such as tortilla and paella, but one of the reasons I love going to De Tapas is that I am surprised by so many new dishes. It’s also very unlike me to enjoy something like that, as I usually order the same things if given a choice, and I don’t tend to fare well with the unexpected. But I like how it forces me to relax and be in a state where I am not in control. It’s also all so delicious.

8. The culture.

It’s a strange thing to feel connected to Spanish culture, but also that it is still something  from which I am an outsider. I love walking through the streets to hear the music play, and recently got to see the most amazing flamenco show. The passion of their voices, the skill in the movement, the rhythm of the music. I want to write more about this, but I almost find it hard to describe. I just know that each day I am making memories, and I will look back on this year as a highlight of my life.

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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.


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?


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!


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.