Chapter One: the first 21 days

A lot has happened in a short space of time. Here is a summary of my life here so far:

  • I attended a wedding, having met the groom about three minutes before the ceremony. I didn’t know anyone apart from my host family. My host family’s Grandad, Sisco, pretended to be a priest even though it was a civil ceremony. It was on a hill somewhere near the Pyrenees and there were a lot of cats. A surreal moment to say the least.

    Very surreal. 
  • After the wedding, my family took me to a beautiful medieval village on top of a hill to watch the sun set. It was beautiful.
  • I have been to the beach a few times, mainly to the Barceloneta area. The sea is warm and a wonderful blue, there are numerous volleyball courts, and a beach bar every fifty yards. Also, there is an amazing boulevard full of skaters, which makes me want to invest in some roller blades.

    Living the high life and getting a taste for Estrella
  • I have discovered my favourite spot in Barcelona so far: the Castell on Montjuic. Literally incredible. Most normal humans choose to take a funicular train or cable car to reach this point: instead, Victoria and I chose to walk up. Every euro counts.

    I look a bit drunk: I’m not
  • I have come to realise the cultural difference between England and Spain- in terms of what is acceptable in the creepiness of middle aged men. Apparently asking me to get into a pool naked, removing your wedding ring in front of your wife and putting your arms around me is A-OK here. Fab.
  • I have taught some teenagers English- and they don’t hate me yet. They think my accent is ridiculous (it probably is). They are a tough crowd to play to, but I am getting some laughs.
  • I have realised that by saying ‘soy calor’ as opposed to ‘tengo calor’ for the past three weeks I have been accidently telling my host-family kids that I think I am sexy, as opposed to ‘I am hot’ (temperature wise), which is just excellent all round. Well done me.
  • I have explored the bars in my neighbourhood with my Californian pal and realised how much cheaper beer is here. Also: coffee is cheaper, pastries are cheaper. Fruit costs less and tastes better.
  • I have consumed at least 10 pints of olive oil and probably eaten three pigs and one cow’s worth of meat. RIP to my old, innocent, vegetarian self.
  • I started Spanish lessons with a middle-aged East Londoner called Keith. Keith has been living and working in Barcelona for four years and speaks very little Spanish- so that’s promising. The lessons were a bit weird and the room we had them in lacked windows but I literally paid the cheapest possible price in the whole city for them so beggars cannot be choosers.
  • I also finished Spanish lessons at this particular school, with my pal Keith, for the above reasons. I am going to do some language exchanges- with teachers at my school and some other students in the city- instead. They cost nothing and are more practical.
  • I went out with a running club- and one of the first people spoke to was from Sheffield Uni. Weird. With regards to running: the views are spectacular, day and night, up in the hills and down on the seafront. It is a perfect place for road-running, in the evenings or early mornings. I tried once at midday and nearly passed out. I nearly always get lost, even when I think I know the way: on Sunday I accidently ran an extra 2-3km after taking one wrong turn. Success.
  • The grandfather of my host-family, Sisco, has informed me that I will return to England fatter because otherwise people will think that I have not been looked after. He puts three slices of cheese on my plate when I am trying to eat an apple. It is a real challenge; physically, emotionally and mentally.
  • I went to the Merce, which is a free festival in Barcelona and essentially celebrates everything weird and wonderful the region has to offer. There were giants and dancers and fireworks, and music of all kinds. Whilst out wandering through the streets with Victoria, we got caught up in some kind of weird devil run, which was pretty disturbing. The fireworks display, and light-show at the end of the festival was the best one I have ever seen, and they played a lot of David Bowie. There was also a very public proposal. It was lovely.
    Giants on Las Ramblas

    Fireworks at Placa d’Espanya. Magical.
  • I experienced my first night out in Barcelona. We went to a club called Jamboree, and spoke mainly to Welsh, Canadian and Bolivian people. We rented a tuc-tuc. We didn’t even arrive at the club until half 2ish. Interesting night to say the least.
  • I had a complete meltdown last Wednesday, which I shall go on to discuss…

(At this point, I would just like to make it clear that all photo credit in this blog goes to Victoria. My photography skills have been particularly weak of recent)

The first week-and-a-half at school was by no means an easy feat. I made the stupid mistake of wearing an all-black, non-breathable dress in 28 degree heat on day one. I had nearly passed out before even entering the building. They don’t have aircon which can be problematic this time of year, in terms of odour and getting kids to pay attention. I am slowly adjusting.

I performed a presentation on myself so many times that I am sick of hearing my own voice. I included a photo of the Artic Monkeys on my slideshow to make reference to Sheffield- but some younger students got confused and think I am friends with Alex Turner. I am going to let this rumour continue to circulate. My timetable is quite nice in that Tuesday afternoons are free- and Fridays too. I use this time to study Spanish, but also to go for long walks or relax in one of the many café’s in Sants, because why not? In October I will also start a University course, but the workload won’t be too intense.

Classes are challenging- because on one hand I have pupils who are basically fluent and I could have lengthy conversations with- and then there are some that can’t introduce themselves. There are definitely some characters. Teaching teenagers is undoubtedly going to be tough- but rewarding. Also, my tutor, Marta, is amazing. Whenever I ask her about planning any lessons she tells me to calm down, so I do. Unlike England, where most teachers plan the lessons days or weeks before they happen, here, I have noticed that it is much more of a last minute affair. As in: make it up ten minutes before/ as you go along. Adapt constantly. It is challenging to work like this, but also really nice and refreshing. Everyone is just very chilled. Another big shock has been watching teachers hug and kiss the kids. Everyone is just much more physically affectionate. There isn’t really such a thing as ‘personal space’ in Spain.

My blog is meant to be an honest account of my trip; so I must admit that it is not 100% positive all the time. I have been extremely stressed about securing an NIE, which basically means I don’t get in trouble with the police, can access healthcare and can be paid etc. After weeks of trying and failing to get an appointment, I started to lose sleep over it (I am a bad sleeper at the best of times). This all came to a head last Tuesday, when I didn’t sleep a wink all night. On reflection, I also think that coffee consumption did not help. Anyway: the accumulation of no sleep/ physical exhaustion/ trying to do 10000000 things simultaneously in one week/ starting a new job/ struggling with language resulted in a very public breakdown on Wednesday 21st September (I shall refer to this day as D Day, with ‘D’ standing for a complete and utter bloody disaster). Let me explain more: I am someone who tries to run before they can walk, sing before they can speak, and learn past progressive tense before I know present simple. It is arguable that at times I do not help myself in times of stress. Wednesday was a primary example of this.

After spending Wednesday morning trying to remain calm and awake, I went into school late and proceeded to have a (quite public) panic attack in the receptionist’s office. I think they thought someone had died. I returned home and managed to sleep a little, spoke to a close friend, and bought some strawberry laces. I returned to school at three, and felt calm and fully sane again. All of the teachers were so nice- news spreads fast here- and I was invited to the cinema/for a beer/ to stay in a mountain house, all within about half an hour. It was simultaneously the most embarrassing and comforting day of my stay so far. Also, I learnt that one of the many perks of staying with a family- there are many perks- is that you have people who care about you and want to help you at all times. They have been wonderful, and I have been very lucky. Anyway, I am feeling far better now. I am slowly starting to meet and know more people, and gain more confidence in my job. I worry less about getting Spanish completely wrong, so I am speaking a little more. Most importantly, I have FINALLY secured an NIE appointment with the police. It is a miracle!

Last night I met and spoke to a chap called Michael who came out to Barcelona on my teaching scheme four years ago, fell in love with the city and the language and the culture, and never left. It was great to speak with someone who has been through the same experiences. The cultural shock has been far more extreme than I could have ever imagined before coming here. I assumed that because Spain is in Europe, the people would not be that different to home. Oh, how wrong I was. The differences in culture are sometimes subtle, and sometimes very extreme, but they are always present. Michael kindly gave me some advice on living in the city, and we are going to go out running together on Friday.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Michael’s story is that when he came out to Barcelona, he spoke no Spanish or Catalan whatsoever, which is essentially my situation. Now he is fluent in Spanish, and describes himself as ‘75% fluent’ in Catalan, which is probably a modest underestimation (because he is British and us Brits generally modestly underestimate ourselves in just about everything). Thus, Michael is walking and talking evidence that it is possible to become fluent in a language or two, after learning it completely from scratch. There is hope!

With regards to the city itself, I am falling in love with Barcelona more and more each day. There is so much colour and music and general loveliness. My favourite time to go for a wander is just before sunset, when the temperature is still balmy and the sky looks particularly beautiful. Still, after twenty-one days I cannot comprehend that this is where I will be living for nine months. It still feels like a holiday.

I have gone on a bit, so I’d better stop writing. If you have got this far, then I would like to personally thank you for reading my rubbish xxxx Adios!


One Comment Add yours

  1. Caroline Hawkins says:

    enjoying reading this Alice, you are a brave girl x


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