About this teaching malarkey

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here but I’m not without my excuses. After weeks of miscommunication over timetables and being sent away from classes due to exams and other various random reasons, this week has been one of the busiest since I got here. I’ve been working at the school for over two months now and until this week I have pretty much just been used a walking dictionary, helping with pronunciation and grammar or mostly just reading scripts for listening exercises. However, this week for the first time I was asked to prepare and deliver not one but two different presentations. The first one on Scotland in general; traditions, customs, culture, geography, politics and basic facts. This actually took quite a lot of research on my part, I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know as much about my own country as I probably should! The second one was easier, a presentation on Christmas traditions in Britain for a music class, so of course it was filled with all those good Christmas classics (Wham! anyone?).

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Who doesn’t love a bit of vintage christmas fun?

 

Initially I was nervous to stand in front of a class of 30 bored teenagers and talk about Santa Claus and bagpipes, however, both presentations went well and they loved the old school christmas music videos. It wasn’t until the next day when I walked into English, pen drive in hand, ready to enlighten some young Spanish minds with the wonders of Christmas traditions in the UK, when disaster struck. I was facing the same class from the day before! The English teacher had told me it would be ok to use the same presentation and I hadn’t thought to check if it would be the same pupils for each class. What a nightmare, right?… Wrong! It actually went better than I could have expected! I decided to use the presentation as a revision tool rather than just showing it to them all over again. I quizzed them on each slide before showing it to them, and it turns out they had all been listening a lot better than I had realised! At the end, instead of showing them all the old christmas music videos that they had already seen, we did a Christmas vocab brainstorm session on the board and I was amazed at how much they had all remembered. The teacher even commented on how well it had gone and how even the kids who are normally very quiet had spoken up to offer christmas words for the board.

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Grammar is never boring! 

Although I have never thought of teaching as the career path I want to go down, in moments like these I find myself considering it. If I am honest, I have never been that great with kids and I really didn’t expect to enjoy this job as much as I have been. It surprises me all the time that the children are, for the most part, generally interested and engaged in everything I have to say. I’m not saying that it’s all plain sailing and of course, as I am only an assistant, I don’t have even half the responsibilities of a real teacher. But when my alarm goes off at the crack of dawn each morning I find that I don’t mind getting up and that actually I’m really looking forward to starting the day ahead -anyone who knows me will know that this is a big deal, I am not a morning person! I know that this is not a hard job and that I have been very lucky with my school and the town, but who knows, there just might be something to this teaching malarkey after all.

Besos, Betty

Valencia

Last week was a short week as Tuesday was El Día de Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day) so, naturally, we had the day off, and of course a ‘bridge’ day off on Monday too, because whats the point of going into work on a Monday if you’re not going in on Tuesday, right? Either way, for my small band of international pals and I, it was the perfect excuse to escape the quaint streets of our little pueblo and see another side of Spain.

We headed to Valencia, the land of paella and oranges, where the weather was still twenty odd degrees and we could cling desperately on to an illusion of summer. From our nearest station (30 minutes away) it was only 3 hours by train to Valencia’s city centre and from there a short 15min walk to our cosy little hostel. I say cosy because the six of us were cramped into a room half the size of an american closet. I hadn’t realised it was possible to fit so many bunk beds into such a tiny room!

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The ‘gang’

Despite our “intimate” situation and short stay, I think it’s safe to say we fully embraced our inner tourists and experienced as much as we could of what Valencia had to offer. Day 1 was spent lounging on the beach and consuming a ridiculous amount of the most delicious seafood paella and sangria. Us Brits of course were fully kitted out in shorts and flip flops, despite the chilly water and slight breeze that had our European counterparts reaching for their jumpers. I even cracked out the bikini – I told you we went full tourist!

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Then, after a predictably unrestful siesta, it was time to head out again. In the evenings we found ourselves drawn to El Barrio del Carmen in old town Valencia. This area is known for its alternative, boho style with colourful graffiti and murals round every corner. Both of the nights that we visited this barrio, there was live music playing in a small fenced-off park with fairy lights overhead and a couple of pop-up bars. It definitely had a young, student-ey feel to it, but in typically Spanish fashion everyone parties together and there is no discrimination when it comes age or style. We ended up spending far too much money and time in a disco bar filled with middle-aged Spaniards and a German hockey team. It was a good night!

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El Barrio del Carmen

The next day I found myself far more hungover than any of my friends – funny how that always happens – but like a trooper I marched on. We headed down to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias which has to be one of the most remarkable places I have ever visited. It is described as an entertainment-based cultural and  architectural complex built on the former riverbed of the River Turia which was drained and rerouted in 1957 after a catastrophic flood. The sunken park is filled with some of the most iconic and astonishing examples of modern architecture and is one of the Twelve Treasures of Spain. Hangover aside, walking through this area as the sun reflects off the polished glass windows and glossy water features of the buildings really instils a sense of otherworldliness. The pictures do not do it justice.

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Sunset at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

After a markedly quieter evening of tapas and wine in our favourite little area, it was time to head back to reality and a half week of work. Valencia is such a vibrant and beautiful city and I feel like we barely scratched the surface! I can’t wait to come back and explore further, hopefully next time with a little more money in my pocket and a slightly clearer head. But for now, my next adventure is Amsterdam!

And so, my travels continue…

Besos, Betty

 

 

“No hablo Español!” – Visits from Home and Struggles of an Extranjera

¡Hola a todos! First up, I must apologise for the total radio silence on my part. Due to a rather unfortunate incident involving my phone and a toilet, I have been living in the dark ages for the past two weeks. However, after a long struggle with an online sim card company, multiple visits to the local Orange retailer and a trip to the nearest Apple store (2 and a half hours away in Madrid) I can now say that I am a proud owner of the new iPhone 7. It feels like Christmas!

 

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Classic Castilla-La Mancha windmill shot.

In other news, I must also mention that last week my parents and younger sister came to visit during the schools midterm holidays. Unfortunately for my little sister though, Spanish term dates don’t necessarily coincide with Scottish ones and she had to spend a week in small town Spain while many of her friends were off gallivanting in actual ‘holiday’ destinations. To add insult to injury, she was dragged round garages and car dealerships every day, aiding me in my fruitless task to find a suitable ‘runaround’ for the year. As I have mentioned before, while it has it’s benefits, ‘pueblo’ life in Spain can be tough and transport links here are pretty shocking. There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see so close to my town but access to these places without a car is near impossible and there is a half hour journey to the nearest train station which is necessary for almost any trip outside the bounds of Castilla-La Mancha.

Although our time together in Tomelloso wasn’t necessarily the most exciting we did enjoy a lovely weekend in Toledo and another in Madrid. They say you haven’t seen Spain until you have visited Toledo, however it seems that this beautiful and historic town is constantly overlooked as a tourist destination in Spain. Sitting atop a hill and surrounded by the river Tajo, the history in this place is almost tangible; from the glass floors of restaurants and shops looking down into ancient Roman ruins, to the quaint cobbled streets of the Jewish quarters, Toledo is a city where the past and the present exist side by side. We spent our limited time there getting lost (literally) in the maze of narrow streets, taking in views of the famous landmarks and of course, sampling the local food and wine.

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The beautiful cobbled streets of Toledo

In Madrid, we were lucky enough to be joined by an old school friend of my dad’s who has lived there with his wife for over 25 years. It was wonderful to be taken on an authentic tapas crawl or ‘vía crucis’ of the city, ending up of course at the famous chocolateria, San Gines for some much needed churros. They took us to some wonderful bars and restaurants which we would never have found otherwise and to which I fully intend to return on my next visit to this fabulous city.

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Despite (or perhaps due to) the home comforts of having my family with me in Spain, I must admit, last week was the first time I truly felt like I was struggling with life out here. Although I work minimal hours each week, I start very early every day. Additionally, the fact that I was working as a full-time translator and spokesperson for the entire family combined, with the effort of attempting to negotiate multiple failed car sales, left me disheartened and utterly exhausted each night. I have also been struggling a lot with frustration at my inability to speak Spanish to the level at which I feel I should be capable. I have been studying the language since I was 16 years old, including 2 years at university level and some days I just feel like such a novice. I keep being told that one day it will just “click” and I will be able to communicate comfortably in Spanish without constant concentration but honestly, this mystical epiphany of understanding feels further out of reach each day. I even feel like I’m losing my grasp on English sometimes! I can tell you, there is nothing more awkward than completely forgetting the pronunciation of a word in your own mother tongue while standing in front of a class of expectant students.

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Calle de los Cuchilleros, Madrid

Although I am happy here and I wouldn’t change it for the world, the departure of my parents left me feeling for the first time, a little teary, homesick and very far away. However, onwards and upwards my friends as next week we have another school holiday, which means a long weekend for me and my little band of ‘amigos’ and our first adventure outside of Tomelloso as a gang. ¡Hasta pronto, Valencia!

Besos, Betty

*Photo creds to Lynne Henderson, Instagram – lyn500*

 

The Work Starts Now – La Vida Española y Las Fiestas

So here I am, I have just completed my second week of work and have already had the chance to enjoy one of Spain’s many national holidays.

Yesterday, we celebrated El Día de la Hispanidad; known also as Columbus Day in America, it marks the day that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas in 1492. While I’m not convinced this is reason for celebration, I do admire what the day has come to signify in Spain in more recent years. In 1913 the president of the Ibero-American Union, Faustino Rodríguez-San Pedro, created the name of the festival in order to highlight the cultural links between Spain and Latin America and create a sense of union between the two societies. It has come to be known in Argentina as el ‘Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural’ (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity) and ‘Día de las Culturas’ (Day of Cultures) in Costa Rica. In 2010, the United Nations declared 12th October to be Spanish Language Day in order to celebrate multiculturalism and honour a language that unites so many people across the globe.

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A little light reading on Spanish Language Day

For me, it meant a day off work and a much needed lie in. However, as is often the case when you live in a Spanish ‘pueblo’ the lack of transport links meant that any hope of further exploration was pretty much off the cards. My friends and I had hoped to spend the day in Toledo but unfortunately, the near impossible task of getting there without a car, combined with the fact that as it is a national holiday (and it is Spain) everything was completely closed, left us confined to our little town for a relaxed day of Netflix, eating and not much else. The added bonus of some cold weather and the first rain since I arrived was just the perfect icing on the cake.

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The best way to celebrate El Día de la Hispanidad

Anyway, on the topic of work (and days off) let me talk a little about my first experiences as an auxiliar de conversación here in sunny Tomelloso. My first week was spent mostly talking about myself and Scotland in front of countless blank, staring faces, hoping they were registering even half of what I said. For the most part however, the kids are engaged and genuinely interested in my culture and my life at home.

‘Who knows what a kilt is?’ *Kid in the back raises his hand* – ‘A skirt for boys!!’

Generally, the work is easy at the moment as I am mostly being used as a human tape machine, reading out scripts for listening exercises and correcting pronunciation. I’ve even been featured on the school website! Having said that, my school works on a bilingual program, meaning that all classes are taught in English, including maths, science, history and even P.E! I suspect it will be a different story when I’m standing in front of a class of budding mathematicians as I struggle to even carry out simple mental maths without the aid of a calculator. Next week I start extra classes with five to seven year olds for a couple of hours each week which I’m sure will bring a drastic change of pace from secondary school classes and with it, a whole new set of challenges.

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Doña Henderson in front of her class

Despite the minor inconveniences of small town life and the strange experience of standing in front of a class for the first time, Tomelloso is really starting to feel like home. I’ve managed to establish a small group of friends hailing from all over Europe, and together we have already sampled a little too much of the local wine as we attempt to communicate in our best broken Spanish. I have survived bank meetings, staff rooms, Spanish spin classes and for the most part, I am not totally lost!

Here’s to the next 8 months of ‘pueblo’ life and national holidays!

Besos, Betty

Adjusting to Life in Spain

Moving abroad was always going to be bit of a challenge. I had spent so much time worrying about how I would cope with the language and missing my friends and family back home since submitting my application in December 2015 that by the time I had managed to squeeze a year of my life into two small suitcases (ok, three), board a flight to Madrid and then make the two and a half hour drive to Tomelloso alongside my mum, I was left thinking – what now?

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El Aeropuerto de Madrid-Barajas

I realised I was left with a whole set of – what should be – pretty mundane admin chores in order to establish myself officially as an expat in Spain. Fine, except what I hadn’t accounted for was the relaxed pace of life here in sunny Spain and the fact that one thing needs to be accomplished before you can even begin to think about the next. As a result, I have now been here for almost two weeks and have only just today ticked off the second item on my list, which is as follows:

  1. Find a flat – you need an address in Spain for any official paperwork.
  2. Get an NIE number, el numero de identificación extranjero (pronounced nyee-ay). This is like the equivalent of a National Insurance number and necessary for any foreign person living and working in Spain for more than three months – you need this to be able to open a bank account.
  3. Open a bank account, another tricky one as most Spanish banks seem to charge if you withdraw money from any ATM that isn’t attached to one of their branches so it is important to choose carefully!
  4. Buy a Spanish sim card. I understand that for most people this would be top of the list however I am lucky enough to enjoy Three’s Feel at Home package which charges the exact same amount for calls, texts and data as it does in the UK, however this only lasts for three months and you can only call British numbers so a Spanish sim is vital! As a self confessed social media addict I have struggled to find a network that offers as much data as in the UK however I have been recommended a network called Simyo, which seems to be similar to Giffgaff and offers flexible, cheap tariffs. The catch is that you need a Spanish bank account to order this and so it is last on my list.
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Mi casa durante el año

As frustrating as all that may sound, I really can’t complain as I found a flat within two days of arriving in Tomelloso with another Brit abroad, a young English girl who is working in a local language school. Although I had originally hoped to live with Spaniards in order to practice and perfect my Spanish, the truth is that the flat is far nicer than anywhere I had expected to find and I got on with my new flatmate right away. And honestly, barely a word of English is spoken anywhere in this town so really it’s nice to come home to a familiar language after a long day of trying to make yourself understood.

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Home sweet home

All in all, my experience so far has been pretty smooth, and I have to say that preparation is key. As someone who is generally pretty terrible for leaving things to the last minute, often resulting in a lot of unnecessary stress, I have surprised myself with organisational skills I didn’t know I had. Taking the time before I arrived to contact anyone I could in the town and to research and prepare all the documents necessary for various applications has already paid off hugely.

Fingers crossed that the rest of the year continues without hiccups!

Besos, Betty

Las Lagunas de Ruidera – Exploring my New Home

Day 3 in Spain – Having successfully found our way to my new hometown in a foreign car, organised a place to live for the year and made a couple of new friends all within the first two days of being here (more on that later) mum and I grasped the opportunity for a little further exploration today.

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Our snazzy foreign wheels

Our journey took us to Las Lagunas de Ruidera, a natural park around 35 minutes outside of Tomelloso and arguably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. According to wikipedia, the 15 interconnected lakes stretch over an area of more than 9,300 acres and were once romantically nicknamed ‘the Mirrors of La Mancha’. There is a definitely a sense of mysticism surrounding this oasis of turquoise blue water and lush vegetation strangely juxtaposed against the dusty, dry landscapes of Castilla-La Mancha; you can almost sense them before you see them as the land turns slowly from orange to green. The draw of these azure waters is stronger in the summer months when the lakes are overflowing with visitors desperate to escape the arid heat of the region, however today with some cooler September weather we were lucky enough to be left to enjoy this haven in its full, tranquil glory.

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The intriguing rock formations and chalky lake beds had me wishing I knew more about geography.

Meandering slowly home in search for some surprisingly reclusive windmills (I honestly expected to find more windmills than people here – I guess I was wrong) we took a small detour to visit the town of Villarrobledo, a small town in the province of Albacete which I doubt I would ever have visited otherwise. After only a small amount of wandering, we found ourselves in a bustling city square fringed on one side by a row of busy restaurants and on the other by the most amazing old church, old school bells and all. On further research, the original building dates back to the 15th century!

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An ancient church in the centre of Villarrobledo

Despite the lack of windmills in my immediate surroundings, what has immediately struck me during my short time here is the wealth of history and culture in this area. I can’t wait to get stuck into some Don Quixote style exploration!

Besos, Betty

 

Who am I?

Who am I? So glad you asked!

I’m Betty, I’m 20 years old and I’m a travel-holic.

Since I took my first flight at 10 months old, I have been lucky enough to see a lot of the world both with and without my two little sisters and my travel-addicted parents. However, this year, for the first time in my life I have the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream of mine to live and work abroad. Filled with enthusiasm and more than a little optimism, I decided that this was also the ideal time to pursue another goal of mine and start my own blog. I hope to write honestly, and interestingly, about my time in Spain and all that I encounter along my way. So here goes, my fist wobbly steps into the world of blogging!

I study English Literature and Spanish at the University of Glasgow and it is a requirement of my course that I have to do a third year abroad in order to improve my spoken Spanish – such a hard life, I know! I chose to go with the British Council’s Language Assistant programme which has been running since 1905 (!) and involves working alongside teachers as an assistant in a classroom.

After a hugely stressful application/waiting process – made hugely less stressful by the fact that as a European Citizen I don’t have to go through the same awful visa process as my American counterparts – I was finally allocated to a school in Tomelloso, a small town in Castilla-La Mancha that I had never before heard of (and neither had anyone else). I will admit I had hoped to be living in a bigger city, or at least closer to Madrid and I was disappointed at first. However, I haven’t even left yet and already I have received so many positive messages from the people I hope to meet out there and those who have done the programme themselves. I think I’m going to be ok!

So here I am, flights booked, bags packed, and I leave in two days! Next challenge = finding somewhere to live. I hope you enjoy following my rambles and joining me on this journey!

Besos, Betty