2015/2016 Posted by Harriet S.
I’m finishing my year with Meddeas in Spain and one of the first things I would say to anyone considering doing the same is that you get to do and try so many new things! From trying new foods to meeting new people, from speaking a new language to going to new places. It’s all about embracing the cultural differences and getting stuck in.
You may or may not be familiar with British Empirism and Locke‘s theories. Nerdish? I know. But sometimes I feel like his “tabula rasa” (Blank slate), the idea that our minds grow because we are constantly learning from our experiences. My new status as a tabula rasa in Spain since I teach English abroad has given me the chance to experience new things as if I were a Spanish new-born. So without further ado, until living in Spain, I had never:
1. Been a teacher
Aside from some voluntary experience this is my first teaching position. Nothing can really prepare for you for how challenging it is and I’m still learning every time I step into the class. Yet at the same time it is extremely rewarding and every day my students amaze and surprise me with their English.
2. Worn slippers
This is somewhat specific to moving to Spain and might sound a little crazy but until living here I had never really owned a pair of slippers (except for the odd pair that I’ve been given for Christmas). I’ve just never felt the need. This is because, in my house in England, there are carpets in every room, except for the kitchen and the loo. Here, carpets simply do not exist and one must wear slippers for fear of catching a cold through the chilliness of the wooden and tiled floors. My host mum regularly tells me off should she find me wandering the house in bare feet!
3. Combined red wine with coca cola
I know right, this sounds horrific. I was outraged at the thought of destroying perfectly good wine by adding sugary, syrupy fizziness but, to my amazement, this actually works. I read somewhere that it has been called the abominable snowman of cocktails (I’m not sure it constitutes as a cocktail) and traditionally consists of 50% red wine, 50% coca cola (depending on the bartender). It’s horrendously sweet and dangerously easy to drink but it has really grown on me. It’s also super cheap, which is great as the Basque tend to buy their drinks in rounds and boy can the Basque drink!
4. Taken the school bus
I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of my school at home in England and so never had to find alternative transport, apart from when it rained, which, come to think of it, was most of the time… I actually quite enjoy the bus ride in the morning. We all high five the bus driver, have our designated seats and the race to get on the bus before it leaves when school finishes at the end of the day is one of the most intense moments of the day. Some of my students have taken to trying to teach me Basque on our bus journeys home. I am making slow progress but have recently added “bless you” and “see you later” to my repertoire of Basque phrases.
5. Had a brother
Living with a host family was by far one of the best decisions I could have made with Meddeas. My family are fantastic, they are hilarious, kind and almost overly-generous. The biggest challenge has been adapting to the ways of a new family and, in particular, their children. I have a 13 year old sister and a 9 year brother. Living with a teenager is hard work but I had a younger sister so none of this is particularly new to me. But I’ve never had a little brother. He has the energy of a jack Russell terrier puppy and the attention span of a fruit fly but he is great fun and he is like the brother I never had back home. He also soaks up English like a little sponge and has improved immensely since I arrived!
6. Ridden a horse
Not something that every language teacher will do but it’s a sign of the lengths that I have gone to in order to take part in host family life. It also made me feel more Spanish – in my head, within weeks I would be riding bare back across the plains of Spain. Instead, I can barely get my horse to trot in the same direction as all the other horses. This is an example of the new activities that you can try when you choose live with a host family. Other language teachers in my area have tried their hand at climbing, padel (a sport similar to squash) and surfing, to name a few.
7. Eaten so much food in my entire life
Never before have I eaten so much bread or meat or just food in general. There’s no doubt about it, the Spanish know how to eat, the Basque even more so. Everything revolves around a meal, whether it’s lunch at 3, dinner at 10 or any chance to snack in between. The food here is great. Besides the typical Spanish tortilla, chorizo and paella I have particularly enjoyed the variety of “pintxos” (Basque tapas) and pastries, of which there are many. My favourite would be the “Carolina”: a small puff pastry tart topped with a tower of creamy meringue and chocolate sauce. Not to be found anywhere outside of the Basque Country.
Some advice from last year’s English language assistant here was to make the most of opportunities offered to me during my experience and if this means saying yes to things that I have never done before then so be it. So far so good!