So, that’s it. It’s official. I’ve now been here a year. In a way, it feels like it’s been much longer.
Have things turned out the way I thought they would when I arrived on 18th December last year? In some ways yes, in others no, absolutely not.
I had hoped, of course, that I would find a job here and I have. It’s probably fair to say that it took a little longer than I’d imagined – although it almost immediately became clear that March wasn’t a great time to finish the CELTA course – and there’s no way I thought I’d be working with children. Even when I’d finished CELTA and was busy applying for jobs, I remember telling my classmates that I really didn’t want to work with children. But a chance came along and I took it. And I love it.
Yes, they play up in class. Yes, there have been mishaps but there have also been some really lovely moments. Two of the children have drawn pictures of me, one of them saying ‘I love you Julia’. And some of them really do seem to have formed a bond with me, and that’s just amazing.
We had exams recently, and I was a little worried about how they would get on. After all, they’re children: they don’t always listen and they don’t always apply themselves. Well, it’s fair to say that the results were mixed, but some of them really surprised me, especially in the oral exams. Small children who had spent most of the term avoiding speaking English, and chattering to their mates in Spanish suddenly demonstrated that not only did they perfectly understand my questions but they could also answer them – and in some cases in full sentences!
The results – and the encouragement of my boss – have helped me to relax a little. The post-exam week was a bit of a nightmare from a behavioural point of view, but suddenly I’m a little less stressed out about getting through all the material and more relaxed about taking things steady – but making sure they are using English in the classroom now I know they can.
Then there are the teenagers. Behaviour generally is much less of an issue, although there are some who either don’t care much or – in a couple of cases – actively try to disrupt the classes. But again there were some surprises in the oral exams, with some kids I’d barely heard speak all term producing pretty fluent performances. Again, I’m starting to feel less worried about getting through the book and more relaxed about encouraging them to use English in the ways it is used in the world.
So that’s work. And it’s fab. To be honest, the class that has given me the most trouble has been the adult class. Their English is so much better, but they simply don’t turn up. I’ll keep on trying to make it work, but I’m actually glad that it’s only a small part of my week, and that’s not what I expected at all.
As for home, I’m settling nicely into my new flat. My room is enormous and I spend most of my time sitting on (and often in) the bed tapping away at my laptop or watching telly on the enormous TV I was given by my friend Josh when he moved back to the States. I have become hooked on a game show called Ahora Caigo, which is ridiculously stupid and addictive at the same time. At least it’s helping to improve my Spanish.
And maybe that’s the one thing that I haven’t done as much as I’d hoped. My listening skills have improved for sure. My grammar knowledge is pretty good in any case (I did a level test recently, up to and including C1, and got 100%) but I still find speaking difficult as I lack confidence – and the fact that I don’t socialise with many Spanish people isn’t helping. When I do speak Spanish, I often get complimented on my accent, but I kick myself every time I hear myself make a mistake. I’m not quite sure why as I would never judge a non-native English speaker the way I judge myself. I suppose it’s all about practice – and not just at a language exchange once a week, but day in, day out.
It’s funny. When I moved here I said that I didn’t want to end up living in an expat community, and I really meant it. But somehow it just happens. I suppose living in shared flats with other immigrants doesn’t help. Then there’s the writing group, which I love but which is also made up mainly of native English speakers (naturally, as it’s an English-language writing group). And I used to go to a body balance class and to a ladies’ running group – both also (mainly) in English. When I tried to run with a Spanish group, it was fun but I felt quite excluded from the conversation. I guess I need to try and find another way in, another way of meeting the locals. But it’s not easy.
What else to say? Well, the paperwork side of things has been challenging but not impossible. And I think I’ve probably stressed over that more than I really needed to. I’m now kind of in limbo, as I need to change my address but can’t do that until the end of January as that’s the earliest appointment with the padrón office, and I need to change it with them before I can change my NIE. And of course I’m just waiting to hear what we need to do next in respect of Brexit. If only Guy Verhofstadt’s wish of Associate European Citizenship for British citizens resident in the UK could come true… but I’m not holding my breath.
Either way, thank goodness I’m here. I am so glad I took the leap. I am so glad that I tried things that were outside my comfort zone – and in some ways, still are.
What do I love about living here? I love the weather. I love the fact that it’s winter (or nearly winter, depending on your definition) but the evenings don’t draw in anything like as soon as in the UK, the sun is still shining, and some days it’s even 20º or more. (Just the other day I walked to the shop without a jacket on – and yes, this is the same person who used to require a blanket in the office for several months of the year.) I love the relaxed pace of life. I love my job and my colleagues. I love my friends and social network. I love the food. I love the beach and the parks. I love the city.
Of course there are things – and people, mainly people – I miss back in the UK. But not anything like enough to make me want to go back there.
Spain is home now. Long may it last.