I realise this post might not go down very well with everyone. After all, I know a lot of people have been struggling this year. It’s only natural. And let’s be honest, even when you’re living somewhere amazing and doing a job you love, things aren’t always rosy, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. But I have to say that the last year has been remarkably good to me.
Let’s look at the evidence. I moved house at the end of November 2019 into a fantastic new room in a great flat in a terrific location. A year ago today, on the first anniversary of my arrival in the city, I wrote:
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 […] 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.
And so I started this second year in a pretty good frame of mind. Indeed, I started 2020 feeling positive too. At the start of the year, I wrote:
I am so happy and contented right now. I just want more of the same.
All I really wanted at that time was to speak more Spanish, as I wrote in my 4th January post.
Ask and you shall receive.
Have I spoken more Spanish this year? Yes, thanks in large part to the lovely young man I met on the night before my birthday.
It wasn’t all plain sailing at first as we were locked down and couldn’t see each other for the first 9 weeks, but we stayed in touch via WhatsApp messages and video chat until we were finally able to meet, by which time it already felt like I knew him quite well. We’ve come a long way since then. I wonder now whether lockdown actually did us a favour in a funny way. It’s hard to know what would have happened if things had been different.
Having our weekly (and later twice-weekly) video conversations over WhatsApp certainly kept me going through lockdown, as did playing the ukulele, Houseparty and being able to continue teaching online. And let’s be honest, I’m pretty well disposed psychologically to being locked away indoors on my own for an extended period of time. There are worse things that could happen to me, but now that we’ve come out the other side I’d rather not have to go back into that situation again. And although there are still restrictions in place (with new ones being introduced next week), currently a further full lockdown doesn’t look likely.
But it hasn’t been all about COVID and the different phases of preventative measures we’ve been through. There have been other changes.
I was only supposed to live in the flat for four months, but obviously couldn’t move in March due to lockdown, so I was given a temporary reprieve. Then my friend and landlady decided that she was going to sell the flat, which initially put me into a bit of a spin. Finding a room in the midst of lockdown would not have been easy at all. But soon it became apparent that selling wasn’t going to be so easy either, and so she decided to rent it out instead, and gave me first refusal. I ummed and ahhed a little bit as to whether taking the whole flat on was the right decision – financially it would be a stretch on a 10-month work contract with my hours reduced at that time – but I quickly decided to go ahead, especially when my friend Jess expressed an interest in renting the small bedroom. She moved in this summer and I haven’t looked back.
As for languages, it’s not just my Spanish that’s improved. (And it has. I already considered my listening skills to be pretty good but now I’m confident that I can understand almost anything said in normal conversation, given the right conditions. As for speaking, that’s still a bit hit and miss but definitely on the up. And it’s mainly a matter of confidence.) No review of the year would be complete without mentioning my Duolingo success, completing Catalan and making progress in Norwegian and Italian (as well as the odd French lesson, just to show that I’ve still got the accent if nothing else).
Another success this summer, of course, was publishing my book. I received my first revenue payment yesterday. It may only be enough to buy a small round of drinks, but it’s something. And at the end of the day, it’s not about the money. It’s all about getting my stories out into the world, just as I always wanted to. I worked hard this summer and I finally did it. I’m proud of that.
Finding work as a teacher through the summer this year was pretty tricky due to there being no residential summer schools. But again, perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. I took the time out to edit the book, go to the beach and on excursions, play the ukulele and do BeBalanced classes, both at home and with Belinda. To be honest, I don’t know what else I did, but I ended the summer feeling pretty chilled out.
But soon enough, September came around and with it the return to work. Since then, there have been ups and downs as there always are in teaching. The exams have been stressful (again), the young learners challenge me every single week, the class of teenagers that refuse to speak drives me crazy, the adult classes can be challenging for an entirely different reason, and teaching a 16 1/2 week term straight is utterly exhausting. But all that said, I love it. The bond with some of the kids is unlike any relationship I’ve ever formed with an adult learner. Seeing the kids and teenagers make progress is amazing (all credit to them). And the intensive advanced courses keep me on my toes. I can’t imagine myself ever being bored at work.
Finally, I have to acknowledge the Brexit situation. And yes, it does still get me down and yes, I do feel appalled at the prospect of a no-deal outcome (even if some people who actually live in the UK don’t feel the same) but from a very personal point of view, at least I know that I have my residency all sewn up. All I need to do is remain here legally for a further 3 1/2 years (it took me six months to get my original residency card) and I can exchange my temporary TIE for a permanent one. And then – finally – I can relax.
Right now I’m preparing for my third Christmas here and the first to be spent with a very special someone. These are strange times but – for me at least – they are also happy ones.
And so starts the third year. Time flies when you’re having fun.