1 year later…hola inglaterra.

It is exactly one year to the day that I turned up to C.E.I.P Los Guindos, quaking in my little british boots and speaking probably the worst Spanish that the teachers there had heard in a long time (and that includes the Spanish the five year olds spoke…).

I spent half of my summer in Málaga, eating, drinking, jungle-speeding, mañana-ing, laughing and generally spanishing with my friends, which was just glorious. Despite running out of money after the hideous thievery incident, Mikey and Caitlin, being the beautiful little parsnips that they are, put me up for around a month in their flat when I couldn’t afford to rent. So I got to live closer to the city with four of my closest friends there.

It is obviously completely cliched to talk about reverse culture shock, but I definitely had a good dose of something I could categorise as that. I left thirty-five degree heat, friends all around me, public transport, a beach and a city within walking distance. I came home to a non-existent summer, being nowhere near civilization, and being home alone with barely any human interaction most of the time. I genuinely don’t know how my family tolerated me, as I was absolutely miserable (which I maintain is understandable, if also kind of majorly knobbish). I applied for 320ish jobs in the 2 months I was back at home, and got 2 responses. I definitely wasn’t ready to leave Spain.

Now I’m back living in Norwich city centre, with a housemate from my first and second year, and a cute little pipsqueak fresher, poor girl that she is, is stuck with us in her first year at NUCA. It’s great being back in a city, and having a routine again being at uni is good, but fourth year is HARD. Also not being the teacher is not my favourite – it totally feels like a step backwards! But the delicious Est and I, having both lamented to each other about how much we miss “home”, we have decided to consider this year our “year abroad”.

I am absolutely going to reapply for a language assistantship position as soon as the application process opens – as little as I want to say it and as little as you want to hear it, it was absolutely, hands down, the most fantastic experience of my life (so far, yes, whatever).

I will never forget the kids at school, the friends I made working there, the smell of the orange blossoms near the Alcazaba, the taste of palmeras and generally just what a happy place Málaga is.

Sorry, but the cheesiness is not quite over – mi amor americano Luc made a brilliant video which perfectly sums up the year for me – at the time we were embarrassed by his constant filming us, but now I’m so glad he did! Also using the artists that pretty much dominated my year musically, and I am in no way ashamed of that.

So finally – thank you to all you poor sods who read this thing over the year, thank you to my gorgeous boquerones who made the year what it is, and of course, Spain, for just being Spain.

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What to do when you lose ALL of your stuff in Spain.

The fateful night, and the one and only outing of the bag.

The fateful night, and the one and only outing of the bag.

Ahh Spain. It was bound to happen. All character building of course. Here’s how it went down.

It was Luc’s last night, June 5th, and we had all planned to go out that night as a big send off. I had been shopping in town earlier, and had brought my passport as ID for using my British debit card. I bought plane tickets home for a weekend to get my bridesmaid dress fitted for my friend’s wedding, and bought a new bag for a wedding I was going to in Spain later that month. I didn’t end up going home before we went out, which is quite normal, we got dinner, sat at Mañana for a while, then about 8 of us headed to Lakma, a gay bar which was always great fun.

It was empty as usual, save a couple of randoms at the bar. We danced to Run the World, Timber, and so much more, and we were having such a good time. Three guys came in and started trying to dance with us, as is the norm in Lakma. After turning down another dance from one of them, my friend Mikey and I went outside for some air, and I left my bag on a table with the rest of our friends’ bags/jumpers etc, which they were dancing next to.

After about 5 minutes, the three guys came out, one of whom had a coat draped over his arm in a rather suspect manner, and were shaking Mikey’s hand as they left. He asked them what was under it ; they said don’t worry about it, then ran away. I pretty much knew then what happened. I ran inside to check, and of course my new bag was gone. We both headed back and pegged it after them, but it was no use, they’d already run off, probably dumping the bag in a bin or something.

So, to sum up, the contents of my bag were:

  • My purse, with bank cards, EHIC, money, driving licence, student cards, National Insurance card, and NIE.
  • My keys
  • My new phone, which I’d bought to replace the phone stolen a month earlier at the Fuengirola Feria.
  • Mine and Mikey’s tickets to a boat party that weekend, now I realise in the grand scheme of things that obviously isn’t the biggest loss here, but I was still pissed.
  • And to top it all off, my passport.

FANTASTIC.

Obviously the first thing I did was have a bit of a scream and shout in the street, whilst poor Mikey looked on, helpless. Poor bugger. I actually continued on with the night, save about half an hour of being grumpy/taking ill advised tequila shots, since there was nothing I could do until the morning.

PASSPORT: The next day, Est and I went to the police station, as the first thing you need to do with a passport is NOT go to the consulate; they can’t help you without a denuncia, which is a police report. I was actually turned away the first time, as the officer on the door insisted I wasn’t allowed to have a report, since I wasn’t Spanish. This was all lies and you just have to be forceful. I made the full report, and the following week I went to the Consulate as soon as it opened, 9am, with my confirmation emails for my flights to and from England, my police report and a bank statement with my address on it, proving I had a NIE number. I paid €121 euros for the privilege of a temporary passport, but the people at the consulate were all very very helpful and sympathetic.

BANK CARDS: This was more difficult, my English student account with Natwest was fine, they sent out a new card straight away when I called them on Skype. However, Norwich and Peterborough, the bank I used to withdraw money free of charge overseas, have a policy which doesn’t allow a new card to be sent out unless you are actually in the country. Ridiculously unhelpful. Luckily Esther volunteered the use of her account, so I could transfer money to her account for her to withdraw, which is definitely the easiest method.

With my Spanish Sabadell card, I just went to the bank to withdraw money, taking my police report since I had literally no form of ID, and to cancel the card.

EHIC: Just go to http://www.nhs.uk/ehic to order a new card. Simples.

NATIONAL INSURANCE CARD: Turns out they don’t send out replacement cards. No problems with that.

KEYS: Luckily for me, the landlord, it had turned out, had hidden keys for each of our rooms all around the flat, which the new Spanish roommate had revealed when she moved in, so I never needed to tell him I lost the keys. I borrowed Dayana’s house keys and the spare room key, and we went to a ferretería, basically a hardware shop. Each key cost €1.50 to cut. I had three keys. I love Spain.

SIM CARD/PHONE: Most phone providers in Spain with block and issue a replacement SIM for about €6, mine was with Movistar, the Tuenti sim. You just go into a store. However there’s nothing you can do about a phone except buy one, which luckily I didn’t have to do, as Mikey, gorgeous piece of man that he is, got a free phone with an upgrade to his contract, which he generously gave me.

DRIVING LICENCE: Now you’re supposed to be able to do this on the internet, if you just go to gov.uk and search for “replace a lost/stolen licence”, and you fill in a form. However every time I did this it told me to call the DVLA. So I have to do that still.

You could just get insurance, then you’re just sitting pretty. I didn’t as I couldn’t afford it at the time, and luckily I could afford to replace things when it happened. But looking back on it, it would be worth borrowing the money for insurance if you can’t afford it, just in case something like this happens.

There you go. I hope this is of some use to whichever poor sod this happens to next. I was furious, but it is SO common on the Costa del Sol/Costa del Street Crime! that it’s pointless to beat yourself up about it. Good luck!

 

Things Brits should know before they invade Spain

It’s already May. How the hell did that happen. In the last month, we have had a week off for Semana Santa (which was brilliant – so much going out, day drinking, night drinking, watching processions, Taco Bell…oh so good), enjoyed some skating on the dry river Guadalmedina courtesy of our men at Mañana, and even an international food feria in Fuengirola (which was just insane, even if I did hemorrhage money – it was so worth it).

Anyway, I got an email from WordPress today panicking as my blog was “receiving more traffic than usual today”…which I figure means people are being allocated their spots, or being told like I was around this time last year, that they simply have a place as a language assistant. So here is a list of things I wish I knew before coming to Spain (specifically Málaga) last year:

1. Usually it takes a while to be notified of exactly where you’re going to end up – totally normal and all you have to do is follow the instructions they give you. I emailed my coordinator as soon as I got the allocation email with her email address on it and she just responded eventually. It was all fine. Granted, it is a ball-ache, especially with huge chunks of waiting, but…Spain.

2. Finding somewhere to live is seriously not that difficult. Easypiso.com was my saviour, but I also had a gander on Erasmusu too, and I know that’s how my Spanish contingents in Ciudad Real found a place to live in England when they did their year abroad, so it might be an idea to use that too if you’re specifically looking for Spanish housemates. Worst comes to worst, if you find a place on EasyPiso and it isn’t what you expected/doesn’t exist, there are always hostels to stay in temporarily, often with other Language Assistants for company. Plus there are always flyers around advertising rooms/flats.

MALAGA SPECIFIC NOTEY THING: One of the things that confused me most before arriving was where exactly to live – I had never been to Spain and didn’t know anything about how transport would work should I have to commute anywhere. My advice would be that if Google tells you public transport can get you where you need to be in around 40 minutes or less, live in the city centre or thereabouts – it is SO worth it. I think the same can be said for the majority of cities here. I live near my school, 5 minutes walk away, but I easily could have lived in the historic centre because the buses are great during the day, plus it would have saved lots of money coming back from nights out.

3. People will not eat you if you get your Spanish wrong – there are always going to be tourists in Spain, and seriously, there could honestly not have been anyone worse at Spanish than me when I arrived, despite having the nerve to consider myself studying it. If you can master the phrase “Yo soy inglés/a”, perhaps with an additionally British “lo siento”, the majority of people will make an effort to speak slower and more simply for you. HOWEVER, I was under the wrong impression that the majority of people on the Costa del Sol would be able to speak coherent English. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Don’t embarrass yourself and make Spain hate you. TRY.

4. Being an English teacher at a Spanish school does not necessarily mean that they can speak it. The title seems to merely be a formality for a lot of teachers here, of course obviously there are a few who speak great English. But be prepared for mistakes, and people definitely not understanding you – speak slower people, particularly you Londoners; you’d be surprised how difficult your accents are sometimes, despite not being Northern.

5. DO NOT PACK EVERYTHING YOU OWN. You will NOT wear those trousers you still have that kind of almost fit, and you hope that one day, if you lose a couple of pounds  when you lose that Christmas weight you will eventually rework into your wardrobe. It’s stupid and it makes getting there and back an unnecessary stress. South of Spain is tricky as it’s hot when you arrive but then can be chilly in the winter, especially with flats not really being equipped for cold weather (unless your flat has air-con/heating, in which case you’re laughing). I made the mistake of bringing ALL of my crap. And now it’s all here. And I have to take it back. Without using my parents as pack horses. Idiot.

I think that’s about it.  Hoping this helps any poor sods who are currently rejoicing like I was this time last year at finding out my comunidad autonoma, who will only be met shortly with impending dread at the realisation that they’re actually moving abroad in 3 months or so, with no exact idea where they’re going. Oh it’s coming. Like a freight train. Enjoy. You’re gonna love it.

Here follows proof of the joy I have had here recently with other assistants.

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Also here is a song I like.

2 months to go and salmorejo

It’s now getting to the point where wearing anything more than you would wear to the beach is too hot come midday, presenting problems regarding appropriateness at school. They did not seem pleased when I turned up in my bikini. Just kidding. I’m not a monster…although it is only April, so only time will tell.

Today was a lovely day; I finished school at 1.15pm as usual (pity me and my long, long hours), went to Mercadona to stock up on delectables for my fridge, made salmorejo for lunch (which is a godsend – bloody delish and so so easy to make, so much so I’m going to include the recipe at the end of this post, because not doing so and depriving others of its tastiness would be plain selfish), and then walked 4 minutes to the beach, since it was like 23 degrees out. I sat there and tanned, reading Harry Potter and listening to Kings of Leon, looking at the sea. Bliss. Now the clocks have been turned back it is lighter for a lot longer in the evening so I stayed there till I had fully gone around 2 Dulux shades darker, leaving around 7pm. Not looking forward to leaving this behind.

School is the same to be honest, apart from a slight change in my timetable, due to the sixth grade learning about Spain’s physical geography and politics in their science lessons at the moment, which both the teachers informed me they would be teaching in Spanish, which I agree makes a lot more sense. So that’s knocked 4 hours off my timetable a week, as if I could do any less work! I tried to wiggle my way into Manuel’s English lessons, but it turns out that it is not written the stars for us to work together, sigh. He teaches “apoyo” as well as English, which is basically a group of 5 troublemakers from each class, doing random sheets in Spanish. No idea why he’s wasted on that. In any case, the only lesson that is worth me going to is on a Wednesday, third period, where one of the fourth grade classes that I love so much has English with him, which is great. He always finishes off the lesson with an English language song on YouTube, with the lyrics on screen, favourites (of mine and the kids) have been: Roar by Katy Perry (kids), Counting Stars by OneRepublic (kids), What Does the Fox Say by Ylvis (I love this one) and Happy by Pharrell (the kids and I loved that lesson). The children actually seem to appreciate me being in there, as well as Manuel, which makes me realise what a shame it is that I couldn’t have been in these lessons from the beginning. Oh well. At least now it feels like a treat.

Semana Santa starts next week, that is Spain’s Easter week, known as Holy Week, where there are lots of celebrations, processions and of course, incredible food. Est and I went to La Canasta on Friday (a bakery that is ridiculously cheap and serves incredible lunchy foods) and witnessed a boy getting a meringue specially for the occasion:

The thing on the right is a little meringue dressed in chocolate robey thingys like the brotherhoods wear during the processions - NOT Klu Klux Clan members, don't worry

The thing on the right is a little meringue dressed in chocolate robey thingys like the brotherhoods wear during the processions – NOT Klu Klux Clan members, don’t worry

We were stunned and amazed, to say the least, but thought it would just be a tad rude to take a photo of his dessert.

Est and I plan to stay in Málaga for the week, since it’s supposed to be quite good down here, but we’re also going to take advantage of our 6 days off school to do day trips to towns near here that we’ve wanted to visit for ages, like Álora, Nerja, El Chorro and Ronda, which I think will be great, providing the weather is kind…PFFFFFFFFFFF. Photos to follow obviously.

I will end with a lovely song that I heard last week at a friends and pretty much have been listening to on repeat since (sorry Est, beat you to it).

RECIPE FOR DELECTABLE SALMOREJO!

You will need:

-A punnet of normal tomatoes, as in not cherry or plum ones  (there should be 7 tomatoes)

-4 slices of bread

-75ml of olive oil. Yes you read that correctly.

-2 cloves of garlic

How you do it:

-Blanch the tomatoes first (which means – chuck them in a bowl, with some boiling water for like 2 minutes, less if they’re already quite ripe, then pour out the hot water and replace it with cold water. This makes the skins just pop off) and peel them. You can core them if you want but it makes no difference to the taste.

-Put the bread, oil and garlic in a big bowl with the tomatoes. Blend everything together with a hand blender.

-Chill, then serve with some tuna in the middle, and if you’re feeling extra fancy, add a halved hard boiled egg. Boom.

Its insanely quick and SO delicious.

This was mine last time I made it:

Salmorejo - aka Porra down here in Málaga.

Salmorejo – aka Porra down here in Málaga.

Leeds in Málaga

Last Tuesday the school had the annual visit from a group of students and teachers from Adel Primary School in Leeds. Basically a day filled with workshops and food and displays of music and dance from each culture. Pretty standard.

The Wednesday before, Teresa, my coordinator had told me that she would be giving an introduction and welcome speech at the beginning of the day, when the school arrived. She proceeded to tell me that I would be interpreting as she spoke. This scared the bejesus out of me. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish is DEFINITELY not perfect, but it has improved a hell of a lot since I first arrived, so much so I understand the majority of what people say to me (mini-wave of celebration), even if I talk respond like a complete moron sometimes. This is not the case with Teresa. She has a particular manner of speaking (not her words or her accent, literally her voice) which is quite unclear and I find it extremely difficult to understand her. Naturally then, the idea of translating under pressure while she spoke made me want to run off up a mountain somewhere and hide. I told her that that prospect made me quite nervous – could she possibly write down a speech and I can just translate it (I didn’t even go into the fact that as an English teacher, she should probably be able to give the speech her damn self)? A firm “no” was the response. She just told me that she knows I’m not very good at Spanish, so she’ll speak slowly and use easy words…oh how benevolent of her. I had heard that last year, the previous assistant had to do the same, and Teresa had only said “Welcome” in English, before handing the reigns over to her. The teachers all laugh about this now, and I’d heard the story from several of them, so I had almost been waiting for this.

I told my friend Gustavo, a sixth grade bilingual teacher who actually speaks very good English, about what happened. He laughed. I asked why couldn’t he or some other teacher do this task, since they could probably do it better and a lot more accurately – he said it would make it obvious she couldn’t speak English, whereas if I do it, it’s more like I’m earning my keep. He told me to tell the head of the school, a really lovely teacher, Pilar, that I didn’t want to and if she could help me. I did so later that day, where she told me she’d do her best, but to bear in mind Teresa can be “difficult.” I feel you, sister.

It got to Monday the next week, and Teresa pulled me out of classes, to get me to translate the itinerary for the visit the following day into English, make up and print timetables for the workshop, and got me and the French assistant to put up signs around the school. A valuable use of our time.

When I arrived at school the next morning, I felt like I should have taken Gustavo’s advice of “pretend to be sick”. I was bloody terrified. Eventually the school arrived at 10, and I witnessed Teresa speaking English for the first time. She sounded like someone had chopped up the tape from inside a cassette, and spliced it together, missing out words and mixing around phrases. It was stunning. She then immediately got me to translate for the English teachers, so she could speak to them, before leaving me to give an introduction about the school, and to answer their questions. I knew none of the answers and felt like a complete idiot.

Eventually the time came to go out into the playground and give the speech. The entire school was there, complete with staff and several parents there to help. All I could hear was the sound of my knees knocking together. Teresa started with easy stuff, hello, welcome, glad you lot are here again etc, and then paused to look at me, signaling my turn to go. I felt like I got the majority of it right, and thought it was all gonna be not hideous. Then Teresa went off on a page long speech, interspersed with her getting one to say something in English, which she then followed by asking me to translate it into Spanish, which threw me RIGHT off, at which point Pilar ran over to help in case she said something weird – beautiful woman. Luckily she didn’t even give me the chance to say more than a couple of sentences. She began trying to get one of the English teachers to speak Spanish to everyone, which resulted in him quoting something I said (grammatically incorrect, I think) and looking like he wanted to die. It was horrendous and I could see Gustavo, Ángel (a fifth grade bilingual teacher), Manuel (the English teacher for fourth grade and under) laughing away, whilst my friend Eli (a first grade bilingual teacher) did both that and record it on her phone. Priceless. So I didn’t even intepret the final part.

Eventually the horror was over and the kids began doing their little dance displays and things. All the aforementioned teachers gave me hugs and said I’d done great, etc, which was nice to hear.

Since Teresa had not let me translate the final part, which mainly included actual important things, like what was going to happen, I went over to the group and explained without a microphone after the performances. Teresa came over and started saying something I nor the English teacher who spoke some Spanish could understand. I waited for more, until Teresa just came out with (in English, in full earshot of the visitors): “You’ve really learnt no Spanish while you’ve been here, have you? You cannot speak it at all.” To which I replied “I feel I have improved quite a lot…”. “But you only speak English to the teachers,” she said, which infuriated me because I have only ever spoken to her in Spanish, plus the whole staff isn’t bilingual, so I wouldn’t get far if I didn’t.

I told this to Manuel, who I believe must have told the other teachers, since when I was wandering round between the classes afterwards to help with the workshops, because both bilingual and non-bilingual kept approaching me asking if I was ok, that I shouldn’t worry and that I’m doing fine. Even Pilar found me later, and said jokingly “Your Spanish is soooo bad!”, before hugging me and telling me not to listen to a word Teresa said, which made me feel a lot better.

I still couldn’t believe it, since it just seems like such a rude thing to say to someone. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression I was there not only to learn Spanish, but to help the teachers and students with their English…how wrong one can be.

The day concluded with a picnic, which was nice as I got to interpret for one of the mothers who was helping out, who wanted to speak to the English teacher who could speak some Spanish (which I found odd, since he teaches Spanish at home), for about 45 minutes. This was however marred by Teresa doing her signature arm-grab-and-drag-away, taking me in the direction of the former Head, who she had told I would do a “favour” for, and then proceeded to patronizingly tell him to “speak very slowly, she doesn’t speak much Spanish, if you don’t she won’t understand you.” The favour was going to the airport to pick up some people and interpret for him. Nice.

A crazy day. If anyone has any advice or has had similar experiences please let me know, however I sincerely hope nobody has! Found it all very strange. Although I’m happy to know the majority of teachers at school don’t share Teresa’s opinion of me.

Now a nice song, which I feels captures the essence of what I wanted to reply to the nasty comments (or the title at least)…

 

Viajeros

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Us auxiliares are very lucky to have the timetables we do, or the majority of us anyway. From 11.15am on a Thursday I am free until Monday. Not only this but we have just had “Semana Blanca” or White Week, in Málaga only, where we had a week off for no particular reason. So I have decided to take full advantage of this and the fact that we get paid; so in Semana Blanca, Est, our friend David and I went to Prague, Czech Republic for three days and Vienna, Austria for two. Just because.

Prague was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Seriously. Everywhere you turn there is something that grabs your attention and makes you whip out your camera. Consequently I was that annoying person wandering around with my big Nikon hanging around my neck…made for some great photos of me! Plus the weather was not half as hideously cold as I/Google expected it to be, with temperatures around 9/10 degrees celsius for the three days we were there. Fantastic. St Vitus Cathedral was hands down the most breath taking building I have ever seen; we all just sat at looked at it as the sun went down for about 10 minutes. Plus goulash is one of the best foods ever, and don’t even get me started on the beer.

Vienna afterwards was a mistake, in that after Prague, nothing felt as awesome as that. So we got to Vienna and we were like “…meh”. Of course it was a perfectly nice city – it’s just a lot more cosmopolitan than Prague. Prague had things like Starbucks and McDonalds dotted around but they were nicely hidden under the pretty buildings and drowned out by the Gothic architecture, whereas in Vienna they were very prominent, with neon signs jutting out everywhere and the shop fronts covered in gaudy plastic. The Belvedere Palace was beautiful, as was the Viennese Ferris wheel at night…it just wasn’t quite Prague.

Seville was the result of poor planning and a lack of desire to be bound to go to a party with a return trip home only starting at 11am the following morning. Everybody recommended Cádiz as the place to go to see carnaval, but I personally don’t really enjoy that sort of thing for more that 3 hours – would happily see it for a couple of hours if I could get back easily, but it didn’t work out that way! So last Wednesday I suggested to Esther that we go to Seville, since it has a direct line from Málaga and the train tickets were only 18.90 euros each, staying in a hostel obviously. Luc decided to come on Saturday rather than Friday. What followed was a great weekend filled with tapas, flamenco, beer, lots of hot, HOT sunshine and ice cream. Sevilla is a gorgeous city, and I definitely need to live there at some point.

There are so many more places I need to visit, like Cordoba, Cádiz obviously, Barcelona, Valencia…the list goes on. Think this is a good start to that.

This song was on repeat on the way there and back from Seville. No particular reason other than that I love it.

What a difference a school makes

Talking to Vivian, who is now my beautiful new flatmate (mini-wave of celebration) and Esther, who is my doesn’t-live-with-me-mate but is also so very pretty, reveals quite a large (and often bizarre) range of variances and happenings at their respective schools.

When I applied for the British Council English Language Assistantship you’re not really thinking about the school itself, not even when you find out the area and village/town/city you’ve been allocated to, because (not that I know about anyone else’s preconceptions) the fact that my school would be a professional, efficiently functioning, well oiled machine was just a given. It is  clear I have never worked in a school before, or even extensively with young children (chiefly due to the fact I tend to avoid them). The main concerns were: living arrangements, night life, friends and money.

They were silly concerns to be honest. I’ve had no problem with any of those things except money, and that was only because I had to survive without pay for a couple of months.

I will start off by saying I feel that I have been very lucky with my school. Although it may not come across at times (see last post…!), when I arrived my coordinator was eager to welcome me, incredibly friendly and tolerant of my god-awful Spanish. I have a very easy timetable, going from 9:00-10:30am starts to finishing at 1.15pm at the latest. Monday to Thursday. Which is awesome, and I only live 3 minutes walk from the school. I only prepare lessons to teach alone for my two consecutive fourth grade classes on a Tuesday, which is not hard at all as the kids speak great English and the lessons only last for 45 minutes. The rest of my classes I mainly read things out, help the teacher to mark the workbooks, or go over vocabulary and definitions. There is always a teacher present, ready to assist should I need help with a Spanish word I don’t know for an explanation, or simply to write key things on the board while I speak. I also never have to prepare anything like worksheets, mark tests, or have meetings regarding the curriculum with the other teachers.

All of the teachers are friendly, and while some don’t speak to me due to having no classes with me or whatever reason, they still greet me or smile at me, which makes a hell of a difference when you first arrive and are questioning everything you’ve ever done in life. I have made a few really good friends there, who go out for lunch with me, take me shopping, and even came to my birthday party at my favourite bar.

That’s my experience. Vivian’s is slightly different. She is a German Language Assistant, although the level of her English would lead you to believe otherwise. She also works at a primary school, but she works in Torrox, a town around 31 miles away (roughly 40 minutes by car), which is just under the distance from Málaga to Marbella, but to the East. I believe she made a great decision by choosing to live in Málaga rather than there, as there are regular buses to and from Torrox, and in addition she gave herself a much better chance of making friends and having a social life by living in the city.

Before she moved in with me, she had to get a bus from her flat for 10-15 minutes, to then catch a lift with a teacher on his way to school. She now walks 10 minutes to catch a lift from someone who lives near us, much better. In any case,  this means she has to be at school for the entire school day, giving her a little less freedom when it comes to finishing her timetable. It also means she has to get up at an ungodly hour to get to Torrox in time for school.

With regards to actual workload, I can’t begin to describe the effort that Vivian has put into her preparation for classes. She has described to us a certain teacher, who will henceforth be known as Bitchy McCrazy, who not only asks Vivian to prepare more than one task/classload (e.g: worksheets, activities etc) for single classes, so she can “plan”, but even for classes that she does not teach. Not only this, but she was told she could go home for Christmas a week early, as they wouldn’t need her. Only if she prepared that weeks lessons, not just the ones she would have been in, but also the ones she didn’t teach in that Bitchy McCrazy wanted so she didn’t have to plan them herself. I feel that is just a little bit ridiculous. The same woman apparently complained, when Vivian explained she wasn’t supposed to teach entire classes alone/prepare them/grade exams (one of the main points when one applies through the British Council is that you are told explicitly that you are absolutely not supposed to take classes alone or prepare them – it is after all an assistantship position), the woman had the audacity to tell her that the last assistant did it without question, and that it seemed a bit lazy. Outrageous.

Vivian however, being of sound mind and tolerant constitution, makes the lesson plans anyway, because she’s good at it and she loves the kids. What a mistress. She also is of enough German strength that she puts up with the horror of working Tuesday to Friday as oppose to the majority here who work Monday to Thursday, and often comes out with us anyway on a Thursday because she’s great. She enjoys her school too and again the teachers are all nice (with the exception of Bitchy McCrazy, who can be nice but often chooses not to be).

Esther’s school is different primarily because she teaches in a high school, so teaches Bachillerato (i.e. A-Level classes) with people not much younger than herself, which must be both interesting and weird, especially when it comes to discipline etc. She too enjoys her school, teachers there all seem really friendly too, the kids are great and chat to her like a friend, and obviously their English would often be much better. She has to prepare worksheets often, but not all the time, and she has said a couple of lessons she has been left “unattended” so to speak, in that the teacher has been in the class but not assisting, and she has felt like walking out due to the class misbehaving, which I totally get. She also has to mark essays and such, which I find odd. But then again it is a high school. However again she only works in Huelin, an area only 10 minutes by bus from the city centre where she lives, which is convenient. She also enjoys her school, which is good.

It’s odd how we never even consider the things we’re actually going to do once we get to the school, but it’s probably a good thing because it’s not worth it! Once we all got here and settled in to our various jobs, we just got used to it. Which leaves time for fun times like these 🙂

Chicas on ladies night at the bar

Chicas – ladies night at the bar

It’s all good!

Questions? Queries? Comments?

My general living experience here in Málaga has been pretty uneventful, in that I love it, and I have lots of good friends.

Going back to the original point of this blog, the actual being an English Language Assistant thingy. I started back at school again on 7th January, after what I felt had been 3 pretty successful months considering my hideous Spanish upon arrival and my lack of teaching skill/rapport with children. High points being my two fourth grade classes in a row on a Tuesday, who smile and greet me with excitement when I enter the class, and understand what I’m saying and enjoy my lessons, another one being making friends with two first grade teachers, Mónica and Eli, the former only being a supply teacher while the original teacher was off ill last year. Low points being when my coordinator decided last year to interrupt a conversation I was having with two teachers in English to tell them in Spanish to “please stop talking to Mish in English, you need to talk to her in Spanish because she can’t speak it at all, let alone understand it.” Very upsetting as at that point I felt my Spanish had really improved, especially since she only speaks to me in Spanish. Another low point is the fact I am not allowed in the English classes; the only class I do is “Conocimiento del medio” or “cono” – basically Science with a bit of health and social thrown in there. I went into a first grade English class in my first week, since I had got lost and nobody could tell me where I was supposed to be, and the very kind English teacher Manuel invited me in with open arms. At the end of the class, the husband of my coordinator who had turned up in the middle of the class approached me and told me that I “should not be here. You are not supposed to be in this class, it is not appropriate.”

For the first 2 months of my placement I had no idea that my coordinator and her husband even spoke English, since every interaction I’d ever had with them was in Spanish, and if I ever spoke English due to lack of vocab knowledge they both would look at me blankly. It was revealed to me that actually they teach fifth and sixth grade English, whilst Manuel teaches the fourth grade downwards. I was absolutely gobsmacked.

The fourth graders are by far the best English speakers.I take the whole class alone, I can speak to them at my normal speed and they completely get what I’m saying. If they don’t understand, they tell me and I reword my phrases, which they then normally understand. Manuel’s teaching ability really shines through here.

The sixth graders however, in stark contrast, don’t understand ANYTHING I say, unless it’s “Hello.” That’s genuinely about as much as I can squeeze out of them. The sixth grade teachers for “cono” generally use me to correct them, or to read out long pieces of text. I was given the opportunity in one class to teach a segment – it did not go well. I spoke the same way as I had to my fourth graders and was met with silence, blank faces, and no clue how to proceed.

Don’t get me wrong – those classes aren’t horrible to be in! I just do less, usually standing or sitting on the side and throwing in a pronunciation every now and then. The teachers themselves are good, and get the children through what they need to know for the exams.

Something that has changed this year however is now that Mónica is gone, 2 of my favourite classes have become my worst. She was put in charge of a first grade class, but the original teacher is a “bilingual” teacher (meaning she can teach science in English) so she had to take a second grade science class too, so I had two lessons a week with her. She would let me teach them the vocabulary or something simple, whilst being on hand to help me out with a translation or a game idea etc. I hadn’t realised how difficult teaching first and second grade could be. They barely know their own language, let alone mine. They also speak like children, which I find hard enough in English. But Mónica made it easy, and the kids loved her. Now this new teacher is back, I am expected to teach the class solo. I am not supposed to use Spanish, but often have to since the kids cannot understand me without some Spanish help. I also cannot prepare as I haven’t been given the book for these two grades. Now I realise that yes, first and second grade science is pretty simplistic, but it’s not the science I need to prepare, it’s the manners of teaching, like games or drawing things on the board etc. For example with the fourth grade, reading out loud is a good activity, for help with pronunciation and just vocabulary and things like that. Plus they seem to like it. But you can’t call a first grader on pronunciation on every word.

In any case, often I’m left explaining things four or five times to disinterested children, while this teacher sits and does marking. When I ask for help, she looks confused and seems almost annoyed that I’m asking. It’s honestly put a real downer on my week. After classes like that you genuinely feel exhausted, and it’s not even close to that feeling I get after my fourth graders on a Tuesday. It does make you feel quite bad. I already knew I didn’t want to be a teacher particularly, but this has made a dull disinterest into a clear “no thank you.”

Vent over. In other news. February is going to be a first for many things. It will be my first Valentine’s day in 4 years without a Valentine (unless something truly shocking happens but no-one’s holding their breath over here) but more importantly, I will be visiting 3 cities I’ve never been to before. I planned a surprise for the beautiful Esther then managed to ruin it by telling her directly where we were going. Idiot. So I’m taking her to Melilla, a city in the North of Africa that’s technically Spain, which I believe is going to be really interesting. Not only this, but we have taken full advantage of “Semana Blanca” or “White Week” literally translated, which is a week-long holiday exclusive to Málaga. So Esther and I are going to Prague and then Vienna with an American guy called David we met a couple of weeks ago, who is using his time in Europe as an opportunity to see all of it apparently. We met in Mañana to book all the flights and hostels etc. Lots of fun and lots of planning-places-I-want-to-see-and-eat-at-while-I’m-there for me in my journal the night before we did it. Yes. Pretty much Monica from Friends. I’m sure most people would want to shoot me for that, but Esther actually appreciated it. I love her.

It’s getting warmer again here, but the wind is making me want to die a little bit. Our windows in our flat are very…gappy. So when the wind blows at a zillion miles an hour, we get a series of screechy whistling sounds. All night. Ah, the charms of the Costa del Sol. That pain will be alleviated when the gorgeous Vivian moves into a room here, replacing one of the two housemates who are only spending one semester here at the University. The next 5 months are gonna be sweeeeeeeet!

Here is a completely irrelevant song that I like 🙂

 

Back to the future and 2014

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We’re back! It was great being home for Christmas, I was definitely glad I didn’t stay here alone for the holidays! I loved seeing all my family and friends, even though it was only over two short weeks. Managed to get some sort of horrid flu-ey thing on the way home (probably specifically the plane) so my main priorities over the two weeks lay with Kleenex and attempting not to breathe very deeply in order not to upset the gremlin living in my throat. Despite this and not drinking in order to not further anger said beast it was a nice relaxing stay.

Not gonna lie though, returning back from rain at Stansted to 18 degree heat and sun on 4th January was truly one of the nicest things ever. Thanks world!Beauuuutiful welcome home. Not only this but we were accompanied by one of my friends, Jack, whom I’ve known for 14 years. This gave me a real chance to explore the city as a real tourist!

I bought tickets for the “Guiri” (foreigner) bus, aka the City Tour Hop-on-hop-off bus. What. A. RIP OFF. This took us nowhere we hadn’t already seen – actually no. We hadn’t seen the extent of pigeons and things because most things fly away due to the speed of most buses. This bus went about 6 miles an hour,  just to add to our embarrassment, and the bus driver even stopped at one point and chatted for about 10 minutes at a news kiosk and bought gum! This, for £16.50 (that’s right, not euros!) is absolutely not ok. It did take us up to the Gibralfaro, where we made back our money by only paying 60 cents to enter on a student ticket, which was genius. We then discovered that a normal Málaga city bus goes up there regularly. Brilliant. That’s the tourist way though right?!

I took Jack for tapas in various places as well, showed him the famous churros at Casa Aranda (which he didn’t like – sacrilege), introduced him to the beauty that is Mañana, and we even went to the beach one day, where it was warm enough to sit in a hoody and feel slightly chilly…but it was January and sunny!

Forgot how beautiful the city was. Particularly the Cathedral – I’ve been to Notre Dame in Paris and I’ve got to say that the Cathedral in Málaga is just as, if not more (gasp) stunning. Two massive organs fill the centre and the outsides are ornately decorated with individual sections for saints. Amazing.

Here’s a fitting song.

December song

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It’s admittedly quite hard to get into the Christmas spirit when there are still days when there is no need for a coat. Before coming to Málaga I looked online to see what the average temperatures were during December. It told me 17. Surprisingly this is true. When we returned from Madrid it seemed like we had missed the gradual change from “hot” to “slightly chilly”. It was genuinely cold in the middle of November. However now its generally around 17-20 degrees centigrade during the day. It’s insanity. I mean, we can still enjoy tapas sitting outside; madness.

Another weird thing is seeing nice little Christmas decorations juxtaposed with the palm trees upon which they are hung. Not that I don’t love it – I despise being cold and getting to enjoy things like hearing Christmas carols in shops and seeing Merry Christmas signs everywhere and not having trouble walking due to zillions of layers is just a joy.

Spain seems to generally go about Christmas celebrations a little differently to England. For instance, the weekend of my birthday (1st December) there was a big turning on of the Christmas lights, which had been up since the beginning of November but never been turned on. We saw online that the proceedings started at 6. This was a lie. We turned up 15 minutes early to Plaza de la Constitución, in eager anticipation and in order to get a place near the stage. No need. The festivities, hosted by a DJ who called himself “DJ Pulpo” (literally, DJ Octopus, which confused us very much when trying to decipher his thick andaluz accent. I later discovered at school when recounting this story to my friend that “pulpo” is slang for a man who likes to hit on/grab ass lots of girls – it made me laugh because as she explained it she did several grabbing motions to imply many arms, like an octopus!) reminded me of a school disco – he made the crowd do chants, dances, wave to spectators on the surrounding balconies – it was so bizarre! And EVERYBODY did it! We had no intention of doing the dance to Whigfield’s “Saturday Night”, but if we hadn’t we would have looked ever so foolish, seeing as young children and pensioners alike were all doing it!

The lights came on at a prompt 7:22pm. Standard Spain. There were several moments where we were apparently being filmed, and lots of chanting “Má-la-ga, como mola se merece una ola…otra ola…tsunami!” which completely threw us apart from the fact we knew what “ola” was (wave) so lots of Mexican waves with cheering. Very strange. After this a band came on and sang popular songs in English and Spanish, aided by the crowd who had use of a giant screen next to the stage with the lyrics on (which were nicely wrong on occasion, in English anyway!). Everybody was dancing and singing and the streets were jam packed.

In any case the lights themselves are just beautiful. And there are so many poinsettias everywhere, which until now I didn’t realise were Christmas flowers, but I have decided I love them. I go home on the 21st December, catching a plane with the lovely Esther, and am quite looking forward to seeing my family and friends. Surprisingly (or not, when you think about it) I don’t miss England itself at all – Málaga has very quickly moulded itself into somewhere I feel I could live for a fair while. I know I will be excited to come back!

Here is a lovely song which I don’t hear very often, probably because it’s not Slade, or Shakin’ Stevens.