Wednesday, 2 July 2014

FAQs & my advice for future English Language Assistants in Melilla

  • How did you prepare yourself for the year abroad? I didn't find that my university prepared me that well for the year abroad. However, I was given a year abroad handbook by my university, which was fairly useful. I got my information from emails from the British Council and the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. I also found a Facebook group for the English Language Assistants in Spain and we all gave each other advice. Twitter is also a great way to get your questions answered quickly. I found that getting a response by email (especially in Spain) took quite a long time and sometimes its just easier to make a phone call or rock up somewhere to ask in person. For more advice, see Third Year Abroad Answers, The Mole Diaries: Melilla Volume 1 and Volume 2The Newcomer's Guide to Melilla and Melilla: 6 Reasons To Fall in Love. If you have any questions after reading this blog, please don't hesitate to get in contact with me.
  • Why did you choose Melilla? Melilla was interesting because there was a mix of languages (Spanish, Arabic, Berber, and French), cultures (Spanish, Moroccan and West African) and religions (Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu). Travel, accommodation and food in Morocco were cheap so I was able to walk across the border and have cheap weekend breaks in many different places. However, it is quite small, travel to the Spanish mainland is quite expensive and I did feel quite isolated at times. There were very few English-speakers, but at school I was mostly speaking and teaching in English. I never had the opportunity to visit Ceuta, but from what I heard is, it’s pretty similar. It’s probably easier to access Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland from there. I remember that I chose Melilla over Ceuta because it has its own airport.
  • How can I get to Melilla? You can fly to Melilla from Madrid, Málaga, Almería or Granada, but until you become a resident this is very expensive. It should cost about 5 euros to get to or from the airport by taxi during normal hours. The airport doesn't open until 7:00, so I wouldn't recommend arriving much earlier than that. It's cheaper to get to Melilla by flying to Nador (close by in Morocco) and crossing the border, although this isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. There are also ferries from Málaga, Granada and Almería, but these tend to take a long time and can be expensive depending on the time of year. 
  • Is Melilla safe? The only thing that bothered me were the strange men (mostly Moroccan) who may harass you.  I tried being nice and I tried ignoring them, but they can't take a hint! The only way to avoid them is to be rude. After that you shouldn't have any problems and I felt safe walking along main roads when it was dark.
  • Is it safe to cross the border? The border sometimes felt a bit dodgy but I never had any problems. However, I wouldn't recommend crossing alone. You need to get a form to fill in from the last security desk before you enter Morocco in order to cross the border. Some Moroccan people try to sell them to you or offer to fill them in for you but you can get them from the desk for free.
  • Why did you choose to be an English Language Assistant? I was considering a career in teaching and earning money as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me travel during the year and over the summer and I still have some savings left over! I personally didn't enjoy working in the school, but I had some friends who loved it. I think it really depends on the school. I only worked 12 hours over 3 days per week. It was a refreshing break from studying and now I feel prepared to go back to university for my final year.Sometimes I regret choosing to work at the school because I didn't enjoy the job and it didn't improve my Spanish as much as I'd hoped, but I had some friends who loved it. At least now I know one job which I'm not interested in doing.
  • How did you have enough money? I knew I needed some extra cash during my year abroad, so I worked two jobs the summer before and I decided to the English Language Assistantship to earn money (a monthly allowance (ayuda mensual) of €700 subject to a number of procedures that you have to follow) and stay in Europe to get an Erasmus grant of around €220 per month (paid in 2 instalments). Therefore I don't know the average salary for a teacher in Melilla. I got my tuition fee loan and maintenance loan and grant during the year, but I only paid a small proportion of my normal tuition fees If you're a student, keep your receipts of all travel expenses. You may get a grant to cover some of your travel expenses if you normally live in Englandafter paying the first £303 of your travel costsEarning money as an English Language Assistant as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me travel during the year and over the summer and I still have some savings left over! I think there's only so much you can do until you actually arrive. Depending on your bank, transferring money to a foreign account or the commission  to take money out of a cash machine aren't always so bad using an English card, and I paid my deposit and first month's rent doing that. Once you get there, find a hotel if you haven't got accommodation already and I would suggest focusing on getting a bank account. Finding accommodation often depends on knowing the right people and that may take time. Sorting out my residence and bank was the most stressful part for me. For some reason I managed to organise accommodation without a bank account. If you don't have an address before you open your bank account, you can always use a friend's address (some of my friends used mine) or the organisation's where you will be. BBVA cuenta blue is a good account to have because its free for people under the age of 30.
  • Did you pay tax? I don't know the income tax rate in Spain, but I would guess that it is lower than mainland Spain in order to encourage people to live in Melilla. A Double Taxation Agreement exists between the UK and Spain. Under this agreement UK assistants are normally exempt from Spanish income tax for a period of up to 2 years. However, it is normally the case that 100% of the remuneration received abroad will be liable for UK tax. As I didn’t earn more than £917 (€1,045.60) per week, I didn’t pay any tax. It is important to know that the agreement only covers teaching jobs. You might be taxed for any non-teaching jobs and should check how much you are allowed to earn per year without having to pay taxes. You are reminded that the UK tax year extends from 6 April to 5 April and that income earned in the UK between April and the start of your assistantship may be taken into account when your own or your parents' tax liability is being assessed.
  • How did you communicate? I only started learning Spanish when I started university, so when I arrived in Melilla I had only been learning for 2 years and I was very nervous about this. It came naturally once I arrived and I started picking up more. People in Melilla are generally quite patient with people who aren't fluent in Spanish because there is already such a mix of different cultures and languages within the city. French could help, especially if you decide to go to Morocco, but Spanish and Arabic are mostly spoken. In my experience, most people didn't know much English except the English teachers themselves and the English native speakers at the British Centre of Melilla, for example.
  • How did you find somewhere to live? Through being given the contact details of a friend of a friend of one of my English language assistant predecessors in Melilla, who's contact details I found on the list sent to me by the British Council, I was lucky enough to be able organise accommodation before arriving. I was careful and asked for some photos of the flat beforehand and had several conversations with my future house mate. From seeing the photos and speaking to her, I felt like I would be happy living there. I lived with a local for the first 3 months of my year abroad, but she lost her job and had to move away so I started searching for a new flatmate. I received an email from a girl studying at another university who had found this blog by typing 'year abroad Melilla' into Google. She was coming to the city for the last 4 months of my stay and I told her that I was looking for a flatmate and kept the spare room free for her. It's not always easy, reliable, or cheap to find a place to live online (If you want to try, I would suggest, especially in a small place like Melilla. As Melilla is so small, information isn't always posted online and news is often spread by word of mouth, so it's worth asking around. It may be easier to just book a hotel. Hotel Anfora is probably the most reasonable hotel and TRYP Puerto Hotel is the most well-known with modern rooms and an incredible breakfast. It's not the end of the world if you have to live there for a few days and chances are someone who you meet will know someone looking for a flat mate. If not, try the student residence. There is a campus from the University of Granada in Melilla, but I never visited it, and I myself never came across the student accommodation. I think regular accommodation is pretty affordable anyway.
  • Who did you live with? At first, I lived with a Spanish native. This is key to improving your Spanish and finding a social group. You don't have this opportunity if you live with an English speaker who you spend time socialising with outside of the house, and perhaps it puts too much pressure on your English social group. I think who you live with all depends on the situation: where you're living, how long you're living there for, whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert and whether you have friends close by. I lived alone for about 2 months between my first flatmate leaving and my second arriving and this was a really difficult time. However, I consider myself an introvert and I don't have any problem spending a lot of time alone, so the concept of living alone wasn't a huge deal for me. It was certainly drama free that way! Whilst it was nice to have my own space and live in a clean flat, it was very lonely and I was struggling. As I lived in quite a small city with few young people and my workplace wasn't very welcoming, I found it hard to make friends and it took time before I found my own social group. You need perseverance!
  • When did you know which school you were going to/ how did you get in contact with your school? I found out sometime in August. I was really worried before my year abroad because I heard very little from my school before I arrived. Don't expect to hear back immediately, especially if you contact them during the summer holidays. If they don't tell you everything you need to know, don't worry, it will be sorted when you arrive. Make an effort the contact the school as soon as you know which one you're going to, but don't expect to hear back immediately, especially if you contact them during the summer holidays. If they don't tell you everything you need to know, don't worry, it will be sorted when you arrive. If you're really worried you can usually check with the British Council or the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte via email, telephone or Twitter (which tends to get a fast response).
  • What would you recommend to take with you?
    • Proper walking shoes: they may look fairly unattractive, but if you plan to travel, you will be walking lots. I made the mistake of only taking pumps to a city without many shops and my feet suffered.
    • Extension cable: This saves you using multiple plug adapters (but make sure you bring a spare just in case).
    • Rucksack: This is an easy and safe way to carry your things whilst travelling. I also used a combination lock (so I didn't have to worry about having a normal padlock and losing the key or getting it stuck inside the padlock) between two zippers so potential thieves couldn't open my rucksack from behind. 
    • Hand luggage suitcase: Although it is slightly heavier that a soft case, I realised a hard shell hand luggage suitcase made it easier to limit my luggage because the case couldn't expand much. I also used my combination lock for this suitcase if I left it in a hotel or hostel.
    • Portable charger: you can find these online (eBay) and all you have to do is charge them up and carry them with you if your phone's (or any other device's) battery dies whilst travelling.
    • Dry shampoo: I use this often and when I was in Melilla it wasn't available in shops.
    • Easy-Hide-IP: This basically hides your current location and enables you to choose another one. You can choose a place in the UK and it lets you watch BBC iPlayer, 4od and many other things (such as Netflix) that you wouldn't otherwise be able to use abroad.
    • Google Translate, CamDictionary or any other translating app that works offline.
    • E-reading app or device (Google Play, Kindle) so you can read books and not have to physically carry them around (be careful when you pack because you will probably buy lots there and you might have to leave some things behind).
    • Typical English things for the students to see. For example; newspapers, magazines, train and bus timetables and tickets, leaflets, photos, postcards, tea bags, sweets, shortbread, mince pies, a Christmas cracker (my students were very excited by this), or a Christmas pudding. Beware of expiry dates for food. I bought some mince pies in September and they expired shortly after, so I was unable to take them to the school. Fortunately, a friend gave me a recipe and I made my own instead.
    • Don't pack too many winter clothes. You probably won't need them. However, expect a turn of weather in November and be prepared with several jumpers and a thin coat. There is no central heating in most apartments, which isn't a huge problem because it is generally quite warm and you will get used to it. However, make sure you have a duvet or lots of blankets when it starts to get cold. The only duvet I could find was at Supersol supermarket and cost 40 euros.
  • Did you get insurance for the year abroad? I got Endsleigh studying abroad insurance for the year, which cost me £187.32. I broke and lost 2 phones and they gave the money to replace both.
  • What did you do about a mobile phone? Buying a basic phone saves money, but you can't use WhatsApp. Spanish people love WhatsApp, so it is useful to have internet access when you're out and about. I would suggest bringing an unlocked phone with you. I took my iPhone then just switched between my English and Spanish SIMs and I didn't have any problems other than getting it unlocked. If your phone is locked to a provider in your home country, a SIM from the same provider in Spain will still not be accepted and it makes your life easier to have an unlocked phone when you arrive. I made this mistake, thinking that I could use a Vodafone Spain SIM card with a phone locked to Vodafone UK, but eventually I managed to unlock my phone. I was on pay as you go and the case is a lot different to the UK and it is very cheap. €10-20 could last me 1-2 months. I still had all my English contacts on my phone and could talk to them on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime or Skype. I didn't feel like I needed two phones because I rarely used my English SIM in Spain. You could also consider getting a dual SIM phone. I would say that getting a Spanish number is one of the first things you should do when you arrive, because friends and people interested in private classes will ask for your number and won't want to pay extra to use your English number. You may also need it to get full access to your bank account, as they may text you a code.
  • How did you get your NIE? I took the EX-18 to the oficina de extranjeros. The Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte will tell you to take the EX-15 form to the oficina de extranjeros. When I was there I was told this was the wrong form and needed the EX-18. Also get the 790 form at the oficina de extranjeros because you will need this to pay the fee at the bank. Arrive early to queue for the oficina de extranjeros. It opens at 9am. The first time I arrived at 12pm and wasn't let in. The second time I arrived at 8:50, went in at 9am, got my ticket and wasn't seen until 12pm. Bring at least two photocopies your passport and the paperwork sent to you by the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. The oficina de extranjeros and the bank will probably ask you for them. Once you have your NIE, you can get a residence certificate that entitles you to half price tickets for planes and boats. Go to the Ayuntamiento de Melilla. You will need your NIE, passport and house contract. Don't use the main entrance on Plaza de España, use the entrance on the corner of Avenida General Macías and Calle Pablo Vallesca.
  • I don't have a very big luggage allowance, how can I decorate my room? I found it difficult to make my room feel homey. I love writing letters and postcards, so I sent some to my friends and family and I received some replies. I stuck them all over my wardrobe with blu tac, which added some life to my room and reminded me of everybody who cares when I felt alone.
  • How did you meet people? It really depends on where you work and your individual situation. I had a negative experience at the school, but I knew others who had really positive experiences. There are a community of English speakers at the British Centre of Melilla. I tried to integrate into the local community, for example by going to the gym, but I often found that it was disorganised, for example it wasn’t communicated if a class was cancelled. I also tried to find like-minded people by volunteering at CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants). Be confident speaking the foreign language, make an effort to socialise with the teachers, go to cafés and bars (even if that means going alone), and look for other students in your area. At first it may be difficult and feel impossible to make friends, but keep trying and you'll find some eventually!
  • What are the shops like? On weekdays offices such as banks and the oficina de extranjeros are usually open until around 2pm. Shops are generally open 10:00-13:30 and 17:30-20:30. Queues are ridiculously long. Whether it be in the post office, oficina de extranjeros or fresh food counters at the supermarket, it is usually best to go in, take a ticket from the machine, go away to do something else then come back later. Alternatively, go early in the morning or late at night to avoid queues. Many things such as tobacco and alcohol are cheaper in Melilla than they are in duty free in Spain.
  • Do you know if they use their own stamps there, or do they use ordinary Spanish stamps?I was under the impression that you cannot get stamps for Europe from the kiosks on the street. I just went to the post office where they ink stamped it. I hope this helps!
  • How can I get around? I basically walked everywhere. Melilla is quite small and I personally don’t think you need to worry about travel. However, there are quite a few hills (which you can’t see on Google Maps and Melilla doesn’t have Google Street View yet). I did buy a second hand bike, but I didn’t use it very often and eventually sold it. I wouldn't recommend it because it's not always safe to park a bike in a public area, there are lots of hills and the roads aren't very safe. Bikes are stolen very often, no matter how big the lock is. Park it inside or take it with you when you can. There's a reason that most bike parks seem to be empty. There is a bus that costs about 80 cents, but I never used it. Many people have cars and use them to drive short distances, so chances are when you get to know someone they will offer you a lift. Otherwise, a 5-minute taxi journey will probably cost about €5.
  • Where are the best places to eat and drink?
    • Being a vegetarian in Melilla is quite difficult. At restaurants make sure you check whether you can eat the meal before ordering.
    • Gastrobar Le Dillon's isn't a particularly busy or central place, but the tapas is amazing, the atmosphere is great and the staff are really friendly. This is one of the few places where it isn't too difficult to get vegetarian food. Sometimes they give you several free shots before you leave.
    • Pizzeria Anthony is probably the nicest restaurant in Melilla. Amazing stone baked pizzas, a little pricey, but an amazing atmosphere. It does get busy often.
    • La Cervecería is unique, nice decoration, delicious tapas, central location. Gets busy often.
    • Entrevinos is in a central location and one of the best bars in town.
    • La Pérgola is a bar which has really nice views of the port, lovely at sunset. Great drinks and nice fish, which are a little pricey but large.
    • Heladería California is probably the best out of the few ice cream parlours in Melilla. A big variety of sizes and flavours and there's slush puppies (granizados) too! Only open from about May until the end of September.
    • El Caracol Moderno II has a great variety of Moroccan cuisine. A bit pricey, but well decorated and excellent service. It doesn't look great from the outside and the entrance isn't that obvious. On the corner there is a run down entrance, but walk a little further down and you will find the much nicer main entrance.
  • What is there to see?
    • Melilla la Vieja is a large fortress which is north of the port in Melilla. It is probably the best spot to see the whole of Melilla by day or night; there is a panoramic photo point near the military museum. There are some interesting museums and art galleries and nice restaurants and bars around. 
    • Plaza de España is surrounded by monumental buildings such as the town hall, the Bank of Spain and the Casino Militar. There's a lovely water fountain and its a nice place to sit.
    • Parque Hernandez is a park near the centre with lovely plants and water fountains.
  • What is there to do?
    • The beach is lovely and doesn't get very busy until around June.
    • I never saw anybody surfing, but perhaps windsurfing would be possible as it can get really windy. I saw people sailing at Club Marítimo de Melilla, but I heard that becoming a member is expensive.
    • The night life in Melilla isn't up to much, but Sala Manhattan is probably the most popular club. There are also several other bars and clubs around the port (Puerto Noray), which seems to be the main clubbing area.
    • Plaza de las Cuatro Culturas (Four Cultures Square) is named after the mix of cultures that exist in Melilla (Spanish Catholic, Moroccan Muslim, Jewish and Hindu), this square has a variety of bars and restaurants. There is also a pharmacy (where you can buy mosquito repelling bracelets, which I recommend for when it's hot!) and the tourist office.
    • The Oficina de Turismo (tourist office) has some information about events in the city, although not all of the staff speak good English. Here you can buy tickets for the tourist train for 3 euros, which usually leave 2 or 3 times a day when it's fairly warm and take you around Melilla la Vieja and the city centre.
    • Parque Forestal Juan Carlos I Rey is a large park, not far from the airport, with several parts and is separated by a road. One part has a animal area with tortoises, horses, birds, sheep and goats and a desert fox. The other part has a lake, river, playground and snack kiosk.
    • Los Pinos (The Pines) is a forest in the north near the border. It is great for barbecues or picnics and interesting because you can see the border itself. To get there it would be best to drive or take a taxi.
  • What did you do for your year abroad project for university? I think that current affairs are a good thing to write about as there is lots of recent information available and your university will probably like it. Due to Melilla's location, there are problems with immigration, so I focused on that. I also focused on the effect of immigration on employment, which is affecting Spain quite badly at the moment.
  • How did you document your year abroad? I tried to update this blog every 2 weeks and I wrote notes about important events on my phone or paper so I wouldn't forget what to write. I also bought postcards when I went to some places and took plenty of photos. If I want to remember what happened, I can refer to my photo albums on my computer or my posts on this blog. I kept all the tickets from the transport I used and places I visited and put them all into a box display frame when I got home. I did these things because I'm not a fan of wasting my money on tacky souvenirs. I also wanted to create some resources for people going to Melilla for the first time, because there was little information available to me before I left (see more links at the bottom of this post).
  • How did you get your things back home? When I returned home with my things, I tried to prioritise and unfortunately I had to leave some things behind. I booked a flight with British Airways rather than Ryanair. Although the ticket was more expensive, it included a free suitcase with 23kg weight limit, so it probably worked out cheaper than paying to take a suitcase with Ryanair.
  • Did your relationship survive the year abroad? I had already been in a long distance relationship between the UK and Finland for a year before I did my year abroad, so it wasn't much different for me, other than the flight between us being slightly longer and expensive. I think distance can really help you value your relationship and you appreciate your time together much more. It's also really fun to share your new experiences with your other half if they come to visit. I prepared myself financially because knew I needed some extra cash to support our relationship during my year abroad. If you are flexible with spending money together this definitely helps, so you can help each other out when you need it. Skype and other things like texting are great, but I think its best to limit it so you do go out and experience the culture. Encourage your other half to get their own hobbies so they don't feel like they're just waiting for you to return. In the long term, its much healthier to maintain your own life alongside your relationship because if you do happen to break up it won't be the end of the world. I also think establishing trust before you go is very important because jealousy is not a good thing. Becoming jealous, overly protective or controlling is unlikely to help the relationship survive. My relationship survived, but that's because I was ready for the challenge. If you're very dependent on your other half and used to spending every waking minute with them, its bound to be harder. If your relationship can survive the year abroad, then you're probably ready for many other challenges that may come your way in the future!
  • How did you deal with returning home? When I struggled, I tried to remember the things I disliked about my year abroad and the things I really missed from home and made the most of them when I was back. If you really miss your year abroad, try to talk to people who you met there or others who have been on a year abroad who can understand. It will probably be confusing at first and unless your family and friends have lived abroad, they may find it difficult understand your struggles. In fact, I found that many people were reluctant to hear about my experiences or failed to even acknowledge that I'd been away, which was extremely hurtful and beyond my comprehension. Others advised me that this may have been due to jealousy.
  • How did you continue your Spanish after the year abroad? There are many ways to maintain your language skills after returning from the year abroad. My university has a Spanish society and a group called the 'Language Cafe' where Erasmus students doing their year abroad in the UK, language students and anyone else come along to practice their languages. You could try searching on Facebook for groups. Meetup is also worth a try.

What I will and won't miss

What I will miss
  • Climate: Catching some rays in November? Yes, please!
  • Beach: Sandy delights at your doorstep
  • Lack of rain: Is that the sound of the neighbour's shower... or... could it possibly be... rain?!
  • The English Language Assistant's working week: More days off than days at work
  • Patience: You can't speak very good Spanish? No pasa nada.
  • Relaxed atmosphere: You're late, but that's no reason to rush
  • Kind people: Generosity without asking for anything in return
  • Cheap alcohol: Buy predrinks for 2 euros
  • Cheap crisps: The packets are actually full as well
  • Living above a newsagent: Although this often had calorific consequences
  • Olives: The best I've ever tasted!
  • Tapas: Complimentary food served with your drink. This would never happen in the UK
  • Cute dogs: In order to be a citizen of Melilla you must have a small, unbearably cute dog

What I won't miss
  • Inconsistent classes: Waking up at the crack of dawn and walking 30 minutes to school only for lessons to be cancelled. No teacher even considered sending a Whatsapp message the day before
  • Lack of central heating: It's 15 degrees outside and you're still wearing several jumpers
  • Gas heated water: Shower has gone cold again
  • Getting things done: I missed your email and call, pop by the office and I'll be with you in a few hours
  • Food: Vegetarianism does not exist. Apparently preparing normal dishes without adding fish or meat is too complex for many Melillans to understand
  • Undrinkable tap water: Bottled water is heavy to carry and a waste of plastic (especially because it can't be recycled in Melilla)
  • Humidity and wind: It's a bad hair day, everyday
  • Flying cockroaches: Your worst nightmare, flying towards your face
  • Roads: Run across a zebra crossing and hope the cars will stop
  • Cars: If a car honks its horn, it is then obligatory for the whole street to join in
  • Hills: Calves still hurting from that brisk walk yesterday?
  • Litter: Seriously, have you ever heard of a bin?
  • Lack of recycling: In a city with an area of 12km2, how much landfill do you really have?
  • Stairs: Would it really be that difficult to install a lift?
  • Creepy Moroccan men: "Your heart is for your partner, your body is for me"
  • Dog poo: Pick it up!
  • Bad smells: An unsurprising result of the litter and dog poo
  • Domestic flights: That don't always depart at the indicated time of departure
  • Traffic lights: I've been waiting to cross for a while. Oh, this one has a button? 
  • Neighbours: Who think they rule the whole apartment and get annoyed about the smallest things
  • Cinema: What's on today? The same as last month
  • Speaking Spanish: NO ENTIENDO

My first experience living abroad

I have learnt many things during my year abroad. Sometimes I've felt inspired and other times I've learnt life's lessons the hard way. I clearly didn't know as many things about life as I thought I did. Firstly, I've learnt is that we can't please everyone. In fact, we shouldn't even try to please everyone. Unless you're superhuman, it’s pretty unlikely that everybody will like you. If we try to please everyone, we're probably going to end up getting hurt because we put ourselves in a vulnerable position where we can be taken advantage of. Perhaps people don't intend or even realise when they take advantage of us, but they still do it because that's just who they are and how they are used to living their lives. Something that we would really appreciate could not mean as much to them. If they're used to having things done for them, they might not think twice when you do something for them, but that's not necessarily their fault. Perhaps they aren't used to being responsible for things and will allow others to take responsibility until they are told otherwise. This leads to a lack of gratitude and too much self-entitlement. When I was a child my family always had enough money to provide for my basic needs and not much more. Therefore, I've been brought up knowing that if you want something, you have to work for it. If someone gives you something, you should be extremely grateful. I hope to bring my children up in the same way. Bringing a child up by handing everything to them on a silver plate will probably lead to their ungratefulness and a lack of an ability to compromise and share. They will end up having materialistic expectations of their parents and everybody else who is unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. Their expectations of what other people should do for them will be so high that they won't be able to appreciate what they are given and their sense of responsibility will be so low that they aren't able to give anything back.

If you're like me, you want to try to do things to be kind to people, sometimes even things that you don't particularly want to do. It annoys me if a person I help doesn't react in a way that I think is appropriate. However, it is true that this irritation is unjustified if I agree to do something that I didn't really want to in the first place. Furthermore, people's idea of what is appropriate varies and is dependent on their upbringing; therefore it is unlikely that everybody will fulfil each other's expectations. Even if you feel like you want to do something for someone, unless you know and trust them well, you are still putting yourself in a vulnerable position because you may not get the reaction that you were expecting. 

In trying to do something for someone and resenting it, you are hurting yourself and potentially the other person. I've decided I'm going to try to stop myself from getting to this stage by being honest and limiting my kindness when necessary, both of which aren't harmful if dealt with in the right way. You have to protect yourself and be very cautious about who you trust, especially as once somebody knows your weaknesses they are able to use them against you. Sometimes it is ok to say no to people with who you haven't developed a certain level of trust with.  It is better than saying yes and letting someone down, which can be equally or even more damaging. This may come as a shock at first if they aren't used to you refusing, but perhaps then they will start acknowledging what you have done for them in the past. If not, perhaps they will be in a similar situation in the future and they will realise what you did for them. I know I haven't always fully appreciated what someone has done for me until I've done the same for someone else. In the end, you see a person's true colours as soon as you stop being beneficial to their life.

I thought I was a good judge of character, but I'm not at all. The people who I've disliked at first have sometimes ended up being really important people in my life and those who I've liked at first have ended up causing me lots of problems. For this reason I don't consider first impressions to be as important as I used to, especially as people's first impressions of me don't always seem to be that great, depending on the situation. However, it's important to appear strong and hide your weaknesses as much as possible at first, otherwise people will walk all over you. If you trust somebody quickly and treat them as you would a close friend from the beginning, this sets the standard and determines their expectations of you, which are likely to increase even more as the friendship develops. If you realise that your trust was a mistake, it may be easy for the person to misinterpret your decision to back out and they may take offence, especially if they haven't yet accepted their own faults. Mean people don't bother me so much, but mean people who disguise themselves as nice people and get away with it bother me a lot. Some people have no limits to gaining control, even if that means crying crocodile tears and spreading rumours to try to turn people against you. If they need other people on their side, then obviously something isn't quite right. People will stab you in the back and then ask why you're bleeding. In this situation I think the best thing to do is to keep your distance and show that you aren't harmed by the situation, even if that means being alone. Many people think that being alone makes someone insecure, but I completely disagree. Some people will go to any length to make sure they aren't alone, no matter who they hurt or who they spend time with. If you can't spend time alone listening to your own thoughts, I think you're more likely to be insecure. I also think if you try to make someone else feel weak, you're reflecting your own insecurities onto them.

I believe in forgiveness but not forgetting, although I really struggle to forgive without an apology. Even when you feel like you haven't done something wrong, the mature thing to do if someone still feels like you have hurt them is to apologise and to make changes to stop it from happening again. Some people may expect you to change for them, but aren't used to the responsibility of changing themselves. They expect you to share your things, but won't share theirs. They can hear, but perhaps they aren't used to listening. They can't keep taking and never give! It could be that they haven't been many situations where they have had empathise with other people in their life. If you tell someone what you think should change in order to stop people getting hurt, their response reveals a lot about their attitude towards their relationship with you. Real situations usually expose fake people. 
I don't believe in revenge, but as a last resort, sometimes giving an unsympathetic person a slight taste of their own medicine can help them to realise the consequences of their own actions (note this is a slight taste of their own medicine; you don't have to stoop to their actual level). If you mean anything to them, they will at least try to make some changes. However, not everyone is at the stage to accept that they have faults like everybody else. Some people think that they are strong because they let go of things that have gone wrong overnight, but I just think they don't want to face what they may have done wrong. When they have to face problems, they behave as if they are better than you by asking someone else to deal with them so they don't have to. Life will keep on challenging you until you accept and learn to deal with your faults!

I find it easier to forgive true friends who have let me down a few times as opposed to friends who have let me down time and time again. If you start to dislike somebody who used to be your friend because they've let you down so often, you've probably given them too many chances. I think the best thing to do in this situation is to let it go. It doesn't mean you can't still be friendly, but you can still make your feelings clear. If their relationship with you actually means something to them, they will notice it fading away and try to salvage it. If not, then you're probably better off without them and you can be free from the chains of disappointment. Nowadays people underestimate the value of putting yourself first. It doesn't necessarily mean you're selfish. When you take care of yourself, you are able to take care of others better.

I think it’s natural that relationships fade away and people change. Living at such a distance from my family and friends has allowed me to realise which of my relationships are true and healthy. We think we're doing good by trying to maintain dead relationships, but the reality is that we're just digging ourselves into a deeper and more painful hole. It may seem harsh, especially with old friends, but it is a very freeing feeling to decide to let go of people who simply make you feel bad about yourself, act like you're not worth their time and treat you like an option or backup plan. If you've been away for a while, people, old friends especially, may not recognise how you've changed. They may still think that you're the same as you were 5 years ago or might not even want to acknowledge what's been happening in your life. You keep in contact, but they don't seem to want to return the favour. You ask about their lives, but they seldom ask about yours. If someone really wants to be your friend, they'll keep in contact, still bother with you when you're feeling down or have one bad day, talk to you when they have a problem with you, make an effort to directly include you, check up on you if you haven't been around, consider your feelings even if they disagree, talk with you instead of at you and most importantly take the time to get to know you. I know that sometimes my expectations are too high or unrealistic, and nobody is perfect, so I've tried to lower them and I won't keep score of who does and doesn't meet them. However, I won't let myself be treated like a pushover again. Some people think they can treat me in a way in which they wouldn't treat other people, but now I'm not going to put up with it any more. At the end of the day, I'm thankful for what I've been through this year, because I'm mature enough to recognise that I needed to learn some important lessons in order to change my bad habits and become a stronger person.

It's important talk about things face to face when you feel annoyed or upset about something, as this will either reveal your misunderstandings or confirm your doubts. Texting or sending messages online is an excellent way to miscommunicate how you feel and misinterpret what other people say. Sometimes you may end up saying something you don't mean, so in my opinion it's best to deal with things face to face. Unfortunately for me, I struggle with speaking and confrontation and writing is one of my strong points. I also tend to bottle things up that annoy or upset me, because I prefer to avoid confrontation and I used to think that was the kindest thing to do. However, the bottle will overflow eventually, at which point it's too late and I am unable to remain calm. I have come to realise that I over-think things, I'm really sensitive (even though I feel that events in my life have made me a resilient person) and I over-analyse the words and actions of others which often leads me to jump to inaccurate conclusions. 
In the absence of information, we tend to jump to the worst conclusions. This combination is recipe for disaster. Therefore, I have made the decision to make changes in my life to prevent this kind of disaster from happening. I will no longer agree to do things that I don't want to. If someone upsets me I will talk to them about it. I will focus on the present, not the past or the possibilities of the future. I won't let people's actions or words get to me, and instead I will show them that their judgements are wrong. If I don't try to see my own worth, I'll keep choosing to form friendships people who don't either.

If you really know me, you'll know that what I've got and where I've come in life haven't come easy. Actually, I often feel like every barrier that could have possibly put in place to interrupt my journey has been there. Consequently, I sometimes feel older than I actually am and for this reason I sometimes find it easier to be friends with those older than myself, because they seem to be able to relate to me. Sometimes people can't make the connection between the situations I've been in in my life and the person who I am today. What I've been through has made me who I am. I'm resilient, usually serious and I try to protect myself because that's what the situations in my life have required me to do.
 I experienced many adult situations when I was just a teenager and I feel like I've developed prematurely in some ways and I'm lacking development in other ways. I thought I was wise, but obviously there are situations that I thought I knew how to deal with, that I actually didn't. As if I haven't had enough difficulties in my life, sometimes it feels like people want to make things worse for me. However, this is just a generalisation, as this year I have made friends with people of many nationalities and ages who I hope to keep in contact with!

If people want to get to know the real, raw you they should earn it. I seldom open up people because I want to protect myself from situations I've been in in the past and I feel shy in certain circumstances. To some people this comes across as rude, but if they want to misinterpret my personality, that's their problem. Everyone sees what you appear to be, but few experience what you really are. If they listen to other people's thoughts about me before deciding for themselves, that's also their problem. Nobody is perfect, but people's attitude, intentions and empathy towards you are usually quite clear. I'm tired of 'friends' who can't be bothered with you when you're feeling down, make you feel awkward, forget your birthday, believe anything anyone says about you and still think that they've been good to you. It's a shame because I've met people who I thought I could be good friends with, but haven't had the chance or the confidence to approach them. On the other hand, I have had the confidence to approach others and I've made some good friends in the process. Sometimes I wish that I'd gone to another city where there are more opportunities, but other times I think that I've had some really important experiences in Melilla. I'm a city girl and living in a small town has been difficult for me, especially during the times when I've felt isolated and alone. Working at the school hasn't really helped my experience and perhaps things could have been different if I had been happy there. I know I can be a negative person so perhaps I bring some of it on myself and for that reason I have decided to become more positive and try to make the best of bad situations.

"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I look back on my year abroad, I often feel sad because of some unfortunate circumstances involving my living arrangements and the school. I really wish things could have been different. Sometimes I regret choosing to work at the school, but earning money as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me to do all the travelling that I have shared on this blog. When I started university, it was the first time in my life where I had really had enough money to do fun things and I became quite irresponsible with money as a result. However, I learnt my lesson and now I am much more careful. I have travelled more in these past 9 months than I ever have before in my life and I am proud to say that I have funded it all myself. I have only dipped into my English bank account once or twice. Although I have used all the money from my Spanish bank account that I earned through teaching for travelling, I don't regret it at all. I'd rather gain experience through travelling than use it for things such as expensive clothes, a car, or alcohol, all of which many people my age seem to prioritise, but which I don't want or need.

Going home wasn't easy. As most of my close family and friends haven't lived abroad, they seemed to find it difficult to understand my struggles when returning home. In fact, I found that many people were reluctant to hear about my experiences or even failed to acknowledge that I'd been away, which was extremely hurtful and beyond my comprehension. Others advised me that this may have been due to jealousy. People want to see you do good, but never better than them.

My most important lesson this year has been learning the value of travelling and experiencing other cultures. By travelling I don't mean just checking a place off a list, buying every souvenir imaginable, taking photos of everything and posting over-exaggerated statuses on Facebook. By travelling I mean chatting to the locals, trying the food, picking up the language and taking a break from tourist hotspots to experience the area organically. Travelling with Fatima and Jess and seeing their detachment from social media has helped me to realise this.

Sometimes people think that an empty Facebook feed means an empty life, but I disagree. I think it can often mean that the person is too busy enjoying life to post on Facebook (If you're having such a great experience, how have you found the time to post so many photos on Snapchat or Instagram?) or simply doesn't allow their self-worth to require the approval of everybody else. I've known unhappy people (I'm also guilty of this) to have a Facebook profile edited to a level of unrealistic perfection. I think social media is a form of escapism, which we all use up to a point. Others, especially those in denial, may do this to an extreme and fool themselves into thinking they really are flawless and consequently will be unable to consider that something may be partly their fault. Perhaps the case is similar with buying souvenirs. For me souvenirs is just something I can't really understand and something I wish I hadn't wasted my money on as a child. During my whole time in Morocco I haven't bought that much. I just think its a waste of money and time that you could be using to have great experiences. At the end of the day, you'll probably get home and wonder why you even bought it in the first place, or give it to someone who may think the same. I'd rather enjoy my trip than spend time stressing about who I should buy presents for in order to have the opportunity to go home and boast. If people are interested about what you've been doing, they'll ask. If they don't, that's an issue that they need to deal with.

For this reason I have decided that I am going to at least try to detach myself from social media. Although it was annoying when I lost my phone earlier in the year, I actually felt quite free without it and I would like to maintain this feeling. I'm tired of scrolling through feeds of forced smile selfies from people claiming to have had an amazing weekend, most of which was spent sat in their bedroom. I actually feel sorry for them, because to fake is to stand guard over emptiness. They copy other people's ideas because their life is so empty and fake that their only way to feel fulfilled is to try to compete with others by taking something from them and adding unrealistic fabrications in an attempt to improve it. I feel that I am quite honest with my social media, especially this blog. I try post positive and negative things and write from a realistic perspective. Living my life transparently empowers me to feel like I can be myself. With me, what you see is what you get. I many not open up completely to acquaintances, but at least I don't sugar coat or exaggerate things and I try to be as real as possible. I think social media should be more like this, because pretending everything is perfect when it isn't just makes yourself and others feel rubbish.  Sometimes I feel like I want to remove myself from such a nonsensical community, but I know the outcome will be bittersweet, especially when I have friends in different parts of the world.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Working at a Spanish school

The main thing I noticed about the Spanish education system from my school is that, like many other aspects of Spain, it seems a lot more relaxed than the UK. For example, if the teacher was a few minutes late it wasn't a big problem and the teachers did't always seem to mind spontaneous lessons. This can be a good thing because then the lesson isn't so restricted and students can express themselves in different ways. On the other hand, if lessons often have the same or no structure it can be boring for the students.

Exams were also more relaxed. I remember when I was at school we had to go to the sports hall to sit our exams. For me that was all very efficient, but perhaps too efficient, because it did waste of lot of time. In the classes I was in, the students stayed in the classroom to sit their exams. All students had individual desks, so it was easy to organise the classroom so it was suitable to sit an exam. This does save a lot of time and resources. However, from what I understood in Spanish, some of the students in some classes copied from the text book or each other during exams. This didn't really surprise me, because they had their bags under their desks, their coats on the back of their chairs and with the exception of me and the teacher (who sometimes sat at the desk marking), no invigilator.

The school day in Spain is shorter than the UK, starting around 9am and finishing around 2:30pm. The break in my school was 30 minutes between 11:20 and 11:50, during which time the students would probably have a small snack and drink, then have lunch at home after school. These shorter days are understandable because in the warmer months the heat starts to get uncomfortable at around 1pm, which isn't particularly pleasant when you're stuck in a stuffy classroom.

Some classes are also quite big. I think the biggest one in which I taught was 36 people. Sometimes it was so crowded that I couldn't reach the black board. I have no idea how one teacher manages to deal with them alone. On the other hand, some of the smaller classes were sometimes as small as 15 students. To me it would make sense to move some students from the larger classes into the smaller ones, but I don't know all the facts and I'm sure there's a good reason for the way in which the classes are organised.

Foreign languages are much more integrated into the students' learning in Spain. The school was multilingual and many lessons were focused on English. I also taught English in drama classes and when I looked into some other classes I could see that many different lessons were taught in English. I think it’s fantastic that students have the opportunity to put their language skills to practice; I wish I could have been able to do that. The level of English that some of the older students could speak really was outstanding and put my Spanish speaking ability to shame. In the UK I suppose we are lucky, because English is considered one of the main international languages so learning foreign languages is not as vital for us. However, I don't think that is an excuse not to make an effort to learn another language. I've noticed that the UK is often more intolerant than other countries when it comes to foreign languages and cultures and especially immigration. 

Once somebody has experienced another culture through travelling I think they become much more tolerant. By this I mean properly travelling, not just sitting on a beach somewhere exotic or visiting Disney World. I mean meeting local people, trying local food, experiencing local customs and events and making a bit of an effort to learn the language. Until we have done so, I do not feel that we have the right to judge immigrants, asylum seekers or people who can't speak English or have a foreign accent. Have you any idea how difficult it is to perfect the accent of another language? It would probably take a lifetime.

After speaking to some teachers, I heard stories of misbehaviour, which is probably inevitable at most secondary schools. Some students who had very high levels of bad behaviour were suspended, during which they could either stay at home or have support sessions from different teachers at the school. I think the latter is a good way of dealing with bad behaviour, because it gives the student the chance to reform. When I was at school I can't remember students being given such opportunities to reform, they were only punished through detention, suspension at home or permanent expulsion from the school. Another interesting notion I was informed about was that sometimes when there is one student with particularly bad behaviour, they can be swapped with another school. However, one teacher told me that this often results in the school receiving a student with even worse behaviour than the previous one!

Sometimes the relaxed atmosphere at school seemed to lead to disorganisation. I hadn't had much contact with the school before I arrived, which wasn't particularly reassuring. They also couldn't seem to decide what to do with me. I was rarely asked to work the full 12 hours per week that I was supposed to work, which seemed a bit of a waste, especially as there was another English Language Assistant in my school. I spent my first week in English classes where I introduced myself and the students asked me questions. After that I was transferred to the Social Science classes for the next 3 months, which meant that I didn't follow up with the classes from the first week. The Social Science lessons were taught in Spanish, but the students had text books in English. Sometimes communication between the teacher and I was difficult, because she couldn't speak any English and she had a really strong accent from Andalusia (a region from southern Spain), which I struggled to understand. I wasn't properly introduced to the new Social Science classes and I think this was confusing for both me and the students. Because of this, as well as school trips, public holidays and cancelled classes, I didn't have the opportunity to get to know students as much as I had hoped. As an English Language Assistant, I was expecting to be in English lessons, but found myself trying and failing to teach Geography, History and Drama, all of which I know very little about, at least in the context which I was teaching them.

I really struggled in these classes because I don't have any Geography or Drama qualifications.  During most Geography lessons the teacher either asked me to read one paragraph and explain the vocabulary to the students or didn't ask me to do anything at all. At first this was really embarrassing because I didn't know most of the geographical vocabulary in English or Spanish and the students laughed at me when I couldn't define a word. After that I decided to teach myself from the Geography book in my free time in order to teach the students, which seemed a bit pointless, especially if the teacher didn't ask me to do anything during a lesson. I later found out that the Geography teacher who I was working with was temporary, which is probably why she didn't seem to know what to do with me in her classes. After a new Social Science teacher who taught in English and Spanish was hired, my timetable was then changed back to English classes for the last 5 months, at which point I couldn't remember which class was which and if I had met them before. This whole ordeal seemed like an awful waste of my time, the Spanish government's money and the school's resources. I often wondered whether it was really worth me flying from the other side of Europe, when I didn't seem to contribute much to the teaching.

Some of the many timetables that I had didn't include the class or room numbers and I was left wondering around the school trying to find the class, or I went to ask at reception. I tried to ask what to prepare for each class in advance, otherwise I was sometimes asked to prepare something vague the night before or sometimes even on the spot. I spent days trying to think up lessons for the little information given to me and occasional sleepless nights worrying about them. When I was asked to plan a class, sometimes teachers reorganised the class and didn't use my plan, or if I wasn't asked to prepare something, the teachers sometimes asked for my plan was at the beginning of the class.

I often felt like I was more of an annoyance than an assistant. Sometimes I did a few activities in a class with the support of the teacher, which was the kind of thing I was expecting to do. Other teachers either asked me manage the whole class, which was stressful and overwhelming at times or didn't ask me do much at all, which was pointless and boring. Sometimes I felt like I should work with initiative, but other times I felt like this might seem like I'm trying to take over the class. The fact that many teachers had requested for me to attend a specific class and didn't ask me to do anything in the lesson or acted like I was an inconvenience is beyond my comprehension. Teachers didn't always let me know their plans for the lesson in advance, which was incredibly annoying when I got to an early morning class, only to discover that there was an exam/ the teacher was absent/ I wasn't needed for the class. I understand the teachers were busy, but just because I had a lot of free time didn't mean I had no life of my own. Although a difference in culture may have been the reason behind many of the difficulties I faced, there is no excuse for a lack of respect. I often travelled between Thursday and Sunday (my days off) and coming to school knowing I could have left/returned a day earlier/later was so frustrating. Most of Melilla's residents seem to have or at least use a car and I don't think people even considered that it took me an hour to walk to the school and back, which was especially difficult with my foot injury. I don't think it should have been my responsibility to work out if I was supposed to be at school or not every single day. Despite this, there was one teacher who went out of her
 way to be friendly and helpful, showed me around the city, invited me to a meal at my house and introduced me to her family. I will always be grateful for this and I hope one day I will be able to return the favour. She made ​​the experience bearable, otherwise I think I would have just given up.

I felt really shy in the beginning and because of all the awkward situations I never really overcame this or felt fully comfortable in the school. I usually arrived to lessons on time and waited outside the classrooms because I didn't know what to do in the class alone, I didn't want to seem like I was trying to take over the class and I didn't want to deal with any problems in the class whilst alone. I felt like an idiot and some teachers didn't seem to take me seriously. Most teachers told the students that I couldn't speak any Spanish. While this was good for the students' learning, the students didn't take me seriously either and teaching on my own became impossible.  They often spoke about me in Spanish and I found it amusing when they were surprised and embarrassed after they eventually realised I could understand. Once I sat behind a student on a flight, during which they were talking about me in a rude way in Spanish. Finally, some students heard me speaking Spanish with a teacher, and then started a rumour around the school and after that teaching became a bit easier. However, if students weren't paying attention to me, I would try talking to them in Spanish, and they would often laugh at my accent (even though lots of them have really awful English accents and I didn't laugh). It just felt like I couldn't do anything right.

It wasn't my responsibility to teach a whole class, discipline the class or mark essays and exams, as stated in the paperwork I was given by the British Council, but the school didn't seem to regard that. Some problems arose during the times when I was left teaching classes alone and this is probably why the rules are put in place. Several months before the end of my assistantship I was asked to do some marking. I said I don't think I'm really supposed to be doing that, but I was told it was acceptable because there was a marking key, which is fair enough. I was given marking to do in my free hours, which in all fairness were pretty awkward and boring anyway, but I still felt like I was being taken advantage of. More teachers then saw that I was doing marking, so I was given more marking and even essays and exams, which obviously didn't have a key. Despite this I tried to make the most of the opportunity. After my second week in Melilla, I had already planned and taught a class alone. I was very nervous, but many students seemed to enjoy my classes and participated well. Other classes were a complete nightmare, would not be quiet and laughed and shouted at me in the streets. One time a class was being rude to me and the teacher actually laughed about it!

However, I enjoyed preparing lessons and tried to make them fun. I liked to make my own worksheets and a teacher said that she had been training teachers for 6 years and had never seen anyone do this. Before Christmas I made mince pies for all my classes and English teachers and brought magazines, newspapers and food from England. Unfortunately I didn't use everything that I had brought with me because I was never asked to prepare a lesson of my choice and my resources didn't always fit the lesson I was asked to prepare. I think if the teachers had known what I had brought from England and knew about my degree I could have offered some really interesting subject specific lessons.

Towards the end the teachers seemed to grow tired of my presence: most of my classes were cancelled and my hours gradually decreased to almost nothing. It got to the point where I was just counting down the days until it was all over. I can't comprehend why some teachers who have studied English language and culture didn't seem to want to take an interest in a native such as myself. I text some of them and asked to meet up out of school, so it's not like I didn't try, but most of them ignored my messages. Sometimes they walked past me on the street and completely blanked me. Occasionally I was invited to social events, but I could see that it was half-hearted and the invitation was rarely followed up, which seems common in Spanish culture. I understand that it must be frustrating to have someone inexperienced in the school and to receive new assistants each year. However, if I had been in an atmosphere where I would have felt able to be myself, I think I could have gotten on really well with some teachers and been a good teacher myself. I feel that this would have been possible if I had gotten to know the students and teachers on a personal level early on, but this was prevented by my change of timetables. The case was usually the same for my private English lessons, so in the end I gave up trying to find more. It was bad enough being messed about at work, let alone in my free time and I felt that it wasn't always worth the extra money. People didn't always consider the time I spent walking to and from classes and if I included this time in my wages, I ended up being paid less than when I was working in the fast food industry, which was really insulting. I know that I definitely wasn't the only assistant who had these negative experiences and Melilla wasn't the only region that they were experienced in. However, I felt very envious of my friends who were also English Language Assistants elsewhere in Spain, who had been welcomed and appreciated from the very beginning until the end. I resent the negative experience that I had in my school, especially because it has put me off learning Spanish, living in Spain and becoming a teacher, but I won't write off the idea completely just because of one negative experience.

I also think that people assumed that I can't speak much Spanish. The reality is that I could barely understand English in corridors full of shouting children, let alone Spanish. I can actually speak Spanish quite well as soon as I feel comfortable somewhere. Sometimes I even find it difficult to make conversation in English in an uncomfortable situation. I just didn't feel comfortable in the school and I felt like could barely speak a word of Spanish, even though the sentences I wanted to say were organised perfectly in my head. In the English Language Assistant induction session in Madrid, I overheard some assistants claiming that other assistants weren't qualified enough. My interpretation of that was that some people thought that others' levels of Spanish weren't high enough and I want to point out that speaking Spanish isn't actually part of the job description. During the induction sessions some previous assistants said they had worked without any knowledge of the language of the country they went to (although I wouldn't recommend that).

During my last weeks Maria was visiting and I thought it would be interesting for some students to listen to her talk about her Erasmus year in Chester and learning English as a second language. I was really worried that the school wouldn't be welcoming, but to my surprise they were. When she was in school with me it was the best week I had there and the students were really attentive. In some of my last classes the teacher allowed the students to ask me questions before I left. I was asked questions like "How old are you?" and "Do you have brothers and sisters?” To me it seemed crazy that they were asking these kind of questions in my final class. It would have made much more sense for them to have had the opportunity to ask them at the beginning. Anyway, in the end two classes signed a big card with goodbye messages for me and one student gave me a handmade bracelet, which were really sweet. I don't want this post to give the impression that my experience was completely awful, because I did have a few good times at the school, such as sharing a Christmas cracker, mince pies and Christmas puddings with my classes and my Halloween lessons. My experienced seemed to be at its best in November and December and appeared to go downhill the following year. I think it could have been a lot different if I had integrated into the school community, which would have required a little more effort and communication from both the teachers and myself.

Sometimes I enjoyed teaching and I felt like I'd like to be a teacher and other times I've felt annoyed and wonder what the point of me even being there was. In my second year at university I started getting grey hairs (!), which I think are due to dyeing and straightening my hair so many times and possibly stress. This year I have so many that I can't even pull them all out anymore! I think my hardships were partially due to the lack of hospitality of the school. However, I'm sure it's equally frustrating for them to have someone new with little experience. I was really shy and awkward and I don't doubt that this sometimes came across as rude to them, even though that wasn't my intention. I'm not sure if this year has encouraged or discouraged me to consider a career as a teacher. I definitely don't like being an assistant, but perhaps I would enjoy being an actual teacher. Even though it had its ups and downs, I think the experience was definitely character building and I've learnt a lot. In all of the many jobs I've had I've always been the underdog, which unfortunately has given others the ability to disrespect me and take advantage of me. I hope that one day I can have a higher position and if I do, I hope the way in which I treat my employees will not depend on their position, age or nationality.

I felt that Erasmus and the British Council were very effective and supportive. However, I feel that the disorganisation of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport and my host organisation and their lack of communication with the intermediary organisations has caused me many problems. I think the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport should give clearer instructions to the host organisations on how to deal with English Language Assistants. My experience was dependent on the attitude of the host organisation and unfortunately it was not as good as I had expected. There should be greater communication between the host, home and intermediary organisations to assess my welfare. I felt unhappy in my host organisation and I can't think of many occasions when I was even asked how I was getting on by anybody, especially because I didn't have a mentor teacher. These days I don't listen to music that often, but I almost always listened to music whilst travelling to and from the school just to clear my head from imagining what the day would bring and reflecting on what had happened. Even now, I struggle to reflect on my year abroad positively due to my experience at the school. Sometimes I regret choosing to work at the school, but earning money as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me to do all the travelling that I have shared on this blog and plan to do over the summer .Hopefully the Social Science department now has their English teaching organised and the school's next English Language Assistant won't be as messed about as I was. In all fairness, I probably should have stood up for myself more than I did. However, it was worth putting up with it for all that time because I got a really good grade thanks to my employer evaluation. I guess that just demonstrates the school's real lack of awareness of my struggles and that their expectations were probably for me to just get my head down and get on with things without complaining so that they can maintain the grant that I imagine they receive for taking on English Language Assistants. I am writing this on my blog now because I think the organisations involved should know about my experience and endeavour to make improvements.