Seven months into my year abroad in Murcia, Spain, I have encountered ‘problems’ which have undoubtedly made me aware of barriers far beyond those of the language variety. Here are a just a few of the problems I have faced:
As we approached the deserted, mountainside clearing I was under the safe assumption that the foil mats we were given were to be used for sitting on. Having only met each another once before today, I looked forward to getting to know everyone a little better, sat on our mats, amoung such breath taking countryside in the early evening sun.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Before I was even able to think of the Spanish for, ‘What’s going on lads?’ all of them were lying flat out; each spaced sporadically across the gravel, tucked into their fleeces and falling asleep. No not napping, sleeping, with absolutely no word of warning.
And, utterly dumbfounded yet fearful of appearing narrow minded or just plain rude, I had no option but to join in.
This simply was not normal! Who on earth had deemed it sociably acceptable to have, ‘sleepy time’ on foil mats with strangers, at half past four in the afternoon?
Well I now certainly could name people who didn’t see anything wrong with it; my work colleague, her husband and 22 year-old son, to be precise. This fact was reinforced as my tour guides for the day then, to make things even more uncomfortable, broke into a chorus of mild snoring, completely uninhabited.
Mortified, I awkwardly lay on my little patch of foil, high up in the mountainous region of Sierra Espuña in Murcia, Spain, envisaging what I would have been doing at that very moment had I not chosen to study languages at university.
For as I lay there paralysed for fear of arousing the rest of the sleepover club, I could sure as hell tell you that it wouldn’t have been this!
With only three months of my year abroad remaining as an English Language Assistant in a Spanish secondary school, I have become acutely aware of the term #yearabroadprobs of Twitter fame.
Yet this reference is not to obvious obstacles such as language barriers, landlords or what kind of pals you’ll pick up along the way, if any! Real #yearabroadprobs derive from what I believe to be the true essence of living and working abroad, the natives; i.e those you end up working with, making friends with and indeed, lying on foil picnic mats next to!
Saint Augustine once said,
‘The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page’.
But let’s be honest, Gussy, foreigners can be just plain weird! And the Spanish; are up there with the best of them, as I have realised most prominently over the past five and a half months.
They have no qualms about anything. My Sierra Espuna slumber party exemplified this along with many other things I have witnessed in the South of Espanya.
Whether it’s stripping off with the fitting room curtains wide open, the casual enforcement of a swimming cap in all leisure centres or simply the PDA, people here compared to those I’ve left behind, in short, just do not give a damn.
Although one must admire such straight-forwardness amoung many a Raquel and Rafael.
The Spanish say it as it is, and do as they feel at that moment, and as a result, get what they want far more efficiently than their bashful British counterparts.
On my first day at work before even entering the staff room to greet my mentor, I was approached by three mothers all keen for their offspring to receive English tuition. I was allowed no time to settle into my new surroundings as all three private classes were arranged. Much to my delight I had started earning extra cash within days of arriving in the country!
Numerous colleagues, some whom I barely know, have invited me to their houses, their mother’s houses or friends of a work colleague’s houses for that matter, treating me as we British would only treat a close family member.
Such generosity has been truly appreciated, yet there have been times when deep down I have felt so embarrassed by it all to the point where only copious amounts of sangria could aid such humiliation!
It sounds melodramatic, but we Brits just thrive off an ‘awkward moment’. Our ceremonious cautiousness may evoke a persona more polite than freaky foreigners. However it must be acknowledged that it may in fact prevent us from obtaining, achieving or experiencing things as efficiently or if at all, for fear of coming across as too forward, too eager or too interested, heaven forbid!
So to conclude, #yearabroadprobs are indeed problems encountered by students while on their year abroad. These problems are unique to being in a different country and for the most part, freak us all out!
Saint Augustine speaks some truth in that through travel our worlds can most definitely be educated and enriched beyond our wildest imaginations.
But if I decide to take any of my new found amigos up Ben Nevis in my homeland of Bonnie Scotland one day, the most rest and relaxation they’ll get after lunch is a wee sit down on a rock, to sip from a flask of tea, chat and appreciate the West Highland Vista; anything more than that would just be #AWKWARD.