A Feast of Firsts


As the days fly by, I’m loving Korea more and more. There have been very few frustrations (the ones that exist are usually related to the fact that people walk really slowly here…and if that’s my only grumble, you can probably see that it’s an all round decent place to live), I’m getting to grips with the language barrier and am finally able to at least order something in Korean when eating/shopping, and I’m beginning to realise half of the information I read about Korea before coming is really not applicable to my experience here.

I expected people to goggle at me non-stop, but hardly anyone stares. Kids might, but children do that everywhere around the world, so it’s hardly unique. I stressed myself out for days trying to remember exactly how to greet the principal of my school, bogged down in all the information I’d received relating to first-time meetings – make sure you hold your arm whilst shaking their hand (as it’s rude to just extend one), bring gifts, address them with the correct title, bow, and at the company dinner, don’t refuse soju if your life depends on it. So far, when shaking people’s hand, I’ve not seen them touch their other hand to their arm once. Deep bows are for serious formal occasions. My principal is a wonderful human being who couldn’t care less about titles and invited me for tea in her office despite me never uttering 만나서 반갑습니다 (formal – nice to meet you), a sentence drilled into my head over orientation that flew out my head when I had to actually say it. Nobody even cracked open the soju at our school hweshik (company dinner). All the bottles that had been put out were taken back. Only one person drank beer. Obviously, everyone’s experience is different, but I really don’t find Korea to be as uptight and strange as the internet painted it to be.

Cosmetic stores here are on every street corner. Beauty is big business here, and Korea is quite image conscious. You can see girls touching up their make-up on the subway, quite often with a roller still in their hair. Sheet face masks are a big thing, and you can even get ones with animals printed on them, so you can be cute while your face gets the treatment it deserves. Every society is superficial in some way, so I don’t think of it as a bad thing at all. In fact, for a girl like me, who loves her make-up, it’s pretty dangerous. I want to try it all. I spend ludicrous amounts of money on snail slime cosmetic creams (no, really). As I type, I’m sitting with my feet in individual bags, a foot-peel solution working its magic on my poor rugged old tootsies. I’ve tried carbonated bubble masks that make you resemble human moss as they puff up over time, sheet masks with tiger faces printed on them, and am currently in love with Korean lipstick, which tints your lips and lasts for hours. Free samples are a given when buying make-up at most stores, which is an added bonus – except when the samples are skin-whitening cream. Think I’ll pass on that one.

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The other day’s make-up haul. I have an addiction. 

This neatly allows me to move on to something I am not able to take a pass on – the school’s ‘enforced sports’. Participating in school sports is a must, lest the principal passively-aggressively ignore me for weeks. It’s bad enough being the token foreign teacher who doesn’t speak the language; there’s no way I’m ostracising myself by choosing not to take part in the weekly ‘yoga’ classes/hikes/volleyball. The ‘yoga’ deserves its own inverted commas, because it is not like any yoga I have ever seen. I have never seen so many flexible people in a room who weren’t putting on a dance show. The PE teacher moves these teachers-by-day, apparently-contortoinists-by-night, into deep stretches that even my yoga instructor at home wouldn’t do. The principal, a woman I assume to be in her 60s, can get her nose to touch her knees in a sitting position. I can barely touch my own feet. This is then followed by a round of volleyball, where bruises are easily gained due to how seriously the sport is taken. We have a match coming up in May, and as I am tall, I was Nakmin Elementary’s Most Wanted as regards to who would be playing. As you play, you’re met with calls of ‘Ni-suuuuuuh’ (nice) – Koreans are keen to add an extra vowel onto the ends of many English words. It is truly wonderful motivation, and as I understand it, I’ll leave the pronunciation class for now.

In Korea, even something as simple as ‘yes’ can be tricky to understand. Say I know that little Soo Young is sick, so I ask you the question “He isn’t here, is he?” What’s your answer, as an English speaker? I hope it’s a resounding “No”. The children here will do quite the opposite, and answer “Yes.” It was very confusing the first time I heard it, and I had to repeat the question – but was still met with “Yes.”

In Korean, if you make a negative statement, you usually have to answer “Yes” in a situation such as the one above. Imagine the full sentence to be “Yes, you are right. He is not here”, rather than the English “No, he isn’t here” that you don’t repeat back. It actually makes a lot of sense – you’re in agreement with the speaker and are affirming the statement, but it takes some getting used to. I do try to correct the yeses, but it can be really confusing for everybody involved. It may just be easier to ask questions that don’t merit a yes/no response.

Similarly, the signal for ‘come here’ looks rather like the signal you would use to mean ‘go away’. Stretch your hand out in front of you, palm down, and move your fingers in and out. Koreans do this, as it’s rude to do it palm facing upwards. That’s how you’d beckon a dog. On first glance, it can look rather like the gesture you’d make to tell someone to leave, or go. Whilst playing volleyball, I confused the 6th grade teacher rather a lot by backing off every time he beckoned me to come towards him. I finally realised what he was doing, and had to explain to him that I wasn’t stupid (honest), I had just misunderstood the hands. If I can’t even understand Korean hand gestures, I don’t think I have much hope when it comes to speaking the language.

With my skin feeling silkier than it ever has before, a newfound (slight) appreciation for team sports, and a love/hate relationship with soju, Korea is getting better and better as time goes by.

Tomorrow brings my first school trip with the kids from 5th grade. They are my favourites – last week I asked them “How are you?” and one of them responded “I’m angry.” I asked him why, and he responded “Teacher ugly.” Those little rascals. I’m pretty sure it’s because I had a spot on my chin, as it’s the only day they’ve said it to me. 10 year old boys certainly tell it like it is. Imagine what it’ll be like spending an entire day on a bus with them – my next post will probably be titled ‘Why I decided to go under the knife in Korea’. Watch this space.

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Little Buddha figurines at Haedongyonggunsa Temple (say that with your mouth full)
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Haedongyonggungsa temple – the temple by the sea
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Ramen socks! The love for the ramyeon is all around, here.

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Crying cockles, and mussels, alive, alive-o. 
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Rabokki – ramen, tteokbokki (rice cake), boiled egg, spring onion, fish cake.

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Enjoying my second baseball game of the season – go Giants!

Spring Has Sprung


Over a month in Korea, and it feels like it’s been longer than that already. I still have to really get myself into the swing of things at my school, but now I’ve started teaching solo in the afternoons, it’s become more of a challenge for me. Every day, after we’ve all stuffed our faces (or, in my case, due to my strong fish aversion, accepting I will be hungry until dinner time after only eating a select few items), I head to a homeroom classroom and teach 25 grinning faces some English. Unless the class is sixth grade, and the grinning faces turn into surly ‘What on earth could you possibly teach me?’ kind of faces.

Taking the class alone is certainly something which requires you to be on your toes. Kids in one class panicked as they realised they weren’t going to have their Korean teacher to assist them or translate (good), kids in another went mental at the prospect of Miss Lawrenson alone for forty minutes, and kids in the sixth grade glowered at me through too-cool-for-school eyes. The children at my school don’t have an incredibly high level of English either, so it can certainly be a tough forty minutes to get through. Worth it, however, when a third year tells you ‘I love you’ at the end of your lesson. Quite what the reply to that is supposed to be, I don’t know.

Teaching, however, is nothing new – the same problems have followed me around the globe, along with the same rewards teaching brings. Children here are a dream compared to wily, wall-climbing Spanish kids. While some of them are a little naughty, it’s usually one per school year, compared to at least half the class, as I was used to all those years back in Barcelona. Korean kids (and adults) are really inquisitive, too. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked in virtually every introduction class:

“How old are you?” (No English/Spanish child would dream of asking this)

“How tall are you?”

“Are you married?”

These are the standard questions we were told to expect from pretty much everyone in Korea.

Other questions, such as “What’s your favourite Korean food?” were met with sniggers, as apparently I can’t pronounce Japchae…even though I am relatively sure one can’t really go wrong with that one. I should be the one laughing at them, considering there is both an L and an R in my name, but I’m supposed to be the adult here.

“What’s your blood type?” however, was an interesting change from the same old same old, and the child seemed rather surprised when I told them I didn’t actually know.

Teaching, however, is not something that interests most people, so I’ll move on to the juicy part of today’s post – cherry blossoms and spring springing.

Korea, as I’ve stated before, is by no means striking. It has a certain homely charm to it, however, which means everywhere you walk, you feel comfortable. It is hard to describe quite what the feeling is, but the very streets themselves emit warmth. It is somewhat beautiful in its ugliness. I would really like to find out the method behind the madness of rebuilding the entire country as one singular tower block (or so it seems), and I’m sure I’ll get closer to finding the answer by the end of the year.

Now it’s spring, the edge has been taken off the stark, sharp towers by the arrival of the cherry blossom. Trees all over the city have bloomed into pink paradise, lighting up our path as we stroll. Cherry blossom festivals are held all around Korea, and I was lucky enough that one was in my neighbourhood. Down the 온천천 (Oncheoncheon) river, stalls popped up and lanterns were hung delicately between the trees, ready for the thousands descending upon the banks to see the glorious cherry blossoms. Food stalls aplenty, we were faced with so much choice that we didn’t quite know what to buy – craving starchy food in order to do away with our rotten hangovers from too much Soju the night before. Soju is a Korean drink, and at a ridiculously low price for 18%, it is pretty much the go-to. Koreans pushed their way through the crowds to take selfies by the trees, and in among the small patches of rapeseed. The selfie game was incredibly strong. You only have one chance a year to get that cherry blossom pic, after all.

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Reflections in the 온천천

 

 

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Another spring festivity was today’s Holi Hai festival of colour, held at Haeundae Beach. Haeundae is packed with foreigners as it is, and today even more flocked to the area to chuck coloured powder at one another, dance around in the sand, and eat delicious samosas. Holi is a spring festival in India, which is becoming very popular around the world. Coloured dust is thrown into the air, sticking to everyone it comes across, and the spring festival sends out a message of frivolity, love, and togetherness. It is impossible to leave without a smile and ten different colours plastered on your face. You can almost smell the neon in the air. As it was my first Holi festival, I was unsure of how much this would just be some gimmick to get us to part with our hard-earned cash, but it was very much a day to remember – a time for us all to let loose and experience something new.

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The beautiful people

Spring makes everyone happy, and as the days get warmer and the flowers creep out of their dainty buds, our grins here get larger. Here’s to the new season, and to many a new adventure that lies ahead!

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Enjoying the colours
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Not a selfie in sight for us
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Whole potato, cut and then deep fried. Perfect hangover snack.
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Not the perfect hangover snack. Silkworm larvae – an adventurous friend bought it, and instantly regretted it.
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Crab, anyone?
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Rabokki – a mix of tteokbokki, which is a spicy rice cake dish, and ramen, with egg and fishcake.
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Making a human pyramid at the Holi festival. Gage professes his love to Soju.
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Me and Ruth all coloured up
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The face of happiness. Let’s leave it there.

 

Korea Kalling


Four years ago, I moved to Spain. In the UK, I had wanted to become a teacher. Applying for jobs and schemes usually had the same result though – ‘looking for someone with experience’. How can you get that experience if you can’t get the job in the first place? However, I soon saw a light shining at the end of a tiny tunnel. A conversation assistant in a Spanish school: great! That’ll give me something to pop on my CV. I’ll go back after a year.

Four years later, and there I still was. TEFL-qualified, experienced, and loving it. Barcelona is full of charms, and I am incredibly glad of my decision to move there. It helped me learn a language, blend into another culture, and taught me so many things.

Four years ago, I was also looking down other small tunnels, in the maze of life. One such was the opportunity to teach in South Korea, as a guest English teacher on a state school programme. I applied, and was interviewed. I pulled out because I was scared. I pulled out because I didn’t think I’d be able to be that far away from home, to live in a culture so different to my own. I pulled out because I told myself I couldn’t do it, and I wasn’t experienced enough. There’d always be someone better.

Four months ago, I began again. I believed in myself enough to apply for a position in South Korea, and wanted it enough to know that I could do it. I wanted to live in another place, experience such a new world, learn a new language, and better myself as a teacher. South Korea, an economic powerhouse steeped in tradition, but pushing itself ever forward into the modern world of technology, beckoned me. So off the radar as a tourist destination, I believed it would give me a true glimpse of life on another side of the globe.

Four months later, here I am, back in the UK, after weeks and weeks of preparation. I’ll leave all that for another day – the hoops I’ve had to jump through, and the endless paperwork I’ve almost wept tears of frustration over, have given me enough stress to last a lifetime and even two panic attacks. Four months later, however, here I am with visa in hand (well, it’s on my desk), and a position with the Busan Metropolitan Office of Education. I’m €700 worse off (not even including the flight), but my heart is lighter and sings with happiness: I did it! I got there! I’m still pinching myself over it.

So now you all know: one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet on here recently. I was planning. Plotting. Scheming for my next great adventure.

Hello Korea.

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Catalonia – an Outsider’s View


The world media reported recently that 80% of Catalans voted a strong YES! to the question of being independent. I saw the headline in numerous papers, which surprised me as I have always thought that those behind the broadsheets really put some research and effort into what they put onto the page. The articles did go on to say that this 80% was only a representation of 2.2 million, not the 6 or so that actually live here, but that is by the by. The grabbing was done. Many who simply read the headlines would be inclined to believe the majority of those who live here are solidly sliding a ‘yes’ into the ballot box.

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Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If yes, do you wish for it to be independent? – The two questions for the referendum

 

It is impossible to avoid the independent sentiment when living in Barcelona. Even in English classes, arguments are quickly nipped in the bud, through answers of ‘Catalan’, when the students are asked their nationality, and ‘Catalonia’, when asked the name of their country. It takes a great effort for me to stay silent, and swiftly move on. I don’t disagree with their feelings and the strong passion they have, but technically it isn’t a country, as some others in the class have oftentimes felt stirred enough to remind us, demanding to see their classmate’s passport. You can see why I now ask questions relating to MY nationality, or a famous person, rather than bring up the dreaded Catalan/Spanish debate. In an English class, it’s just not necessary.

The streets are festooned with Catalan flags, plastic yellow bows (hang the environment), and proud proclamations of what the householders are voting. It does look pretty to see the red and yellow stripes, especially on a warm summer’s day. I have no problem in seeing people’s pride displayed. It’s just when voices start being misrepresented, not only by the papers abroad, but also by the Spanish government, that I begin to have a problem.

On the 9th of November, an unofficial referendum took place across the region. This referendum had been declared illegal by the Madrid-based government, and attempts to make it lawful were quashed again and again. You can see why Catalans feel nothing but fury towards the government, in what is supposed to be a democracy. They are ignored again and again by those who are supposed to listen and implement change for them. The money they pay in taxes is sent to other parts of the country which are less well off. This is expected, I hear you say – and I agree, but when it gets to the extent that those whose money is being taken are not those who receive, by a long run, then it becomes a problem. Children in other parts of Spain enjoy the advantage of having one computer per child in school. Here, this is certainly not the case. The money is being sent to help less well-off parts of the country, but it needs to be spent in a sensible manner, rather than in such a way that seems to only seek to rile the more wealthy regions. Catalans have held an annual protest on September 11th about these injustices and the right to decide their own future. This year (2014), 2 million people formed a ‘v’, visible from the air, to state their solidarity. In Madrid, and the rest of Spain, it was reported only 100,000 people turned out.

2 million turned out to demand their voice be heard on September 11th 2014
2 million turned out to demand their voice be heard on September 11th 2014

On the 9th of November, 2.2 million people voted in the illegal referendum. I was not one of them. I would very much like to vote. Why didn’t I? Because whilst I agree with the idea that Catalans are not heard and are largely trampled on by the government, I did not see the referendum as ever fairly representing the region. It was organised by a pro-independence institution, and held in schools, rather than officially recognised and government endorsed ballot posts. The weeks running up to the vote, there was no ‘no’ campaign, as there was in Scotland. I only ever saw propaganda relating to the ‘SI-SI’ (Yes-Yes) side. Thousands and thousands of euros were spent on this. I can’t back an election that is biased, nor one that uses money that could be spent on other things instead of producing a skewed vote. In other places, maybe the government would take heed of the millions that stated they wanted independence, but Rajoy (the president of Spain) is stubborn. He will not take the chance – therefore only making things worse. The more you keep people silent, the more they will want to say. Those on the ‘no’ side will change their mind.

I do not agree with those that say the 2.2 million are a representation of the people who would vote in the real election, should one ever be held. I believe the turnout would be as high as it was in Scotland. Some blamed apathy and laziness on the reason for some not ticking the ballot papers – but I doubt something so important, on the day of a genuine election, would be ignored. I want to hear both sides, see what both parties promise me, before I make up my mind. In my view, I feel as if someone followed me around shouting ‘YES’ in my ear for a month, flashing with red and yellow lights so I even thought of Catalonia when I closed my eyes. The arguments are so persuasive it even changed me from a ‘no’ voter for the first half of the vote (Quiere que Catalunya sea un estado? Would you like Catalonia to be a state?), to a ‘yes’.

Those who organised the vote proudly proclaim 'Now is the time', asking us to vote with a resounding 'Yes'. I never saw one 'No' poster.
Those who organised the vote proudly proclaim ‘Now is the time’, asking us to vote with a resounding ‘Yes’. I never saw one ‘No’ poster.

Artur Mas, the Catalan leader, promises independence within 18 months if he is voted in with a majority in the next local elections. It all seems a bit fishy and tactical. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find such a thing as impartiality, especially in a place such as this, where ‘national’ sentiment is through the roof, to the point I have only seen with illiterate lager louts on St. George’s Day (I’d like to note that those who display such pride, however, here are not made of the same stuff).  I can only hope that voices such as mine will be represented should the vote ever be given to the region. A good move to secure more ‘yes’ votes would be to eliminate immigrants from participation. In the meantime, I will continue keeping my head down and my mouth shut, in order not to be dragged into an argument I’ve had a thousand times…and look set never to win.

Immigration – the Other Side


In the current climate, immigration is an unavoidable topic. As the world seems to get smaller, with people moving more freely and countries in general becoming more diverse, it is bound to come up as a discussion point. However, for me, it seems to be something that people discuss in a more negative manner. I see this particularly reflected on social media and through the Internet, always there to give us the most radical views at the click of a button.

I get compositions handed in from students stating it makes them feel nervous to hear languages they don’t understand spoken on the street, that there are neighbourhoods becoming overrun with immigrants. I have heard this a million times over in the UK – the typical, usual complaint that at one point I thought might have had some truth in it. Being pressured by the news, social media, peers, and general public opinion means you form a one-sided opinion that generally only reflects a small part of the issue.

The message, at least to me, is clear – the word ‘immigrant’ isn’t usually used to describe someone from a wealthy, majority ‘white’ country. Whilst reading what one of my students was writing about immigrants – that they have to get a visa to come here, that they speak their own language in the street, that they take over neighbourhoods, I had to stop myself from writing that I didn’t need a visa to come here, and I was still an immigrant. That I spoke my language in the street, and nobody cared. In fact, they encouraged me to speak in it. They spoke back to me in it. They urged me to speak in it to them, so they could hear me use it, and practise it. I had to fight from writing that large areas in the city have become overrun by English speakers, too, but nobody minds. Nobody cares.

After reading so much about immigration, and hearing so many people complain about what it is doing to their culture, their traditions, and so on, I wanted to write about what it is like to be an immigrant – because it is what I am, even if people don’t seem to want to give me that title.

General Public Opinion #1 – Immigrants Should Learn the Language of the Host Country

I totally agree with this statement. However, I don’t agree with people’s expectations. They seem to think that if a person comes to another country, they should be fluent in the language already and not have any problems with bureaucracy, filling in forms, conversing with the doctor, and all the kinds of things absolutely necessary to become a citizen in the host country. I’ll say this for the UK – I think it is brilliant that they translate government forms and informative leaflets. I don’t think doctors and the like should have to translate, but at least written information can be clear for the reader. The fine print is hard. It’s not translated here, and while I do speak Spanish, I come over weak-kneed when faced with my tax rebate form. I have absolutely no idea what to do with it (Spanish forms are notoriously hard). I’d give up a month’s pay just to have all my forms translated. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak the language, it just means I want to understand every little detail.

General Public Opinion #2 – It Unnerves Me to Hear Immigrants Speaking Their Language in the Street

What do you want them to speak to each other in? Can you imagine going home to your parents now, and speaking to them in Czech? Of course not. You can’t change the language you’ve spoken to each other in since day one, and nor should you have to. You want to stop people communicating? As long as they speak to you in the language of your country, why should you care? It doesn’t affect you in the slightest. Learning a language is a slow, complex process. I’m trying very hard, and after three years I still struggle. I speak to my friends in English. I always will. I speak to the Spanish and Catalans in Spanish (something that every Brit expat SHOULD be doing, but that’s another matter). I am not going to switch to incorrect, pidgin Spanish when speaking with my friends just to make you feel that one bit better.

General Public Opinion #3 – Immigrants Take Our Jobs

Immigrants have jobs. This is true. But emigrants also have jobs. All those people that left your country are taking somebody else’s job in another, aren’t they? Or is that different? Immigrants from poorer, more troubled countries, as it were, often take the jobs that people really don’t want to do, and will work at them twice as hard, because why would they want to lose the job that keeps them in the country? A person here once told me they hated the amount of immigration coming in, because the people from other countries were taking jobs away from citizens. That same person employed a Venezuelan nanny. The Venezuelan is obviously the cheaper choice. If you really believe that statement, then pay a little more and employ a Spaniard or Catalan – who won’t do the same job for the same price.

General Public Opinion #4 – Immigrants Cause More Crime

Sure, where there’s poverty, there’s a greater likelihood of criminal activity. The poorest of our communities are often the most desperate (but not always). This statement looks at things in the most basic manner. What about the people who steal from the government? You know, those rich people who bank offshore in order to avoid tax? The worst part of that is that it’s legal. An immigrant steals a wallet and the public clamour for justice, to send these people away. The people born and raised in the country are often stealing from you, but they’re just doing it in a way that’s more difficult to condemn. What about all the university students who took out big student loans and then don’t inform the government where they are, or what they earn, in order to avoid paying it back? Good on you mate, you take what’s yours! It isn’t yours – I’m not saying I agree with it either way, but people do this all the time, and it’s cheating somebody somewhere. You just can’t see it directly in front of you, so you don’t care.

There are so many things that can be argued back and forth across this topic. I simply wanted to give people a taste of what I feel as a person in another country, and hope that you will see my point of view as an ‘immigrant’. Before we criticise, we should put ourselves in their shoes, weigh up all the pros and cons, and not jump on the scapegoating bandwagon, which generally looks at things at face value. Consider what you would do in their position. Consider how you would feel in another country. Consider the facts and figures, before jumping to wild conclusions. Hopefully that way, we’ll begin to actually listen instead of giving a knee-jerk reaction to our sentiments on immigration.

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International Relations


Having lived here for over two years now, it is only natural that I happen to have a Catalan boyfriend. I never once imagined I would find myself in a relationship with someone from another country, let alone be IN that country itself, but what I wanted to explain was how we function, or at least, attempt to. I obviously have seen international partnerships, even lived with one, in my first year here, but I had yet to experience how it was to spend a rather large amount of time with someone who (frankly) didn’t really speak my language, never mind let myself fall for them.

My Spanish has come along in leaps and bounds during the last year. Being with someone who doesn’t speak much English, and not allowing myself to fall back on it has come in very useful, particularly for my grammar, which has always been atrocious (largely thanks to actually learning Spanish grammar being atrociously difficult…subjunctive, anyone?). I learn more and more every day, and surprise myself by coming out with conjugations I either didn’t know, or had just half-guessed at, and turned out to be right. One thing I never wanted to be was someone’s student, and I always thought that being with someone from another country would prove difficult in the sense that you wouldn’t want to be taught all the time, in order to actually be able to communicate with that person. There is that awful cliché that tells us we don’t need to be able to speak perfectly to understand the language of love (oh, please), but I think there is only a certain amount of truth in that. My ability to communicate in another language isn’t altogether bad, but I always start to unravel when I have to explain anything which goes above the daily grind, which causes me to think in tenses that are a little more difficult. You obviously must have some basic knowledge of the language to be able to relate yourself, your being, to another person, and for them to appreciate that and understand it. I never felt myself in Spanish, because I’m largely quite expressive, and I just don’t have the vocabulary to be that person in another language.

However, I feel like I’ve formed a different version of myself, that isn’t really that different, but different enough to be noticeable when I speak to my boyfriend, who knows ‘me’ so well. We spend a lot of time together, so of course he knows my stories, knows my little mannerisms, incredibly well, but speech gives us so much of ourselves, shapes our personality, that the difference is strikingly obvious when I talk to my English-speaking friends in front of him. The first time we went on one of our dates and I was told to speak English that night, by the end he told me I seemed a completely different person. One he liked, but one he had never seen. As I grow with Spanish, I become more and more myself, but I cannot truly do so, because of those moments where I have to stop and pause, I search for the word, or I genuinely can’t explain something that is a very important belief of mine, a momentous occasion, a particularly memorable childhood story.

How is it that language shapes us so? Maybe many would argue with me, tell me that cliché is true, a person loves a person, not the way they speak or the way they express themselves; but I can’t entirely agree. Sure, we can know that the person is good, the person is kind, but you need to have that degree of human, level-minded communication. I know I’d go mad if I couldn’t have that.

I have never been happier. I live in a fantastic city, I love my job, and to speak candidly, I am finally in a place where I can say I’ve been lucky in love – but I am not my true, whole self with this person. I very much like my Spanish-self. She’s funny, interesting, a little silly and stupid; but this is because she has to be, to provide entertainment which is lacking without an ability to make puns, jokes, spin great comedic stories. She’s clever, but clumsy in the way that she speaks, because she can’t find the words to express what she feels. But that part is understood. Although I cannot express my true self, here is where I think the cliché holds true: others can see what we really want to say, what is really underneath – it is only lack of knowledge in a language that doesn’t permit me to do this. That said, one needs so much more than just awareness of another’s personality to truly love them.

I wonder what other international pairings feel about this. I do not read so much about what it was like for them, only soppy love stories of feelings conquering all language barriers, but I would like the nitty-gritty, the deep, real detail. I often imagine what it is like for couples who speak two very different languages, so spoke in English when they first met to communicate; was it frustrating for both of them? Or is it a gift for us, that we slowly get to unfurl ourselves to another person, giving piece by piece of information slowly as we learn how to do so, instead of having that ability to let the other know all about our innermost thoughts and emotions? I had the difficult side; the one speaking in another language all the time. However, doesn’t that mean he has to be the patient one?

I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m learning, and growing with this person, not only in personality, as we all do, but also in language skills. The time will come when I can return the favour in English, We are giving each other so much more than just company and enjoyment. We are earning life skills and making the most of them together. And, the best part really is, that when arguments arise, at least we can both just pretend it was because we just didn’t understand what was being said…

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El Born, Barcelona. Love this place in what I now call home.

What Makes Me Love The UK


I’m currently back over in the UK, visiting family and a few friends – trying to fit as many people in as I can, which always makes things stressful. This time I decided I would come back for quite a long period of time, as I hadn’t been home in about a year, and then I could take things at my own pace. People I have been staying with have been working during the day, so that means I have been at my leisure to enjoy exploring on my own, and generally go places I’ve either never visited before, or haven’t been to in a long time.

On the one hand, it feels quite strange to be back. It was actually very odd when I first arrived and found that English didn’t roll off my tongue so easily when speaking to a stranger. This might strike you as weird – I speak English every day, teaching it, and I live with English speakers, but I’m so used to going to restaurants, supermarkets, and wherever it might be, and starting in Spanish, that I instinctively went with that, and had to remind myself I was back in England, and could be understood in every situation. On the other hand, I’m really enjoying my time relaxing here and taking my time to re-acquaint myself with my country. I think, to a certain extent, I have found myself romanticising about it during the past year (in the time I haven’t been back, but what I’m genuinely surprised with is that I have found all the things I played up and boasted about are true.

1. The large, lush green spaces.

Barcelona lacks in green park areas. Whilst it’s a beautiful city, the climate of Spain and Catalonia doesn’t allow for large green fields and trees sprouting leaves from every side. Everywhere I go here, there are parks and benches crammed to the hilt with people basking in the (very little) sun, reading a book and generally enjoying being outdoors. Sure, I can do that on the beach, and I love doing so, but lazing on the grass is one of my favourite things to do, particularly because it means I won’t find sand in my lugholes ten days later.

Who would believe this is in a city centre?
Who would believe this is in a city centre?

2. Chit-chat

I don’t know if this is just because I’m clearly foreign, but people in Barcelona don’t talk to me in shops. There is no countertop exchange of words other than the basic needed to acquire the needed product. At first I was surprised when shop assistants began to natter away to me (I have always remembered people as being surly and sneering to customers), and felt slightly awkward, but it’s nice to be nice, and talking to the boy in Tesco for five minutes about his motorbike certainly  isn’t going to hurt anyone. I particularly felt more welcome in the north, where I relished being called ‘petal’, ‘flower’, and ‘love’ in almost every shop situation.

3. People’s innate ability to stand on the right.

Yes, yes, it’s hardly something to write home about, but I really like that in London people get on with their commute and are very aware of the fact that other people have places to be. Of course, London isn’t a hugely personal place, but with an ever-expanding city of 7.5 million, it’s understandable. People have jobs to get to, and I don’t have  to shout at the person in front of me to get out the way, because they just understand.

4. Cider culture.

Why, oh why, can I not buy cider as a given in all the shops in Barcelona? A can of Kopparberg costs around 4-5 euros, which is just plain ridiculous, and I only know of a smattering of places that sell this wondrous drink. Here, I can buy a variety of flavoured ciders and variants on beer, like Crabbie’s, for a nice cheap price, and sip away to my heart’s content on a balmy evening. I genuinely don’t understand why it isn’t bigger in Spain, as it’s a culture that enjoys sitting and drinking slowly: exactly what you should do with a cider. Nursing a good strawberry and lime cider would make my day in Barcelona, particularly if I could do it for under 3 euros.

Nectar of the gods
Nectar of the gods

5. Sleep.

Our weather is a bit crap. That’s true, for sure. Although, as I look out the window now, the sun’s shining, there’s a light breeze, and all seems well with the world. The problem with UK weather is that it’s so changeable, which can be irritating as I’ve found I have to carry a jumper and jacket, and take them off, then put them on every five minutes. However, something to be said for the UK’s weather, is that it is nearly always cool in the evening, and I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed being able to sleep with a duvet on EVERY NIGHT. No more sweating above the sheets listening to the buzz of a mosquito, the shout of drunken men, and that dog that just won’t stop barking, because it’s too sticky and horrendous to shut the window – a breeze of about 0.154890 mph is better than nothing in Barcelona. Here, window shut, duvet on, quiet – fantastic.

6. How much we have to offer.

Nobody comes to the UK for a sun holiday. But, because our weather isn’t our selling point, I think we’ve built up a wealth of activities, especially indoor, that can be done either cheaply, or, and here’s the great thing – for free. I hardly ever visit museums in Barcelona because you have to pay an arm and a leg to visit them. I think the state should fund more art galleries and museums and request donations – because they would get them, and perhaps more people would visit. Every day this week that I’ve been in London, I’ve been able to visit a fantastic museum or exhibition for free. This doesn’t just exist in London – there are so many free activities across the UK that culture and learning are something which we can take for granted. I’ve been moved, fascinated, and interested by each museum I’ve been able to visit for no more than the price of getting there on the tube.

7. The variety of food.

English and British main meals, for me, are nothing to write home about. As I eat very little meat, that makes it quite difficult for me to get into the meat and two veg culture. I’d rather have the two veg, which actually makes Spain ideal for me, as they often have plates of veg as a course on the menu. However, I do like the fact that we are very open to other cultures and buying products from foreign countries, importing them as standard. In a regular Sainsbury’s, I found a huge selection of fresh herbs, like parsley, coriander, lemon-grass, rosemary, and many others, which I could whistle for even in the biggest hypermarkets in Spain. I often find myself looking for recipes and writing off the entire thing because I won’t be able to find the key spice or ingredient, or if I do, it will cost me half my monthly rent.

8. Fashion and personal expression.

Spanish people are very beautiful and fashionable (with the exception of those mullets I see wandering around occasionally). This is, of course, nice to look at, but one thing I like about the UK is that we are more accepting of the unconventional, and you will see many people with brightly coloured hair, tattoos, piercings, and funky clothing walking about the streets, and, what’s more, serving you in shops or doing their job however they wish to look. Provided they’re presentable, people have a much better chance of working with tattoos or piercings and so on here than they do in Spain. I worked in various jobs, including a bank, where it should of course be standard to look as professional as possible, with a piercing. Now, I would never dream of having one in a place that wasn’t my ear. It’s a shame, really, as I don’t think anybody would care if I had a lip piercing, but the culture dictates it looks non-professional, so I steer clear.

9. The Boots Meal Deal

It might seem a strange one to include in a top ten, but that is how good the meal deal is. I can’t get a nice sandwich, snack and a drink for three quid anywhere in Barcelona (unless I stick to a boring old cheese or tuna, no piri-piri chicken deal there). I can’t stress how lucky British people are to have Wotsits, Monster Munch and Skips available whenever they want. Life just isn’t fair.

10. A cracking sense of humour.

Again, this is probably more of a language barrier thing for me, but one thing I love about the British is their need to take the absolute piss out of each other within five minutes of meeting. It’s a contest and  something of a national sport – who can be more sarcastic, dry and witty? Who’s got the best put-down? Who’s more insulting without actually being insulting? Whilst I’ve met a few people who take this too far and are actually offensive under the excuse of ‘It’s only banter, mate’, generally I like this sense of humour and wish it were understood fully in other parts of the world – I’m not being rude if I insult you, it means I probably like you.

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A Brit isn’t a friend unless they insult you.