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.

 

Finding my Feet


I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since I arrived in South Korea. I expected to be wailing under the covers by this time, sniffling and puffy-eyed because I missed home. Not true in the slightest. These few weeks have been very strange for me…mostly because I don’t feel strange here.

I imagined complete culture shock, foodshock, and oh-God-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life shock. Aside from the latter, which is felt by most people on a regular basis, I have yet to really experience any kind of shock. The language barrier is certainly very real, but it hasn’t been a cause for any kind of trauma (yet), apart from a shouty taxi driver who pretended not to know where I was going. 5 minutes later, we pulled up outside my local metro station – I get the feeling he only pretended not to know so he could drive around the block for that extra 200 won.

Not including my new shouting taxi friend, perhaps one of the reasons that I feel so at home here is that people are so genuinely friendly. They really want to help you, really want to talk to you. Even if they don’t speak a word of English, and you can’t muster anything other than ‘thanks’ in Korean. Old ladies have offered to put my bag on their laps when on the metro. Well-meaning gentlemen point out arrows leading us to where they think we might want to go. Being called beautiful in the street isn’t completely weird. Even if you stutter out ‘hello’ in your terrible Korean, people praise you and commend you on your wonderful pronunciation (so, yes, they are obviously a nation of fibbers). Korea is helpful, friendly, and safe.

I’m settling in to my school rather well. My co-teachers are both lovely, and keen to help me wherever they can, whenever they can. I hope that we will make a good team. My principal has already given me a toothbrush, a water bottle, and a phone charm as gifts – keen on me feeling welcome at the school, obviously. One day, the other English teachers and I were called to her office. A little worried about what I’d done to be summoned, I tentatively nibbled on the rice flour biscuits she passed around, and waited to hear the bad news. It turns out she wanted to start a tea club with the younger teachers in the school, and all of us were then called upon to arrange a day, chat a little, and finish up the biscuits. Not content with just a Tea Club, the teachers were told that they were to attend sports activities every Wednesday. No exceptions. Last Wednesday, we marched around the hall to rousing military-style music, and took part in ballet yoga. It was very surreal.

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School meals…are you jealous, Jamie?

On Saturday, I awoke to find it was a glorious, sunny day. The sky was clear, the air was as fresh as it could possibly be here (more on my new worry, pollution, at a later date), and the chill in the atmosphere had subdued. We decided it would be a good day to explore. Busan tower, situated near the port area of the city, made for a fine excursion. A 120-metre high viewing tower, it sits on a hillside just out of Nampodong, a hustling and bustling shopping area with fashionable shops aplenty, and a rammed marketplace – selling everything from Korean won-themed taekwondo shorts to imported Japanese build-your-own sweet boxes. Up on the hill, it’s peaceful, and your climb is rewarded with a look over Busan. The port, with hundreds and hundred of fishing boats lined up and ready. The mountains, jutting out of the city, powerful and strong. The high rise Haeundae beach buildings – glinting at you in the distance, a faraway reminder of just how big this city is. Up the tower, dizziness greeted us, with even more spectacular views of the surrounding area.

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Busan tower

Busan tower is also an area for true love. A mini-pilgrimage of romance, where star-crossed lovers put a padlock on the surrounding wire fence, along with a plastic engraved heart, or even phone case (well, you know, it is Korea). These pretty hearts swamp the whole fence, and the entire tower is surrounded by declarations of true love. Perhaps I’ll be visiting there myself, padlock in hand, at a later point.

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All you need is love

Another weekend of food experimenting was also to be had. We ventured down into the local market, towards the food stalls and bars, not quite sure what we had in mind. Deeper into the market, street food was being sold at ridiculously low prices. Vats of kimchi, pre-prepared bowls of Japchae ingredients, ready to be tossed into a pan and cooked at any moment, among a myriad of things that we yet have to try…or summon up the courage to.We found a place quickly enough – slightly off-putting in that ‘Korean Pizza’ was written on the window, but not a lick of cheese was in sight. We ate Jeon, a traditional Korean pancake, ours stuffed with kimchi and meat. Jeon can be eaten as a side dish, or often with alcohol. We made sure to do both, and then order Kimchi Jjigae on top of that. Kimchi Jjigae is a warming, rich stew made with the famous fermented cabbage, spring onions, traditional stock, and tofu. It was truly delicious, and the best meal I’ve had yet.

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Yum!

Life day to day in Korea is very normal for me – and perhaps that’s not the interesting thing you wanted to hear when reading this blog. But to me, that’s the beauty of it. My year in Korea is letting me experience a culture at normality, just like when I was in Spain. I could truly enjoy the culture, and didn’t feel pressured to do everything I could, as quickly as possible, as one often does when visiting a new place on holiday. Korea is treating me well so far, and I can only hope I continue to have many more normal, slightly mundane adventures to share with you all.

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A vending machine of insanely cute Japanese trinkets

 

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Cat sushi collectables. Of course.

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A Week in Korea


The day finally came. The night before, I slept not a wink – tossing and turning in the Gatwick hotel room I’d booked. I’d said I wasn’t nervous, but my body was clearly telling me otherwise. On the morning of February 17th, I woke up long before my alarm, rubbed my blurry eyes, and told myself it had finally arrived. I was going to Korea. Problem was, it would take nearly a day and a half’s travel to get there.

My journey was London > Amsterdam > Doha > Seoul > Busan. A mammoth journey, on a minimal amount of sleep. I touched down in Busan 30 hours later, adrenaline coursing through my veins – even though I was exhausted, I was buzzing. That night, in the hotel I stayed at, I couldn’t sleep again. My roommate, luckily, was exactly the same. We chatted through the early hours of the morning, ready to start the next leg of our overwhelming journey.

We are here to teach English with the EPIK program. It places native teachers in schools across Korea in an effort to get kids in touch with real, native speakers of English. We had all come from around the globe to be a part of this. We, however, would not just be sent into schools willy-nilly – first there was an 8-day orientation to attend. During orientation, the English Program in Korea would be giving us thorough lectures on culture, teaching, tips and tricks, and the Korean language.

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They’re waiting for us!

Busan University of Foreign Studies was the setting for our training period – a beautiful, modern campus in glorious mountain surroundings. We shared a dorm room for the 8 day period – I was lucky with my roommate. I don’t know how many others were! The first day on campus, we were all still exhausted but immediately went out to explore what the neighbourhood had to offer. Korea in the daytime, I have to say, is not the world’s most beautiful of places: but this is understandable when you think of what Korea was like almost half a century ago. The country was destroyed by the war, and Japanese occupation. The Korea that you see today is fresh and new – there is hardly anything that was still standing at the end of the war. Bear this in mind when visiting Korea. It makes everything they have accomplished that much more incredible. Suddenly, the streets you walk don’t seem so ugly.

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View of Busan from the top of a mountain right by the university – you can see the university in the foreground. We used a spare hour to climb to the top and breath in the peaceful, still air, next to a Buddhist temple.
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Temple at the top of the hill – a rewarding climb

Orientation was a series of lectures and classes designed to help us as EPIK teachers – there were people from all walks of life. Some people had taught before, others had little to no experience, and some were simply wishing to try the program out as a way to experience a new culture. Whatever we were there for, we all bonded and slipped into friendships quickly, much like at university. When everyone is new to a situation they use it to bring them closer. Eight days with perfect strangers might be scary to some (myself included – I’m not too good meeting new people), but in this new country it was easy, unforced, and definitely a lot of fun.

We also had to undergo a medical test (again, ridiculously early in the morning – sensing a pattern here?), which none of us were all too happy with, but was over rather quickly. We were weighed, measured, x-rayed, and tested on our eyesight – and last but not least, blood and urine samples were taken. Though not together. Our results would be given to us within a few days…all was well!

Lectures were broken up by a field trip out to Haeundae beach – where skyscrapers tower over the seafront, glistening in the sunshine. A flat in one of these is said to cost billions of won – meaning they don’t come cheap. For a pure, unadulterated view over the East Sea, and practically all of Busan, it might be worth it. The design of these buildings was also striking, compared to the uniform high rises seen all over the city. Barcelona is a hectic mess of old and new, closely crammed in together. It is beautiful because of this, a complete mesh of architecture. Korean housing simply shoots up into the air, and doesn’t do much more than that visually. Looking out over Busan, many districts seem to be a repetition of the same photograph – blocks upon blocks of flats have everything in common.

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High rises at Haeundae Beach

Our day out was brought to a close by a visit to the UN Peace Park. This is a memorial to those who fought from the UN in the Korean War. I haven’t studied too much about the war, and thus was interested in learning more about it. There is, however, not too much information given at the memorial park. I was met, unexpectedly, with a wave of emotion. A wall of all the US soldiers who died in the Korean War snaked around a pretty pond. Columns and columns of names went on and on, making eyes smart in realisation of just how many people lost their lives in this terrible conflict. Names from all over the globe were engraved there, and we were all shocked into silence as the list simply became a blur – too many names to take in. Over 30,000 US soldiers lost their lives, and over 1,000 British. The UN memorial is home to 837 of our British soldiers’ graves – more than any other nationality buried there. It is a quiet, contemplative place, where I hope they have found peace.

The rest of the week rolled on with further lectures, classes, and information. Visiting lecturers came, talking about Korean culture, engaging us with funny stories, and teaching us how to deal with alien concepts such as co-teaching, which is the widely used format over the EPIK program. In all, it was a tiring, but informative week, that I was glad to have had the opportunity to experience. Being thrown in at the deep end would certainly have been difficult to deal with – a new school, new apartment, and new life all at once might make anybody consider returning to their old life.

Then, finally, the day came where we were to leave orientation and meet our new co-workers: our co-teachers, in fact. Nervously waiting with our luggage, one by one teachers came out with signs, calling out our names (or how they thought our names might be pronounced). Finally, after an agonising half an hour or so – two voices piped up with my own. My co-teachers loaded my very heavy luggage into the car, knees buckling under the weight, and drove me across town to my new flat. My eyes were as big as saucers as I looked out over the city hustle and bustle – being confined to the university meant we hadn’t seen much of Busan life yet. It was just as you might expect Asia to be: terrible driving, hundreds of people crossing the road in all directions at once, and rows of tall buildings with bright, beaming lights. I was attracted to them immediately – like a moth to the flame.

The teachers chit-chatted away to each other in Korean, and asked me some questions. After some nervous laughter we began to talk a little more, and I learned small things about them, the area I would be in, and what kind of food I should try. As we drew up to my apartment block, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The flat inside was a pleasant surprise – quite large (we’d been told flats were a mixed bag), with a double bed, separate kitchen, and plenty of storage space. Underfloor heating is a complete revolution for me and I doubt I will want to give that up at the end of the year. Now, decorated and cleaned, my flat feels very homely. I’m very pleased with my lot.

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My cosy little flat

The area I live in is called Dongnae, and I explored it at once. It’s very busy, due to it being right opposite the local market, and I loved it right off the bat. So many sights, sounds and smells were there to take in. Ahjummas sitting at the side of the road, selling all sorts, from kelp to ginseng, from sea slugs to hotteok – a hot Korean pancake stuffed with a cinnamon syrup filling. Navigating the Megamart (the local hypermarket) was a stress-inducing experience. Too polite to simply barge through the aisles with my trolley, I spent most of my time waiting for a gap in the throng, weaving in and out late-night Friday shoppers, getting everything but the kitchen sink.

I’m still finding my feet here, but I’m getting used to the idea of living in Korea. It still isn’t as real as I expected it to be, and I’m sure the culture shock and homesickness will set in soon – but until then, I’m going to enjoy strolling around the food stalls, singing my heart out at the noraeban (karaoke bar – yep, Korea loves them too), trying not to buy everything that has a cute face painted on it (even sponges do), and assuring the restaurant staff that spicy is absolutely fine, thank you. Korea, so far, is everything I ever hoped it to be!

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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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Just Your Average Brit


I’ve been sick for a while recently, what with a root canal and needing three fillings, topped off with a throat infection, and then finally a standard season-change cold. I then finally fell prey to what La Rambla is famous for here (pickpockets), and had my phone stolen, although I’m not really surprised, as I’ve been pretty lucky to keep all personal possessions in check for almost two years now. For this, I haven’t felt too inspired recently, even though there have been a few things I’ve wanted to write about. So, finally, when it’s a beautiful, sunny day off for me, I’m going to sit inside my stuffy room and write rather than go and enjoy those rays. What in the Spanish has got into me?

Our school has had a different sort of week, what with the bank holiday in the middle of it; normally if there’s a bank holiday set at that time, people don’t come to classes the day after, so they were all cancelled, and instead we ran some different activities. Seminars, and the purpose of my writing; conversation classes. Running from the lower levels to the higher, and separated into two, we casually chatted with students rather than being in our usual positions behind a high table. Time and time again people clamour for conversational English; really wanting to practice. We were provided with certain topics to discuss, and certain ones to avoid (Catalan independence being a big no-no, for example). Time and time again, we diverted from the original topics to differences between our two nations.

You simply can’t avoid it. We try and try to find common ground, and whilst on the surface we’re all the same, and just people all in a society together, the basic differences and the subtle cultural changes always crop up. From living here for over a year now, I think I’ve managed to gauge an idea of what the Spanish see as the typical Brit. Now, it’s not scientific, nor do I pretend to be highly accurate, or intend on offending anyone, but my findings are as follows:

 

1. People in the United Kingdom have no idea what a vegetable is.

You may think I am exaggerating this point for humour. Please think again. This is almost a direct quote from a student yesterday, who told me that supermarkets in London did not contain vegetables. I’d really like to know a) which supermarkets she went to and b) if she visited each supermarket in the Greater London area. Naturally, I disputed this idea, but after being asked where I was from (the North of England), it was decided by general consensus that I was not the authority on London, despite having a brother living there, and having visited there multiple times more than they all had.

Stock this, please, Spain.
Stock this, please, Spain.

I am so sick of the idea that we don’t have any clue about cooking, and that the Mediterranean diet is the best in the world. I love the food here. But it can’t hold a candle to a good Indian dish. I’m hoping as immigration increases here, so will awareness of other food and cultural delicacies. I can’t find a great deal of stuff that I use to cook with in the UK, which is such a pity as I really think a nation which prides itself on its food should be more accepting of importing other foodstuffs rather than sticking with the staples. I call on you, Spain, to start selling more than one type of cream, proper fresh milk as standard, have more variety of winter fruits, and have the bog standard ingredients for a chicken korma on hand in the supermarkets. Then tell me the English don’t know cooking.

2. British people have no concept of a life of sun and believe that Spain is practically The Caribbean in comparison to their own dreary climate.

The average day in London. I thought the Houses of Parliament were a watery blur for years, until I finally went to London.
The average day in London. I thought the Houses of Parliament were a watery blur for years, until I finally went to London.

As it rains in Britain every day of the year (except for maybe one day in August, and that memorable time at twelve o’clock last Saturday), Brits are impervious to rain. We mustn’t notice it. It is just like white noise for us. We should probably be out gallivanting in the streets the moment a downpour shows itself. I hate rain. Everybody hates rain. It makes my shoes wet. It makes me look like a crazy Einstein with a finger in a socket. My washing doesn’t dry. I have the same feelings as the Spaniards about this weather…but no, no, no; when it’s raining I can’t complain; when it’s cold I can’t shiver, because I should be ‘accustomed’ to it.

It’s actually colder in winter here than it is at home…

3. People in the United Kingdom are incredibly polite and friendly (when on their own turf).

True. Next.

4. We drink an awful lot and are lairy, loud, and irritating when on holiday.

I am inclined to agree. When drinking with Spaniards, I pace myself much more. I went out recently and lined up the shot of Jaeger with a glass next to it, dash of Red Bull at the ready. In I dropped the alcohol, and one, two, three, down the hatch. One go. My companions, on the other hand, struggled to do it in one. More like in three. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, by the way. I don’t class it as a talent to down-in-one one part Jaeger two parts Red Bull. This said, it’s something most university students, and indeed twenty-somethings, have down pat. The culture here is much more relaxed as regards drinking. I genuinely think they drink more than we do; the difference is the speed. Your average holidaymaker here drinks in the space of an hour what a native here drinks over five hours, or the whole evening. No wonder the seaside resorts are full of idiots hurling themselves into pools from balconies, and getting tattoos on their bum cheeks. No wonder the residents have this idea of us.

5. We look like lobsters the minute we step onto a beach.

100% true. Even worse for the Irish.

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6. British women wear a lot of make up and wear very little clothing.

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7. We’re all fat. 

Again, I’m going to find it hard to dispute this one. Well, I don’t really want to. Obesity rates in the UK are shocking, and I’d really rather this stereotype wasn’t true, but it is. However, I would like to say that it isn’t because we cook everything in butter (because we don’t…I like my vegetable oil, thanks). I think it has more to do with our more commercial-centred and less family-orientated society, and availability of fast food, plus abject laziness.

We're in the dark; but as you can see, the rest of Europe is following closely behind.
We’re in the dark; but as you can see, the rest of Europe is following closely behind.

I’m worried for Spain, though – the amount of sugar they eat here surprises me, especially for such a ‘healthy’ country. Having lived with families of the country for a while, I saw it was commonplace for a child to have hot chocolate (like Nesquik) every single morning. To me, that’s already too much. But then, I wouldn’t give my kids the standard UHT milk they get here, it tastes far too synthetic and horrible. I’d have to spend more and get the fresh milk, which you can find here, but it’s not so common. Hot chocolate is often drunk with cereal in, and many children have biscuits for breakfast, which I find absolutely ridiculous and not at all a substitute for a healthy brekky. People who give their children biscuits for breakfast in the UK, are to the best of my knowledge, not seen as the shining examples of parenting. The sugar levels must make these kids, who already have to study absolutely ridiculous amounts, go completely berserk by 9:30am. The morning break usually consists of a croissant, or more biscuits, and in some cases a sandwich (which I’m sure would make a better breakfast, but what do I know…). A yoghurt can’t be eaten without ten spoons of sugar added to it. What happened to the nice, fresh taste of natural yoghurt? I’m shunned like a leper when I tell people I really don’t want extra sugar, or, in fact, any, thanks.

 

 

I sound like I’m being incredibly rude about a country where I’ve chosen to go and live, and has been very good to me so far. I’m not; I promise. There are so many good things here. I just want to defend a few points that are so often said about us and our silly little nation; mostly for the purposes of humour, and to see if any of my fellow countrymen will nod their heads along with what I say, as may some foreigners.

I’ve said many a time why I love it here, and I promise I’ll sing Catalonia’s praises next time; providing no more pickpockets take advantage of me, and illness doesn’t plague me any longer, so I can start to go out and enjoy the wonderful weather.

Why Some May Wish Esperanto Had Caught On…


Teaching English abroad had never occurred to me, really, truly, until I was in a desperate situation. I was stuck in a job I hated – it wasn’t a bad job by any means, not at all, but it just wasn’t for me, and I felt like I didn’t have the right skills for it. I just wasn’t cut out for the world of retail banking. I couldn’t get a job in England as a teaching assistant or even working in a school, so competitive was the field and so was the level of experience needed for them to consider you worthy of hiring. Quite the Catch 22: how to get experience when no school would give you the opportunity to do so?

So, to the internet I went, and my searches began to drift further afield. China, Mexico, Thailand. Those dream spots that seem so far away. They all had one thing in common, too: a qualification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language in case any reader is not au fait with the many acronyms and abbreviations associated with language teaching – honestly, the list is as long as your arm). It was back to the drawing board again, as I lacked this qualification, too. Many companies offer it online for rather cheap prices, but for anyone considering doing this, whilst you will actually get the qualification, I would dissuade you from doing so as most companies look to hire people with at least one hundred and twenty classroom hours; that is, doing it in person with human guinea pigs to practise your newfound teaching skills on. I began to find companies advertising teaching abroad with no experience required. It all seemed too good to be true. Some offered ridiculous amounts of money, but I told myself these would be more likely to be traps, or have some hidden catch.

I stumbled upon the CAPS company whilst looking on Gumtree, of all places. Through further research I found it to be a legitimate company, and the rest is history, as we say. Here I am in Spain, having been working in a primary school as a conversation assistant for seven months now; which I can easily say have been the best months of my life, despite the difficulties that can be faced abroad.

The CAPS company I now work for.

I am privileged to have a job such as this. Granted, the pay is essentially pocket money, and it can be difficult living with a family at times after being used to independence, but I can earn my own extra money, and I get an insight into how other families live in another country. The same cannot be said for many other people the world over. Let me get to the point of this; the world is your oyster, certainly, but more so if you happen to be lucky enough to speak English. It is incredibly difficult for those who speak other languages to have similar experiences; they do exist, of course, but with English being the international language, if you speak it, and fluently, you are much more likely to secure yourself a job or find that lucky break when everything has hit rock bottom for you in your own country. In our own countries, us English speakers are of course not novelties. We don’t need to impart it onto others, we just go about talking as normal. We don’t realise the value of our own language; whether people want to learn it or not, English is a large global presence and increases your potential job-base.

This map merely shows American International Schools, so you can imagine how many more there are and how big a business it is becoming nowadays.

Even in jobs advertising teaching other languages, such as Spanish, French, or German – you name it, in international schools and in English speaking countries, as a foreigner you have less chance. These international schools look for MFL (Modern Foreign Languages, there’s another one…) teachers whose first language is most likely English, or are at least bilingual with English as their mother tongue. This makes sense for English teachers abroad, but asking for English speakers to teach, perhaps, Chinese children Spanish? I feel we’ve lucked out here. From my experience here, natives teach their own language much better than a person who has English as a second language. I refer, of course, to natives who have a basic grasp of the language of the country they’re residing in. It’s very difficult to teach English without any reference point to the pupil’s first language. This is the new technique in language teaching: don’t ever, ever use the native language. I don’t see how this can possibly work. Certainly for basic vocabulary like dog, cat, and objects that explain themselves, but for grammatical structure and longer sentences, the student could understand wrongly and make that grammatical error for the rest of their life without correction. I really like the English teacher at my school, and believe she’s doing a brilliant job, but as she admits herself, she makes mistakes because she doesn’t have English as her first language. It doesn’t come so naturally to her. So, surely it should be the same for the English teachers who teach French, German, and whatever other language is required? It doesn’t seem so.

International schools usually use English in the classroom as the main language, which is why I suppose they look for natives with teaching skills in foreign languages. I think, however, to use a native speaker with English as a second language would be far more beneficial, and would be fairer in the international community. As English speakers, we have so much opportunity already, both in a linguistic teaching context and in other alleyways such as business, as it’s the lingua franca (allowing communication between people who do not share the same mother tongue) of the world, it seems. Whilst it’s actually only the third most spoken language in the world, people use it as a vehicle to communicate between countries. I’ve met many couples here in Spain who do not share the same mother tongue, for example an Italian man meets a Spanish woman, and at first, they speak English to communicate with one another. It’s fascinating. Especially for a language where the pronunciation is often very difficult as there are very little rules regarding how words are read.

Complex English versus International English.

I truly have the world at my feet with the language given to me as my mother tongue; and I’m genuinely not exaggerating. I’m lucky enough to speak English, which already lets me apply for basic teaching and coaching jobs regarding English abroad. I’ve managed to take classes in a school alone with no teaching practice or training before, and gain no less than six private tuition students, which astonishes me sometimes. It might not be the most sensible idea, but if you select your employees carefully, just their natural ability with language is all you need in order to learn from them. This July I will be doing a TEFL, which will broaden my horizons and allow me to go further afield should I wish, to countries such as Thailand. However, in some countries such as China or South Korea, all you need is a degree in a somewhat relevant subject, such as English, Literature, Linguistics, or Education. This is complete madness – I’ve yet to hear of similar opportunities besides childcare and au pair work that exist for non-English speakers.

Whilst I am happy to take advantage of this, I do feel the advantage I have in the world. I know for others it isn’t so easy, and I am glad of the gift of language I possess that I may pass on to my children and others. So, next time you are just chatting over coffee or singing along to your favourite song, calling your boyfriend or just simply talking to yourself, if you’re that way inclined, remember how lucky you are to be speaking the language of English. It might be big-headed, and it might seem rather provocative a statement to make, but it truly is your ticket to greater things, and, sadly, positive discrimination in the international workplace.