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.
In June, we were given some terrible news. My boyfriend was to follow a strict diet, embarking on a gluten-free and lactose-free adventure. At the time, our hearts sank. What would he do without cheese? Bread, that staple of the Catalan community, was a thing of the past. Many things contain gluten that we don’t even think about – including things such as toothpaste. This news was given to me on my birthday, which rather ruined our fine dining Italian restaurant experience I’d chosen as a birthday treat.
Trips to the world’s most expensive supermarkets, selling Bio everything, were now a part of the weekly shop. Meals out became increasingly difficult, with almost half the menu often wiped out. In solidarity, I decided to reduce my gluten and lactose intake, expecting it to be one of the hardest things I’d have to do. I have a complicated relationship with food, and after just starting to enjoy it, and myself, in food-related situations, I thought life was about to become much more bland and boring.
Things couldn’t have been further from the truth. It’s not that hard to eat ‘free-from’, especially now in Spain, as Bio supermarkets become more popular, and intolerances, or even life choices regarding diets, become widely more commonplace. I now have become an experimenter with food – my blender is my best friend, and my purse is suffering the consequences, but I don’t care. When your tummy feels happy, it affects everything in your life.
For this reason, I’ve decided to start sharing some of my experiments here, as I’d been posting many things on Facebook with people often requesting recipes – so watch this space for some interesting and (hopefully) delicious recipes!
Today’s experiment was based around chia seeds. These little balls of surprise contain huge amounts of fibre and protein, and magically bulk up things such as overnight oats and smoothies, to make a thicker texture. They have no taste, so are easy to add to recipes just for the nutritional benefit. But I wanted more from my chia seeds. I wanted to see what else they offered me. After browsing around the internet, I stumbled across a few recipes substituting egg as a binding agent for chia seeds. As it was a Sunday, my baking hat was already on – I love baking on Sundays, as it reminds me of home, and weekends spent licking the batter from spoons. I decided to create my own cake recipe that encompassed lactose-free and gluten-free.
Why not go the whole hog, though? If I didn’t use an egg, I could go further and make the cake dairy-free…and then push it more and make it refined sugar-free. A true experiment, because I bloody love cake. Nothing beats the light, fluffy goodness of it when it’s freshly baked. However, I’d sworn I’d eat less sugar (the ingredient in EVERYTHING, it seems) and was looking for recipes the other half could eat guilt-free. Needs must.
So, here’s my recipe for a banana loaf (one of my favourites in the loaf world), but tweaked to be free from nearly everything. Enjoy!
Chia Seed Banana and Walnut Loaf
The first thing to do is get your chia seeds into some water and let them soak it up. You’ll need 1tbsp of them, to 3tbsp of water. I just used tap water and left them in a little ramekin to do their thing. This will replace your egg and bind your mixture together. Plus so much good in such a little seed can’t be doing any harm, can it?
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade. On a hot day in my kitchen, there was nothing less that I felt like doing, but having the oven ready means having cake much sooner!
While those absorb, mash up bananas in a mixing bowl. Then add your muscovado sugar. You could do this with other sugars, of course, but I’m very partial to it in baking for its rich taste, and the fact that it’s non-refined. It’s difficult to get hold of in Spain but you can go to Bio markets and self-serve nut/grain shops like ‘Gra’ in the Gracia neighbourhood – which is reasonably priced and crammed up to the brim with alternative flours, pastas and grains. You can also sweeten your cake up with dates, but I like to taste the banana more than anything, so I put quite little sugar in.
I added some maple syrup into my mix, but you don’t have to. I am a sucker for syrup in general, so it winked at me from the corner of the cupboard. I think it wouldn’t make much difference flavour-wise, so if you have some to hand, then do the same as me and pour a smidgen in.
Mix up your sugar and banana mix, and add vanilla essence/powder. I bought some pure vanilla powder from a local health shop, and felt it was quite expensive at €12, but I use it every day for smoothies and other puddings so it’s a worthy investment, plus it lasts a while. The chia seeds need to have rested in the water for twenty minutes, so make sure they have done so, and then add them into your banana/sugar blend.
Weigh desiccated coconut and buckwheat flour out, and add the tsp of baking powder. If you don’t make this GF, you can use self-raising flour and cancel out the baking powder. You could add chocolate pieces/cacao nibs/cocoa powder for flavour, but that’s another experiment waiting to happen!
Mix your flour and coconut into the mashed banana mixture. Now it’s time to add some almond milk, a little at a time along with the flour mix, until you have a nice smooth consistency. Your instincts should tell you how much you need to put in – if it’s a little on the dry side, add more almond milk, and if it’s too watery, then you may need to add more flour/coconut to bulk it up. This is the reason why you need to add it all a little at a time!
The finishing touch will be some walnuts. Cut them up small, if you like, or keep them rather big for texture. Fold them into the mixture and it’s ready to be poured into a baking tin, pre-greased (I did mine with vegetable oil) or filled with baking parchment.
Put your cake in the oven and cook for about 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Take out and leave to rest, then get it while it’s hot! The loaf’s texture is heavy because of the buckwheat, so if you don’t like that kind of dessert, you can switch and experiment with flours. I wanted a dense loaf suitable for work time snacks, so the texture was perfect for me.
Voila! Here’s my finished loaf. The colour was a rich brown, and it might sound strange, but that’s exactly how it tasted to me – I told you I liked that muscovado taste! The bananas add a lot of flavour and the texture is completely different to your usual banana loaf, which is why I liked it a lot. You could serve it as a dessert and pour more syrup on it, if you liked, or you could do as I’m going to, and take slivers for fuel throughout the day.
120g buckwheat flour
2 whole bananas
60g dark muscovado sugar (dates can also be added to sweeten)
After three years in this country, I’m obviously getting very used to my way of life here, and enjoying it a lot. I love how laid-back the culture is, the fantastic food, the sociable aspect of life, and the fact that Catalans don’t take anything too seriously…it’s actually quite similar to home, in many ways. However, there are some things that I find, as a Brit especially, difficult to adjust to. One of the mistakes people make when moving abroad is to say ‘why can’t this just be like home?’, because such a thing will never happen, and this is not my intent. I simply wish to draw attention to the differences for storytelling purposes – it’s only my experience. There are some things that take time to become habit, and some things I even find nigh on impossible to accept. There are also many things that my adoptive country does that are better than those my own does, I hasten to add. Why else would I be here? However, I do find it amusing that a country so close to my own can be so different at times, despite only having an hour’s time difference between the two.
Bars, pubs, and clubs are amazing here, mostly because I’m in Barcelona, which is like hipster central and has oodles of cool hang-outs, particularly in the centre, where I’d find myself the poorest person in the world should I decide to ever live there, as such an abundance of places to sip wine and vermut while munching on olives is never going to be good for the pocket. However, if you decide to go ‘out out’ in Spain, beware. Adjust your schedule some three hours later to what you normally follow. In the UK, we start drinking relatively early compared to those here, and I’ve only just started to get used to that. I made the cardinal mistake of starting at UK times, and suffice to say that at 1am I frequently pined for my bed. What’s the problem, you say? That’s not too early to call it a night. The problem is that here, nobody will even be in the club at that time. You don’t go home until about 6am. The party don’t start ’til the locals walk in at roughly 3/4am. I went to a few clubs earlier than this time, only to be met with a wild west style tumbleweed/tense shootout music moment. No amount of Red Bull makes me capable of staying up until 7am, and the exhaustion the next day is intense.
Trying to get your items bagged before the person serving you starts scanning the next person’s is a challenge that is worthy to have been shown on Gladiators. The stress you feel while attempting to shove your items away, paying for them, and getting out the way, is roughly about the same as I imagine I’d feel if being chased by a bear. Yesterday, when shopping, three people were trying to pack their shopping away after having paid, while the cashier began scanning the next person’s. Going to do the shopping is just an intense version of Supermarket Sweep, but only at the checkout, as in the rest of the shop you’re guaranteed to be held up by someone spanning the entire aisle with their trolley, unaware there are about ten people waiting to get past.
Tutting as a general concept doesn’t exist (there isn’t a word for it, so it’s obviously not done if it doesn’t warrant being incorporated into a language), so I’m confused as to what to do when needed to express displeasure at a person’s actions. If I were Spanish enough, I’d probably just tell someone I didn’t like what they were doing, but Brit clammy hands at the idea of speaking to someone I don’t know, let alone reprimanding them, prevent me from doing this.
Aside from being one of my favourite words (look at how many letters there are when all is pronounced is the letter ‘q’!), on another branch of etiquette, the beloved queue is a beast unknown, or at least one that those here are unsure how to tame. I was vaguely surprised to see a queue forming for the bus last time I went back to the UK, before I remembered that that’s how things are done over there. Here, it’s every man for himself. I often end up boarding last due to my ‘no, no, after you’ habits. I must toughen up and barge on in front of pushchair-weilding mothers, and ignore the elderly, if I really want to make it here.
Spaniards tell you how it is, and I respect them for this very much, but I also am not used to being direct with people. The subtle, seemingly polite language used in the UK when expressing disapproval, which everybody but foreigners understands, is something I’ve (quite happily) left behind. Old habits die hard, however, and it’s frustrating that nobody understands that when I begin a sentence with ‘no offence’, the following ideas are supposed to be taken offensively. Or if I ‘respectfully disagree’, nobody understands that I think the person is a fool. Equally, no fights over who must take the last biscuit here would ever break out. The last item on the plate, called ‘la vergonya’ in Catalan (the embarrassment) is taken by whoever wants it, unabashedly. The first time I launched into a ‘no, you take it’ debacle, I was flabbergasted to see they actually took it. Therefore, I can now take the last food item on a plate without feeling deep shame, which is a fantastic feeling.
Even after three years here, I still hate kissing people on both cheeks. A sturdy handshake is favoured, and I am now in the awkward position where, even if I meet one of my own countrymen, I’ll go for the cheeks, leaving us both to wonder what we have been possessed by. I am now in a limbo where I feel bad if I don’t kiss somebody, but I loathe doing it. Going to a party, or a social situation where one must do the rounds and kiss the entire room, makes meeting up with people a nightmare. Ten minutes of kissing is more than I can bear. Stealing away into the night without having to say the typical Spanish/Catalan goodbye is a success story, in my opinion.
These, to name but a few, are some of the things I have most struggled to adjust to. Of course, these things are nothing but trivial, and amusing for the most part. I can imagine if I were to have moved halfway around the world, the culture clash would have been much greater, so I am lucky to only experience such tiny, and oftentimes amusing differences between our cultures. I’d be interested to hear from others living either in Spain, or other countries, what they have found the most difficult to get used to in their day to day life, aside from language and obvious things that separate you from your host country. Ultimately, these differences help me appreciate the country I am living in, and the country I am from, that little bit more.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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…
Five years ago, my parents upped and left England, choosing to move to France, in the house they had bought a few years previously. At the time, I felt quite angry about it, as many eighteen year olds probably would, not fully understanding the decision and feeling a little left behind, abandoned, that sort of thing. Five years on, here I am living abroad myself, and I feel like I can completely understand the urge to up sticks and go.
Living in a country which is not your own is a little strange. I truly believe most countries and people, at least those in Europe, are more or less the same aside from language issues, and a person can get down to it and cope living wherever they may choose. Speaking English has a wide range of advantages, and as I’ve said before, we’re lucky to have the world at our feet with it as our mother tongue. You have to adapt to a way of living you’re completely unaccustomed to; you have to learn another language and struggle speaking it as soon as you leave your house; you can’t buy the same things or have the same things available that you’re used to, and you of course have to make yourself new friends.
Naturally, you become a little homesick. I go through periods of it, sometimes feeling myself melancholy for no reason and longing to see open green fields, be greeted as ‘love’ or ‘petal’ by shopkeepers, and being but a stone’s throw away from rolling hills and sparkling streams. I long to be understood by other people, wishing they were able to converse with me without it being massive effort on my part, or theirs, depending on which language we are speaking in.
Then, I go through periods of jubilation, so happy to be here in my new, more fulfilling life. I sit on the train, looking through the window, and I can see the immense blue of the sea stretching out in front of me; craggy rock faces, and wiry shrubs poking from them, making for some spectacular viewing. I listen in to conversations, understanding the sing-song of Catalan, the up-and-down manner the Spanish speak in, tuning in to either language with ease and feeling proud because I can do so. I walk the streets of Gracia, and fall in love with it more each time, shady streets and pokey corners, teeming with life and trendy people sipping their coffees or beers. The sun brightens the open placa we reside in, children giggling, elderly nattering, and parents discussing. I feel at home.
It is a strange feeling to be from one country and belong in another. I am lucky enough to have two homes, and I feel slightly like I am formed by two separate personalities. When I go back to England, I settle into routine easily, happy that I can buy what I want with ease, I can speak to whoever I like, and make polite conversation with people wherever I like, without having to think too hard. I love where I’m from; I miss Yorkshire and its friendly, open people, heck, I even miss the rain at times. However, when I’m there, I find myself aching to return to Barcelona, as I’ve become so used to my life here. I want to stroll down sunny streets and stand still on an escalator, amble wherever I want, loving the laid back attitude to life people have here. I want to sit with my head down in a verb conjugation book, stand behind a lectern and wave around like a ninny at people who might have no idea what I’m trying to teach them.
I suppose it becomes easier with time; a transition that doesn’t come at once, but comes with patience and gradual realisation that your country isn’t going anywhere, especially with air fare being what it is these days. I never thought I’d be here forever; I always counted on returning home at some point. What if this is going to be the place I call home for the rest of my life? We as people are so capable of change, so adaptable: it can’t be too difficult. At the moment I’m slowly trying to get out of the habit of making comparisons left, right, and centre, trying to remember it’s a whole other country, and we all have differences. I feel like I will always hold England as the example, the way everything should be run; which I know isn’t right to do, but I spent twenty-two years there, and it’s only natural that I should be doing that.
I would urge anyone to live abroad for a period of time in their life; I think it opens your mind, you can learn so much, and potentially another language which should be important to any sort of person. You meet new people, experience another culture, and grow as a person. Perhaps, like me, you will even have the good fortune to make your future the way you want it in your new-found homeland.