Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I love my job

A month or so ago I wrote a post contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of working as an auxiliar or studying on your year abroad. At that time I still felt quite out of it at the school and felt I'd picked the rather harder option.
Up until 2 weeks ago I still felt out of my depth. I felt totally out of the loop with things that were going on in the school and in private classes I always felt like I should be doing more. 

However about a week ago I got all my complaints out to a friend who reassured me that I should give myself a break and just relax. 
With the flowers they made to celebrate gender equality
It worked. 

The last week everything has suddenly fallen into place and I feel so so lucky to be able to say that I really love my job. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. The kids.
This one just had to come first. I have never been a 'child person' in my life. I have no younger siblings and children normally bored me after about 10 minutes of play. But now I seriously look forward to seeing the children every day. They're so random and insanely honest. I love it how they tell me things about their life and just accept that I'm part of the classroom. The kids I teach in my private classes can be a struggle sometimes but then they can really surprise me too. For instance, one little boy CONSTANTLY asks me how much time of class is left. However, last week we were playing a game in English and he asked me how much time was left. I responded with how much left of the class but then he said no, he meant on the timer we were using to play the game. It was lovely to see that he was so involved with the game he didn't even care how much time we had left of the class.

2. Confidence
Teaching not only gives you confidence but it also teaches you the benefits of just faking confidence and hoping for the best! Children not only respond well to it but I also think they learn better when you have it too- the class is quieter and they like the structure it brings. Basically in the last week I decided to take control in a few of the classes I felt could use more direction and volunteered to organise the infant classes myself, effectively reversing the typical role of the auxiliar in the classroom, making the teacher into my support. We held the first of these classes today and while it was not a resounding success it was far better than the last two months have been- hopefully if we stick to the same routine the children will continue to respond better! Also confidence in my private classes has allowed me to relax and joke around with the kids a lot which helps SO MUCH. We're all starting to enjoy them more nowadays.

3. Learning about Spain
videoWhat did you learn about at school? St Patrick's day? Christmas? Independence Day? School was made not just to teach you about maths and english but also about the society you live in. As a result I get to learn about Spain through a child's eyes! I've seen the differences between how the UK and Spain celebrate Halloween and Christmas and witnessed the children celebrate 'El día contra la violencia género' (Anti- gender violence day). However my favourite has to be when we celebrated 'El día de la consitución'. The children all dressed up in traditional Andalusian dress and sung and danced to a song about Cádiz, the city most symbolic in the fight against fascism (See the video above- if you skip to 0.56 you see the costumes in full and even hear an olé!).  However even on a day to day basis I learn when they tell me about their lives.

4. I feel useful
Moving to another country has taught me that learning a language is not just a boring task involving memorising verb tables but something that can genuinely can open up your life so many opportunities- and be enjoyable! I try to make my private classes as fun as possible because I think the most important thing for children so young is not to actually learn the language but rather that they want to learn the language. When people assume I'm a student I love being able to correct them and then see the surprise on their faces when I tell them I work in a school. It's also awesome to go to work every day colour in, sing songs, hear funny stories and still know that I'm doing something valuable. Even if I do come home exhausted.

Of course there are down sides: badly behaved kids, early starts, some rather boring topics which have to be covered and a sense of helplessness when the kids keep asking me something in Spanish and I've no idea what they're saying.
Some of my first years. I have class with them
 last thing on  Friday afternoon and they 
And I have no doubt in my mind that at some point next semester, when I'm surrounded by class planners and flashcards, that I'll laugh scornfully at having ever written this post.

But for now I am privileged to say that I love my job. And that's not something many people get to say.  

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Seville and Córdoba

Plaza de España
Ridiculously long public holidays and getting every Monday off means that it would be a genuine crime not to travel every time a puente comes around. Therefore, to avoid incarceration, 7 of us set off bright and early on Thursday morning for the looooong trip to Seville.

Seville is the capital of Andalucia and rightly so in my opinion. It's heaving with history, tapas and fiesta, and there's something oh so quintessentially Spanish about those orange trees. The people are passionate (rude) and the enormous festival which was taking place while we were there gave us a glimpse into their strong adherence to tradition.
Christmas market in Seville
The Plaza de España, the world famous Cathedral and the Álcazar were all visited. In fact we fell in love with the Plaza de España so much that we decided to go twice- and Occupy Almería while we were at it*! It was also hard to resist spending all our time at the Christmas markets!

The Mezquita
After a lengthy night out and ungodly rise at 10am it was time to head to Córdoba. A much smaller city, Córdoba doesn't have quite the same buzz as Seville but it does have an intricate network of beautiful streets and a fascinating, if somewhat bloody, history. We came to this conclusion after finding a street named "Calle Cabeza" after the children one of the leaders of the city were killed and had their heads displayed along the street. Oh that, and our hostel was most definitely haunted.
Córdoba's most famous monument is the Mezquita, which has both a Mosque and Cathedral in one. Definitely worth a visit and it's free if you can get there before 9:30am- but make sure the guard is in a good mood.

Mini Steph
The best thing about this trip has to be the amount of laughter on it: from inventing 'Callie-ing' after our very own Callie Longo: Standing awkwardly near an object/person; to telling our Italian roommates that they were ghosts; to stealing portraits from the hostel to replace Steph in the photographs.

Look very closely to the right and
you can see some real life Callie-ing!

The craic was mighty.

*The Plaza has small squares dedicated to each province in Spain. We decided to sleep off our hangovers in a familiar setting...

Monday, 26 November 2012

San José

There's nothing like deciding you want to DO something with your weekend, going on a day trip and spending approximately 8 hours alternating between sitting, eating and drinking. Bliss.

 San José is a tiny little town just beside the nature reserve, Cabo de Gata. During summer it has over 1000 inhabitants but in winter, the number falls to around 200. After arriving and having a quick look around we decided to get rid of the enormous weight of food we had brought with us and have a picnic. Four hours later, full of vino and mucha comida, and even a little sunburnt (in November!) we recharged our batteries with a quick coffee and went for a wander through the streets of white washed houses.

                                                                                   The view was truly stunning and it's not hard to see this area is so popular in summer. After following some mysterious "Studio arte" signs we found an adorable house belonging to a painter, who makes her living selling the works she paints from her window and opening her home to the public as a mini art gallery.

A glass of wine later and it was time for home.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Words cannot describe how pleased I am that I decided to go to Granada this weekend. Great city, great company and great memories.

We stayed at the Oasis Hostel, just five minutes away from Plaza Nueva and amidst a cluster of Moroccan trinket shops and teterías. Pretty much the perfect location for seeing the city and a really international hostel, full of backpackers. The first night we had a wander around before stopping for some Chinese tapas and returning to the hostel for paella. The first "wow I love this city!"'s could already be heard.

The next morning was an early start to trek up to the heights of the Albaicín, where we had a stunning view of the Alhambra and the rest of the city. Getting lost in this rustic barrio was both unavoidable and desirable as you constantly come across hidden Moorish monuments and winding side streets. Later in the afternoon we visited the 600 year old cathedral and sampled a few exotic teas in a tetería near our hostel. And had a cheeky cachimba.

That night, after a quick stop at the chupitería- a bar which specialises in shots, and they have hundreds of them, all for one euro- we went back to the Albaicín for slightly less cultural reasons. We went to a discoteca in a cave. Yes, that's right, a cave! Camborio  caters for erasmus students but it was packed with locals too who had braved the steep climb. It overlooks the Alhambra and had the rain not been torrential that night, it also has an outdoor patio area which gives you a view of the whole city.

A walk home in the rain assured the hangovers weren't too bad the next day and we set off for some shopping before heading to the Alhambra. It's probably the only thing in Spain where you HAVE to be at the right place at exactly the right time or they won't let you in. Not entirely sure how the locals cope. It's basically a huge palace made by Islamic leaders of the city which has had many additions as new hands and religions conquered Granada. Well worth a visit even if standing outside for 4 hours in Granada winter weather was a bit of a temperature shock for those who have been sheltered in Almería for the last two months!

I decided to stay another night after the others had already left for home as I couldn't bear the idea of leaving when I could so easily spend some more time exploring. My Monday was utterly perfect, as I wandered around parks and riversides with the book I'd bought at the 'feria' the night before and even made a return to Cafe Football, the student favourite which has enough sweet treats to give you diabetes just by stepping through the door.

Living only two hours away it's going to be a struggle to stop myself just hopping on the bus every few weeks. It's official, they told me it would happen, but I didn't believe them. I'm in love with Granada.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Breaking Stereotypes.

I had hoped to travel today but a combination of rain, wisdom tooth pain, lack of sleep and firm plans to travel further afield next weekend has left me with a cosy Saturday afternoon in. So I thought I'd put the kettle on and discuss all the stereotypes I had about Spain before I arrived and how they have been proven TRUE or FALSE.

Then I remembered Spanish homes don't have kettles so I'm waiting on my saucepan of boiling water. Bloody ridiculous...

1. Spanish people are always late. TRUE (more or less).
This has been a resoundingly true discovery. I added the 'more or less' because my school is a very well run one thus everything is pretty ship shape and bristle fashion, and my morning buses always run on time. However nights out, attraction openings, meal times, everything else is taken at a slightly slower pace. Now I am used things starting a bit later than stated. Northern Ireland tends to start most events 30 mins after it's advertised... but here I can be told we're leaving at 7pm and we eventually struggle out the door at 10pm, all without a single word of how "late" we are. Furthermore the entire structure of Spain seems to be based around the feeling that it doesn't matter if you're late. Traffic lights last forever, crossings on major roads are far apart and I feel like I'm running a race when I walk at my normal pace past the crowds of 'busy' workers meandering to work in the morning.

2. Spanish people love food. TRUE.
They love their food and they know how they like it. Tapas menus are usually really long and the Spanish people at the table know exactly what they want, often before they've sat down. Sweet treats, pasteries and churros are less of a guilty pleasure and more a way of life, which is made up for by the copious amounts of seafood and olive oil consumed. However the difference I've noticed from home is that they are not half as fussy about their drinks. You ask for a caña or a tubo and they bring you whatever beer is on tap. If I did that in my bar at home complaints would be made to the manager... 

3. They drink a lot but do not get drunk. FALSE.
Possibly the biggest lie I ever heard about Spain was that you would have to calm down on a night out because the Spanish are much more civilised and never get borracho. Lies, lies, lies. Due to the timetable you are much less likely to see people throwing up on the street or falling over drunk. The bar stays open so late that you didn't feel the need to rush a few shots down your neck. And the walk to the next time will probably take about 30 minutes so that's enough time to sober up a little. You've eaten all through your pre drinks and anyway you've most likely been having a lunch time beer or three since you were 14 so why would a bottle of vodka affect you? I have seen p-l-e-n-t-y of drunk Spanish people here, the difference is they're allowed to stay in the club rather than being chucked out. 

4. Spanish people are more rude. TRUE/FALSE.
Yea, you cannot pin this one down more than with any other culture. The language is certainly more brusk, such as when a teacher in the school looked at me and asked directly "Who are you?" At home this would be rude, but that's simply a normal way to address someone here. Banks etc normally have rather grumpy staff but most waiters and shop assistants I've encountered have been lovely. However in Almería the people are famous for being much nicer than in some parts of Spain. 

5. Everyone smokes. FALSE.
There certainly are more smokers than at home but that's a climate thing. When Spain makes you go outside to smoke, you were probably going to sit outside anyway. At home it would be freezing to death and trying to shield your cigarette from the rain. Nevertheless while there are more smokers, it's certainly not the rule. 

6. Spanish men are creepy. FALSE (mostly)
My experience may differ to some. However generally I don;t agree with this stereotype. The creeps on the street are far more vocal at trying to pull you than at home but you can't judge a culture by the weirdos. Generally on nights out I've found the men here to be better behaved than those at home. It's a more touchy feely culture so someone getting close to you is not an attempt to crowd you but actually rather normal. 

7. Spain doesn't 'do' Halloween. FALSE.
Ok well false in Almería. Other year abroad friends across Spain has posted about their disappointment  about not getting to dress up on Halloween. However on Wednesday night, Almería was BUZZING. People dressed up to the nines everywhere, the city covered in black bin bags on the cobbled streets, with people employed to dress up and scare you from behind them, Thriller flashmobs, music, parades and chinese lanterns. Any excuse for fiesta! 

8. Everyone in Spain speaks English. FALSE. 
False- thank god. Most Spaniards know some English simply because it was a requirement at school, but kind of in the way most of us know some French or Spanish from school days. I've met a number of Spaniards with very good English but then I've met many who don't speak it at all. A very unusual but regular occurrence is when waiters like to test out their English on me but still expect me to be fluent Spanish. For instance, one who told me very clearly "Hello" "goodbye" and "two euros, thank you" but also gave me a full five minutes of Spanish on his opinion of Scotland. Interesting. 

9. Spanish people aren't friendly. FALSE. 
In Almería at least I have found the complete opposite. This attitude probably spawns from the people who were disappointed by the lack of English spoken. If you try to make an effort to show that you are trying out Spanish lifestyle and language people will welcome you with open arms. I've been invited to dinner, coffees, been offered rooms to stay in  and had many people go out of their way to help me with directions or advice when I really needed it. Just get used to them calling you "gorda" (fatty) as a term of affection and you'll realise that they're actually being nice to you. 

In conclusion, if you want to know about Spain come and live here. You'll get your siesta and tapas but you still get to dress up at Halloween :) 

Friday, 26 October 2012

Autumn is here (kind of).

Well the temperatures have dropped to a ghastly 18 degrees, it's rained...twice, and I no longer feel like I'm in an oven if I wear my jeans before 6pm. Apparently autumn is here.

They even kept the children inside at break today and I saw one shivering later! I don't think we were allowed inside unless there was a tsunami.

A gift from one of my students
So what have I been up to this week? Well my mum arrived fora five day visit :D and I got to show her the city. It made me realise how far I've actually come since I've been here: not needing a map anymore, understanding the eating habits, opening times and being able to say "no no I know this really good tapas place, just keep walking!" The negative point of two white people walking around is that I've been treated like a tourist for the first time. I want to wear a big sign on my head saying "I just opened a bank account in Spanish, I understand 'Hola' and 'dos euro'"

Other than that it's been back to school and I feel I'm starting to get into the swing of private teaching more. Also the kids are so adorable, they always want to show me what they're doing or drawing. Yesterday one poked me and when I turned round, sung a song in japanese to me. Teaching really introduces you to how truly random children are...

Tonight I'm intending to head to a salsa night. Please wish me and the poor Spanish onlookers good luck....

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Oh yea, THAT'S why I'm an auxiliar...

I have come to the conclusion that I am never getting internet at home in this country. Oh well more excuses for tinto de verano by the sea....

There have been times here when I have sincerely asked myself whether I should have become an auxiliar or gone to Spain as a student. There are distinct pros and cons to both, and sometimes it has felt like student life would have been easier.

Student- pros
1. Easier to make friends. You go to university where events are organised for you in order to meet people. There are students of your own age in all your classes and you will most likely live with other students.
2. Extra help settling in. The erasmus group at the university usually offer a lot of help getting a mobile etc and as you're not working you probably won't need a Spanish bank account.
3. Less work. Initially that is. You will have more to do at exam time, but depending on your school, auxiliars can have a lot of class planning to do, especially if you take on extra ones.
4. Less responsibility. Just like at uni if you don't turn up for class your tutor will not give a flying fuck. If you don't turn up for work, the biligual teacher will quite probably have a mental breakdown.

1. Less money. Yes you have no salary, so getting started may take a little more out of your savings than you'd like.
2. You are not as easily immersed in Spanish. Your classes may be in Spanish but they could well be in English, most Erasmus students speak English and you have to make more of an effort to get out of the student bubble.
3. Although any time spent abroad will be favoured on a CV, if you choose the easiest subjects you can, an employer isn't going to take it as seriously as a year of work experience.

Auxiliar- Pros
1. Money. You get paid and you can ask for a loan as well. You are also in high demand for english lessons so if you want to save for that trip to Australia, some hard work will make it more than possible.
2. You generally are still entitled to take part in erasmus events so, while it may take more effort you can still make friends.
3. Immersion in Spanish life. You will be working at a school with teachers of all ages, some of whom may not speak English. It's also great work experience and makes your year abroad a complete separation from student life.

1. In some ways it's harder to get settled in, because you feel like you're doing everything alone. Everyone in the school already knows each other and you can't stay out til all hours at a student event during the week when you have work in the morning.
2. Responsibility. You are officially treated as an adult and you must attend work, fully prepared. Spanish nights out carry on until 8am normally so it's not really possible to leave the club early- they don't fill up until 5!

My conclusion: Today a group of children all gathered round to hug me when I came through the door, another gave me a necklace she'd made me and another told me I had pretty eyes.
I'm happy being a wee old (better paid, if more sleep deprived) auxiliar :)

Monday, 8 October 2012


Well I've been here for over two weeks now and finally I don't feel like I have to walk around with a map building up the courage to simply ask for food and telling myself to calm down every so often. I have a favourite cafe, two lovely flatmates, a slowly developing group of erasmus friends and slightly less fear of speaking Spanish in group situations- we are getting there! I wish I could blog more but I still don’t have internet at home. I started work this week and the children are truly adorable! They are still at the age when they want to learn and having a new person in the classroom is exciting. They want to know all about where I’m from and all the little ones take my hand. I went on a trip with Erasmus this weekend with Erasmus which was A LOT of fun but I definitely want to visit other cities later alone or with a smaller group- more sightseeing, less fiesta. Although speaking of fiesta, this Friday is the Día National de Espana so I have it off- working for two weeks and already a fiesta. Oh Spain. Anyways I have a lot more to say than this but I shall have much more time when the bloody internet hurries up.
Hasta Luego! 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

La suerte irlandesa

Well after a difficult few days in Spain, I have fallen in love with it all over again! I didn't blog at all during my flat hunt because I'm weirdly superstitious... it was as though if I told the world I felt good/bad about a flat then it would be a failure. Yes I'm a freak. Moving on.

Day one hunting: simply tearing numbers off billboards and calling numbers. That's how it's done in Spain, it's not something weird or dodgy, rather most people post offers of lessons, cleaners, carers and flats on posters all round the city. Quite handy actually and no expensive estate agents required.
Day two: Succession of strange houses including one where I wouldn't have a bedroom door and one where the girl had a ten minute phonecall before saying hello to me while I stood awkwardly in her hall...
Day three: Slightly better. A day of "This flat is perfect, except--"
Day four: Other wise known as the best frickin day ever. Three great houses in a row, concluded by one where the people had sought me out themselves on the online flat hunting site. The Spanish girl who lives there hopes to study in Belfast one day and the other girl is coming from Ireland this week. It's 5 mins from the bus station, doctors, all shops you need near by and bus stops AND ten mins from the beach. I move in tomorrow! I knew the Irish card would pay off.

Flamenco music on top of La Guajira
Meetings with the other auxiliares have started as well :) I met with Thomas, a guy from Wales who has only studied Spanish for 8 months (!!Brave!!) and we went to a rooftop flamenco performance outside the Alcazaba with an America guy, Cliff, who helps out new auxiliares and a group of his Spanish friends. And I'm now hopefully meeting a few erasmus for drinks and tapas :)

Lessons learned during flat hunting:
1. Good shoes are 100% essential. Running shoes saved my life and yet the blisters still remain....
2. Your instincts are almost always correct, if you don't like how an area or house feels now, you never will. There's one part of the city I just can't make friends with and I knew I didn't want to live there. That's why a day just walking round the city first was very helpful.
3. I hated this advice but it is true-  Don't take the first flat you see just because you want to get one. Unless you stumble upon a dirt cheap mansion it's better to see a few options to get the feel of the general housing standard in the city. Then you can decide if you're being short changed or getting a good deal.
4. Yes it feels like shit going to house after house and not finding what you want. Feel free to be moody and eat comfort food. Donuts. And chocolate. In fact I think chocolate donuts should just be freely supplied in every estate agents.

Hasta luego amigos :)


*EDIT: Oh also forgot to mention. My description says I fully expect to get lost constantly. Well this week was a blinder for that. I've never managed to walk in an exact circle before when I thought I was going in a straight line, and yet I've managed to do that three times this week. An. exact. circle. And I even had a map! Urgh.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

La Desconocida Amable

I have been in Spain for 24 hours exactly.

After no more than two hours sleep on Friday I was up just after 5am to head to Belfast International airport.    My mum left me at the airport and we both tried to hide our faces and say goodbye quickly to avoid tears, but as the plane sat on the runway I was in bits! As soon as we set off I felt immediately more calm but the fear returned when I arrived in Malaga and had to make my way to the central bus station. I managed to hold a conversation with the taxi driver (however he tended to ask me questions such as where I was from AFTER I had already told him so perhaps my Spanish was worse than I thought) and navigate my way around the station, using broken Spanish to look for help.

3 hours and a beautiful bus journey later I was in Almería and ready to meet my responsable. However she was no where to be seen and I stood awkwardly wondering what to do next. Luckily she found me a few minutes later and we were off in a taxi to the hostel.

After leaving me to get some sleep I Skype'd my mum and the emotions returned. After saying goodbye I started to realise just how alone I was- not a great feeling! I had a quick shower and headed out to look for water and some food as all I'd eaten since 7am was a thin (but delicious) sandwich. Wandering down the 'Rambla' I started to hear some music and decided to have a nosy. A large flamenco dance was being performed in the centre surrounded by Spaniards young and old. A girl in her mid twenties turned to me to comment on it and I didn't understand a word she said. She apologised saying she thought I looked Spanish but I managed to carry on the conversation to tell her that I had just arrived to work and this was my first night. When she found out I was looking for a flat she paused- "...tengo habitación- quieres verlo?" Her flat was just round the corner and she took me round to see the flat.

At this point almost all the advice from the university was ringing in my ears- Don't visit a house alone, say yes to all invitations but only if it's safe. She was small; I figured I could take her. A family walked out of the apartment block moments before we went in and I checked out all the exits. When we got to the flat I asked if she could leave the front door open for safety reasons and she immediately understood. She told me all about her year in France when she did the same thing I had done and when she found out I had been out looking for food, she invited me to have dinner with her! Spanish tortilla, salad with lots of seasoning and oils and bruschetta. Next she took me to buy water and told me to call her any time for anything, whether I want the flat or not- coffee, help, going out.

As far as I was concerned this was the best possible start I could have had. My main fear was that I didn't have enough Spanish just to joke around, chat and maintain my own personality- in other words that I wouldn't be able to make friends. But this reassured me that things were going to be fine :)

Others things I've learned so far:

  • Skype is a godsend. 
  • Trying to switch between English and Spanish is farr harder than just speaking Spanish. 
  • A smile can get you far. 
  • It's apparently ok for taxi drivers to touch your leg. 
  • You probably shouldn't try to get into the taxi, in the first place, on the driver's side. 
  • You have to peel your fruit with a knife in Spain. If you don't they look at you like you have three heads and you are vomiting out of each of them. 
Time for a siesta. Hasta luego! 


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Packing Packing Packing!

In two days time I will be in Spain! Where has the time gone? I have exactly 26 hours before I have to get on a train to Belfast to stay with my uncle for a night before heading off for the airport at around 6:45am the next morning. The waves of panic are well and truly here.

First of all, the last time I wrote in this blog I had heard nothing back from my school.....Well two days later I plucked up the courage to call and had a lovely (if somewhat highly liguistically challenged) conversation with my 'responsable'- that's the person who's in charge of my role at the school, and to an extent my well being outside it. She's been very helpful ever since and is picking me up at the bus station in Almería to take me to my hostel!

On Saturday I celebrated my 21st birthday and leaving party and last night I had a small leaving get together at my work. It's been an emotionally and alcoholically charged week to say the very least.

Luckily this is not me. 
So it's actually rather nice to be kept busy with a spot of packing! I've been searching the internet constantly for packing list ideas and so I thought I'd add my own to the Google whirlpool.

I'm lucky in the fact that my mum is bringing over a second suitcase with extras after a few weeks but whatever I've put in my main cases are the things I could happily live on even without the extra luggage.


  • Essentials: Keys, Mobile, Ipod, Boarding Pass, Passport, Hostel reservation, Purse, Contact lenses.
  • Make up bag: Foundation, eye liner, mascara, lip balm, compact mirror.
  • Extras: Make up wipes, sweets, book, notebook, travel diary, pen, travel sickness tablets, sunglasses, painkillers, hairbrush.

Hand luggage (handbag must be able to fit INSIDE hand luggage) 

  • Equipment: Laptop, DSLR camera, External DVD drive, small digital camera, Harddrive.
  • Bag of chargers. Keep all chargers in one zipped bag and they're easier to find: Ipod, Phone, Laptop, Camera, Ipod adapter. 
  • Extras: Diary planner, Adapter plug, deodorant, Spanish diary, folder of essential documents.
  • Change of clothes- both for when you get there AND for if your bag is lost. In my case- a summer dress, one change of underwear, a change of top and a pair of leggings. Toothbrush, Toothpaste. Travel towel.

Main Bag

  • Jeans
  • Shorts x2
  • Dresses x2
  • Tops x8
  • Jogging bottoms x2
  • Leggings x2
  • Tights x3
  • Socks x8
  • Underwear- enough for a full week.
  • Trainers
  • Pumps x2
  • Running shoes 
  • Sports bra
  • Belt/
  • Swimsuit/bikini
  • Hoody
  • Jacket x2
  • Cardigan x2
  • Hat x2
  • Scarf x2
  • Skirts x2
  • Heels
  • Boots
  • PJ's
  • Make up bag: Eyeliner, Liquid liner, Eye shadow, Nail varnish, Nail clippers.
  • Bathroom bag: Deodorant, Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, Nail varnish remover, Moisturiser, Floss, Razor, Sanitary towels, Tissues, Suncream, Extra contact lenses + fluid. Cotton Buds. Comb. Hand sanitizer, Tweezers. Hair bobbles, Hand bands.
First Aid Kit
  • I always bring a first aid kit anywhere just with little essentials and fill it up with anything else I have room for. I take all the pills out of their packets and if I need to keep the info slip I wrap it around the tablets and attach with an elastic band. 
  • Plasters, Paracetamol, Antiseptic wipes, Blister pads, Indigestion pills. Contraception Pills, Panty liners, Bandage.
  • I've also had room to put: Batteries and eye drops. 
And the rest...
  • Photocopies of all documentation
  • Good luck cards
  • Teaching materials
  • Grammar books
  • Travel Guide
  • Straighteners
  • Hair dryer
  • Jewellery/earrings
  • Ipod Speakers
  • Teabags
  • Knife and Fork
  • Handbag x2
  • Backpack
  • Photos
  • Blue tack + glue
  • Year Abroad study booklet
That's about the height of it! Ok looking at that list has scared me into action, let's do this :) 

Hasta la vista!



Monday, 3 September 2012

The Little Book of Spain.

I ran a 10k race yesterday and am now too stiff to do anything requiring more movement than typing. Consequently I felt this would be the perfect time for a blog update.

So as promised I thought I'd give you a little insight into my Spain-diary-list-reminder-thing.

I've already given you my Resoultions and mantra.

So what else is in it.

1. Why I'm doing this. This is just a very simple reminder that I can see everytime I open the book. It reminds me that I am getting paid a very reasonable wage to live on the beach in the South of Spain for at least 9 months. Talk about once in a lifetime....

2. Pre-departure checklist. When I initially wrote this I thought I was being over fussy but it's turned out to be quite a lifesaver organisation wise. It includes 4 weeks to go, 2 weeks, 1 week, 3days and night before. While writing it I remembered some pretty crucial things like backing up my photos/documents onto my hard drive, and ordering a credit card.

3. Packing. This too deserves a blogpost of it's own so I'll come back to this at a later date!

4. Arrival to do list. Arriving will probably be fairly overwhelming so a simple list of what I have to do in that first week should stop me from looking like a deer in the headlights. It includes: book into hostel, flat hunt, get bank account, get NIE, register with a doctor, get a local SIM, possibly register with FCO locate, attend induction, visit school prior to first day.

5. Personal documentation. Just a simple practical list of all the personal documentation I'm bringing with me. If any of it gets lost or misplaced it'll hopefully remind me to replace it asap.

6. Numbers and Addresses. I love letter writing even though I hardly ever do it. It's more considerate than an email or facebook message because you have to think about what you say before you write it down- you can't just copy and paste sections or delete mistakes. I intend to travel around Spain quite a bit and I assume a 3 hour train journey will go much faster with a pen and paper. The phone numbers are in case I lose my phone or the battery dies while I'm away for a few days. There are some people I can't do without :)

7. Places I want to visit. Okaaay, now the fun stuff! List number one are my top priority visits, the second list is where I'd like to go if I can. I'll just give you list one: Seville, Madrid, Valencia, Malaga, Murcia, Cabo de Gata, Granada.
All fairly realistic for my position, so hopefully I'll get more adventurous as the year goes on.

8. Useful websites. I have actually filled this out since I took the picture, mostly with advice from the British Council Packs however I haven't checked out the sites. I'll update again once I figure out which ones are actually useful.

9. Todo lo que quiero hacer. I've added the 'lo' now...grammar is very rusty... Yes this is the REALLY fun one- everything I really want to DO in Spain. It's not city specific so obviously I'll think of ones throughout the year for places I visit (like attend the Semana Santa in Malaga/Seville) but this is a list I can try where I'm living. The list is in full below and I'd love more suggestions!

  • Flamenco dancing
  • Spanish cooking
  • Eat tapas
  • Visit an art gallery
  • Go to the theatre
  • Go to a local gig
  • Go to the cinema
  • Watch the sunrise
  • Try out an intercambio
  • Keep a memory wall
  • Go to a festival/street party
  • Go cycling
  • Go to a live football match
  • Go to a discoteca
  • Have a picnis
  • Keep a diary
  • Keep a blog
  • Try salsa dancing
I'm intending to call the school again this week if I haven't heard by Wednesday... Wish me luck!



Friday, 24 August 2012

Getting a little Philosophical

Wow, that's the first time I've figured out how to use the 'Title' function in this site, nice one Sarah!

So last week I got in a bit of a rut. My excuse? It's August. I ALWAYS spend at least one or two weeks of August doing absolutely nothing and feeling totally useless about myself. It's kind of like an annual mid year crisis and this year it manifested itself in a week long sofa bound Gossip Girl marathon. Now while this sounds like a week well spent, it left me feeling totally lost in terms of planning this whole year abroad thing. My school still hadn't (and still hasn't) contacted me, I had no where to live and no contacts in the city at all. Not good.

So I decided to sort my life out, starting, of course, with an enormous clear out and my old friend: multiple lists :)

That night I found the Facebook group for all the other assistants in my area next year.

I used www.pisocompartido.com to scout out potential rooms and I have a possible flat next year! 3/4 spanish girls, all students, looking for another flatmate. They're sending me pictures once they move in next week!

I tried phoning the school but got no response however the lovely assistant from last year has sent me the address of the bilingual co-ordinator so I now have a new contact.

                                                            And now to satisfy my list craving I've made myself a little
      Spain scrapbook, look:

      In it I've included the following:
             Reasons Why I'm Doing This
             Pre Departure Checklist
             Packing List
             Arrival To-Do List
             Personal Documents
                                                               Numbers and Addresses
                                                                   Places I Want to Visit
                                                                   Useful Websites
                                                                   What I Want to do There
                                                                    Books and Films

This post is already getting wayyyy too long so I'll explain it more fully in another post but the one I want to focus  on is the last: Resolutions. I don't want to go to Spain and get into the kind of rut I did last week so I've made myself some resolutions to try and make the most of my time there.

  1. Go out every evening (unless sick and hangover does not count). I can stay inside when I'm back in rainy Belfast. Whether it's to a bar, a cafe, or even just a walk on the beach  GO OUTSIDE (like pippin, RIP) 
  2. Take a picture everyday. Of anything or anyone. 
  3. Smile even when you're feeling sad. No one likes a grumpy tourist. 
  4. NEVER say no to something that doesn't compromise your safety. Someone suggests snorkling, tap dancing, mountain climbing, japanese sword dancing, I'm doing it. 
  5. You can sleep when you're home. 
  6. Speak and never be embarrassed for getting it wrong, if you tried. I think I'm going to need to remind myself of this one a lot! 

When I was at school my Spanish teacher told us a phrase "Los hombres son del viento, pero las amigas son para toda la vida" Men are of the wind but friends are for life. 
I've adjusted this slightly to "Los problemas son del viento, pero las memorias son para toda la vida" Problems are of the wind but memories are for life. Incredibly cheesy, but also incredibly true. 

Hasta la vista :) 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

5 weeks to go!

Wow it sounds insanely close when you say it like that....

So I have a little more information now which is a relief seeing as I've still had no contact from the school :(

We were given the email addresses of all the assistants in our area last year. I emailed two, one who lived in Almería and the other lived in Aguadulce and taught at the school I'm going to. The second replied and was soo helpful!

She says the school were great last year in getting her settled- picked her up at the airport and helped her with accommodation. She told me about websites she used to find a flat, and advice on how to do it. She's also offered me numbers of people she knows in the area who want lessons (plus teaching resources to use) and seemed to see this as one of the most enjoyable parts of her year abroad.

It's quite a nice feeling to have some kind of personal connection to this whole thing at last. Before this it's mostly been official government emails or friendly but impersonal messages from the British Council so an actual human conversation is nice to see!

I really really really really really need to start learning some Spanish again. I think I've forgotten all of it.

I'm running a 10k in Belfast in September and after a weekend of being either drunk or hungover the entire time I really need to detox so for the next three weeks I'm tee-total and healthy. Maybe this'll help me be a little more dedicated to being studious/organised.


Wednesday, 1 August 2012


Nope I've not found another two sides to Mr Grey.

Hey that's the number of my granny's house :D

Sorry, got side tracked. It's 52 days until I leave for Spain. In fact, in exactly 52 days and ten minutes from now I should be arriving in Almería.

I think I've worked out my plan pretty well:
Thursday 20th: Head down to my uncles house in Belfast to stay.
Friday 21st 7am: Set off for International airport.
9:35am: Flight to Malaga
1:45pm (local time): Arrive in Malaga and head to the central bus station about 10k away.
3:30pm-So I have time for lunch in between!:) : Bus to Almería
6:30pm: Arrive in Almería!

I think I've used the phrase "man up" to myself at least 20 times in the last week. Travelling is going to be a HUGE part of next year. For someone who lives in a country where you can drive from one end to the other in about 3 hours, it's going to be a shock to the system. 

I've purposely arranged it so that I arrive on a Friday night, therefore I can use the weekend to settle in without the temptation to immediately start organising/ registering for everything. I'd like to be able to ask for a coffee without shaking before I actually attempt to read and sign a contract.

I've also booked into a hostel for a week once I arrive! It looks pretty student friendly so hopefully they'll be used to lost little auxiliars asking for advice about- well about pretty much everything.

One major positive of going to a little city no one has ever heard of has also become more apparent as I've searched for info (usually fruitlessly) to the very edges of the internet- Almería is bloody cheap! :D Well according to everyone who visited it/stayed there as recently as last year. It seems that it's one of the last places where tapas comes free with your drink (which is also not extortionate) and the rent is reasonable too if you look around. Oh and someone also talked about being on the beach in their bikini at the start of February. Considering I've just come back from a run that left me looking like a drowned rat this news could not be more welcome!

Monday, 23 July 2012

And then reality hit...

Ok maybe that title is a little over dramatic.

But when my workmate asked me "Has the reality of what you're doing hit you yet?" I did feel a shiver of fear.

It is true that I'm starting to become more aware of the fact that I am ACTUALLY going to Spain- it's not a dream/fantasy/possible nightmare. My confirmation forms are away. I haven't heard back from my school yet but the British Council told me that's perfectly normal and I may not hear back until September.

I've been researching flights and it looks like it's going to be a pretty long journey to get there at any sensible hour. The one good thing about going up and down to uni every week is that I've become completely used to and comfortable with travelling so I'm not too bothered about spending hours on the road. Cheeky wee travel sickness tablet, an ipod and a book and you'll have bother getting me back on flat ground to be honest. (Seriously anyone who has trouble with travel sickness try Stugeron, it works amazingly well) Besides there's no way I'm not travelling round Spain just because it'll mean an early start and a long trip so I may as well get used to it!

When I say I've been researching flights that doesn't mean I've thought about buying them yet. That would be far too terrifying.

There's also insurance to buy, and of course every company has THE BEST POLICY EVER YOU JUST HAVE TO BUY, until you want to make a claim of course, in which case our line is busy.

Oh and I have decided that I'm definitely going to try and find accommodation in Almería and travel to work each day- there's a bus every 15 minutes and I don't think I could cope not living in a city anymore! Also anything which means I can walk to a central station and ask about train/bus times has to be a plus. After spending 2 hours + trying to figure out Spanish bus websites and finding out that renfe.es was described by Trip Advisor as "Like Alice in Wonderland where nothing seems to be what it really is" I think I'll stick to working out my travel in person!

Oh dear this post has a very negative tone doesn't it? No, I'm still very excited and pleased to be going- I'll just be more happy once I get there in one piece!

Hasta la vista :)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

I love lists. 

There are four types of people:

1. The unorganised, unorganised person: This person makes no attempt whatsoever to give the impression that they know where their passport is ten minutes before their flight- nor do they know where it is. This  person lives in chaos and everyone knows it.
2. The unorganised, organised person: They may have a 'stuff' cupboard, which looks like a charity shop vomited in it but they know EXACTLY where that diary is, from 1999, which they only wrote in once.
3. The organised, unorganised person: They have individually labelled storage boxes inside their storage boxes but god knows where that bloody passport is.
4. The organised, organised person: Think Monica from 'Friends'. And be afraid, very afraid.

Apologies for the fact that you will now be unable to use the word organised for at least a week.

Anyways the point of this little anecdote is that I'm generally a mix of number 2 and 3, as in I know the dress I reallllllllly want to wear is in my wardrobe....somewhere.... at the back.... under a thing. I think.

However the way I add order to chaos is by endless list making. I LOVE lists. I make lists on a daily basis; long, short, necessary, unnecessary. ButI write them everywhere- the back of a cereal pack, the tv guide, most frequently my hand. The more relevant I will post here so other year abroaders can use and adapt. Well that's my excuse- the real reason is that I'll lose them down the back of the sofa.

So to start us off:

The list of lists. 

(yes I really am going to make a list of all the lists I need) 

  • Acceptance confirmation i.e. all forms to be sent/ companies to be contacted. 
  • Preparation: banking, doctors, what I need to buy.
  • Packing: fitting my life into a suitcase
  • Getting there- bus timetables, flights etc.  
  • Blogs/ diaries I need to keep: both official and unofficial 
  • What needs done once I get there. 
  • Where I want to visit once there
  • What I want to do there ( the fun one :) ) 
Sometimes I wonder if I'm a little insane but then I get distracted by something shiny.... 

Friday, 13 July 2012

And so it begins....

Why hello there!

After months of waiting, waiting and more waiting I FINALLY know where I'm heading for my year abroad!

I was allocated to my first choice region- Andalucía, which is in the south of Spain:

Yesterday I got confirmation of where I will be teaching! It's a town called Aguadulce, about 10km away from Almería, which is a very pretty but fairly unknown city. I will be the Auxiliar de Conversación for a bilingual primary school- C.E.I.P Arco Iris, where I'll be working about 12 hours a week. Initially I'd wanted to work in a secondary school but I'm actually quite relieved to be given younger children- hopefully they'll respect me a tiny bit more (please, please, please). Also their website plays happy music when you open it :) http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/averroes/centros-tic/04005594/helvia/sitio/

Today I wrote to the Director del Centro, which was terrifying for two reasons:
1) I have forgotten all Spanish I ever knew.
2) The email address looked extremely weird and I had a mild panic attack when I thought I might have to phone the school and actually talk in spanish to find out where to write to.

Fortunately I realised that as weird as it looks it is the correct address so now I'm just waiting for the reply. In the meantime I have to fill out erasmus grant forms, wait to find out when my induction day will be and then confirm my position once I hear back from my school.

I'm a lot more excited now I know where I'm going and slightly less nervous. Being placed in a town near a city is pretty much the best of both worlds AND the school is straight down the road from the beach. 

Also checking out where I'm going on Google Images definitely helped!