Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pre-departure Problemas


The other day, I was out for lunch with some friends and was talking about my impending 8-month stay as an English assistant in Spain.  I promised to keep in touch via email and said that I might also start a blog, as I've always wanted to write one and will probably have a lot of time on my hands.   I got such an excited and positive response (something along the lines of – 'YES!! Start a BLOG!!! You should DEFINITELY have a blog. I'll read it!') that I couldn't refuse.  So here it is.

For anyone who doesn't know me and has just stumbled across this, I've just graduated in law and French and most people think that it's insane that I want to go to Spain to teach English.  And perhaps you will also  be asking yourself:  'What has that got to do with your degree?  Why don't you train as a lawyer and make lots of money?   What are you running away from?'

To answer the first question, it has more to do with my degree than it may appear.  Five years ago, I made the decision not to study Spanish at uni, but only on the condition that I'd learn to speak the language fluently myself.   I knew this would probably entail moving to Spain alone, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if I'd ever have the balls to do so.  Thankfully, I soon grew a pair when I realised that I wasn't going to get very far in life if I was afraid of spending some time in my own company.  To answer the second and third questions, I want to see the world, meet different people and learn new things* before succumbing to the rat race.  Running away is about avoidance - this trip is about discovery.

Now, you'd think that having the whole 'I'm moving to Spain' plan in mind for five years would mean that I have everything impeccably organised.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  I got back from Nepal just under a fortnight ago and have been frantically trying to come up with some sort of plan ever since then.  The first problem I have encountered has been a big one:  I was supposed to get a wage advance before going away, but since the British Council office in Nepal omitted to send my contract to Edinburgh, my only source of money for the forseeable future is my credit card.  This means that getting a £500 direct flight to Logroño is out of the question.  As is spending £70 a night on a hotel.

The only way of getting round this problem is to do things on the cheap, which firstly means that it's going to take me 24 hours just to get to Spain.  I leave on Tuesday night and will be having a sleepover in Stanstead Airport (I thought I was the only broke and miserable soul who would be doing this until I found this website -, then I'll take a plane to Bilbao and a train to Logroño on Wednesday.  When I arrive, I'll be couchsurfing for a few days with a couple (who thankfully speak English because the woman is American) whilst I look for a flat. I told my hairdresser all this yesterday and she said that she'd be dubious about staying with strangers, but I said they seem nice and they have two daughters, so it should be OK.  Her response? 'Rose and Fred West had daughters too...'

My next problem is that my school won't tell me where I'm supposed to be looking for a flat.  I'll be teaching about 30 miles outwith Logroño and had planned to commute from there every day, but apparently my timetable might make this difficult.  I emailed to see if there was any way of tailoring my teaching hours so that I can take the bus home, but the answer I got was basically: 'I don't know and I couldn't even tell you who might.'   To ensure I don't end up homeless, I'm still looking for a flat in the city and am hoping for the best. I've sent out emails in broken Spanish every day this week and some people have given me numbers to phone when I arrive, but this worries me because my Spanish is crap and speaking on the phone in a different language is a very difficult skill to master.  I remember answering the phone in my house in France once and all I picked up was something about refereeing a basketball game.  The message my housemates got that night was: 'Someone phoned, I don't know who. They said something about basketball, I think?  They were a referee or they were looking for a referee or... something like that? Hmm, maybe they'll phone back.' Anyway, I'm thinking about just texting the people and seeing if they reply, but I employed that tactic when I was looking for a flat in Barcelona two summers ago and I still can't claim to have found one... (I did visit a place near the Sagrada Familia, but decided against living there. The woman had a big statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the telly and told me that boys weren't allowed in my bedroom at night, like 'ungodly' things never happen in the daytime.)

The other issue that I'll have to overcome this year is my complete and utter lack of any sense of direction. In Nepal, I didn't venture out unaccompanied for a whole month as I couldn't even navigate my way from my house to the main road.  So even if I actually get to Logroño, I'm not massacred by the people from couchsurfing and I manage to arrange flat viewings via text message, I'll still have a bit of a problem.

This trip would be a lot easier if I could take an interpreter and a guide dog.

* Along with the Spanish learning, acquiring some cookery and guitar playing skills are on my list for the next 8 months!