Travelling abroad can be scary, you wonder if you’re going to make any friends, if the local people are going to understand you or if you’re even going to like it there. Don’t worry, everyone who travels abroad by themselves will have thought these thoughts over and over, until they sound like a broken record, but have no fear, being abroad is just like being home but in a different country. Being in Spain at times is much like being in Wales, there are supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, night clubs, beaches etc. However in other ways it’s unique, for example, they speak a different language (Spanish), it’s an hour ahead of the UK and people here never seem to sleep – you’ll still see families with young children out for dinner at 11 o’clock at night! This is what makes travelling so special, you might find the same commodities you’re used to such as supermarkets, cars, houses, but you’ll notice that there is always something new to learn by being around different cultures.
Since being in Spain, I’ve met so many people from different backgrounds and nationalities. It’s great to be able to go out for dinner or drinks with friends and realise that you are all from various countries. The other night I met up with some friends and we were all from different places: Russia, Moldova, South Korea, Thailand, Ireland, Spain and Britain (me); we went to a Spanish tapas restaurant and later had cupcakes in this cute, little cafe run by a Canadian couple. It’s great when you get to go to a different country and still manage to meet so many people from other countries, each with their own mannerisms, languages, food and way of thinking. In my opinion it’s vital that we meet and interact with people outside our local vicinity, because it allows us to have conversations and exchange ideas with people who we might not necessarily have ever contemplated.
As part of my degree, I have to take a compulsory year abroad (what a shame ;D…) which means that I have to spend a year working in a school in Spain. I’m currently working as a SEN support learner at King’s College Alicante, it can be quite demanding at times but also incredibly rewarding. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these children who are struggling or have learning disabilities, are also learning every subject in their second language, their first being Spanish. Therefore many of them who are dyslexic, have Asperger’s, are autistic or simply just have very severe learning difficulties are in fact bilingual or even polyglot as many also speak Valencian, which is the local dialect in the Valencia province. It’s incredible to think that these kids have been given such an advantage in life, an advantage that allows them to be bilingual in two of the most spoken languages in the world.
At work, there are a group of other Erasmus students who are from the UK, there is a total of five of us who are each either taking a year abroad or are on a year in industry placement. Therefore sometimes you don’t have to study languages (although I highly recommend you do) in order to get the chance to travel and study abroad, in fact being an Erasmus student means you have the opportunity to work or study in destinations such as Australia, the USA, Spain, France etc. Even though we are all studying in the UK, two in Essex and the other two in Leeds, one of them is from Bulgaria, which makes it really interesting as he is always trying to teach me phrases and words in Bulgarian, plus he always cooks such interesting food, which he shares with the rest of us. Like I said before, it’s great to be able to taste all this food from different countries, without actually having to go to pay to go to a restaurant or leave the comfort of your home; all you need is good company.
We aren’t the only Erasmus students working at school. Whereas we have been hired to work there for the entire academic year, there are also local Erasmus students, from the University of Alicante, who are employed to work there for a term at a time. Even though it was really sad when the first lot of Spanish students finished there in December and went back to University, it also meant that a whole new group of students were arriving in the second term and they are also just as lovely. It’s great being able to practice my Spanish with them and it’s interesting to see how Spanish people also have a different sense of humour. Whereas British humour can be quite dry, the Spanish sense of humour tends to be cheesier and less politically correct, they are always making fun of themselves.
All in all, I would say that so far, I have really enjoyed my year abroad in Spain. It has definitely been a learning curve, especially adapting to a different culture, however every time I make a new friend here or learn a new Spanish phrase, I know it’s definitely worth it. It’s so easy to go abroad and never get out of your comfort zone, choosing instead to spend your time at home or just speaking English, but while that’s an easy routine to get stuck in to, it doesn’t challenge you or allow you to meet new people.
So while you’re abroad, make sure you visit towns and cities in the surrounding areas, seeing both the tourist landmarks and also just enjoying the city like a local. Go out when the locals go out, go to the places where the locals go; don’t just follow all the other tourists, because chances are, you’re getting charged extra at over-priced restaurants or coffee shops. I would also recommend you try the local cuisine, even if it looks slightly weird, chances are it will actually taste really nice and you’ll keep going back for seconds every time.