My Spanish Experience Pt. 1

I had no intention of living in Spain for sixteen years. Back in the 80’s, I could not decide which “A” Level to take, along with French and English Literature. I chose Spanish because I didn’t know what else to do. Since I had no knowledge of the language whatsoever, I was prepared to work extra hard over the summer holidays before starting the course, and teach myself the basics.

It was tough doing a course where all the others had reached quite a good level and I didn’t even know the Spanish alphabet but I stuck with it and managed to get into university to study Spanish and French.

The course was excellent and included a lot of practical work. During the third year, I had to spend six months in each country, so I spent six months living in an ancient French student residence, which was an experience in itself. There were no fridges in the student kitchens on each floor – “kitchen” meaning an empty room with one kitchen unit where there were two gas stoves for about fifty students, and nothing else. Our fridges consisted of plastic supermarket bags containing cut-price Camembert and half a squidgy packet of butter hanging out of our cell-like bedroom windows. Needless to say, we only had “fridges” in winter. Luckily, I wasn’t there in summer to find out what it was like living among unrefrigerated dairy products.

I worked in the throat cancer department of a hospital in Reims in the area of La Champagne, teaching English to the doctors there and supping the local produce in my free time (I considered it an essential part of my university project on the economic crisis in the champagne industry in the late eighties.)

From there, I went straight to Spain and spent the following six months teaching English to children in a private academy in a small village situated amidst snow-topped mountains and forests, a proper rural village in the outback of Spain, which even included a knife grinder on a battered old bicycle, playing a tin whistle to tell you he was on his way to sharpen your knives for you.

My poor level of Spanish improved dramatically once face to face with Spanish natives. One thing is to study Specialised Translation of texts concerning the state of the economy and interest rates, and quite another to live among foreign speakers and converse with them on daily, mundane subjects in order to be able to live comfortably alongside them.

So began my Spanish adventure, although I had no idea that I would stay on to live here and marry a Spaniard when I had, in fact, been crossing off the days on a calendar, counting down to when I would be able to go back home. I did go home, of course, to finish the final year of my degree and then returned, having met my future husband shortly after starting my work experience in that village.

It is hard living abroad. So many things are different. I had to sacrifice many things, mainly my family (it is best not to think of the money spent on phone calls over the years) and a good, well-paid job. I was insulted, hit, laughed at, criticised and incredibly lonely over the years. I have also got two beautiful, precious children who compensate for all the bad times.

I did like Spain. The way of life suited me and relaxed me, and most people treated me well and with respect, especially as I was the local English teacher in a small village in south east Spain for five years. It suited me to go out of the front door of my house and find myself among vineyards and cornfields and appreciate pink and cream blossom trees, swooping swallows and warm, cloudless spring days that turned into hot, dusty summer days that were constantly accompanied by the sound of cicadas, as you hid from the fierce heat in the cool shade of your shuttered, dark house.

I also liked the verdant English countryside, black and white Tudor houses, thatched cottages and red post boxes. This often left me torn between the two countries, tormented by the stark, dry beauty of Spain, with its multiple yellows and desert browns, and the rich greens and earthy browns of England, leaving me wondering and confused as to where my home was, or should be.

Whatever my family and I would decide to do in the future, one thing was certain. Through ups and downs, sad and happy moments, the births of my two children, this Spanish experience was definitely worth having.

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