Year Abroad in Numbers

42 weeks in total spent in Spain.

2 visits back to the U.K.

Visits from family and friends: 3.

13 English Language Assistants based in Soria capital.

6 Americans encountered in Soria.

40, 150 habitants of Soria province.

Worked at my secondary school 4 days a week.

Lived with 2 female Spanish students.

Lived with 13 pets. 1 ferret and 12 goldfish.

9 different autonomous communities visited in Spain.

Number of mobile phones stolen/lost: 1.

3 pairs of sunglasses broken/lost.

Number of different people (friends!) that slept in my pull-out trundle bed: 5.

Number of times patatas bravas ordered over the year: 784739272.

Number of times patatas bravas were willingly shared: 0.

52 Year Abroad blog-posts (including this last one!).

Value of a Year Abroad: Priceless.

A big thank you to everyone who’s followed and supported my blog over the last 12 months! Hasta la próxima vez! Besos 😀

Oyster

I travelled quite a lot during my Year Abroad, which I had kind of expected to do, but never to the extent at which I actually did. From San Sebastián in the far North to Cádiz on the Southern coast, I felt I did do a good job travelling the width and breadth of the country and all from Soria, the city that claims to be poorly connected. There were some regions that I didn’t get a chance to see/see enough of… Castilla La Mancha, Extremadura, Valencia, Andalucía and Galicia, I’m coming for you next time!

Forget the world for now, it was Spain that became my oyster during my 10-month stint there. Here’s a handy map to highlight my travels:

map_of_spain

To find out more about any of the destinations highlighted in green above, click on the links below which will direct you to the relevant blog-post:

Alcalá de Henares

Almazán

Barcelona

Bilbao/San Sebastián

Burgos

Cádiz

Jerez de la Frontera

Logroño

Madrid

Murcia/Alicante

Pamplona

Sevilla

Zaragoza

Five Memorable Moments from my Year Abroad

To mark one year since I left the English rain for the Spanish sol (yes, September 4th 2012…*looks back fondly*) here’s a special blog-post charting some of the highlights from my unforgettable Year Abroad in Spain:

1. Sevilla

The last stop on my little Andalucía tour post-Semana Santa was Sevilla and it really stole my heart. There was something about that city that made it so enchanting and vibrant. The architecture was just stunning everywhere, the little alleyways, the flamenco, the wide, open streets, the buzzing atmosphere, the surrounding neighbourhoods, being reunited with my friend …people couldn’t believe that I preferred it over Madrid. The Alcazar, the Plaza de España and the Cathedral (Spain’s biggest) were just some of the places that made me fall in love with this southern city. There was just an endless list of things to do there and I really believe it’s one of Spain’s forgotten tourist destinations. When us Brits think of holidaying in Spain, we just think Madrid or any Spanish coastal resort, but for that added taste of culture and authenticity, people should seriously consider Sevilla. The weather there is pretty scorching all year round, too.

The sun setting on the Plaza de España

The sun setting on the Plaza de España

2. Segovia

On my third/fourth(?) weekend in Madrid, I was fairly confident I’d seen all the obvious things to see in the capital city so was desperate for an excursion to either Segovia or Toledo, both beautiful cities that make for manageable day-trips. Having a friend in Segovia made the choice quite easy, so a couple of the lads and I went back into Castilla y León briefly to visit my amiga. We visited all the sights, had a nice picnic with a view of the Alcázar (the one that allegedly inspired the Walt Disney castle), the weather was amazing, we spoke Spanish the whole time and just strolled around the mini-city stress-free and high on life. It’s a pretty simple recipe really but everything came together on that day in just the right amounts to make it perfect. (Oh, and we went out in Madrid that night too which is always fun).

Post-picnic photo-shoot outside the Alcázar

Post-picnic photo-shoot outside the Alcázar

3. Viernes de Toros

The third day of the Fiestas de San Juan in Soria was easily the best and most enjoyable. The party atmosphere in the bull-ring for both bull-fighting sessions was just incredible and unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Even though the actual bull-fighting didn’t make for comfortable viewing at times, I was relieved to have finally ticked this important Spanish cultural experience off of the list. With my bright, lime-green flamenco apron and a straw hat (a weird combination for fancy dress, I know) I remember being ready to continue the party into the streets of La Zona and beyond. I remember the music being the best I’d heard all year (being able to recognise Spanish songs is an achievement when they all have the same melody). Due to excessive calimocho consumption, I don’t remember much else about that day…but I know it was an incredible day!

A fun kind of chaos in the bull-ring.

A fun kind of chaos in the bull-ring.

4. Being published

Pursuing a career in journalism had been an idea I was toying with for some time prior to starting my Year Abroad. I wanted to create an opportunity for myself during the year, to get some experience of the sector in Spain with the aim of being published on a regular basis. It was a long journey, so please bear with!

A few initial emails at the start of the year gave me no replies. It was randomly, one day, that I mentioned it to one of my English teachers who said she would accompany me to the offices to chat through any opportunities with the director of the local newspaper. I was initially terrified of doing this but I was assured that the director was lovely and she would surely jump at the chance to employ volunteers and introduce a foreign insight into the paper. The discussions went well and she said maybe there was a chance I was able to contribute on a regular basis to the weekly school supplement, but she would contact me the following week to let me know. Of course, she never did. I went back 3 weeks later (myself that time…again, terrifying) to check whether she’d forgotten about me. She assured me I hadn’t and said she’d get back to me but still no word.

In the end, a local I had become good friends with said she knew someone that worked for the paper and maybe she could be a way in for me. I wrote two articles to be considered for the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section (both of which are published on this blog: here and here) but they were unsuitable apparently. One day, I suddenly received an email from this friend of a friend saying that the director would like me to write something about my experiences as a language assistant. Of course, I would! I worked on it, had it checked and perfected within 2 days, sent it to her and she said it would be printed in the school supplement the following week.

Job done? Not quite. The day the article was due to be published, I was travelling in San Sebastián so some friends had agreed to buy the paper for me. To my disappointment, the first half of my article had been printed twice with the final line of the article being the most negative bit of the piece (the article overall was quite positive but given the circumstances, I wasn’t going to lie about my suitability in the Science classes). I was genuinely so devastated. I knew a lot of people were surely going to see the piece and I was worried I had misrepresented the school. Of course, none of it was my fault – it was a printing error – but still felt it was the paper’s way of humiliating me for my relentless effort to get involved throughout the year.

The disappointment passed and I forced myself to forget all about the unfortunate debacle and enjoy my time in País Vasco. It was the following week, however, when I was walking out of the language school, I bumped into someone I had met at language exchanges that told me he had read my article. “It’s really good”, he kept saying, to which I kept replying “but there’s a mistake in the printing!” He then let slip that he had read it in that day’s paper meaning it had been reprinted. I refused to get excited until I saw it with my own eyes so we ran to the nearest bar that would still have the paper at 7pm and, lo and behold, there it was in the middle page spread. I was probably the happiest person in Soria that day: I was thrilled and so relieved. It was getting to the end of my year in Spain and finally I had managed to get my name in the paper. 😀

<3

Por fin.

5. Playing Catan

You’d be forgiven for having never heard of this game. ‘Settlers of Catan’ was quite confusing when I first was introduced to it – it involves getting points by building settlements of various sizes on a board (in its most basic description). I was never any good at it at first, but I learned to love it and like to think I improved!

The one constant across all of these memorable moments is the people I spent it with. Playing board games like Catan, sitting in coffee shops, holding dinner parties, going on nights-out and doing crazy, spontaneous things with my new international friends were what really made my Year Abroad experience. Without them, it would’ve been quite a miserable, lonely stint in Spain and so to them I say: thank you for making this an incredible year.

The Birds of Spain

One thing a lot of family members and friends have been asking me since I’ve returned home is: ‘What are the Spanish birds like?’ I never really know what the best response to this question is, so I’m going to answer it in the only way I know how… with a blog-post.

If you've been following my blog, you might recall the fright I had when this giant bird flew into my path while walking along the Duero in Soria. It's a buitre leonado (Gyps fulvus), a vulture found in southern parts of Europe but more commonly in the Middle East.

If you’ve been following my blog, you might recall the fright I had at the start of the year when this giant bird flew into my path while walking along the Duero in Soria. It’s a buitre leonado (Gyps fulvus), a vulture found in southern parts of Europe but more commonly in the Middle East.

Saw this black swan with its characteristic red beak on my day-trip to Tarazona.

Saw this black swan with its characteristic red beak on my day-trip to Tarazona. They are more typical of Australia and its surrounding coastal islands but populations were introduced in Britain and western Europe some centuries ago.

Terrorising beach-goers around the world, this humble seagull was spotted in Alicante.

Terrorising beach-goers around the world, this humble seagull was spotted in Alicante.

I love this photo too much not to include it in this little bird montage...even if it is just another seagull! This time in Cádiz, this photo really tested my bird-watching/photography skills!

I love this photo too much not to include it in this little bird montage…even if it is just another seagull! This time along the beautiful Cádiz coastline, this photo really tested my bird-watching/photography skills!

A visit to Alcalá de Henares is not complete without seeing more than your fair share of white storks. These giant nests can be observed on most buildings in the 'City of Storks'. You just won't be able to escape them. As much as I liked Alcalá, I could never spend too long in fear of being attacked by one of these beasts!

A visit to Alcalá de Henares is not complete without seeing more than your fair share of white storks. These giant nests can be observed on most buildings in the so-called ‘City of Storks’. You won’t be able to escape them! As much as I liked Alcalá, I could never spend too long there in fear of being attacked by one of these beasts!

Nothing beats a good old-fashioned white swan like these ones spotted in San Sebastián!

Nothing beats a good old-fashioned white swan like these ones spotted in San Sebastián!

This is by no means an extensive look into the birds you can expect to find in Spain – they’re just the ones I encountered on my travels (Bill Oddie, move over!). So to answer that recurring question…yeah, the birds are quite fit and well-dressed, but they have serious commitment issues as they tend to wander off!

A Year Abroad Review

Having been back at home for over a month now, I have had enough time to dwell on my 10-month stay in Spain, consider my successes and failures and give some tips for future language assistants.

Soria was just a lovely little city to be in. But before I packed my bags to leave, I was terrified though. There was hardly any information in English on the province online so I literally only relied on the short paragraphs that Wikipedia had to offer. I had rejected my first placement from the Junta (Council) because they had put me in a village of 10,000 people and I would be working with pre-school children, so I only accepted Soria because it was a lot bigger and it wasn’t advised to reject a second offer.

TIP 1: Research your destination in as much detail as you can before you go.

I had no idea about any of the attractions to be found in Soria or what the province was known for. I had only checked transport links, places to stay and had a brief look at the size on Google Maps. I was lucky that it had beautiful natural landscapes, a tight community and a University campus.

Knowing more about the province earlier, I probably could’ve made more calculated plans to integrate myself in various social groups and be more well-informed about places I needed to visit. When my Spanish (and general awareness) had improved, I discovered a myriad of websites dedicated to Sorian life. I can definitely see myself going back one day to see old friends, completed city developments and visit those gems I had missed out on!

[Since returning to England, a friend and I wrote a little piece about Soria for Third Year Abroad. Check it out here.]

TIP 2: Get bitten by the travel bug.

I can’t believe how many places I visited during my Year Abroad in Spain! So many different regions, new cultures and experiences that I would not have known about if I had confined myself to Castilla y Leon (funnily enough, I visited very few places in my own autonomous community). These weekends away were what enriched my time abroad as I learnt so much about the impressive diversity of Spain. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Soria, but I love Spain and that was why I wanted to study Spanish in the first place.

Travelling so much was definitely a worthwhile investment. Unless you live and work in your chosen country in the future, when else will you be able to travel as easily from one city to another without having to catch a flight?

TIP 3: Mould your placement to your needs.

I wasn’t entirely happy to have ‘Science’ plastered all over my school timetable initially but I agreed to give it a go. After the first term, however, I knew I wanted to try something different; after all my degree is in English and Spanish so surely I would be allowed to play to my strengths and really benefit the students with my literature knowledge. I eventually managed to organise a change after much persistence but it was not the permanent arrangement I had wanted.

I felt quite underused and unhelpful in the Science classes: the teacher and pupils would ask me questions I was unable to answer and in the end, I felt she was using me less and less – apart from the odd presentation to deliver or activity to correct.

What I needed to do was be even more incessant with my Head of Department to force changes to my timetable and suggest more ways I could be more involved in the Science classes. At the end of the day, foreign language assistants travel from another country to work there and our happiness in the workplace should be their number 1 priority. We are costing their struggling Government money so teachers should know how to make the pupils really benefit from our presence (my suggestion: compulsory training days for all staff members that request a language assistant…). Even though working at the school was probably less than 10% of my overall Year Abroad experience, I would’ve liked to have enjoyed it more.

TIP 4: YOHOYA

You Only Have One Year Abroad (well, you might have more but the first time you live in a foreign country is always going to be the life-defining experience that you compare everything else to!). Throw yourself into absolutely everything, take ‘no’ out of your vocabulary and never say never! I was a bit hesitant at times but you really can’t afford to be when you’re in a different environment and you don’t know many people.

Every day abroad should be a new adventure and pose new challenges, be they mental, physical, linguistic etc. Every Erasmus student will hear this a million times… but you really do get out what you put in! You’ll find everyone wants a piece of the English speaker, so make sure you’re around enough to give it to them.

I had an unforgettable experience on my Year Abroad in Spain. I loved the chilled-out way of life, the amazing people I met and the vibrant culture. I genuinely believe the year has made me a much better person: it improved my work-ethic and made me more sociable, self-assured and driven. Having said that, there are some things I would’ve liked to have done differently as noted but I feel now I know how early I need to jump to prepare for any hurdles that come my way in the future.

I hope I will be able to hold on to this exponential improvement in my Spanish for the entirety of my Final Year of University next year and beyond. I hope I will be able to return to Spain for another lengthy period of time, maybe to live or work or travel. I hope this Year Abroad has put me in good stead to have a fulfilling career and happy life.

El sol y la sonrisa

I wrote this short article in Spanish while I was desperately trying to get published by the local newspaper. Soria was going through a period of unusual, intense cold at the time so it’s about the effect a bit of sunshine has on your spirits, how England compares and some stereotypes we have of the Spanish lifestyle. There are references to the exam period and the city’s imminent fiestas so you know it was written a while ago…but I may as well publish it somewhere so here it is:

Image from othershoesinthesea.com

Image from othershoesinthesea.com

Por todos es bien sabido que el tiempo influye en el estado anímico y la felicidad de las personas. No es fácil despertarse con una sonrisa si ves indicios de tormenta o de intenso frío, a través de la ventana.

Soy de Inglaterra, donde es un hecho bien conocido que llueve casi once meses al año y el cielo está siempre pintado de gris. Hay una creencia que sostiene que los ingleses están de mal humor, deprimidos y tristes de manera innata, y este pensamiento no es tan incierto. Allí el estilo de vida es fugaz y estresante, quizás como método para quemar la humedad que cae de arriba.

Si bien es cierto que Soria es una ciudad fría, parece ser que este periodo prolongado de lluvia y frío afecta de forma negativa al ánimo de sus habitantes que se sienten alicaídos. De hecho, todo el mundo insiste en que esto no es lo normal y que he elegido el peor año para venir aquí.

Respecto a este aspecto, hay una teoría que sustenta la posibilidad de que se trate de un castigo impuesto a los españoles debido a la mala gestión del país que ha derivado en la crisis económica. Podría ser una acción de Dios, así como una prueba de perseverancia y paciencia. Yo creo más en esta última opción.

Antes de venir aquí, no sabía que Soria era una de las provincias españolas más frías. A pesar de ello, me ha parecido que la gente soriana sabe cómo compensar esta circunstancia durante el verano, a veces un poco retrasado, y con la llegada de sus fiestas inminentes.

Toda la gente de fuera tiene una idea preconcebida de España: siempre hace un calor intenso y la gente sale de fiesta todos los días. Estos estereotipos no valen para nada, porque no son ciertos, pero es obvio que cuanto mejor sea el clima de un país, más saldrá la gente a la calle para beber o quedar con los amigos.

Durante esta época de exámenes y otras fuentes similares de estrés y ansiedad, hay que recordar que la temporada estival está a la vuelta de la esquina. Así que, la próxima vez que salga el sol quizá sea para señalar el inicio del verano, lo que elevará el ánimo de las personas y contribuirá a mantener la sonrisa definitiva. No hace falta ningún estudio científico para probar la validez de este tipo de hipótesis.

SanJuanes In Pictures

A separate picture round-up for the Fiestas de San Juan 2013 in Soria. Now this really is the end of the ‘In Pictures’ series! 😦

On the 2 hour walk back from Valonsadero on Jueves La Saca (Thursday), we saw these giant fences which were put up to keep the bulls on the right path to the bull ring.

On the 2-hour walk back from Valonsadero on Jueves La Saca (Thursday), we saw these giant fences which were put up to keep the bulls on the right path to the bull ring.

A bull charges towards the matador. One of the best photos I took during the bullfights of Viernes de Toros (Friday).

A bull charges towards the matador. One of the best photos I took during the bullfights of Viernes de Toros (Friday).

Joining the lively, buzzing atmosphere at the street party after the bullfights on Viernes de Toros (Friday).

Joining the lively, buzzing atmosphere at the street party after the bullfights on Viernes de Toros (Friday).

Checking out another cuadrilla and their auctioning of the bull meat on Sábado Áges (Saturday).

Checking out another cuadrilla and their auctioning of the bull meat on Sábado Áges (Saturday).

The women wear these traditional dresses in the scorching heat to parade through town on Domingo de Calderas (Sunday).

The women wear these traditional dresses in the scorching heat to parade through town on Domingo de Calderas (Sunday).

Heading towards the crowds along the banks of the river on the last day of the Fiestas, Lunes de Bailas (Monday).

Heading towards the crowds along the banks of the river on the last day of the Fiestas, Lunes de Bailas (Monday).