By Andrew H., Auxiliar de Conversación 2019/2020-2020/2021 in Murcia.
The Differences between Being a Tourist and Living Abroad
From the age of 10, I have travelled to many different countries with my family. Any of these stays would last at most two weeks and no more. Due to this we would never venture far outside of our comfort zones or gain command in any real way over the native language.
I have been to Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Thailand, and England. I had also been to Spain before: Catalonia and Lanzarote. On every stay, though so diverse, I was kept within a bubble of my parents sorting out things such as accommodation and language was never something I would face. This would be completely different when becoming an Auxiliar de Conversación and moving to live for real in the foreign southern European country of Spain.
The language, the culture, and the people were going to be something I would have to adapt to. One thing I always recalled from my youth was adjusting to the heat whenever. Trying to sleep at night as the temperature was so drastically different to Ireland. Also, we as a family would have significant time off only in summers, thus we would only visit all of these hot countries in their hottest seasons of the year.
The Spanish Lifestyle: a Foreigner Living in Spain
One thing I love about Spain is the darker tan skin of the people and their love of Japanese media, books and television games. It’s even something I can empathise with along with my students that I teach in both primary and secondary school.
I love the beaches of Spain especially as although the beaches of Ireland are in no short supply surrounding most of the country, as Ireland is an island at sea, Spain’s beaches are hot and warm. This allows you to go swimming there and sunbathe. Something impossible in Ireland.
This links to many Spaniards confusion at the Irish diet. Fish, in particular, is very common in Spanish cuisine. But in Ireland, a place surrounded by ocean, it is not that common. Paella with fish is very popular when I eat out with Spanish people. But they don’t realise Ireland’s coasts are freezing so fishing isn’t a primary recipe. Dairy products like cheese, milk, bacon, beef, stew, chicken, and other typical agricultural farm animals are what is most common on the Irish menu.
As long as I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve preferred Spanish food and drink to anywhere else I have traveled, but fish is always the one thing I will pass on. As much as my Spanish friends love it, I just don’t enjoy the flavor and will avoid it. Some things never change. I love all the types of tapas, meat, and cheese here and Spain contains an exhaustive array of scrumptious Spanish desserts to die for littered across every cafe. White chocolate cakes, tiramisu, and coffee lattes are my favorite sweet foods here.
My Routine in the Region of Murcia
Cafe’s and Frequent Spots
King Cafe is one of my most frequented spots during my day-to-day life in Cartagena city. It is a nice cafe on the street Calle Carmen, at the very top. It contains delicious food from tapas to desserts
It is run and owned by two red-haired lively Arabic brothers and a waitress, a neighbor of mine, and one of my best friends. She’s from Romania and they are from Morocco. So, they have traveled a great distance and undertaken a difficult foreign language to live and work here. Thus, there is a lot with which we can empathize.
The cafe contains a large-screen television, so it is the perfect place for me to watch Spanish football matches. I frequent the cafe so often that I drew a picture for the brothers and framed it. I gave it to them, they were so excited that they put it on display on the counter of the shop, where it remains to this day.
Ever since, when I get food there, they give me a loaf of bread full of special ingredients. The food is tailored to the observance of Ramadan, as the brothers are currently in the midst of abstaining from many types of food during this religious time. During these days the King arrived in the city of Cartagena for a short ceremony and though I missed the occasion, I was able to see it posted on the brothers’ YouTube channel, who were able to view it up close.
Both the brothers and the waitress speak in Spanish at all times, but it is not their native language. It tests my Spanish abilities whenever I speak to them, which is a useful experience. The main difference however is that they have been learning, living, and speaking in Spain for many years more than I, so I’ll continue to learn little by little, day by day.
I often watch Spanish football matches here from La Liga and am a supporter of FC Barcelona. The eldest brother is an ardent Real Madrid fan and celebrates whenever Barcelona concedes a goal or Madrid score. It is a funny experience when you go to a cafe, buy food only to watch a match where a friend and cafe owner celebrates and revels in the game, much to your dismay.
Spending the Weekends in Murcia
I go to Murcia city from my home of Cartagena every weekend for a change of scenery and a change of pace. After the lock-downs, travel restrictions, curfews, and everyone experiences during winter, it is very exciting to regain the freedom of travel once more, to venture out and to explore Spain once again.
Making New Friends
I frequent an English-style cafe in Murcia and have gotten to know many people who work there. I drew a waitress there and gave her the drawing. She requested that I make a drawing for her sister for her birthday and she would pay me. We have become good friends. I made three drawings that include the areas of Murcia, the gym, and the university she attends. At first, it was difficult to communicate as she would only speak in Spanish. However, she eventually realized that her English was better than she initially thought, and it was easier to communicate back and forth with her. It must be noted that even though the cafe is based on English culture, it does not guarantee the employees can speak the language..
I always speak Spanish anywhere I go in Spain and don’t expect others can respond in English as, especially in my experiences in the south, it is not a language many would have a command over.
Spanish Accents and Dialects
Another challenge living in Spain as a foreigner is the fact that Spain contains multiple different languages, not just dialects: castellano, vasco, catalán, and valenciano to name just a few.
My Bilingual Student
Last year when teaching in a primary school, my favourite student was asking about my sketchbook while I was showing the students all my drawings. She was asking me the questions in Spanish which at the time I simply could not translate. Much like the Arabic brothers of King Cafe who are bilingual, the girl student’s friend who is also Arabic was translating her question to me in English from Spanish. The Arabic student had very strong Spanish, English and Arabic despite only being six years old. It was stunning and very helpful for me.
My Experience as Au Pair
When I finish my role as an Auxiliar de Conversación in school in Spain, I always spend time as an au pair in the region of Valencia. Sometimes living with a native family doesn’t improve my Spanish as they speak valenciano, which sounds, to me, completely different from castellano – conventional Spanish, and contains many words and expressions akin to Catalan and neighboring France.
In the house, I live alongside the beautiful near-endless beach that stretches out to the Castillo de Peñíscola, a wonderful castle that had a scene from the television show Game of Thrones shot there. Agustín, the kid I teach, is eight but has good English along with being fluent in Spanish and valenciano. The two identical twin brothers, Oscar and David, speak superb English. Julia speaks only in valenciano, her father being from Catalonia. This makes speaking to her and understanding most difficult indeed.
Every year I spend in Spain is a great opportunity to improve my language skills and continue immersing myself in the Spanish community built by other cultures who have established here.
Spain is definitely my favourite country. I have been an Auxiliar de Conversación with ConversaSpain for two years now, and I love it!
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