A month in the Spanish countryside

  Ponteareas at night. The town close to where I am staying
Ponteareas at night. The town close to where I am staying

About a month ago I made the move to Spain to improve my Spanish, before heading to South America for the summer.

I’ll be perfectly candid, I was really frustrated for the first week I was there because I felt like I was still really struggling with understanding what was being said to me (I only spoke English to the kids I was helping to look after). I fell into the trap of thinking that since I could read and write to a good level, I wouldn’t find it so hard with the listening/speaking aspect. Boy, was I wrong. For what felt like an eternity, my only responses were “sí, está bien, vale” (yes, it’s okay, okay). This frustration was compounded by my wisdom tooth playing up and an eye infection. I was stressing out that I would need to go to a hospital and I couldn’t even speak Spanish and that I would die! I didn’t die. Both health problems resolved themselves after home remedies. But you see how easily one problem can make everything else (no matter how small) seem like the world is about to implode. I felt like I was supposed to be having the time of my life, I was in Spain, experiencing a new culture and working on my Spanish. All of things I had wanted to be doing, but I just felt so disheartened and frankly, discouraged by it all. I started to think maybe this was the wrong move and I should have just got a proper job like everyone else.

My advice when this happens, is to take a step back and breathe. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get some perspective. And if that doesn’t work, add in some reflection to the breathing. I had only been in the country for a week, there was no way I was going to become fluent over night. So, even though my responses were still quite limited, I was understanding so much more than when I had first arrived. And it had only been a week! I’m so impatient and I think it’s the same for a lot of people my age, we don’t like standing still and not seeing progress. We want things to happen now, and that’s reflected in how we work and go about things. We just go for it, and try and I truly admire that about our generation. But it can also be problematic when things aren’t happening so quickly. It’s easy to feel stagnant when you’re used to a fast pace and then that feeling creates frustration. Which is why reflecting and recognising small wins like my increased understanding of the language is important for staying motivated and on track to achieving our goals.

  My first night without the kids with Ana!
My first night without the kids with Ana!

My frustrations started to ebb near the end of my first week. I’d had two Spanish classes, my confidence was slowly climbing back. I had also started to socialise more with people my own age. I know as humans we are social beings and thrive in social situations, but moving to a new country on your own where you don’t speak the language so well, really takes that point home. I really missed my friends and family, I missed being able to just talk… with ease. I took every opportunity to talk to people back home, texting and video chatting because I felt quite socially isolated in that first week, my only friends were the kids. And whilst they are great kids and the entire family have been so nice and welcoming, I needed to be around people I could relate to.

Luckily, with the internet it is so easy to meet new people. I’ve been using Bumble’s BFF feature to meet other young people in the area and I was able to connect with Carla, a language assistant who is not that far away and who is in the same boat. She came all this way to improve her Spanish and knew no one. We clung to each other like we were the last surviving humans on earth. It was a good thing we got on. The family I’m with have also introduced me to two other girls (Ana and Paula) who are a lot closer and I can hang out with during the week. Being able to make friends whilst out here has definitely helped me settle in more, and feel more comfortable with spending the next several months here.

  Carla and I after a shopping trip in the nearby city of Vigo
Carla and I after a shopping trip in the nearby city of Vigo
  First attempt on the bike was rocky, but I lived to tell the tale
First attempt on the bike was rocky, but I lived to tell the tale

I’m currently in Ganade, a small neighbourhood near the small town of Ponteareas. The area is very different to what I am used to but I’m loving every aspect of it. It’s nice to be away from the chaotic atmosphere of London. Here, I feel like it’s okay to take things slow and really appreciate the surroundings. And the surroundings are incredible. In my first week, I explored some parts of Ganade on bike, an equally terrifying and great experience. I haven’t ridden a bike in years, there are no road markings and the cars are on the opposite side! After some nervous swaying, I did eventually get the hang of it (and changing gears) so I was fully able to appreciate the scenery around me. The area is surrounded by forest and there is one stretch of the road shrouded with tall trees, that looks fresh out of a horror movie. In-between the forest and houses, there are patches of land with grape used for the local wine. I was told that there are usually people who come and pick the grapes over the summer, and there’s a whole spectacle of crushing them and making the wine, which the region is famous for. There’s still so much I have to explore and learn about the area, but I’m here for a while so there’s no huge rush. But what I do know so far, is that Ganade is a sweet escape.

  A sunny day spent relaxing by the pool, writing…
A sunny day spent relaxing by the pool, writing…

My main job whilst out here is to have one-on-one English sessions with the four kids during the week, whilst also speaking with them in English to develop their conversational skills. Even though I am here working, I have enough time to work on other projects like this blog, which is great. I’ve also been able to rekindle my love of creative writing, which is amazing as it’s something I have truly missed doing. I love that I have been able to develop other aspects of myself as well as my Spanish. I definitely got a writer’s retreat vibe at the start, and at times I still do. In the sense that, I feel like I’m here to work on my creative process and myself.

Which brings me on to another goal I have set myself whilst I am out here. I’m going to run a half marathon! The Madrid EDP Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon to be exact. Anyone who knows me, knows I truly dislike running but it’s something I have always wanted to get into, and as I am on a budget this year, it is the cheapest way to stay fit. And because I know myself very well, and I knew that I wouldn’t be motivated to run without a purpose, which is what prompted the half-marathon. With a target in place, it would be much easier to motivate myself to go running a few times a week. I didn’t want to rock up to Madrid in April with no preparation and fall flat on my face in front of thousands of people (avoiding embarrassment is also a great motivator).

  View from my running path along the Río Tea, Ponteareas
View from my running path along the Río Tea, Ponteareas

It took me a week to muster up the courage to go running outside. I was very self-conscious about it, and didn’t like the idea of people watching me from their windows as I attempted to move my legs in a run. These insecurities were holding me back from my potential and after talking to a few people about it, I realised that they were baseless. There was no reason for me to be anxious about spectators, they were busy with their own lives! And if I was busy running, I wouldn’t be able to see if anyone was watching.

We can sometimes get caught up on what other people might think about us, or about what we’re doing. To the extent where it hinders our ability to live our lives they way we want to. You are the one living your life, not anyone else, so why should it matter what they think? As long as you are happy and living your best life, someone’s opinion is not a factor. Because it is their opinion, not a fact. I know it’s not always easy to shake these kind of thoughts, it took me a week to go running, remember? But, so long as you remind yourself once in a while, that you are the sole agent of your life, it will start to become a habit. And it will be easier to pursue your ambitions.

The result of recognising my agency in my life? I am now able to run five kilometres (three miles) without pause and I feel so energised and empowered, I’m going to run a ten kilometre race next month.

I challenge you to do the same. Forget about what other people might think and do something that you have always wanted to do. Be fearless, be a brave new you!

SOME PICTURES FROM THE PAST MONTH

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