A LITTLE LIFE UPDATE AND A TRIP TO LIVERPOOL

Hola a todos! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted a blog (my sincerest apologies), but I’ve just been having too much fun!

What has happened since my last post? Well, I’ve nearly completed my first two months of work, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. As I mentioned before, I work in an amazing school and I honestly do love it. The kids that I teach are so enthusiastic and willing to learn. They are also good at providing a confidence boost as they act like they’ve just seen a celebrity when I come into their classroom!

I have also managed to pick up some private lessons after school. The number of parents looking for a native speaker to come to their house to speak English with their kids is unbelievable. The demand is so high and it is a great way of earning some extra pocket money. This comes in handy as what I earn in a week from private lessons usually covers my groceries and transport for the week so I can use my salary for rent and travelling!

The beauty of private classes is that there is next to no preparation involved. Nada. All I have to do is turn up and speak to the kids in English, whether that be while playing, helping with their homework or just general conversation. My youngest students are 4 and 5 years old and during my last lesson with them we spent the whole hour painting. Yes, you read that correctly. I got paid to spend an hour painting with kids. I’m certainly not complaining.

In the middle of October, I took a trip back to the UK for my cousin’s hen weekend in Liverpool. This was an incredible weekend and the best part about it was that Lauren had no idea that I was coming! I have no idea how we all managed to keep it a secret from July to October. I still can’t watch the video of me surprising her without having a little cry!

As you can imagine, this weekend consisted of alcohol and a lot of laughs. From playing silly games to getting fully glammed up to go out on the Saturday night the fun literally did not stop. The highlights of this weekend for me were definitely the cocktail making class and finally getting to go to Popworld (a club where they only play cheesy pop music. Best club ever!)

hens2

Having spent the weekend with people from home, leaving to return to Spain on the Sunday was so sad. The girls were flying back to Belfast an hour before me so I had a while to wait on my own before my flight. Time to say goodbye crept up on us so quickly and next thing I knew I was sitting in Liverpool airport by myself bawling my eyes out. I really need to learn to control my emotions in airports!

In between my trip to Liverpool and now I have travelled to Valencia, Barcelona and Perpignan which I will write separate blog posts about as they were all great trips!

Unfortunately, two weekends ago I had a little accident and fell and sprained my ankle, which was awful. I spent the whole day in A&E on the Sunday and ended up in a plaster cast for a week. I was unable to walk and I was in so much pain. Thankfully it is now on the mend and the bruising and swelling have gone down significantly.

The week that I was in the cast was the first time I had properly felt homesick. I think it was mostly a case of being unable to do things for myself and just wanting to be in a familiar, more comfortable setting. I honestly would have loved nothing more than a hug from my mum (miss you mom) and a nice strong cup of tea made by someone else – because a cup of tea is always nicer when made by someone else! Cabin fever had definitely set in and when the weekend came around I was so glad to get out of my flat!

The homesickness didn’t last too long, however, as the next weekend two of my cousins came to visit me for the weekend! I rarely spend my weekends in Murcia as I usually try to travel and see other places so it was nice to have a relaxing weekend with my cousins. We spent most of our time in coffee shops and bars, chatting and watching the world go by.

murcia cousins

And with that, I think we are now up to date! I’m going to try my best to update my blog more frequently as I do enjoy filling you all in on what I get up to but sometimes I just can’t find the time. The saying is so true that time flies when you’re having fun.

Hopefully it won’t be as long between posts next time!

¡Hasta luego!

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THE FIRST WEEK OF WORK

For the past three weeks, I have just felt like I’m on holiday with no real purpose here in Spain. However, that bubble burst last Monday on my first day of work! This year I will be working in two Spanish primary schools as an English language assistant where my role will be to help the children improve their oral skills in English. One of the perks of this is that I only have to work 15 hours a week (some of us have it really tough, I know) so I will have plenty of free time to travel and socialise.

When last Monday morning finally arrived, I was unbelievably nervous. Everything was so unfamiliar and I didn’t know what to expect. I had met a handful of my colleagues briefly and I knew most of the English teachers that I would be working alongside but this still didn’t make me feel any better. Alongside this, I had been asked to prepare a presentation about myself which was scary enough in itself. I didn’t know whether it was interesting enough or if the children would understand it. I had so many worries that I was surprised I slept at all the night before.

presentation

The bus I take to school is supposed to arrive in the town where I teach at 8.47 but on Monday it didn’t arrive there until 8.55. This did nothing but add to my nerves as I thought I was going to be late (something I absolutely hate). I all but sprinted to school from the bus stop and apologised profusely to my mentor teacher for being late. However, she assured me that I was not late at all and said not to worry as I didn’t start teaching until 9.15!

After giving my presentation for the first time my nerves melted away completely and I felt quite silly for being nervous at all in the first place. When I thought about it, I was telling Spanish primary school children about myself and Ireland – somewhere they maybe hadn’t heard much about. Of course they were going to find it interesting! I was taken aback by how much they seemed to understand, especially as they were being told all of this new information by someone with a Northern Irish accent – again something they had probably never heard before.

The children seemed impressed with the new information I was telling them. They were especially taken aback with seeing a pound coin compared with a euro! It was so nice to hear whispers of ¡qué guay! (how cool) as I passed the coin around the class as it told me that they were genuinely interested.

As part of my role is to teach them some things about the UK and Ireland, I included some aspects about Irish culture in my presentation too. One of these aspects was Irish dancing and when I showed them a video of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance they seemed to be amazed! By the end of the week I had given this presentation 15 times, so trust me when I say I now know it by heart and I think I may even know the dance in the clip of Lord of the Dance by heart as well.

As you can imagine some of the questions they asked me after my presentation were interesting. They ranged from the ordinary to the slightly absurd. What’s your favourite colour? What’s your favourite animal? Do you like broccoli? Do you like Spain? Do you have a boyfriend? Are you married? It’s so funny seeing what innocent minds are curious about.

As I’ve said, my role is to help with the children’s English skills so they have been told that I don’t speak any Spanish and so I can’t answer them when they ask me something in Spanish. This is frustrating for all parties – for me, it is difficult not to answer them and tell them I understand them when they ask me something in Spanish. And of course, it is difficult for the children because they don’t always know how to ask what they want to know in English. The surprising thing is, however, that most of them do try their best to ask in English. They are not afraid to ask questions and when doing so, they refer to me as ‘Teacher Shannon’ which is so cute. It is so interesting for me to see how they put these questions together and you can almost see the tiny cogs in their heads turning as they almost translate from Spanish to English what they want to say.

Another amazing thing about the school I work most of my hours in, is that they are studying Harry Potter in English this year. This couldn’t be any more perfect as I absolutely love Harry Potter. I honestly feel like the time I spend here won’t feel like work at all as it is so enjoyable.

One thing I have noticed in the mornings is that it feels quite chilly, so I wear a cardigan when leaving to get the bus to go to work. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t actually chilly as it is around 18°. However, when it reaches 30° in the afternoon it definitely is chilly in comparison. It’s a nice problem to have, I know. It’s like the weather in September at home when you need to layer up in the morning but will end up being roasting by midday. Think like that – but tenfold.

Moving away from what happened at school this week, one exciting thing was my dad coming to visit me on Monday evening! He had been in Spain over the weekend on a trip with his friend to Alicante. It was so nice to meet up and catch up as I hadn’t seen my dad since the morning I left for Spain. Obviously we had spoken on the phone but that isn’t really the same as seeing someone in person. We had some dinner and drinks and I was able to walk them round the city without having to use google maps – I’m beginning to feel somewhat like a local!

me n dad

On Thursday night, my friend Nicole and I went for dinner with an assistant from her school and some of her friends. They meet up on a Thursday every week to try a new restaurant! This week we went to a tapas restaurant called Madre de Dios and the group said it was a bit fancier than the places they would usually go. Normally, they just order a lot of different things and share as that way everyone gets to try a bit of everything. I can sometimes be quite a fussy eater so when they started ordering things like octopus and rabo de toro (bull’s tail) I started to worry. However, due to some peer pressure I caved and tried everything – which I’m so glad I did as all the food was honestly amazing. My favourites were definitely the mushroom croquettas, patatas bravas (not your typical bravas but instead potatoes with bacon and fried egg) and the rabo de toro. When in Spain!

To relax after our ‘tough’ week at work, Nicole and I decided to go to the beach on Friday. It was amazing to just lie and relax in the sun and reflect on our week.

beach

To sum up, I had such an enjoyable week and I’m surprised that I enjoyed school as much as I did. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m so happy and I think I’ll have so much fun at work this year.

¡Gracias por leer y hasta pronto!

GALLIVANTING IN GRANADA

Last weekend I went on an Erasmus trip to the beautiful city of Granada! This city had been on my list of must see places to visit this year so when the opportunity came up to go for such a low price (85€ for transport, accommodation, ticket into La Alhambra and entry into a nightclub) and meet other international students I jumped at it.

The journey from Murcia to Granada is usually around 3 hours. However, in typical Spanish style, the bus left 45 minutes late and we took a half an hour stop half way through so we arrived much later than what it had said on the schedule. I have come to realise that most things do not happen at the arranged time here in Spain. Everything is relaxed and laid back so punctuality isn’t a strong point here.

Upon checking into our hostel, we were starving so decided to go to the Mercadona (a Spanish supermarket) to get bread, cheese and meat for sandwiches before heading off to la Alhambra. Of course, this was very cheap and I think my purchase came to 1.69€. I am still trying to get used to how cheap some food items are in the supermarkets!

La Alhambra is a palace and fortress from which you can see a view of the whole city of Granada as it is situated on top of a hill called al-Sabika. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most visited monuments in Spain. Most people visit la Alhambra to see the Palacio Nazaríes and we were no different. However, upon our arrival we were told that our ticket did not include entrance into this part and that you needed to book a ticket 3 months in advance to get in. It goes without saying that we were disappointed and a lot of people who were on the trip complained about this as we hadn’t been told previously that we wouldn’t be able to visit this part.

That being said, the other parts and the gardens of la Alhambra were beautiful and it definitely is a must see place if you are in Granada. The views from the towers are amazing! As you are so high up you literally can see everything and the little white buildings that Andalucía is famous for look incredible from such a height.

After our visit to la Alhambra it was time for some food and drinks. Most people opted to get taxis and a bus down to the city but we decided to walk and I’m so glad that we did! The walk down was really nice and as we were coming into the city we walked down a little cobble stoned street which was lined with little knick-knack shops. While most of them did sell a lot of tat, some also sold glass Granada style lamps which were beautiful.

Finding somewhere to eat proved quite difficult. Due to it being a Saturday, most places were very busy. As well as that, we were in a touristy area so the majority of restaurants were quite pricey. We settled on a place that sold tapas and typical Spanish food. It turned out that they had a meat paella on as a special so the majority of us opted for that. The paella was delicious but I wasn’t entirely sure what the meat was so left most of the meat.

paella

After dinner, the schedule said we were due to go to the Mirador de San Nicolas which is essentially a viewing point. It is opposite la Alhambra so from here you get a great view of la Alhambra as well as a view of the other side of the city. The walk up to the mirador was difficult to say the least as it was all uphill. Some of the little streets were so steep and the amount of houses on said streets was unbelievable. The people that lived there would certainly have a hike and a half to get anywhere they needed to go!

alhambra view

When we got up to the mirador, it turned out that there was a little fundraising event being held for the scouts. There was some live entertainment and a bar serving drinks. The atmosphere was buzzing and it was lovely to spend the evening there.

Thankfully, the walk down was much easier than the walk up and as we were walking down the sun was starting to set. There had been the option to get a taxi but again I was so glad we decided to walk as the views of the sun setting over the city were breath-taking.

The next part of our evening really isn’t worth talking about. The nightclub (or discoteca) that we went to left a lot to be desired and it was disappointing to say the least. We tried to make the most of our night but by half 3 we admitted defeat and headed home. By this stage we were all quite hungry and all I could think about were cheese chips with loads of red sauce from the chippy (if you know, you know). As you can imagine, this was completely unrealistic. I settled for chips and spicy sauce from a kebab shop and let me tell you – spicy doesn’t even cut it when it comes to describing this sauce. I like spicy food but this took it to the next level.

The next day we were supposed to go on a walking tour of the city but we slept in instead. I’d say most of the people on the trip gave it a miss after being out so late the previous night. When we eventually got up and checked out of the hostel we went in search of breakfast. On our way into the city we found a little café called Siete Gatos which was brilliant. We all decided on tostadas con tomate (half a toasted baguette with tomato AKA the best breakfast food ever) and smoothies which really hit the spot.

Following this, we just took a wander through the city’s little streets with no real aim of seeing anything in particular. If we came across something interesting, it was a bonus. While we were on our walk we found a park with some pretty fountains as well as the cathedral. By this time, it was the hottest part of the day and we were crying out for some shade. We decided to get some ice lollies and sit on the steps in front of the cathedral which thankfully were in the shade.

In the little square in front of the cathedral there were some street performers which created a relaxed atmosphere. It was so nice to just sit and soak it all in. At 3 o’clock we noticed that the doors to the cathedral were open and we were going to go in until we noticed the queue that was halfway down the street! We chose to give it a miss but put it on our list for the next time we visit.

Soon, we were on our way back to Murcia which, like the journey to Granada, ended up taking about 4 hours. Although I had a great time in Granada, I probably wouldn’t go on another Erasmus trip like this. It seemed like it would be organised and the group would spend a lot of time together getting to know each other but it was much the opposite. It was badly organised and nothing ran on time like as planned in the schedule.

That being said, I definitely want to return to Granada to see the Palacio Nazaríes and the inside of the cathedral. I have been told that Granada is incredible in the winter as it often snows due to it being so high up in the mountains. There is also a ski resort not far from Granada so a ski trip might be on the cards too!

¡Gracias por leer y hasta pronto!

THE TWO WEEK UPDATE

¡Hola a todos! ¿Qué tal?

I can’t believe that it has been two weeks since I left the emerald isle to start my year abroad. I’m definitely starting to settle in and feel more at home and all in all, I am well (sort of – more on that later).

Where to begin? So much has happened!

To say that the first five days of my year abroad were stressful would be an understatement. Upon our arrival in Murcia we checked into the hotel and after getting something to eat we decided to go to the apartment to make a list of things I needed to get at the shopping centre the next day. You might remember that I mentioned in this post that the flat needed a little tidying up… If I’m being honest, that was a very kind way to put it. The flat was filthy and the more I looked around the more I realised that I couldn’t live there for a year and be happy.

So then, the panic set in. With Murcia being a student city and it already being September I knew that apartments would be filling up fast. The rest of the evening was spent scouring the internet on all the usual sites (fotocasa.es, idealista.com, housinganywhere.com) and coming up with very little. Spanish people love WhatsApp and the majority of people advertising on these websites stated that this was how they wanted to be contacted. That being said, no one seemed to want to reply to a language assistant from Northern Ireland who was becoming more desperate by the hour.

Out of fifteen possible landlords a grand total of one replied to me and I set up a viewing for Monday at quarter past six. Ideally, I would have liked this to have been sooner as my mum was leaving on Tuesday evening and it wouldn’t leave us much time to get things such as bedding and any appliances I should need sorted.

Monday seemed to take forever to come around and all I could do in the meantime was hope and pray that this apartment would work out. It was ideal in every single way – refurbished in 2018, a ten minute walk from the city centre and a bus stop to school only five minutes away by foot. I should have known it was all too perfect.

When we turned up to view the apartment there was a young man standing outside the apartment building and I plucked up the courage to ask if he was the person who was showing me around the apartment. He informed me that he wasn’t but that he was also waiting on the same person. About ten minutes had passed and more people had showed up – there were six of us in total. We were all looking back and forth between each other when the penny dropped – we were all there to view the same single room in the same apartment.

I have never seen anything like it. To say it was a free for all would be putting it lightly. It ended up being a tenant showing us round and I felt so sorry for him. He was bombarded with questions which he couldn’t really answer as the decision was not up to him. Five minutes after stepping foot in the door of the apartment I had WhatsApped the landlord and told him that I wanted to rent it. Half an hour passed and he finally replied saying it had been claimed.

Repeat the events of Friday night, only with more desperation. I was more stressed than ever at this point. That night I messaged more than thirty landlords that night and again a grand total of one replied to set up a viewing. I had a viewing for the next morning and I felt it was my last hope.

The next morning we got up early to check out of the hotel and get a cup of tea in Starbucks before the viewing. My mum was considering staying until the weekend if I didn’t get sorted so there was a lot riding on this viewing. As we were leaving the hotel I put a message asking if anyone had any leads on an apartment into the Murcia Erasmus WhatsApp group chat that I’m part of in a last ditch attempt to give myself more options. Thankfully, a lovely girl (who is now one of my flatmates) replied and said that there were two available rooms in her flat. She passed the landlord’s number onto me and in the space of an hour I had a viewing set up and it was near enough a done deal.

The other viewing for that morning didn’t happen as the person who was supposed to show me around didn’t show up (this is more common than you would believe) and I took it as a sign. Third time lucky and the other apartment would be mine. So, we went to the other apartment, viewed it, loved it and signed the contract within the hour. I was no longer homeless and my mum could go home that evening knowing that I would be fine!

If I had a pound for every time I had considered booking a flight back to Belfast within those first five days I would be a very very rich girl. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed in my life and my Spanish was most definitely put to the test as well.

bed2

Every challenge I have faced since has seemed very minor in comparison to the accommodation fiasco. The thing I thought would be the most difficult actually ended up being the easiest and that was the NIE – simply put, the Spanish equivalent of our national insurance number. I had heard horror stories about it being difficult to get one and the police officers that issue them being awful and scary. My experience, however, was nothing like this. It was brilliant. I was called for my appointment after ten minutes of waiting and the police officer was so helpful – he could speak English and everything!

After getting my NIE, the next thing on my list was to set up a bank account. Again, quite straightforward. I decided to go with Sabadell as they are a national bank meaning that if I travel anywhere in Spain I will easily be able to locate a Sabadell ATM and withdraw money without being charged a fee. I have to wait about a week for my bank card to come but that isn’t a big issue.

One of the things I had to buy for the apartment was a kettle. Tea is a necessity after all! I managed to find one in El Corté Inglés, the Spanish equivalent to Debenhams or John Lewis, for 20€ which was perfect. After a few days I noticed that there were white flakes floating in the water at the bottom of the kettle and naturally, started to panic. After some googling, I found out that it was just how the minerals in bottled water react with the kettle when boiled. So, for any of my fellow classmates on their year abroad who may experience this problem – fear not! You can get rid of them by putting a slice of lemon in the water in the kettle and leaving it for 12-24 hours. Works a treat!

tea

With it being September, it is only natural that I would catch the cold. Yes, you did read that right. I have the cold. In Spain. In 30 degree heat. Not fun when you’re feeling rotten but it is too warm to wrap yourself up in your duvet and feel sorry for yourself.

In other news, I have mainly been filling my time with getting to know Murcia. It is quite a small city so I feel I am definitely getting there with finding my bearings. I have met another couple of assistants and it is nice to have some company to go for a drink with in the evening! On Wednesday, I went to Lorca with my friend Nicole, a fellow assistant, to get her NIE but that is a story for another blog post!

If you have read this far – props to you! This ended up being a lot longer than I had intended but the accommodation fiasco was a tale and a half that couldn’t be left out. I am settling in well and Murcia is starting to feel like home. I am excited to start work and get into routine which will come round soon enough.

I am off to Granada next weekend with a group of Erasmus students which I am looking forward too. Granada was on my list of places to see this year and it will be even better to see it while meeting loads of new people! I am sure I will tell you all about it in a blog post.

¡Gracias por leer y hasta pronto!

20 THINGS I WON’T MISS ABOUT WAITRESSING

Today marks one month since I finished my last shift in the restaurant I’ve worked in for three and a half years. Three and a half years is quite a long amount of time and it’s crazy to think that when I started there I hadn’t even turned 18 and now I’m 21. It was bittersweet leaving as I have so many memories there and made so many great friends but at the same time I am so happy to be getting a well-deserved break from hospitality.

While hospitality is a good way to make money as a student and works wonders for building confidence (tried and tested by yours truly), it does not come without its trials and tribulations. The unsociable hours, the difficult customers, you know the drill.

With that being said I have been thinking about what I am glad to see the back of in hospitality and in true Shannon fashion I thought I would compile a list (as I do love a good list, you know). So without further ado, here is 20 things I will not miss about waitressing.

  1. The lack of manners that the general public possess. Please and thank you do not go amiss.
  2. Being on your feet for up to 12 hours at a time, sometimes without a break if it is really busy.
  3. The unsociable hours and not always having a definite finish time – trying to make plans was always so difficult as some evenings you could be finished at 9 but others you maybe wouldn’t be finished until nearly 11. Doesn’t give you a lot to work with.
  4. Making Irish coffees. Enough said. If you’ve ever had to make one before you’ll know the feeling of seeing the cream start to sink.
  5. Seeing that regular customer who never books walk in on a night when you’re fully booked, ask for a table and then be annoyed when they don’t get said table.
  6. Or the customer who walks in, hasn’t booked, gets given a table but doesn’t like that table for whatever reason and then moves themselves to another table and messes up the table plan of bookings for that evening.
  7. Working on your own during the week and having 100 different things to do. Seat and greet, get drinks, take orders, run with starters, clear starters, serve mains, ask if the table needs anything else for their main, get told no, see a hand in the air waving you over to get them some extra pepper sauce which you had already offered and they turned down, clear mains, give dessert menus, take a dessert order, make said desserts, do 3 coffees, get the bill, split the bill, see another few tables walk in as the first round of tables are leaving and repeat.
  8. When someone phones to enquire about what time last orders are, you tell them, they arrive five minutes after last orders and still demand to be fed.
  9. Being told to smile by creepy old men.
  10. Someone ordering a steak to be cooked medium but insisting on it not being pink. So you mean well done then?
  11. Being spoken to like a piece of dirt for something that was completely out of your control and no matter what you do to try and rectify it, it isn’t good enough.
  12. Bending over backwards for a table and being potentially over-attentive to their every need – to not even get a thank you never mind a tip in return.
  13. Checking back on a table during their meal, being told everything is great and then being told the opposite when they have finished their meal and it is too late to rectify it.
  14. Working over Christmas. Christmas is my favourite time of year and I am so excited to have two uninterrupted weeks off to properly enjoy it this year – something that I haven’t had in 4 years.
  15. Having to clean up the whirlwind of mess left behind after a group of crazy children on a busy Saturday afternoon. I’m talking mashed potato walked into the carpet; dirty, used baby wipes left on the tables, the taps in the toilets being left on and the sink subsequently overflowing. I’ll say no more.
  16. Making the face after walking away from a difficult table. If any of my former colleagues are reading this they will know the one I mean.
  17. When a big table pre-orders their meal and can’t remember what they’ve ordered when you’re serving it.
  18. Or when you’re serving a table whose order you took twenty minutes ago and they can’t remember what they ordered, so you’re left standing with three scalding plates burning your hand while they try to remember.
  19. Being ignored when trying to take an order – whether it be drinks or food – or when serving food and then the customer getting annoyed when you finally walk away without adding their request to your list.
  20. The hard work that is put in and not appreciated.

And that concludes my list. If you take anything away from this post I hope that it is to be patient, be kind and to always leave a tip for your server as every little helps!

¡Gracias por leer!

MY WEEK IN PICTURES: THE LONG (VERY TEARFUL) GOODBYE

Well this is it! I have arrived in Spain and my year abroad has well and truly commenced.

A few weeks ago I had the idea of documenting my last week in NI by taking as many pictures as I could as a reminder. I will admit that this ended up consisting mainly of pictures of my food but what can I say, I had so many people to say adiós to and what better way to do so than over a dinner date or coffee and a treat?

Saturday 1st September
After arriving home from holidays in the early hours of the morning, Saturday ended up being a relaxing day where I didn’t do much. I went and picked up my contact lenses for the next 3 months – seeing is a necessity after all – and printed some paper work that I had to take with me and hand in on the other side.

documents

On Saturday evening my family came round to my house for some pizza and drinks as a sort of leaving party. It was so nice to have everyone together and catch up after being away for 2 weeks.

pizza

Sunday 2nd September
Due to not being able to eat all the pizzas from the night before, it was only natural to have pizza for breakfast. Is there really anything better?

In the afternoon, I took my friend Carly to Belfast as she had a hospital appointment after which we went to Boojum for a late lunch/early dinner. It had been so long since I’d had one and I was worried that I wouldn’t have had time to fit one in before I left. But as always, if there’s a will there’s a way – and as usual, Boojum did not disappoint!

boojum

Much like Saturday, Sunday was spent relaxing and catching up on The Great British Bake Off which had started the previous week while we were on holiday.

Monday 3rd September
On Monday I was faced with the task of packing my life into a big suitcase and a little suitcase – much easier said than done. Somehow, it seemed that the more I packed the messier my room got. I soon came to the conclusion that I simply have too much stuff despite having several clear outs over the summer. I found it difficult to decide what clothes to bring as I don’t know what the dress code for school will be when I start work.

 

Additionally, I’m not sure what the weather will be like as we move into October, November and December. Yes it’ll be colder for the Spaniards but I’d imagine I’ll still be roasting and wearing t-shirts. 15°+ in December is a big jump from what we’re used to in NI!

That evening I went to Juliano’s, an ice cream parlour in Ballymena, to meet my friend Nicole for the last time before I left. Nicole will be spending her year abroad in Perpignan, France so naturally the topic of conversation was the big move! I don’t think it had hit me at that early stage of the week that this was really happening but it was really strange saying goodbye. What was also strange was that our friend Emily wasn’t there with us. She had flown the previous week to Tours in France where she is spending her year. We miss you Emily!

 

Tuesday 4th September
Tuesday marked my last nail appointment with the fabulous Kiara who has been doing my nails for almost 2 years now. I always look forward to my nail appointments as they’re almost like a coffee date with a good friend where you can have a really good chat and come out with gorgeous nails at the end!

nails

On Tuesday evening, I headed to Belfast for a last hurrah with Carly. We went to one of our favourite places, Bootleggers. It’s really quirky and different from anywhere else in town. As usual, we got a mixture of foods to nibble on – mac n cheese balls, mozzarella dippers, chilli beef nachos and parful fries (skinny fries, sweet potato fries, crispy bacon, garlic butter, parmesan and sour cream – sounds random but they are amazing.)

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Wednesday 5th September
Wednesday afternoon saw me heading back to Juliano’s but this time for a lunch date with my friend Aine, who will be living in Lorca this year which isn’t too far away from Murcia! We chatted about everything from what we’re apprehensive about to what we’re excited about to places that we would like to travel to this year. I actually forgot to take pictures of my lunch etc but just for reference I had a tuna and sweetcorn Panini and a tea!

In the evening, I went for dinner with my family. This was so bittersweet and it was at this point that I started to cry and didn’t really stop for the rest of the week. I think it just dawned on me how supportive and proud of me my family really are.

 

Thursday 6th September
As one of my cousins had to work late on Wednesday evening and couldn’t come out for dinner, we went for breakfast the next day instead. Of course this was the perfect opportunity to have one last fry before moving abroad and it did not disappoint.

fry

The rest of Thursday was spent packing the last of my things and for my last supper in NI it was only natural to get a Chinese takeaway. I haven’t even been away for a week yet and I am already excited for the next time I will be home just to get another Chinese.

chinese

Friday 7th September
In no time at all, moving day had arrived. I barely slept on Thursday night and next thing my mum and I were up at 2.30am to get to the airport for our 6.10am flight. My belly did somersaults the whole time and I felt so nervous.

When we took off and I was catching my last glimpses of Ireland until December I couldn’t help but feel sad. I shed a tear or two on the plane – I hope the people sitting beside me didn’t think I was weird! It was very overwhelming but December isn’t too far away and I know that I’m going to have the time of my life.

 

So there you have it, that’s how I spent my last week in NI.

To keep updated with how I’m doing more or less on a daily basis I am very active on my Instagram so make sure you are following me on there!

¡Gracias por leer y hasta luego!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MURCIA

¡Hola a todos! This post comes to you from the beach! As you are reading this, I am relaxing in sunny Spain as I come to the end of my holiday with my family – just a casual 2 weeks before I move here for a year. The weather has been glorious and we’ve spent several days at the beach tanning and also getting roasted – as you can imagine.

We always holiday in the region of Murcia, which gave me the opportunity to visit Murcia city a couple of times and get a feel for where I’ll be spending my year.

Thankfully, I have managed to get an apartment sorted – I have my keys already and the first month’s rent has been paid. The apartment is located in the centre of the city, just off a square called Plaza de las Flores. I feel a lot less stressed now that I know I have somewhere to live and that it’s decent – it just needs cleaned up and my own touch put on the room and then it’ll hopefully feel more homey.

While I’ve been here I have also taken the opportunity to speak as much Spanish as I can, which thankfully hasn’t been an all out disaster! From ordering in restaurants and buying train tickets to enquiring about charcoal in the supermarket and chatting with the kids who are holidaying in the villa next door to us I have understood the majority of what was being said to me and better yet – they have also understood me! (Aside from the fact that our neighbours think my name is Shalon, but that’s a minor detail that we can overlook.)

Something I will say, however, is that people here talk very fast and it can be difficult to grasp what they are saying at first. Additionally, they tend to drop the ‘s’ in some words too. For example, when saying ‘me gusta,’ (Spanish for I like, pronounced may goo-sta) it would sound more like me guta (may goo-ta). Difficult to get used to but I’m sure it’ll become familiar to me soon enough.

In terms of the city itself, Murcia is absolutely gorgeous. It isn’t a huge city like Madrid or Barcelona (although it feels like it walking around in the blistering heat) but it is just as pretty. The most recognisable landmark in the city is the cathedral which is breathtaking. It was composed on the site of the oldest mosque in the city and is over 600 years old. It is situated in the Plaza del Cardenal Belluga which is lined with several tapas bars. This is the perfect place to enjoy a caña and a tapa.

 

Much like other Spanish cities, Murcia has plenty of winding little streets which are lined with shops. Of course, there are plenty of the same shops that we have at home but also others that we don’t – such as Lefties, Bershka, Ale-Hop and most importantly Sephora!

 

In addition to this, there are several large shopping centres just north of the city which are also incredible. Think Victoria Square times 10! There is a large Primark in one of these centres and also an Ikea right next door which will be perfect for when it is time to kit out my room.

As I previously mentioned, during the summer temperatures in Murcia soar and can reach up to 40° which is so uncomfortable. Many people often leave the city for beach towns further south in July and August to escape this. I have been assured that come September/October time the temperature does dip a little and is much more comfortable. I can imagine that it’ll definitely still be roasting compared to what we’re used to in NI!

 

As our holiday draws to a close and departure day creeps closer I’m becoming more nervous, but excited at the same time. I’ve enjoyed being able to explore the city and getting a feel for where I’ll be spending the next year of my life. I can definitely see myself enjoying a tostada and cafe con leche for breakfast by the cathedral at the weekends or sampling some tapas accompanied by a caña in La Plaza de las Flores in the evening to unwind after school.

¡Gracias por leer!

PRE-DEPARTURE PRE-OCCUPATIONS

When I think back to applying for university, one of the most attractive aspects of a modern languages degree was the prospect of the compulsory third year abroad. I remember thinking that it would be an amazing opportunity and one that I probably would not have availed of with any other degree. I also remember thinking that it would take what felt like a lifetime to finally come around. I was wrong, as it is now less than a month (18 days to be exact) until I move to Spain for my year abroad!

The thought of moving abroad is incredibly exciting, but also incredibly terrifying. I keep going between these two emotions but I think at the minute I am more excited than terrified. I’m continually telling myself it’ll all be ok but I’m not sure if I completely believe it yet. I suppose we’ll see when I get out there and it’s actually happening!

So, for today’s post I thought I would compile a list (I do love a good list) of things that are really worrying me and get it all off my chest!

1 – Finding somewhere to live

This really is my biggest stress at the minute. I just have so many worries with regards to accommodation – whether it be awful flatmates, a dodgy landlord or just if I’ll end up having to live in a complete dive in an awful part of the city.

We were advised by uni not to rent somewhere if we’d only seen it on the internet, which I think was good advice. I have been in contact with several landlords over email and they keep saying that all I have to do to secure the apartment is transfer a deposit. This just doesn’t sit well with me because some of the required deposits have been up to €300. I don’t feel comfortable with transferring such a large amount of money to someone I have never met in a foreign country.

Murcia is a student city, so I was worried that the flats would fill up quickly with students coming to the city for uni. Thankfully, I am going on holiday with my family the last two weeks in August to a village which is only half an hour away from Murcia. While we are in Spain I am going to make a few appointments to see some flats and hopefully find somewhere decent before they are all snapped up at the beginning of September.

2 – The practical things

At the start of second year at uni we had dedicated classes in both French and Spanish to help prepare us for doing some practical admin things (such as a phone contract, banking and wifi) when we get there. All I can say is thank god for these classes as I probably wouldn’t have thought or known about having to do some of these things!

I think the most difficult part for me will be getting the NIE. The NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) is essentially a national insurance number for foreigners in Spain. You must have one of these if you intend to work, sell property or have any other economic interest in Spain. It is also required to set up a bank account and pay utility bills. There is so much paperwork that you have to present at a police station within your region to get a NIE. And of course, all of this must be done en Español.

The other things that I have already mentioned are a bank account and a phone contract. Now that I think about it I think these will be relatively easy to come by and I’m not as worried about them as I was at the beginning of the year.

3 – The standard of my French slipping

As I mentioned in a previous post, I study French and Spanish at uni. I decided to spend my year abroad in Spain because Spanish is definitely my weaker language out of the two. That being said, my French obviously still needs work as I am nowhere near fluent. I am worried that the standard of French I have got to in the past few years will slip and I will regress instead of progress. I’m not sure what I should do to ensure this doesn’t happen but have thought about maybe taking up a French class at the Escuela de Idiomas or trying to find a French-English intercambio (an exchange to help practice both languages). Whichever one I decide to go with I will keep you updated!

4 – Being homesick

This is the one that I don’t really want to admit, but kind of have to. I am really worried about being homesick. I am a total home bird when it comes down to it – so much so that I don’t really like staying in other people’s houses. I have never lived out of my family home before so this year will definitely be interesting. I like my home comforts and surroundings that I’m used to and that’s that.

I’m so close to my family and friends that it’ll be so strange not having any of them round the corner. Thanks to modern technology I know that they’re only a phone call or FaceTime away but it’s not really the same as actually being in their presence and spending time with them. I just keep telling myself that this is an opportunity that I probably won’t get the chance to experience again and that I really have to make the most of it. I also keep telling myself that it is only a 3 hour flight between Belfast and Murcia – it’s not that far away.

I am not planning to go home at all between September and Christmas so if I can get through that, the longest stretch is over. In saying that, some of my family do have trips to come and see me planned so I think I will manage somehow!

¡Gracias por leer!

BEING A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY: THE NORTH COAST EDITION

One of the things we’re most guilty for in Northern Ireland is not appreciating the country we live in. We are definitely ignorant to the fact that there is so much to do and see here. This summer, I had hoped to see and do things I hadn’t done before heading to Spain for a year. With that in mind, my friend Nicole and I decided to take a day and see some of the must see sights around the north coast. We had planned to go to the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and either Mussenden Temple or Dunluce Castle. We were only successful in doing one of these, which was the Giant’s Causeway, but at least we still have the other options to do another time!giants causeway

The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and is maintained by the National Trust. It boasts incredible views over the North Atlantic Ocean and is surrounded by grassy cliffs. When we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway the weather was slightly overcast and as we made our way down to the causeway itself it started to rain. Typical! But in the words of Nicole: ‘It wouldn’t be an authentic experience if it didn’t rain!’ Thankfully, the rain didn’t last too long and by the time we were down at the stones it had subsided completely.

 

 

 

I think we went at a good time of the day as it wasn’t too busy and we could spend as much time as we wanted taking photos without worrying about being in other peoples’ way. The views at the Giant’s Causeway really are breath-taking and it was great to be able to just walk and take them in. As we were walking round, we overheard a tour being taken in French. The tour guide was so animated and enthusiastic – he really seemed to bring it to life for those in the group. Being the Francophiles that we are we couldn’t help but stop and listen – we were even slightly tempted to latch onto the group to listen to the rest of it!

 

 

When we were finished here, we took the scenic route round to Portrush. I really love driving round this way because the view of the sea is so nice, even if the road itself is quite narrow and windy.

Of course, no visit to Portrush is complete without a stop in at the Ramore winebar. The atmosphere in this restaurant is great and the food is also excellent without being too pricey. Their chilli chicken pasta and winebar burger are two of my favourite dishes and their salted caramel and chocolate cheesecake is to die for! One thing I will say about this place, however, is that it gets busy very quickly. It opens for lunch at 12.15 and within half an hour the restaurant is usually full. If you are paying a visit for a spot of lunch definitely arrive early – it is one not to be missed!

RAMORE

Following our lunch in the Ramore, we had intended to do Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge but found ourselves nearly out of time. Instead, we decided to go on a walk to help work off our lunch. We walked up a pathway called Ramore Head (where the Ramore winebar gets its name from) and again were met with stunning views. Portrush on a clear day really is amazing and I feel really fortunate to live so close to such a fantastic spot.

RAMORE HEAD

After this, we drove round to the West Strand and walked along the promenade to get some coffee. Despite it not being the warmest day, there were still plenty of people on the beach and several groups of surfers catching some waves as well. We stopped for coffee in a little café called Koko, which has a large outdoor seating area that looks out onto the beach. This café is a favourite of mine as the atmosphere is so relaxed and their prices are very reasonable. Their slogan is ‘Great Coffee, Great Views’ and they aren’t far wrong!  Shortly after, we decided to head home after a really enjoyable day.

KOKO

When was the last time you did something touristy in your home country? Leave me a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

MY FIRST BLOG POST – Hopes for my year abroad

Welcome to my first blog post! For years I have toyed with the idea of starting a blog but have never had anything overly interesting to share about my life. However, in September I will be moving to Spain for my year abroad so what better time than now!

During my year in Spain I will be working as an English language assistant in a Spanish primary school and living in the beautiful city of Murcia, which is located in the south east of Spain. I have visited the region of Murcia several times with my family while on holiday and I feel very lucky to be going somewhere that I’m already slightly familiar with.

I have created this blog with the intention of documenting my time in Spain which will hopefully include a lot of travelling, observations about a different culture and any thoughts that I am able to shape into a coherent post. I really enjoy reading other peoples’ year abroad experiences and following what they get up to so I wanted to have somewhere to share my own experience.

To start things off, I thought I would compile a short list of hopes I have for this year – a mini bucket list if you will!

1 – Travel more

As previously mentioned, I really want to travel as much as I can this year. I feel like it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t make the most of spending the year in mainland Europe where I will be able to visit so many other countries quite easily.

I love travelling and visiting new places – it is always on my mind and I think I have a genuine fear of not having a trip in the works or booked. That being said, I haven’t been to many countries. When I really think about it I have only been to France, Spain (including a few of the Canary and Balearic Islands) and some parts of the UK and Ireland.

So, I want to maximise my time abroad and explore a lot of Spain (namely Madrid, Valencia and Seville) as well as France, Portugal and Germany.

2 – Improve my Spanish

This is a very obvious one. The main reason for choosing to spend my year in Spain was to improve my Spanish. Even though I study French and Spanish at uni, I have only been studying Spanish for 2 years and I feel my level of Spanish is significantly lacking in comparison to my level of French.  There is no better way to learn a language than immersion and as I am going to be living in a city that isn’t visited by many tourists I won’t be exposed to as much English as I would have been had I been placed in Barcelona or Málaga. Here’s hoping that I return in June bastante fluida!

3 – Gain more confidence

Number 3 on my list pertains to the previous point. Confidence is a big part of speaking a language and it is something I struggle with. Despite the fact that we are always told not to worry about making a mistake or risking sounding silly while speaking a target language, it is something I worry about constantly and it ends up holding me back. In the back of my mind I am always asking myself ‘What if they laugh at me?’ or ‘what if they don’t understand me?’ I hope that during my year abroad I will be forced to speak Spanish enough that these doubts won’t even cross my mind after the first month!

Aside from this, I would like to gain more self-confidence in general. I don’t want to sound like one of those people who are all ‘I spent the year in Europe and I found myself’ but I would like to come back from my year abroad cultured and exuding confidence.

¡Gracias por leer!