The Best Of 2016


Since David Bowie left the mortal realm, the world has become a terrible place. But despite this, I thought it was important to look back at my personal positives of 2016… no matter how sad I am that Carrie Fisher is dead. 2016 was a year of big changes for me. After months of agonising over the decision, I decided it was time to repatriate myself back into British life. I’d gotten a tad complacent with everything… so obviously my brain decided to change it all at once. 2nd times a charm, right?

So, in order, I bring you my highlights of 2016.

Visiting Florence

I’ve wanted to visit Italy for as long as I can remember – and after almost two years of living on the continent, I finally got my chance. I traveled round the country by train – and although the trip was slightly derailed by the destruction of my passport – Florence was by far my favourite desintation. I saw amazing architecture, did fantastic shopping, marvelled at incredible art… and saw creepy fetus mannequins from the 19th century. I will definitely be back.

Reading Stephen King’s It

Much like visiting Italy, I had always wanted to read It. And although it really didn’t live up to the ‘omg so scary’ reviews I’ve been hearing my entire life, it was huge. Like, physically. And I’m glad I read it. And it makes me feel less terrible about failing my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year. Seriously, it was huge!

Giving up teaching

Although I have never wanted to end up as a teacher, it somehow became my job.  Yet it was always my means of staying in Madrid and getting a pretty decent income. So I stayed. But at the same time I was interviewing for summer camp positions to keep myself fed for the 3 months of Hell I was about to experience, I took a chance and interviewed for an unpaid editorial internship. And got it. Although I then had to decide between teaching and eating and gaining experience in the field I loved and starving – I’m glad I took the risk as it proved I was capable and qualified to do what I loved and gave me the push I needed to leave the safety net of Spain. Even if I did have to eat a lot of pasta to do so.

Seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Seeing this play was a long time coming. I first bought the tickets in October 2015 and spent an agonising year waiting for my time to come. I’ve written about the show in great detail already, so I won’t dwell on it too much, but it was definitely my favourite part of the year. Not only did it fill the empty place in my soul of the waiting for a new Potter release, but my quick trip to London was the catalyst for my eventual return to the UK. Thanks, Harry.

Doing a Brexit of my own

And finally, the most important change for me in 2016, moving back to the UK. Despite being on the top of my game in the ESL world, I knew it was time to move on. So after packing my entire life into two suitcases and a cardboard box, I took the leap and moved back “home”. I write this blogpost to you from my new place in Brighton. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I imagine it will begin with job interviews, vegan food, and maybe a new haircut.

Cheers to you, 2017.

The Great Expat Dilemma: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Let’s get real for second. When I first decided to start my expat adventure I was a naive little 21 year old, fresh out of university, with no life or work experience. I was feeling defeated and like I was running out of options, regretting all of my life choices that had led me to that moment.

To avoid spending another minute wasting away in my teenage bedroom whilst all my friends went on to bigger and better things, I thought maybe I’d move abroad and teach English. I wish I could remember my thought process for deciding this, but I imagine a lot of it had to do with just wanting to prove that I could do something other than receive job rejection emails. Thus, I set myself a task to work towards (so my days could be spent doing something more worthwhile than watching Catfish marathons) and for the first time since education, my life had purpose again.

I chose my destination (Madrid), worked out my plan (to begin with a four week TEFL course and then wing it), bought my plane tickets, and off I went. Soon I was a qualified English as a second language teacher living in a capital city and hanging out with a crazy diverse group of friends. And my initial plan to teach English for a year and then head home then turned into two years with no plans to leave yet. But yet, that expat dilemma remains: when is it time to go home?

By moving to Madrid, I definitely accomplished what I wanted to do. Before I left I was crippled by intense social anxiety and could barely function in situations I hadn’t rehearsed in my head before hand. I couldn’t talk to strangers or look people in the eye or make small talk in shops. But moving to a place where you don’t understand a single thing anyone says, or have your mum to do things for you, really forces you out of your comfort zone. And whilst I still don’t revel in talking to others, I no longer feel like my throat is closing up. I can navigate through life without that omnipresent sense of dread following me around – and let me tell ya, it feels super refreshing. I recently spent a few weeks in the UK and had multiple people comment on how different I was so. So life experience? Check.

Another thing I wanted was work experience. And whilst teaching is in no way what I want to do with my life, it pays the bills whilst I embark on multiple unpaid internships – something that definitely wasn’t available for me in a place like Hull. I’ve managed social media accounts, learnt CMS, written articles about things I knew nothing about before I started – aka I’ve basically become a digital media wizard. So whilst teaching isn’t exactly where I imagined I’d be at 24, I’m getting that much needed experience all those “entry level” jobs somehow expect you to have already. It just took me a little longer to get there and I’m talking about verbs whilst doing it. Work experience? Working on it but let me give it a preemptive check.

So after doing everything I set out to do (and spending double the expected time here), why am I still in Spain? The simple, gross, and horribly cliché version is that I fell in love. With the city, with a dude, with my entire existence here. And why ruin a good thing? I’ll stick with the cheap wine and sunny weather and good Mexican food, thanks.

But another major factor in my decision to stay in Madrid is that I don’t know what would happen otherwise. Here I know I can keep getting teaching gigs, keep living cheaply, keep enjoying this big city life I’ve grown accustomed to. Before I moved here my life was so uncertain – whether I’d get a job, be able to move out, the sensitive state of my mental health, etc etc. Shit was scary, but here I don’t have to worry. As I keep saying over and over again, this definitely isn’t where I expected to be, but as long as I’m paying the bills, having fun, and improving myself as a person, I don’t see what the problem is. I may not be as far along on the career ladder as my classmates but look at all that sexy life experience I’m racking up. And I’ve learnt more Spanish talking to supermarket cashiers here than I did in in four years of German in high school, so there’s that.

So although expat life has its flaws; friends leaving every year, language barriers, and cultural mishaps – and even though Spain is definitely not the utopia all those retired Brits make it out to be, it looks like for the moment I’m here to stay.

A misleading title? Mayhaps. ‘Cause I have no freaking idea what I’m doing with my life other than enjoying it. But at 24, I think maybe that’s okay.

Expat Friendships: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly


Making friends as an expat is a weird experience. On the one hand, everyone has a shared experience linking them together; on the other, you’re introduced to people who you might not otherwise choose to socialise with. As many of us as there are (even in a city as big as Madrid), it can be kind of slim pickings on the friend front. Such is the life of an expat.

When someone moves abroad and begins the transformation into an expat, they follow a specific pattern. This is something I call the We’re All In This Together Mindset. But honestly, that only really works in Disney Channel Original Movies, not when it comes to building a solid foundation to base your new little expatriate life on. Sure, this theory works great at first. You arrive in a new country, nervous and second guessing yourself, and then boom… a whole bunch of other people in exactly the same situation as you. Of course you’re going to latch on. And this can be useful in the beginning when it comes to exploring your new city and figuring out the basics. But is it enough to base a long-lasting friendship on? Nah. As people become more comfortable in their new life, they begin to gradually move on. And I’m not just talking about your new found friends, you’re included in this too, Hypothetic Baby Expat Reader. It’s like the advice you always get before moving away to university: “don’t settle with your first year flatmates, there’s more people out there!” It was true at university and it’s true as an expatriate.

Obviously it’s not the case all the time, and I still have friends who I met when I very first arrived in Madrid two years ago. But for the most part, after everything settles and people feel more confident, they move onto bigger and better things. And that includes new friends. Which brings me to my next point…

You’ll meet people in the weirdest places. I’ve already spoken about how to meet new people whilst abroad, but I never really touched on the completely bizare places I struck up conversations with strangers. Trying to find my way into a locked building, searching for a bank, on an Irish pub crawl. People are everywhere. Keep your eyes open and don’t write off a way of meeting someone just because you wouldn’t do it back at home.

In a slightly related note, don’t completely dismiss people either. I’m friends with a whole bunch of people I probably wouldn’t roll with at home. If anything, my time in the expat pool has made me a less judgemental person. Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule. Times where I’ve been proved right and people have been exactly who I thought they’d be, but than can happen anywhere. At least in Spain you can dull the pain with churros.

And of course, the most obvious and painful part of any expatriate friendship: you go into it knowing it has an expiration date. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but as the months draw on it gets a little distressing knowing that L Day is approaching. The dreaded Last Day. This is especially annoying with those pesky Americans and their even peskier visas. EU friends are in it for the long haul, so stick with us. But it’s also disconcerting to know that eventually, it’s going to be you leaving one day. Everything is temporary! Time is fleeting! Aaaaaaaah!

So… expat friendships. In my two years here, I’ve experienced:

THE GOOD: Meeting a diverse group of people who have helped me grow as a person and have understood all those #expatprobs better than any family members or friends back home.

THE BAD: Finding your platonic soul mate and having them leave a year later. Then repeating the process every year until your little heart can’t take it anymore and shrivels up to die.

THE UGLY: Befriending someone you usually wouldn’t because of how tiny the expat bubble is, until they one day just completely snap and call you a “c*nt-faced bitch” for no reason and then you’re stuck in their social circle FOREVER*.

*Note: forever is only a year for expats because lol visas.

My Favourite Language Learning Apps: Spanish

I’ll admit, after almost fourteen months of living in Madrid, my Spanish is pretty terrible. I got complacent. I learnt what I needed to know (restaurant talk, bank talk, basic pleasantries), and then just stopped. Whether it’s because I’m lazy or because shrieking ‘NO HABLO ESPAÑOL’ when people try to engage me in conversation is an introvert’s dream, I’m not entirely sure. But somehow it happened. Occasionally, however, I do go through bursts of inspiration and/or guilt over my terrible language skills, and crack down for a week or two… but it never lasts for long. Especially with a Spanish boyfriend who I can look at expectantly whenever anyone asks me a question. But with a new academic year comes a new eruption of determination. So I figured I’d review my favourites of the countless language learning apps I’ve used over the last year, in the hopes it can help other little clueless expats out there. De nada.

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Duolingo:

Duolingo seems to be everyone’s go-to language learning app, probably because it’s so easily accessible on both mobile and PC. My first experiences with it were a few years ago when I attempted to relearn German… which didn’t go great. But once I decided I was going to move to Spain, I decided to give it another try.

Pros:

  • The language tree is a great way to quickly see which areas you need to work on. It’s bright and clear and not cluttered, which doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to learn.
  • The point based system makes it like a game, and if you’re as competitive as I am, earning those lingots is a great way to get motivated when you feel like skipping a day. Particularly with the chance to ‘buy’ extra levels, such as the flirting pack, which I love to terrorise my boyfriend with.
  • The comments on the questions make it really seem like a community. Sometimes the example sentences on Duolingo are odd to say the least, and seeing what other people had to say about the hilarious statements is a good way to remind yourself that other people are going through the same thing.

Cons:

  • Along with the strange sentence choices, some of the topics on Duolingo are a bit useless. In the job category I learnt about soldiers and commanders and lieutenants, words that I barely ever use in English, whilst completely skipping out professions such as butcher and baker and, uh, candlestick maker?
  • The fluency percentage thing. There is no way in hell I have 47% fluency in Spanish. 4.7% maybe, but not this. How is this even worked out?
  • THAT DAMN OWL. It looks so disappointed when you miss a day, that I’ve found myself not going on the site for weeks because I can’t deal with his judgemental little face. Thank you, uncanny valley.

Verdict: Duolingo is a great starting point for language learning, and also a great supplement to other services, but as a whole it just doesn’t do enough to help you really learn a language. For vocabulary stuff, it’s great, but I found that it didn’t help progress my grammar at all, so I ended up talking like a simpleton all day (whereas now I can speak like a toddler, yeaaaah).

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Cat Spanish:

Cat Spanish was my first paid language learning app, and you can only use it on your mobile. I am a very visual learner, so Cat Spanish was great for me, as it uses hilarious and adorable cat pictures to help you remember phrases easier. It probably helps if, like me, you are obsessed with cats. This app is definitely more a memorisation type of learning, rather than teaching you to figure things out for yourself, and although that might not be everyone’s way of learning, to me it really helped me find my confidence and gave me a basis to work off of.

Pros:

  • Lolcat-esque images that relate to specific phrases. If you’re a visual learner, a cat rolling around in toilet paper might help you remember what to say if you need toilet paper (which came in useful for me when I couldn’t reach it in a store).
  • Small levels which feel manageable. The app only introduces a couple of phrases at a time, so you’re not overwhelmed by words and grammar and pronunciation.
  • It’s in Castilian Spanish! Most of the language apps I’ve tried have been in South American Spanish, which is completely useless for me living in Spain. My biggest language app pet peeve is that developers don’t clearly mark which continent their language is for. Cat Spanish means I can actually use the phrases I learn in confidence knowing that people will understand me (other than my awful pronunciation, of course).

Cons:

  • Sooooo much repetition. I know that repetition is key to learning languages (spoiler alert, I’m an English teacher), but this app really takes it to a whole new level. I find myself screaming ‘yes, yes, I’ve got it now THANK YOU’ at my phone when it’s asking me a question for the millionth time. This is particularly relevant in the part where you have a conversation with a cat… they don’t flow fluently and even if I didn’t know the answer it would be easy to guess anyway because they give you all three choices. Come on guys, give me a challenge.
  • Refers to itself as a ‘social language learning app’ but for those of us who don’t have FB friends also using the app (or don’t like connecting absolutely every account we make to FB), social doesn’t even come into it. It paired me up with some random people who I guess downloaded it at the same time as me, but they stopped using the app months ago. So for me, this is the most solitary of all three apps I use.

Verdict: This was the first app that really got me to stick my teeth into learning Spanish, and acted as a great stepping stone to me -finally- starting to understand the language. For me, the memorisation technique works really well, but other people might prefer a more grammar based approach. I love this app, and think it’s worth the money, but it will all depend on what learning style works for you.

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Memrise:

The most recent app I’ve tried, but definitely my favourite (and actually from the people behind Cat Spanish). I’ve been using this app all summer now and feel I’ve progressed more with Spanish in these last few months than the entire year I’ve been here. Like Duolingo, you can use both the mobile app or the website, set a daily goal, and keep up your learning streak… but for some reason it just works so much better for me.

Pros:

  • Whereas other language learning apps start at the very beginning, Memrise offers a whole variety of courses so you can start at whatever level you feel comfortable at. I’m currently dabbling in two different levels, so it really feels like a more personalised course than the others. Yay.
  • The option to skip levels is really useful. Sometimes constantly failing on one aspect makes you not want to continue, so when ser vs estar was getting too much for me, I jumped ahead to the next level, and went back to tackle the earlier level later.
  • The review option actually seems to work. As in, the things it chooses are phrases that I probably should be reviewing at that time. Unlike Duolingo which seems to make you review everything every damn day. It just makes using this app an actual pleasant thing to do instead of something I dread. Go Memrise!
  • When you’re struggling with a word or phrase, you get the option to pair it with a ‘meme’ to help you remember it. More of that good ol’ visual learning stuff again! For me, the word for wrong is an angry avocado.

Cons:

  • Sometimes I don’t really understand the order it teaches things in. Like taking a million different levels to teach me the numbers, something I learnt myself before I used this app in about ten minutes, but trying to cram every variety of ser and estar into one level. One of these things is not like the other.

Verdict: Memrise pretty much gives you the best of both worlds mixing traditional and visual learning together depending on when you need it. I feel as if Memrise is more customisable than other apps I’ve tried, making it more enjoyable to use as I actually feel like I’m getting somewhere. More enjoyable to use, better Spanish skills. Yay!

So I think it’s pretty obvious which tool is my favourite. Memrise just ticks all the boxes for me, and although I’m still guilty of skipping a day every now and then, I’m more dedicated to this app than I have been the others (owl or no owl). I’d recommend Memrise to anyone trying to improve their language skills, particularly the Spanish course. Of course, I’m supplementing my use of this site with a textbook and activities of my own creation (as well as, y’know, going outside and interacting with Spanish people), but I like to consider Memrise the centre of my current language learning endeavour, and I doubt I’d be as learning as much without it there to guide me.

Housemate Horrors Part Dos

Picture the scene. It is 4AM. It is my new flatmate’s 3rd night in the apartment. Suddenly, I am awake. I hear him talking loudly on the phone, but because it is 4AM and he is speaking in tongues (aka Spanish), I have no idea what he is saying. I sneak a peek out of my door and see my other flatmate there.

“Apparently the whole building is being robbed!” she exclaims, surprisingly chipper.

They fill me in and we all anxiously wait for the police. New Housemate runs from room to room, pointing to where he sees the intruders. We see nothing, but whatever, it’s dark, it’s 4AM. We have no reason to doubt him.

The police come. He points to places. They go to investigate. After a while it is silent. The police have left.

We start to question whether there were ever really any intruders.

He keeps calling the police (I find out the next morning, he called them eight times). He can’t sit still or calm down, and is constantly signalling and telling us where he sees people. Every time we ask for clarification, such as which balcony he’s pointing at, or which floor, or even if he’s talking about our actual building, he ignores us and runs to another window. His story changes from ‘a group of black men’ to ‘people in ski masks’ (but all of this was in Spanish, obv). He is struck with fear over seeing a group of people tie a poor little old woman to a chair. We still see nothing.

There are no intruders.

The sane flatmate and I decide we should go to bed. He won’t shut up about the intruders, or sit down, or even breathe. Sane Flatmate tells him she doesn’t see any intruders and that he should go to bed too. He does not react well to this. I push my chair in front of my door, just in case.

It’s impossible to sleep because he is running around the flat, opening and closing blinds, banging doors, stepping onto the balcony to find the mystery intruders.

About an hour later, only twenty minutes of which I was asleep for, it’s now 6:50AM and there’s frantic banging on my bedroom door. I open it in case it is Sane Flatmate saying New Flatmate is brandishing a knife or something (it seemed likely at the time). No, it was New Flatmate. He blurts something out in rapid Spanish, barges past me, sits on my bed, and stares out the window. The window which had the shutter down and has the exact same view as his bedroom window. I just stood there, half-asleep and dumbfounded. Before I can react, he runs out again and I shut the door, barricading it once again. I hear him talking to someone. He decided to wake our building manager up because he’s still convinced someone is in the building. It’s completely light outside now.

An other hour passes and he finally seems to have shut up and I get a glorious three hours sleep.

Sane Flatmate tells me the next day, that in the beautiful twenty minutes of sleep I stole, he managed to lock himself in her room with her and claimed that there were twenty men on the patio. Those twenty men turned out to be twenty plants.

To keep the mystery going, later that same day, New Flatmate disappeared. We think he went to Barcelona and we had no idea when he was coming back. For the next week and a bit, we flinched at every noise, waiting for the day he would return home and probably try to murder us. When he finally does return, he says nothing. Apart from one incident when he chased me out of the apartment whilst screaming ‘why are you running?’, no other incidents have occurred. We start to believe that he is actually 100% insane and question why our landlord hasn’t evicted him yet.

Eventually, he assures us that he ‘took a little bit of meth’.

Oh, alright then. That makes it so much better.

TL;DR: I’m moving out at the end of the month.

As a side note, whilst New Flatmate had disappeared, a New New Flatmate moved in. He is 40 years old, married, has 3 kids, and has never lived outside of his parents’ house before. If you ever move to Madrid, please make sure your landlord gives you some say in who moves in with you (or, y’know, actually tells you someone is moving in before you awkwardly meet them in the hall).

What I’ve Learnt From Living In A Shared Apartment

(Alternate title: A Lesson In Maturity, From My 25 Year Old Perma-Student Flatmate)

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I’ve learnt a lot about myself since I arrived in Madrid last year. And a lot of that is down to living in such an international and multicultural apartment. Living with people from different countries has given me a new perspective on life and has taught me so many meaningful and important life lessons. Here are a few.

5. If there is a problem, do not talk about it. Ever. But have pleasant conversations about everything else whilst forever avoiding the subject. Say it is your turn to buy toilet roll, but you don’t want to. That’s okay, the next person will do it. And if that person doesn’t want to, then the final person will. And if that person doesn’t want to, then it’s back to you again, and well, you still don’t feel like doing it. But seriously, it’s fine, just buy your own toilet roll and sneak it into the bathroom when you think no one is looking. Everyone will know that the others are doing the same, but no one will ever address the issue. And life will go on that way forevermore.*

4. If you want to do something, do it at nighttime. Loudly. No one is around in the early hours of the morning, so the washing machine, shower, and television are all completely free. Seriously, why is no one else taking advantage of this stuff? It’s not like they could be sleeping because they have to be up in five hours to commute to work to pay the rent or anything. That’s crazy talk.**

3. There is a magical cleaning fairy that appears at night to wash up all the pots, unclog hair from the shower drain, and empty the bins. So, if you are planning on going away for a while, the polite thing to do is leave all your unclean plates towering above the sink as an offering. Plus points for staining the countertops and leaving crumbs everywhere. They’ll be gone by the time you return. Never question where these things go. Just continue doing it.

2. Insist upon the importance of basic flat rules, go as far as making a rotor for the fridge, and after a while, just… stop. Specific days to take the bin out, a pot for money so we can buy cleaning equipment and, occasionally, toilet paper (see #5), and of course keeping the kitchen and bathroom clean in between weekly visits from the cleaner. These things are just guidelines for you. Sure, they’re rules for everybody else, but no one will care if you ignore your bin duties this week, right? You’re not like your flatmates. You’re different, special. And special people don’t need to donate €5 for washing up liquid.

1. The way to create a friendly and non-hostile living environment is to express your dominance using Post-It Notes. Never address the Post-It Notes in actual conversation, even though everyone knows what your handwriting looks like, and God forbid you actually talk about any issues you have. Passive aggressive behavior is the new diplomacy.***

What I’m trying to say is this: the most successful way to live in a shared apartment with complete strangers is to live like you’re under constant civil war. But never talk about it, because that would be rude.

Anyway, two of them are moving out at the end of May so I’m living under a constant mantra of ‘please don’t be students, please don’t be students’ until the next two arrive. Viva la España!

* I think we’re on week two of this. But I’m competitive as hell so don’t think I’ll be the one to break the chain.

* * Two of my flatmates are students. Feel my pain.

* * * Strangely enough, these have stopped since I put my own Post-It Note next to two others in the kitchen stating nothing but ‘Passive Aggressive Post-It Note’. Fire with fire and all that.

Favourite Food Things in Spain

As a British child, I was dragged to Spain a lot as a kid. So much so, that I thought I had a pretty good idea about what I did and didn’t like about the country. And if you read my posts leading up to my arrival in Madrid last year, they’re more on the ‘didn’t like’ side of things. However, Spain has pleasantly surprised me and I figured it deserved a positive post for a change, so here are my five favourite things about living in Spain. And surprisingly, they’re all food related. Vegetariansaywhaaaaaat?

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1. Tostada con Tomate:

Before I moved here, my biggest worry was how I’d survive as a vegetarian. And even though it’s still a constant struggle with jamón and chorizo lurking around every corner, there are some foods I’ve sort of fallen in love with. Mainly tostada con tomate. Technically speaking, before my Barcelonés boyfriend complains, this is a Catalan dish. But political stance aside, I love this thing. Never would I have thought I’d want to eat tomatoes for breakfast if it wasn’t somehow related to baked beans, but I am smitten. It’s made even better by always being less than 3€ including a drink, speaking of…

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2. Café con Leche:

I’d heard so much about Spanish coffee, and was honestly expecting something amazing. However, my first experiences with coffee in Madrid just left me feeling underwhelmed. Tiny sizes and the seemingly nonexistent iced variety left me resorting to Starbucks more than I’d care to admit. But now I am one with the café con leches. Sure, they may not all be winners, but they’re cheap and easily accessible. And after twentyone years of living in my English hometown, I never found a coffee I liked within walking distance to my house. So I’m pretty content with the two minute walk to my preferred coffee shop nowadays. I’m almost over the fact that I can’t get a decent iced latte. Almost.

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3. Just General Eating And Drinking Outside:

This is a bit of a stretch on my food topic, but hear me out ‘cause I think it’s important. In the two weeks of summer we get in the UK, everyone runs to the nearest beer garden. But beer gardens are meh, because there’s not much that can compare to the joy of sitting outside in the sun with a good coffee and an even better book. I know it’s a weather thing, but come on, get on this one, UK.

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4. Sweet Things For Breakfast:

Back in the UK, I was strictly a banana or Special K kinda girl. Chocolate for breakfast? Eww. Gross. Blehhh. But what started with a bowl of my flatmate’s Coco Pops led to me possibly having a napolitana from every bakery in Madrid. Croissants just don’t do it for me anymore. Sleepy Saturday mornings at my local brunch haunt, chocolate muesli bars on the bus to work, or Coco Pops in bed. I am a convert. Well done, Spain. Give me that sugar.

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5. Froyo:

I have never been one for ice cream. It melts too quickly and it makes my teeth cold. Out of tradition, I’ll have a little pot of vanilla at the theatre, but I’m more likely to be found racing to finish a Mr Freeze before it melts into nothingness. But one fateful night in August, hungry and a little day-drunk, I stumbled onto my first froyo shop of Madrid. Magical. Now I’m just counting down the days until it reaches 20 degrees again so I can justify walking along with my yoghurt and my fruit. And not having it melt all over me because it’s not EVIL and TERRIBLE like ice cream is. Two words, guys: banana froyo. You’re welcome.

I think it’s safe the say… the vegetarian has been appeased.

Teaching English in Madrid: Pros and Cons

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So teaching English in Spain was a bit of a whirlwind decision for me, and since deciding to do it last May and moving to Madrid in July, my opinions and expectations have changed a lot. Firstly, I was so completely against teaching children. I hated high school when I was there myself, why would I willingly spend more time there as a grownup? One of the selling points of teaching for me was that I could work exclusively with adults. So how did I end up, eight months later, working with kids (and more importantly, enjoying it so much more)? Let’s investigate.

I’ve pretty much done the whole teaching spectrum during my short time in Spain. I’ve worked in an academy, taught in-company Business English, and taught in a secondary school. I’m by no means an expert, but just in case anyone is an obsessive Googler like I am, here are my thoughts on all three of my teaching gigs so far.

Teaching In An Academy: Most people who teach in a language academy will tell you the same thing: it’s very hit or miss. I kind of fell into academy work. It was one of my first job interviews in Spain, and they were the first place to offer me a job. As an unemployed college graduate, I jumped at the chance. I was gonna have money? Yes please! However, I really wish I’d done more research first. I quickly found out that my €10 an hour pay was kind of, well, terrible. I pretty much just spent my days teaching straight out of a textbook and fighting with the CD player to get listening exercises to work. Also, for all my fear over teaching kids, adults (with barely any command over the English language) will very often fight you over basic English grammar or word pronunciations. Like, who’s the English teacher here, Juan?

  • Pros: Your classes are all in one place and most of the time materials will be provided.
  • Cons: The pay isn’t the best and there’s a strong possibility they’ll expect your academy classes to have precedence over any privates you might have.

Teaching In-Company Business Classes: I really liked teaching Business English, but I did get amazingly lucky teaching only C1 level students. A lot of the time Business English students will want to focus more on conversational English that will help them with clients and travel, rather than revising the joys of the past participle for two hours. Originally I was worried that my lack of business knowledge would hinder my ability to teach Business English, but you’d be surprised how much stuff you pick up from just general day to day life, and there weren’t any instances were I couldn’t answer my students’ questions. A lot of the time I’d plan a lesson on a specific subject, and by the end of the class I’d be answering random questions about Scottish Independence and the, uh, nightlife in Amsterdam. Definitely more interesting than phrasal verbs.

  • Pros: You have more control over the lessons and can ask your students what they specifically want to learn (you’ll also get to sit in fancy conference rooms a lot).
  • Cons: When taking on new classes, you have to account for travel time between locations, so you better bring a book to read on the Metro.

Teaching In A School/Being A Language Assistant: After my Business English contract was coming to an end and seeing how much my friends liked working in schools, I decided to try my luck applying for the Ministry Program… in the middle of the school year. Shockingly enough, it actually worked. And I’m so glad it did. Teaching kids is very different to teaching adults, but for the first time since starting this little teaching adventure, my job actually feels… rewarding? I thought that teaching paying adults would feel like this, but I quickly realised their interest mainly stems in landing a job. Whereas kids might not be learning English by choice, the majority of them do seem to actually enjoy their lessons. And the best part is that because I’m only a measly language assistant, I just get to play games and do fun stuff with them, all the boring grammar stuff gets loaded onto the teachers. It’s like being the cool aunt or something.

  • Pros: Your classes are all in one place, you get to hear sentences like ‘Madonna will have a baby… and then kill it’ whilst teaching the future tenses, and let’s be real, the pay is pretty great.
  • Cons: The likelihood of getting placed in a school in the centre is slim, but honestly the commute isn’t so bad. When I first got placed in Zone B2, I almost cried. But it only takes me about 45 minutes and my 40 book reading challenge is coming on like a dream. So not really that much of a con after all.

So that’s my experience with teaching English in Madrid. I know the experience is different for everyone, but that’s part of the fun of it. It’s supposed to be an adventure! And if you really do get a job and it’s completely terrible, just change it. In case you couldn’t tell from what I just wrote, there’s lots of opportunities for teaching English in Madrid and you’ve just gotta find your perfect fit. If you’re thinking of applying to teach English abroad, I highly suggest it! It definitely changed my life for the better… although whether that’s the joys of teaching or the cheap vino blanco is purely a matter of opinion.

What’s On My iPhone: The Expat Edition

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So this is a pretty cliché and unoriginal trick of the bloggers, but it’s one I’m strangely fascinated by. However, I never thought I’d actually do one myself, because as much as I (thought I) loved my phone, I didn’t really feel I could offer that much to the discussion. It’s just a phone, y’know? But then I moved to Madrid, and my phone somehow became so much more than a phone. Wow, this sounds so lame. But it’s true. And it’s still true almost eight months later. I honestly have no idea how the expats of the past lived without smart phones. So here’s ten of the apps that I think make expatriate life not only livable, but more enjoyable.

  1. WhatsApp: I originally downloaded WhatsApp before I left for Spain so I could text my parents, little did I know how much Spain actually loves it. It’s especially useful when you first arrive in a new country, ‘cause you’re bound to meet people who put off buying a sim card for months and months who you can only communicate with when they’re within WiFi range (don’t be that person, no one wants to be stuck waiting for 40 minutes not knowing if you’re dead or not).
  2. Weather: I never used this app in the UK, in fact it was relegated to a little folder of ‘boring apps’ chilling on my last page. But almost eight months in and it’s still hilarious for me to screenshot the weather in the UK and the weather here, and send them to my mother with laughing emojis. ESPAÑA!
  3. Citymapper: Definitely my favourite and most used app, Citymapper has saved me more times than I care to count. It tells me how to get anywhere around the city, so I can pick the fastest route. Or in my case, ‘weeeeell… I could walk the 15 minutes… but it’s only two stops on the Metro…’. And it’s only gotten me lost maybe two times. Yay.
  4. Citymaps: Yes, this is a different app. A newer addition to my collection, but still an equally important one. This is pretty much if Google Maps and Pinterest had a baby. It tells you recommended places around you and lets you read user reviews (which are sometimes in English). Always useful when you’re just dying for a café con leche in a new part of the city.
  5. Instagram: Because how else would I make everyone from back home super jealous of my cool Madrid life? (Only joking. Kind of.) Related apps I recommend are VSCOcam and Afterlight, because as much fun as I’m having in Madrid, you can’t doubt that everything’s better with a filter.
  6. Google Translate: Moon of my life, my sun and stars. Most commonly used in supermarkets when I’m trying to figure out if there’s meat in whatever I’m holding. The new camera scan feature is one of the best things to ever happen to me… even if it means I’m getting lazier with my language learning. Speaking of…
  7. Cat Spanish: I’ve probably downloaded every Spanish language app in the app store at some point, but none of them ever worked for me (the only thing I remember from Duolingo is ‘the penguin reads the newspaper’. So useful). Maybe it’s because of my deep-rooted love of LolCatz, but this app just clicked with me. And I’ve learnt more with this than any other language learning app. Or even GCSE classes. Cats are magical, guys.
  8. Pacer: Strangely enough, moving abroad and exploring a new city (and not spending all my time in bed watching Netflix) has made me a teensy bit healthier. Pacer is pretty much a pedometer that tracks your steps in a neat little graph and pits you against your Facebook friends… and I am a highly competitive person. Most of my days now end with rage if I don’t make 10,000 steps (and sometimes frantic pacing around the apartment to bring my score up). But it’s all in the name of health so it’s okay.
  9. Goodreads: I read a measly nineteen books last year. For an English Literature graduate, that’s embarrassing. So I set myself a goal to read forty books in 2015, and with my new fifty minute commute to work, this should be a breeze. However, I don’t trust myself. So I publicly marked this on the Goodreads reading challenge to shame myself into completing it. Also, using the app to rate a book when I finish it is strangely therapeutic.
  10. SAM: More of a serious one here, but one I’d still like to talk about. When I was regretting taking on a second internship and cutting down my classes, my anxiety was the worst it’s been since 2013. SAM is way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks, and it really did help me. Whether the breathing exercises were actually calming me down, or I was just distracting myself, I credit this app with me getting to sleep some nights. Expat life is amazing, and I’m all for moving abroad to escape your problems, but sometimes they catch up with you, and this is a good way to help when you’re awake at 3AM. And if I’d have listened to my panic attacks and given up and moved home, I wouldn’t be here now, with a job I enjoy and time to leisurely write blogposts on a sunny Spanish Saturday afternoon.

So wherever you are in the world, I hope these apps help you as much as they help me in Madrid. And if anyone has any tips for new apps to download, let me know! Even though I’m scarily low on space right now. It might be time to reevaluate my need for Robot Unicorn Attack.

November Photo Diary: Temples, Volcanos & Palaces, Oh My!

I know, I know. A photo diary blog post– how cliché. But nonetheless, I have a few snaps to share from my November shenanigans, and it’s a good way to look back on things in the future. It probably won’t happen every month, but if there’s something worth writing about I’ll share it on here.

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November was a bittersweet month. It was my flatmate Lauren’s last month in Madrid, so we had lots of little excursions to the places we always said ‘oh, we should go there!’ and never did. November technically started off right after my trip to Segovia, because as soon as we arrived back in Madrid we rushed off to Allie’s real life American Hallowe’en party. I had pumpkin flavoured cookies and drank punch. So American. Even if there weren’t any red cups. As this picture was taken after midnight, it was technically November. And since I don’t like to spend money on things (total lie, but I’d rather spend it on shoes and pretty dresses, not Hallowe’en costumes), I wore my own clothes and donned some extra liquid eyeliner to be Alex DeLarge. One person knew who I was.

IMG_2201 copyOne of the many ‘last chance to do x’ places that Lauren and I visited was tea and cake at my favourite brunch spot right by our apartment. I often come here in the mornings for a café con leche and a napolitana (just call it a fucking pain au chocolat, alright), but Lauren never joined me. So before one of our trips to the cheap English food shop that just opened in Madrid (vegetarian Oreos and Heinz Tomato Soup <3), we stopped by for a refuel. I got passion fruit tea, purely because I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t see if they had any of the green variety, and a chocolate cake. I think Lauren just got a boring old normal tea and a cheesecake, because our tastes are very different, but we enjoyed ourselves and it definitely made the (poorly planned on our part) rush hour on a Friday Metro journey a lot more bearable.

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Yet another adventure with Lauren involved one last trip to our favourite tapas place (if you could call it that). I actually ended up taking over one of Lauren’s classes when she left, so this day I just followed her around to see exactly where the building was. Whilst she taught her class I got sucked into an English bookstore and endless iced lattes at Starbucks… where the chosen name of the day was Dorothy. Not on my behalf though, that’s just one of the many ways that Spanish people hear the name Rosy. After that we trekked to Salamanca to the famous tapas place. Tapas and copas for 2.90€? Yes please. I always get the sandwich vegetal out of necessity, but I love it anyway. And I’m never going to turn down a nice cold glass of tinto de verano after a long day of walking around Madrid… even if it is raining outside.

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A lot of my month was spent doing some cover classes for my agency and working on implementing new social media strategies for my internship (so grown up, so adult), so we skip a week or so here until it was Lauren’s leaving weekend. Unfortunately, this coincided with my dad coming to visit, so her going away drinks were cut short for me. Because of this, Greg, Lauren, and I went out to another bar a bit earlier for some, uh, more tinto. After that we headed out to meet everyone at a Hawaiian themed bar with fish tanks in the walls. We were greeted with leis, flowers, cocktail umbrellas, and… ham sandwiches? Very Hawaiian. Six of us ordered a volcano drink which was an amazing 45€, but sadly it was the only overpriced smoking drink I got to experience as my dad text me to say he was at his hotel… and that means I’d get to stop spending my own money so obviously I was going to go meet him. And I guessed I missed him in the four months I hadn’t seen him or anything. Whatever.

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The next day I got up early to show Madrid to my dad. Unfortunately for us, it was the worst weather I’d experienced since I moved here in July. After breakfast we dipped in and out of a few stores in the centre, and I got to show my dad the Plaza Mayor Goat Thing, which is clearly worth the trip to Madrid on it’s own really. We didn’t really have a plan of action, so we strolled down Gran Via and I thought that maybe the market would be up in Plaza de España– it wasn’t– but a quick Google search of ‘touristy Madrid things’ did remind me that the Temple of Debod was within walking distance, so we headed out to see some Egyptian-y goodness. It’s something I’ve been meaning to visit since moving here but have never had the chance to, so it was great to finally experience it. We didn’t go inside the museum, but we did get to walk around the outside of the temple and see a great view of Madrid from the top of the hill. It was nice for my dad to see that Spain exists outside of Benidorm.

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We spent the rest of the day avoiding the rain and eating in the most Spanish restaurant I’ve been in since moving here… I wouldn’t recommend it. But the next day we got back on the tourist-y wagon. We started with breakfast, once again, and then braved the crowds of El Rastro, because you’ve gotta experience that at least one. And it happens on my doorstep, so I don’t really have that much of a choice about going if I want to leave my house on a Sunday. After a bit more exploring we got churros with Lauren and Greg, which then inspired us to check out the Palacio Real de Madrid. It was beautiful to see and I’m glad I got to go inside and learn a bit more about the history of the Spanish monarchy and how they lived… but I think I’ll always prefer the British monarchy and visiting run down medieval castles like I did for my birthday this year.

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Later that evening both Lauren and my dad left me, on the same plane no less, and I was back to a life of emptiness. LOLJK… my dad had brought me my Nintendo 3DS over and Pokémon Omega Ruby had just come out so I’ve had a pretty productive week. Six gym badges down, two to go. Nah, but really, I started my new teaching job on Tuesday so I’ve spent the week rubbing shoulders with the business professionals of Alonso Martínez. I’m definitely glad I bought this coat now, I feel like I can blend in with the soulless business corporate types I wait at crossings with quite easily and without judgement.

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12 days until I go back to the UK for Christmas and get to give my cat so many eskimo kisses that my nose starts to erode. Until then I’ll be teaching some business English, trying to revolutionise social media marketing, and watching all of the Game of Thrones DVDs my dad brought me. It’s been way too long, Jorah.