From the start of my modern language’s undergraduate degree, I knew that I would be expected to spend a year abroad, and since I study Spanish & TESOL I knew that I would be going to Spain. But what I did not expect was to be going in the middle of a pandemic.
My intentions were always to go and work for the British Council as an auxiliar and I had specified my preferences to be posted to Madrid and in a primary school. After spending months in suspense of waiting I finally heard on August 13th I would be based in a small town in Móstoles, south of Madrid, in a kindergarten school made up of 3–5-year-olds.
The countdown to the 28th September when I would be flying out was on! But the month of September mostly consisted of contingency planning in case COVID cancelled my year in Madrid, and constantly worrying whenever Boris appeared on our screens. But the day arrived, and I embarked on my journey from Edinburgh Airport with my parents and way too much luggage in tow.
Having heard about the tough measures Spain had followed during lockdown, and the fact that masks were compulsory everywhere, I was expecting a tense and hostile environment when walking about the streets of Madrid. But I could not have been more wrong, every shop restaurant and bar you go to you’re still greeted with the Spanish charm everyone knows and loves. Even to this day, on my commute to work people are still social distancing in the queue for the bus, I have even seen my fair share of socially distanced protests in la plaza del sol. It is clear the Spanish have a different attitude towards the masks then British people. In Spain nobody is exempt from wearing a mask and everyone has their noses and mouths covered whilst doing so, and if you do not have a mask on you will be confronted about it. Meanwhile in England, you can roam the streets freely without wearing it, and it seems not that many people know how to wear them properly.
As to be expected, when I first started working at the school, I was so nervous. The fact I could not find my bus stop and found myself having to ask the Guardia civil didn’t settle my nerves. But everyone there is so lovely! All the teachers were so warm and welcoming, and the children are adorable – however it will be a while until I’ll ever know all their names! I knew I would be wearing a mask whilst working, which was a bit of a nightmare thinking about it when I put one on leaving my flat at 7.15 am and can’t take it off until I get into my flat at 3.15, but it comes as second nature now. However, the one situation I’ll always struggle wearing masks in is at the gym….. NIGHTMARE.
Whilst learning a language I appreciated being able to read someone’s mouth when they’re speaking in times when I don’t understand what they’re saying. So now when everyone wears a mask, I have really improved my listening skills. Whilst talking to the teachers at school, I have to really focus and concentrate when they speak to me because I never realised how much I relied on being able to lipread.
I’ve been living in Madrid from the end of September and the plan is to stay until the end of June, meaning that I had to apply for residency documents and documents which classed me as a resident. The fact that my year abroad accidentally coincided with Brexit and COVID, really didn’t help with application process. My first attempt at my NIE involved me speaking to a Spanish man with a very thick accent, whilst wearing a mask, through a plastic wall AND with us both sitting two metres away from this wall. I pride myself on turning up to meetings with the correct documentation, but to no avail the Spanish administration system had gotten the better of me. But this failed NIE meeting, lead me to my now group of my close friends Kasia, Charlotte and Jack. Given the current COVID situation, the Spanish administration requires you book appointments for EVERYTHING, which can be a bit of an ordeal when there are none as all other British citizens just like myself are trying to do the same as you!
Having been at home for Christmas, being able to socialise back in England seems like a distant dream and something that won’t happen for a while. But meanwhile in Madrid, its only what you see the locals ever doing. Walking through the streets of Malasaña, and cafes, bars and restaurants are all full of people overflowing out onto the tables in the streets. However, there are some restrictions in place to help control the spread. The government have stated that you cannot be out in groups of more than six, which with planning is quite easy to get around, you just have yourselves across two tables. But one thing that makes life a bit difficult is the curfew. The curfew has gone from being home by ten at night, to midnight and now in the last few days back to ten. It is not a big deal, but when you want to go to a party or on a night out, you must be back by ten and you aren’t too sure what to do with yourself.
Although my time abroad hasn’t come to an end yet, I couldn’t have asked for a better time here in Madrid. Whilst I may have to make compromises, I am so glad and lucky to be out here making memories which will last a lifetime and I cannot wait to see what the rest of my time here brings for me.