The list of what I gained could extend across multiple pages, but in the hope of keeping this readable, I’ve chosen a few of the main things.
Language skills: It was only after accidentally spouting the odd ‘gracias’ to a straight-out-of-Salford bus driver, or asking for a ‘bolsa’ as the assistant in Asda scanned my custard creams, that I realised that Spanish was now properly engraved in my brain. After a month of speaking a certain language, it becomes so instinctive that you begin to think in that language over your native one, and it’s much easier to switch between the two. This was a huge benefit to my oral classes at university and really improved my spontaneity.
Less dependence on make-up: So, I’m not saying you have to fly out to Spain to do this, but it happened to present me with the perfect opportunity. Having come from England, I arrived in Spain layered with my everyday foundation and eyeliner. After two days of having make-up sliding down my face in temperatures above 30 degrees, and also witnessing the lack of make-up the Spanish (in general) wore on a daily basis, I decided to free my face. Although scary at first, I actually soon adjusted to the benefits of going make-up free: my skin cleared up; I was less paranoid about eyeliner sliding from my tear ducts in the heat; it took me considerably less time to get ready in the mornings; and when I did do my make-up for events, it felt like a pampering session rather than a chore. I thought this would be impossible to keep up upon returning to England, but I genuinely found myself considerably less scared of going without the make-up. Getting ready for uni in the mornings and only applying concealer and mascara allows me to spend some precious extra time sleeping!
An appreciation for quality time: The Spanish take time after every main meal (usually lunch time) for ‘la sobremesa’. This is the time spent around the table chatting and discussing anything and everything. Admittedly, I did not appreciate being interrogated on the British monarchy after I’d had 4 hours sleep one night following a fiesta, but generally I really came to appreciate the time that the family dedicates to each other. Nobody ever disappeared to spend hours on Facebook; they played games around the table to relax.
Less obsession with planning to every detail: The slight language barrier did occasionally leave me clueless as to where I was going and when. I spent an entire week wondering where on Earth we were going ‘a las dos’ (at two o’clock), when I’d been mishearing ‘Alatoz’: the place we were actually going! Another misunderstanding had me thinking we were going to the cinema, only to turn up at a lake and be ushered into a canoe! At home, I like to know where I’m going, when, why and every detail, however this experience has definitely made me take a more laidback approach.
New recipes: A different culture means different food, and I love cooking! I learned lots of new recipes from tortilla española, to paella, to gazpacho. I feel like the English are too fussy over which foods belong together, whereas one night in Spain we had fajitas with apple cooked in with the vegetables as they needed using, and it was lovely. There was a terrifying situation in which I was presented with full prawns in a paella. Full prawns, their eyes glaring at me, that I had to pull apart. I wouldn’t be in a rush to have those again!
A new name: Yes, I spent the entire month being known as, if I can try to spell this phonetically: ‘La-uw-ren’. The Spanish don’t tend to blend their ‘au’ sounds as the English do, hence I was ‘La-uw-ren’ or more commonly ‘la inglesa’. Irritating at first, but I suppose I miss it a little now!
Relationships: Most importantly, I gained some strong friendships and relationships. The family have insisted that I am always welcome back in their house, and they may even be coming to England next year. I have also kept in touch with the children’s English teacher, who turned out to be an amazing friend to me and took me out to meet her own friends too. I didn’t think for a million years that I’d cry when leaving them all after a month, but I did!
There are of course some things I would have perhaps changed about the experience. However, none of the following are ‘bad’ aspects, just reflections on what I could have done differently to make things a little easier.
Bonding with the children: A difficult thing for me was that the mum of the family didn’t work, so it was too easy for the children to run to her when they’d had an argument or wanted something to eat. This caused me to struggle with bonding properly with them and did make things quite difficult. If I was to do this again, I’d specifically ask the mum if I could have some mornings or afternoons alone with the children until they became comfortable with asking for me.
Location: Being used to living close to Manchester, I have become accustomed to being able to go shopping whenever I need to, catching trains and buses and seeing friends. As we drove down the country roads of Almansa, I quickly realised that I would have significantly less freedom. We were a 20 minute drive from the nearest town, and even that was small. The only thing that was close by was a rundown park, and I did end up feeling a little trapped. This wasn’t too much of a problem given that my stay was only for a month, and we did travel a lot to see the family, but it’s definitely something I’d consider more in future.
Contact with people at home: If anything, I’d reduce this. The house I was in had Wi-Fi, making it very easy to send messages to everyone at home. This was useful, but when I began to miss home a little I think it actually made it more difficult. Everybody was so reachable but so far away, and seeing pictures of my dog or being in a group chat with my family sometimes made things a little more difficult. I think it would have been better to schedule times to Skype or contact my family, so I could just update them on the exciting things and look forward to our next chat. Having said that, some of my friends were absolute stars when I just needed a good English moan!
What I packed: I could just insert ‘too much’ here and leave it at that. I over packed. Of course I did, but when I arrived, it turned out that I didn’t actually need a lot of what I’d taken. To save yourself the stress of sacrificing objects from a 28kg suitcase, ask the family if you’ll be able to use their towels, what types of shoes you’re likely to need etc. Also, some catastrophizing part of my mind thought ‘take an outfit for each day of the month!’ But, as the more sensible among us know, Spain may not yet have welcomed the kettle, but they do have washing machines. I’m glad I took some English magazines for when my head needed a little break! An essential? Travel plugs.
Despite what I’ve said above, there’s not much that I’d change about my experience; it was amazing and I feel very lucky! I would strongly recommend living with a family abroad for a while as it opens your eyes to many new things and gives you a different perspective on the way we live our lives in England.