Sunday, October 10, 2010

From Spain about Spain

It’s so good to be back on track!

I finally got the Internet at home and have so much to catch up with! So many new posts, a new version of Twitter and the Virtual Round Table conference!

Almost everyone has been asking me what happened (‘You said you were staying in Poland!’) and where I ended up – so here we go :)

Where I live now
I’m currently working at Clen College IH Pamplona in Spain. I never actually planned to work in Spain but… it sort of happened. It’s been almost a month since I got here and I slowly started settling in. The decision to leave Poland and work abroad again was pretty sudden. As in the case of leaving Turkey, there are tons of reasons behind my decision which I don’t really feel like discussing here.

In order to avoid confusion and to answer all the questions, I’ve divided all my musing into a few categories. Enjoy!


-I teach 22.5 hours a week (1 hour=60 min) and my timetable consists of YL, teenage and adult classes

-As I live very close to the Medebaldea center (the school has 2 more), most of my classes were scheduled to take place there. It takes me 5min to get to work on foot which is awesome especially after travelling to school for more than an hour in Istanbul.

-I also get to teach in a public Catholic school called Larraona and Ikastola San Fermin (Ikastola means school in Basque as I was told)

-Every Tuesday and Thursday I walk for 25 min to get to Mutua Navarra for my 7.30 off site company class - don’t mind the walk though – the students are great there!

-My biggest challenge will be the, already famous on Twitter, 3 year olds. As I have never taught such small kids, it’s going to be tough. During my first class one girl started crying and I had no idea why. I’ll update you on how things go :)

-After a two year break – I got three adult groups – all on a Pre-Intermediate level. How I enjoy these classes!

-Some of my classes are in blocks and the longest one is 4.5 hours without any breaks. By no breaks I mean no breaks. The classes are scheduled as follows: 16-18, 18-19, 19-20.30. No comment.

-We were all handed cheap MP3 players in order to download all the tracks we need. There are no CDs available to use so everyone has to carry the MP3 player and the speakers all day long to every school they teach in. Interesting.

Spain and Pamplona – first impressions and observations

-Trying to get the Internet at home is a pain. That’s all I have to say about it. Eventually you end up buying one of these ridiculously expensive USB sticks or whatever they are called or knock on the neighbours’ doors asking for their password offering money in return.

-Shops close on Sundays. Only bars and cinemas are open. If you want to buy bread on Sunday – fat chance!

-Dubbing in cinemas will drive me mad. Apparently there is no chance to watch films with subtitles in Pamplona.

-It seems impossible to pay with a 500Euro banknote – none of the shops or restaurants want to accept it.

-People jog a lot, even at 7 am when I go to work.

-You can buy cigarettes either in special tobacco shops or from vending machines in bars.

-There are tons of twins around – is that a Pamplona thing?

-Wines here are awesome and food is great – people who were telling me that the pintxos in Pamplona are delicious were 100% right!

-It seems impossible to buy a prepaid sim card without buying a phone – the shop assistants always say they have just run of them so everyone ends up buying the phone as well.

-The siesta. From around 14 till 16 shops, banks, offices etc close down. Every day. Why didn’t we have it in Turkey I wonder?

-I simply love entering supermarkets and seeing the jamón after living without pork products for three years :)


-Life is OK now - it was harder at the beginning without the Internet but now things are fine. It’s not paradise though – starting your life from scratch in a foreign country is always tough at the beginning. Once you’ve experienced it, you know it takes time to make friends and start feeling comfortable.

-Thanks to Couch Surfing I managed to meet some very nice people who took me around and gave some useful tips concerning Pamplona and life in Spain in general – in case you’re reading this – thanks a bunch!

-I still don’t know where exactly my apartment is located. Seems like its somewhere between Medebaldea and Barañain. But then again there is Etxabakoitz which is close as well. No, I haven’t misspelled that – Etxabakoitz. It’s gonna take me weeks to learn how to pronounce that so don’t worry if you can’t.

-I live with a lovely Hungarian couple – Katalin and Peter. Katalin works at Clen College as well and I’ve just learned that her CELTA tutor in Hungary was working with me in Poland 4 years ago. Small world!

-People keep calling me Ana which I will probably have to accept soon :)

Spanish students and teaching in Spain

-I was warned many times that they can be naughty and talkative, misbehaving and nasty. So far, I haven’t really noticed that.

-The first thing I realized having entered the classroom was the students’ pronunciation – sometimes I have no idea what they are saying. The sound /g/ is the biggest issue as it almost always gets pronounced as /h/. There seems to be an issue with /s/ and / ʃ/ as well but I have yet to figure out why.

-Some students here don’t think of themselves as Spanish. They say they speak Euskera (not Basque) and feel very proud of that. Sensitive issue?

-Teaching English seems so much easier than back in Poland in Turkey. So many words in Spanish are similar to their English equivalents that you end up saving a lot of precious classroom time for explanations.

-Last week one of my teenage students asked for a translation in Spanish and didn’t get one. What followed was a 10 min discussion – the students simply couldn’t understand how one can decide to live in a foreign country without speaking the language spoken there. Does that mean I’m crazy having made such a decision?

Learning Spanish

-So far my knowledge of Spanish consists of random words and phrases such as ‘una caña’ ‘si’ and ‘cafe con leche’ :)

-I should be starting classes after 19th Oct but so far I’ve been using this wonderful site to learn the basics (The Mi Vida Loca series is fantastic!)

-After Turkey, it’s pretty easy to figure out what people are saying even without knowing the language so, well...


Where I'm going soon 
-The only thing planned for now is a trip to Zaragoza on the 12th October but it has absolutely nothing to do with blogging or ELT. It’s going to be pure fun, inşallah :) I’m planning to visit the Virgen Del Pilar as, believe it or not, she seems to be one responsible for me being where I am now :)

-I definitely have to learn Spanish.

-I'm waiting impatiently for some of my friends to come and visit and I do hope to meet some other bloggers from Spain soon!

I'm really sorry I wasn't able to make it to the IATEFL Poland in Bydgoszcz this year but there is TESOL France coming up in November. I've already bought the tickets and booked a hotel so hope to meet some of you in Paris!


  1. Hi, that's a really interesting read. Thanks!

    Having lived in Spain, as you know, in Andalucia, I can tell you that even though it's different, many things are the same or similar. I totally understand the internet thing, but you should be able to get a connection with Telefonica (although they are an evil monopoly), I was paying about 15 euros for a phone-line and about 34 euros for an unlimited broadband wifi connection, which was a good connection. With the mobile, usually a cheap phone comes more or less free with a sim.

    In terms of the language (btw I believe Euskara is Basque, that's their name for the language) and the issue with translation my feeling is that so many teachers in Spain speak Spanish or learn it to a decent level so quickly that translation is constantly used. My students expected it and really couldn't get to grips with any other approach, so I slipped into it as well, but is that so bad? Well, there's another argument!

    I also thought there were twins everywhere, I think that's a weird Spanish genetic thing! I wouldn't try to pay with anything above a 50 euro note normally. Food is great but can be unhealthy - watch your cholesterol! The dubbing thing is really annoying.

    However, overall, I think Spain is a great place to live and though I don't know the north, I'm sure you'll have a great time! No doubt there will be other comments from people who have been in Spain for a lot longer, but it's really interesting for me to read this as I was in the same position only a couple of years ago and felt the same about lots of things.

  2. Hola! (Or "kaixo" in Euskera!)

    Interesting to read your first impressions. I can tell you 'Spanish' or 'Basque' (or in my case 'Catalan') kids are a mixed bag but generally I've found that most classes are composed of basically good kids who sometimes get "contaminated" by the odd troublemaker in the bunch.

    As far as the "s" and "sh" thing, they are allophones of the same phoneme, such that in some dialects the Spanish word "sí" sounds just like the English word "she". Hence the difficulty there, I suppose.

    The similarities in lexis between Spanish and English are great, but they do of course lead to problems with "false friends", a huge source of errors, i.e. the verb asistir means "to attend" and the verb atender means "to assist" (just to name one of many).

    You're correct in your suspicion that the language thing is a sensitive issue. In Cataluña it's been a big deal lately, but in the Basque country and Navarra more so historically, seeing as how people have been blown up in terrorist attacks because of it(well, indirectly because of it).

    I don't know how people react when you try to pay with a 500€ bill--in fact Ive never even seen one! But yeah, taxis and news stands tend not to accept 50€ bills, so you can imagine...

    Anyway, sorry for the neverending comment, I think in general it's a great place to be)Ive been in BCN for five years now), and I hope things go well and I'm looking forward to reading more about it! Cheers!

  3. A belated welcome to Spain!!! Hope you enjoy it as much as I have so far. Suerte!

  4. Welcome to Spain - what a great synopsis of your arrival and situation! I'm sure you'll enjoy it, it sounds like things are going well so far. Will certainly let you know when I'm in the neighbourhood, and see you in Paris!

  5. Told you about the pintxos, right! My fave has to be in Bar Río in Calle San Nicolas - just ask for un pintxo de huevo ;o) If you get to San Sebastián you'll find loads more delicious things to eat, and remember to wash them down with a nice cool glass of Txakoli!

    Funny thing, you're working at the exact same place where I was a couple of years ago - although I lived in Rochapea (near one of the other Clen College buildings).

    About the bread - I'm sure that the panaderias open at least for a part of the day on Sundays. However, if you're really desperate, try to find a Chinese run shop somewhere - they are open all the time!

    For VO (version original) i.e. subtitled films, check out the GOLEM cinema nearer to Parque Yamaguchi - they often have a few non-dubbed films there (I saw Blade Runner and Shine a Light).

    Anyways, most of all enjoy yourself!

    Mike =)