Student

Record-breaking and wrong-doing

I seem to be surviving here in France, in fact its coming up to a month now so I thought I’d do a little update on my progress as an inept intern in a luxury boutique.

We established fairly early on that I was lacking in retail knowledge, specifically of the men’s-formal-wear-in-French variety, however, you’ll be pleased to hear that things have improved. Due to a collection of fortunate events I have inadvertently broken the store’s sales record, with a huge transaction last Tuesday morning (unfortunately I do not work on commission).

Basically a nice man from Kazakstan came in looking about as clueless and out of place as me. I was manning the shop floor alone so unfortunately he had no choice but to seek my ‘expertise’ in his shopping mission. I helped him find a nicely-fitted suit, he then went on to by the suit in another colour and found a winter coat to go with it. Four shirts and an overpriced pair of socks later and he’d wracked up 1650 euros! The nice part was that this customer wanted my opinion on every single item, he didn’t speak French so we communicated in a mixture of English and hand gestures, I nodded a lot and gave big thumbs up to express ‘wow that looks great!’ and it seemed to work. Anyway I was alone in the shop at the time and my boss was super-impressed upon his return to find me scanning through all these big items.

Unfortunately, I then rained on my own parade by making a huge numerical blunder on the till and overcharging the man by €200, however we soon sorted this out and he left the store about as patient and smiley as he entered – just with a few more bags. So maybe a career in retail could be promising! Except I don’t really like folding, or rude customers, or standing up all day….

And actually, as this little example shows, I still make plenty of mistakes. In fact I do multiple things wrong every single day. Despite breaking the sales record I am bottom of the league for the number of customer details I’ve taken (and I don’t mean chatting up the French men by asking for their numbers, although incidentally I’m terrible at that too). I’m supposed to ask each customer for their details when they make a purchase, in order to send them an electronic receipt, add them to the mailing list and all that. I hate asking as most people don’t like to give out that kind of information and I feel pushy. However last week 81% of my transactions were without customer details and apparently this is bad. I like to think I just respect people’s privacy more than the rest of the team, tant pis.

I also feel bad encouraging people spend money. Every person who enters the shop is obviously a sales opportunity and I’m told to try harder to encourage purchasing, but I find it hard to do this. Plus I’m secretly happy when people don’t buy things because it frees me of the pressure of operating the till and making an inevitable faux-pas (please don’t tell my boss).

Anyway, hopefully next month will be filled with fewer mistakes, especially as I can’t play the ‘sorry I’m new!’ card for much longer. I have a much-needed weekend off now so I’m going to explore more of Paris and catch up on sleep, à bientot!

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Hello Autumn

The cold weather has come to Zafra. When I say cold I mean that the temperature is no longer 30 degrees; it’s dropped to about 14, but this change occurred in the space of two days and no one was prepared.

You’d think a polar vortex had hit Spain. In the streets the (woollen) gloves are out, I’ve seen multiple bobble hats and last season’s Zara scarves are making all kinds of appearances. At school the playground is deserted, the students are occupying the corridors and the teachers are despairing. You can just about hear the exclamations of ‘que frio!‘ beneath the layers of snoods and baklavas.

If you think that’s extreme youScreen Shot 2014-11-05 at 21.54.30‘ll be impressed to hear that my flatmate Whitney’s school have resorted to serious cold-prevention techniques. Their staffroom now features a round table with a heated blanket as a table cloth; the teachers sit huddled around it with their legs underneath in a cave of warmth.

For me, a Durham student, it’s not that cold. However, before coming to Spain I was lucky enough to spend Summer in the south of France. I returned to England for a few weeks but before my tan had the chance to fade I’d packed my bags again – I’ve therefore had five consecutive months of sunshine! As a result, my trusty tartan coat hasn’t seen daylight since April and I’m enjoying wearing it after all this time. The colder weather is quite a novelty in general; it makes home seem closer, cups of tea taste sweeter and I can finally wear more layers. Naturally my bed is also cosier, which isn’t such a positive when my alarm goes off… and we might have to start paying heating bills soon, but for now I’ll enjoy the change. Not having to worry about sweat patches whilst teaching teenagers is definitely a bonus.

I’m off to put my slippers on and listen to some Michael Bublé, it’s not too early for Christmas songs is it?!Untitled

The new way to hitchhike

BlaBlaCar exists in the UK but is nowhere near as popular as it is in Europe. It’s a website organising car-sharing journeys. You either advertise your journey and have passengers pay to join you, or you search for a journey and find a car to ride in. Being under 25 so unable to rent a car, adverse to driving in England let alone abroad and a bit strapped for cash, my flatmates and I unsurprisingly opted for the second option…

BlaBlaCar is a good way to travel because it’s about half the price of buses and trains, you get to chat in Spanish and meet interesting people. There is of course the added risk factor; getting into cars with strangers does feel instinctively scary but if you forget about the fear and focus on the convenience then it’s all fine and dandy.

My flatmates and I have booked two BlaBlaCars to get us to and from Seville this weekend. Choosing our driver was quite a fun experience – we typed in our desired journey and were given a selection of people to choose from, each with a profile showing their name, age, car type, and other info. Deciding between Juan, Manu and Jesus became a tricky decision as we weighed up the creepiness of their picture with the suitability of their time of departure. Would we rather leave at an ungodly hour with normal-looking Juan? Or depart at our preferred time with pony-tail-sporting, cowboy-hat-wearing Jesús? Luckily all drivers have ratings and reviews and we eventually opted for Elena, who has forty years of driving experience and was described as ‘chatty and flexible’ (presumably referring to departure times rather than gymnastic ability).

So far we’ve used the service once – to catch a lift to the town of Cáceres. It didn’t start off too well; we were due to meet ‘Mabel’ driving a SEAT Ibiza but what we did not realise was that Ibizas are very common Spanish cars. After shouting ‘Mabel?’ at a rather confused looking woman who pulled up at the correct time in an SEAT Ibiza, and practically climbing into her car before she shooed us away, we eventually found the right person. Incidentally the real Mabel was great, she drove us right to the door of our destination and was friendly and chatty the whole journey – perfect.

I’ve been in Spain three weeks today and so far so good. As predicted, there has been a lot of embarrassment and confusion but I’m now beginning to feel settled and I’m actually lot happier than I’ve been all year. I hope everyone’s having a good Tuesday!Untitled

Back to school, blue skies and boyfriends

My walk to school, complete with cobbles, a church and multiple orange trees!

I’ve just finished my first official day of teaching in the school. When I say teaching, I mean that I will be working for the next nine months as a language assistant; helping to teach English to students between the ages of 11 and 18. Today I introduced myself to five different classes (I talked about my studies, why I’m here, my hobbies etc) and then there was plenty of opportunity for the kids to ask me questions about England, my town, my family and anything else they wanted to know.

Today I was with 11 and 12 year olds, and, being in such a small town in rural Spain, their English was quite basic. However, their enthusiasm and friendliness was amazing. Most of them have just moved up to secondary school so they are interested by everything and very excited to learn. When it came to asking me questions, in every class, without fail, one cheeky boy would bring up my relationship status, normally in the form of “Have you boyfriend?” or “You go with boyfriend?” to which his classmates would collapse into giggles. Declaring my single status prompted a lot of laughter in one particular class, in which they’d apparently done a topic on ‘my dream partner’ the week before. A student called Pedro (who is just 12 years old) had written that his ideal partner would be a brunette between the age of 15 and 20 so they found it hysterical that I happened to be compatible with Pedro’s criteria. With the ‘ideal partner’ vocabulary clearly very fresh in their minds (presumably a fun exercise to learn conditional verbs), I was asked “what is your ideal boyfriend like” so I responded “My ideal boyfriend would be funny, kind and taller than me” making it clear that Pedro and I were not to be…

Another student then asked where abouts I was living, however the teacher quickly whispered that it’s best not to give that kind of information to students. Before I could respond to the question she answered for me, saying “Megan doesn’t know which road she lives on, she is new to Zafra and cannot remember her address”. Unfortunately this probably made me seem a bit dim but I suppose it’s good to know that I won’t be receiving any unwanted visitors.

All in all it was a great first day. The teachers were really laid back and my job is literally just to talk in English, listen to students and give them help when necessary. I don’t know what it will be like teaching the older classes but I’ll find out next week. Now, in true Spanish style, after just five hours of work it’s time for a few days off. I’m attending training days in the town of Cáceres tomorrow and then the weekend will be taken up by parties because its the Feria de Zafra – a huge festival here in the town. Did I mention that the King and Queen of Spain are coming for the occasion? I’m excited! Untitled

La primera semana

I am now the proud owner of a Spanish phone contract, bank account, identity number and my apartment has fully-functioning wifi (hurrah!). I’ve located all the best clothes shops, found a large selection of different food-sellers, tried the local ice-cream and I know my way around Zafra (just about). This week has been busy to say the least.befunky_artwork.jpg

I love living so close to the town centre and it’s great fun to wander around. I am discovering new things all the time; on a walk yesterday I found a fantastic indoor market selling fresh fish, meat and fruit and veg. It seems to be where all the locals do their food shopping and so I plan to do the same. Amazingly, just opposite the market I found a flamenco dance school. There was a class going on at the time so I had a little peak and took note of the class times for future reference. I definitely want to get involved with either flamenco or salsa dancing whilst I’m here!  1befunky_artwork.jpg

In the old part of town there’s the Plaza Grande. As the name suggests its the biggest square, full of palm trees and lined with restaurants and hotels. There are also adjoining squares and numerous lanes full of white-walled houses and the occasional bar or museum.2befunky_artwork.jpg

I feel happy about spending nine months here; it will be even better when I start to meet more people and begin working at the school. Now, after getting through the initial stress that comes with moving abroad, I think it’s time to sit back and enjoy Spain!

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Zafra

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My life here in Spain is slowly starting to take shape. I’m settled in my new apartment, the cupboards are stocked with essentials and I’ve unpacked three seasons worth of clothes.

I flew here in the company of my mum and sister (I desperately needed their moral support and baggage allowance), so we were able to hire a car from the airport and the hour and a half journey from Seville to Zafra was relatively smooth. I had provisionally accepted an apartment before I came out here, one that was recommended to me by a previous language assistant, so upon arrival a friendly landlord, Rafa, met us and we were shown around. It’s a HUGE apartment in the centre of town with two floors consisting of a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms and three bedrooms. I’ll probably rent out at least one of the other bedrooms but the rent is cheap enough that I could live in the luxury of a family-sized flat if I really wanted to.

In between stressful admin errands (setting up a bank account and phone contract) I have been exploring the town. It’s much bigger and prettier than I thought, with plenty of shops, restaurants and cafés. There’s also a public library (which I am currently sat in for wifi purposes), a museum, police station and convent – everything you need!

Yesterday I paid a visit to the school where I will be working. Things didn’t go completely to plan but I have come to expect perpetual confusion as part of the year abroad experience. I walked into the school, explained why I was there and was shown to el director’s office to complete some paperwork. He was an intimidating man who kept referring to me as Marisa. I initially questioned my hearing, then wondered if he was miss-pronouncing ‘Megan’, but soon realised that I wasn’t who he thought I was at all. I showed him my documentation and we eventually agreed that I was in the wrong place. I had walked into the primary school; the secondary school was actually in the building next door. Second time lucky and things were more successful. I was introduced to a second director who was expecting me. He was a vertically challenged but incredibly friendly man. What he lacked in height he made up for in enthusiasm and made me feel very, very welcome. He introduced me to lots of the other teachers and told me to return in a few days to meet my mentor, Mara, who was absent at the time. Introductions in Spain, as in France, involve kisses. So, after experiencing cheek-to-cheek contact with most of my new colleagues I now feel much more at ease about starting work in October.

By dealing with a rental contract, an apartment inventory, bank meetings and multiple phone companies it feels like I have spoken more Spanish in the past two days than I did in two years at University. I’m pleased to say that so far I have made myself understood and am becoming more confident with each encounter. The rest of the week will now involve registering for my NIE (an identity card that permits me to live here legally) negotiating an internet contract and finding some flatmates. It won’t all be hard work though, I plan to attend a local Zumba class and there’s an orchestra performing in one of the plazas on Friday night. Fortunately, afternoon siestas are just about compulsory here so I’ll be doing plenty of relaxing too…Untitled

So I’m moving to Spain

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After a year of planning, paperwork and emails the day is finally here and I can’t quite believe that it’s actually happening. It’s time to fly to Seville and then make my way to the town of Zafra, where I will be working and living for the next eight months. I’ve packed my bags, checked-in online and said farewell to family and friends – there’s no going back…

As exciting as the year abroad is, I am a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t as nervous about my summer job in France because it was only a short placement, I’ve also been learning French for years and have visited the country multiple times for holidays, ski trips and language exchanges. In contrast, I’ve only been to Spain once and I’ve been learning the language for just two years. As a result, my confidence is pretty low and eight months feels scarily permanent.

My current mindset is a mixture of terror and excitement because I have absolutely no idea what to expect. The concept of a new home, new friends and new experiences is brilliant but overwhelming. The pessimistic side of my brain contemplates a year of misunderstandings, confusion and loneliness whilst the optimistic side imagines sunshine, fluency, and Enrique Inglesias lookalikes. In reality my experience will probably be a mixture of the two, although less loneliness and more Enrique would be ideal.

For now though it’s time to get some sleep in preparation for the big day, because tomorrow I’ll be setting off on my new adventure with an open mind and a whole lot of luggage!Untitled