Sunday, 23 October 2016

Life Is A Constant Learning Process : How My University Year Abroad Has Helped Me In My First Month As A Language Assistant!

When I think about the fact that I have now been in Spain for five and a half weeks, I begin to wonder how I have experienced so much and met so many new people in such a short amount of time! In fact, I feel so happy and at home in Sevilla now that it feels like I have been back here for months! And although I am still struggling to learn my students' and colleagues names at the secondary school where I am working, I also feel like I have been at the school for ages! It's strange because when I look back to the day that I left the UK after having spent a night in A&E due to a problem with one of my contact lenses, it feels like a lifetime ago. But that is only because I have been adapting to a new lifestyle, a new workplace, and building a new life here. And now that I am feeling settled and am really getting into everything, the time is beginning to speed up and go far too quickly!

As I wrote my last blog post in the style of a summary of everything I have done since I arrived in Sevilla, I have decided to make this one a bit different by reflecting on some of the most challenging aspects of my experience as a Language Assistant so far and in my every day life here. I am also going to reflect on how much I have changed as a person since my year abroad placement in Spain in 2015 and share with you some of the differences that I have noticed in the way that I am approaching challenging situations both in the workplace and in my social life as I think that it is important for anybody who is also currently on a university year abroad to see how much their experiences will give them so much more confidence than they had before, even if it all currently seems very overwhelming. Having come back to Sevilla to work for a second time, I can honestly say that I feel like a completely different person to the one who arrived here in January 2015 as my outlook on life has completely changed and my way of dealing with everyday adult situations has transformed. 

The first time that I really noticed a change in my confidence since my university year abroad was on my first day at school when I met all of my work colleagues. This is because although I felt nervous stepping into the school for the first time, I was able to hide my nerves much more easily than I have been able to in previous work places and when I started at university. For me, this increase in confidence is no doubt a result of my year abroad during the third year of my degree as I strongly believe that the experience of being in completely new situations with new people numerous times throughout the year enabled me to learn how to control my nerves which I have found has been very important in my work as a language assistant. This is because when I am teaching some of my more difficult classes or teaching a topic that is not necessarily within my comfort zone, having the ability to cover up any signs of stress or discomfort has been crucial in terms of gaining the students' respect, managing behavior, and also giving students the best learning experience possible. I really am grateful for my Erasmus work placements in 2014/2015 as I am pretty sure that without the experiences and skills that they gave me, I would not be managing to overcome those aspects of the work that I find the hardest and I would certainly not be able to cover up emotions and worries in the way that I can now. So any third year abroaders among you, please remember that the times when you feel out out of your depth or as if you are not coping are actually the times that will be preparing you for the future in the best way possible. I can definitely vouch for that! 

Another thing that I have learnt during my first five and a half weeks as a Language Assistant in Sevilla is how to go about meeting new people in the city who I do not work or live with. The last time I was in Sevilla, I often had the intention to go along to a language exchange group in a bar on a Wednesday night to find other people who were interested in languages to practice my languages with and perhaps also make friends with. However, I never ended up going in the end as I always felt far too shy to walk into a room full of people that I didn't know and make conversation with them easily. However, on my first week back in Sevilla in September, I decided that I felt confident enough to go along to one of the socials that this group were holding and I also contacted some people from the groups facebook page who were looking for a French/English or a Spanish/English exchange. Although I had to find the courage to do this, I soon found that meeting up with people over a coffee or a beer and speaking in both of our languages was not only the perfect way to improve my Spanish and French but that it was also a really good way to meet new people and make new friends. And surely enough this happened as quite a few of my friends here are actually people that I met through this group. So there you go! It can be really good to go along to social events with people that you don't know, if you are living in a foreign country, as it is the best way to form friendships and also become acquainted with a large number of people who you can then contact and meet up with later on. I'm really glad that I took that step out of my comfort zone in my first week as it really has contributed to creating the busy and exciting social life that I have here. 

As well as going along to the Language Exchange group in Sevilla, I have also attended a couple of training courses (one in Madrid and one in Sevilla) that I had to go to as preparation for my work as a Language Assistant. The course in Sevilla was just one day and was a good way to meet Language Assistants from other schools in Sevilla and the local area as we had a series of talks in the morning and then were provided with a buffet lunch at the end of the day which was a great opportunity to talk to people and find contacts. The course in Madrid was similar except that it was two days long and we stayed in the hotel where the course was run for the night. This was another fantastic experience as I learnt a lot about the role of Language Assistants' in Spanish schools and also met more new people who were going to be working as language assistants all over Spain. I was once again quite nervous when I arrived as I was alone and didn't really know what to expect. However, I very soon got talking to people and found myself enjoying a cheeky Sangria with other people on the course on the first evening and also exchanging contact details with people so that we could stay in touch and share our experiences. And it is nice because I really have kept in touch with a few of them and have met up a couple of times with other assistants in Sevilla so it was a really good thing to go to. However, although the course was amazing and enabled me to meet some lovely people, we all somehow managed to get food poisoning from the lunch that we had on the last day in Madrid which was a bit of a shame as most of us were very unwell for about 24 hours after we left Madrid. The journey back to Sevilla was pretty hard going as a result! However, we all got better within a couple of days and were well enough to go to our schools the following Monday so all was fine in the end :)

So all in all, my first five weeks as a Language Assistant in Sevilla have been fantastic! I've met loads of new people, made some lovely new friends, realised that I CAN go to social events where I don't know anybody, and also that I am enjoying my work in the secondary school and am able to learn from my mistakes, put the bad days behind me, and focus on the good ones, which are definitely the majority. I know that it would be unrealistic to think that every class and every day will be top notch because each class is different and depending on the time of day and the group of students that I have, I need to be able to adapt and remain confident as this, I have learnt, is crucial when working with teenagers.

The main message that I want you to get from this blog post is that we are constantly learning so when we make mistakes, it's very important to remember that they are not necessarily negative as they always teach us how to improve in the future. I have certainly found over the weeks that some of my classes have gone better than others and that I have dealt with certain situations in the work place in various ways some which have worked well and others which have not. But I always tell myself that this is all part of a learning process and that I need to keep going even if I do feel that I've failed or embarrassed myself in some way. Each day that I am at the school, I leave at the end of the day feeling different to all of the other days that I have spent there so far because no two days are the same. And this makes it a very interesting and rewarding job to be doing! But one thing's for sure, and that is that I am working in a nice school with a fantastic group of colleagues who I know are always willing to help me if I need it. And for that I am very grateful as it is always challenging starting something new. However, I look back on each day as if it were a small part of the experience as a whole or a stepping stone towards further building my confidence and skills. So like with my year abroad placements in the hostel and the housing company, I can see that step by step I am working my way towards fulfilling another fantastic year of adventure, experience, and enjoyment in Spain whilst also working to make a difference for children and teenagers in Sevilla in terms of their English studies.

Thank you for reading my post. I will try to write the next one in about two weeks time so keep watching this space if you are interesting in finding out more about my adventures in Spain. I hope that you are enjoying reading my posts and I hope that they are useful for anybody who is currently working or studying in a foreign country or is thinking of going down this path in the future!

Mil gracias y hasta luego! 

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