Christmas Eve 2020 I’m sat on top of my suitcase desperately trying to get it to close whilst wearing a Rudolph hat in the hope that I get into the Christmas spirit through osmosis.
Five days before it was announced that the UK had a new COVID strain. I sat in an empty, cold flat anxiously awaiting a taxi, and praying that my flight doesn’t get cancelled, again.
I’m coming home before the borders close and I don’t plan on returning.
The last two months were probably the most challenging of my life.
But do I regret it? No.
Would I do the same thing again if given the chance? Absolutely.
Will this experience put me off travelling ever again? No, never.
Let’s rewind, back in October 2020 my partner and I packed up our humble little flat in the North East, sold our car, and most of the furniture that we had acquired together, and moved to Spain to teach English.
My plan had always been to take a career break and live abroad teaching English, and I really wanted to do this in Thailand, but due to the pandemic, this wasn’t possible. So, we decided to move to Spain instead. I’d always loved my Spanish summer holidays, and I had been learning the language whilst on furlough, so I figured I’d love it. But I was wrong.
In reality, it wasn’t what I’d imagined. Upon reflection, the breakdown of our adventure can be attributed to three main factors; the living situation, the job, and the pandemic.
THE LIVING SITUATION
Due to Brexit looming over us and Spanish bureaucracy being the most inefficient process I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with, we struggled to find anywhere to permanently live. Landlords were being very strict and there was a lot of competition for the nicer apartments. When we were trying to rent somewhere to live, we were being turned away because we didn’t have the necessary paperwork they required.
In the space of two months, we lived in a hostel, two different Air BnBs, and a faulty apartment. The first Air BnB we stayed in, we lived with an elderly Spanish lady and her vicious cat which liked to guard the bathroom in the mornings. We tried to see the funny side of the situation we found ourselves in, but we were constantly plagued by the ‘what the f%&* have we done?!’ thought.
The faulty flat we stayed in, didn’t have hot water or heating for the first week-and-a-half, the electricity kept going off, we got electric shocks in the shower and there were issues with the plumbing. Most of these issues got sorted, but we were just fed up by that point. We also realised that the flat wasn’t very comfortable to live in so we didn’t want to try and extend our contract after 31st December.
MY GUT TOLD ME NOT TO TRUST THEM, BUT I IGNORED THIS FEELING.
I didn’t personally get off to the best start with the job. After my interview, they didn’t tell me that I was unsuccessful in getting the job, they told my partner instead when they offered him a contract. One week later they changed their minds and decided to employ us both. I’d also read a lot of negative reviews about the company on Glassdoor, but we decided to ignore the red flags and give them a chance. My gut told me not to trust them, but I ignored this feeling.
In the first week of training, I felt so insecure. I had done a TEFL course but my confidence was at an all time low. I hate being put on the spot and that was the method of this school. I constantly felt judged and like I was being set up to fail.
Luckily, the teachers I worked with were incredible and genuinely some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The girls I trained with really helped me get through that first week. All the teachers are a credit to the school and made my experience so much better.
However, as the weeks wore on, my mental health was decreasing. I was working 40 hour weeks but spending nearly 50 in the actual school. For context, I only signed up to 30 teaching hours. There was also the threat of having your classes observed by management, and you’d never know when it would happen. The environment was basically a massive stress fest and I knew it wasn’t the right place for me.
In the two months I was there three teachers left and one was sacked, so I knew this wasn’t a place I could feel secure. When you’re working abroad, job security is the number 1 thing you need. Throw in being in the middle of a pandemic to the mix and you’re on the train to breakdown central.
Before I left to go to Spain, I had been pretty sheltered from how serious the pandemic has been. I did have a death in the family due to COVID, but it still didn’t feel real at the time.
When arriving in Spain, I realised how serious they have rightly been taking it. You were required to wear a mask everywhere, including in outside areas. This is included in restaurants. The only time you were allowed to drop your mask was if you were having a sip of your drink or taking a mouthful of food.
The police would patrol the city to make sure everyone was sticking to the rules. They also patrolled local parks. It was intense. I admired the fact they were being strict, but at the same time, it felt like you were living in a goldfish bowl.
I just wanted to breathe. I wanted to walk on the beach back home and breathe in the fresh air. I couldn’t ignore this feeling in the end, and I eventually made the difficult decision of returning to the UK.
My partner and I had a really difficult time, but overall we learned so much about ourselves as people and we learned what we want out of life and what we definitely don’t. It’s for that reason that I don’t negatively view this adventure. We emigrated during a global pandemic.
I love the fact that we were brave enough to try.
I love the fact that I came back with a better perspective about what I want from my life.
And, I love the fact that I know whatever we go through together, I’ll always have my partner by my side.
For all of these reasons, I am grateful. I am grateful I lived and didn’t just feel like I was existing, which is how I had been feeling. I am grateful for the people I met and the short time we spent together.
I’ll never be afraid to live again.