Monday, 17 April 2017

Bluebells, Bluebells on the Green Floor...

It's been a while (over a year actually) since I last posted, so I'm going to ease back into it with some photos from me and my family's search for bluebells in Hockley Woods, Essex on Easter bank holiday Monday. It was a productive morning with my camera, something I need to do a lot more often, as my camera often gets neglected on my bedroom shelf.
















Sunday, 13 March 2016

Working with Children, Life Decisions and Moving Back to England!



Where do I start after a lot of months without posting on my blog? It's safe to say this will be a long one, as a lot has happened since I returned to Barcelona in mid-September. This year my lifestyle is quite different. I work in a new school but just like the school last year, this one is in the heart of Barcelona. In fact they are only ten minutes walking from each other, but there are bigger differences between them than the walking distance. My last school was very Catalan, and my current one is mainly Spanish. I guess you need to be aware of the political situation here to understand why that is a big factor which is something that I can't begin to try and explain in this post. The first month being back in Barcelona was very stressful with finding a flat and starting my new job. I was almost sure that I was going to be forced back to England if I didn't have a flat, but it all worked out and here I am six months later, over half way through my contracted time at the school. I live in a beautiful flat, close to the centre with two lovely Catalan girls.



Last weekend I was at the school's open day. The sun was shining and there were children and balloons everywhere. Yes it was strange being in the school on a Saturday, however I went along to see the 4th and 6th primary students do a short performance in English. I didn't need to but I wanted to. They had been working on short dialogues from the school. 4th Primary's was about a guide dog, whilst 6th primary's had a Sherlock Holme's style theme. This was something I had been helping them perfect during the week. There was nothing that made me prouder than seeing Maria (one of the 4th primary students) look at me and smile when she pronounced the two words I had repeatedly corrected her on over the past week. Admittedly she's one of my favourite students, not that I should have favourites, but she's just one of the many that I feel a strong attachment to from the school. I feel a lot closer with the students this year, maybe it's down to my growing experience with children, therefore I feel more confident with them than I did last year. 


When you are a native English speaker in a school you have a very significant role, in some ways your presence is similar to a celebrity. The first few weeks you have the full attention of everyone in the school because you are English. You have to convince the children you don't speak any language other than English, until you realise that it's fun to surprise them when you respond to something they are conversing about in their mother tongue. They say 'Me entiendes?, to which I usually respond with a cheeky smile. I understand a lot of Spanish but still I lack a lot of ability to speak it.

Language is a prominent barrier, but more with the younger kids. As I have said in previous posts, language in general is difficult about living in Barcelona. There are times when I feel like I'm missing out if the children are saying things to me in Spanish and I don't understand. I think about if I were teaching at home, I would be able to respond to everything. Not being able to speak the native language can make you feel alone even if you are surrounded by people, and I still haven't found the motivation or time to learn the language efficiently. If you ever come to Barcelona and expect to leave having learnt Spanish to perfection then think again - Catalan rules this city.

Although I am not a qualified teacher, and I'm still yet to experience handling a class of 20-30 children on my own, what I have learnt is that every day is different. I have to adapt myself from being with as young as 3 years old, to working with almost adults at the age of 17/18. I wonder which you think I prefer… 

The role of an English speaking assistant can be daunting but also incredibly exciting if you approach it with the right mindset. The first weeks are hard, just like any job but then it gets easier. I'm trying to be optimistic with my job and start every day with an open mind to possibilities of the end result. Kids will always surprise you. Open up to them and they will do the same to you; be serious when you need to, but stay casual and break down a few of the boundaries that have been built between students and teachers as well as making sure they still understand when something is overstepping the line. It's okay for a college student to talk about something of adult content, however in no way is it ever acceptable to use the word 'nigger'. Yes, I have had to explain to a few children that this word is not acceptable to use and that it's very offensive. Unfortunately, they were unaware that it is an offensive term. 

Some Mondays I can arrive home absolutely exhausted and pretty negative because I've had a day which didn't go the way that I hoped it did, but then when it arrives to Thursday or Friday I have had days that the children left an imprint on my life because I have seen the enthusiasm and excitement shine in the eyes of the ones that love learning, and enjoy speaking English. It's those moments where I love my life and my job. It's moments like the time I stayed at school from 5 until 6, with a a few 11 to 12 year olds to doing an event about pancakes which resulted in us running around the classroom doing Pancake Races, all in hysterics and crying from laughter; these are the memories that go to the long term.

However, in all honesty, I'm struggling more this year. I feel more homesick and a greater attachment to England, and with that attachment comes a big urge to live there again. I think some people don't the negative aspects when a person moves abroad to somewhere a bit more exotic than their home country. Barcelona is great but I don't enjoy it as much this year. You can't appreciate all of the best bits when you have a full time job, and more things to do as it's not just a holiday; I live a normal working life, although I like to think my job isn't especially 'normal'. The thought of normality makes my job seem bleak. 

Another thing is that when you live abroad in places very cosmopolitan, people come and go. They come for a few months doing an erasmus or perhaps they work, but only one year. A lot of the friends I made last year left. We were all part of the same programme, living with families and working in schools. Sometimes you have contextual friendships - some of those people you meet and share mainly your location and situation in common. University is a big example of this. You become friends due to the situation you are all in, and then after the context is taken away, your 'friendship' can begin to fade. I'm not saying this negatively, i'm not making any comment about the authenticity of those friendships, I'm just observing the many friends I have met and not managed to keep in contact with. Imagine though, it would be impossible to stay in constant contact with everyone you met along your life. Unfortunately when life gets in the way of living we don't have enough time to write all those Whatsapps, Facebook messages or emails. I'm terrible with contacting my lifelong friends, let alone those I only knew for some months. It's important to appreciate that they were a part of that period of your life, and they contributed to the amazing memories and stories you have collected. We all having incredible friends where even distance can't affect that bond you share. However, don't disregard the idea of impromptu reunions like I have managed have with a couple of people I met during my Erasmus in Germany. It's always fun to meet and reminisce about the 'old days'.

Some days I love my job, and others I don't which is completely understandable. I live for the weekends like every regular person, even if my weekends end up being pretty dull as the energy I have goes into my five day week. I am happy that this past month and a half I have been able to get out and go to concerts; Hozier, Foals and Ellie Goulding. Concerts have always been one of my favourite ways to spend time and music is my escape. Last year, I struggled to find bands I wanted to see, therefore I'm happy that this year I have been able to.

Ellie Goulding was really special as I have always loved and admired her, and even though I've seen her before, the concert in Palau Sant Jordi Club in Barcelona had a great sense of intimacy. There wasn't the same crushed crowds as in England, instead there was distance, space to move and visibility. I could actually see her with my own eyes. I'm not sure it even sold out. I have noticed that there is a different atmosphere at concerts here. Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels more relaxed, rather than in England where every second you have sweaty people rubbing up against you. In Barcelona, you are left more room to breathe, but perhaps this is also related to the status the artist has in the country. For example, Ellie Goulding is more known in England than here. 

Foals and Hozier were great too because I shared the moment with special people. My sister came to visit especially for Hozier, and we even witnessed him perform an impressive upbeat cover of  the mellow song 'Blackbird', by the Beatles, which is a song close to both of our hearts. Then, Foals was crazy as usual and even better that Magí was able to experience it with me. They are one of my favourite bands, so now we have both shared one of our favourite bands with each other. I have seen La Gossa Sorda with him a couple of times now.

Seeing these British and Irish artists hit a nerve about home. I miss the music scene in England, and the countless unsigned artists you can discover. I don't know but the music scene here wasn't how I expected it to be. I always love connecting with people over bands, and comparing playlists, realising the similar admiration you have for bands or artists. Music is extremely important to me and I find it the one of the biggest sources of my inspiration. I'm sure there's lots of great Catalan/Spanish bands here but I find them harder to identify with as for me, and a lot of people, lyrics are very important.

Recently, there is one song in particular that reminds me of England which is Foals', 'London Thunder'. As the song builds and gradually reveals the lyrics 'come back to London thunder' I can't help but get lost in a trail of thoughts related to the hidden message of the song, thinking about home and the things I have there. This is one of my favourite songs at the moment and is repeatedly played on my Spotify. I identify with it in regards to my current context. Yannis admitted in an interview that 'London Thunder' is about 'being away and having some sort of experience that changes you, and waiting to return, knowing that the world you’re returning to will be subtly different because you are'. That's definitely relevant to me in relation to being torn between Catalonia and England. England will feel different, only because I feel different in myself.

Thankfully this year I have been able to travel home easier due to actually having the funds for it this time around. Going to England a few weekends ago was really special because I was not only able to see my friends and family, but also I had Magí there with me. The moments when all those people of my life are in one place are amongst the most perfect. It's hard being in Barcelona away from the comfort of my family and friends, but it's always better when you have one person that can bring you 'home' a bit. I have to dedicate some part of this blog to him as I have grown a lot from meeting him last year and he's had a huge impact on my life. Magí's an incredible person, I'm so grateful that our paths crossed and that I have met someone so genuine and loving, someone who makes me smile every day. Not only does he make me smile but he shows me what it feels like to love and be loved. We're meant to meet good people that will bring out the best in us, and he does just that. 





With my contract ending in June as the school year comes to an end, I'm in another unavoidable stage of my life that leaves me with unanswered questions and possible directions, but one direction that is certain, for at least the next year, is England. I have booked my one-way flight back for mid-July and I'm already looking forward to it. By the time July comes I will have spent almost two years living in this diverse and beautiful city, a place which has become second home and has a permanent place in my heart. I feel that when I fled to Barcelona and Catalonia I was a little naive and unhappy, escaping from the doubts and insecurities in my mind and life. Much like a lot of us that travel, we go away to find ourselves, to discover things we never realised before, to meet people we would never have had the chance to meet before, and as a result of all of this we feel ourselves change. Our eyes are opened to things you can only learn from these types of experiences. You learn lessons of life that no one can even come close to try and teach you.

Living in Catalonia I have absorbed a view of life, that you are only ever as old as you feel. I see people of all ages going out and enjoying themselves here, no matter if they are 18 or 50. There are so many young spirits within those with an older body. Our body is only the foundation of who we are. At the end of the day, your body is just your body and your disguise, what lies beneath is the most important. It's crucial to realise that we still have time, and to not grow up too quickly or stop having fun too early. It doesn't matter if you're not sure on your career path by the time you are 20, 21, 22, or almost nearing 30. Just do things, have experiences, test yourself and learn from it. Never settle for anything that doesn't truly make you happy.

I still have yet to make my final decision of what I will do after term finishes in June, well except for deciding whether to go back to England because that decision is made. My top choice in this current moment is some sort of teacher training. Although every day I am learning more about teaching, children's minds, and education through my experiences in the schools, I want and need to learn more. I know that I have many weaknesses amongst my strengths in the world of education. Ever since I was little I remember wanting to be a teacher. I was that kid that played with those doubled-sided chalkboards mounted on easels, pretending to teach an imaginary class, or calling a register and awaiting voiceless students reply to me, however I also dreamed of being a singer, or a marine biologist just because I loved dolphins...though a teacher seems a lot more like me. Even if I try teaching I don't know that this will be my permanent career. I don't think I wan't to be stationary in a job, although stability is safer, it may not be what makes you happiest.

I always hope to inspire people in some way or another. I want to rack someone's brain with my words. I guess that's what I hope to do when someone reads something I write. I know that more than often my writing is a collection of explosive thoughts from my whirlwind of a brain. I have sat here for hours re-writing and trying to organise it into a consistent flow, but sometimes with my writing that's impossible. I write with the intent for people to read and identify with something, and maybe they identify with my rambling. I guess that's one thing - I am not scared to write how I feel. We are all people with thoughts and opinions and I try to put mine out there in open.

It's not long until I'm home again, I go home for a few days over Easter, after I go to the Pyrenees for a couple of days which I can't wait for. Then it's the last run until July, the last term and probably the most difficult of the school. I have many things to look forward to like when my mum comes to visit, one of my good friends from England visiting, and also going back to Girona again. The warmer months are always the best ones, then I will be reunited with England again and this time more permanently. It's been a long time, and although it makes me nervous and it will be insanely strange, I'm ready to live there again. I just have a few hard career related decisions to make first. Anyone want to volunteer to do that for me, please feel free!

Adéu, fins despres! 


(Goodbye, see you soon)

Monday, 10 August 2015

Taking the Reality Plane Back to England






 I’m getting really bad at this whole blogging thing, I always find the first sentences of a post are devoted to my sincere apologies for not blogging earlier, and here I am repeating the same thing. I had to check the date of my last blog post and that was almost three months ago. That’s extremely bad and once again a lot has changed since then.

Firstly within those three months I finished being a conversation assistant at my school, secondly I completed five weeks as a monitor for the English summer camp, and finally after surviving those tiring weeks, I have migrated back to England. Now I find myself in my usual position for blogging, slumped comfortably but lazily on my double bed. There isn’t much inspiration being drawn from my bomb site of a room. I don’t even over-exaggerate when I describe it in this way. It resembles the illusion of an explosion taking place both from my suitcase and wardrobe. This is Laura Whitehead's attempt to clear out her room. Of course it’s not organised, I can’t seem to do that. Instead I just pull everything out and make dysfunctional piles of shit. Why am I so messy, and why do I own so many things? So now I have let my mind wander, away from the mess surrounding me. With music on, this is when my writing begins to flourish. 

The reason I’m making such a conscious effort to clear out my room is to help clear my mind, and organise myself...haha. I just finished almost ten months in a foreign country where I learnt lot about myself, fell in love, discovered differences between Catalan/Spanish life and English life and got a stupidly burnt on the last few days. Something I cannot, and will not forget about living in Catalonia was the generosity of the people I met. They were so open minded, as well as helpful, and I also had about five different people offer me rooms in their house for whenever I want to return. I must have done something right to receive those offers!

Just like this time last year, I once again have big life decisions to make which terrify me. Do I move back to Spain? What job will I have? Where will I live? How long will it be? What makes me happy? How can I be less pale and not look like a tourist? Life is always full of questions, and sometimes not all of them are answered, however I know that decisions can’t be made over night, decisions come with time and thought – everything slowly falls into place.

Since coming home I have been really appreciating my ability to understand everything and everyone around me, except maybe those with very strong Essex accents. I find myself talking to almost everyone I possibly can. It’s crazy how language barriers can have such an impact on life situations. It's really difficult. Unfortunately my Spanish did not get to a standard I hoped, and my Catalan consists of a phew phrases learnt from students in the summer camp such as ‘tinc set’ (thirsty) or the more frequently heard ‘tinc pipi’ (I need to pee).

It’s really true when I say how isolating it can be not understanding the people around you, especially when you can be sat clueless for long time frames, whilst those around you have full-blown conversations. It’s not a case of being rude, it’s because sometimes it’s impossible to constantly translate a conversation. I also developed the skill of switching off, the Catalan conversations became background noise to my own thoughts. A lot of the time the background noise of Catalan conversations left me feeling disappointed in myself for not knowing more of the language. More than anything, it made me feel useless. At various occasions I reverted back to a child, needing someone to speak for me. I hate feeling useless, but there wasn't a lot I could do. The thing that is extremely frustrating is that when you do pluck up the courage to speak Spanish, you are shot down as they automatically reply to you in English. 

I was very lucky to have a host mum who always encouraged me to speak in Spanish, and even to points where she would pretend she didn’t understand English. I also met a great woman called Chus who became my language exchange partner. We would speak 45 minutes in English, and 45 minutes in Spanish. She helped increase my confidence in speaking Spanish. I think at the beginning it’s important to find someone you’re comfortable with to practice and help the language flow, and I had just this. She always reminded me that even if I don’t think my Spanish has improved, I just need to reflect back to when I first arrived to notice just what I have actually learnt. 

Now I'm home I still write in Spanish to my old host mum but unfortunately I don’t think I will find any time to practice Spanish orally. My plan is to go back to Catalonia towards the end of September but I won’t talk too much about that yet as I don’t have a concrete plan, and when I begin to think about it my head hurts. I had an interview for another assistant job in a different school. It’s not exactly the same role, but it would be nice for a new environment and the pay is very good, however alone the job is not enough for me to live comfortably. So this is where the problem develops, but I can’t apply for anything else until the start of September.

I’m going to enjoy the next few weeks I have here before I start to panic too much. It’s really nice being home, seeing my family, friends and honestly, just being immersed in comfort and the English way of life again. I will admit I have missed England but it’s the strangest feeling being away for such a long time and then coming back. You realise that nothing has changed that much, and furthermore it's as if your time away was actually only a dream. Thankfully it's the moments when I speak to my host family and boyfriend that I realise that dream is still waiting for me in Barcelona. We will see what happens…



Monday, 18 May 2015

T'estimo Catalunya i Gràcies



Sometimes I have very brief moments when I forget where I am. You know those moments when you wake up dazed and confused, and it takes some time to adjust and remember exactly what house and room you are in? When a room is dark, every object is unmarked, undefined and when you wake up to this temporarily unidentified room it’s easier to imagine anywhere. I remember this happened a couple of times when I felt homesick but now that homesick feeling feels very distant. It doesn’t mean that I don’t miss home, but perhaps I don’t have the time to. It’s easy to forget about things when you’re busy. I think it’s possible to forget that you’re sad when you’re preoccupied, but I find it harder to ignore when I’m happy. Happiness can be a huge distraction, but a good one.

Actually I began to write this blog post a few weeks ago, but since then I have returned home to England to surprise my mum for a very special birthday. The weekend was perfect and it made me realise that home is home, home will always be the place that you grew up in and where you feel the most comfortable. It’s thrown me a bit and I know come the end of July I have big decisions to make, however I don’t want to talk, or even think about it just yet.

I think life is crazy, you never know where you’ll end up. There’s no way that when I was stressing in the library of my university, surrounded by many books hoping to feed me references for my dissertation or other assignments’ bibliography, did I believe just over a few months down the line that I would be living in Barcelona. My decision to apply for the programme I’m on was a sudden one. A few weeks ago I was speaking to my old housemate at university about the moment when I walked into her room over June I believe and said to her that I saw the opportunity and was thinking of applying. I was in a good place at this moment, but I wasn’t as happy as I first thought. I wanted more, I didn’t want to settle down yet, and the thought of real job interviews and things like this scared me. I didn’t feel I had enough to talk about or enough to win employers over; I didn’t have enough confidence.

Do you ever have those moments in life where you want to just do something different? In a way you want to just escape, and cleanse yourself, learn something new and be thrown out of your comfort zone? Moments where you just need to prove to yourself something and gain one huge confidence boost! Maybe some people want to do it, and then they never follow it through – it’s normal. It is a big step, continuing and not giving up is an even bigger one and something I’m very proud of.

I’m not the furthest away from home as possible. I know that I’m not living in America, Japan, China or India, but I am living in another country. The cultures aren’t completely diverse, but they are different. I never expected my time here to be like it is. The truth is I didn’t know what to expect at all. I remember being terrified of living with host families, being an over thinker I thought out many scenarios. It also didn’t help that the programme gave us such a long list of things we should probably talk to our host family about. I thought ‘holy christ, this s*** is real.’ It was funny because I printed it out, and showed it to my first host family on the day I arrived, they laughed and sat it down on the table. It never got looked at again.

There’s something really positive about Barcelona and the people here, even when they are struggling they come across so strong and hold themselves high. They enjoy life even at the worst of times. I will admit that I needed some positive vibes to enter my life, I needed to meet dozens of welcoming strangers, and I needed sun more than the rain. It really does change your mood, it really affects you. I have probably said it before, but I will say it again, I have met some of the sweetest, most kind-hearted people here. One’s that have not only opened up their home to me, but their family and hearts too. One thing I have heard a lot is being in a house that is not technically my own but the something along the lines of the reassuring words ‘make yourself at home, it’s your house’. But sometimes the families have gone to extra lengths, things that they didn’t need to do, but they felt they wanted to. I don’t know, I suppose I don’t need to ramble on for lines and lines, I guess you can understand it a bit better through a little bit of explaining.

Sometimes I think I haven’t met that many Catalan people. I wanted to have a group of friends who were Catalan, but I have met a lot. All the families, friends of the families, teachers at the school and few Catalans my own age are Catalan and this is enough for me. They have taught me things I could never have learnt by simply visiting Barcelona for a few days, even in a week. You can barely scratch the surface of Barcelona, Catalonia or any place in general in that short space of time. They have taught me life as a Catalan person, not a Spanish, nor a tourist. I wanted to change from being here, okay so I haven’t achieved my Spanish beach body that I first hoped, I’m still lazy and pale (there’s still time), but my mind has changed, oh and my hair, not completely but a lot.


I suppose what I’m trying to explain is that I have fallen in love, completely in love with Catalonia and all it’s crazy culture. I have discovered a lot, but still not enough. I want more time to do so, but this is something that is still undecided. It doesn’t help that I’m possibly one of the most indecisive people, but if there’s one thing I have learnt from my life so far, is that as much as I worry, to just stop and realise things always work out. So for now, t'estimo i gràcies (I love you and thank you).

Laura May

Listening to: La Gossa Sorda - Camals Mullats







Monday, 13 April 2015

Hats off to Barcelona!



Okay, so maybe it’s more about putting hats on then taking them off, but this was an afternoon I really enjoyed. This year on Sunday 12th April, Barcelona celebrated the 11th annual walk of ‘Passejada amb Barret’ or ‘Stroll with a Hat’, so it's something contemporary and you’re probably thinking, what the hell is it? 
To be honest, there’s no real culture or tradition to it, it’s just about wearing a hat, having some fun and in most cases looking absolutely ridiculous. It’s a celebration of the start of spring, and what better way then out in the warm sun, smiling and laughing with fellow hat lovers. 

I’ve got to say I was slightly apprehensive as to how many people would really be there wearing hats when the host family (I’ve moved in with my final family now) were explaining it to me. Nonetheless, I put on a hat, along with the dad and two family friends. As the official website for the event states 'hats reflect the personality of the wearer', - whilst I looked like I was off to Ascot to watch a horse race, the family friend's hat reflected his crazy humour by his choice of pinning to his head, a plastic plant in a flower pot. Of course, this resulted in many photos wanting to be taken of and with him. 

I didn’t really expect as many people to be there as there ended up being. Hats ranged from typical, to bowlers and top hats and more extravagant handmade efforts of small cars stuck onto cardboard, a hat made with plastic champagne glasses and someone who literally had a lamp shade on their head. Some people were even dressed up more than just a hat. It was very random and had little significance to spring, apart from perhaps the fact that spring brings more sun, and therefore a hat is needed for protection from this. Apparently the idea is inspired from an ‘Easter Parade’ that takes place in New York.  Regardless of its significance it’s fun and the people enjoyed it. It was also a nice ice breaker for my new family and I. 

Anyways, there’s a little information and some amusing photos for you to check out below. I spent my Sunday walking along Rambla de Catalunya modelling a very sophisticated hat; sophisticated being something I’m definitely not, whilst a lot of other people were at the Holi Festival frolicking about in paint. There’s always a lot happening in Barcelona! It's a great place to live!
















I swear this man is famous...