More years ago than I care to remember, I did a degree in Hispanic Studies at the University of Nottingham. I loved the course, but there was one part of it that filled me with terror from the very first day.
The Year Abroad.
This is a pretty standard element of a modern languages degree – you spend your third year living abroad, either working or studying, and that’s when you really learn the language.
I had the choice of going to Spain or Latin America, and being the cautious soul I am, opted to stay close to home (a decision I still occasionally regret). So in September 2002, my friend and I nervously boarded a plane for Madrid.
The first challenge when we arrived was to find somewhere to live; we’d booked a room in a hostel for the first few days, but after that we were on our own. And so we got on the phones.
Now just to be clear, I’ve never been a massive fan of talking on the phone in English; the thought of calling people in another language was genuinely terrifying. But given a choice between that and being homeless, I had to pull myself together and get on with it.
Initially, my friend and I were looking for accommodation together, but when it became clear we weren’t going to find anything, we split up. So suddenly there I was, in a strange city, going off to view apartments on my own, in another language.
Eventually I found a slightly shabby room in a shared flat… only for my friend to announce the following day that her new landlady knew someone with a much nicer room – which was also cheaper. Feeling slightly anxious, I went to talk to my own landladies (two elderly sisters who lived in the flat downstairs) and successfully negotiated the return of my deposit and first month’s rent. In Spanish.
Once the living arrangements were settled, the next challenge was going to university. We’d been enrolled at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and had to pass exams in a certain number of modules to pass the year and continue to the final year of our course. So before I knew it, I was taking classes entirely in Spanish for the first time in my life – and then, a few months later, preparing for two-hour exams, all of which, to my surprise, I passed.
Looking back on my year abroad now, I sometimes can’t quite believe I really did some of these things. I even managed to get my hair cut once, although it didn’t go all that well – let’s face it, I have enough trouble describing what I want done to my hair here in London. And I spent the year living with a very lovely lady who didn’t speak a word of English. (It was always very entertaining when my family – who don’t speak any Spanish – came to visit.)
Learning a language can open up some amazing opportunities, and sometimes you just have to take a chance, however nervewracking the situation. You never know, you might surprise yourself with the things you can achieve. And even if it goes a bit wrong, a bad haircut will grow out eventually.
Our post this week is by Lisa Erne from Germany, who’s spending a few months with us at EuroTalk as an intern. Lisa’s been in London now for six weeks, and here she shares some of her experiences so far.
When I arrived in London a few weeks ago I expected a tough start but people here made it very easy for me to feel comfortable. I moved to Brent where I supposed to live with four other housemates, I was really nervous, but there was no reason for that. I was very welcome.
I noticed really fast that the English are always easy-going like always saying sorry, even when you hit them by accident. Every day in the morning on my way to the tube I got like three “Good-Morning’s” from people, who are just passing my way. And everyone here is always pleased to help.
When I started school in the Central School of English near Tottenham Court Road I made easily friends with people from all over the world.
I felt quickly that I “improved” my English. After a few days I lost the habit of saying “um…” and “er…” all the time when thinking about the right words when having a conversation. I mean, home in Germany at my school I was in advanced course of English but you never had like a real conversation situation. The teacher asks you something and you will answer in a few sentences. There has never been real circumstances like this for me. When you’re here you’re forced nearly all the time to speak English. Even a little chat with the cashier in the Tesco supermarket can be a good practice.
London is a varied city, even if I didn’t do any sightseeing yet, I saw a lot of different attractive areas here. There is Camden Town, where you can find a lot of markets and Tattoo & Piercing Shops. Oxford Street became one of my favourite places to be. When the temperatures were still warm, my friends and me walked from our school over Oxford Street to Hyde Park to enjoy the sun. While walking we did window shopping a lot, or just enjoyed everything else around. Also one of our favourite places became the Thames in general, just sitting at the water hanging out.
I already love London, but there are things that drive me mad. One of these things are the tubes. Tubes are always crowded and always late and they stop driving around midnight, but I got already used to it. Buses are the essential alternative to that, but I couldn’t really make friends with them either, because the timetables are sometimes very confusing. And the prices such as for tube tickets and cigarettes are an essential difference to for example in Berlin. Now I’ll really appreciate the prices there when I come back.
A great difference to Berlin is that shops here are opened on every Sunday, even till late hours. In Germany we have just a few weekends when the shops are open on Sundays like some weekends before Christmas, so people can do their last minute present shopping.
As well I enjoy the pubs pretty much. We don’t have a lot of them in Germany, but if it is no spot for young people, more for elder people who want to have a drink on their own after a stressful working day. Here it is a lot more fun, you always get to know new people. My favourite became The Green Man near Oxford Street, because you can also dance there, and The Crown, where many students of the Central School go on Fridays and the drinks are also very affordable.
After all this adventures and experiences yet I can say that London is a place, where I never learned so much about people and life.
Since the six weeks that I’m here I feel pretty much adapted to the lifestyle here and also a little bit of a part of London. I can already say that I won’t forget the time here ever.
Has anyone got any suggestions for places that Lisa should visit while she’s in London?