photo: flickr / multisanti

Jaywalking fines and gypsy curses: an eventful year abroad

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or many an Erasmus year is an eye-opening life experience, in which access to rich cultures is opened up through immersive learning of a foreign language. Mine began with a curse from a rosemary-peddling gypsy who had at first called me a very handsome boy.

Fortunately, small oddities such as this set the tone for what was in fact an incredible experience, one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone considering a year abroad.  Eurosceptic or Europhile, the Erasmus programme does offer a fantastic learning experience, a real chance to immerse oneself in foreign culture and language with the comforting bookend of a final year’s study. Conversely, if one is inclined to bemoan the wastefulness of Brussels and the Byzantine inefficiency of the European Union, the Erasmus grant is a salve to your fevered brow.

Arriving, as it did for me, at some time just before Christmas, it was singularly useless for smoothing the transition to living among ‘the locals’ (My 30 euro ‘fine’ for jaywalking was conveniently what I happened to have in cash upon presenting the Guardia Civil with my ID) but it did help fund a spree of travel throughout Spain.

Toledo and Granada were particular highlights, and I would advise all those on a year abroad to teach English to help fund as much extra travel as possible. The variety of accents, frantic demands of directions and long evenings in new places all ensure that the Erasmus year retains its sense of magic, despite the sometimes infuriating administrative complications.

If one is inclined to bemoan the wastefulness of Brussels and the Byzantine inefficiency of the European Union, the Erasmus grant is a salve to your fevered brow

Of these, I must say that I am fortunate that the academic aspect of an Erasmus year does not count towards the degree. I had contrived to drop out of the electronic system of my host university, re-registry necessitating standing in line in front of twelve open windows behind which sat a single secretary and in front of which stood most of the population of Madrid. Fortunately I was well acquainted with this process, and after a scant three weeks I was once again a student. One who now lived above a sex shop, which had opened in the period between my leaving the apartment and my triumphant return with a new university card.

As the year drew to a close, the sight of a man walking his ferrets through Puerta del Sol heralded my impending return to Yorkshire.  Soon I would return to being more ‘mousey’ than rubio, and would sadly have to rely on my personality when winning friends and influencing people, rather than being comparatively exotic.

Before this, however, came the abdication of King Juan Carlos. Living in Callao, I was within two minutes from Puerta del Sol, the meeting place for all tourists, lovers, street performers, football fans, friends, fake handbag merchants and, above all, protestors, I had been able to experience the bubbling tensions over the Catalan issue, the economy, immigration and corruption that been expressed in bi-weekly demonstrations throughout the year.

photo: Alexander Green

photo: Alexander Green

Moreover, I found that protestors were always happy and able to explain their grievances, making allowances for my imperfect Spanish.  The abdication of Juan Carlos provided a focal point for the anger of Republicans; he had become a symbol of government corruption and exploitation, while his infamous elephant-hunting trip of 2012 had made him a pariah in some circles. He was also the king who helped dismantle the Francoist state and see through Spain’s transition to democracy. I was thus able to follow a night among Republicans and riot police with a day amongst approving Royalists in front of the Palacio Real, as the new King Felipe IV bequeathed a (sensibly low budget) smile and wave of the type instantly recognisable as royal.

After a summer of servicing my overdraft with the second part of my Erasmus grant, it’s time to return to Warwick Campus’ clouded angularity, a refurbished library, and the soon-to-be-newly-renovated delights of Gibbet Hill road.  I know I shall go back to Spain in the future, and sadly it shall be funded entirely from my own pocket, and I am glad I never put enough thought into the issue to be worried at taking a year out from study. So to all those considering an Erasmus year, I would wholeheartedly encourage you. Though you may have many bad experiences, they will make fantastic anecdotes, and will build up an incredible year. You may even learn some of the language. Que no haya novedad.

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