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August 14, 2013 / ldejong4

Quenching a Thirst for Culture

Have you ever heard of Galicia? Maybe some of you have but four months ago I didn’t know anything about it and now I am living there. Galicia is the reason for my lack of blog activity in recent weeks.

This March I decided to leave a very comfortable job in Dublin in search of a change. It was an incredibly difficult decision but one I have not looked back on. The only plan I had was to finish my Master’s and take next steps towards something different. I spent a month in an intense course to become an English language teacher, I blasted my CV out to schools in Spain then before I knew it I was packing boxes in my apartment, dumping them at my parents house and jetting off for a summer position teaching university students in La Coruña. Don’t ask me why Spain, I had a hunch and went with it.

I have travelled a lot between moving homes as a child, learning languages, business trips and of course leisure but it had been some time since I was confronted with true culture shock. During my first week I wanted to cry and return to Dublin where I was very content in my comfort zone. The people didn’t understand my Spanglish, I couldn’t make sense of the bus system, the shops and banks were closed when I needed them, meal times were ridiculously late, and not only that but it was lashing rain whilst receiving updates about the heat wave back home. It was another moment thinking, “What the hell have I done? I didn’t think this through enough.”

With a little help from the old reliable comforting cup of tea, I made it through the homesick phase and now seven weeks in I am mentally planning my return trip once finished studying next year.

Galicia is a region just north of Portugal on the Atlantic coast. It is famous for its cuisine, its green landscapes often compared to Ireland, and of course its temperamental climate unlike the rest of Spain. It is beautiful and there is a lot to do and see. I have tried octopus (pulpo), many types of tapas, beers and ciders that are skillfully poured a metre above the glass. I have partied until 8am on the beach attempting to speak Spanish with the students. I have been chatted up quite directly by a salesman selling organic soaps at a medieval market and today I spent an hour going in the wrong direction on the bus. That’s enough of a postcard update for the moment.

More interestingly, I have been utterly overwhelmed by a whirlwind of information about Spain from the people around me. The teachers have extensively travelled the country and every week the students give presentations, mostly with a connection to Spain whether cultural or historical. I find myself jotting down recommended places, to visit, movies to watch, books to read, restaurants to try etc. It has been a serious time of input for me with barely a moment to reflect. All I can think is that Spain is a country dense with culture.

Every region has its own tradition, its own public holidays, its own festivals, cuisine, dialect, accent, history, attitudes and climate. I have learned about the Spanish dictatorship and the civil war, the current political situation, about Spanish art, music, literature and of course its geography. Yet I am still ignorant and uneducated so please don’t test me. I have always been an open-minded person but now the more I look around me, the hungrier I become to explore further.

A good friend gave me “The Shadow of the Wind” as a gift to read in Spain and thanks to this I’m even extending this surreal cultural story before closing my eyes at night. Written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and based in Barcelona after the civil war, it throws me into a magical story every time I open it. I am so thoroughly enjoying it that I may write a review once I complete it.

Finally, the most riveting part of this adventure has been talking to the people I meet. Somebody told me some time ago that I will meet my favourite people in life doing the things I enjoy the most and this piece of advice hasn’t ceased to hold true. After work we often find ourselves sipping on beer or sangria, munching on olives and tortilla exchanging jokes and stories. We are like-minded people from different backgrounds and cultures with a unique story to share. The students also come to class with their individual personalities – introverted or extroverted. My world here has become a labyrinth of books. I have no idea where it will lead me but every person I meet is a story and often the ones with the fewest pages are the most interesting.

I am incredibly lucky and grateful to be in a position where I can change my career and travel a bit, without children or a mortgage. I don’t know where I will be this time next year but before I sign off I want to send out a wish to the families of the people who lost their lives on the train crash in Santiago, Galicia some weeks back. It was a tragedy that shook the region and could have happened to any of us thus encouraging me to reflect. I am glad I left my job taking a salary cut in search of a new and happy adventure and I would encourage anyone in a position and tempted to follow suit.

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7 Comments

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  1. Maeve / Aug 14 2013 12:49 pm

    Well done Lisa – was wondering where you were & now I know! Enjoy the rest of your time in Spain. I loved The Shadow of the Wind – Ruiz has written a few more too so be sure to check those out also. Keep in touch! Maeve 😉

  2. jong / Aug 14 2013 2:26 pm

    Glad you didn’t flee home and I can still visit you in a strange new place! (See ya momentarily 😀 )

  3. valpavego / Sep 8 2013 6:29 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the points. Great post, Lisa!

  4. paperlessworld / Sep 10 2013 4:42 pm

    I could not live in Galicia without picking up and reading Doreen Carvajal’s book, The Forgetting River.

  5. Jennifer / Nov 19 2013 12:25 am

    How did I miss this?! Really enjoyed reading a little about your experiences in Spain, as always, thanks for sharing Lisa 🙂

    • ldejong4 / Nov 19 2013 1:31 am

      Glad you liked it 🙂 I think there will be more stories that will come out of that experience. This year – Masters. Next year – focus on writing, writing, reading and more writing. x

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