Dipping my toes in the Atlantic.

Me at Praia do Pinhão, Lagos.

This month I dipped my toes in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since last August. And last Friday I dipped more than a toe – I went for a swim which lasted about three minutes, until the cold got to me and I made a swift exit. But hungry for more, I soon went back in with four friends, and we swam around some of the cliffs in Lagos, Portugal. The water was deep and the rocks were rough, and the currents pulled and tugged at my tired arms after an alarmingly short period of time. But the view from the water was beautiful, especially looking along the rugged, ancient coastline as the sun illuminated everything with a saturated, golden-honey light.

When I clambered back onto the beach at the end of it, I felt amazing.

If dipping a toe in the ocean was enough to make me go back and swim for 40 minutes in freezing cold water, then it could easily be a parallel for the rest of my life at the moment. Having lived in Sevilla for 10 months now, Portugal was the furthest I’d been from my Spanish home during that time (not including a trip back to my English home at Christmas – I’m talking more in terms of distancing the unknown here). When I felt my toes sinking into the wet sand as the waves pulled at my ankles, a new feeling awoke in me – the age-old wanderlust of the girl (or guy) who hasn’t seen enough of the world yet.

This summer, I’m going back into the unknown. I’m moving to Lagos in a week to work for the summer, and then after that, the plan is to either move back to Sevilla for another year, or take my suitcase and my CertTESOL elsewhere. It’s really rather exciting to know that I may be able to work abroad, supporting myself, until it feels like time to move back home to England.

There are jobs, and then there are jobs. All I know is that the one I had back in England wasn’t much fun and that here, in Spain, I love my life like never before. There have been crises along the way, but in the mould of life’s challenges which shape you. Finding new flatmates, finding new work, learning to survive independently in another country – that last one is an umbrella crisis for a lot of smaller ones, and it’s the umbrella which has been most battered by the shifting winds out here. Finances, for example. Living on a budget. Cooking!

Getting back to the job I have here for a moment, I am amazed to look back on all these months of teaching people English, knowing that they have learned from me. I’ve been lucky enough to teach a huge range of classes over the year, from three-year-olds at home to a class of four five-year-olds, to top businessmen learning English simply for pleasure, to a team of lawyers, to a final year engineering student, to a class of adults at a more advanced level looking for conversations and easy, no-fuss grammar reviews. And that’s just a handful. This variety has made my teaching year rich and fulfilling, and very unique. There are dozens of English teachers in Sevilla, and I bet that we all have wildly different stories to tell.

I made some amazing friends while living in Sevilla.

I made some amazing friends while living in Sevilla.

Although I direct the conversations, ask the questions and teach the grammar points, I suspect that my students have taught me just as much in the classroom, if not more, as I have imparted to them over the year. From them I’ve learned how to talk to students and how to listen. I’ve become familiar with strange grammatical terms that explain a language I’ve known from toddlerhood. I’ve learned to grade my language, how to control the urge to tell a story and let the student do it instead. It’s their class. They’re the learner. I’m only the facilitator. It’s not been an easy process, but the rewards are now so tangible that it’s with a heavy heart that I’ll leave teaching for three months to go and seek my fortune in Lagos over the summer months.

Lagos is a yacht owner’s paradise, a sleepy old town thinly disguising a vibrant beating heart, and a beach lover’s goldmine. It’s also, as I discovered at the weekend, full to the brim with young people travelling through Europe, making their stops in Portugal, some of whom decide to stay for a lot longer than just a week. And it’s no wonder – with stunning beaches, surfing and other watersports on the doorstep, diverse and wild nightlife and the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the town, Lagos is definitely hiding some black hole qualities. A black hole that’s far from unpleasant, but with a gravity well as alluring as a plate of ribs in barbecue sauce at the One Fat Monkey diner.

Beach paradise in Lagos.

Beach paradise in Lagos

While in Lagos, I stayed at the Monkey House hostel, one corner of the Monkeys triangle (the third part being the popular Three Monkeys bar). On my first night I met the people I would hang out with for most of the weekend: three New Zealanders, an Australian and a Canadian. I’m pretty sure I was in a Brit minority for the whole weekend, but it’s been that way for ages now anyway – I don’t know too many Brits in Sevilla either. I love the diversity that being abroad brings, and I love hanging out with people from cultures different from my own. As well as ensuring you have friends all over the globe, it’s a real mind-opener to know that the person you’re chowing down with and chatting away to like you’ve known each other for years has come from a different country where there are different politics, different perspectives, different ecosystems, different landmarks, different everything. Meeting people in this way, at hostels, can be bittersweet – ultimately everyone in the hostel is passing through, converging in one place and then spreading out again on different paths – but for all the people you will never see again, there are always going to be some that you strike up a real bond with – and that’s something that will last over the distance and time, until your paths next cross.

Having newly discovered this hostel culture, I am thrilled by it and can’t wait to go back for more. But just a year ago I hadn’t dreamed any of this: I imagined that I might stay in Sevilla and get a teaching job, but travel on a wider scale hadn’t really entered my mind. And let’s be honest: Lagos is only six hours away by coach from Sevilla. After my friends and I first decided to go to Lagos for a weekend, it was a no-brainer to look online and book a decent hostel. One return coach ticket later, and it was as easy as that.

But as the Spanish say, poco a poco. Little by little. I’m not about to run away to South Korea, or Venezuela, just yet. There’s no denying though that I am excited about the summer and what it could mean for me after the balmy breezes turn into snapping autumn gales, and the Atlantic Ocean cools down again. I plan on taking the experiences from this year as parts of one whole. By the time I return to England for a visit in August, I will have lived and worked in two different cities. I will have gained experience in teaching English and in some form of bar or restaurant work. I will have lived with a score of different people, made dozens of new friends and acquaintances, visited many interesting towns and villages, lived by the sea and hopefully, saved up enough money to do it all again in September. This is a huge leap from what my expectations were last August when I boarded my flight to Sevilla, and although this year has had its share of difficulties, the benefits are all there in front of me now.

I feel like I’ve stepped through a portal into a bigger world, and there are crisscrossing paths in front of me. Sevilla again, or elsewhere – the world is a big place and it’s time to step over the horizon.

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from the cliffs above Pinhão.

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from the cliffs above Pinhão.

Initial photograph taken by Christina Campbell, used with permission. All other photos were taken by me.

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