Introduced in 2007 in memory of a friend and colleague who was tragically lost in a road accident, the Suzanne Furstner Foundation supports language and educational training across the world. Every year since its introduction, the foundation has funded a scholarship enabling one budding TEFL teacher to take a training course to help them on their way.
The TEFL course has been offered in a different place each year, with destinations including Seville, Playa del Carmen, Milan and San Francisco. This year, applicants were vying for the opportunity to take a CELTA and Spanish course in the beautiful city of Barcelona.
All scholarship applicants are assigned a task, involving both a language awareness exercise and some creative writing based around the TEFL course destination. Although the standard of the applications that we received was exceptional, Sarah’s entry was engaging, inspiring, intelligent and relevant, and leaves us in no doubt that she is, and will continue to be, a fantastic English teacher.
We all loved reading Sarah’s piece and hope that you will too.
Six Weeks in Barcelona
I love my purple rusted bicycle, brakes screeching as I cut through the rain. It is my saviour which delivers me from the commuter-crammed tube, the words ‘Freedom Tiger’ branded in yellow on the scratched-up frame.
The posh bikers look me up and down. Theirs are of smooth gears, wicker baskets and upright posture.
Drum-and-bass thumping in my ears, my brain sifts through potential discussion and vocabulary topics as I swerve between red double-decker buses and shiny black cabs.
‘Don’t forget it’s Diego’s birthday. Don’t forget it’s Diego’s birthday’. I chant along to the beats which turn over in time with my pedals.
I feel a smile inside as I walk briskly into the building which houses my school, greeted by the chh-chhh-chhh of the photocopier and a smirk from a coffee-hungry colleague. It’s 7:45 and classes commence at 8am. My first class, Intermediate fluency, poses the challenge of extracting conversation from a group of students whom I predict will be half-asleep.
‘Good morning everyone! Your teacher is away so I’ll be taking your class this morning. My name is Sarah. Can anyone guess where I come from?’
‘Good try, but no, I’m sorry.’
There it is. My heart sinks with one word. Spain. It’s hard to bring myself back on track.
‘Ok guys, I will give you a clue. Think…kangaroos.’
‘Australia!’ There is a chorus of voices now, and it’s clear that more than one or two students are awake. The keen questioning begins.
Have you ever eaten kangaroo? Do you know Sydney? Is it always hot in Australia?
I allow five minutes of Australiana Q and A before we move into learning some new vocabulary and how to use it in conversation with others.
‘Today, we’re going to learn how to talk about films. Movies you’ve seen, famous actors, that sort of thing’.
We laugh together as we spit out words like BAFTA, director, producer and protagonist and elicit a variety of questions to do with films. We practise pronunciation, drilling words and sentences until the students are confident they can take their new vocabulary out into the world.
‘Have you seen the blockbuster film The Titanic?’
‘Yes,’ the students drone. The class discusses well-known English-language films and I discover that aside from the one with the famous iceberg, most students have seen very few films in English. I tell Diego that his regular teacher made me promise not to forget his birthday and an international rendition of Happy Birthday follows.
The bell goes and the students vacate the classroom. As soon as the last student has gone, the feeling returns – the pain – of Spain.
‘Imagine there’s no country…it isn’t hard to do…’ – John Lennon’s lyrics recite in my head as I imagine that my passport would allow me to live and work as an English Teacher in Spain. But it doesn’t.
My mind plays tricks on me and I begin to smell the salty air of Barcelona. It’s as though I’m there again, the wind blowing my long, thick curls as Alejandro and I, on our ‘freedom machines’, duck and weave our way through the crowds of tourists to find our afternoon spot on Barceloneta beach. Last night’s paella was amazing; homemade and matched perfectly with Catalan red wine. As we cycle along side by side, Alejandro puts his arm around my shoulders and asks me what I thought of the meal. ‘The p…….’ – I abruptly cut off my sentence in fear of mispronouncing his national food. ‘Delicious’, I add, acknowledging the meal as the cause of my long sleep-in, one which London life does not afford.
Later that night, it’s Gracia Festival and the people smile and dance to live music in the streets. I meet a man from Zaragoza, who is surprised I have been to his town, which he calls boring.
I am so in-tune with this city, this country, its people, the food and the smell of positivity in the air. Amid the local employment crisis and global recession, families still meet regularly for a home-cooked meal fit for a king, and people continue to smile at, encourage and kiss each other, not neglecting both cheeks.
Due to the effects of the recession, it’s too expensive for Language Schools in Spain to hire teachers from outside the European Union, and I ask myself, why do I have to come from so far away? Why does Australia have to be on the other side of the world? What good is this useless passport to me now?
Accepting my fate, I begin to scrawl through websites for a teacher training course which will allow me to both upgrade from my Aussie TEFL certificate to a CELTA and spend time in Barcelona.
In the classroom I return to thinking about immigration policies around the world, particularly the rules for residency and study which have become much stricter in recent times. I consider my students from Colombia, Libya, Peru, Mongolia, Mexico and even from Spain, some of whom have fled war, unemployment and financial strain to come to London in the hope of building a better life. I think of Andreas, whose parents have worked their whole lives to save enough money to send him to London where he can complete his English studies and graduate as a Medical Practitioner in England. Students, who with the weight of the world on their shoulders, represent their entire families and generations to come. They often work one or two jobs whilst studying in order to pay the hefty London rents. Young people expected to use their parents’ precious, hard-earned money wisely. Not to buy clothes, or McDonalds, or to travel to Paris or Copenhagen or Barcelona as I have. But to do one thing and one thing only – to learn English, and to learn it well.
All of a sudden the school bell rings again. Into my consciousness floods a new awareness of my own responsibility and a sense of urgency to complete my CELTA so I can better lead my students in the English language.
I arrive at pictures of the students in their own blockbuster films, budding protagonists, each reaching for a solid-gold Oscar. And then there’s me, the teacher, who is determined to help them get there.