Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘living abroad’

Changing tenses

I live in Bydgoszcz.

I work as the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz.

I noticed recently that these two sentences are no longer in the present continuous.


Bydgoszcz - River Brda

Today was the last day of my fourth academic year at IH Bydgoszcz in Poland.

I bought a flat here three years ago.

I have friends who live here all the time, not just teachers passing through (though they’re often friends too!)

I have a social life. Well, kind of 😉

I have daily, weekly, and now even annual, routines.

I feel settled, and although I don’t expect it to be forever, it’s certainly for the foreseeable future.

And although it will be a busy and adventurous summer, as always, knowing that I’ll be coming back home at the end of it makes things feel so much better.

Because now it does feel like home.

Why would I want to change anything?

Beginning again

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Sevastopol is great.

I love the city, and can’t get enough of seeing the sea all the time.

The people I work with are friendly and supportive, the students are enthusiastic, and the school itself is a pleasure to be in, self-contained with bright, colourful classrooms and good facilities.

My job is exactly what I needed and wanted at this point in my career.

I love learning languages, and the challenge of learning Russian is stimulating. I want to learn it. I really do.

I don’t regret my decision to leave the UK and to move here.

But beginning again is always difficult. And every time I do it, I block out this period, so I’m writing about it now to remember how it feels later.

Because the lack of Russian means I often feel like a child.

I can’t communicate anything beyond my most basic needs, and sometimes not even that. I can understand a fair amount, but I can’t reply. I can’t tell people which bits I understood and which bits I didn’t. I can see their frustration when I don’t understand. Some are patient, and try again, or rephrase what they said, and if they’re lucky, I understand. I’m totally dependent on others, and any English skill they might have, for anything beyond the basics.

I can’t do some of the things I enjoy, like going to the cinema and switching off. I can still go, but I have to think, not least because a lot of the films here are in Ukrainian, which I don’t speak at all. Watching a film at home is good, but it’s not the same.

I want to go out and make friends, but I’ve never been good at doing that in a foreign language, however easy I may find it in English. Most of my friends are from being in a new situation at the same time, like going to the jungle (!), or from working with them, and despite having studied three languages to high levels and lived in many other countries, I have almost no friends who I communicate with in a foreign language. And the English-speaking community here is tiny. The people at school are great, but I need to make a real effort to meet more people. I don’t drink, and don’t like being in pubs when I don’t already know people there. I can’t join a class or chat to random people yet, unless they want to hear about where I’m from and who is in my family ad nauseum, or talk and talk and not care that I can’t respond.

I’m a very confident person, but lacking the language strips me of my confidence when I leave my English bubble.

I know I could visit lots of places around Crimea, and I really want to, but I don’t know how to get to any of those places, or what would happen if I got stuck there. When I ask bus drivers to get off at the next stop (which you have to do on public transport here), at least one person looks at me every time, because it’s clear I’m a foreigner. This is compounded by being a woman and choosing to wear trainers and a rucksack to get to and from work, something no self-respecting Ukrainian woman would ever do, and another reason why people stare at me at times. But the handbag and heels look has never worked for me, so I won’t be blending in any time soon. Most of the time I can switch off the stares, but sometimes they niggle, and sometimes they build up.

I know the theories about language learning, about getting out there and speaking to people, but you need a certain level of basic sentences to do that, or a certain level of alcohol, which I will never have. I know I should study a bit each day, but honestly I can’t be bothered. I know I should immerse myself in the language if I want to improve, and since I’m surrounded by Russian, that should be easy to do. I don’t shy away from encounters with Russian, and I’m constantly listening and reading. But I don’t actively seek them out either.

I think I’ll be here for a while.

Three months in, the novelty is wearing off, and this is always when it gets difficult. It did in Malaysia. It did in Paraguay. I didn’t have the benefit of social media in either of those places, and I remember how homesick I was then. I can’t imagine living this life without the internet now. It got difficult in Newcastle too, despite being in the UK. I avoided it in Brno because I developed a group of good friends in the same situation as me very quickly. And I know I’ll look back at this time with the benefit of hindsight, a good level of Russian, a group of friends, and a whole host of new experiences, and I won’t really remember this feeling of slight helplessness.

So right now I have to make a few promises to myself, and I have to stick to them:

  1. Saturday is Russian day, with at least two hours of study, plus my lesson
  2. Sunday is a relaxation day, including a day trip whenever possible
  3. I will not spend any weekend entirely in my flat, regardless of how bad the weather is
  4. Before June, I will have joined a class of some kind, maybe dance, maybe a language I already speak, maybe something completely new so I can meet new people

I’m a sucker for punishment. Constant new beginnings don’t make for an easy life, but I know that, and I still choose to begin again. It will be worth it in the end. And if I tell you my promises, I have to stick to them, right?

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