Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Downsides of Being a Linguist

Photo modified via Black Country Museums

You might be able to tell that I love learning languages (Exhibit A). I love a good natter on and learning languages allow me to widen the net and talk to even more people, lowering the risk of talking my nearest and dearest to death. 

It gives you an almost superhero-like power on the tube, on the bus, in public when you can listen in other people's conversations, who are completely unaware you can understand what they're saying and you're being a nosy beggar by listening in (just me?)

It makes you instantly more interesting, cleverer, sexier - accuse me of bias if you will - I could go on. If it ever comes to it, my (hypothetical) children will be bilingual - how much I envy those lucky devils who have been brought up with two languages. 

That being said, despite the many amazing advantages of learning languages, there is many a downside to being a linguist. It can land you in sticky situations such as:

laughing out loud at a conversation you are in no way, shape or form, part of.


starting a conversation with complete strangers in the wrong language.

Sorry Italians.


when being put on the spot, completely blank when being asked for a translation of a word, in your own language.


on the contrary, you are able to recall a word in countless other languages but not the one you actually need.


you know that feeling when you realise too late that you have the perfect comeback? It's worse in another language.

Which coincidentally is l'esprit d'escalier in French


getting the green-eyed monster when Dutch or Scandinavian people just casually mention they speak four languages. FOUR.

Pat on the back by the way.


After finally building up the courage to go speak to someone in a foreign language, being spoken back to in English.


Asking yourself "Did I just say that out loud." On a daily basis.


Cringing at the sound of your god-awful accent.


Finding out at worst possible moment - think meeting the parents, in a meeting, at border control - that a phrase that you thought all along was something innocent actually has bad connotations.


Unfortunately overhearing conversations about you.

I suppose you could call that karma


Thinking people are speaking *insert language here* when it just turns out it is actually English.


Not being able to say certain foods in an English accent anymore, pronounce it as it should be and therefore sounding like a pretentious knob.


Being that one person who orders sparkling water.

Who am I? Europe, you ruined me.

But, the worst problem?

Being naturally irrationally infuriated when H&M have t-shirts with accents on for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.

Not cool H&M.

Negatives aside, I'll happily take all the embarrassing mishaps, the awkward faux-pas and the unfortunate overhearing for the huge payback that comes with learning languages. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need to vent about the downsides and problems of being a linguist. Language problems and what not.

So now your turn, what do you think are the downsides of learning languages?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Brick Lane Street Art

I love Brick Lane.

And no, not because I'm such an edgy hipster that's too cool to have fun.

It's the definition of a melting pot if there ever was one, different cultures and languages all mingling together on one street. Because I'm nosy curious, being able to overhear snippets of conversations I'll never understand (as much as I'd like to) and actually hearing languages other than English is a linguist's dream, especially when in Northumberland you will hear the occasional German or Dutch at most.

And then there's the food. 

You get the wafts of spicy curries, salt beef bagels, Middle Eastern, again the food available shows the fusion of the place. Finishing off with some Yellow Pendeh from one of the Asian sweets shops before wandering up and down the street was the perfect way to end my trip in London. I have already decided I'm coming back for a weekend, just to spend sampling all of the different food on the street and subsequently write an amazing food post about my findings, obviously.

But also what I love about Brick Lane is the street art. Now, you may be able to deduce that I'm not the most artsy type however, I have always been so interested in street art. It bears no pretense, has a clear message that I don't have to rack my brains for days on end thinking about and very often, is quite political, a form of social commentary on current affairs.

Annoyingly, my SD card deleted all my photos again but luckily, I've been able to salvage a few of my snaps. Here they are:

The above photo is a tribute to Charlie Burns, the 'King' of Bacon Street, who was the oldest man on Brick Lane before his death in 2012. 

Quite a fitting end to the post.

Do you like street art? Where do you think has the best street art?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Be More Tourist

Before you point out that the title of the blog post doesn't make sense, I may have taken inspiration from O2's recent advertising campaign:

You see, like dogs, tourists (oh god, this is an awful analogy) are ready to snatch up every opportunity that comes their way. They want to see everything, do everything, explore more than you can shake a stick at. Their time is limited and they are making the most of it.

What inspired this post is the fact that at work (I work in a country pub) one of the most frequent questions by guests is "What would you recommend doing here?". To which I usually um and ah, give up and give the bog standard answer of going to Hadrian's Wall.

Now I am in no way belittling the wonder that is the Roman Wall but there is so much to see and do nearby that I completely take for granted. If there's one thing that my time away has taught me, it is the fact that you come back with a deeper appreciation of home. But despite the fact that I am aware of how lucky I am to have what I have within a stone's throw, I have recently found myself in the same old, same old routine and I need to break out of it. So I've come up with Be More Tourist to see the lovely North East, a place I am lucky enough to call home, with fresh eyes.

The lovely Sycamore Gap. Image modified via Tony Roberts

I'm looking to be home until the start of next year so I have plenty of time to put my new 'Tourist' attitude into practice: I will try to find all the hidden gems in Newcastle, I will finally go back to the places I've always intended to return to but never found the time to do so and I might, might even give the place that I always came to dread when we went there for yet another school trip another chance: Vindolanda. 

Regardless, I hope to show that travel and discovery can be found just around the corner, if only you know how to go about it. I sometimes think that I am so busy planning to jet off elsewhere that I forget to find the time to travel in the local area, which is frequently cheaper and a whole lot easier to organise too. 

So why not give it a go yourself, you might find yourself seeing the place that you call home in a different light.

Do you try to be a tourist in your local area? What do you love about home?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Go Shorty it's My Birthday: 24 Things to Do Before 24

Modified via Omer Wazir

I'll spare you the whole another year has gone so fast spiel but what I will say is that contrary to my concern of coming back to Blighty after the year abroad;

It has been a bloody fantastic year.

Yes, it has been stressful. There have been times when I wished to be elsewhere but I've not done too shabby considering it was the final year of my degree.

I started 22 off with the finale of my year abroad, exploring the Colombian Carribean Coast, with a fitting last hurrah adventure to Cabo de la Vela. Back home, I've fitted in visits to Copenhagen and Barcelona as well as casually jetting off to Hong Kong and Malaysia to see my sister from another mister, Caitlin (the great advantage of having friends go off travelling and what not).

And I've only gone and managed to graduate with a cheeky 2:1. 

Pat on the back.

But now my attention turns to this coming year and what I have in store, which to be honest is pretty uncertain. But, I'm a big fan of resolutions and goals, even though sticking to them and actually ticking the items off the list is perhaps not my strong suit. And what better time to vow to be more virtuous, funnier, more interesting, more attractive etc. than my birthday?

I did a list similar to this last year vowing to do 23 things before 23 - shout out to Caroline in the City for the inspiration - and quite enjoyed it, although some of my goals were admittedly overambitious and others were absurd, so I decided to write up my to-do list for this coming year. Some of the ones that I failed to do last time have been stolen as I'd like to give it another crack of the whip. Anyhoo, back to the list, hopefully it's a good'un.

1. Publish an e-book of some sort.
2. Go back to the love of my life COLOMBIA (I may have mentioned it once or twice).
3. Brush up my neglected Russian and learn a new language.
4. Do a triathlon.
5. Enter into the foray of vlogging.
6. Stay away from temptations such as overdrafts and credit cards and live within my own means.
7. Learn how to play poker (or at least bluff).
8. Practise yoga regularly.
9. Learn how to be a morning person.
10. Learn how to code.
11. Go to a festival in Europe
12. Be more adventurous with my style.
13. Write on pen and paper more.
14. Read 52 Books.
15. Find some more freelancing gigs.
16. Get creative with cooking.
17. Maintain my French and Spanish.
18. Go back to Paris to see my girl Emma.
19. Post three times a week on the blog.
20. Rehaul the blog's design.
21. Give a presentation (outside of university).
22. Practise moderation a teeny tiny bit more especially with food.
23. Mix up my exercise routine more.
24. Have a spontaneous, last-minute weekend away.

Do you have birthday resolutions? What do you wish to achieve this year?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lessons Learnt from Year Abroad

So in the final installment of Year Abroad Fortnight, I decided I would share all those random lessons learnt from my year abroad that didn't fit in any particular category. That is the real beauty of having a year abroad, a study abroad placement or even travelling abroad to learn a language. It is so much more than just an academic learning experience. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that you learn so much more outside the classroom. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, grab it with both hands. As you might be able to work out, I rave about my year abroad experience and in one way or another, the vast majority of my friends who have done so too would wholeheartedly say the same.

Anyhoo enough of my waffling, without ado, my lessons learnt from year abroad:

Learning languages is hard and you feel guilty when you realise you've been a complete and utter a*sehole to others before trying to learning English.

It's surprising how many languages you can say cheers in (priorities).

Sob stories will not work with French administration staff. Being firm and persistent will.

Finding accommodation in Paris is one of the most frustrating experiences but everyone finds something eventually.

Culture shock happens when you least expect it.

Keep a journal, your memory doesn't serve you as well as think.

Likewise with taking lots of photos.

Or even better, have a blog.

TGVs have to be the most incredible invention ever: 3 hours to get to Basel in Switzerland from Paris. Class.

Night trains from Paris to Nice, however, are not. Fork out the extra money to avoid them.

The day your Erasmus grant comes in will be the most joyful day of your life.

The day after when you've spent half of it will not be so much.

But good news, all the best things in Paris are cheap: bread, croissants, cheese, wine, chocolate.

Keep in touch with your parents, regardless of the situation, they will worry about you.

Helping yourself to box wine for a bit of Dutch courage is a recipe for disaster. Stay away.

Same with accepting shots of aguardiente. Exercise caution even if everyone tells you "No se puede rechazar."

Stuck for icebreakers and anxious about your language skills? Ask lots of questions. That way you dictate the conversation, you can sit back and let the other person do the talking.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT, look at anyone on the Parisian metro, not even for a second, especially not at a toothless hobo. Eyes down at all times.

On the contrary, marvel at the Medellin metro. Public transport at its finest.

Mess up, screw up, make a fool of yourself, it's the only way to get better.

You will get used to making a massive t*t out of yourself.

In fact you will get used to embarrassing yourself so much, you will have no shame.

Regardless of coordination, as long as the man knows what they are doing, anyone can dance salsa.

Colombians will never understand why you don't want/need someone to go to the supermarket with you.

Do not feel down when someone mocks your language skills. It's easy to do so when it's your native language. Just rue the day when you will absolutely own them in their own language.

There will be a point when you have a mini-existential crisis with regards to your lack of personality in *insert language here*.

But once you break through the language barrier, you will be doing, thinking and dreaming in said language.

Pitfalls aside, social media is a glorious thing to keep in touch.

It's the age-old cliché but saying yes to everything (OK, maybe not everything) is the way to go.

"Le pont" are the best words to ever be uttered to stagiaires' ears

"El puente" you will hear at least every fortnight in Colombia. Colombians love their bank holidays.

Take every opportunity to travel: Be a tourist in your own city, have a weekend trip nearby, have a last-hurrah extravaganza at the end. Go out, explore, discover.

Make the most of your year abroad. It's actually 15 months and it will be the most incredible, challenging but rewarding experience to date.

What is your advice for year abroad students? What was your biggest lesson?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why You Should Consider a Year Abroad in Colombia

I know, I know, any excuse to write about the absolute love of my life, Colombia. But in line with Year Abroad Fortnight, which ironically is a little bit more than a fortnight now (Year Abroad Just Over a Fortnight doesn't quite have the same ring to it); I saw fit to write about why I think Colombia is a great year abroad destination whether it be studying, working or volunteering abroad.

After all, there's a reason the Colombian tourism board's tagline used to be: "Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay."

Colombia is starting to gain momentum as a study abroad destination but it is still one of the least popular study abroad destinations especially amongst British students. I can understand why: Spain is just on our doorstep and there's cheaper flights to other Latin American destinations. However, I think it's money well spent going to Colombia and of course once you get there, cost of living is cheaper than that of the UK and Spain and the likes of popular South American destinations such as Argentina and Chile. But I won't bore you with the financial side of things as there are way more exciting reasons as to why you should consider a year abroad in Colombia:

Medellin seen from Pueblito Paisa

Colombians (generally) speak slowly and clearly
On the whole, Colombians speak quite slowly and clearly especially in comparison to Spaniards, Argentinians and Chileans (Chilean Spanish for me is a completely different language). This is a huge bonus when you're trying, flailing and failing to learn Spanish. Such a claim, however, is something to take with a pinch of salt as there is so much regional differentiation when it comes to accents in Colombia as is the case everywhere. Head up to the coast and it's a completely different story with many calling the dialect there costeñol as even Colombians have difficulty understanding it (you could say it's the Colombian Geordie). But then, I would say costeños have some pretty colourful vocabulary and a great selection of expressions making the linguistic challenge a bit more entertaining. Regardless, the variation in regional accents is fascinating and you will quickly learn the difference between paisa, costeño, rolo, caleño, chocoano etc. in no time.

You're a commodity
I intend this to be positive as people are curious about foreigners especially as they've only recently started coming back to Colombia. Once they detect your foreign accent or if like me, you stick out like a sore thumb because you're blond-haired and blue-eyed, they will ask so many questions, you will tell them your life story. It's great language practise as well as being the perfect icebreaker, especially when you're anxious to speak up and you may even get an invitation to coffee/dinner/the family finca out of it too. But fear not, if you're in need every now and then of an international crowd, Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena have burgeoning expat communities too.

Friends, Colombian Friends (Inbetweeners reference had to be done)

Colombians love a good celebration
Salsa runs in most Colombians' vein and Colombians love to rumba especially if it incorporates dancing, music and of course, the drink of gods, aguardiente. The amount of bank holidays, which in comparision to the UK's measly four, means you can regularly jet off elsewhere to explore. My favourite has to be Día del Trabajo which ironically is celebrated with a day off work. Hurrah. The night before a bank holiday is of course a great excuse for the above examples so make sure you pack your best party pants, you will need them.

Valle de Cocora in the Coffee Region

Cartagena's Old Town

You can stay in one country and go to the beach, the mountains, the jungle, the desert, you name it.
Not only that but Colombia is the only country in South America to boast both the Atlantic and the Pacific as coastlines AND Colombia ranks as one of the top five countries with the most biodiversity in the world. The opportunity to travel is huge: you can wander around UNESCO sites such as San Agustin, Cartagena's Old Town or the quaint, sleepy town of Mompox. If nature is your bag, you can cruise along the Amazon or humpback whale-watch in Choco. Want to escape city life? Explore one of the many pueblos nearby or visit the coffee region to trek Valle de Cocora. Or if you just wish to kick back and relax, you can head to one of the many beaches along the Caribbean coast such as Parque Tayrona or my favourites, Palomino or Cabo de la Vela. If you're somehow missing typical British weather, you can head to Bogota where it rains all the time (it does have a great cosmopolitan city life and amazing street art too). Trying to whittle down where you will actually go will be your biggest problem (first world problems indeed).

El Pilon de Azucar, La Guajira

You will fall in love with it
I have nothing to back this huge claim up but way too frequently would I meet travellers who intended to stay a few nights in a place which was then subsequently extended to a week, a month, as much time as their visa would allow. Not only that but I met so many people who not only fell hook, line and sinker in love with Colombia but coincidentially a Colombian as well. So who knows, maybe Colombia will be where you meet the love of your life (I know, I know, I'm cringing myself writing this)?

Have you been to Colombia? Where was your favourite place?

Friday, August 8, 2014

How to...Make the Most of Your Year Abroad

Yes, the first two years of university have flown by. It's the biggie.

The year  abroad.

You've anticipated it, worried and stressed about it.  And now you are about to finally on a crazy, unique journey (might as well slot that cliché in) that is unlike any other.

It's a big deal and understandably you want to make the most of it (if you don't, then get outta here). Of course, regardless of my advice,  I'm sure you will take advantage of the huge opportunity that has effectively been offered on a silver platter but if you want a few pointers as to how you can use your year abroad experience to the very fullest, look no further:

Boost your CV
I thought I'd get the sensible, maybe even boring but bloody useful bit of advice out of the way first: get professional experience. A study abroad placement is a great addition to a CV in its own right but show your prospective employer you took initiative by finding some of that elusive professional experience in an international environment.  Whether that be in form of a job, work experience on the weekends or tutoring English in your spare time, it can be a massive game changer at the end of your time at university when you're on the job hunt.

Leave the international student bubble
It's hard because it is so easy but leaving the comfort of the international student circle and getting out and about, meeting other people whether it be expats, home students or even just locals will just enhance your year abroad. They may be useful contacts to have if you decide you've fallen hook, line and sinker in love with the place and want to move back after graduating (and obviously great friends too)!

But don't completely reject it either
Which is essentially what I did in Paris. The result? I didn't have a huge social circle and needless to say, international students in Paris are everywhere. The huge benefit of being part of the international student community is that you have an instant support network: everyone understands what you're going through, why you're frustrated by the latest administration hoop to jump through (France, why do you do this to me) and on the other hand, you appreciate the little things that those who lived there for a long time may not. There's a high possibility they will want to travel and explore a bit too so you have found some company for your adventures too!

Be selfish (to a certain extent)
Once you've settled in, you will start establishing your social circle and then the big, huge dilemmas arise such as "Let's go out tonight." "Let's go to X,Y and Z." I could go on. If you want to go out and go to X,Y and Z, go, but if you don't or are not feeling it, don't feel peer-pressured to go. This is your year abroad so don't do it accordingly by someone else's agenda. Make your own adventures.

Don't like something?  Do something about it
Don't wallow in a deep pit of doom when something isn't going to plan. On your year abroad, you will learn you are indeed the master of your fate. If you don't like your accommodation (like I didn't) find somewhere else. If things aren't going well at work, tackle it (diplomatically and professionally) head-on. It may be hard to take the plunge but you will glad you did in the long-run.

And the obvious one...Travel, travel, travel to your heart's content
This doesn't mean you have to go on a huge backpacking adventure that will no doubt cost your whole overdraft and then some. This could be as simple as taking time during the weekend to explore where you're living or taking a day trip out. Of course if you can, a huge last hurrah backpacking adventure is amazing too but make sure to see a different side of the place you're living in. Get out, explore and make your friends so jealous they will get a case of FOMO.

Other than that, good luck, stay safe and have fun!

How did you make the most of your study abroad experience? What are your top tips?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to...Keep the Homesick Blues at Bay

Ah, homesickness. Everything's going fine and dandy and then WHAM, those pangs of missing home rears its ugly head. It's a common occurrence especially when living in an unfamiliar country and of course, it's a common concern pre-departure.

As per, I've learnt from past mistakes: before my gap year, I had never got homesick. I would happily go off on school trips and holidays with friends, no problem. But then I kicked off my gap year by plunging myself well and truly in the deep end and I headed to Moscow. To say the least, the experience wasn't exactly what I had planned. I found it hard to make friends, I missed my friends and family at home badly and to top it all off, I had completely lost my appetite (the most worrying sign of all if I'm not eating). 

Whilst it wasn't an ideal situation, I could have gone about things differently. 

Now that I've been there, done that, got the year abroad t shirt, here are my top tips for keeping those homesick blues away:

Keep busy (and limit social media)
It's a simple equation - the busier you are, the less time you have to think about home and therefore miss it. But now FOMO is coming more and more into play thanks to the likes of Facey B, Twitter and Instagram. Not being present for the big events or even the usual student Friday night out is bad enough but seeing the aftermath on social media only makes the homesick blues worse. By all means, keep up to speed with your friends' and family's goings-on but make sure to make them green with your year abroad antics on Facebook too! #lovinglife

Bring keepsakes to feel at home
Make your new flat a home from home by bringing photos, cards, blankets, teddies etc. A few home comforts can go a far way to kick out homesickness. Even better, why not try arranging a care package to be sent every so often?

Organise visits from your nearest and dearest
Living in a new place is a great excuse to have your friends and family come stay. That means you have to be out and about exploring beforehand so you know all the great places, the hidden gems and the best spots for dinner (priorities, people) to take them to!

Try a new hobby
Trying to replicate life at home in a new country just isn't going to work. So, why not mix it up and try your hand at something new? It's a new challenge to concentrate on as well as being another opportunity to find your friendship circle whilst there.

Accept it
Regardless of your best efforts, it is likely it will happen one time or another. When it does, get in touch with your friends and family, talk it out and leave it at that. Then, get out and about, go for a drink with drinks or if you're feeling virtuous, go for a walk or a run and get it out of your system.

What are your tips for dealing with homesickness?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

How to...Brush Up Your Language Skills Before Going

Modified via Sergio Bertolini

This is one of the biggest niggles of the year abroad anticipation - how can you even contemplate speaking *insert language here* when you barely feel confident enough to string a sentence together?

For want of a better cliché, living in a country where the language is not your own pushes you as far away from your comfort zone as possible and slap bang in the deep end.

It is awkward.

It is embarrassing.

And I might as well just say it, it's horrible (at times).

But I could have made things easier for myself.  And hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing as I can pass on one of the many, many lessons learnt from my year abroad - brushing up your language skills before you go will make the full-on immersion shock a whole lot easier to handle.

Of course, it is no replacement for the real thing and it will still be a massive mountain to climb and then some. But, like a good boy scout, being prepared comes in handy.

So enough of me waffling on, you want the dirt, the know-how, the juicy details (don't ask me why I'm talking about it like it's Saturday night's gossip), the tried-and-tested language hacks that will set your year abroad off on the right foot:

Hardly the biggest shock and it's what all our teachers have been telling us all along but grammar, as boring as it is, is the foundation of language. Revising all those tricky irregular subjunctives, those pesky masculine/feminine exceptions and those difficult nonsensical rules beforehand means you won't be mumbling and stumbling through everything you say when you get there.

Reach out
If you have any contacts where you're going to go, strike up a conversation, make plans to meet when you arrive and start off practising from the get-go. Don't have any acquaintances there? Try, forums, sports clubs, whatever your interest may be, do what you can to find places where you can meet people with a mutual interest to put down roots both socially and linguistically.

Look up vocabulary
Again not a monumental piece of advice but I stupidly set off to France able to discuss greenhouse gases and the effects of global warming but completely inept to explain I was locked out of the flat and other various phrases that would actually be of use - especially at the beginning. Get them phrases down.

Try full-on immersion
OK, full-on immersion is slightly unrealistic before going but refresh your memory by reading newspaper or magazine articles, listening to radio or music, heck even follow Shakira on Twitter (highly recommended)! Getting to grips with the language used on a day-to-day basis is a far cry from what you will have learnt at university.

On a final note...
Advance preparation will help out massively but remember that learning a language is a day-by-day challenge. There will times when you wonder why you're so boring in *insert language here*, you will feel knackered by spending a whole day speaking it and you will berate yourself for being so god-awful (even though you're not) despite having learnt the language since year 7. Don't let the snidey comments or people laughing at your language skills get you down. Just smile whilst thinking about how you will eventually own them in their own language. Keep at it, persevere and you will have your well-deserved breakthrough. After that, you will wonder what all the fuss was about and you will probably be in exactly the same situation as I am now, reassuring others going through exactly the same as you did!

Bon courage/Buena Suerte!

What are your language learning hacks? How are(did) you preparing for your year abroad?