Lauren Stevens: Studying Abroad

My name is Lauren Stevens and I am in the final year of my degree in International Development Studies and Spanish. For the third year of my degree I went to Melilla, a Spanish colony on the North coast of Africa. I spent 9 months in Melilla; 8 months working as an English Language Assistant and a month travelling.

I chose Melilla because my degree involved studying developing countries, so I thought it would be really interesting to be both in Europe and on the African continent simultaneously! Melilla is great if you want to go somewhere Spanish speaking, but not necessarily the Spanish mainland. There are a mix of languages (Spanish, Arabic and French), cultures (Spanish, Moroccan and West African) and religions (Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu). Travel, accommodation and food in Morocco were cheap so I was able to cross the border and have cheap weekend breaks in many different places. However, Melilla is quite small, travelling to the Spanish mainland is quite expensive and I did feel isolated at times. There were very few English speakers, but at school I was mostly speaking and teaching in English

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My role as a teaching assistant

I chose to be an ELA because I was considering a career in teaching and I enjoyed the prospect of earning money, as it enabled me to travel during the year and over the summer and still have some savings left over! I worked at a secondary school and helped students with their English speaking. Despite some lovely moments and good memories, overall I personally did not enjoy working in the school, but I had some friends who loved it. I think it really depends on the school, but I now know that career path is not for me! I only worked 12 hours over 3 days per week, which was a refreshing break from studying; it gave me lots of time to improve my Spanish and travel, and prepared me for my final year at university.

My experience of living in Melilla

I began learning Spanish when I started university, so when I arrived in Melilla I had only been learning for 2 years and I was very nervous about it. However, it came naturally once I arrived and I became much more confident, which has had a profound effect on my speaking capability. People in Melilla are generally quite patient with people who aren't fluent in Spanish because there is already such a mix of different cultures and languages within the city.

Melilla has a port, a fortress, an incredible beach, a cinema (which is cheap, although it only has one screen!), a couple of clubs and a few museums (most of which have free entry). The city is very small (12 square kilometres) and sometimes I struggled to find things to do, so I made the most of the opportunities I had there and went travelling. Despite the high cost to get to the Spanish mainland from Melilla, I was able to visit several cities. However, the hotels, food and trains in Morocco are very cheap and there is a train hotel for long journeys. I spent a lot of time travelling in western Morocco and went to many places, including Rabat, Marrakech and camel trekking followed by camping in the Sahara desert!

 

Top 10 things to take

  • Proper walking shoes: they may look fairly unattractive, but if you plan to travel, you will be walking a lot.
  • Extension cable: This saves using multiple plug adapters (but I took a spare just in case).
  • Rucksack: This is an easy and safe way to carry things whilst travelling. I also used a combination lock between two zippers so that potential thieves could not open my rucksack from behind.
  • Hand luggage suitcase: This was useful whilst travelling during weekends and I also used my combination lock if I left it in a hotel or hostel.
  • Portable charger: you can find these online and all you have to do is charge them up and carry them with you if your phone’s (or any other device's) battery runs out whilst travelling.
  • Dry shampoo: I use this often and when I was in Melilla it was not available in shops.
  • Easy-Hide-IP: This basically hides your current location on your laptop and enables you to use one in the UK, so I was able to watch things on BBC iPlayer and Netflix that I otherwise would not have been able to use in Spain.
  • Google Translate, CamDictionary or any other translating app that works offline.
  • E-reading app or device (Google Play, Kindle) so I could read books and not have to physically carry them around.
  • Typical English things for the students to see, such as newspapers, magazines, food and drink. My students were especially excited by Christmas crackers, mince pies and Christmas pudding, although most of them did not like the taste of the pudding!

 

I wrote about my experiences during my year abroad and advice for anyone preparing to go on theirs on my blog: http://lauren-stevens-melilla.blogspot.co.uk/