How my exchange supported me in not only becoming an English teacher, but also a culture teacher

From May 2017 I knew that I’d be back in the UK only seven months later. I only moved abroad for a longer time once before, so I felt like I needed to prepare everything neatly. I organised my other jobs and my flat from Germany, I bought a whole lot of travel guides, I watched British TV (more than I probably should have) and I read about 1000 blog posts all called something like “How to: England”. So, when I finally arrived in London in December I already ticked all the boxes of my England-to-prepare-/to-know-list, and felt well prepared. It only took four days for me to lose my first flat and have to begin from scratch once again. Little did I know at this time that I’d move about 5 times in the next seven months. Usually I like to prepare everything accurately in advance, but thanks to this exchange, I became more flexible and spontaneous, because there was no other way to make it through it without those abilities. In addition to this, I learnt a lot about the housing crises in metropoles, as well as the local economics and privatising of property, which belongs to an experience abroad like local food and everything else. Talking about food, living in London has more to offer than only Mac ’n Cheese (which I by the way adore). There is great cuisine at every corner especially at places like the Brick Lane and a whole lot of fantastic restaurants, hosted among others by famous chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver, so I treated myself more often than I probably should have with eating out in a city full of amazing opportunities. Especially on food markets for example in my favourite part of London: Shoreditch.

Bubble Waffle Tea Time

Also, I thought studying English for several years at University level would have prepared me for working in an English classroom, but working with young children in my second language was far more challenging than I ever thought. Transcribing their dialogs on tape was a task with a whole lot of obstacles, like mumbling, unclear speech, shy and very quiet students as well as special terminology, running outside the microphone reaching room and child slang. I can proudly say that I leant new vocabulary every day. But the language barrier was not as high as you might assume right now, there are always ways to communicate, one way or another.

As the research study took place at a school in Shephard’s Bush, London, I occasionally had to commute from London to Cambridge. The train rides with Elizabeth McGregor were always great fun, talking about the syllabus for next week and discussing interesting papers. I really appreciated the contrast from the multicultural, crazy, colourful London to the precious and calm Cambridgeshire, which felt more like home to me.

Brick lane mathematical bridge

But to be honest, having such a great colleague like Elizabeth McGregor makes every meeting fun, not only the train rides. Having only met once in May 2017 once and then a few months later working together with her every day, I was afraid that it could have turned out as a tense work relationship. But the opposite happened and instead we also met up privately for events like the Burns Night Dinner in Emmanuel College, excursions to the Royal Observatory or to watch the Royal Wedding together and I now count her as a friend of mine.

burns night royal observatory

She also suggested a lot of nice cultural afternoon activities to me like theatre plays with great reputations and her favourite museum exhibitions, from with I built an even more solid understanding of British culture. When I first came over I had an TO-DO-LIST that was quite long, and I tried to tick of one item of the list per day, even if it was just a nice coffee corner shop, that somebody recommended to me. So, I did and I soon found that the list wasn’t becoming any shorter. This is what London means to me, a city without limitations. Uncountable opportunities and one event after another. For example, it took me only like 10 minutes by tube to visit the Kensington Palace at the day after Baby Prince Louis was born, to see a few Britons bringing flowers and toys to the palace gate.

National Portrait gallery Kensington Palace Tag nach Louis geburt

I can’t wait to go back and tick a few more boxes off my list.

Helena Spyrou

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