Englishman Abroad: Post Script – Different Horizons

I’m sure I’m going to get run over soon: I just keep looking left before I leap into the road. And it’s cold! Sunny and cold, but cold all the same. It’s all relative.

On the way to the airport, I kept thinking I’m going to miss that view, the mountains and the sea so close, the palm trees, even the billboards. 2000 miles later I find I was right.

I’m in London SW9 and it’s a real cultural mix here, just like the cafe’s clientele. It’s a world away from Cheltenham with its largely white middle class demographic. I find I’m more aware of those around me, listening more, noticing more, appreciating more. Different me? Maybe more me. Me but a bit more. And a bit more focused. That’s what international experience does for you…

Focus… International Eyes

Back in Gloucestershire everything seems just that little foreign to me. I guess that means I can see the familiar places and spaces with fresh eyes. See things not as a tourist but as a traveler with international eyes.

Gloucester Cathedral

Englishman Abroad: Parting

Nearly done. To be honest at the start it seemed like it would feel like a long time but the internship’s gone so fast it seems too soon to end.

Nearly done…

It’s Sunday and my last weekend on the island of Tenerife, a little over 2000 miles from home. Yesterday was probably my last restaurant meal, a treat to end my time here, with a few tapas and a very nice Albarino wine from the Rías Baixas. This morning I’m on the beach after a very uncharacteristic rain storm, starting to write my thoughts about the whole experience. Well wouldn’t you? One last time doing something you can’t do at home?

I guess the biggest surprise from my time here is how quickly I became part of the business that’s been ‘hosting’ me. It’s a good feeling to be contributing, not just observing, and certainly not a burden. It’s a two-way street, being an intern. ‘Placement’ and ‘Work Experience’ are the wrong labels in my opinion, and they don’t do justice to the fact that in return for the opportunity to learn you must, and will,  bring something to the operation yourself. Personality, skills, enthusiasm, ideas, whatever you bring will always be of value, and more often than not it will be remembered when you leave.

Team TJT

I’d like to think that this isn’t the end of a relationship with new friends and colleagues. There may of course be business or less formal links, but my network is broader and better for being here and doing what I’ve done. And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.

Also broader and better is my world view.  I’ve had an international outlook for a long time now,  but there’s always room to tinker at the edges of that viewpoint: to confirm what you knew and believed already, and to challenge and change those views occasionally. Time away from the familiar can also give you the chance to redefine yourself – although that’s not compulsory it may happen by stealth in any case.

Time away from the familiar

So what have I learned? Without getting into the details, I’ve gained skills and understanding that will make what I do in future better informed and more effective. I’ve learned of the challenges and benefits of being part of, and leading, an internationally-oriented organisation, albeit a small one and one with a heart. I’ve learned from people in the hospitality industry, education providers and those intermediaries that ply their trade between students and workplace, supporting both.

Thanks to the Erasmus Plus and Erasmus For Young Entrepreneurs programmes my understanding of the value of European diversity and unity have grown equally over the years, and no less through this experience.

I think I understand more of the Spanish and Canarian cultures and their language, and I’ve reconfirmed that my efforts to learn some of that language have been worthwhile. I’ve also got to know a little more about the cultures of people I’ve lived and worked with and the clients I’ve worked for. So thank you to the mainland Spaniards and the Canarians, the Portuguese, the Hungarians, Moldovans and Romanians, the French, Irish and Dutch, the Colombians and Cubans, and the very occasional Brit. A world view indeed.

I’ve learned more about my own capabilities and what I still have to learn, more about what I value and where I’m valued. More about my industry and more about me. So if I can do it, so you can you. If I can benefit, so can you. We’re always learning, from people, from places, and from the journeys in between. From experience. From one experience to the next.

So here’s to the next experience … for you and for me.

#Viajaraparaaprender #Aprenderviajando

#Traveltolearn #Learnthroughtravel

Englishman Abroad: Paying for Things

It may come as a surprise to you, but everything comes at a price. A bit of careful planning can save a lot of pain, or at least inconvenience, at some point later, and make your stay a more pleasant one.

So firstly cash and cards. A friendly tour operator recommended a Revolut card which you load in your own currency by card or transfer. Then you can exchange any amount using the app on your mobile at the bank exchange rate at the time. Good rate, noticeably better than when I bought euros at home before leaving. It costs to have the card delivered if you don’t get the premium version (for a monthly fee) but frankly the basic is enough. I paid about £12 for the card and the convenience and security are worth it, and I recommend you only put a small amount on the card when you apply in case it goes missing in the post. I was able to easily load it again later in my stay as I needed to top-up. It effectively works through visa like a debit card with PIN and contactless so accepted everywhere I’ve been so far.

By the way, don’t expect pictures here – what do you want, photos of my credit card or me handing over hard-earned cash… really?

As for credit cards, look for one with decent rates and no commission. Check moneysupermarket.com or similar for what’s on offer. It’s best to apply early and use it at home to make sure everything is OK rather than finding out things haven’t gone through and having to resolve it while traveling. If you’re thinking if not getting a credit card, remember things like car hire need one for deposit. No card no car. As long as you pay the card off by the deadline you won’t have to pay interest or fees with most cards – check the small(ish) print of course. And don’t withdraw cash on a credit card as you’ll generally be charged an exorbitant rate of interest from day 1. Again, check the conditions, rates, and the smallprint. Check if there’s a limit to free cash withdrawals on a bank card or prepaid card – Revolut for example does limit this, in an effort to make up for the transaction fees the banks will charge them for ATM withdrawals – but then at least they’re upfront about it.

I’ve done a running tally of expenditure, so this will be outlined later on. But expect more outgoings at the start as you get settled in, get to know what you need and where to get it. Also think about the other end of the stay too – you may want to spend money on gifts and/or souvenirs to take back home and of course there’s always paying for your return trip to account for! You’ll probably have had to pay a deposit on accommodation in advance – for me it was a month’s rent, so make sure you have a receipt for this and make sure you arrange (maybe a week ahead) to collect it at the end, ideally before you leave. Because bank transactions cost businesses money and international transactions more-so, your landlord may want to give you the deposit in cash (mine did) so this might leave you with spending money at the end, but don’t count on it. And remember if you’re changing currency back to your home currency you may also lose out on the exchange rate. Do your homework and do what suits you best.

If you’ve paid in advance for something by card (or a generous relative does) , remember you may well need to present that card when collecting the goods, tickets, car, etc. or when checking into accommodation. So try to use your own card for things like this. Also, while you’re away you may need to still pay bills at home, e.g. your rent or credit card bills. Arrangements for this need to be set up before you leave, e.g. via an app on your mobile or other forms of online banking. Similarly some banks and card companies expect to be told when and where you’re traveling so they can monitor card use and potential fraud abroad. Check and take the time to do this well before you travel or you can have payments refused at awkward moments.

Don’t take a wad of cash with you and don’t be too obvious about the amount of cash you’re carrying or withdrawing at an ATM, especially in the early hours of the morning.

Offering to pay in cash seems to be a surprise to the staff in shops nowadays, but there will always be times cash is still the best option. Paying for meals and services by card but leaving a tip in small change is handy. Paying for everything in cash opens you up to tourist-spotting criminals who might target people who seem to have a lot of money on them. This is where charge cards, travel money cards and prepayment or bank transfers are worth looking into. Again see a reputable money advice website to find the best options available top you, and do this with plenty of time to spare before you leave. I found here in Tenerife that there were plenty of shops offering commission free exchange at the bank lending rate (the same as Revolut) of Euros to sterling, although I didn’t use any of them. I’m a bit of a cynic, so it’s probably also worth checking up on how to identify counterfeit notes.

In any case try to work out what you think might be your budget before you go, have different sources of funds (a little immediate cash, a card or preferably two, that you can use to pay or withdraw money. This is helpful because, from experience, you can lose a card (as I did once on a train in Italy along with travel documents) and need to pay for replacement documents or even just your regular bills.

Keeping track of my spending, in itself, has been an interesting and useful experience, because it puts into perspective both the cost of living and the value of any in-kind benefits like meals or accommodation.

The distribution of costs for me in the first month was approximately as follows. Rent was around 500€ at 42% of my month’s expenditure, followed by groceries around 250€ (21%), which was supplemented by a further 150€ of eating out, about 12.5%, and about 50€ on snacks, coffees etc. So after accommodation I spent around 450€ (38% for the month) on food and drink. This being the first month I bought some clothes to keep me going, which obviously isn’t going to be a monthly cost, but it was about 70€ (6%) and miscellaneous bits and pieces including things for cleaning, hooks for hanging clothes etc, added up to about 50€ (4%). The final significant cost was for travel, both the transfer from airport to apartment and local buses. These added up to nearly 125€, of which about 100€ (8%) was regular bus journeys. So adding up the first month it came to around 1000€, with 80% of that food and accommodation. Even if we count meals out and coffees etc as discretionary, that makes food and accommodation worth around 600€ per month if you can get an internship that includes these. If not, I’d suggest you budget for between 800 and 1000€ of expenditure each month, depending on where your internship is located. And of course on what you consider your ‘lifestyle essentials’. This might help when you’re considering any payment or ‘compensation’ package being offered, at least as ballpark figures.

Tips are useful to know about before you go, and especially before you use services like bars, cafes, restaurants, taxis, hairdressers, hotels … . Local guidebooks often provide some guidance on what’s expected, and from experience if you’re going (or staying) somewhere over a lengthy period it helps to tip regularly (daily for housekeeping for example) rather than wait until the end of your stay, and be reasonably generous early on, unless you have a reason not to of course! That aside, the rate of tips expected here seems small and you should put it into perspective. The hospitality industry in many countries relies on tips for staff on the ‘front line’ to supplement their wages. Put yourself in their position – remember what I said in a previous post about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, especially if trade is very seasonal and if service is particularly good – always be prepared to go the extra mile with tips when that’s what they’ve done for you.

You get back what you put in, one way or another!

Englishman Abroad: Play… An Internship is for Life, Not Just for Business

Don’t be fooled into thinking your time as an intern should be work-work-work. It’s true you’re here to learn, grow and develop but a big part of that is what you experience outside of work. Play time is important too.

For me the choice of where I’d do the internship was as much about the place and people as it was about the organisation.  Context is key.  You get context for what you learn, and as a consequence learn more, especially (though not exclusively) as an international intern.

So traveling to the Canary Islands gives a chance to sample Spanish life and culture, but with a difference; Spanish language but with a difference; island life but with a difference – see a theme here?  An internship should offer something different, at work and at play.

An obvious start to your leisure experience wherever you go is to try out different food and drink – in moderation.  And I say in moderation because, quite apart from the after-effects of over-indulgence, it’s seldom cheap to eat out in the long run.  But check out the margins, go beyond the tourist trail, look for locals, and you’ll find cheaper offerings every bit as good and quite possibly more authentic.

Downstairs in the fishmarket at El Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África.

Then, and I strongly recommend this as a bit of a foodie, make sure you have at least the basic cooking skills before you go and check out the food shops – artisan bakeries, specialist cheese shops and food markets, all of which are really accessible. Here I’ve found, as expected, fruit that tastes like it should; fresh shellfish cooked straight from the market stall; craft beers and simple pinchos at a beer festival; traditional breads and cold meats, to take back and enjoy at the apartment and mojos ( a red or green pepper sauce served with bread as an appetiser.  And that’s all before I start cooking myself!

The coffee has a character of its own – a cortado leche y leche, for example, is a short black coffee served with milk and condensed milk for extra sweetness.  More on coffee variations later. The local beer is good here for the conditions – Dorada is typically between one a few euros a pint (una jarra), amnd you soon get to know where and when the price varies!  That aside when what turned out to be a stein of lager in a street-side restaurant set me back the equivalent of £10 I wasn’t complimentary and I’ll not be going back – lesson learned: check out the prices first if in doubt. On the other hand, find a great restaurant like El Molino Blanco in San Eugenio and it’s worth every penny for a special treat.

A word of caution on the ‘locally produced alcoholic drinks’ front. If it’s happy hour and you’re thinking cocktails or gin and tonic, be prepared (from experience) for a disappointment with poor copies of spirits you might be used to. But if it’s a local drink made from what grows naturally where you are, then give that a try.  On Mallorca, hierbas is made from native herbs as the name suggests, while Licor 43 is the (ask your parents) Heinz 57 spirit in this regard on Tenerife – 43 local ingredients.

If, like here, the prickly pear cactus is commonplace, give produce made with that a try – in Malta they make something a bit like sloe gin with it and I’ve yet to discover what they make with it here. In the mountains they add Licor 43 to a cortado leche y leche and call it barraquito, allegedly named after its inventor (Barraco), but I’d like to think the alternative translation of barraco as ‘shed’ works better, meaning that your barraquito (or little shed) offers a little protection against the mountain conditions!  In Scotland it would be your ‘wee bothy’. And finally there’s a banana liqueur Cobana made here, with huge banana plantations something you can’t avoid seeing as you travel around. And traveling around the island is a must if you want to try different local variations… of anything and everything.

Further afield for cool bathing

If food and drink aren’t on your leisure list, then on Tenerife surely the beaches are.  I’ve lost count, in the month or so I’ve been here, of the number of visits to the beach.  At weekends/days off and after work – the beach after work, that’s unheard of in Cheltenham let’s face it! The water quality here is brilliant (I’ve seen only a single red flag up the coast from here), and everywhere else is clean and clear, even if the sand in places is from the Sahara! The more natural the better – I’ve already found my favourite spot, only twenty minutes away by bus. If it’s more convenience you’re looking for, you’ll need to rub shoulders with the other tourists, but I’m happy with a bag, sandwich and beer/Fanta!

And where there’s water there’s probably watersports and adventure sports. Here I’ve had the chance to have a go at a bit of surfing as a novice, and if I wanted (if!) there’s parascending, SCUBA and freediving too. Maybe not just now for me…

Strictly talented and entertaining

Either through work (as in my case), looking out of the bus window (ditto), or just through Mr Google it’s worth trying to find out about local venues. Here I’ve been able to see world class Argentine Tango and Spain’s top illusion and escapology show, Mago Sun both at the fantastic Vulcan Hall in Los Cristianos. There’s a full programme here all year round from household names to new shows on tour and local acts. Not what I expected at all, and a great extra to the whole experience.

And look who’s on the way…

On the subject of ‘extras’, though, I have managed to resist the temptations of another venue – the Mystique ‘Liberal Swingers Club’ and ‘Velvet Lap Dancing’. So far… I don’t believe it has a political affiliation, I don’t think I can take my laptop despite the advert, and I’m sure Jeremy Vine wouldn’t be seen dead there. Classy name though.

Siam Park after closing time.

Theme parks and shops aren’t really for me, which is a pity because I could easily bankrupt myself given the number of water parks and animal parks around here, let alone luxury/outlet stores, most of which seem to offer free buses.  The Natural Park is perhaps a bit of a stretch without my own transport but I’m checking out the buses to see if I can get to the top of the island’s main volcano, El Teide, which so far I’ve seen but from a distance.

Public transport here is cheap, pretty frequent and reliable, despite what locals have advised me – I guess when you’re used to the independence of having a car …   So getting around the island by bus has been a godsend at weekends and evenings – helping to avoid the onset of cabin fever. Last week I went an hour up the coast for a couple of euros, previously less than 7€ got me to the capital Santa Cruz, and this past weekend stretched to a hotel stay in La Laguna and exploring the northern coast a little, with the whole round trip costing a little under 15€. A hotel stay for me was a must after a certain amount of sleep deprivation thanks to my housemates, but there are bargains to be had.

La Orotava in the north

The north of the island is where most of the rain falls. It’s hilly and much greener, there are historic towns like La Laguna and La Orotava to visit as I did this past weekend. And, wherever you go, be ready to find surprises like a fiesta you didn’t realise was happening; a shop selling local produce, crafts, the weird and wonderful; or a museum giving you insight into the people and the place.

I’m also finding that people-watching and public transport are opportunities to tune in your ears to the local language and find out what’s going on while you take in some of the scenery!  Win-win.

The point is that wherever you are it’s good to get out, get around and get away occasionally.  You may have travelled thousands of miles to stay where you are, so don’t just stay put. What’s another few miles or kilometres, or a couple of hours’ travel, set against expanding your horizons – literally and figuratively. Even a simple wander, a different way each day when you arrive, will dig up surprises for you. It’s yet another way to get context, get perspective and get more for your experience to take away when your internship is over. 

Overtime might pay but it doesn’t make up for missed opportunity to experience what’s around you.

Englishman Abroad: The Different Faces of Productivity

A whirlwind of a week.

When you watch the weather forecast in a place like Tenerife it tends to be pretty similar most of the time, but there’s value in keeping an eye on what’s coming.  You never quite know but it’s good to be prepared.

The clouds are moving in…

Planning for this week was no less important. We knew the team would be under a little extra pressure with ‘Marketing’ on tour in Poland and Denmark and the boss (la jefa) in Portugal for a student travel event.  We also knew we needed to be working smart to get everything done, and this smart working is what leads to productivity.  Don’t let anyone tell you that, in the service sector, being productive is all about efficiency and ticking off lists. There’s a place for efficiency too, and it’s important, but… well… it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Being productive’s about planning, initiative, teamwork, empathy and adaptability.

It’s about many of those things an internship should be designed to offer you – challenge, opportunity, achievement. And it’s about ‘self-efficacy’ – believing you can meet the challenge, take the opportunity and achieve the outcomes you’re looking for.  This week was about the different faces of productivity.

Everyone knew it was coming, so Monday was dedicated to letting those about to travel get set, while the rest of us took the reins for the day-to-day: mailings, phone calls, arranging visits … .

Teresa, second-in-command, needed to take a lead so, on Tuesday, I took some of her mailing-related work, freeing her up to be the boss, while I also started arranging my own support visit with an intern at the Hotel Jardin Tropical and what was to prove a hectic Thursday. I’d agreed to draft a response to a proposed quality framework for internships sent to us from an Erasmus Plus project, so this was something for Tuesday and Wednesday.

In between all this I’ve been making sure to note down a few reflections and details of what’s going on, and working on the project for my Erasmus internship. This has needed to be slotted into spare moments, but was essential to make sure nothing slipped – and knowing my memory that’s easily done!

Popping out to the post office. Turn left at the volcano…

After a trip to the Adeje post office (warming up my driving skills), Wednesday’s intern visit was really useful and confirmed the great opportunities TJT are offering for those with enthusiasm and a desire to learn.  The student is from Hungary, working in a Spanish hotel, using three languages between work and where she’s living, with her Hungarian partner.  She speaks German as well, yet unfortunately seems to have many guests expecting to speak French.  Sometimes you can’t win! And she’s loving it.  The hotel is superb, the team have accepted her quickly as one of their own, and she’ll be working between customer relations and marketing in her time here.

Planning and logistics for Thursday was the next priority, with an early start to come and a long day ahead.  I’d need to use the car first thing, so took it back to the apartment ready to leave before 7 the next morning.  So Thursday at 7 I picked up the first of two newly-arrived Irish students at his hotel.  And the other intern … in his room… incommunicado! With the help of reception staff we managed to rouse him, phone with no battery, portable charger the same, no alarm, no breakfast and slightly hungover. Great combo. 

So, straight to the police station – to register both for their national i.d. as an intern. A long wait for the interview appointment and then to the social security for the second form of i.d. for tax. … One down, one to go, because one of the hotels hadn’t stamped the letter of introduction. … Back to the hotel, back to the social security, find somewhere for the car (central Los Cristianos isn’t the easiest place to find a space)… sorted. And back to the hotel via TJT office to collect paperwork for our next new arrival from Germany. … Back to the Comisária de Policía, meet the student who’s come with another company we work with. More waiting in line for the interview, but mercifully quick and efficient. … A race to social security before they close at 2. Then driving her to where she’s living and working at a hotel near the airport … and then back to TJT, wondering how long I could carry on driving with the orange fuel light on! My own fuel was running low too – need LUNCH!

All in all, a busy day but half a dozen happy customers including our various clients; the personal touch and quality of service reaffirmed. Just need to find a petrol station on the way ‘home’ so I can drive again tomorrow.

Students and Teresa presenting at IES

On Friday the taxi service resumed, to take the team to a vocational school (IES) in Adeje.  Two interns would be talking about their own experience of working abroad to students thinking about doing the same outside Tenerife, while I’d be talking with the school about Erasmus projects and teacher visits. The enthusiasm was clear – for gaining experience abroad, for meeting and supporting visitors, and the experience of genuine hospitality was palpable.

The day, and the hectic week as a whole, shows the importance of working together to get things done.  To be productive. Getting things done with a bit of planning, a lot of initiative and flexibility, personal attention … and a little empathy and humour. We’ve packed a lot into the week, between us, and everything we needed and more was achieved.  Maybe not entirely efficient, but the better for it – certainly effective and personal.  Think I earned the coffee, and a drink or two with the interns. 

Now… where’s my bed? I need to sleeeeeeep!

Englishman Abroad: Progress!

Where HAS this week gone?

All of a sudden, only three weeks in, and it really feels like I’m genuinely part of the team. Suggestions considered, appreciated and at times put to use – or at least explained why it’s not the best idea. Likewise I’m actually contributing usefully to a wider range of operations than the behind the scene database and documentation.

I’m continuing to learn a lot, of course. This is partly because I now have a working knowledge of how the business runs, so I can look into more of the detail while contributing to the day-to-day. But it’s also about learning on the job. There’s simply no better way to put knowledge to use, test it, and learn where it works… and importantly where it doesn’t. That’s part of the beauty of internship, especially extended work experience, as part of your degree – learning things you can’t be taught in every permutation . What works, what doesn’t and why.

One of the big differences so far has been my involvement in planning meetings – keeping up-to-date and having a say in the way ahead. For next week the team will be depleted leaving three of us to keep the ship moving forward – not just afloat! I’ve already been asked to undertake intern support visits, something I’m well used-to in my previous role, but new here, and most likely needing to pull in my Spanish to be fully effective. This is an important focus for me, given my strong belief in the partnership or ‘co-creation’ that’s really essential to successful internships. Making sure the needs of intern, employer, intermediary, and of course the institution are all being met.

Team TJT at work

Friday of the coming week will involve outreach to a local high school, accompanying the assistant manager, Teresa, and a couple of interns who’ll be sharing their experiences. This is important because of the need for sustainable, long term links to the community you serve not just the businesses and current clients. It’s about community, but also about investing, indirectly, in relationships for the future. One of the things that makes Tenerife Job Training potentially more sustainable, given its small-scale and personal focus, is different business elements contributing to the whole. As well as TJT supporting inbound interns and groups from abroad, Noveleros en Ruta is a new brand promoting opportunities for young people from Tenerife, not just students, to travel abroad: traveling to learn and at the same time learning through the very experience of traveling.

Alongside TJT and Noveleros en Ruta the third piece of the jigsaw is Coworking Costa Adeje, CoCo, with TJT opening its doors to SMEs, NGOs and digital nomads to share workspace and facilities, generating income and active networks. Together these three ways of working are providing me with a good deal of insight into more than one business operation.

Noveleros en Ruta – outbound Canarians

Another new experience this week has been actively supporting seven newly-arrived interns in getting registered with the police and social security for their two forms of id: the NIE or Numero Identificacion de Extranjeros, and their social security card or NAF. Don’t ask what NAF stands for just now, but it’s so that employers can pay their taxes correctly, and essential to the proper (and legal) operation of internships. This involved driving on the island for the first time (on the ‘other’ side of the road, for a UK driver anyway), in a company vehicle, in a busy local road system, and with almost nowhere to park. A certain sense of satisfaction, but a well earned coffee break (and coffee-education) having started all this about 0730. So I now know how the system works, that I can cope with the driving, and the difference between a café con leche, cortado leche y leche and natural. Professional and cultural progress in a single morning.

Progress culturally has been in a number of ways too. An invitation to a work colleague’s birthday party led to plenty of chance to practice my Spanish with Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian friends and family. There’s really no substitute for social events and informality in helping to ‘bring on’ your foreign language skills. The wine/beer and sharing food helps too of course, as does the fact there are others who’ve been in the same boat as me in the past, metaphorically and linguistically speaking.

Secondly, striking up chance conversations with people (in my case on the beach with a beer-and-sandwich begging dog owner … let’s try again… the owner of a beer-and-sandwich begging dog)… well you hopefully get the picture. Talking about something you have in common really helps, and for those of you with dogs, you’ll understand.

Finally was the opportunity to see a brilliant, thoroughly entertaining, world class Argentine tango performance staged in the local event venue. This came ‘strictly’ out of the blue… The venue was impressive , and it’s always great to see how cultural events are professionally delivered and marketed in any new setting.

So bring on the coming weeks, new learning, and more progress!

Englishman Abroad: Problems, Challenges, Opportunities

So, a third of the way through the internship it makes sense to look at what some might call ‘problems’ so far. Apart from those relating to work, I’d say you can classify these as to do with Living, Logistics, Leisure, and Language. Yes you’ll notice I like aLLiteration. Sorry… Live with it!

In terms of Living arrangements, if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know it’s not been plain sailing. Living in close quarters with a group of folk you don’t know can be a challenge, especially where there are cultural, generational (in my case), and gender differences. I’m sharing with: a Romanian waiter who, it turns out, has lived in and moved around Spain for the past 13 years; a female will-o-the-wisp of no clear origin, and who has a temperament that swings between extremes to say the least; a Hungarian photographer working for a surf school ; and another I’ve still not met. Still.

Sharing the kitchen and bathroom is a challenge for most. Cupboard choice seems to have a hierarchy, cleaning veers from obsessive to dismissive, and as for sharing the area for drying clothes…! Stealing food and being a ‘noisy nocturnal neighbour’ are bones of friction too.

And that’s just the freezer!

In Logistics I’d include getting about, shopping (food, drink, cleaning products…), And those little things that make life harder by their absence. Hanging space in the room (bought a hook with a sucker for the door); fridge and freezer space (stake a claim) ; recycling (I care, they don’t) ; all annoying when they don’t work. Shopping is now not an issue, once I’ve found local shops for what I need. Oh, and there are the cockroaches. Big Ones. Occasionally.

Just FIVE fruit and veg?

Google and a bit of trial and error have helped with getting around. And doing so on a budget is easy after asking people at work (see ‘Paying for Stuff’ later…). It’s meant I can go sight-seeing at weekends, head to the beach and experience life here instead of the Four Walls of Doom of my room. Yes, think outside ‘the box’! Next challenge, where to get my hair cut…

Finding time for Leisure, and even people to spend it with, is as an issue at the start. The leisure industry in particular is notorious for unsocial hours. Introducing and inviting yourself along may be an option if you’re keen to socialise, but taking advantage of anything that’s going on through or outside work can help stop that feeling of being on your own. And again Google is my saviour, along with a bit of leg work. Your employer will generally know what’s going on, and hopefully give some pointers. Take or leave the suggestions. But don’t ignore the chance for a new experience.

So now to Language. If you’re looking to go to the USA or ‘down under’ don’t dismiss this part. We may all speak English, but they’re variations on a theme. For me I’m in a country where people speak Spanish, but not the same as in Spain. When an ‘autobus’ is a ‘guagua’ you know something is not quite the same! Every new word tried and learned, especially in a context relevant to you, is another step towards better communication and language competence.

Been chasin’ waves…

Again being openly curious and making an effort goes a long way. The same goes for language you use to communicate at work. How should you answer the phone, greet or speak to guests? ‘No problem’ may be OK at home for example, but in ‘civilised’ places ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘my pleasure’ will be expected.

Finally, challenges at Work… isn’t that what I’m here for anyway?

The point of all this is that it’s about perception. If you see problems then the outcome will, more often than not, be less-than-positive. If you can see these as challenges you’ll learn to overcome them. And any chance to learn is an opportunity.

So relish those so-called ‘problems’ … laugh in the face of challenges… and each one will be an opportunity.

Englishman Abroad: A Peep at People (or a focus on folk)

It seems to me that it’s people that make the experience. That’s what genuine hospitality is about after all – a welcome, not a greeting, a table at a restaurant, and not a hotel room. It’s the people. Those you meet, those you take along with you, those you listen (or read) when you tell about your adventures … and misadventures. Hospitality is about shared moments, whether it’s your business or your pleasure, or of course both.

Shared moments

So this time around it’s no exception. Less than a week in, and the memorable moments generally revolve around the people:

The taxi driver who until a few years ago was a maitre d’ and who shares the belief that to work in the hospitality industry you need to care about your guest and go the extra mile, always. Those I know in Europe and the USA who get the most from their hospitality jobs also give the most [yes, you know who you are if you’re reading this].

The entrepreneur whose enthusiasm to share her knowledge with a stranger who wants to learn the trade is refreshing. As an entrepreneurship intern this sort of exchange is so important. And it IS an exchange. The successful intern brings something different to the job – enthusiasm yes, but open eyes and ears, a willingness to ask simple but insightful questions, to make suggestions, to be willing to fail in order to grow and ultimately succeed. When you’re seeking feedback, where would you be without people to give the gift of comment and conversation?

The colleagues – interns and permanent employees alike – with whom you share the experience of learning, and whose contribution to the team adds to your own, achieving by joint effort more than the sum of individual parts. Here I’m very lucky to be working in a young enthusiastic team, some of whom have been here only a little longer than I have. Age isn’t the issue here. It’s the attitude, the desire to learn. It’s an international team including Spain, Hungary, Portugal and the UK, which only goes to make the cultural experience stronger.

Nowadays the ‘followers’ – in the social media rather than any other sense – are important too for many of us. Yes, it would be good to know a few are following my own progress but if you’re part of Gen Z or a millennial you will, I’m sure, have a different take on all this. It’s a form of feedback as long as you take some with a pinch of salt and have a fairly thick skin at times. But it mustn’t take the place of real human engagement. Echo chambers may be reassuring but until someone opens the door there’s a limit to what you can learn.

And then there are the flatmates. I’ve found myself living with a seemingly nocturnal and evidently international, mix of people thrown together and (it seems) living their own lives in parallel. But that can be a positive experience too, trying to find common ground to meet on (and times when our schedules overlap), making an effort and compromising – a bit of empathy goes a long way and it’s no bad thing to build a little resilience, a thicker hide. Certainly my karma seems to have improved since I did more than a bit of cleaning and tidying, and persevering on the light conversation front. And not worrying to much about nightly noises!

Hospitality… and service with a smile.

As someone wanting to learn about people and service, you can learn so much from the people around you, including of course those that are delivering a service to you.

You’ll have heard it said that you should walk a mile in a person’s shoes to be enlightened, or at least to be a mile away and have their shoes. But to focus on the first point, how can you learn about service if you do a disservice to those doing something for you?

Watch, listen, engage and discover.

Someone may even let you try on their shoes for a while.

And who knows where that will take you…?

Englishman Abroad: In Place and Starting Tomorrow

Slightly surreal… the only way to describe it, being here but not on holiday.

Wasn’t an auspicious start either, with a three hour delay leaving the UK and the taxi driver struggling to find my accommodation in the near midnight darkness when I finally arrived. But I’m here.

I’ve arrived and so has my luggage…result!

First bit of advice: when your suitcase has wheels, don’t put it down at the top of the hill to close the gate. Had to chase my case down at speed before it knocked on the front door to announce my arrival. But, yes, I made it with inches to spare.

I have a decent room with a decent bed, haven’t yet met my flatmates (where ARE they? Hiding?) and the landlady was quick to sort the few things missing when I asked this morning. Nothing too much trouble.

The cupboard was bare of course so my first job after a night in a newly-made bed (actually this was my first challenge on arrival last night) was to find a cafe open at 9 on Sunday morning. Breakfast. There’s something wonderfuly about a people whose language has a verb ‘to breakfast’.

Then to the supermarket. Checked out the space in the fridge and freezer before heading out (he says smugly) but didn’t check the supermarket opening times. Monday to Saturday. Oops. Find another… Problem solved.

Nothing magic or mysterious about supermarkets everywhere. Plenty of time to track down the interesting little shops later, but a little familiarity does no harm when you’ve just arrived. Some local stuff, some home comforts. For me that’s jamón ibérico and queso semi-curado, some local bread and a box of PG Tips. What’s yours?

So the cupboard and cold storage can now keep me going awhile. Time to unpack then go for a wander. It’s all as expected, the hotels, the bars, the tourist shops, the tourists. The sunshine. The heat. It helps that I’ve done some research, so it’s what I expected, avoiding the immediate culture shock, but different enough to know there’s a challenge on the way.

Ready for anything? Let’s get to work and see…

Before…
…And after

Englishman Abroad: Packing up and Ready to Go?

Are you kidding?  Only a week to go, ticket booked (one-way!) and accommodation sorted so I’m committed.  Must sort out… insurance (essential); clothes and ‘stuff’ still to be packed, suitcase to be weighed, and the excess to be unpacked and left at home.  How light can I travel, really, for an extended stay? Guess I’ll just have to do the laundry more often.

Been brushing up on my Spanish because that’s where I’ll be spending time working as an entrepreneurship intern – the Adeje Coast of Tenerife to be precise. So am I ready?  Well… nearly, but I’m heading outside the comfort zone here, so I guess I’ll never feel totally ready, but surely that’s the point.  This internship will help me be ready for what comes after in the world of work, study and enterprise.

And it’s been quite a journey just getting here.  A whole load of forms, applications, comparing options, emails, phonecalls, Whatsapp and a good few sit-down ‘chats’ but it’s been worth it… or it will when I get there… I hope. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly but there’s a glimmer at the end… . If I’ve any advice at this stage for others, it’s to start earlier with the planning and approval process. Waiting for someone else to say ‘yes you can’ when you just want get going is soooooo frustrating.

The journey begins…

So what can I look forward to? Some separation anxiety – will miss the dog and maybe family and friends 😉 but hey that’s what WhatsApp, Skype and phones are for after all.  Expect some challenges and some surprises.  A different pace to the days, weeks and months ahead. New experiences and new people – not least that I’ll be living with 3 total strangers and I haven’t got a clue about them yet.  I guess they’ll be thinking the same of course!

At this point, I’m feeling like asking to ‘work wherever possible in Spanish’ could come back to bite me but, let’s face it, immersion’s one of the best ways to learn. I’m hoping that by the time I finish I’ll be more fluent in my spoken Spanish, and better ‘tuned-in’ to listening to it being spoken. More advanced vocab too – relevant for the areas I’ll be working in: tourism, hospitality, sport, business, education.

This is a great opportunity to learn how to approach work and communication differently and to be better at running my own business in future.  But it’s also an intentional, and I think necessary, step into the experience of an international internship.  If I’m going to help others get the most out of international working, the least I can do is ‘walk the walk’ – and try to ‘talk the talk’ in a second language! 

So here goes… let’s get packing!