Well, I had my big escape plan in place so I could put up with the fish-out-of-water feeling because I knew it was only temporary. I aimed to stay in Madrid for a couple of years to improve my Spanish, then do postgraduate studies in Hispanic literature (my first love), go back to the UK and teach at a university if possible or college/school otherwise.
Ha! Life got in the way of that plan, just a tad... I never made it home and I never taught Spanish lit, but I did begin to spend my days doing what I love –all things language-related.
I started off on track with my plan, doing postgrad studies at Salamanca University. If you've never been to Salamanca, put it on your things-to-do-before-I-die list. The whole city is steeped in history and culture. Many of the great names in Spanish philosophy and literature studied and/or worked there. History seeps through the metre-thick walls of the ancient buildings. Plus it's simply stunning. The beauty of the baroque façades sends your heart leaping into your mouth at every corner you turn. There’s theatre in the streets, poetry readings and conferences with visiting writers. It's a book lover’s heaven and literature comes alive there.
After my student days (re-visited –again, but that's another story!) I taught at a university in the south of Spain, so I can tick that off my life plan too. I worked in the English department, not the Spanish one, but it was a great experience. I was only there for a couple of years, and although I enjoyed the job, it was long enough for me to realize that a career in higher education wasn't for me either. (Narrowing it down here, we'll get there eventually!)
During that time I fell pregnant with my first son, and I found out that my teaching contract at the uni was disguised as a scholarship, (a money-saving tactic that is common in Spanish universities) so I had to become a freelancer to pay my own social security to be covered for routine check-ups in the (normally universal) Spanish health system. It was annoying at the time, but it's worked out wonderfully and I've not looked back. That was five years ago and I've been working as a freelancer ever since –translating and proofreading and, more recently, writing English-teaching materials for companies here in Madrid.
Lengthy background history there, I really must get better at summarizing… Now let’s skip to last week when I stood in for my friend, Sarah, as a trainer on a HR course in English for a big financial corporation here in Spain. It wasn’t exactly on my life plan but, since the opportunity popped up, I thought it would be interesting to bring my two areas of experience (business and languages) together.
So, it’s 6.40am on Thursday morning and, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I climb into the taxi to go to the company’s offices in the business district of downtown Madrid where the company bus will take us to their posh new “learning campus” in the outskirts. It feels like the olden days when I’d catch taxis like it was going out of fashion.
I arrive at the offices half an hour early due to the unpredictability of Madrid traffic and because I’m borderline obsessive-compulsive. I take a walk around the area I used to know so well. Memories come flooding back as I pass the Corte Inglés, the detested department store where I had many a nightmare shopping trip ten years ago, buying mobile phones, printers, etc. to set up the business development office for our three man team -my boss, a colleague and myself. (No procurement department here, so the honour fell to yours truly. And by the way, I really hate shopping!) I walk on, glad that chapter of my life is closed, and find a café around the corner where I have a coffee to kill some time and get my head around what I’m about to do.
7.30am soon comes around and I get on the corporate bus. I am like an excited school kid, craning my neck as we go past many of my old haunts. There’s “Sí Señor”, the Mexican restaurant on the Paseo de la Castellana, where my colleagues and I downed many a slushy margarita in years gone by. We go right past the Real Madrid stadium and my old apartment just opposite, where I used to hang off the balcony soaking up the pre- and post-match excitement (and hoping for a glimpse of the lovely Zinedine Zidane or perhaps señor Beckham).
In my enthusiasm for revisiting my old life, I almost forget my nerves about the course I’m about to give. I’ve come straight out of Mumsville and I’m about to stand out there in front of a room full of business folk, all experts in their field. The expression “deer in the headlights” springs to mind.
It's OK, folks. I survived. Despite the knots in my stomach, the two day course went quite well. I was amused to see that, whilst the business concepts are pretty much the same as ten years ago, there are a few new management buzz words that have since appeared. Some genius has come up with the terms “onboarding” and “blended learning” since I was last in that world. Snigger snigger.
It was fun to get a glimpse of my previous life and (whilst I’m not about to nick off with my friend’s job) it’s heartening to see there’s well-paid work out there in my field. It’s tempting: the work has the potential to pay more in a couple of days than I earned in a month at the uni for what is essentially the same job, just with a few more important-sounding meaningless phrases thrown in. All I’d have to do is put on smart clothes and be prepared to spout business school speak and convince someone to employ me. Oh yeah, and I’d probably have to polish up my bullsh*t bingo skills.
Will I go down that route? I doubt it, but time will tell, I guess. I have to admit, I rather like my cushty job working from home, where my only commute in the mornings (after school and playgroup drop-offs) is from the kettle in the kitchen to my laptop in the lounge. I feel very fortunate to have been able to dip into my previous life and to go back to the freedom of working in jogpants or even pyjamas if it takes my fancy.
But can I just say hats off to all the women out there who are juggling “proper jobs” outside the home and mum duties. It just about finished me off last week. They really are two different worlds. And what a logistical operation it was to get everything in place so that my kids were fed, looked after, dropped off and picked up at all the right times. Huge thanks to Ursula yet again and Alejandro, for doing all the ferrying around, meal duties and handovers. Thanks also to Sarah, for giving me a helping hand back into the corporate world. You guys rock.