Voices

Would you find love abroad as an English language assistant?

By Various authors

14 February 2017 - 12:06

Might you find your Valentine overseas? Four people taking part in the British Council's English Language Assistant programme shared tales of romantic encounters.

A little crush in a burrito shop

Harry Dennis, France: There's this amazing thing in France called Fresh Burritos. It's basically Subway (the sandwich chain), but with burritos. Anyway, it's very nice. But I'm even more taken by a girl who works there, than by the Mexican food she makes. I don't know her name: in my head she just goes by 'Burrito Girl'. She reminds me of Audrey Tautou from the movie Amélie, but slightly punkier.

When she realised I was English, she made an effort to speak English, and she's actually pretty good. At first I thought she was just really good at burrito-related English, but turns out she's actually pretty good in general - we have covered a range of topics, including whether or not we have had good weekends. You might say it's getting pretty serious. I spent my summer making tacos at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so I feel like we are on the same wavelength, you know?

Anyway, I'm going to continue playing the long game and buying burritos, until she falls in love with me and wants to move with me to the UK.

Two people, divided by a common language

Samuel Dixon, Spain: When I first arrived in Seville, Spain, I was keen to try as many new things as possible and widen my horizons as working abroad is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people from different countries and cultures. One of those people is my lovely American girlfriend of four months, Brandy. The night we met, we clicked on so many levels and promised that we would go to Portugal together because it just felt right. Fast-forward exactly one month later, and we were going on a trip from Lisbon to Lagos.

The opportunity to travel together has given us so many memories in what is quite a short time being together. I would say this is perhaps the greatest benefit of having a relationship abroad. When you have someone special to share all the new experiences with, life becomes an adventure. We are going to New York and Brandy’s hometown of Knoxville in April, and have many further trips planned.

The one downside to this Anglo-American relationship is the language barrier. Despite speaking English, at times we both feel as if we understand Spaniards better than we understand each other. I don’t think either of us expected we would have so much difficulty communicating, though it provides us with a lot of funny interactions. For instance, once when we were buying groceries, I said 'let's get some aubergine'. Little did I know that to an American, an aubergine is an 'eggplant'. Brandy was so amused that when I met her sister for the first time over Skype, she asked me to say something British, and I blurted out 'aubergine' – perhaps one of the least British things I could have said.

Falling in love - without knowing your beloved's name

Elisa Mattinzioli, Italy: Luca and I met on my second day in Italy. I remember being with my housemate Gloria when the doorbell rang. She mumbled something about him 'always arriving early'. Being a consistently late person myself, I wasn't exactly interested. I thought to myself, 'ah, I cannot stand early people'.

When he introduced himself, however, my opinion suddenly shifted. I should add that, at this point, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be in Italy; it was cold and foggy, and I felt nostalgic and alone. These feelings vanished with his arrival. He was a big ball of energy, smiles, and warmth – exactly what I needed.

The days passed and each time we met he was just as animated and, well, Italian!

One day he asked for my number 'in case I needed anything'. As I added it to the contact he’d created, I noticed something. He’d written the wrong name. Instead of my name, Elisa, he’d typed Elena. I turned the phone to face him, and, giving him the sweetest of smiles, slowly deleted the wrong name and typed my own. He was horrified and apologised continuously, saying he was focusing on spelling my surname (which is fairly difficult).

Surprisingly, this didn’t deter me and we’ve been together ever since; naturally with many more misunderstandings and miscommunications that have entertained us both greatly.

A wild weekend, thanks to the Tinder dating app

Isabel Wilkinson, Spain: It had been a last-minute stroke of genius. Thanks to cheap flights, we were off to Ibiza: three girls with no car, no clue, little to no money but a great desire to take advantage of the adventure ahead. We decided to find a local, preferably with a car, and let the fun commence. But how? Tinder, the great new tool of our generation, was the perfect answer.

Three girls reclined on the balcony, cold beers in one hand and fingers swiping right on the phone in the other. There were attempts at dodgy English chat-up lines - it was becoming a drag. Then, a reasonable offer rolled in: a meeting of friends, just some drinks. When seven o'clock the following morning rolled around, we fell out of a sweatbox club, shattered from dancing and laughing.

I had swiped right on my Mr Wrong, a bland soul with little to say even in his native tongue. I kind of pitied him though so gave him a cheeky good-night kiss. My friend on the other hand had come up trumps – with his best friend!

We spent the following days driving around the beautiful island with my Tinder guy's best friend, as he and my friend drooled over each other. Each evening my other friend and I had to ditch them to save ourselves from their soppiness. We couldn't believe it when, two weeks later, our friend returned to Ibiza to visit him. They stayed in touch, she went to Ibiza twice and they met up in Barcelona once too. But in the summer she returned to Texas, so sadly it came to an end. Last time I spoke to her, they were still talking but don't have any plans to meet up more (yet).

Does this mean I would use Tinder again? Well, I use Tinder when I'm travelling - to meet people, get recommendations and so on. But not where I live, for two main reasons. One is that I teach adults, so I'm a little paranoid about seeing students on there. The second is that I live in the Basque country in northern Spain. People here are notoriously closed, and from the tales my friends recount, no-one has had much success from it. Saying that, however, one local girl my friend went on a date with, has since become one of my closest friends.

Dating in the Basque country is definitely a topic that comes up a lot, both with local friends and foreign friends. People here have their 'cuadrillas', their friendship group from when they were young, and tend to date within it. It is considered a rarity for a 'guiri', or foreigner, to be dating a local. We joke that it is like winning the golden ticket, or hitting the jackpot. Normally, the ones dating outside their cuadrilla or dating a foreigner are the people who have travelled or lived abroad. 

In British and American society, it is widely accepted that in life you may have relationships with several people, but here many couples stay together from a young age. I think it's a reflection of their loyalty - as people here say, once you are friends with a Basque, you have a friend for life. 

Applications for the 2017-18 British Council English Language Assistants programme are now open and will close on 28 February 2017.

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