A fairy tale about a small caravan, a mean witch and a cute Chihuahua
„I closed the door…“, and she slammed the classroom door while she kept looking at me. And again: „I clóóósed the dóóór!!!“. Her piercing eyes were still focused only on me. She raised her hand, waved a little and opened her mouth slightly. I understood these non verbal signs but couldn’t say a word. At that time I was eagerly waiting for this very special moment: my first real English lesson at high school! In The Netherlands most of the primary schools already started teaching English in the last two classes. But my school did not. So I only knew the universal words ‚yes‘ and ’no‘. For me, the ability to speak a foreign language, looked like magic. But that very day I was just frozen. The only magic was an old impatient grumble witch who became increasingly angry because I did not understood her. I was so disappointed, totally shocked and in tears that from that day I never said a word during English lessons.
As a little schoolgirl, besides foreign languages, I also had a big fascination for everything outside my tiny, rainy and windy country. I hated the weather, extremely. At school I had a best friend, daughter of a successful heart surgeon originated from Aruba (one of the Dutch Antilles). She always walked around with nice brown colors and couldn’t stop talking about Spain or her native island; she visited this places multiple times a year. Gosh, what a life. Sunshiny days all over, swimming in the blue sea, eating lovely food, staying outside most of the day till late… So much better and exiting then staying two weeks on a Dutch campsite. With every year the same ritual that inevitably led to fierce arguments in our family. For two whole days we were not allowed to stroll over the campsite. No, we were supposed to help my father set up the tent and turn the place into an indestructible fortress. He was an extreme perfectionist what resulted in checking everything twice or three times or starting all over again. The absolute highlight was the ‚ditch‘ that he dug out around the tent. For the rain. And the rain came. Inevitable. Every year.
I come from a loving middle class family. Not poor, not rich, my parents both struggled through everyday life trying to raise their five children as good as they could. Like most families my mom was a busy bee with boring household worries and troubles. Dutifully my dad went to the office every day. This wasn’t the life they had dreamed about but they had resigned themselves to it. My father studied chemical engineering to have a career on the sugar cane plantations in Indonesia, my mother gifted with a lot of artistic talent dreamed of going to the academy of arts. Instead they dedicated their whole life to their kids. Although they passed away recently, every day I am still very grateful for their never ending unselfish love and support. Including all the rainy vacations! But I solemnly promised myself not to make the same mistakes. My first steady goal in life became a holiday in sunny Spain. For about a year I saved all the money I earned by delivering the newspaper. Finally, after my graduation of highschool, I grabbed my chance and went to Spain by bus for two weeks.
I reached my goal! It was the best achievement. Unfortunately, a major problem had arisen then. After this experience I was determined to emigrate to Spain. Not years but decades went by. I went to university (two times), had several jobs, careers, boyfriends. I married for the first time on my 26th and like 1 in 3 from the statistics I divorced a few years later. In 1992 I met my current loving husband. We got a son and a daughter, wonderful children now in their mid twenties. When they were young we had the opportunity to buy a very old small Sprite-caravan. For us it was heaven. Surrounded in cozy eighties style – orange curtains, dark brown furniture – we explored pretty comfortably through most of Spain. Starting in the north, above Barcelona,every holiday we went a little more down: from Sant Pere de Pescador, Castelldefels, Cambrils/Miami Platja, Oropesa, Benicasim to Calpe. On the way to our final destinations we always took different roads so we could also discover a lot of the inland parts. All these beautiful journeys together are engraved in our hearts.
Becoming a teacher
Besides all the nice traveling my husband and I had to work obviously. I had a prosperous career in the communication. But my work increasingly stood against me. I always said: „I am just selling air.“ I wanted to work with people instead of computers. I went back to the university and got my degree for teaching Dutch language. And now I am a very happy teacher. I love the classroom, it is my very own domain, the place where I flourish. I communicate all day long with human beings, I proudly develop new lessons, search for appealing content, try to motivate the students, help them to find their way in life. My job is exhausting, underpaid but very meaningful.
Now 55 years are behind me. To this day moving to Spain is still my highest priority in life. I refuse to give up my dream. Unexpectedly I made a huge step forward. During our vacation in Andalusia in the summer of 2015 – this time in a hotel – I fanatically scoured the internet. I was looking for a so called ‚cave house‘ because of the relatively low price. The kids and my husband laughed at me but I persisted. Suddenly a beautiful apartment building appeared on my screen. Newly build, communal pool, 12 miles from the coast, 20 miles from the Alicante airport, among citrus orchards, in a lovely authentic Spanish village. And prices starting from € 34.500,-. I couldn’t believe it. Perhaps it were only pictures and did the whole building not even exists… On our way home we visited the place. Yes. It was real! No scamming or whatever. To buy the house was a real nerve racking affair that took months. Anyhow: in April 2016 I signed the purchase contract. All school holidays we go to our ‚casa‘ and we are now ready to move in permanently.
Including with our newest family member, our 7 month old Chihuahua. After many rabbits and hamsters and our first dog (with normal sizes) my husband refused to have any more animals in the house. But I wanted to have a best friend again. Luckily I was able to convince him to take a Chihuahua because such a dog is easy to travel with. And I was right: my dog turns out to be the cutest in the world (sorry, every mom in the world thinks her baby is the most adorable) which I can take everywhere without any hassle.
During all my visits in my future homeland I noticed speaking English by Spanish people is not so common. However scientific reports show young Spanish people are nowadays more and more able to use this language. As a language teacher I am very interested in the language acquisition process. The natural ability of humans to acquire automatically their native language is a fascinating process. And till a certain age, the automated process also applies for learning a second language. Once grown up learning a foreign language is very difficult. I primarily teach Dutch as the first language but also as a second language. Dutch is a peculiar language somewhere. For instance we can put words at a lot of different places. For non-native speakers learning the Dutch sentence order and also the use of the correct article is quite a job. And for me a big challenge to teach it to them.
I love teaching. I am an experienced teacher. I want to learn new applications in education. And I want to migrate to Spain. Finally everything comes together. A year ago I discovered the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. This will be the last step. I am working on my English now, I am making plans to take the course, and after that my fairy tale ends. Happily. One thing is sure: I will always keep in mind my English teacher. Don’t destroy dreams, but make them come true.
Written by Petra Emmel