Nine month's of work and travel across Europe
Before delving into the details, let me provide some context for the inspiration behind this ambitious venture during the final year of my twenties.
Rooted in the tapestry of my family history are threads of European heritage from Greece, Serbia and Spain. As the granddaughter of immigrants, the stories, traditions, and languages of my extended family became the foundation of my curiosity.
It was this curiosity that nurtured my love for travel, igniting a flame that would eventually lead me to the heart of Europe.
Throughout my life I have remained deeply engaged with my heritage through activities such as:
- Folklore dancing (Serbian and Spanish flamenco)
- Attending Spanish Saturday school, and continuing language studies via open high school in years 11 and 12 (a huge thanks to my resourceful Mum for orchestrating this arrangement with my school).
- Singing in the choir at Church (Greek and Serbian Orthodox)
- Learning music from all three of my cultural backgrounds with my father, who plays the accordion
- Staying in touch with my European family, facilitated by technology, allowing for regular video calls and messages through social media.
In my early twenties, my mother encouraged me to apply for a Spanish government initiative that placed native English speakers in schools to aid both educators and students.
At the time I dismissed the idea, due to an array of uncertainties, fear of failure, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome.
Then, in early 2022, as I pondered how to celebrate my impending 30th birthday, the idea of a Mediterranean beach getaway took root.
Then it hit me: What about that program my mother had mentioned years ago?
A swift online search confirmed its continued existence and feasibility.
Without overthinking, I dived into the application process, held sincere conversations with family and colleagues, initiated a savings plan, and set the wheels in motion.
Nervous anticipation entwined with a palpable sense of excitement coursed through me.
ADVENTURE ONE: ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS AND TERUEL, SPAIN (Dec 2022 – Jan 2023):
My journey commenced in Rotterdam, Netherlands—a vibrant tapestry of academia, modernity, and a touch of old-world charm.
Here, I reconnected with my younger brother, himself a fellow travel and adventure-seeker. Together, we soaked up the magic of a European Christmas, a sensory feast of twinkling lights, powdery snow, warm mulled wine, and the enchantment of Christmas markets.
But the real crescendo awaited in Teruel, Spain, where we spent Christmas Day with my expansive Spanish family.
It was a day filled with song, meeting countless cousins, and even an impromptu interview with the local news, as this quaint town rarely saw foreign visitors, especially Australians.
The weeks leading up to my work assignment were an ideal preamble, providing a buffer into the challenges that lay ahead.
ADVENTURE TWO: LANGUAGE ASSISTANT IN SALAMANCA, SPAIN (JAN 2023 – MAY 2023)
For five months, I adjusted to life in Salamanca, living with my generous aunt who graciously opened her home to me.
Nestled in northwest Spain, Salamanca boasts one of Europe’s oldest universities and exudes a romantic charm with its ornate sandstone architecture, earning it the name, ‘The golden city.’
I worked across two small rural schools, 40 kilometres from Salamanca amidst serene farmlands and majestic mountains.
During the work commute through tree-lined avenues and cow pastures, I engaged in animated conversations with four fellow teachers, taking advantage of extra opportunities to practice my Spanish, in addition to attending six hours of language classes every week.
Being an organised and routine-based person, I quickly fell into a steady work routine whilst spending my weekends visiting neighbouring villages and taking short trips to other countries where possible.
Teaching in both classroom and private settings challenged me to employ my music therapy skills in a novel fashion, guiding groups of initially hesitant children towards embracing English.
With considerable autonomy, I led classes, allowing for boundless creativity and musicality.
It’s widely acknowledged that children thrive on play-based learning, and given music’s unique ability to engage the entire brain at once, incorporating it was a natural choice.
Some of my initiatives included:
- Crafting vocabulary songs via music apps
- Importing a treasure trove of Australian books on landmarks, culture, and wildlife
- Introducing popular Australian dances and songs
- Designing activities to foster oral proficiency using phonogram methodology
- Tailoring exercises in alignment with ongoing curriculum themes, always with a touch of music involved!
As the days unfolded, my connection with students and colleagues transcended the boundaries of mere academia.
The students not only practiced English with greater confidence but also dared to make mistakes—a pivotal milestone. It was a dance of mutual respect and learning, a collective journey towards English proficiency.
Life outside of work involved experiencing Spain through my cousins and their friends – filled with festivals, authentic Spanish cuisine and Spanish card games—an unspoken art.
Yet, there were days when tears flowed, and doubts crept in.
Thoughts of my Abuela and grandparents, and their immense courage in leaving their homelands for a brighter future, served as a guiding light.
It’s in these challenging moments that we learn, grow, develop, and reflect on ourselves, our achievements, and our future opportunities if we keep pushing on.
In Salamanca, I unearthed the true essence of education—a symphony of shared experiences, a dance of cultural exchange, and a celebration of linguistic evolution.
The resonance of those months would remain etched in my memory, a testament to the power of connection through education as a force of transformation.
ADVENTURE THREE (Jun – Aug 2023): A GRAND FINALE ACROSS EUROPE
With the echoes of Salamanca still lingering in my heart, I embarked on the final leg of this grand odyssey. This chapter was an epic crescendo, featuring a carefully curated tapestry of destinations across Europe.
Each held its own promise of discovery, a promise I eagerly embraced with open arms. I will highlight a few of the countless memories now.
MENORCA, SPAIN: CELEBRATING A NEW DECADE
The sun-drenched shores of Menorca welcomed me as I marked the turning of thirty with my younger brother and friend from Australia.
For a week, we explored all the island had to offer – crystal-clear waters, charming pebble-strewn streets, the delectable symphony of seafood, and the echoes of a history that dates back millennia.
TERUEL, SPAIN: TRACING ANCESTRAL FOOTSTEPS
FAMILY REUNION: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, AUSTRALIA
Across my entire experience, a resounding theme echoed—saying ‘yes’ to experiences and situations that would typically trigger fear and uncertainty.
In embracing the unknown, I unearthed hidden layers of Europe’s diverse cultures, forging connections that transcended language and borders.
Each ‘yes’ was a key that unlocked a new facet of the continent’s rich tapestry.
The heartbeat that pulsed through every step of this odyssey was that of connection—connection with self, with the world, and with the rich tapestry of cultures that paint our world in vibrant hues.
This theme resonates deeply with my work as a music therapist, underlining the power of music and connection to bridge divides and foster unity.
In this journey, I discovered that stepping beyond the bounds of comfort zones is where true growth lies.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Vicky at Music Beat Australia for her unwavering support and for providing a platform to share this narrative. And to you, the reader, for accompanying me on this odyssey of growth, connection, and the unfurling of new horizons.