Saturday, 15 August 2009


Part Three
Winter 2008-09

The El Corte Inglés, just by my house, over Christmas 2008-9

I have always hated Christmas. I never felt the spirit of it, not just because of the "commercial holiday which has lost its true meaning" aspect, but mainly because of the pretense. Going to all that trouble for a few days of forced fun and internal depression sickens me.

Before a picture of some bitter old Scrooge pops into your head (too late?), I'll point out the fact that I'm not completely against Christmas. It does provide a welcome break. At Sixth Form (for the international readers: post school, pre-university) we had three weeks off, and this was increased to an entire month when I began studying my degree. I love the Christmas break at uni: everyone is frozen stiff and no-one can afford anything, so there is a real community spirit. That is, everyone gets together to share body heat, and the inevitable phenomenon of human interaction begins. My first Christmas at university was, unfortunately, spent at home in London with my family, and I soon decided that would never happen again. My second university-year Christmas was spent in the house where I lived during term time, in Brighton, and it was the best Christmas I ever had. Most of the time I spent with my housemates, and when they went off to do the special day with their families, I was left to my own devices. I cooked a massive meal for myself, did some reading, listened to music and watched the TV. It was bliss.

This time round, it would be different. Firstly, different country, different traditions. Spain is a very good place for families, and Christmas is the ultimate time to be with them, but not so great for us single units. Furthermore, in a different university, one has a different term timetable: the Complutense only gives its students two weeks for Christmas and New Year, since the semester goes from October until January, with exams in February. Lauren, my only friend in the house, had gone back to London. The other two, an antisocial spaniard and a frenchman with the mental age of about six, were working by day and out of the house at night. So, I was pretty much on my own, which I was happy with. Unfortunately, I had a mountain of reading and exam preparation to do, and Madrid had become very wet and very cold. I had always known that, weather-wise, the city went from extreme to extreme, but I still wasn't prepared for just how cold it had become. Tired, homesick, and overworked, it didn't look as though this year's Christmas would be any better than most of the ones I'd had before.

However, with those few Spanish friends of mine who had stayed in Madrid over the period, I fought off my annual depression. With Mamen, parties and bar-hopping excursions were still on the table, and thanks to Paloma and her boyfriend Emilio I actually spent both Christmas Day and New Year's Eve in the company of a family, as it should be. Although I was hardly the happiest person on the planet, what was threatening to be an entirely unpleasant situation became a bearable one; and all with a little help from my friends.

Out went 2008, in came 2009, and with it some new hope. Most of it centred around my dismal academic status. Let's just say that for someone who had previously excelled in his Spanish classes before actually moving to Spain, I had become very depressed at being unable to match such prowess here. As the weeks went by, I became more and more stressed. Added to that, I had been having some issues with my immigration situation which only seemed to get worse as the months went by. My student visa ran out in December, as expected and planned for, but my appointment for further documentation wasn't until the end of February. I had been given a justificante (a piece of paper acting as a reciept, if you like, of my appointment date) which I was told would serve as something granting me the legal right to remain in the country, but I was sceptical. After all, we all know immigration people can be bastards, if they want to.

Then came the exams. A friend of mine at my home university wrote to me, at the time, saying that exams have no redeeming features other than their being over. Ain't that the truth. Of the five modules I was studying, I would have to sit for four of them. I'd never taken an exam in Spain, before, and although the basic elements were in place - answer a certain number of questions on your own, in silence, to the best of your ability and in a set amount of time - I still didn't know what to expect. Put simply, with the exception of one (which I completely lucked out on) they were a disaster. I turned up ten minutes late to one, failed another, and finally got so distraught with my first four months' experience of Spanish university, I lost my senses for the other. Unsurprisingly, then, the results were hardly glowing.

2008 had been an unpleasant year, and the start of 2009 was not proving to produce better results. I was cold, I was tired, I was stressed and I was miserable. Had I hit rock bottom? Probably. Would things get any better? I'd just have to wait and find out...

Reflections Series

Part One: Summer and September 2008

Part Two: October and November 2008

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