Your Experience: Lock Down Abroad

Steven Jackson moved from Belfast to teach English in Madrid in September 2019. In light of current events, Steven found himself in a COVID-19 lock down before his family and friends back home. I spoke to Steven about what it is like to be in this situation abroad and the contrast between the lock down in Madrid and Northern Ireland.

When did your lock down begin and what is the situation now?

We have been on lockdown since around 14th March, about 9 days before the UK lock down began, since the 2nd of May we are able to go out for exercise in allocated time slots: between 6am and 10am in the morning and 8pm and 11pm at night, that was our first opportunity for outdoor exercise in around 7 weeks. 

What is your living situation like?

Normally I live with 7 people in a large apartment, but 4 of them have gone home, so now I’m in this huge apartment with only 2 other people. I have a double bed, a desk, and a balcony. I’m lucky to have that space and the balcony in particular is vital. 

I don’t have a lot of green space around me because I live in the city centre. It’s beautiful to look around and see all the balconies, but when you aren’t able to go far it is a bit of a concrete jungle. The balconies are great though, it’s nice to sit out and wave across to your neighbours and communicate from our balconies. Being abroad for this kind of thing is surreal, and as much as I can comfortably speak Spanish there are a lot of words I have heard during this pandemic for the first time. I’ve been relying on others who can speak English here to help clarify information for me. The same way that back home there is new vocabulary to describe this situation, there is a lot here too, and translating it automatically can be confusing and difficult. 

What kind of action has been taken to enforce the lockdown?

I get the impression that police are a lot stricter about the lock down here than they are at home. For example: I’ve been quizzed while shopping (what I’m getting, why it’s essential). Before things lessened here a little and exercise was allowed on May 2nd I’d been outside of my apartment about 8 times in 7 weeks, for essentials only. As far as I’m aware lots of people were getting fined here too. People were taking it all very seriously.

How did it feel watching things unfold at home compared to Madrid?

That week or so of being in lock down before everyone back home was surreal. People from home were on social media asking why they weren’t off work yet, whilst people over here were losing their jobs left, right, and centre. I was worried about family and friends back home because the death rates here were increasing massively, and those back home didn’t seem to be taking it anywhere near as seriously as we had to. When the UK lock down finally did happen I saw an influx of people on social media complain about how nice the weather was. I found it difficult to empathise: when I saw people were trying to use the good weather as an excuse to not treat the lock down as seriously, I got pretty annoyed. I live in Madrid, it is always good weather here, I still couldn’t just go out. There are people I know who had moved here to teach who were travelling back home when it began. I stayed because I wanted the job security, if I had gone home I would have no idea when I could come back to teach again, so I stayed put. A lot of people in my field of work have sadly lost their jobs because they went home at the beginning of all this.  

What is teaching English from home like?

At the beginning, they told us to make videos from home: of us cooking, baking, or talking about our families in English so the students could pick up on more vocabulary. The issue is there’s obviously no room for correction through videos, we can’t help the students if they pick up a word or phrase incorrectly. It’s a one way video, this makes teaching harder. On top of that, I’m no Spielberg, movie making is not my forte. It was taking up much more of my time than I originally thought it would to do things like setting up the camera or editing the video. The work that was being done compared to the hours being spent on it wasn’t working out. Luckily for me we moved onto powerpoints for the students, which I’m much more skilled with.  I’ve also lost a lot of my private lessons, which has significantly impacted my income. 

What have you been doing to keep yourself busy?

My sleep schedule was beginning to take a bit of a nose dive. I found that setting up a routine to do my work in a set amount of time helped massively. I do my work in the morning, then have lunch, listen to music, chat with loved ones, sit in the sun on the balcony, and watch the very few people go by. Now that restrictions have lessened a little , I often go on a walk after 8pm for some exercise. I’ve felt a bit of pressure to be super productive through some of the things I’ve seen online, people setting all these goals to learn another language or skill. I thought about all these things I wanted to pick up, but keeping the momentum going throughout a situation like this is exhausting. People should take into account that if they haven’t used this time to write a novel or learn a language that is okay, it’s just as good that they are getting through it. Before this, most of us were living very busy lives. Now that we’re either working from home – or off work entirely – we’re all allowed to take this time to relax if we need to. It’s incredibly stressful, and further pressure to do something life changing can sometimes do more harm than good. I’ve had a lot more deep conversations with my friends and family, I’ve connected with people more, and I appreciate all the people in my life so much more now than ever before.

Interview by Sam Dineen


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