Published: February 7th 2011September 7th 2010
The new school year is seeing me settling to a new life in Spain. It has been my plan since studying in Spain to return to teach. I loved Spain the last time I was here and want to be able to explore the country further. The added incentives of being able to practise my Spanish, being closer to home, and most importantly seeing my Spanish friends again encouraged me to start job searching from Mexico. I found a job in the city of Balaguer in Catalonia. While not the most ideal location for visiting my friends in Barcelona and Girona it is still within weekend travelling distance and I am excited about the prospect of starting work here.
Balaguer is a large city in the province of Lleida in Catalonia. It is situated by by the river Segre, a tributary to the Ebre. It is thought the first settlement in this area was Iberian or Roman as archelogical evidence shows Roman artiefacts and foundations dating from the 3rd or 4th century. The first known mention of the city dates from the ninth century. Sanahuja Father quotes a text from 864 in which it is said that monks of Albi, on
their way between Zaragoza and France, rested in 'Balagium' and then followed signs to Berga .
However Balaguer owes its foundation to the Arabs as they arrived in the area in the first part of the 8th century. In the plateau called by the Arabs 'Almata' (meaning plain) a military camp was established. By the end of the 9th century the primitive camp had been expanded becoming a thriving 'madina' owing to the fertile lands surrounding the camp.
In 897 construction began on the castle of Balaguer, which in the mid-11th century, under the reign of King Yusuf al-Muzaffar, was converted into a splendid palace.
The city was conquered by Guerau II of Cabrera, on the orders of Ermengol V of Urgell. The county of Urgell was one of the independent medieval counties located in what is now modern Catalonia. Balaguer remained under Christian rule between 1100 and 1101, and finally passed into the hands of Urgel in 1105 in an attack by Ramon Berenguer III of Barcelona and Pedro Ansúrez, who had taken over the county of Urgel from Ermongol VI.
During the conflict between the nobility and the King Jaime I of Aragon , the city was an
important stronghold of the rebels, and was besieged and taken in1280, according to the Chronicle of Bernat Desclot . Ermengol X of Urgell who was then vassal of the king, made an attempt to defend the county, but ultimately, the land was inherited by Alfonso IV of Aragon . The land went back into the hands of the counts of Urgel, until finally the county passed to the monarchy in the hands of Fernando de Antequera in 1413. King Ferdinand I left the city to King John II of Aragon and Navarre , who took possession of it in 1418. During the War Remensa King John II established his base of operations in Balaguer in 1462 until the fall of Lleida in 1464. After his death, the city passed to his son, and the heir of Ferdinand II of Aragon, and came back under crown rule.
My arrival to Balaguer wasn't the smoothest. I was thankfully met at the airport by a friend and spent my fist night at her house. She and her boyfriend took me to Sant Quirzes and there I met her sister and the kids, aged 7 and 2 which was a lot to take in
my first night and plunged me right into having to speak Spanish. It was a relief to spend the first night with friends as I was bizarrely nervous about starting the new job. We looked up train times on the internet and I woke early ready to be whisked off to the train station.... only to find when we got there that we'd made a mistake and arrived at the wrong station and in 5 minutes my train was due to depart from the other side of town. So I was dumped off with my friend at her sister's and shortly afterwards we piled into the car with my oversized suitcase, rucksack, my friend, her wheelchair, the kids, kids' carseats and buggy and her sister managing everything and driving us all the way to Balaguer.
We arrived and found Centre Cultural, my new school. I raced out to find out what to do next and managed to walk into a bank before being redirected to the next door along, which led to a set of stairs going straight up to the second level. I briefly met the family who own the school and the daughter came out to talk with
my friends. Her father came for his car and we followed behind to my new home over the other side of the river in the historic centre. I was very impressed by the flat. It is on the second floor of a brand new building, is in walking distance of the school, post office and nearby supermarket and is basically perfect for me. A nice size, I even have a guest room for when friends want to visit, and have all the basic household things I need so I don't need to start shopping for pots and pans. I was expecting my friends to stay longer but they said they wanted me to settle in and would leave me to it. We said our goodbyes and the principal dove me back to the school and gave me a quick tour, showed me my room and books and gave me a rough schedule. His poor daughter was designated my driver for the day and took me off to the main supermarket. I tried to be as quick as I could, there's something rather awkward about doing a big stock-up shop while a stranger trails behind with the trolley! We took the
bags back to my flat and from there went in search of pillows which was the last thing I need to buy for the house.
Back in school I met the last family member who is also the owner and director. It is strange to be in a school where I am not only the only foreigner but also the only non-family member! She who talked me through my job... in Spanish. Supposedly this was to help me practise my Spanish but I could have thought of better moments for a lesson than at the same time as trying to understand a new school and all the information about my classes. I was given an initial scedule which exceeded the contracted hours but came with the promise of overtime pay and the option to change hours at a later date if I'm not happy which seems reasonable. My current schedule is 3.45-11.15pm, and a later start on Fridays, which may turn me into a bat but should be manageable. I'm less sure about the conversation lessons over at the Primary School which are supposed to be in the mornings.
After escaping the initial meeting I spent some much needed time
alone in my flat unpacking and making myself at home. The weekend passed quickly. I spent some time in school reading through the text books and using the internet. I went shopping at the local supermarket for extra food bits and cleaning things and spent a significant amount of time blu-taking pictures and photos up around the flat and making it a little cosier. Balaguer seems very peaceful. There is some building work happening outside my apartment block but mostly its very quiet. The one time I did hear a significant amount of noise I raced to the window with my camera in hand, only to remember I am no longer in Mexico and the noise was from police cars not a parade! The principal arrived in the evening to connect my television for me. It was a kind offer but his idea of 'evening' meant he knocked on my door at nearly midnight and tinkered with the television for another hour while I was wishing I could just go to bed.
Yesterday was spent in a brief meeting at school and some lesson planning time. I also went to Escola Pia the primary-secondary school where I am supposed to
give conversation lessons. I was not impressed as the headteacher kept me waiting an hour before meeting me and then spoke to me for a scant 5 minutes. His only interest seemed to be in checking I was a native speaker and waived off my requests for information on the students, their level of English, their current syllabus and so on.
Thus I started today in a complete panic over my first day at work which was supposed to have me working the morning at the primary school and then starting my first day at Centre Cultural as well. Fortunately I had two pieces of god luck. First an unexpected visit from a friend I had hoped to meet in Barelona and had instead come to Balaguer to see me and second a phone call from the principal saying my lessons at the school wouldn't start for another week at least. Ultimately I had a very relaxed morning with my friend, walking along by the river and then visiting one of the churches on the hill. We had lunch and I saw him off at the train station before finally going to meet my first class at Centre Cultural.
There are more photos below