My name is Graham, early 40's, Irish. I am the financial controller and IT guy of a wholesale distribution company. I went straight from leaving cert to applied chemistry in UCG but didn't succeed so ended up as a warehouse operative and just climbed the ranks from there since. During the years I have always pottered around with further education since the job is extremely boring and have done a few evening courses over the years such as the Anatomy & Physiology in DLCFE, Astronomy with DIAS Furniture making in BIFE, UCD Access Course, even an Indian Head Massage course. After the UCD Access course, which I did just for fun, I was offered a place in the full time Science Degree course with the intent of perusing an interest in Astrophysics buuutt I turned it down, although I was again eligible for free fees as a mature student with the access course I didn't really have the patience for a full 4 years. Still to this day no regrets so all is good.
Now to more recent years , I am probably the only one that has benefited from COVID. After the lockdown hit and non-essential retail closed I was straight on the PUP since without retail the company was at a standstill. It was all fun and games for a few months catching up on my beauty sleep, annoying the cat, painting a few walls, cutting the hedges within an inch of its life but then the novelty ran out and things got boring... I remember seeing a post on twitter to say that the PUP would pre-qualify you to the BTEA so I had a google to see what courses were going on around me since we were close to September which is where I saw the City & Guilds Culinary Arts course in BIFE.
Cooking was something so alien to me but it is one of those life skills that everyone should know so I signed up. After getting interviewed and read-on I was accepted. Next followed the most stressful few weeks of my life trying to sort out the back to education allowance, the social protection system in Ireland is one of the most broken system that every existed.... in my opinion... in hind sight I should have just said nothing and kept the PUP going and said nothing and I would have gotten more money but I was too honest for my own good. I can honestly now see why people decide to cheat the system... Anywho... eventually got that sorted and was back to full time cooking, 3 days a week. The course was fantastic, the instructor, Willie Rochford was amazing and had the patience of a saint since the only experience I had was as a Kitchen Porter while attempting college which actually made more use in the class that some of those without cleaning experience. He was slightly amused when I asked him how to bake a potato which cemented the level of my experience in the Kitchen... but in the end not only did I pass all my exams but I got distinctions and to top it off I got Student of the Year!! Go Me! 🤣
Ok so getting close to 'now' I know I am waffling but the EU and government agencies love to hear about people getting second chances at adult education so its for the greater good and they are paying for this sooo.... so in the final few weeks of that course Willie said he was going to start a new course the following year a City & Guilds Pastry & Baking Course which sounded great but alas I had to go back to full time work... back to work then forever.. bye bye full time education... bye bye kitchen, hello desk and computer and stress... there I was working away trying to get the company up and running again seeing if we could still afford full time staff. We couldn't yet but then I had a brainwave of sticking myself as part-time saving the company a fortune and myself being able to take up the Pastry & Baking course while also working! Happy Days!! :D
After a rocky start to the course, it started late as there were too few people and there was a chance it would be axed and there was a change in the tutor which scared me as I knew if it was Willie as I was told it would be last year it would have been great since we knew each other, Willie was still the overall course coordinator and we had him for the theory aspect of the course. In came Ewelina, our new pastry teacher, long story short she was amazing and the course was even more fantastic as I had hoped for and if she was to do a more advanced course I would do my very best to sign up! Pastry was now my Forte! During the year Erasmus was discussed and since I missed it last year because of COVID I filled out the form with the hope of making it to at least the interview stage so I was over the moon when it was announced I got my place! I have never done anything like this before and I rarely travel so naturally I am petrified...
Hobbies and pass times... well I suppose adult education would be a major one. I also have an interest in all things computer and tech and astronomy. fun fact, I am the first person in the Republic of Ireland to have captured sprite lightning on video, was just a happy by-product from operating a high speed meteor camera station as a part of a Europe wide network (NEMETODE) to study meteors. Hopes for the future hmmm.... I would be happy if I could keep on doing the odd further education course now and then. I don't see myself working in the hospitality sector as the conditions are mostly anti-social under paid and in some cases ripe with abuse. But if a mate was looking for a pastry chef I would certainly think of lending a hand.
How have I prepared myself for Erasmus...
well I had ZERO Spanish so when they offered Spanish lessons in the college I jumped at the chance and attended every single one of them hoping if they threw enough Spanish at me some of it would stick. I was also offered online Spanish lessons but the system was no good for what I needed so face to face was the winner. I have also had to try psyche myself up this as a high anxiety introvert this is so much out of my comfort zone I have on a number of occasions taught of throwing in the towel...
Drum-Roll Please..... Back story over! I am now talking in the present! Its Saturday, flight is Monday. I have folded every stitch of clothes I have, I will start culling the herd this evening cause its looking like I need a truck not a suitcase... I need to take another antigen today to be sure to be sure... so far of all the people I know I am the only one who hasn't gotten COVID, or else I have just been asymptomatic... but first I have to do a few hours work, have to sort out the VAT for the job and pay it to the government so they can pay the EU to then pay me to go to Spain for a few weeks on a baking internship... the REAL circle of life!!... have to also double check remote access to the work server for when they call me with a problem so I can check in and see what they broke from the comfort of the beach... no such thing as the right to disconnect when you are important!!! HA! :P T-35 hours- still negative, just a precautionary test..
AirCoach Booked! 🚌✈
Made it to Malaga! Was handy in the airport, Sarah was there to accompany us and because we were a big group (14) we got to go to a special counter, all handy enough, no major waits. This was the first time meeting everyone…
well… its small… VERY small! Not remotely like it was in the brochure but we were told they may not be that nice but we didn't expect it to be that far removed.
It is just a one bed apartment that has to sleep three men... not ideal… No wardrobes of any kind so we have to live out of suitcases. In the single bedroom there are two single beds side by side, no divisions! The other ‘bedroom’ is the sitting room, a sofa bed. Again no wardrobes so suitcase has to be kept in the sitting room/kitchen. Luckily the place is modern and has a full size fridge and freezer, microwave and induction hob. Also has iron & washing machine which is in the bathroom which is a bit strange but apparently the norm here.
It is located down a lane, both sides similar apartments. The lane is still covered with sand from the recent Sahara sand storm. Each ‘door’ contains about half a dozen apartments. Our main front door is an original big old door, so far everyone seems to be having problems opening it, there is a knack but the knack is only successful 1/5 times. Entering this wooden door is a series of marble staircases with suitably high ceilings leading to every bit of noise and movement being amplified throughout the building. Each apartment is a similar short term rental. Even though we are working there will always be a clatter of noise as people stumble in and out at all hours of the day.
So… if sofa person wants a siesta they need to get into bed with the rest of us at the kitchen table being silent. If the bedroom people want to get up for a drink or loo in middle of the night they walk through sofa persons bedroom. If sofa person wants a lie in they wont be able to as bedroom people will be eating breakfast in their bedroom while they sleep.
And if we all agree we want to watch tv then sofa person has to put their bedroom away and we sit on their bed watching tv with their suitcase in-between us and the tv.
The apartment has a fantastic location and only 15mins from placement and very clean, I would gladly live in it… as a single person!!
We followed the chain of command to see if anything could be done and the director himself, Ricard came over to us that day to have a look. There was also an issue with the bathroom door not closing.
So Ricard made some calls and he is sorting out another apartment for one person but wont be available until next week. In the meantime we are going to move the beds apart and put a locker in between, but this means the suitcases are more of a trip hazard in the dark, unfortunately the suitcases cannot be stored under the beds nor any wardrobes cause there are none.
The place I am working in is called Claus Bakery Cheesecake Factory. A small compact shop that sells coffee, specialist teas, a few open sandwich's, brownies, cookies and of course cheesecakes! Its a one woman show, Claus, with the help of two others helping out a few hours a week so she can take some time off to buy more supplies! What makes this place stand out is the fact that all the cakes, brownies and cookies are made onsite from scratch! Formally trained in the Cordon Bleu Paris, Claus has perfected over 33 different flavours of cheesecake! Her goal is to eventually go bigger and become an even larger supplier of cheesecakes to the full gamut of the hospitality industry.
My instructed role was to help out with everything, serving customers, making sandwiches, doing the barista stuff, scrubber, basically everything but so far in the first week I have just been in the back baking cheesecakes, cookies and brownies back to back which is absolutely fantastic! (I dont ‘do’ customers!) I also do bakery runs to buy a specific sourdough in a specific bakery, I am usually the first customer when the bakery opens!
Positives: Claus and her team are amazing and apart from one woman all speak perfect english.
They all know their stuff and are extremely enthusiastic!
The job is city centre and only a 15min walk from the apartment.
Its only 0900-1400hrs M-F!
Difficulties: Its HOT!! No air-con!!
Its TINY!! You need to be a black belt in Tetris to move around the kitchen part. Only a tiny toilet for staff only that doubles as a mop room and store room but because of the heat I have never needed to go! 🤣
Even though I am technically a qualified barista I am not a huge coffee fan so I have no clue about any coffees bar the very basics and yet they expect me to serve coffees… its going to be carnage!
Have I adjusted to the culture of the country… em… No not really, everything is far too slow especially service in a bar and restaurant and that's if you find a seat in the first place! A LOT of places are tiny and fill up so fast that its nearly impossible to arrange a meet up in a specific place. Obviously tourists to blame.. they are everywhere..
Adjusted to workplace… yeah I suppose, I kinda know what's going on a bit better, still no clue as to what all the coffee and sandwiches are but at least I can keep my head down and just make cheesecakes and clean.. Language, I don't know it, not really in a position to try it here as most speak English and understand pointing to a menu. The only time I have used google translate is to complain about the heat to a co-worker with no English and vice versa. Differences… the heat! No energy for anything!… A fantastic difference I have noticed is the rubbish collection! Both commercial and residential, they simply take all their rubbish to a big wheelie bin on the road and just dump it, no individual bin collections or charges, just all out of general taxation, and lorry just comes and empties it… simple! Cooperation with workmates, at this stage they know what I am capable of and can just tell me to do it or else just talk me through it while they are doing something else. Accommodation Update: Knack to open door now works 100% of the time, just turn key THEN pull door towards you THEN the lock will release.. There must be about 40 apartments around us, noise most mornings and evenings and suitcases with wheels constantly on the go.. Room buddy got kicked out to another apartment solo, noticeable difference in reduction of heat. Still have to eat in bedroom since sofa bed guy siesta-ing in kitchen. No sign of bathroom door being fixed! Washing machine has had a few runs, nothing beats being able to change clothes twice a day in this heat! My Free Time….. What do you do: After work, I usually go home, have shower, drink a lot of water and lie on the bed staring at the ceiling trying to recuperate from the heat trying to sleep with the surrounding noise of people on drinking holidays & traffic. After a few hours consider going for food, somewhere local and simple usually. Then back to bed… rinse & repeat for the work days… Saturdays we usually have our events and with Sunday the only day off so usually a few drinks on the Saturday night with some exploring on the Sunday. Stand out moments: Nerja was good, first time having a swim in years. Went to the Sealife centre in Benamadina, that was good but even with prepaid tickets you still need to queue with the masses…
A number of us went to the interactive music museum which was very good but what made it even better was the music students being able to play ALL the instruments which was fascinating!
Organised Cultural Events: City Walking Tour was very good to get an overview of the city. Granada was hot, unfortunately didn't get into Alhambra which was disappointing. Nerja was great, really enjoyed the swimming but didn't go to caves which is apparently the highlight of Nerja. Frigiliana was only good because one of the ladies convinced us to go on a mini train ride which was great fun. Would have seen more of the town if service was quicker in café.
Volleyball was great fun but unfortunately only two people from our group turned up, we were playing with/against another Erasmus group from Slovenia, as soon as the sun went down and the beach got quieter we got very competitive and had even more fun...
Sunset in Gilbralfaro is not really a sunset, more like a steep hike to a viewpoint to see the sunset ON Malaga but not the sunset itself. I went a few times after the group trip, great walk but better at night with the lights of Malaga.
Flamenco we ok… nothing special.. felt like it was just a teaser for a longer show..
The Boat ride was very good, thankfully was midweek so nearly had the boat to ourselves, i saw them leave on the weekend and it was jammed to the gills! Next time would have been fun to do the boat ride & swim if it was as quiet as it was. There was a toilet and bar on the boat! On Board Bar Prices
Cycling, I think only one person turned up, didn't do it myself as I have seen too many near misses between traffic and bikes and have had a serious bike crash as a kid and would have been far too hot for me.
What have you learned:
I have gained the confidence of being able to survive in extreme temperatures. Positives was the people, our group had no arseholes thankfully and everyone at placement were great and the guides could not have been friendlier. Great to see a constant police presence around the city. Offered full time job on day 2, wants me to come over for Christmas but unfortunately I cant…
Negatives: was the accommodation, nobody should have to sleep on a sofa blocking off the kitchen and couch from the others. We were told day 2 the bathroom door would be fixed.. never happened. The placement was nothing special or what I wanted. It felt like it was just charity work taking jobs off the locals. All the work of doing CVs, cover letters & portfolios was just busy work, employer didn't see them, appears they just pick your placement after just reading the course title not your wishes. No allocated seats on plane, people split up randomly. Communication from day 1 was poor, given wrong details for placement and accommodation. Didn't get placement details until a few days before traveling. Had I have known exactly what I would have been doing and the accommodation situation I would have just politely refused the programme. I believe it was completely over sold. It should have been aimed at transition year students.
Recommendations & tips for next Erasmus+ group
Find out details of placement and accommodation before signing contract. Revolut should be mandatory! A lot of restaurants really don't like splitting the bill so someone should just pay and others pay them via Revolut. When creating a Revolut account be sure to say to your family or friends first because apparently you get €60 for recommending a friend... Also they only take cards/digital on board planes. Spanish service is generally really really slow. Don't skimp on the sunglasses or sunblock. I recommend ‘Boots Soltan 50+’. One of the lads had noise cancelling headphones looked cool, would definitely recommend at least good ear plugs. Malaga is a loud place full of tourists and wheelie suitcases.. Malaga is generally NOT cheap, not Irish prices but not cheap…still €10 a vodka & coke in a nightclub, you really need to search to get cheap & good. If you are on a budget pick your battles, you don't have to go out every night to eat. No sign of any dress code in any club so just dress clean and you will be fine. Don’t buy anything off-menu sold by waiters unless you know exactly what it costs. Do your best to have an ice-breaker group meetup before going to know as many people as possible will make the acclimatisation much easier. If you are traveling with music students... be prepared for the madness!! 😜 Total spend Max. €700 ish so if you subtract about 25 litres of fancy Pellegrino fizzy water and the more than the odd Black label Iberian Jamon Boccidillo I am sure you could come under budget of the €200 pw.