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Freddie Cooney case study

5.00am. The alarm sounded and I woke, anxious in anticipation. I made my way to the airport to find my group leaders smiling and welcoming me as though we had been friends for years. As the rest of the group started to arrive, the nerves began to leave me. I quickly exploited the fact that some of us had similar interests and within minutes I had made some new friends – just as well, considering I had to spend a full week with them!

Upon arriving in Segovia, we were greeted with a light flurry of snow, which was slightly alarming given that the contents of my suitcase reflected the expectation that we would be spending a week in the sun. We quickly located our hotel and settled into the comfortably sized, en-suite triple room, before heading into town to hunt down our respective work placements.

Mine was a relatively new restaurant, named ‘La Péntola’, located just off the Plaza Mayor, and it was operating a busy lunch service when I arrived. I quickly located someone on the bar and cautiously asked for ‘el jefe’ (the boss). After receiving a response so rapid it was difficult to determine whether the waitress had just cleared her throat or given me some directions, I flew into the kitchen to introduce myself to the boss – an eccentric, middle-aged man, full of that typical Spanish charm. I had done it. In my eyes, the hardest bit was now over and all that lay ahead was a week of excitement, culture and ambition. Following that, a small group of us made our way back to the hotel, where we joined the others for supper.

10.30am. Before I knew it, the time had come for me to rise from my slumber and get ready for my first day of work. I was instructed to wear black trousers, a black shirt and black shoes – the classic attire for a Spanish waiter. It was up to me to find the placement but, having visited it the day before, my perception of its location was far more accurate. It was a scenic route that bypassed the original ancient Roman Aqueduct, as well as Segovia’s magnificent Gothic cathedral and buzzing main square. Upon arriving, I was thrown straight into the deep end, having to greet and take orders from a large table of 15, that followed me closely through the door.

Admittedly, at the time, my heart was pumping furiously. However, upon beginning to speak more and more, I learnt just how much the locals appreciate the fact that you are making an effort and, over the next few hours, my confidence increased dramatically. By the time the table had ordered its coffee, I had already begun to converse with some of them about the profound roots of the Spanish economic crisis, as well as the significance of Carnival week, which was taking place at the time. The amount that you improve by being fully immersed in the language and culture of a foreign country, where there is no other option than to embrace the task at hand and ‘get on with it’, should not be underestimated.

With each day that I worked, I grew even more confident and began to feel more comfortable engaging with customers, especially the regulars that came in for their ‘elevenses’ – a slice of tortilla and a caña of chilled beer. I even established some potential employment opportunities for the future; initiating an exchange of contact details, sealed with a firm handshake.

This turned out to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job – meeting local people and being able to hear their opinions on matters that were directly affecting them. But also, in attempting to convey my own personal views, forming a mini debate-like scenario. Admittedly, most of the time, my argument was significantly flawed and I was somewhat dominated, but that’s what it’s all about. Any opportunity to converse with a native speaker, that lives and breathes the culture and language on a daily basis, is one that you should relish. However, this was not something that I feel I would have had the confidence to do at the beginning of the week. My work experience programme allowed me to augment and clarify my initial understanding and knowledge of certain facets of Spanish vocabulary and grammar, but also gave me the willpower and confidence to exercise it through casual debate and conversation.

Before I could believe it, the week was almost over and our last weekend was spent touring Segovia, exploring some of its most treasured gems, including the fairy tale Alcázar. As we finally came to leave, the mood was downbeat, but we all vowed to keep in touch and have already organised a reunion during the summer holidays. I want to take this opportunity to thank our group leaders, Francisco and Bettyna, for making the trip hugely entertaining from start to finish, whilst maintaining a keen interest in our development at work and overall wellbeing – you were both fantastic. I can highly recommend this experience to any diligent and interested student studying a language at A-Level who has a genuine desire to enhance their linguistic and social capacity. The skills and knowledge that you will gain will be of immeasurable significance to you.

Thank you Halsbury for one of the best weeks of my life. It was everything I could ever have hoped for and much more.