Home thoughts from abroad #2

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Written by Stella Collins on 5 September 2017

We arrived in Burgos, Northern Spain, on a warm, breezy evening and managed to squeeze our way into the tiniest garage space you’ve ever seen with a hire car that was far too big.  At some point I will get to grips with driving on the right but we’re currently learning to manage without a car. 

It’s great when you can walk to most of the places you want to go but we recognise we’re still in holiday mode taking all morning to shop in the market is OK – we’re learning to live here too. At some point we’ll miss the freedom of a car and succumb to the desire to have one for far flung explorations.

So far I’ve found out very little about the business of learning and development in Spain because I’m so busy learning about being here but I’m starting to make connections through the magic of social media and once the holidays are over in September there’s going to be a flurry of activity. 

Despite thinking not being a fluent Spanish speaker will hold me back people have been reassuring and said being a native English speaker can be a big advantage - the learning here is to accept that when you have lemons you must make lemonade. 

My key reflection this month is how easy it is to move from a position of unconscious competence to conscious incompetence with the change of a few parameters in the situation.

Metaphors are going to be a challenge for a while because they only really work if you all understand the context and for anyone from another country that may take a little practise and experience. 

How often do we use idioms or metaphors with colleagues, learners, customers that may or may not make perfect sense because we’re from different cultures, backgrounds, ages?

My key reflection this month is how easy it is to move from a position of unconscious competence to conscious incompetence with the change of a few parameters in the situation. Two weeks ago I could walk into any shop, office, restaurant and hold a relatively intelligent conversation with whoever was there. 

Now I’m back to using lots of body language, asking people to slow down and feeling nervous about having a go in case I make a foolish mistake. 

When we ask people to make change at work how much do we really think about that change from competence to incompetence and the potential threat it might create? As trainers we’re confident the improved skills will be valuable and probably write positive outcomes about how ‘at the end of the programme you will be able to...’ but it’s not quite as easy as that is it? 

When you change the way you do something, even when you’re motivated to improve, as I am, it can be disempowering as you practise new wobbly skills and fail regularly. Some of us are also impatient to be at the end of the journey rather than stumbling along through it.

It’s important to be patient when you’re learning and recognise that learning isn’t immediate – it’s not yet a switch we can turn on and off. Brain cells need to rewire and create new paths and connections. 

It’s also tiring; your brain uses 20% of your energy resources even when it’s not terrifically busy so it may be important to take more rest time, feed your brain better, sleep well and generally give it some time to recover. Fortunately for me in Spain the enforced long lunch break is giving me far more opportunities to do that than in the UK and I find I’m more invigorated going back to work in the afternoon.

Spaced learning suggests that repeated, intense, focused learning followed by short periods of a completely different activity is a very successful method for long term retention. So after an hour of speaking only Spanish I need to do something quite different.  Perhaps that’s why I’m really enjoying my runs and walks and even finding cleaning our new flat quite a diverting activity.

Let me know what helps you when you’re sent back into a state of conscious incompetence.


About the author

Stella Collins is the founer of Stellar Learning


​Read Stella's first post about her Spanish journey here


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