How will living in Spain be? The city, the people, the language? Questions over questions came through me before I started the Language Assistant Programme with Meddeas. But before being confronted with the situation in your placement city, some other questions come through.
My name is Christina, I am 25 and from Austria. Before I came to Spain as a Language Assistant I had already moved to the south of Spain for one year. It was a different city, but still, I thought I was prepared. A few days after arriving I figured it out: I actually wasn´t. However, before bothering you with my experiences in town, I would like to give you some tips to go through, before you start your experience abroad:
Organisation: How to Arrive
Depending on where you´re from and where your placement is located you will have to take one or another way to arrive. My first suggestion is to search early enough for flights. The pre-meeting of Meddeas will take place in Barcelona, a destination where the flights aren´t that expensive. Hence, look from a bigger city in your home country to fly to Barcelona.
You can either check on airline websites. I would suggest you have a look at Iberia, as well as to Ryanair. Wizard or Vueling might also be options to consider. In my case, I took a direct flight from Vienna to Barcelona.
I decided to go there some days earlier in order to explore the city with a friend (totally recommendable). Once you arrive in Barcelona, you have several options to go to the city center. There is a lot of public transport options: train, metro, buses, and trams. I´m sure you’d figure out the best way to your hostel, hotel, or wherever you may stay for these days. But your trip probably doesn´t end in Barcelona. Well, at least mine didn´t. I had to go to Elche, a small city in the south-east of Spain.
Where and How to Live in Spain: Housing Cost
The second question that may arise in time is where to live. Your actual housing habits, as well as the space you´re used to and the city you´re going to, will influence the easiness to find a flat that reaches your expectations.
As I lived in Spain already once, this time I knew what to look for. The prices may rise if it is a big city or not, but compared to the Austrian flat market, the rents are still much cheaper. From my experience, the furniture is much darker in Spain, and the flats are way smaller than what I was used to. This can be seen due to the fact, that Spaniards mainly spend their time outside, together with friends.
Where to find flats?
I would recommend you visiting several websites and Facebook. On these websites, you just type in the city you will be living in, and alquilar for renting, piso for flat or habitación for a room. Some basic knowledge of Spanish would be recommendable for getting further information, as, depending on the city you’re going to, not all Spaniards know English.
Another option you can look at is the university exchange programme. ESN (Erasmus Student Network) many times opens Facebook groups to connect incoming students and help them to find accommodation. Before signing a contract, make sure you have seen the flat (even if just through Skype) and talked to the landlord about any questions that stay opened.
Once you have dealt with the bigger questions, some other thoughts will come to your mind. How is the climate in Spain? How shall I dress up in school? What shall I bring with me?
Maybe it is a problem for women, who knows, but for me, it was just impossible to pack everything I thought I needed into one suitcase. Likely, I’m from Europe, so sending packages isn’t so expensive. The local Correos help you out with your packages, and a nice detail: in Spain, they try it twice to deliver packages. Sincerely, I don’t know about American packages, but for me, from Austria sending a package weighting 23kg, costed 70€. So, for any European citizen who has a problem with too much luggage, I totally recommend sending some.
Regarding the question What to pack?, I made myself some lists:
– Teaching materials
One of those questions was related to teaching material. Most material I could scan or save online, I didn’t bring with me. However, some posters, some games and some authentic material I didn’t want to leave at home. Depending on the age you’re teaching you will need more pictures or tactical games, or more magazines and written things. From my point of view, it is always recommendable to bring authentic material with you.
Another packing list was related to clothes. This I divided into summer, winter, school, and free-time. Some schools in Spain want you to be dressed very business-like. In my case, I packed way too many business clothes. Especially after asking my tutor, I was scared to be under-dressed.
My recommendation now for girls: blouse and normal trousers with nice shoes fit any occasion! By the time, you will figure out how the dress-code is for real; just observe your colleagues at school. Make sure you bring also clothes with you that you wear in your free time.
You should be comfortable and not always in “work mode”. Regarding summer and winter, I have to say: Spain is different. Even though Austria isn’t that far away, it still is a different world. The summer is really hot: both inside the flat, and outside the house. Bring light clothes, dresses, skirts, etc. Winter, in contrast, can be really cold. Especially in the south of Spain, where no heating system exists, it gets colder than you expect.
The humidity is high and therefore 6°C feels as if it was below 0°C. Without any heating inside, you never warm-up and get sick easily. Hence, make sure you bring warm sweaters and shoes. And this brings me back to my packing problem… So, sorry guys, I wish you luck with packing the right things! Try to think functional!
Culture: Mind the Shock
Once you arrive, you will finally face a new culture, the new city, the new challenge. It will be an awesome experience, I assure you that. But one thing before hand: there is something called cultural shock. If you have never heard of it before, I’ll explain it easily: it is an overwhelming feeling that overcomes you because you’re not used to different behaviour rules in a culture.
Every person is different. Whether you are used to different cultures or used to be close to friends and family, one thing I can guarantee you: Spain is different. If you have never been to a foreign country before, try to get prepared. It may sound weird to you, but a different culture does not only mean a different language. It is much more than that.
Some of you may not know Austria, but I will shortly explain the main aspects of my culture: closed, distant, quiet. For foreigners, this might be weird, but for me having my private space, some time for myself, and getting to know people in a calm way, is 100 percent me.
But… once I arrived to Spain, that changed. Spanish people are kind of the opposite: they are open, interested in everything you do, and, their personal distance is much different from what I´m used to – for real. I would never put that in a bad light. Clearly the contrary: you always feel welcome. But being always so close to people you don’t know may also make you feel homesick.
Advice to prevent cultural shock:
– Bring typical cultural goods: if you ever feel homesick, because there isn´t your favourite sweet, your favourite drink, etc. available (and believe me, you will reach that moment), you can help yourself easily, if you bring some of these things with you. They won’t last forever, but in some days, when your mood’s down, it may cheer you up.
– Decorate your room with positive vibes: a thing I really love to do? Making the room look my way. I put candles, an air refresher, but also pictures and images with positive quotes in my room. This way every day I wake up, every moment I come home, I will be surrounded by a positive spirit. I won’t miss my friends and family that much, as I (even though it is just some pictures) see them when I’m in my room.
– Stay in contact: the first weeks will be hard, I won’t lie. A lot of new impressions, new challenges, etc. Make sure you stay in contact with your beloved ones, so you feel more secure and don’t break down with some harder challenges. However, try to make sure that you’re also going out, trying new things, making new friends. I personally decided to join dance classes, just to experience an extreme cultural shock… and I would TOTALLY recommend it. 😉
In difference to some colleagues, I only offer four tips. I think these are the main points that need to be considered before leaving and while arriving at your new home.
By Christina H., Current Language Assistant 2019/2020