Thoughts on 1 year in Spain

year in Spain

Today was my last day working at the school that I teach at. It’s such a weird feeling to not be going back there. Today was the last day I ran out of the door at 7:40 a.m. to catch the bus to meet the teachers that I carpool with to then ride an hour (and fall asleep) in the car. It was my last day to take that beautiful, windy drive through the mountains to the little town of Arbuniel and see 40-50 smiling faces greeting me with “hello teacher!” This year went by way too fast.

If you do not know, I work in the Southern Andalucia region of Spain as an English Language Assistant. The Spanish government hosts a program where native English speakers assist in bilingual public schools all over the country. If you have ever dreamed of living in Spain, teaching English overseas or both, it’s a great opportunity to do so!

It was just around this time last year that I received an e-mail assigning me to the primary school in Arbuniel. And I was freaking out …

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6 tips for self-care living overseas

self-care living overseas

I’m just going to come out and say it. Life can be hard living in a foreign country, especially when there’s a language barrier. You then add in different norms for social behavior, different traditions and overall different customs, and it can be exhausting. I’m finishing up my 8th month in Spain and while this year overall has been amazing, there have been frustrating moments. I’ve realized more than anything that you have to take care of yourself first. My days and weekends are so much better when I’ve just taken the time for me. Here is what I’ve found works for me. I hope this can help any of you who are living the expat life.

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The expat life: Kate in Spain

I met Kate through the Internet, much like how I met most of my blogger friends. She, like me, is teaching English here in Spain through Auxiliaries de Conversacion. She, however, lives in the North of Spain in La Rioja. What is funny is that I actually know La Rioja. My former Spanish tutor Daniel over at Coffeeshop Spanish taught English in La Rioja as well. So when I first came to Spain on the immersion trip he organized, Logroño, La Rioja was a stop on the journey.

Kate has a lovely blog and so I thought I would ask her to give her perspective on the expat life.

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5 ways I’ve experienced culture shock in Spain

culture shock in Spain

Friends, I’ve experienced culture shock in Spain. In fact, I’m experiencing it now. All of my close friends and family members already know that I’m an open book. I like to talk about my struggles and as a highly sensitive extrovert (God that’s the weirdest combo, by the way. You have overwhelming feelings and aren’t afraid to verbalise them … sometimes not in healthy ways either), I always feel the need to talk out my feelings with at least 10 people. You add in the fact that some of these people speak only your second language, and it can feel isolating.

So instead of posting one of my fun travel posts, I’ve decided to push that one back a few days and write about what is actually happening. I promised you all that I would paint an accurate picture of what life in a foreign country is like. And culture shock is a part of that experience. Everyone experiences culture shock, we just all experience it in different ways. And some don’t want to or need to talk about it. However that’s not that case for me. So I figured I would share my experience here for several reasons.

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5 tips to avoid the English bubble overseas


In summer 2015, I spent about a month in Nicaragua. I was supposed to be there for a year, but had to return to the United States for some personal things with my family (a story for another time). However when I was there, I was in the mindset of living there. I made a nice group of about 3-4 friends … and they all spoke English. I remember about 3-4 weeks in stopping and thinking about it. What the heck? Why did I move to an entirely different country only to make friends who are either from my country or speak my language as their first language. I had three Americans and one Scottish girl in my group. And while I still consider all of these ladies friends to this day, I knew I didn’t want to end up in the same situation in Spain.

Upon moving to Granada, Spain, my biggest goal was to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible. Practicing my Spanish was a big one, although I came here with a pretty high intermediate level (which has honestly made immersion easier). Moreover, I’m in Spain to learn about Spain. I have plenty of English speaking friends in the United States and frankly, I didn’t need a big heaping group here.

The English bubble, as I like to call it, is so easy to fall into as an expat, especially if you live in a large city. In Granada, we have something like 80-100 or more auxiliaries (other English teachers in my program). Plus we have lots of English academies that employ British and Irish teachers, and we have a university that draws expats. Basically if I wanted to, I could fill my entire circle English speakers. And while I do not think people move to a foreign country specifically to do that, many end up in this trap. After all, it’s comfortable to stay with people from your culture. You can speak your language and they get you. And you see this all over the world in different expat communities. And if this is where you are and you like it, I’m not knocking it at all. I just knew that for me, I wanted to meet and befriend more Spaniards than Americans this year. If you too would like that from your overseas experience, here are my tips.

5. Make friends with Americans who don’t live in your town

So I might have slightly lied. I have American friends who live in Spain. In fact, we are all a part of a group chat together. I love technology. This summer, I joined several Facebook groups for my program. I met and befriended different people. One of my closest new friends is a girl named Shola who lives in a town an hour or two north of me. We’ve become travel buddies and chat all the time on WhatsApp. And if she lived in Granada, I’m sure we’d hang out all the time. Which sounds like fun, but we’d never practice Spanish together if we did this.

avoid English-speakers overseas

Here are some of the ladies in said group chat. This was from that olive oil tour we went on (wrote about it here). Everyone in this picture lives at least an hour from one another. And it’s great.

When they visited this weekend, we were those Americans all together and speaking loudly. It was fun and relaxing. And it was also something I knew I didn’t come to Spain to experience every single weekend.

4. Go to intercambios

If you live in a larger city, there are tons of intercambios. What is an intercambio? I’m glad you asked! An intercambio is a weekly event where you can practice languages. They are usually held at bars and are pretty relaxed. Spaniards come wanting to practice their English and English speakers come wanting to practice Spanish. Often times connections are formed and people decide to hang out outside of the intercambio for further practice. It’s a fantastic way to meet some nice locals.

I’m in a Facebook group called Granada language exchange and meeting events. I’m sure if you look on Facebook or Google it, you can find lots for wherever you are.

3. Make a few English speaking friends in your town … y ya esta.

So again, I do have a few. But literally like three. When in a foreign country, it is nice to have some people right there with you would you can complain about crap with. Your friends for home don’t get it and your Spanish friends don’t either. So it’s good to have a few.

And then you can invite them out with your Spanish friends and it’s not awkward because you don’t have like 20 people (flashbacks to freshman year of college and hanging out with your dorm floor all the time).

avoid English-speakers overseas

Here my American friend Cassie and I are with some new friends on Halloween. She’s the one in from in white. She later joked that this is the one and only time she’ll ever be a giant. I’m in the back looking a bit …

2. Live with Spaniards

It took me a week to find my piso and crying was involved. I came to Granada at a time when everyone was looking. It was like we were all vying for the same spots. And sure, I could have found a nice English-speaker or two to go find a place with. But I held out. I knew that my level of Spanish could only go up if I lived with Spaniards. And lo and behold, I found these lovely people to live with. This photo is them mixed in with my American friends when they came to visit. We made them American breakfast.

avoid English-speakers overseas

1. Find a Spanish novio

Kidding but not.

 

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