Emigrating or a year abroad in Spain?
Adapting to Spanish life and culture will take time. Here we will give you some key information and advice on how to adapt to your new home.
If you learn Spanish you will feel more comfortable in your surroundings. I remember my first months in Spain. Many nights were spent thinking about how to ask for onions at the market or pain killers at the pharmacy. Things that seem so small now, but at the time kept me awake at night.
If you don’t learn Spanish you will miss out on so many things and your friendships will be limited to assistant teachers, Erasmus students or tourists. On top of that, if you decide to stay on in Spain your employability will be greatly reduced. We all know immigrants from our own countries who after 20 years still can’t speak the language. I’m sure they are happy but it’s probable that they only have friends from their home country and don’t feel completely comfortable doing everyday things like shopping or going to the bank.
Living in another country changes who you are, how you think, and the way you live. This makes you richer as a person. If you don’t make the effort you will end up feeling isolated and you will probably end up back home feeling lost and defeated. Having said that, Spain isn’t for everyone and not liking it doesn’t mean you have failed. But learning the language should be part of your experience.
You can learn Spanish in so many ways. Here’s a few tips.
Join a Spanish school
This is what I did when I first came to Spain. I knew zero Spanish. I jumped into an intensive course at AIL Madrid (ailmadrid.com). This course combined 4 hours of classes in the morning with various hours of afternoon activities. Activities included guided tours of the city, museums, cinema sessions, pronunciation workshops, bar crawls, etc. Alternatively they run evening courses for those of us who are working during the day. You can receive a discount if you book through us.
Attend an intensive week or weekend course
We organise intensive weeks and weekend courses in rural Andalusia. Set in a gorgeous location, this is designed to immerse you in Spanish. There are outdoor classes in the morning and various activities in the afternoon and evenings. We do aquatic activities (in Summer), hiking, visit local historic sites, visit Granada, do tapas tours, etc. Spanish is spoken 24 hours a day. Contact Go Learn Languages for more information.
Socialise with Spanish speakers.
Join sports clubs or groups, make friends with teachers from your school and accept any and all invitations.
Watch television or films in Spanish.
This can be really difficult at the beginning. If your level isn’t great you can download films with English subtitles.
Read in Spanish.
If you are just starting to learn I don’t recommend the Spanish newspapers or National Geographic. These can be very complicated. Look for abridged versions of books from one of the big book stores or in El Corte Inglés.
Listen to Spanish music.
Find the lyrics of the Spanish songs you like and translate it yourself.
Attend dance classes.
A great way to meet new people, hear great music and in most cases you end up socialising after the class.
Good luck! It’s not easy but you will see great improvement over time.
Having some level of economic stability should be a priority. The teaching assistant programs offer remuneration and this amount varies depending on the program and your location. Depending on your lifestyle, you should be able to survive on this amount if you combine it with some private teaching. In general this is easy to find and many of your classes will come from teachers, parents approaching you to give ‘clases privadas’ to their children, or professional adults who need to improve their English for work. The Spanish are excellent at negotiating and will almost always try to push down the price. Go online or speak to other teachers to find out what others are charging and don’t go down.
As a rule, the further south you go, the cheaper it is to live. And in line with this, the further north you go, the more you can ask for giving classes. With the exception of Madrid of course.
Don’t get too stressed about finding extra classes, they will probably find you. Word of mouth works just fine, but get word out, especially to the teachers in your school. You can also put up a free ad in lingobongo.com or misclasesparticulares.es.
This is directly related to the previous topic. There are many types of housing available: individual rental, sharing with Spaniards, sharing with other teaching assistants, living with a family, etc.
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. In the courses we arrange we give advice about finding accommodation and in some cases teaching assistants have made friends and decided to find apartments together.
Finding accommodation can also be a nightmare because of the low budgets we have. Try not to spend more than 1/3 of your monthly income on rent. Also:
- Try to live centrally. Depending on the size of the city I would try to live in the centre and walk or take public transport to school. If you are placed in a town, contact the school to see if there are any teachers that commute from a city. You may be able to arrange transport with them and still live in a thriving city rather than a quiet town.
- Living on the outskirts of the city is a big mistake. Services like public transport are worse, most people use private cars and if you want to stay out late in the centre, how are you going to get home? You are going to get to know new people and live wonderful experiences. It is better to be close to shops, bars, cinemas, and your new friends.
- It is probable that you won’t have a car, nor space for big buys at the supermarket so it is essential that you live near one. Most neighbourhoods have various small supermarkets and fresh food markets. The Spanish like to shop various times a week and daily in many cases. Ask when looking at flats and after seeing a flat take a walk around the neighbourhood.
- A good way of getting to know people is in sports groups. Running is also very fashionable at the moment in Spain. Asking if there is a park or gym close by is also a good idea if you are into sport.
- If city noise is a problem for you try to find a flat that is on the 4th floor or above and is that there is no bar downstairs. Light at night is generally not a problem as in Spain nearly all housing has exterior blinds. When house hunting check to see if they have double glazed windows.
- If you are only going to stay in Spain from September to June air-conditioning is not really an essential item on your list. If you are going to live in the interior or in the north make sure the accommodation has central heating. Electricity is very expensive and you will find that individual electric heaters will bring you a big surprise when your electricity bill arrives. In Madrid I recommend air conditioning and central heating. If the heating is gas expect an extra cost as this along with the electricity and water is not included in the monthly rent.
- Drying clothes. Most accommodation in Spain will include a washing machine but will not include a clothes dryer. If your accommodation has central heating this can be used to dry clothes in winter. You may have to buy a drying rack but this can be purchased in any of the cheap shops (‘chinos’) or hardware/homeware shops. Many flats have an internal patio with a clothes line for you to hang clothes.
- When renting accommodation always ask for a receipt when handing over money or do it by bank transfer, that way there will always be a record of how much deposit and monthly rent you paid. It is always a good idea to take photographs (with a date stamp) of all the rooms in the house and any obvious faults. That way, if the landlord tries to keep your deposit because there is a scratch on the floor or a crack in a window you can prove that it was already like that when you moved in.
Finding accommodation can be one of the most stressful parts of your arrival to Spain. Try to stay calm but proactive. You will find the perfect place (or at least suitable) in time.
Relationships (not just the loving ones;)
Getting to know Spaniards and other teaching assistants will be a key factor to adapting to Spanish life whilst in Spain, unless you are a hermit. In which case, you should crawl back under your shell and not be in Spain in the first place.
Most people arrive not knowing a soul. Maybe you have a ‘second cousin’s aunt twice removed’ who lives in another city 500kms away. They won’t be able to help you. You have to do this on your own. But do you?
Even if you are a confident, well-travelled person, when facing problems it is always easier if you have someone you know (even if only for 10 minutes) who has similar problems and you can help each other. This is when you will find friends that will last a lifetime. When you least expect it. Getting a bus. Buying a coffee.
At the beginning, some auxiliares get Skype Syndrome. Be careful with speaking all day with family and friends from back home. It is great to be in touch, but your life is changing and you have to learn to live without them. You need to get yourself out there, actively look for friends. Don’t be shy. Nobody will think less of you if you hear them speaking in English and you ask them where their accent is from.
Join weekends away, go out at night, join free walking tours. If you want to know more, we can help you with that. Drop us your questions or opinions here, on Facebook or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope that during your stay you don’t suffer from any types of illnesses, however being in the classroom with 25 children it is inevitable that you will at least catch a cold.
It is important that you stay fit, do exercise and eat well. I don’t want this to be a lesson on how to stay healthy but something that we will all do in Spain is P-A-R-T-Y. It is inevitable and advisable! But at some stage you will have to put a limit for your health’s sake. Make sure you get home at 5am and start school at 9am even just once! It’s all part of the experience but don’t do it so that it affects your work and more importantly, your health. If your defences are down you will catch all the viruses, colds and flu’s under the sun.
If you are sick, find a doctor that is covered by your health insurance (unless you are a European national, in which case you can see any public doctor). In some programs the insurance only covers emergency care. Be sure to ask for a ‘justificante para el trabajo’. It is a medical certificate to justify your absence from work. The Head Teacher will ask for a copy of it.
As far as I know, dentists are not covered on any health insurance programs for assistant teachers nor for Europeans. However, dentists are relatively cheap, at least compared to Australia….Aussies, if you need dental work done, do it before you go home!
Well, I hope these short notes help you out a little when adapting to Spanish life. If you have some doubts or questions….Spanish? Accommodation? Getting to know people?….There is a solution for everything and I’m open to questions.