The hardest part about starting life over in a foreign place is being alone. The worst part about being alone in a city where you barely speak the language is all the adulting you have to do; accommodation, bank, phone, life…and such!
I love taking photos, as we might have guessed from the endless amounts scattered through my blog; but for some reason; the number of photos I have during my beginning in Spain are veeerry scarce; to none actually. Either I was so pre-occupied with the fact that life wasn’t going as I hoped it was OR (and this is probably the case) they were on one of the five phones that I lost/had stolen.
The worst worst worst part about moving to Spain to teach English for a year was accommodation. When I first got here I stayed in a hostel while looking for more a permanent housing option. I found this perfect, adorable, with Spanish roommates, right next to my school and within my budget. You’re thinking too good to be true, eh? Well, I should have thought that too. I jumped on that faster than fresh popcorn out of the microwave. And do we ever learn to let the kernels cool before shoving a handful into our mouths…well I excitedly accepted the offer and with my worries set aside went to go country hop a little more. Halfway through our time in Portugal, I had a gut- wrecking feeling. I emailed the future roommate to check in. Surprise, suuuurrrprise..eye roll. She gave my room away to another desperate soul. Why? That is a question I will never know the answer to. Out of my hands, there was nothing to be done but start at square one, again. Luckily at the gut-wrecking moment, I was drinking vino verde and eating pastéis de belém’s in Portugal.
Fast forward to arriving back in Spain, and asking the hostel to graciously not let me live on the street. Thankfully, after praying to all the Gods, they had room.
So the search started again: idealista, fotocasa, lingobongo, just about every search engine you can think, combined with wandering the streets of Madrid, calling every number that had “ALQUILER” attached to it.
Waltz up to option number who knows of this dire situation. A beautiful five bedroom, unfurnished (meh, beggars can’t be chooser at this point), close to the metro and a tad above my budget. Yes, yes, yes, yes. I stood in front of the landlady accepting the offer, gave her half of the deposit and told her I would be back in 30 minutes with the rest and a copy of my passport. 30 minutes later…roomless. She gave my room away to a German student who said she wanted it. Imagine my facial expression at this point. It was that moment, walking out of the apartment I questioned it all. After being rejected from countless rooms that I thought to myself, maybe Spain isn’t for me. Maybe it is time to admit defeat and go home. I sat on the stairwell and cried a few tears. Called my parents. Cried a few more. And, debating what my next steps were.
At this point, I assumed that I would have accommodation. But I didn’t and my scheduled stay at my hostel was already done and they had no more rooms available. I asked if I could crash anywhere to prevent myself from sleeping on the street. Luckily, through a mutual friend, this spunky kid from Wenatchee saved my life. I met up with her and four other girls at SlowMex with my suitcase in hand and the look & smell of desperation seeping from every corner of me. GOD BLESS those girls. I don’t know what I did in life to find them. But I didn’t have to sleep on the street that night and I got a wave of energy and confidence to continue the search.
I continued the search with a new spunk, pushed my fears aside of attempting Spanish with a questionable, Americanized accent. I was determined, I didn’t want to use up all the good graces that I was given after that fearful evening of almost sleeping on the streets. Finally, I stumbled upon this little three bedroom apartment in Cuarto Caminos with two other Auxiliary teachers, it had a bed and a toilet so I took it then and there. Celebrated with a shot of rum and went to gather my belongings to move into my new abode.
Now the only problem that I did not foreshadow with my new swanky apartment was that it was about 40 minutes away from the city center, which is where my school and my new friends were (ahh yeah, made some friends Mom!). With the metro system closing at 01:30 in the morning and the Spanish lifestyle leaving you out until way past those hours, this quickly became a problem. Luckily these girls that I found were kind enough to allow me to store a toothbrush at each house and crash most weekends. But man, what a nuisance I felt like I was becoming. One thing led to another and back again on idealista browsing for new options.
A few days/weeks/months (who knows really) later, some sour exchanges and confusing Spanish and I believed I had found almost the perfect accommodation. Right smack in the heart of Malasana, 20 minutes from my school, 7 minutes from mis amigas and a bed big enough for me to properly starfish myself across. Home. Home at last.
It wasn’t until I had moved everything into this apartment, got a new roommate, learned to make couscous, that I realized this was going to be okay. I was going to survive this. My parents didn’t need to buy a house in order to keep me off the streets (although I still wouldn’t mind a condo in Madrid, Mom & Dad 😉 ). It felt like my home life was coming together.
When you move to a new country, alone, unsure of the language, customs, and culture of that country the BEST thing to do for yourself is to make your new home feel like a home. Regardless of how long you think you are going to be there. Print pictures, buy fluffy pillows, buy new shoes (because you deserve new shoes), make that apartment/piso/ condo/flat feeeeeel like it is your new home.
Once my housing was under control and this dark grey cloud of homelessness escape from around me, the best way to keep your spirits up is to grab life by the horns and ride it until it kicks you off, then dust yourself off and get back on!
After a whirlwind of awkward encounters with teenagers; I was finally getting my students under control (I use that term VERY loooooosely). Some of them showed a squirm of excitement when I walked in, some even knew my name (or a version of it). I began to realize, just like any other student around the world, that in order to make these kids actually want to participate in class it has to be somewhat enjoyable. I started asking them what THEY wanted to learn about, what they were interested in doing in class. Next thing I know, we are singing the TOP 20 (with a vocabulary and grammar lesson), learning about dinosaurs (with the promise of Jurassic Park at the end), having debates on video games, and talking about how the US has candy factories sporadically placed all around.
Advice to the those who are/wish/want to teach English as a second language (to a higher level, like high school): talk to the students. Ask them what they are interested to learn about and take yourself back to that age. Did you enjoy doing worksheet after worksheet of grammar and pronunciation…NO. Make your lesson plans colorful, make it fun, make it a game. Kids love fun shit. And you will too.
Despite, haaaatting on Madrid when I first arrived, thinking that she wanted me out faster than I got there. After a few months of low self-esteem and internal debates of what I am doing with myself, I ended up loving Madrid. Loving it so much that I accidentally forgot to buy a ticket home after that school year.
Cheers to whoops and cheers to year two!