Moving can be a pain in the wazoo and as Lauren Linzer, our expert on Madrid writes, she wanted to feel alive and immerse herself in a new culture despite the challenges. Some people find the transition to a new culture too difficult. Understandable. But for Lauren, the benefits trump the hassles. Check out her Moving To Madrid (Part 1) for more moving tips.
By Lauren Linzer
The first month of living in Madrid proved to be an exhausting roller-coaster ride, shifting from joy and wonderment to uncertainty and discomfort. It would have been easy enough to quit and go home, allowing the stress of getting started in this foreign land to drive me away. A few of my peers actually chose this route. But then I remembered why I was here: to feel alive every day, learn from a new culture, immerse myself in a completely different way of living, with new friends, and have amazing experiences. And this is Spain! Beautiful, culturally rich, spectacular Spain!
From time to time, we Madrid newcomers needed each other to provide reinforcement of this reality. Inevitably there would be moments when the discomfort and frustration would feel entirely overwhelming and the best prescription was transforming it all into comical instances that we could laugh away over cañas (beers). This became a regular practice, and before we knew it, these gatherings to share painful stories that once felt so heavy, were merely hilarious reminiscences sprinkled into a night full of smiles and laughs between great friends.
The absolute key was to address each task one at a time and remain cool if they were not accomplished in a timely manner. After all, that is the Spanish way, for better or worse.
Week one I devoted to simply acquiring a phone. How frustrating it was that the mobile phone shops always seemed to be closed or the sole employee working was having an endless chat with the customer ahead of me. But eventually I acquired my very own Spanish phone number, making the process for landing teaching gigs and fostering a social life a much easier process.
The next chore to tackle was the money situation. My first weeks were spent paying absurd ATM and conversion fees, returning every 24 hours to withdraw another large chunk of cash in order to pay for all my initial expenses. (Word to the wise: If you have hefty initial expenses, there is a likelihood it will need to be paid in cash.
Coming to Spain with a stack of Euros in hand doesn’t hurt.) I needed a bank account but everyone had a different story about how to accomplish this. With my weak language skills, I was massively intimidated to undergo this lofty mission. I bit the bullet and strolled into my nearby BBVA (International bank popular in Spain).
To my relief I was greeted with the smiles of a bank employee eager to use our encounter as an opportunity to practice her English (I later discovered this was not unusual). At the cost of a minimal fee and an impromptu language lesson, I was all set up, ready to deposit my modest teaching pay into a new checking account.
Then there was issue of transportation. Each day for the first couple of months I avoided the metro altogether and strolled to class, taking in the unique charm of the Madrid streets and lovely fall weather. But as winter set in and my teaching assignments had me dashing around the city, I knew it was time to figure out the monthly metro pass.
The local tobacco shop was surprisingly my source for a renewable metro card called an abono. Each month all that was required was coughing up a 50 euro bill and inserting it into one of the many convenient automated machines. With that said, having a metro card is by no means mandatory, with each ride costing a mere euro and change.
With a little bit of time, life in Madrid became increasingly more natural and I was able to settle into a more comfortable piso (apartment), become proficient in Spanish, make a boat load of amazing new friends, and adopt a truly Madrilenian lifestyle. Now I reminisce on this experience from the States, and prepare myself for the move back to Madrid in one month, when I will begin the process all over again.
The biggest piece of advice I can provide to prospective expats moving to Madrid, or any new foreign home, is to take things one day at a time, seek advice from those willing to help, and know that it will all work out in time. It is absolutely worth the headaches that are bound to arise. For practical advice on apartment hunting, setting up a bank account, and other important details, check out this link with all the tools that got me through: http://linzersadventure.blogspot.com/2012/01/moving-to-madrid-useful-links.html.
Lauren Linzer, from Raleigh, North Carolina, gave up the day to day grind of corporate sales to embrace life in Spain as an English teacher and travel writer in Madrid. She is the author of Eleven Eleven, a travel blog sharing personal accounts of life on the road and living abroad. Read more about her experiences at: http://linzersadventure.blogspot.com/