Every expat who has moved to a foreign country, whether for decades or three months, goes through the bunglings, searching for street signs (some of which aren’t there), trying to find the perfect apartment, or just damn trying to find an apartment. Lauren Linzer shares her hilarious experiences.
By Lauren Linzer
With all my adorable European outfits tightly packed away, the essential paperwork and tickets printed, basic Spanish flashcards in hand, and the tearful goodbyes said and done, there was nothing more to do than board my plane and begin a new, wondrous life abroad in Madrid, Spain.
The process up to this point had been relatively painless, with packing, learning the essential Spanish phrases, and finalizing housing arrangements being my main objectives. The plan upon arrival was simple: settle into my new place, take the first week to get organized, and then promptly begin TEFL training, a one month course to teach me how to teach. What could go wrong?
I quickly learned what could go wrong shortly after setting foot in this massive foreign city. Enthusiasm was seeping out of my pours as the taxi driver pulled up to my new apartment building, bright and early, unloading my two giant suitcases and leaving me on the doorstep. I was greeted by three male strangers, all from different corners of the world, who would be my roommates, and as they led me to my “bedroom” I was given my first dose of reality.
I peered into a closet sized space, with a tiny cot to sleep on and a closet that would barely hold half of my things. I was too jet-lagged to worry about it, so I accepted my new room and shut my eyes for the remainder of the morning. When I awoke, I realized I was starving and that now it was time to face the city to hunt for sustenance.
Little did I realize that a trip to the supermarcado (supermarket) would be a stage for humiliation. My lack of Spanish proficiency became quickly evident and a chill of dread shot through my body. I still needed to set up a bank account, obtain a Spanish phone number, get myself to class, and learn how to navigate the Madrid metro system. As if that wasn’t enough, I was beginning to feel a scratch in my throat. Dear God, please tell me I’m not getting sick too!
All I could think was, “What did I get myself into!?”
I struggled through my first week, awkwardly getting by with very little help. I didn’t take into account that it would be an interesting challenge to extract enough cash from the ATM to pay for lofty expenses like rent, deposit, and class fees.
At last, I received some slight relief on day one of English class. Entering into a room full of young, prospective English teachers just like me sent a warm, comforted feeling that I had been in desperate need of since my arrival.
Our eccentric instructor immediately informed us of the challenges that had already become painfully evident to me. The most important tidbit provided was that if you have ten things to accomplish in a day, expect to fulfill, at most, one of them and this is completely acceptable.
Between siesta closing times (it is very common for establishments to close between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.), inconsistent processes, and everything being done in a new language, achieving seemingly simple tasks proved to be much more complicated than if my fellow students and me were in our respective home countries.
Luckily for me, I already had a place to stay, but I couldn’t say the same for my fellow English teachers-in-training. And forget about getting a resident’s card. That could take months! We shared commiserations and found ourselves juggling school assignments with running around town to get set up. But there was a method to the madness and, one by one, we slowly became settled, begrudgingly accepting the Spanish way of life, but feeling a profound joy beneath all the surface frustration.
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. Read more about her experiences at: http://linzersadventure.blogspot.com/