2)Research where to live – I can’t place enough emphasis on the importance of this. This, and of course at work, is where most of your time will be spent. Therefore it makes sense that as well as being affordable it ticks other boxes too. If necessary, stay in a Pensión for longer on arrival to your new city if it means you get more time to find the apartment that suits you. Location is of massive importance, be it proximity to work, to the beach or Spanish schools you may wish to attend. Also, consider public transport costs when factoring in the comparatively cheaper rent outside of a city centre. Although I ended up with a very clean and affordable apartment in my first year, also with three bedrooms, its position out of the city centre as well as being quite far from any beaches became more of an issue as the months passed by.
3) Research the city/place you´re moving to – I had read many blogs online prior to my move stating that Bilbao was wet, but I should have compared its annual rainfall to Newcastle to find out just how much wetter it was. So if climate is important in your decision, research this area thoroughly. If you want to be close to the beach, don’t just roughly gauge from Google maps the distance to the sea. Discover whether there are actually coastal areas where you can either live or visit easily on public transport.
If your secondary priority after teaching is to learn Spanish, research the type of Spanish spoken in each city. For example, some cities are renowned for having ‘purer’ Spanish, some pronounce their z’s as ‘th’, some don’t etc etc. In Bilbao for example, many people speak Basque (and Spanish) so you will find your recently researched Spanish greetings may be reciprocated in words you’ve never heard of. If, like my girlfriend, you talk about playing Gaelic Football/GAA as an important factor in determining your dream destination, contact local Irish pubs and look for Facebook groups. Same applies for 11-a-side football which can be tough to break into without the right contacts, or to organise yourself unless you make 21 friends. If you like big cities, check the population and amenities of your soon to be new hometown. If you can´t live without Heinz Beans and Dairy Milk chocolate, check that there is an internationally catered supermarket close by.
4) Try to do something ‘local’ – Could be tailored to your tastes but I include sport in this from my perspective. I play Padel tennis with the husband of a colleague and I find this small effort makes me feel a little more ingratiated with some aspect of the local culture. It also allows for me to practice some Spanish in a fun way. Other options could be taking a local cooking course for example, or perhaps easier than both of these options would be to make friends from the local area and spend a lot of time with them. Whatever your hobbies may be, you could try to mould them so that you do them in a more sociable way – for example, instead of joining a gym you could join a running club or a rowing club.
5) Check accessibility from home – This is again something I didn’t do. Bilbao is not particularly well-connected to the UK and Ireland apart from London (to where flights are quite cheap I believe). However, a short bus trip away is Santander airport which connects to Edinburgh and Dublin through excellently priced and averagely comfortable Ryanair flights. Barcelona, Malaga and Madrid are Internationally well connected but beyond that, do your research for access to your home-town. This is important for people visiting and any trip home you might take at Christmas, for instance.
6)Be prepared to work awkward hours – One of the many things we owe gratitude to Spanish culture for are siestas. There is nothing better than an afternoon nap after a day of napping on the beach or around the pool. However, this is actually a real thing which comes into practice in your working life. In Andalucia it’s necessary as it is too hot to work in the blistering heat during summer, however a longer lunch and general downtime is prevalent throughout all of Spain and the Basque Country. This may result in your working day being significantly longer, with breaks throughout the day. As a teacher of English, you will generally be teaching adults when they are not at work/university/napping and children when they are not at school. Therefore, prepare for your timetable to fit around their schedule.
7) Be prepared to stand on escalators and walk diagonally – I’m not sure if this is the case in the rest of Spain but I couldn’t write this post without mentioning it. First of all, people walk in a strange manner. They walk diagonally on footpaths, they walk in large groups all formed in a line on the footpath leaving no room to navigate, and worst of all they stand side by side on escalators. If you have to take a metro twice a day this gets frustrating. If you’re into Yoga etc, just roll with it and think about streams and meadows. If you’re like me, get very annoyed and have pretend arguments in your head. Also, on a similar topic, people don’t queue normally. As in abnormally, not infrequently.
8) Take advantage of buses and internal flights when possible – Loosely linked to Tip 5 but more so in terms of weekend trips for yourself. National bus service Alsa (https://www.alsa.es/en), runs frequently and efficiently and in my experience is relatively cheap. Depending on where you move to, the national rail service Renfe (http://www.renfe.com/) also falls into that categorisation albeit a little more expensive. You can travel from Cordoba to Malaga in 45 minutes on an AVE train for example. San Sebastian and Santander are both accessible in around 90 minutes from Bilbao by Alsa bus, at a cost of approximately €6 for one-way.
As well as buses and trains, domestic flights can also be very reasonably priced, particularly with Vueling (https://www.vueling.com/es). I have flown to Seville, and from Malaga, with this airline without any problem. Again depending where you move to you could visit many locations nationally, and internationally for that matter, for less than you would usually pay from the UK.
9) Intercambio/Language Exchange – This is an absolute must for those wishing to develop their Spanish. This is a facility which allows you to meet up with a Spanish speaker, and spend 50% of the time practising one another’s language and vice versa. The website I used was http://www.conversationexchange.com/.
This involved setting up a profile and then contacting people, or being contacted, as appropriate. Obviously use common sense when deciding who to meet for the first time, but I formed a good friendship with my ‘Intercambio’ and generally met once a week when possible. It is an excellent way to practice speaking, which will benefit you greatly, whether hand in hand with a course of study, or as your only form of practice. You can dictate how often you meet.
10) Don’t forget why you moved there – A repetitive theme throughout and if you’re reading this then the primary reason for moving to Spain for you is presumably to teach English. However, do not lose sight of your other hobbies or desires. If you are merely teaching to maintain a position in Spain to further your Spanish, then make sure you leave time for your Spanish. If you want to become an excellent surfer then allow time for that. If you want to write average generic blogs then…. you get the picture. Teaching can be all-consuming at times and it is often difficult to switch off from it, particularly in your first year. As much as you can, take advantage of any spare time to pursue your other hobbies, be it fitness, travel or academic. Your teaching will benefit in the long run if you are happy and progressing in other areas, not just stressing over lesson plans and troublesome students (most students are far from troublesome!)
I haven’t included a specific section to do with paperwork such as a NIE or social security as I was lucky enough that my employer helped me out greatly in this regard. Therefore I would suggest you question any potential employer on this or check out http://www.spainwise.net which has some excellent information and guidance regarding legalities and paperwork, as well as job searches and much more.
Last but not least, enjoy it! And if the sarcastic tone I have adopted regarding Bilbao has deterred you let me show you some of the things you can see here…
If you have any questions regarding this post or any others, do not hesitate to comment below. Or visit https://twitter.com/geordieunsure?lang=es for the Twitter page, or search for geordieunsure on Facebook.