Ten Mistakes New Language Assistants Make (and how to avoid them + eBook giveaway)

My Spanish now-fiancé couldn’t help but laugh when I looked, puzzled, at our new coffee maker. I was jetlagged, yes, but also coming off six weeks of straight drip machine American coffee. The cafetera had me reconsidering a caffeine boost and swapping it for a siesta.

‘Venga ya,’ he said, exasperated, ‘every time you come back into town, you act like you’re a complete newbie to Spain!’ He twisted off the bottom of the pot, filled it with steaming water and ordered me to unpack.

Even after seven years of calling Spain home, I can so clearly remember the days when everything in Seville was new, terrifying and overwhelming. That time when the prospect of having a conversation with my landlord over the phone meant nervously jotting down exactly what I’d say to him before dialing.

You know my Spain story – graduate, freak out about getting a teaching job in Spain, hassles with my visa, taking a leap by moving to a foreign country where I knew not a soul. How I settled into a profession I swore I never would, found a partner and fought bureaucracy. I’ve come a long way since locking myself in my bedroom watching Arrested Development to avoid Spanish conversation, though each year I get more and more emails from aspiring expats and TEFL teachers who ask themselves the same questions:

Is it all worth it? Is it possible at all? How can I do it?

Like anyone moving to a foreign country, there’s a load of apprehension, endless questions, and a creeping sense of self-doubt as your flight date looms nearer and nearer. I tried and learned the hard way how to do practically everything, from look for a place to live to pay bills to find a way to make extra income. Call it dumb luck or call it nagging anyone who would lend a friendly ear, but I somehow managed to survive on meager Spanish and a few nice civil servants (and tapas. Lots of tapas.).

As a settled expat, I am quick to warn people that Spain is not all sunshine and siestas, and that it’s easy to fall into the same traps that got me during that long first year. Year after year, I see language assistants do the same, so let these serve as a warning:

Packing too much

Back in 2007, I packed my suitcase to the brim and even toppled over when I stepped off the train in Granada. Lesson learned – really think about what you’re packing, the practicality of every item and whether or not you could save space by purchasing abroad. If you’re smart about packing, you’ll have loads of room for trendy European fashions to wow your friends back home (and you won’t have to lug luggage up three flights of stairs).

Deciding on an apartment without seeing it

I was so nervous about the prospect of renting an apartment that I found one online, wired money and hoped for the best. Despite my gut telling me it was maybe not the smartest idea, I decided to grin and bear it. I ended staying in that same flat for three years. In hindsight, choosing a flat before seeing it was a stupid move that could have turned out poorly. What if I didn’t like my roommates, or the neighborhood? How could I tell if it was noisy or not? Would my landlords be giant jerks? Save yourself the trouble and worry about finding a place to live when you get here.

Choosing not to stay in touch with loved ones

My first weeks in Spain were dark ones – I struggled to see what my friends and family were up to on Facebook or messenger, and I did a terrible job of staying in touch with them. I was bursting to share my experience, but worried no one would relate, or worse – they simply wouldn’t care. Get over it and Facetime like crazy. That’s what siesta hour was invented for, right? Or at least Skype.

Not bringing enough money

Money is a sticky issue, and having to deal with what my father calls “funny money” makes it more difficult. Remember – even coins can buy you quite a bit! Consider bringing more money than you might think, because things happen. Some regions won’t pay assistants until December, or you may not be able to find tutoring side jobs. Perhaps you will fall in love with an apartment that is more expensive than you bargained for. Having a cushion will ensure you begin enjoying yourself and your new situation right away, without having to turn down day trips or a night out with new friends. 

Not taking time to learn Spanish

Moving is scary. Moving abroad is scarier. Moving abroad without being able to hold your own in the local language is the scariest. Take some time to learn Spanish and practice conversation at whatever cost. Spanish will help you accomplish things as mundane as asking for produce at the market to important situations like making formal complaints. Ah, and that brings me to my next point…

Not interacting with locals

I studied abroad in Valladolid and met not one Spanish person during my six weeks there. While I have great memories with my classmates and adored my host family, I feel that I missed out on what young people did in Spain (and I had trouble keeping up when they did talk to me). In most parts of the country, Spaniards are extremely friendly and open to meeting strangers. Even if it’s the old man having coffee next to you – lose your self-doubt and strike up a conversation. I scored cheaper car insurance just by talking to a lonely man at my neighborhood watering hole.

Adhering to timetables and traditions from your home country

As if adapting to language and a new job weren’t enough, Spain’s weird timetables can throw anyone into a funk. I tried getting a sensible night’s sleep for about two weeks when I started to realize that being in bed before midnight was nearly impossible. If you can’t beat them, siesta with them, I guess.

And that’s not to say you can’t bring your traditions to Spain, either. Making Thanksgiving for your Spanish friends is always memorable, as is dressing up on Halloween and carving watermelons for lack of pumpkins. Embrace both cultures.

Not exercising (and eating too many tapas)

My first weeks in Spain were some of my loneliest, to be honest. I hadn’t connected with others and therefore had yet to made friends. I skipped the gym and ate frozen pizzas daily. My weight quickly bloomed ten pounds. The second I began accepting social invitations and making it a point to walk, I dropped everything and more. Amazing what endorphins and Vitamin D can do!

Not getting a carnet joven earlier

Even someone who works to save money flubs – the carnet joven is a discount card for European residents with discounts on travel, entrance fees and even services around Europe. I waited until I was 26 to get one, therefore disqualifying myself from the hefty discounts on trains. This continent loves young people, so get out there and save!

Working too much

Remember that you’re moving to Spain for something, whether it’s to learn the language, to travel or to invest more time in a hobby. Maybe Spain is a temporary thing, or maybe you’ll find it’s a step towards a long-term goal. No matter what your move means to you, don’t spend all of your waking hours working or commuting – you’ll miss out on all of the wonderful things to do, see and experience in Spain. When I list my favorite things about Spain, the way of life is high on my list!

So how do you avoid these mistakes?

It’s easy: research. I spent hours pouring over blogs, reference books and even travel guides to maximize my year and euros in Spain. While there were bumps in the road, and I had to put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d like to recall, I survived a year in Spain and came back for six more (and counting).

That’s why COMO Consulting has brought out a new eBook to help those of you who are moving to Spain for the first time. In our nine chapter, 110-page book, you’ll find all of the necessary information to get you settled into Spain as seamlessly as possible. In it, we cover all of the documents you’ll need to get a NIE, how to open a bank account, how to seek out the perfect apartment, setting up your internet and selecting a mobile phone and much (much!) more.

Each chapter details all of the pertinent vocabulary you’ll need and we share our own stories of where we went wrong (so hopefully you won’t!). Being an expat means double the challenge but twice the reward, so we’re thrilled to share this book that Hayley and I would have loved to have seven years ago – we might have saved ourselves a lot of embarrassing mishaps! The book is easy to read and downloadable in PDF form, so you can take it on an e-reader, computer or tablet, and there’s the right amount of punch to keep you laughing about the crazy that is Spain.

Downloading Moving to Spain is easy – the button above is linked to COMO’s online shop. Click, purchase thru PayPal, and you’re set! You will receive email notification of a successful purchase and a link to download the eBook. You can also click here.

If you act quickly, you can score Moving to Spain for a discount this week:

         Timetable            Discount          Final Price
Monday, September 1 thru Wednesday, September 3                50%                 5€
Thursday, September 4 thru Friday, September 5                 25%               7,50€
From Saturday September 6                  0%                                            10€ 

 

(note that days are defined as GMT+1)

And get this – I’m giving away TWO of our eBooks, free of charge, to aspiring auxiliares. All you have to do is post a question in the comments, which I will gladly answer, and follow COMO Consulting on social media to win more entries. This contest is a quick one – just 48 hours – so if you don’t win, you can still get the eBook for a discounted price.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As someone who has been there, I know it’s tough to leave a life behind for a new one you know nothing about. But trust me, it’s worth it. You only have one life, why not make la vida española part of it? 

Please remember that intellectual property is just that – this eBook belongs to COMO Consulting Spain, is copyright and should not be duplicated, reproduced or resold. Remember that science project you worked crazy hard on in elementary school, and you beamed when it was over and you were proud? That’s how we feel about Moving to Spain: A Comprehensive Guide to Your First Weeks on the Iberian Peninsula. Gracias!

Big news: I bought a house in Spain!

I have a new hell.

The foreigner’s office has been officially replaced with a new place that wants to make me rip my hair out: IKEA. 

You see, I bought a house – a 125-square-meters-with-an-incredible-terrace and three stories and a kitchen large enough for an actual table and multiple bookshelves and closet space for my two flamenco dresses. There are two bathrooms, three bedrooms, air conditioning units in most rooms, mosquito nets on all of the windows and room to put in a dryer.

It’s a HOUSE, not a piso. And best of all, it’s in my favorite neighborhood in all of Seville: Triana.

But when the Novio and I signed our mortgage in June and began talking about painting and buying furniture and the logistics of moving all of our things, I knew his functionality and my hours decorating my doll houses would lead to arguments over money and space. 

In hindsight, it was genius to not go together to IKEA. The Novio and I did some online shopping one night, then he went and graciously wrote down the numbers and where to find our basics – a table, four chairs and bed frame – in the self-service area. We calculated 600€, just what we had leftover after buying a custom-made couch and the big appliances for the kitchen. I offered to go the following day and pay with our joint account, then have the whole pedido sent to our new place.

After picking the perfect time to go in Spain, despite having entered in the rebajas sales period, I quickly steered through the maze of cute set ups and couches that wanted to be sat on. I ordered our bed frame and found a few light fixtures, then steered right towards the self-service area. 

The headboard and table were heavy, but I felt triumphant for handling it all on my own and happily presented my debit card. 

Denied.

Again.

And a third time.

After asking my bank for help and getting nothing in return, picking everything up at IKEA once to have my credit card also denied, I threw my hands up in the air, asked the Novio to take out cash for me since my bank had frozen my accounts because of the new FATCA rule, and finally, five hours later, paid for our goods.

So. I essentially hate IKEA for being the torture that it is – an obstacle course riddled with carts and baby strollers, an endless amount of impulse buys staring me down and never-ending lines. Going three times in 24 hours did not help, either.

Not that you care about my current grudge against the Swedish home decoration king (though not their meatballs), here are some pictures of our soon-to-be hogar dulce hogar. 

and the best part…

The house is on a corner lot in the Barrio León section of Triana. Wide avenues, chalets and a few famous residents, like the San Gonzalo depiction of Christ and Our Lady of Health, and the family of singer Isabel Pantoja. Most are rumored to gossip at renowned bakery Confitería Loli or in the dinky but bustling Mercado de San Gonzalo.

To me, the house is the physical manifestation of making the decision to live abroad permanently (or until I’ve paid it off), and whatever is to come next with the Novio.

Want to know more about the process of buying a house in Spain? Be patient…I’ll eventually figure out what I just did for the sake of having a house house in a beautiful barrio.

Molly Sears-Piccavey: An Interview with a Counterpart in Granada

Blogging can be a strange thing – you often find you ‘know’ people without having met them face-to-face (and when you do meet them, you don’t have to fumble through the awkward introductions). One of those people is Molly Sears-Piccavey, a British resident in nearby Granada. She and I have been reading one another’s blogs for years, and we finally got the chance to meet at the annual Writers and Bloggers About Spain meet-up earlier this month.

Read more about Molly and Granada, and be sure to check out her great blog about her adoptive city, Piccavey.com.

Tell us about yourself …

I’m a British girl living in Granada, Spain. I have been here since 2006 and know the place well. This city has a rich historic background, many fascinating buildings and traditions. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are a breathtaking sight to see. On a warm spring day you can still see the snow on the peaks of the mountains just a few miles outside the city. The beaches are a 35 minute drive from the city and the area along the coast produces tropical fruit such as mangoes, bananas and avocados.

What does Granada have that can’t be seen in other places?

Most people know of Granada because of the Alhambra palace. This monument and the typical Albaicin quarter are both UNESCO World Heritage sites. But reaching past the city, the province of Granada really is a land of contrasts. You can see beaches, rivers, mountains, deserts, lush valleys and historic sites within a 30 minute drive of the city. Most of the year, you can see snow on the mountains and in summer we have red-hot temperatures. Because of the diverse geography, it is great for outdoor sports such as walking, climbing and cycling.

What is the best time to visit Granada?

As Granada has a ski resort and beaches 30 minutes away it’s a wonderful place to visit in all seasons. May is my favourite time because at the beginning of the month there is a popular celebration known as the crosses of May. This time of year the orange blossom is in flower around the region and the plants and flowers are particularly bright and colourful.

Can you recommend somewhere to eat in Granada?

Granada really is a heavenly place for foodies. It has lots of local produce and a large selection of seasonal dishes. It you want to sample the local tapas the most popular area is Calle Navas right by Granada town hall.  There are bars and restaurants packed in one after another. In Granada Spain’s only revolving restaurant gives views of the city and of the snow-capped mountains, too. Panoramic 360 is a good option for a romantic dinner with views.

The Hidden secret about Granada:
Granada is often affected by Earthquakes and tremors as it is in a seismic region. On 26th December at the Virgen de Angustias church in Granada a special service is held. The idea is that the Patron of Granada, the Virgen de las Angustias, protects us for another year from a large Earthquake such as the disaster back in 1884.

Tell me something else about Granada…

There is a saying about Granada: Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.

In English this translates as:   “Miss, please give a coin to the beggar, there isn’t anything worse than being a blind man in Granada¨

Come to Granada and see if you agree!

Interested in Granada or Molly? Check out her blog with recommendations on what to see and do in Granada: piccavey.com and see her interview about me, too!

Seville Snapshots: PINC, Seville’s Networking Group for English-speaking Professionals

How many times have you said to a friend, ‘You really have to meet Pepa [or María, or Julie, or whoever]?’ As the resident fair godmother of guiris in Seville, I meet women constantly, causing the Novio to think I have a secret loverboy on the side.

From this idea, plus encouragement from my friends Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Stacey of La Guiri Habla, PINC was born. Well, actually, PINC was born a year before, in Madrid, with a woman called Lisette Miranda. Tired of mere social groups in Spain’s capital, Lisette began a professional women’s group, designed to mentor, inspire and connect English-speaking women in Madrid.

With her blessing, Seville got its first professional group under the PINC Umbrella, and we held our first meeting on October 25th at Merchant’s Malt House. Fourteen women were in attendance – several teachers and academy owners, a hostel owner, a life coach and one interested in non-profit. We introduced ourselves and our products and projects, Lisette gave us a crash course in making our Linked In profiles attractive to employers, and we shared a cocktail and networking session afterwards.

Meetings will be monthly, held on a Friday at 8p.m., in the same format. The goal is to collaborate, inspire and educate. Members will take turns sharing a skill that they’re an expert in, allowing everyone to learn something new and hopefully open their minds to tapping into a skill they didn’t know they had. Our November meeting will be held on Friday the 22nd at 8 p.m. at Merchant’s, and you can sign up to attend here: http://doodle.com/4diusq7qgtf6457urq5dsug2

Interested in PINC? Please contact my thru my personal email address or through my Facebook page so that I can add you to the list! PINC is open to an English-speaking woman in the Seville area.

The Guiri Complex (Or, Why I Can’t Have It All)

The other day, Seville was held hostage by light rain. I did a bit of puddle jumping, nearly taking out morning shoppers and walkers with my umbrella as I ran to catch the bus. The bus, in its normal fashion, stopped down the street and stayed there for five months.

As I tried to catch my breath, a man in his 70s covered me from the light sprinkle. He reeked of cigarettes and anise, just the way I like my Spanish abuelos. “Ofu, what a day,” he hacked, a small chuckle caught in his throat. We smiled at each other for a few moments before he offered a bit more, “Look at that bus, getting caught in traffic. People here don’t know what to do in the rain.”

It was my turn to chuckle. Being from Chicago, we’re used to two seasons in the year (winter and construction on the Dan Ryan) and four in one day. I can withstand heat and bitter cold, have survived three tornadoes and even learned to drive in the snow when I first got my driver’s permit. Upon mentioning this, the old man’s eyes lit up. “But your Spanish is impeccable! You may, in fact, be more sevillano than me!”

Aha, there it is. Whenever I seem to be out doing my normal guiri thing (in this case, picking up some forms for the academy), people stop to talk to me. Most are keen on touting my Spanish or are shocked that I moved away from home so young. Y tus padres? They ask, unable to fathom how a child would leave the comfort of their parents’ home, where laundry is done for them and tupperwares full of food dished out.

When my parents were visiting last year, my habits puzzled them. How could I be hungry at 3pm? What do you mean stores aren’t open on Sundays? You really do take a siesta? I didn’t come to Spain to simply hang out and learn some Spanish. I never set out to be Spanish or change my habits, either. What’s funny is that, the longer I live in Spain, the more American I seem to feel.

Just recently, an American food store opened up right in the center (and, ironically, in the same locale where I bought my flamenco dress). The chatter amongst my guiri friends was electric, with everyone sharing pictures of their goodies from the cell phones. When I announced, “I’m kind of against the store,” I got puzzled and even annoyed responses. How could I not love paying 2,50€ for two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I kid, and I almost did, except for that I already had some at home!).

Here’s the thing: the trips the Novio takes to the US always bring American gifts and the special treats my friends bring me on their visits are treated like contraband. I’ve left an entire box of Do-si-do Girl Scout cookies nearly untouched – I love opening my cupboard for some sugar to see them there. The Novio dutifully recites back what he needs to bring for Thanksgiving on his upcoming trip (and, bless his heart, he bought me new skivvies this summer at VS – it must be love), and my mother knows intuitively that I will always need greeting cards when she sends me a package. Just like in the Hunger Games, American Parcel Day means I won’t go empty-stomached.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, vanilla extract, economy-sixed boxes of Cheeze-its. The Novio would take me, wide-eyed and fistful of dollar bills, to the American part of his base for the contraband, usually in the form of cans of Dr. Pepper and ranch dressing. The anticipation of these trips would build and build until I’d consume the overly sweet soda, usually after hitting the gym (I don’t feel guilty, in case you were just wondering).

What’s more, I’ve finally gotten cooking and baking with limited resources more or less figured out, and having all of those things so readily available would take the fun out of it.

Another case in point: When I visited my cousin for Oktoberfest, I nearly had a heart attack when we went into the grocery store on her Army base. For the first time in a year, I was technically on American soil, but my carry-on restrictions meant I had to pick and choose the most important goodies. Reese’s, Funfetti cake mix and cranberry sauce made the cut, and I almost sighed from relief that I didn’t have much room between Camarón and the dirndl. When I enquired about German beer, Christyn said it was only sold in the nearby gas station. Apparently Bud Light > Paulaner (wtf).

I think there’s a big difference between me and them: They came for work and because the Army required time abroad at one of the overseas bases. I came because moving to Spain sounded like a fun way to skip out of America for a year. I didn’t come for anyone but myself; I came for the adventure and the chance to learn Spanish, and I stayed for the culture, the challenge and the Novio (duh, and the food).

Perhaps it’s the fact that Seville continues to modernize, taking with it some of the old world charm that had me so smitten in the first place. As my friend Mickey pointed out, there were no Starbucks when she came to Seville eight years ago, and now there are three on the same stretch of street (and this was once my homesickness remedy). Souvenir stores have elbowed out century-old hardware stores in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, and there’s English everywhere I turn. My ciudad de alma is starting to seem a lot like any mid-sized American city, and it’s stinging a little bit.

But don’t get me wrong: I relish in the fact that the TDT finally works and I can watch TV in English. Hamburgers, guacamole and roast chicken get made just as often in our home as fabada and tortilla francesa do. I speak just as much English each day as I do Spanish. America is where I lived the first 22 years of my life, and I consider it my home.

There’s much more to it than looking the part with my freckles, blue eyes and reddish hair against the dark Andalusian beauties. The first time the Novio saw me in a flamenco dress, his eyes lit up a bit, and then he just laughed at a beef-loving American stuffed into a traje de gitana. Try as I might, I look the part and even act it. Nevermind that I am a card-carrying resident of the EU, that I belong to a country club and that my partner serves in the Spanish military. I still believe that arriving on time is late, that one can only stay up so long on weeknights (even when she works at 3pm) and that the 4th of July is the best damn date on the calendar because, let’s face it, I love hot dogs and fireworks more than jamón and bullfights.

The Guiri Complex is just that: the inability to really feel like both of your feet are in the same place. My heritage and my native tongue make me a hot commodity in Spain, meaning I’ll always have a means to stay here and work. I’m the lovable friend who makes language blunders and bakes brownies for birthdays, the affable guiri, or foreigner,  in the group.

My friends back home think that living in Spain must be romantic and full of sunshine and trips. It is and it isn’t. If I lived in America, I’d be working, paying bills and contemplating what to make for dinner. I do that in Spain, too. The currency I use for the ingredients for that dinner are bought in euros and sometimes have funny names, but it’s really no different. In fact, I’m often jealous that my friends are all so close to one another, can be at one another’s weddings and make a salary that allows them some luxuries.

I sometimes feel like I live in a strange cross between everything I knew as a kid and the excitement of experiencing a new culture and language from the ground. I still cling to my American traditions and comfort food, but have adopted new holidays and a more adventurous palate. I’m constantly torn between two places where it feels like my heart belongs: Seville and Chicago.

Do you experience the guiri complex? Are your feet in just one bucket, or in both? And how do you cope?

Preguntas Ardientes: Is an International Bank Account Right for Me?

I get loads of questions from you guys about moving to Spain and settling in, how to handle money and how to learn Spanish (and what to eat, duh). Up and moving to any country has its own set of headaches – both before and after – and I try and answer as best I can when readers ask questions on everything to how to work in Spain to how to deal with homesickness. That’s where Preguntas Ardientes comes in – a series dedicated to the ins and outs of expat life in Iberia. If you’re curious or have a burning question, email me at sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com – I’d love to hear from you!

Recently, the Novio and I were at a gala for his squadron’s anniversary. Most of his coworkers are aware that his partner is foreign with a flair for sevillanía, so I often become the center of attention during cocktail hour when they shoot a million questions at me (and I’m really more interested in the canapés, jerks).

The most common? What was the hardest part about moving abroad? After adapting to the language and finding friends, the most challenging part of daily life was money (and it’s something you guys ask me about often, too!).

I had and still maintain an income in Spain, whereas as all of my bills were linked to accounts back in the US. I had no idea how to pay taxes in either country (or if I even needed to), and transferring money between euros and dollars soon began to eat into my savings account. Having one foot in two places can be difficult – but then again, I expected to be in Spain for just one year.

While I have kept three bank accounts in two different countries, I never considered offshore banking or international accounts. No, this isn’t the stuff of international spies or crime rings, but a convenient way to handle your money while abroad thanks to flexible options and lower costs of account maintenance.

Let’s face it – Spain is a country that has a high international population, and these people often have ties to their home country – both mentally and financially. For expats who still receive payments of benefits from their home country (such as retirement or payouts, or even freelance work), considering this type of service is one of the biggest benefits of an offshore savings account. You don’t need to worry about converting dollars to euros to pounds and back in your head, nor deal with spending more money to make transfers between bank accounts, as an international account will allow you to do this all for a small monthly fee.
Is an international bank account right for you? If you’ve still got one foot in each bucket, then it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for extra perks, such as travel insurance to cover you wherever you go, then you should more than consider it. Sometimes, you can get more financial benefits from having your assets in just one account, rather than splitting them up between different institutions. Doing your research really does pay off (I love puns and you should, too).
Do you have an international bank account? How does it work for you?
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