Today I am verrrry happy to introduce you to Hannah, who joins the Snug gang to share some of secrets about living abroad in Spain fresh out of university. Hannah is one of my oldest chums from Norfolk and is currently bossing it abroad chomping on cured meats and drinking Alhambra. She's basically #lifegoals, so I'll hand over to her without further ado!
Like many unemployed graduates and young people our age, I have recently spent a lot of time answering the question “Tell me about yourself/ your last job/ your future plans/ where you got your fabulous tan” at job interviews. Maybe not so much that last question...
Had I been asked this a year ago, I probably would’ve given quite a run of the mill answer. Perhaps “I just graduated from the University of Sheffield/ I worked as an unpaid intern/ I would really like to have a job in the imminent future please thank you…’ However, now my reply is slightly different.
In not an uncommon trend for the newly graduated twenty-something, I left university unsure about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Journalist, campaigner, teacher, diplomat, civil servant, travel writer… in my final year of university my career plans fluctuated just as much as they did when I was twelve, if slightly less urban dance related. The only thing I honestly knew would make me happy was if I was doing something speaking Spanish, a skill that I had let fall by the wayside after a summer au pairing two years before.
So this time just over a year ago, a last-minute stroke of luck gave me a job as a British Council language assistant, and within a few weeks, I moved to the Southern fringes of Europe, 1,492 miles from my home-town of Norwich. In addition to my aforementioned cracking tan and a crippling addiction to olives, my nine months living in Malaga were incredible and gave me so much more than I ever imagined they would when I left the UK.
Malaga is a beautiful city, and turned out to be completely different from what I had pictured, even feared slightly, before departing. Boasting a scorching Mediterranean climate and a wealth of glorious, golden beaches, hordes of holiday-makers descend upon the Costa del Sol every year. Annually, almost 14 million passengers pass through the region’s airport and coastal towns such as Nerja, Torremolinos and Benalmadena are renowned for being over-run with British and German tourists during high season. I’m not going to lie, before I went to Malaga the first ideas that came to my head were of burnt binge-drinking British tweens, rather than the home from home I came to know and love.
This was not to be the case. The city is home to a Roman theatre, two Moorish fortresses, a shed-load of museums and a modern port, as well as a few sandy beaches. The old town is a pedestrianized mix of wide, white-stone –paved streets and winding back-alleys. Look up anywhere and you’re fanned by colourful window shutters and almost every week the city hosts an event, festival or feast day, with locals and tourists alike filling the centre. Tapas bars line the streets offering deals where you get a caña (small beer) and tapa for less than a pound, meaning eating out is often cheaper than eating in. Saying no to evening drinks is never an option. Fish and seafood, traditional tapas such as patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), albondigas (meatballs), and local dishes such as berenjenas con miel (fried aubergine with a local honey sauce) are always on the menu.
Just as the city was so much more than I expected, the job itself was incredibly enjoyable; the staff embraced me as one of their own and the students made me feel more famous than Hannah Montana, my namesake according to the children. I never woke up dreading going to work and something would happen every day that would make me laugh. One particularly hilarious moment came when teaching sea animals to a second year class, who had picked up on the pattern that you can often just cut off the final O or A of a word to make a Spanish word English (planta, evento, sexo etc…) When twenty six seven-year olds applied this rule and started yelling their guess of the English word for seal (foca), the results were entertaining to say the least.
As amazing as the past nine months were, I can’t say that there weren’t some really tough periods, however much to the contrary my beach-lounging, Euro pop-clubbing, Andalusian-travelling Facebook profile might suggest.
My first week in Malaga was an experience that I would gladly never relive. The stress of finding accommodation, dealing with landlords, signing contracts, obtaining residency papers, opening a bank account, getting a phone contract…. All those little things that take time and patience in the UK, take more time and more patience in Spain. The Spanish pace of life is a double edged sword: a slow, relaxed and unhurried way of doing things can be wonderful when you aren’t working to a tight schedule, or sleeping in an eight bed-dorm trying to find a place to live three days before you start work.
In hindsight, that week taught me a lot about myself, lessons I will take on and force myself to remember when I come to a new challenge or potential turning point in life. The fact that I over-came each hurdle alone is something of which I’m very proud. I learnt to always have faith in my instincts; nothing is worse than a dodgy landlord or better than awesome flatmates.
Communication was the next hurdle. Learning a language was a lot more challenging than I had expected, not the grammar or verb structures, or even the dreaded subjunctive tense. What is really hard doesn’t appear in any textbook. Commanding emotion, to explain how you feel when upset, to tell an anecdote or to flirt without looking like a complete tool. Frankly, I’m pretty witty in my native tongue and for a while I worried that my Spanish alter-ego was a duller, less entertaining version of my English self...
Luckily, I had extremely kind housemates and Spanish speaking friends who would good-naturedly listen to my muddled Spanglish, as well as lots of English- speaking amigos with whom I didn’t have to worry about communication mishaps, and could take a break of the constant conjugating and translating. My time living in such a diverse, international city such as Malaga allowed me to make friends from all over the world: lovely Argentinians, who fed me copious amounts of dulce de leche; amazing Australians, who welcomed me into their homes, friendships and crazy lives; Italians who perforated my eardrums with their high-volume verbal communication and inflated my waistline threefold with their cooking; kind Spaniards who patiently corrected my language mistakes; sweet English and insanely fun Irish girls… The list is extensive and I am thankful to everyone for having made my time in Malaga what it was.
Whilst I made a lot of lovely international buddies, living abroad also taught me about the difficulties, and the real importance, of keeping in contact with old friends. The ever expanding list of neofriendships plus stresses and demands of the newfound ‘grown-up’ life means that it's sometimes difficult to keep up with childhood or university pals. There would be times in my year abroad when I knew the friends that I really needed were the ones not living on the same land as me. I’m talking about the friends who ask about your aging cat’s health and your sibling’s love life. For some of us, the ones who attended every Harry Potter release with you, be it dressed as a Basilisk, broomstick or the entirety of Hogwarts castle.
Fortunately, expats across the globe can all raise a glass to incredible inventions such as Facebook, Skype and Whatsapp. Indeed, that power of being able to freely and instantly communicate with people thousands of miles away is an amazing thing and something I really valued when times got hard in Spain. Skype was there for when I needed a proper conversation and Whatsapp for when I needed to lovingly remind a friend of “the game”.
I think this is one of the greatest things I will take from my time living in Spain. Aside from the fact that games console is consola and not consolodor (I was expecting Nintendo 64 as an answer, and was rather shocked when my housemate replied in English that he’d never owned a dildo when he was younger). To really appreciate and keep contact with friends as much as possible, old and new, where-ever they are in the world.
I’ll raise a Rioja to that!
Keep up with Hannah's Spanish adventure on twitter!
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