As I have been here in Spain for a month now, I feel like I am ready to do some reflective thinking. It has taken me a little time to settle in to my new life here, at first I was staying in a youth hostel and felt a bit here-there-and-everywhere, struggling to make friends as lots of different people in the hostel were coming and going. It also took me a while to get used to being by myself and not having my friends and family to rely on as much.
And with all this in mind I have composed a list of things I am glad I did.
1. Bring photos/momentos to cheer you up in those lonely moments
I brought 1 framed photo with me, which sits proudly on my bedside cabinet, but I wish I had brought a few more. There is nothing worse than sitting in your bedroom by yourself, feeling lonely as you haven’t made any strong friendships yet and feeling like there is nobody in the world who is there for you (which of course isn’t true but we all feel like this now and again!) At times like these it is important to have things to remind you of the ones you love, whether it’s a photo, a present that they bought you or simply something that reminds you of them.
2. Put yourself out there!!
When I first moved here I had full intentions to completely put myself out there and get involved in as much as possible, but on my arrival I felt overwhelmed at the fact that I was completely alone in a foreign country (whose language I haven’t completely mastered). Once I was a bit more used to the Andalusian accent and the fact that it was ok if I didn’t understand every single word it became easier, but I definitely recommend befriending some local people (I used an intercambio Facebook page to meet locals who wanted to practise their English) as they can show you best the places to visit and act as a tour guide. I also recommend biting the bullet and sightseeing solo, this means you don’t have to wait to settle in you can just pack your sunglasses, purse and some water and get walking. Although this was a struggle in the 38+ degree heat so I actually waited until it cooled down a bit before I spent hours walking round in the sun.
3. Bring all important documents pre-printed
Spanish bureaucracy at its finest means waiting hours in a queue, being sent back and forwards to various offices and being told to return in 10 days time with extra documentation (which I never did… oops!). To make this process a lot easier, I brought copies of all important documents before I left England, including photocopies of my passport, my University insurance, important contact details, my EHIC card, copies of university forms that need completing and flight/hostel/bus confirmation.
4. Download your city on Google Maps
This one is thanks to my boyfriend who showed me how to do this! Unless you have a 3G plan in your country, I definitely suggest that you download your city and surrounding areas on the mobile app of Google Maps. This means that you can search places, see directions and figure out the best route all without using important data. This has been a life saver for me when visiting monuments, trying to find specific shops or just seeing what is close to my current location. However it is NOT possible to see walking, cycling or bus routes while offline so I recommend researching this in advance if you are unsure, you can still use the view of streets to navigate your way but if you need to know which bus to take you definitely need to research this first.
5. Research your job/study location and visit it before your first day
To avoid stress and you being late on your first day at work/uni, I would visit your workplace before you start your job. This means that on your first day you confidently know the way there, which bus to take, which building it is and how long it takes to get there. This will help to create a good impression as you arrived calm, collected and on time (or 10 minutes early if you’re me).
6. Try to limit your use of English
This point is half of what I did and half of what I would do differently. While from the moment I arrived in Spain I tried my best to communicate with the locals: ordering drinks, asking directions, chatting to people, inevitably I retreated back into English for comfort: watching my favourite shows Catfish and the GBBO, Facetiming family and friends etc. To stop myself doing this I decided to live with a Spanish family to increase my exposure to every day conversations, I downloaded Spanish books on my Kindle (Harry Potter) and started watching Spanish TV. These little things all add up and although it may not seem like you are taking everything in, it definitely pays off and you can see the benefits when you begin to understand a full TV programme, or manage to follow a joke/story when out with Spanish friends.
7. Last and not least: MONEY
You definitely need to come abroad with some cash saved up and not rely on Erasmus, it can take weeks for your Erasmus grant to come through. I brought limited Euros with me (thanks mum) to avoid carrying huge amounts of cash and invested in a WeSwap (free £5 when you sign up using that link) card which has proven a great idea. The card allows you to load Pounds and convert it into Euros (or other currency conversions), although for free transfers you need to wait 7 days so do this in advance. I use this card to pay my rent and for my living costs.
A few more things to consider:
1. Get someone to help you pack! A parent, partner or friend will help you squeeze everything in and can double check that you have all the essentials.
2. Keep ALL your money and documentation in your hand luggage, along with a spare change of clothes and toothbrush in case your suitcase goes missing and you have to manage for a few days without.
3. Arrange your permanent living arrangements after you’ve arrived, I know some people who have nightmare landlords and at least once you are in the country you can view the flat and get a feel for the people that you will be living with.
4. How early do you want to arrive in your host country? If work/uni starts on the Monday I recommend going a few days before, I arrived 3 days before I was due to start my job to give me a chance to settle in a bit and unpack first.
Things NOT to do:
1. Don’t bring a physical dictionary- your phone or a notebook will be enough!
2. Don’t spend your days sat at home wishing you were back in England- you will be in fourth year before you know it and wishing you were still living care-free abroad.
3. Try not to judge people based on their culture- it is all they know and after all you may learn something new.
4. Don’t resent people back home for not being able to visit- it is hard being away from your loved ones but they might not be able to visit you (money, time, travel, work commitments etc) and that’s ok! Make the most of your new-found independence.
5. Don’t be shy! Try and expose yourself to as many new experiences as possible- join a sports club, make a cafe your local for weekend breakfasts, do yoga in the park, go on bike rides with friends, have a girls movie night… the world really is your oyster!
But DO have an amazing time and make the most of every day!
What would you have done differently or kept the same regarding your first weeks abroad?
Are you going abroad soon and have any specific questions/worries about it?
Let me know and hope you enjoyed the read!