Living Abroad: First Impressions & Things I’ve Learnt


So I’ve been in Madrid for almost a month now, and although by no means does that make me an expert of all things expatriate, I have learnt a couple of things in my time here. So to procrastinate from studying for my exam next week and to waste some time until it’s an acceptable Spanish time to cook my frozen pizza (so international), I present to you a little curation of ways I’ve managed to stay alive until now.

1. Read Everything:

I don’t mean sitting inside, complaining about the heat, and spending hours reading trashy YA romance novels on my Nook– I mean read everything outside. Firstly I started this in an attempt to improve my abysmal Spanish, but I quickly realised that it would take a lot more than reading a couple of street signs to fix that train wreck. But it paid off in other ways, because I got a pretty good idea of locations and found it really easy to navigate around. I read Metro signs, shop signs, anything written next to something that looked cool– and it’s paid off, because I’m not even having to rely on my phone to get places now. ‘Oh, this is on Line 4… I can take it to x and get off at x!’ It’s definitely saved me a lot of stress, which takes me on to…

2. Don’t Panic:

If you ask anyone who knew me back home to describe me, a lot of the words would probably resemble ‘anxious, agitated, total complete scaredycat’, and it’s true. Back home I was a baby. The slightest little thing could set me off on a full blown panic attack. But in Madrid I’ve talked to new people, gotten lost in the early hours of the morning, set up phone contracts and bank accounts on my own, and pretty much just acted like a functioning human being… all without wanting to cry! And everything always worked out fine in the end. It’s really lame to say that I’m a ‘new me’ but in a lot of ways I am. I mean, in five days I’m going to be homeless and I’m not even panicking yet. That’s totally the Anti-Rosy.

3. Know Your Please and Thank Yous:

An obvious one, as we’re taught it as little kids, but it’s something that definitely transfers well to moving to a new country without knowing the language. If you’re ever in this situation, I have one piece of advice for you: be a three year old. Don’t cry and scream at throw food at people, but in other ways, become a child again. I am pretty much a Spanish three year old. I can count, say colours, and tell you some food that I like without using any proper sentence structure. The way I’ve been getting by in supermarkets, restaurants, and life in general is to just smile a lot and be polite. You know when you see parents tell their kid ‘say thank you’? Do that. To yourself. BE YOUR OWN PARENT AND THREE YEAR OLD. Even if I can’t understand 90% of what is going on around me, saying ‘gracias’, ‘por favor’, and ‘lo siento’ really does get you a long way– people will help you if you at least attempt the absolute basics of their language. Unless you’re the dick in the sandwich shop who didn’t understand what ‘is this vegetarian?’ meant even though I said it in Spanish. Rude.

4. Google Translate Is Your Friend:

The reason I am so good at talking about food in Spanish is because I spend the majority of my time outside reading menus and ingredients on anything I want to eat. Sure, I know what ham, chicken, and the like are, but Google Translate has really helped for the rest. You may look like a total douche stood outside the restaurant, typing every ingredient into your phone, but it pays off. I haven’t had any nasty surprises in my food so far, which was my biggest worry before coming to Spain. I eat a lot of vegetable sandwiches, cheese (never thought I’d complain about cheese, but there is so much cheese), and rice. So yeah, I may look like an annoying tourist, but whatever, I haven’t been harassed by ham in my salad yet (touch wood), so I guess I’m doing something right.

5. Don’t Forget Your Alone Time:

Moving to a new country alone is a weird experience. All of a sudden you’re thrust into this entire new social group where everyone is getting to know each other and exploring their new home. Which is great, and fun, and I totally recommend it. But don’t feel compelled to go somewhere because everyone else is. Sometimes you’ve just gotta refuel for a bit. Read a book, catch up on some TV, get an early night. For one thing, your bank balance will thank you, for another, it gives you time to reflect. I think if I’d have continued saying yes to every invitation that came my way, I would have been stuck in a loop of doing things I don’t really like. I didn’t like nightclubs in the UK and I’m not going to like them here, but I almost went to one in an attempt to fit in during my second week here. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t go. I may have missed out on some conversations the next Monday, but I retained some of my Rosy-ness. Introverted, TV-loving, constantly sleepy Rosy-ness. And now, almost a month into my time in Madrid, I’ve experienced both staying up until 4AM at street festivals and listening to the sounds of the city whilst I read a good book. Both excellent nights that I don’t regret.

So yeah. Maybe not the most articulate or useful thoughts, but when I first arrived in Spain I spent a few days googling for stuff like this and they all said the same thing. This is just something different on the topic. Overall, I’d say get shit done and be proactive, but also if you wanna stay in bed all day watching YouTube videos and eating cookies, then you go right ahead. You moved to another country on your own, you can do what you want.


Author: Rosanna Parrish

Brit exiled in Spain.

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