The fleeting thought had crossed my mind a few times in the past few days, but as I faced a room full of school children staring at me and tried to understand a single word of the conversation between them and their teacher it solidified in my mind…
Had I made a mistake moving to Spain?
The first days of moving to a new country can be rough, in fact, the first weeks or even months can be rough. So much leads up to the point of leaving and it seems to drag on forever. Then comes the rushed last minute packing, the holding-back-tears goodbyes, and after shuffling around uncomfortably in a plane seat and watching so many movies you can’t remember them anymore, you’re shunted into the whirlwind of a new country and culture.
I knew this. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. I tried to make it easier on myself. By chance I had a friend living here, and I had a job so I didn’t need to worry, or so I thought.
Working in Spain with the Auxiliar de Conversación program
My first day at the school in Spain did not go well. I arrived in Almería the day before I started work in the Auxiliar de Conversaciòn program. When the cab I took to make things easier dropped me outside the gates, I tried to walk into the wrong school. The cab driver sounded the horn and pointed to the opposite side of the street. Except I didn’t know how to get in past the high fences and seemingly locked gate. I walked around the entire outside of the school before seeing some others enter the main gate I had been dropped up just by pushing it. Whoops.
It was such a rush arriving in Almería and suddenly finding myself at the school that I hadn’t even thought about what I would say when I got there in English let alone my very very basic Spanish. BIG mistake. I stood just inside the door not even knowing who to speak to, until finally someone came over and I tried to say the name of the contact I had at the school. Blank look in return. Another person joined us. More blank looks. And then another. Blank looks all around. It was not going well.
Pulling up an email on my phone didn’t work because I didn’t have internet on my phone yet. I was taken into another room and more rapid Spanish was spoken to me and around me and I couldn’t catch a word. Finally the name and something I was saying seemed to work and I was seated and asked to wait. Not that everyone wasn’t trying to be helpful and lovely, but basically, I felt stupid. I couldn’t communicate and far less of the teachers spoke English than I expected, not that I was expecting much but I didn’t think it would be this hard just explaining who I was. I had hoped I wouldn’t feel quite this lost. If you don’t know, in Andalusia the accent is very strong, and the words can be spoken quite differently to elsewhere. Combined with fast speech, my untrained ear and tendency to understand words rather than whole phrases and I was at sea.
When the contact I had with the school who spoke English arrived it was like being tossed a lifeline. I wanted to stay glued to his side. Instead he showed me a couple of things before taking me to the first class on my schedule where I spent an hour trying to understand things about geology that I hadn’t thought about since I was in primary school, in Spanish.
After the class I was lost again. I had no idea where to go or what to do. An hour of wandering and finding a cafeteria where I had coffee and tomato on toast (what I always have, because I can say it…) I stumbled upon my contact again and was taken to meet the Principal. She was so lovely, and through a translator she told me to let her know if there was anything at all I needed, that they were so excited to have me there and they hoped I would enjoy it. I wanted to cry. Could someone just download Spanish into my brain somehow?
The day improved when I went for coffee with some teachers and I was able to speak to half of them…but because they spoke English. I felt so inadequate, and hated the idea of people speaking English around me, especially to each other, just because I was the one person who hadn’t mastered a second language.
The part they don’t tell you about moving abroad
Turns out I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially when I feel unsettled. Since I moved to Spain I’ve realised how much I value my independence and being able to get things done for myself. I’ve felt very much like I lost that here, and I’m not good at accepting it or accepting help. I know people don’t mind being patient with me and helping me out, but I don’t seem to like being on the receiving end!
It also turns out I’m not so good at being patient when I know how I want things to be. In the first few days I felt overwhelmed by all the things I wanted to get done and couldn’t seem to do. Get an apartment, get a bicycle, find a Spanish tutor, sign up for a bank account, get things for my apartment. While I know it will all come together in time and I could rationally say to myself it had only been a week it still got me down.
It’s because moving to a new country can be frustrating. You know you’re in a different place and things will be different, but sometimes you just wonder WHY they have to be that way. There can be extra hoops to jump through that there aren’t at home, things you haven’t had to do before that you suddenly do, and finding out whole new systems to how people do things. At home you take for granted knowing where to go and what to do to get certain things, and when it’s a new country and sometimes another language it can be even more difficult because a quick internet search isn’t going to save you.
So did I make a mistake moving to Spain?
No. Has it been as hard as it has been awesome so far? Yes.
I know I’ll continue to have moments where I wonder what the hell I’ve got myself in to and why I decided this would be a good idea, and then I’ll have moments where everything comes together and it seems like life couldn’t get any better. It’s all part of the challenge and reward of living abroad. It’s all part of why you should make the move.
Here’s hoping by the end of my time here I’ll be understanding almost every word in that Spanish classroom…
Have you ever lived abroad and wondered at some point why you thought it was a good idea? I’d love to here your stories below!
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45 thoughts on “Did I Make a Mistake Moving To Spain?”
I experienced the same struggles when I spent a summer in Indonesia! I couldn’t communicate so I couldn’t get things done on my own, and that’s super frustrating for independent people like us.
Hang in there, it’ll get better! You’ll appreciate it so much more once the challenging part is over. And good luck with the Andalucia accent – even native Spanish speakers have a hard time with that one, so just do your best 🙂
It is very frustrating! But I wouldn’t move if I didn’t want to experience both the ups and downs of what it can bring :). Thank you! Things are already looking up and I’ll be posting again soon about all the great stuff that’s been happening. Including getting myself a Spanish tutor!
I can’t imagine what you are going through. However, you only live once. The struggles and challenges you’re going through will get easier. In a few months, once you get settled you’ll laugh about it. This is an experience that you can share with others travelers who will take the same leap as you have.
Wishing you all the best!
Hugs – Ruthie
Thanks Ruthie :). Definitely been having some experiences to laugh at… I’ll have a post coming about them too! Things are on the up at the moment, not that there won’t be other struggles, but it’s all part of the journey!
I give you tons of credit for being brave enough to make this big of a move! I’m sure your Spanish will come along quickly and before you know it everything will be smoother:) I’ll be following along on your adventures, interested to see how it goes.
Patience is the key to success and you are good at keeping patience so no worries!
Thank you I really hope so! I feel like I have already improved a lot and since I wrote this post a lot of things have fallen into place…so stay tuned haha.
My boyfriend and I moved to Madrid in October and it’s been a struggle–we don’t speak the language, we don’t know anyone and we so don’t understand the banking system here. But, even with all those little frustrations, it’s amazing, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Good luck with your first few weeks! I’m sure it will get much easier and you’ll have a blast in Spain 🙂
I wouldn’t trade it either! As much as I had those thoughts about it being a mistake and wondering what I was doing that’s just when I’m having a hard day. For the most part it’s good and I think it will keep getting better! There’s not a big expat community or so many people that speak English which is good because it’s making me want to learn faster :). Thank you!
Good luck – stick with it!
Thank you! I always would I’m too stubborn haha.
I think the first two weeks were the hardest for me and then I got the hang of the basic language skills I needed in Italy. But that said, once I felt like I had the basics down I would get even more frustrated when I got stuck sometimes! But like you, I asked for that challenge and I loved it.
So true! We ask for these challenges for a reason so can’t complain really! I think it is natural to have the ups and downs, but I would never change it. I’m learning more and more each day with the language and now have a tutor which I hope helps a lot! Although the other day I asked for something in a shop and received blank looks again, until I wrote it in my phone and then they repeated it the same way I had said it I swear! But I’ll get there 🙂
Oh yes. It´s always more difficult without the language. But sometimes, other people enjoy practising english with you, so it´s a win-win 😉
That’s what I’m finding! My confidence is pretty low with Spanish though so hoping that improves a little then I can take all these people up on exchange offers! 🙂
I have experienced all of those feelings too recently! In fact after only 2 and a half months I decided to move home. Living abroad is really tough and definitely rewarding, but it isn’t for everyone!
Things have been improving a bit for me as I get more sorted! Do you think you will move abroad again and try somewhere different?
I think we all have those moments where we think what the hell have I done? !! Hang in there Sonja. You’re a pro. You got this!
Thanks Shanti! It’s definitely been a challenging move, either the hardest I’ve had or I just forgot that part of moving country haha.
Lots of credit for your bravery. Being immersed in the country is the best way to learn the language and just as importantly the culture. I am sure you will love it.
I hope so! I don’t have too much time here so I want to learn quickly, but need to be patient and let it happen. This week is now an up week!
For a traveler, I’m such a coward, I think. Cultural immersion is what I want to do. Hoping I will grow some guts. You’re brave!
You should definitely try it! Even if you only go somewhere for a short time. Technically my contract here is only 5 months, although I can extend. I’ve lived in a lot of different countries but this is my first time in a country that doesn’t speak English. Maybe try somewhere more similar to your own culture first!
In the majority of cases I don’t think it would be a mistake to move abroad. It helps you to grow as a person and be more open-minded. I was in a similar position in a sense that I don’t speak much Spanish (just like you: words, rather than phrases), when I visited Barcelona. I admit it must have been somewhat easier because it’s a large city, so theoretically there are more people who can speak English. However the fact remained that I didn’t know much Spanish and because of this I was a bit nervous when I got off the plane. But it all went away in the first couple of days when I found that most of the people were very friendly and helpful, even when their English was limited. So I guess you just have to accept the fact that when you go to another country, you’ll depend more on another people, especially if you don’t speak their language. And that’s OK. Gradually you get used to the new environment, start understanding more of the language and become more independent. As Tania said, patience is the key 🙂
I agree, definitely not a mistake! Sometimes the thought does cross your mind though and I think that’s normal! I’m learning to be a bit more dependent, I think it’s that I don’t want to annoy the people I do know who can help me get things done, but they do seem happy to help! I’m getting used to things now and really enjoying myself, and trying to be more patient with myself too 🙂 Are you still in Barcelona?
No, unfortunately I’m not. But I’m planning to go back, heck, perhaps even move there sometime. It’s one of my favourite cities!
You’re right; sometimes we tend to question our decisions (especially the major ones), but that’s natural. Ultimately it’s about the experiences you encounter on such journeys. Things you wouldn’t discover if you’d stay at home. And that’s why I’m convinced that it’s not a mistake to move abroad 🙂
I agree whole-heartedly, I started this blog to share my experiences of living abroad and encourage others to make the move, so I could never think otherwise haha. Even if I had moments where it crosses my mind! I know sometimes even within the same day I’ll have a moment where it’s amazing.
engl speaking ppl learn some foreign languages !!! There are 99 other out there show some respect ! Stop expecting others to speak your language !
Hi Edita! I definitely don’t expect other people to speak English, rather I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to speak their language, and I don’t like how people feel obligated to speak English around me even when speaking to each other. Part of my reason for coming to Spain is to try and learn Spanish, so fingers crossed!
What a challenge! You will come through it and look back with great satisfaction at how far you have come, with probably the biggest challenge of your life! Enjoy your journey……
Thank you! There will always be up and down moments when moving, and I would expect to think about what I’ve got myself in to at least once, but in the end it’s all worth it!
I lived in Malta the last 3 years, and as I was getting ready to move on, I asked my teacher there what should be my next move. He told me Germany, because that’s where stuff was happening in our field. At the same time my sister was thinking about moving to Germany for study abroad, so I thought, okay, this seems to be the right thing.
As the time got closer to when I was going to leave, I was worried because I still hadn’t found work. Finally I just decided to come anyway and stay with relatives until I found something. That was 4 months ago, and I’m finding than neither I nor my teacher had any idea about the way people get hired here. Basically, you have to do an apprenticeship for 3 years, or have a university degree, which I don’t, before you can even have the right to work. I haven’t even been able to get work in a factory or restaurant because my German isn’t good enough.
In a way it kind of feels like giving a relationship a chance with someone you hardly know, and then finding out that you don’t fit together, unless you’re willing to change fundamental things about yourself, things that by your 30s you’ve figured out are just the way you are and should just run with. I work best with a lot of independence and the freedom to be creative. Here it’s like, get with the (very structured) the system, or you won’t make it. Then, going back to the relationship thing, it’s as if everyone’s telling me, “Just get married! That will solve all your problems.” Meaning, go ahead and lock myself into this system by getting an apprenticeship, which will lead to a job, and everything will be fine. And I’m not sure if I even want to make it here if that’s the way it is. It’s hard for me to accept, as an American, that you can’t do your own thing, that you have to be a piece in the system.
So sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake by moving here. Maybe I just had to realize for myself that this is the way it is here. And I don’t know what’s going to happen. Luckily I’m not on the street, and my relatives have been nothing but kind and helpful. But I think that if something doesn’t work out soon, I’ll have to move on to somewhere else. Everyone’s telling me, “Don’t do that! Then you’ll have to start all over again!” Well, I did that already when I moved to Malta, and I think it’s better to start over than to stay in a situation you don’t fit in. Maybe Germany and I should “just be friends.” 😉
Oh man it sounds like you’re having a rough time of it and have some tough decisions to make! I really hope you’re able to figure out a way to do what you want to be doing, even if that means uprooting your life again. If it’s going to get you what it is you want and make you happier then I would say go for it!
This is kind of what I felt like moving to China to teach! I had no idea my school was in the absolute middle of nowhere, and I was pulled into a 2 hour long teachers meeting where they spoke Chinese the entire time. My Chines is pretty decent, but not THAT good- and everyone spoke with a very strong accent I couldn’t understand. Thankfully I didn’t have to teach a class the first day, but it was SO OVERWHELMING and I was the only foreign teacher my school had ever employed. I definitely feel you. Don’t worry, it will get better!
Thank you! That sounds a bit crazy! At least I’m just an assistant so not expected to fully teach the class alone, although some teachers have left me to do that!
I’ve always found it took at least a year to feel “settled” in a country – and that’s even in an English-speaking one. After a year I found it all became so much easier. I’ve always found it takes about that length of time to start connecting with people too.
I’d agree I think it can be around 6 months to a year. The problem is I’ve often had to move for much less! I have 6 months in Spain, and only had 6 months when I went on a study abroad at university. In the UK I had two years but at the end of the first year I felt so settled I spent the next year desperately trying to find ways to stay…which never worked out! Usually it’s the people part that’s the most challenging. Sometimes if people know you’re already leaving they may not make as much effort past a surface politeness and friendliness I think.
Great piece Sonja! I know exactly how you must be feeling, but you’re so right to stick at it and gain language skills with the help of a Spanish tutor. It takes guts to stay and make it work, and it’s also brave to admit when something isn’t going how you anticipated it would.
I jumped in at the deep end when I spent my “Gap Year” in Germany just after the Berlin Wall came down. I spoke very little German and worked as an au pair. For various reasons t didn’t work out – I felt just as lost and useless as you are feeling now. Also incredibly lonely – this was in the days before mobiles and internet etc!! I had to save up coins to phone my parents from public call boxes! Often in tears – my poor mum and dad – I only appreciated later how awful that must have been for them.
I plugged away at the language and making friends, lasted 4 months with the family, and then jumped ship to a different family in another part of Germany. Another new start, but this one felt better from Day 1. You’re right to say it matters who you meet and who you spend time with. I spent the following six months with this Bavarian family, and didn’t want to return to the UK when the time came. But because of my experience I ended up studying German at uni, and am still in touch with my German family. The youngest child of my host family is now my big grown-up godson, and my host brother’s eldest son is very good friends with my eldest son. They see each other at least once a year. I love that the connection is moving on with the next generation, that it’s close, and that it encourages a thirst for languages and other cultures in my own kids. Not every experience has this sort of ending, but while there’s luck, I do believe you make your own luck too (to a certain extent). Good luck to you, and I’ll be following to see how it’s going. x
Thanks so much for your comment! I’m so glad you found a way to make things work in Germany and that’s so cool you went just after the wall fell. I love the thought of things continuing to the next generation. I was an exchange student in the USA when I was in high school and I’m still in contact with my family because we got on so well. I was even a bridesmaid at my host sisters wedding a couple of years ago! I hope we stay in contact as much :). I think the language will come and it’s just practice and dedication. I’m a little impatient which is why I never stuck with it before but I am so determined this time!
hang in there, it will get better !! Moving countries esp whose language you don’t speak can be tough !
can totally understand how helpless it makes you feel at times. Good luck to you, don’t give up 🙂
Thank you! Things have gotten much better and I feel a lot more settled since I wrote this post :). Not that I ever wasn’t happy to be here, it’s just the feelings that are normal with moving to a new place. Im too stubborn to ever give up 🙂
Great article, thanks for sharing your experience. I am also an expat in Spain and felt very frustrated when I arrived because I could not speak any spanish. In addition I was always comparing things in spain with my home country which is not the right ways to adapt and happiness. What help me so much was to start intensive classes of Spanish. I learnt very fast the language (after 3 months I could follow a conversation), I met great people that were living the same experience and I could finally find a job! Finally I am happy here but I thiunk that being an expat generated always a lot a sacrifices and frustation anyway. Its part of the game but we are learning so much too anf opening our minds! Melissa
Thanks Melissa! Wow I’m impressed by how much you could do in 3 months! I’m still finding it a littler harder bucks I’m teaching English all the time, which makes it hard to immerse myself in the language. It’s definitely coming along slowly though! The ups and downs are all definitely a part of it, and I’m glad you’re loving it now 🙂
This sounds like a disaster! I aim to move to Barcelona in 2017 and feel like it will be much the same for me! I’m actually struggling to find out visa information, did you have any struggles when you moved?
Xx hope it’s all working out!
Luckily it hasn’t continued that way! I’ve been here almost a year and loving it! I’m on a student visa as part of the program that I’m teaching English through. The visa lasts for a few months and in that time I had to get a Spanish Identity Card which then becomes the visa basically!