Hi everyone! This week I’m sharing another post in the Expat Wisdom series. If you’re new here, you might be thinking, what is the Expat Wisdom project? Expat Wisdom is something I started a couple of years ago where I share the story of one of you guys and your expat journies each month. The goal is to share expat stories and advice from this community to build a base of helpful tips for others.
This week I’m excited to share Gabriele’s story about moving to Spain that started out with a semester abroad. It seems that a lot of expat stories start out this way which is interesting! I really enjoyed reading her story and her advice, I hope you do as well!
My name is Gabriele. I am 25 years old and I have been living in Spain for almost five years. I was born in Lithuania, grew up in Germany and I am currently living in Madrid, which I call my home. My family and I have been travelling since I was very young. My parents were professional athletes so we moved around a lot when I was a child. I even lived for one year in Iceland with my mother. So that is how I ended up always being curious about new countries and learning new languages.
My Story about moving to Spain began in 2016 when I studied my bachelor’s degree in Germany. Part of my studies was doing a semester and an internship abroad. I ended up in the North of Spain, in a little beautiful city called León. It was not one of the typical destinations in Spain, like Barcelona or Valencia, but I ended up having the best time of my life. I need to add here, that I could barely speak Spanish when I arrived. My degree included a couple of Spanish classes, but I have to admit that I did not learn a lot. So when I arrived in Spain, I felt like I had to start from zero.
So what happened after I moved to Spain? After being there for six months I decided to extend my stay. I was kind of sad that I was not able to improve my Spanish a lot because I mostly chose English classes. But then I decided to do the second semester differently. I chose only Spanish classes (I even took Excel classes in Spanish which was a mess!). And I tried to join friend groups that were speaking Spanish to each other.
I feel like a lot of times when talking about being an expat we actually forget to mention how difficult it can be. That a lot of times you struggle with the language. Or that sometimes you would love to join a conversation and share your opinion, but you just cannot come up with the right words in a language. Moving abroad is actually not just fun and parties, it can also be struggle, loneliness and frustration.
So after one year in Spain, I came back to Germany for a couple of weeks where I had to pass my B2 Spanish exam, and I passed it with the highest grade! I was so proud! After only one year of living in Spain and barely knowing Spanish on my arrival.
Now I have been living in Madrid for four years, and I am in love with the city. If you are currently thinking about moving to Spain, I can only encourage you to do so! It has changed my life for the better and looking back I can say that I have become a more confident, independent and problem-solving person.
What if I don’t speak Spanish?
One question that people ask a lot is whether you need to speak Spanish when you move to Spain. And I feel like it’s hard to give a certain answer. If you move to a bigger city like Barcelona you might be able to get around with English.
But if you are planning to move to another city and want to find a job more easily, it will help you a lot if you know at least the Basics of the Spanish language. (I wrote a blog post about finding a job in Spain that you can find here). But do not get discouraged if your Spanish is not good yet, there are many companies looking for English speakers! And other languages have a high demand in the job market as well.
Apart from that, I think there is no faster way of learning the language of a country than moving there.
Are you familiar with Spanish Schedules?
I have to admit, the different schedules might be somewhat confusing for expats, especially if you come from a northern country. In Madrid, people usually have lunch at around 2pm, dinner at around 9pm. Do you think that’s late? If you come from Germany this is veeeery late! I remember having a friend who always wanted to meet at 7-8 pm for dinner in Madrid. But many of the restaurants do not even let you make a reservation for dinner before 9 pm. So there is nothing you can do. Everything is happening a little later in Spain. Even the nightlife!
When it comes to different schedules there are so many examples I could tell you! Another one could be the Spanish siesta. And I am not only talking about the afternoon nap some Spaniards are taking. Did you know that many supermarkets, pharmacies and shops close during the day for a couple of hours? Usually it is between 2-5 PM.
Lessons learned after five years in Spain
While I am writing this post my five year anniversary in Spain is coming up. So it is a great moment to look back at everything that happened in those years. First of all, I would have never believed that I would actually stay here for so long. Since my actual plan was to stay here for only six months. But when you like it so much and just keep extending your stay, five years can pass very quickly! One thing I am really grateful for is the people I met and the experiences we shared together. That is something that is very powerful about moving abroad. It makes it possible for you to meet so many people from different backgrounds and become friends. And no one understands the struggles and happy moments of an expat better than another expat!
In the end I really would like to mention the importance of patience when you start a new life abroad. Especially if you do not speak the local language fluently.
It took me five appointments to get registered at my flat here in Madrid. Yes, FIVE! Now, when I look back at it, it is very funny and a good story to tell. But at that moment, it was the most stressful thing I ever had to deal with! Bureaucracy is probably the biggest enemy of an expat. So yes, patience is important. Do not be too hard on yourself if you make mistakes with bureaucracy or misunderstand something. It is part of the journey of living abroad 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this blogpost and that I could give you some insight about my journey in Spain and how it is to start a new life here. If you have any questions, you can contact me on my instagram @thelithuanianabroad or my blog. I am very happy to connect and chat.
I hope you enjoyed reading Gabriele’s story! If you’re interested in sharing your story as a part of the Expat Wisdom series, DM me @little.miss.expat on Instagram.
See you next week,