Little did I think when I posted this in 2014 that I would end up spending two years in this colourful ciudad. Here’s a little reflection has happened these past two years, and how after 22 months I knew it was time to move on..
Flashback to September 2014 and I was ready to get the heck out of the UK and fulfil my dream of living abroad. Having read Fluent in 3 months by the Irish Polygot, I was a true optimist thinking I’d be bilingual in just 10 months… 22 months on, I can now say I am supposedly fluent in Spanish (according to that guy), but am far from bilingual. It has been the source of continuous frustration, but when I think back on the girl who landed in Barajas airport two years ago, I remember to give myself a break. Just the fact I can sit and watch the TV and understand well over 50% is a huge jump. I’ll be writing a full de-brief on my tried and tested attempts to reach full bilingüismo, but for now I’ll just say – language learning is hella dificil, total immersion is lonely as hell when you’re starting out, and it is not the be all and end all of a cultural experience abroad.
My first few months were overall pretty bad. I moved in with a family that I’d never met before, out in the sticks of Majadahonda, and it was not fun. At. All. I was so disillusioned by the au pair life, I was ready to leave within weeks of my arrival. I accepted a job in Singapore as a means of escape, hoping that focusing on my next big move would make the year go by faster. Eventually, I managed to get out and all changed. I’ve written a lot on my Au pair experience, and although I ended up with a good deal, I have mixed feelings about the benefits of the job. I had a nice time living with a Spanish family, essentially raising two little girls during my weekday evenings, but in hindsight there are better things a 21 year old graduate can get up to on their first year abroad.
Ironically, I chose to Au Pair over teaching English in order to focus on learning Spanish, but I ended up having to do both. I worked in private academies and taught a tonne of private classes on the side. The sheer variety of ages and types of classes has definitely meant I gained a tonne of experience and came out as a confident and skilled EFL teacher, although my Spanish suffered as a result. BUT I did make a bunch of international friends, taught a load of adorable little rascals for a living, travelled a tonne, and overall had a blast. My first year was a lotta lotta fun.
My second year was a different story altogether. I landed here with about £200 to my name, with no job or a place to live. My “It’ll work out” approach lead to me living in a hostel for two months whilst I waited to find out if I got a position as an Auxiliar, and looked for a piso. It was crazy. I look back on those two months in disbelief that I got through it. A concoction of long working hours, one too many fiestas, and sleepless nights made me a bit of a zombie by the time I finally escaped into my own private space again. Sharing a room with a guy with sleep apnea FOR TWO WEEKS was just the cherry on top of a hellish month. It all ended with some sick halloween disfrazes and one other snorer in my room. It was exhausting, it was fun, and it probably knocked a few months off my lifespan.
But you do what ya’gotta do in desperate times, and if I had not done it I probably wouldn’t have found a place to live. The search for a piso with a double bed and a window was just insane, so I ended up settling for a workmate’s double bedroom sin ventana. It did the job for a few months, but as soon as a better opportunity arose I was outta there. Sunlight is a glorious thing and without it I felt disorientated and extra tired in the mornings. November to February was pretty darn sweet; I was teaching all week then cleaning on the weekends. Working in the hostel meant I still felt like I was on holiday, and I could pop in and hang out with people across the globe whenever I wanted. I was financially stable and able to start saving for South America, and was even able to splash out on Spanish classes, a gym membership, and err
oriental dance classes…
Unfortunately, the sweet life was short lived and and the end of January I lost my cleaning job, thanks (apparently) to cutbacks. I was gutted. All was set, and then all of a sudden everything turned on its head. I spent the next months trying and failing to make up the money. I took on as many extra classes that I could, but the commutes to and from totally screwed with my week, and the frequent cancellations made saving for SA almost impossible. At the end of every month I’d be desperately waiting for payday, sat at home with 0 euros to my name. To top it all off, I lived without wifi for 2 months, thanks both to my roommate’s very Spanish nature and the drug dealers downstairs using our telephone wire box as a storage space (N2S: subletting from a subletter, not a good idea)…I came very close to giving up and going home, but figured my job as an Auxiliar was worth it, and at the very least my Spanish was improving leaps and bounds. So I stayed, and after a few months of serious budgeting, I was back on track.
El mismo perro con distinto collar
The months that followed were sure not as fun, but heck, we can’t have it all can we? My day to day life was very normal. I had a good few friends, was dating again, and once blessed with wifi back on my Spanish course studying and practising daily. April through to June is kind of a blur; I think I did the same thing week in, week out for those months. Not exactly the dream usually sold on traveller’s blogs, but that was my reality.
And by June I was DONE. I had squeezed every last drop out of Madrid, and I was lista for a change of scenery. My first and second years were distinctly different; I would love to boast about long strolls under blue skies,
sangria mahou and tapas on the weekends, and nights spent with gorgeous Spanish amantes, BUT half truths are not whole truths and I cannae talk like that. Madrid is a wonderful city and I have zero regrets about choosing there as my first place to live abroad. I loved different characters of each barrio, how the city centre only took an hour to get around, and that my transport pass only cost 20 euros a month FOR THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY OF MADRID. However, trying to integrate beyond the expat bubble was like trying to climb The Wall, and having to find new friends each year was tiresome. I did at one point see myself settling in Madrid, but unfortunately as much as I enjoyed my day job, relying on private classes to get by drove me mad and I don’t wish to be living like that beyond my twenties. The great thing is, I always have the option, and I’m sure I’ll be back soon enough.