My Expat Life: the Basic Questions Answered

So a couple of days ago, I wanted to get some ideas for what questions my friends and families have about living in Spain. I put out the call on Instagram and got some really good questions. I wanted to write about the basics first and then get into the more specific questions in a different post. So I’m going to answer some of the questions I get frequently from my friends first and answer some of my Instagram questions in the next post.

Where do you live?

I live in the small city of Cartagena, Spain. It is one of the longest inhabited cities in Spain  with tons of archaeology from the Carthaginians, Romans, and beautiful Modernisma buildings. The city only has about 250,000 people but it’s not far from the larger city of Murcia. Cartagena is a port city and has some gorgeous beaches nearby as weak as some great mountains. The nearest international airport is Alicante.

How long have you lived there?

I’ve lived in Cartagena since September 2018 but before I was living in the larger city of Zaragoza (a couple pictures above) for a year before that (since September 2017).

What’s your job and how did you find it?

Technically I am not employed right now in the eyes of the Spanish government. I am a student who is given a living stipend and health insurance. However, I “work” 24 hours a week as a language and cultural assistant.

There are many of these programs offered publicly through the Spanish government but also through private universities. My program is called BEDA and is mostly based in Madrid. While the pay per hour is one Euro less than the public program, we are guaranteed more hours in general. The public program usually offers participants 16 hours or less a week. Because of this, I’m able to earn more of a reasonable living without private classes.

I found this program through a good teacher friend, Liz. She had done the public program but knew people participating in Beda. I applied to both programs (beda and the public program) but I was happier with my initial placement with beda. The public program placed my in Castille and Leon. It wasn’t one of my top five autonomous regions and with beda I knew my exact location rather than just a region.

How much do you make?

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While I’m not going to say the exact amount – what I’ll say is that salaries in Spain are SIGNIFICANTLY less than in the states. However, so are living expenses in the cities I’ve lived in. Living in Madrid or Barcelona would probably be a little more difficult. However, in my town, a typical meal out might be 10-15 Euros. A glass of wine is under 2 Euros at a restaurant. This little pincho tortilla and glass of wine was 2 Euros. My rent is 235 Euros a month with everything included. I also supplement my income with private classes which more or less cover groceries.

How do you get around?

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I have a bicycle to go to work every day. Since the weather here is pretty predictably nice, it works for me. Occasionally, I’ll ask a coworker to give me a lift and they very kindly oblige.

In terms of how I travel around, there are basically 3 options: bus, train and bla bla car. Bla bla car is basically long distance ride sharing and if you can find someone to take you on the route it can be extremely convenient. Train is more expensive and not always more reliable if you aren’t in a AVE. In general, if I’m traveling, I’m probably taking a bus. There are actually some really nice ones here with tons of space and wifi on major routes. In general I would say they are around half as expensive as a train and weirdly more reliable.

How did you find your home?

Just like in the states, there are lots of websites similar to Craigslist to help the apartment search. The one thing that’s a little different is that there are a lot of private rooms that you can rent. Because there’s a high population of international students and dorms aren’t quite as common in the states, it’s possible to rent a room in a shared flat. My last two apartments have been shares – both having a common bathroom and kitchen. To save money, I’m a fan but the minute I have a more permanent situation, I want to move out into my own apartment.

Do you speak Spanish?

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Sort of. As some people reading may know, I lived in Colombia. Since middle school, I haven’t studied Spanish. Thank goodness I had a really good Spanish teacher back then (Shout out to Mrs. Butera!) so I have some basics. Long story short: my Spanish comprehension is much better than my speaking. I have a sort of goofy American accent and I use some weird Colombian words from time to time. I have a long way to go.

How much of Spain have you seen?

So right now, I’ve been to nine of the autonomous regions: Madrid, Castille y Leon, Cantabria, Pais Vasco, Aragon, Cataluña, Valencia, Navarra, and Murcia. Of those, I’ve spent a good amount of time in all of them except for Castille y Leon and Cantabria. I have so much more to see. This year, I really want to spend some time in Andalucia. I also would not mind at all visiting the Balerics or Canaries. Zaragoza was a lot more connected to major public transport than I am down here in Cartagena so it’s a little bit complicated.

Are you happier living in Spain?

This is a question I get a lot from friends and families. The answer is too complicated to say yes or no. I am really really happy now. However, I know that without a lot of the people who I’ve met over the past 10 years in Buffalo, Colombia and on my travels, that wouldn’t be possible.

I have such an amazing community of people in Buffalo who I rave about in this post from a couple of weeks ago. Between grad school, working at a hotel, being a teacher, and loving Bayern Munich, I have genuinely such an incredible group of people in my home town. That isn’t even mentioning all my long time friends from high school and university.

That being said, especially this year, I am working on building my community here in Cartagena. I still have my best buddy in Zaragoza (shout out to Daniel), but in Cartagena – I feel really supported. I have friends at school, parents and students of my private lessons, a couple of ex-pat friends and even a couple people I’ve met outside of work.

I have plenty of time to work on my hobby here. I do a lot of writing, calligraphy, bullet journaling, and of course consumption of coffee. Every day, I have some built in exercise on my bike. I have everything I need here and plenty of things I love. So am I happier here – yes. But I wouldn’t be able to be this happy without my friends back home.

 

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