Finding happiness in Spain

  • expat in Spain
Published 2018-07-13 11:50

Born in Rome, Valeria is an Italian teacher who has been looking for professional experience abroad. Her passion about the Spanish language and culture lead her to Madrid where she set up her own language school with students from all around the world. Valeria talks about her exciting expat experience to and everything that makes her feel at home.

Please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Spain, and what were you doing before you arrived in Spain?

My name is Valeria, I am 33 years old, and I was born in Rome (Italy). After completing my degree in Modern Languages and Literature, the following year, I obtained a certificate to teach Italian as a foreign language, and I started working as an Italian teacher to foreign students from all over the world. When I moved to Spain, I continued working as an Italian teacher for a few months, but then I decided to create my own school, Parlando Italiano, and at the moment I am the school’s director.

What brought you to Madrid? How long have you been in Spain?

After teaching Italian in Italy, I decided to get more experience by teaching Italian abroad. I have always been passionate about the Spanish language and culture, so I decided to move to Spain. I preferred a big city in order to have more job opportunities and for this reason, I chose Madrid, the capital city of Spain, where I have been living for 3 years now.

What is the process to move to Spain?

Moving to Spain is quite easy for Italian people, since both Italy and Spain are members of the European Union. In my case it was even easier because when I was at the University, I did my Erasmus in Spain, so when I arrived in Madrid, I already spoke Spanish fluently and knew many things about the Spanish culture.

What is your favourite thing about Spain, and what is your least favourite thing?

I really like Spain because the people are welcoming and friendly and they make you feel at home.

Although I can’t really think of a least favourite thing, I do feel it’s a shame that there have been several separatist political movements over the years which have created some tension and unrest in the country.

living in Madrid

How would you describe Spain in one sentence?

A few years ago, the Spanish Tourism Institute (Turespaña) launched an ad campaign to promote Spanish tourism abroad, and I remember that its slogan was ¡SONRÍE, ESTÁS EN ESPAÑA! (=Smile, you are in Spain!). I think that it is the perfect slogan to describe Spain because, as I said before, Spanish people are very cheerful and friendly.

What has surprised you the most about Spain?

What has surprised me positively about Spain is that although there was a dictatorship until little more than 40 years ago, this country has made giant steps in the last few years and moved forward quickly regarding Civil Rights (e.g., possibility for homosexuals to get married and adopt babies, laws for gender equality, etc.).

What are the features of today’s expat job market in Madrid?

Madrid is an important tourist destination, so for many expats it’s very common to work in the hospitality sector. Spanish people are also conscious that learning English is essential nowadays, so most of the schools in Madrid are now bilingual and there is a great demand for native English teachers. And of course, the IT field is quite popular as well.

After the huge economic crisis that has hit the country in recent years, it seems that the job market is looking up in Spain, but many companies still offer temporary employment contracts, which unfortunately don’t guarantee stability to the employees.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Madrid, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

Accommodation in Madrid is quite expensive, especially in the City Centre, and a quite common solution for expats is sharing a flat with other people.

expat in Madrid

What are the year’s biggest holidays in Spain? What is some essential etiquette in Spain?

The biggest holidays in Spain are Christmas and Easter, but each city also has its own festivities, e.g., Las Fallas in Valencia, San Fermín in Pamplona, La Feria de Abril in Seville, and so on.

The etiquette changes depending on the festivity, but there are some common elements, as for example, going to bed very late, spending a lot of time in the streets, moving from one bar to another, drinking a lot and having fun.

How do you find the lifestyle in Madrid?

The lifestyle in Madrid is simple and pleasant. People love spending their free time outdoors, having some cañas (beers) with their friends, and enjoying the good weather and each other’s company.

How is the transportation system in Madrid? How do you move around?

The transportation system is very efficient and well-maintained. I usually take the tube (in Madrid there are 12 tube lines), the bus, or Cercanías, a fast train which connects Madrid with the outskirts.   

Have you been able to adapt to Spain and the society?

Yes, completely! My boyfriend is Spanish and I have many friends in Madrid – this helped me adapt to Spanish society very quickly. Now I go to local places and I have the same habits that Spanish people have, except for the siesta… I prefer to have a coffee instead of sleeping after lunch!

How is the everyday life for you in Spain?

Even though I work from home, I try to keep to a regular routine. I wake up at 8am, start working at 9am, have lunch at 2pm, and I usually call it a day at 7pm. After work, I sometimes go to the cinema, have dinner out, or I go meet some friends.     

having a drink

What do you do in your free time?

In Madrid, there are many cultural events and activities you can attend throughout the year at affordable prices, so in my free time I usually go to concerts, exhibitions, theatre shows, etc.

This year I have also dedicated part of my free time to the study of the Spanish Sign Language.

Madrid: Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

Yes, of course! Spanish people love staying out at night and there are many bars and pubs which remain open until late every day, especially in the City Centre.  

What new habits have you developed in Spain? And what old habits have you quit in Spain?

When I lived in Rome, I used to take the car to go everywhere because the transportation system is not very good there.  On the other hand, in Madrid, I really like taking the bus, the tube or just walking. So no more car and also no more high heels, but only comfortable shoes to stroll around the city.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Madrid? How much does a bus ticket, a beer, and a loaf of bread cost?

Madrid is one of the most expensive cities in Spain, but it is a lot cheaper compared to other European cities. A bus ticket costs €1.50, but you can also buy a 10-trip ticket and get a discount (the total price for a 10-trip ticket being €12.20); beers usually cost about €2 and they are accompanied by small dishes called tapas which are included in the price; and the cost of a loaf of bread may vary depending on the kind of bread, but the average is €0.70.

What is something that you would like to do in Spain, but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

I have not been to the Canary and Balearic Islands yet. I have seen some pictures and the beaches look really amazing. I would like to visit them one day!

Share your most memorable experience in Spain.

One of my most memorable experiences in Spain is a trip I did with an Italian friend when we were both studying at University. We decided to travel from the South to the North of Spain by bus, stayed at some friends’ places, and met a lot of new people.

a local dish

If you could do the move to Spain over, what would you do differently?

I don’t think that I would change a thing. I’m very happy with how things have turned out so far.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

Even if the Spanish cuisine is less popular abroad than the Italian one, and most people only know paella and sangria, in reality, Spanish food is extremely varied. My favourite dishes are croquetas (croquettes), tortilla (omelette) and churros con chocolate (a traditional fried-dough pastry filled with chocolate).

What do you miss the most about your home country?

I miss some traditional dishes and some local places which I used to frequent, and of course I miss my family, but I am lucky because Rome is very close to Madrid and my job is very flexible, so I can visit them whenever I want.

Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from Spain? How did you overcome that? What kept you in Spain?

Nothing comes to mind. I feel at home in Spain, and I don’t remember ever having contemplated leaving.

Give us some useful tips that soon-to-expatriates in Spain will benefit from.

I strongly recommend learning Spanish before moving to Spain because very few people speak English here, so it is very important to speak the lingo to carry out simple everyday tasks and integrate into Spanish society.

Another tip I think could be useful for anyone who wants to move to a foreign country is to avoid tourist places. Instead, meet the local people, and try to have an authentic experience in order to learn more about the culture of the country where you are living.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them in Spain, which would that be?

Sunglasses and sun cream – especially if you are not used to warm weather; earplugs if you want to live in the City Centre and are not a night owl. Don’t forget to bring some of your favourite home-country food brand names since the International cuisine is not very widespread in Spain. And last but not least, a good sense of humour is a must!

What are your plans for the future?

I will continue promoting the Italian language and culture abroad, but I would also like to open my business up to new markets and create a new website to offer Spanish and English lessons in the not-so-distant future.

What is one thing that you will take with you from Spain?

The Spanish optimistic outlook on life.