My name is Lydia, you may have seen my posts on this blog before but let me just spoil the illusion a little. These posts were written during my own year abroad which was about 2 years ago and right now I am in fact working for the International Office here at Aberystwyth doing a scheme called AberForward (it’s great you should check it out!).
Anyway, let’s skip forward about 2 months from my last post on here to the all-time scariest week of my life-the week I moved to Spain. Bordeaux was scary don’t get me wrong but we all had the nice security net of going with people we knew and constantly being in touch with English speakers. Spain was different because I literally knew no one there except for my future housemate. The purpose of this post is to give you an idea of what to expect when you first arrive in a country and what steps you should be taking to get your life sorted out as quickly as possible.
So without further ado here is my list of the most urgent things to consider when going abroad;
Where will I live?
First things first- accommodation! I did the one thing that we are constantly advised against in pre-departure meetings and arranged my accommodation in Spain before I had even left France. I did this via AirBnb which is neither the cheapest nor easiest way to do it but it meant that I had a place to stay for at least the first month which gave me a certain peace of mind. Another site for Spain that you could use for house hunting in easypiso.com which a lot of the people I met in Cádiz used with varying levels of success. Upon arrival in Spain I was told that if by the end of the week I decided that the room was nice I would be able to stay there for the whole placement as the landlady wanted to take it off of AirBnb. This worked amazingly for me as it was a gorgeous flat with views of the beach/sea from the kitchen and I had an en suite and terrace- I had hit the jackpot! I had various housemates throughout the year who were all lovely and came from Ecuador, Germany and even one from Aberystwyth.
Now, I did British Council which meant that I had a pretty set deadline for all my important admin. For me the most important thing that needed tackling was opening a bank account so I could actually be paid by the Spanish Ministry. You may have already heard horror stories about this from other students and I’m really sorry but I can’t prove them wrong. Opening a bank account took me two and a half days (!) and shaved about 10 years off my life. I had done my research and chosen ING Direct as the lucky organisation to deal with my terrible language skills- they’re Dutch, I thought, they must speak some English. Boy was I wrong (and shockingly ignorant) but luckily my housemate was able to help and we found out I needed to get my NIE first and after that ordeal (read below for details) it was all a lot more straight forward. Just be careful that you choose a bank that won’t take a cut of you wages every month- this seems to be standard in Spain but you can avoid it.
In Spain every person has an NIE, TIE of DNI. These are the equivalent of a National Insurance number and you will need one if you’re going to do anything from opening a bank account joining the Erasmus society or even getting a parcel delivered to your home address. Their reliance on this little piece of paper seems crazy but it is essential that you get one. Let me explain the process so that you can avoid the errors I made.
- Go to the extranjería in your town- you can find where this is online as it may not be the police station as was the case in Cádiz. Do this beforehand to save yourself a 30 min walk in the midday sun.
- Bring any and all documentation with you including you passport (which I forgot!) and make sure you know you address.
- Be aware that the office will close a 2pm at the latest and not open again until the following day (the siesta is sacred).
- Be prepared to find the nearest bank so that you can pay the little taxes needed to acquire the NIE as quickly as possible and avoid a two and a half day fiasco.
- DON’T EXPECT THE FOREIGN OFFICE TO SPEAK ENGLISH- they are often just Spanish office workers so go equipped with the necessary vocab.
- Rejoice when you have defeated all the red tape and have your little green paper.
Where am I working?
For British Council placements it is advised that you go into your school before you start your placement just to introduce yourself. This is an excellent idea as not only will you have a chance to go over the route and mess up without consequence for your working reputation, it also means that when you start on October 1st you will hopefully know at least one face. Don’t underestimate how important this is- it helped me feel more relaxed. I was also able to sign some important documents whilst I was there.
Apart from all these big things, the most important thing which I did actually forget to do is to just take a breath and relax a little bit. It’s scary bit it’s also so exciting. This coming year will change you in ways you never thought it could. You will become so much more confident, your language skills will grow and you’ll surprise yourself daily whether it be whilst you’re ordering dinner without tripping up or searching for gaffer tape to cover the roach hole. It’s an adventure so just go for it!