White Noise… Settling into a Foreign Land
I knew this move to Barcelona was going to push me out of my comfort zone. It’s a big step to move country, house and job into a new land where your native language isn’t spoken. I’m here on my own, no network of friends, no UK TV or radio – I can’t understand anyone, it’s hard. My world is currently white noise. Sounds come from people’s mouths but even though I’m trying really hard I don’t know what they’re saying. When a song I know plays in a cafe/shop/car stereo it makes me ridiculously happy.
‘But you travelled the world for a whole year on your own!’ Yes, that’s true and I stayed in hostels, met travellers and moved fluidly around the globe having new experiences and adventures nearly every single day. Locals spoke English in nearly every single country I visited (I was spoilt), the Spanish and Mandarin speaking countries being the only exception. I guess they have a similar attitude to the native English speakers, ‘why bother, there’s so many of us that can communicate in this language, why learn a new one’.
So I’m trying to learn a new language, set up a bank account, get an apartment, phone contract, familiarise myself with a new city I plan to stay in, sort out government papers – the list goes on. I’m trying to live life in Spain as a local but without being able to communicate like one. I’m getting there. I think if I’d been able to start work as planned just after my arrival I’d be more settled. But the universe works in mysterious ways and bureaucracy is holding me back.
What I do know is that big risks often equal big rewards. Never once have I thought this is a mistake. I’m learning so much and testing myself every single day. I’m only two weeks in and it will get easier, I hope!
I’ve learned a bit and I want to share some things that I’ve found out to help anyone making the move to a new country a little easier.
Before you set off:
Google Street View is your friend. If like me you’ve never been to your new city/town/island before get yourself onto google maps and use street view to roam the streets. Familiarise yourself with the layout of your new home, work out how it all fits together. I’m pretty lucky with Barcelona orientation wise as there’s the sea and countless landmarks that work as navigational points, especially if you are directionally challenged like me. By doing this before I left it really gave me a head start in not getting horrendously lost too often. It’s comforting having even a vague idea where you are.
Start house-hunting before you arrive. I don’t mean rent/buy a house before you land but trawl the net for Estate Agents, build a list of favourite properties. Make contact with the estate agents before you arrive and have a few viewings set up. It can be a bit overwhelming when you land and have the whole finding a place to live task. Use the appointments to explore the city and get to know the different areas. Make sure you have some time booked into a hotel or hostel when you land. You’ll need a base and a base with wifi!
Learn the lingo! I didn’t have time to do this but I wish I had. Do whatever you can in the limited time you have. I’m doing an online Spanish course I started at home. I have the Duolingo app on my phone and now that I’m here I’m enrolled in classroom lessons too.
Research visas, work permits and residency laws. Even though I’ve moved from one EU country to another I still need official documents before I can become a resident and start work – NIE and Social Security. If all had gone to plan I would have had my appointment to get these docs sorted as soon as I’d arrived. The appointment booking website was down and it’s a two week wait, C’est La Vie!
Pick yourself some ‘happy places’. I bought a Barcelona guidebook and highlighted a whole load of places I wanted to check out when I arrived. Giving myself these visits to look forward to made landing more exciting and less daunting. Plus, once you actually live and work in a city doing the tourist thing becomes less realistic.
Don’t just assume your online services will work overseas, check this out and cancel as necessary. One evening I felt the need for something I understood and I tried to access my Netflix account – uh uh, not in Spain.
When you land:
Get yourself a local PAYG SIM, as quickly as you can. The airport is often the best bet as it’s quick and they can often speak multiple languages. Not only is it handy to be able to access the internet for google maps and well everything… But you’ll often get asked for a local number when signing up for any local services. I think it’s best to get a quick and cheap pre-pay SIM instead of signing up for a lengthy contract. You can test the network and you probably won’t panic buy a phone plan. Shop around for the best mobile deals if you’re staying long term as you can get packages that include mobile, broadband and TV.
Find your cafe. I’m all for trying new places but pick yourself a cafe (or bar), near where you’re staying, preferably with great coffee and friendly staff! The familiarity is nice if you become a regular and gives you an opportunity to practise your new language without feeling as inhibited.
Set yourself a task a day (at least)! If you have the luxury of time and you’re waiting to start work I’ve found it good to have some focus. Some days have been filled with admin type tasks, some just exploring a new area, getting the metro/train/bus for the first time, seeing a site, having a language lesson – it’s easy to find something but for me it’s vital for my mental health.
Follow your passions. I have a whole load of things I love to do, so there’s no reason why I can’t do them in a new country. I’ve joined various Meet-Up groups online and plan to check out some art-lover events, sailing clubs, life-drawing and diving. I’m trying to find a yoga class near my home too. It’s a double bonus of doing something you love whilst meeting new people at the same time.
I’d be really interested to hear other tips from expats. What have you done to make the move easier? Any mistakes I and others can learn from?