This November marks my first anniversary living in Spain, or Spainiversary! There was one point I thought Spain would not happen because the visa complication was taking a toll on me, and then one year went by in the blink of an eye. One year is not a lot but enough to hold countless of memories. Here are 13 mini stories I will never forget about my time in España:
1. I’ve moved six times! I have always moved a lot ever since I was a kid but never these many times, so many that I started question what was wrong with me. To be fair though if your budget is on a higher end, finding an apartment should be a piece of cake. However, if you’re on a budget and you want to play “fair”, house-hunting in Madrid could be a nightmare. I’m definitely not an exception. I’ve heard so many nerve-wrecking stories related to house contract, roommates, living condition, landlords that I didn’t think my experience was too special anymore. Not long ago I got to see a document about housing situation in Madrid and connected all the dots. Many homeowners in Spain, along with many other homeowners in big popular cities around the world, prefer vacation rentals instead of long-term leasing. That means more available rooms are put up on Airbnb, booking.com or HomeAway for tourists for an obvious reason: higher return of investment. Sure there are more maintenance fee and effort put in rental vacation but the owners potentially make more money at the end. And the consequences? Housing scarcity, short time span of listing availability, immature contract termination, and more. If you’re only traveling, Spain is an awesome place: great weather, great food, lots of colorful culture, etc., but if you’re about to move here with no housing guaranteed, I wish you the best of luck!
2. I’ve gone through so much bureaucracy that I stopped feeling frustrated about it. It’s possibly very likely worse than the Vietnamese bureaucracy (say whaaat!). Visa, foreigner’s ID, residence renovation, and the list of the amount of paperwork you have to undergo in Spain never seems to end. There are many sources of information online in English and Spanish but the official websites from the government are almost never bilingual. Sometimes I felt like going in dark during the process of putting all the documents together. Sometimes I saw light from talking to people who have been through the same thing only to find out my situation had a small twist and whatever piece of advice I had was no long applicable. It could get pretty frustrating and time consuming but it all worked out at the end.
3. I had to call the police when my roommate threatened me and seized my belongings. I suspected that my roommate use drugs because I would wake up to odd screaming in the middle of the night, syringes and vomit on bathroom walls. Deciding it was time to leave but my roommates claimed it was too short notice for them though we did not sign any contract in prior. So yeah, on the day I was supposed to move, she took away my stuff and threatened me to pay next month rent. Not gonna happen, sister, not gonna happen.
4. I dropped my Spanish ID at the airport which ended up getting myself rejected at Bulgarian border. Basically I shouldn’t have been allowed on the plane to begin with. However the Spanish immigration offer didn’t think it was a problem and as a result, I was chilling at Sofia airport overnight with the police and my Bulgarian friend Ned. Thanks Ned for not leaving me abandoned at the airport. I did receive an official rejection letter from the immigration police as a souvenir and hopefully it wasn’t a death sentence to my entrance to the country in the future. Where was the damn card? It was at Madrid airport the whole time and being transferred around. It took me one week and three trips to the airport to get the card back.
5. I was assaulted by a married roommate which I ended up moving out almost immediately after although the person did apologize. “I was drunk,” he said. I haven’t been vocal about it and when I finally did, the first thing I said was always “I didn’t do anything and I dressed properly”. I mean why the heck did I have to justify myself?! I didn’t notice how women myself included are programmed to take responsibility when we’re assaulted by men. I’m not saying all women are victims but when we encounter incident like that, it’s okay to speak up not to raise awareness but to educate people that it’s not okay to invade others’ space without permission. And no, alcohol shall not be accepted as an excuse for your misbehavior, mister! If you can’t control it then don’t let it control you.
6. I had my iPhone pick-pocketed in the metro (yes, it happens in any developed country too!) during the 30 seconds I was neglecting my backpack that I was wearing behind. I immediately went to the metro security and requested to see the camera and got rejected. They just shrugged and said there’s nothing they could do about it. I then went to the local police to have them sent me to the national police. After two hours wait at the national police, I finally had my case heard. I did all that I could knowing that it would be a miracle to be able to find my phone again. Miracle didn’t happen this time but I ended up buying a Xiaomi phone for a fraction of the cost. It was the best investment ever!
7. I went to the all-sponsored one-week entrepreneurship school by Think Young in Malaga in the summer which was entirely in Spanish. I felt so inspired to see how passionate young Spaniards were committing to make a difference in their region. I was amongst the few people who didn’t have any concrete business ideas yet (I hope that will change soon and I will have a cool title to introduce myself). My interview with them was recorded too; however, I haven’t seen it anywhere on the internet yet. For a long time after the trip I questioned myself why I hadn’t moved to Málaga already, what a charming city it is! And it’s not only the capital city, I soon discovered many more pretty pueblos (towns) around: Ronda, Frigiliana, Nerja, Torre del Mar, etc.
8. There’s no secret about the fact that I fell in love with Andalucía and I know I’m not the only one who feel this way about the amazing southern part of Spain. It’s fine, I can share Andalucía since it has so much to offer anyway: the weather, the beach, the culture, the people, the food, the history, the beautiful towns, murals, landscape and more. And strangely enough, I’ve grown to love the unique accent, too! I first went to Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla at the end of 2016 and to Málaga and Almería summer 2017. For the past 6 months, I’ve been going to the area every two to three weeks and always found something new to love. Every time.
9. I dressed up as a gitana or in Spanish flamenco dress for the Fería de Málaga. It was hot and expensive! But I also had some of the fondest memories with some of my favorite Spaniards. I’m already thinking of how and where I’m getting my next dress.
10. I interned for EF Madrid (Education First) organizing accommodation for international students who came to take Spanish lessons in Madrid. I worked with complaining students in English and complaining host families in Spanish everyday. Guess what, I think I’ve stepped up my game on how to complain and how not to complain. It might not be something I want to do in life but I seriously had the best colleagues! Spanish companies have the reputation to exploit young talents and interns by not paying them fairly and forcing them make coffee instead of doing real work and luckily I didn’t experience any of that. My colleagues even brought me coffee and chocolate occasionally! They knew they couldn’t extend my contract due to the volume of work available but was looking left and right to find me an offer. I owe their kindness forever.
11. Traveling around Europe and Africa is very accessible by all means of transportation. Thank to living in Spain, I could travel comfortably without breaking my bank thanked to the strategic location and the abundance of budget airlines. Roundtrip flight to Oporto costs me 50 euros, to Toulouse costs 30 euros, that’s cheaper than flying from Saigon to Hanoi! I’ve got to cross the ocean to Africa for the first time by ferry (14km away from the southern tip of Spain) and to reunite with friends in Germany, France, Malta, Switzerland, and Austria.
12. I learned about toxic friendship the hard way. Toxic relationships are everywhere but too often you only hear about toxic romantic relationship whereas unhealthy friendship is just as draining yet underestimated. Romantically or platonically, no one ever has the right to make you feel miserable, bring you down or manipulate you. Fortunately I eventually got out of the situation and learned a thing or two about choosing whom to hang out with.
13. I cannot complete this list without mentioning the reason why I came to Spain at the first place, I graduated master from EAE’s master in International Business. No, unfortunately I wasn’t valedictorian or representative speaker this time (the only graduation that I didn’t speak at since… kindergarten) but it was everything I could ask for. I think I was too caught up with late arrival (I came three weeks later than the start date due to visa issue) and housing mess – I obliviously didn’t foresee how difficult it would be. But again, it all worked out at the end.
I know I may not be “selling” Spain to some of you but I’m still staying and adoring it. There is so much to love about this place that it outweighs everything that may go ugly. I don’t know what the next chapters hold but for now I’m grateful for every moment I spend in this very special country.