My experience of the economic crisis in Spain.

If I venture outside my apartment at all in Spain, it’s impossible to miss signs of the economic recession. As I walk to the train station, I am stopped by people begging for money; every time I use the metro there are people asking for help to feed their families and young children; and on a simple walk through the city centre I am witness to numerous people with a wide range of disabilities begging for help for things such as food, clothes and medicine.

Besides people asking for money on the streets, I honestly can say I have never seen so many homeless people in my life. Albeit the climate in Spain may permit it more throughout the year than the United Kingdom, but during this past winter I have experienced weather far colder than what we’re used to in Northern Ireland.

While it is extremely sad to see so many people in need of help, there are a few organisations in Madrid that provide food and warm clothes which the people can’t afford themselves. Although, they aren’t receiving money it is a big help for them.

Shortly before Christmas, there were a group of homeless men living near my flat that I walked past every day so one day when it was particularly cold I decided to buy them some warm food and they could not have been more grateful.  When I arrived back to Spain in January they had moved on to a different spot which was quite sad as they were all very pleasant. As I live on one of the busiest streets in Madrid, their former site was taken up quickly by a group that caused more problems.

The shortage of money extends further than I ever could have imagined. In the school where I teach, parents have trouble finding the money needed to buy their children books and basic school supplies and this makes it especially difficult because there are very few resources available from the state. Obviously not having school books can greatly affect their education and how well they do in school.

It can be heart-breaking to see however it does inspire you to offer any help you can but while at the same time being cautious so as not to offend.

Xanadú shopping centre and it’s ski slope!

When offered toast with tomatoes for breakfast the next morning, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive but as my mantra this year is “Yes” I decided  to go for it and give it a try. It was delicious! It was a slice of baguette toasted, spread with a heavenly fresh tomato paste drenched in olive oil. It was one of the nicest things I have eaten for breakfast in months.

Later that day, my lovely flatmate and her husband took me to Xanadu, which is a massive shopping centre with an indoor ski slope, it was awesome! The shopping mall was decorated in a lovely and very modern way with just about every shop you can think of, so as you can imagine my purse and I enjoyed it greatly! I found this amazing magnetic nail polish which when you hold a magnet over it creates really cool shapes. I also bought myself a winter coat which I desperately needed because at 7:30am when I leave the house for work Spain is freezing!

For lunch we went to an all you can eat Italian buffet restaurant and the food was really good quality. There was a range of salads, hot and cold pasta, pizza, meat and to top it off an amazing selection of desserts. Needless to say I didn’t eat the rest of the day…

A few weeks ago I went to the last bull fight of the season which was definitely an experience, very difficult to watch as I was TEAM BULL for most of it but a beautiful traditional experience nonetheless. Next time I blog I’ll write about it in more detail so stay tuned for that!

Settling in!

When I first thought of writing a blog I promised myself I would post something, however small every day. I have been in Madrid three weeks now and this clearly has not been the case so I shall update you on what has gone on since I arrived with 3 suitcases full of woolly jumpers and scarves, because we all know it’s cold in Spain, right?

After arriving on Tuesday evening, I spent Wednesday morning finding myself somewhere to live and by 12.30pm and 3 flat viewings later I had done just that! For those that will go on to do something like this my checklist read something like this:

  1. Email people ahead of your arrival trying to secure flat viewings.
  2. Buy a phone as soon as you arrive.
  3. Make dreaded first phone call in a foreign language.

Sites I found extremely useful were Idealista, Segundamano, fotocasa, loquo and easypiso. All of which have opportunities to rent your own flat or to share with other people. Although I spent weeks looking through pages and pages of flats, I eventually found mine advertised on a lamppost which seems to be a common practice here in Spain so I would recommend looking for adverts like this too. One important piece of advice I would definitely offer is to always take someone along to any flat viewings that you arrange, not only can they give a second opinion on potential accommodation for the year, but it’s also a lot safer.

Do not come to Spain expecting administration to be like it is in the UK, I have never seen so much variation in what you need to bring to a single appointment. Within the same branch people were told they needed photocopies of important documents and also 300 euro to set it up but when I opened mine, having searched all morning for a photocopier I was told that they could only use the originals and was asked for a minimal deposit. While it does vary greatly depending on the person you get when you arrive I would recommend you bring all official documents and photocopies you have just to be on the safe side.

On a more positive note, the school I am working in is lovely. The teachers and children could not be more friendly and most of my students are really very cute as they’re only between 5-7 years old. Despite their cuteness, one student thought it was appropriate to smack my bum! Never have I been so shocked – so like the 7 year old child I really am, I told the teacher on him and that seemed to sort it out pretty pronto!

Apart from school and official business I have had a good bit of free time already so have managed to see El Rastro, the Sunday flea market which was definitely an experience in the heat! El Parque del Retiro, which belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century is a really nice way to spend a hot afternoon. You could spend an hour on the boating lake or just generally experience the atmosphere by walking through the park to the Palacio de Cristal.  Madrid also has an urban beach with many water activities so it’s a lovely place to cool down if the centre of Madrid is becoming a bit much.

Food here is generally a lot cheaper than back home and quite nice but I did accidently eat a fried pig’s ear I had been given as tapas and can definitely say it’s not an experience I wish to repeat! Although I am enjoying Spanish cuisine, I have strong cravings for a roast beef dinner… Fancy sending one my way… please?

 

Boating Lake.

The beginning of my year abroad…

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With just over 2 weeks to go before I settle down on the plane to Madrid, I decided to write my first blog entry. Having received my first choice for regions when I applied to be a language assistant with the British Council, I have spent the past two months becoming more acquainted with Spain’s capital city via internet!

I found that although I might be able to converse on matters to do with Spanish politics, my conversational Spanish is somewhat embarrassing! Therefore, I searched the internet for Introductions to Spanish which specifically dealt with issues such as renting an apartment and asking for bus/train tickets. I eventually came across a real gem: Mi Vida Loca by BBC Spanish! (http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/mividaloca/) I highly recommend this online course mainly due to the fact that I found it very addictive as it is an interactive drama which leaves you asking ‘What happens next?’ while practicing basic, but necessary, Spanish.

I have been placed in a small town called Ciempozuelos which is about 40 minutes away from the city centre on the Cercanias – the commuter train network which connects the surrounding towns in the Madrid province to the centre. To quote the previous language assistant at the school I will be working at, Ciempozuelos is quite an interesting town so it will definitely be an adventure working there 4 days a week and getting to know it a bit better. Throughout my year in Spain I will keep you posted with the ups and downs of working as an auxiliar de conversación and my struggles to intergrate into Spanish society to become a bona fide madrileña… hopefully!