Seven Indispensable Pieces of Advice for Moving Abroad

If your New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to become an expat, you’ll join thousands of countrymen leaving the country (or, if you’re American, fleeing the Cheeto). While expat life is uncertain, fulfilling, thrilling and, at times, mundane, it’s often a day-to-day challenge.

Information and preparation really are your best tools.

Making sure you’ve got everything in order before boarding the plane will help make your transition to expat life a bit smoother, even past the euphoric period of your first few months. Take advantage of the free resources you have around you, from your local library to websites devoted to expats.

HiFX, a great resource for all those hoping to move abroad, has asked me to contribute to their Expat Tip Page to help make the transition into life overseas for future expats as easy as possible. After agreeing to contribute to the expat page in a couple of weeks, I realized that I actually have lots of tips for people looking to move abroad.

Don’t start packing until you’ve considered the following:

Got a Passport?

No? Get one.

Yes? Is it still valid?

You passport will serve dozens of purposes when you first move away, so it should be up-to-date, valid for at least six months from departure and in good condition. In Spain, I had to use my passport to sign up for my residency card, prove I could rent an apartment, open a bank account and travel outside of the EU. It’s one of my most important belongings, and I’ll soon get one for Micro.

Note that many airlines also require you to have at least 90 days – or even as many as 180 – left to even board the plane. Dig your doc out of your sock drawer and check it out.

Visas

If you’re planning on a long-term move, you’ll more than likely need a visa. Some tourist visas are good for three months or even up to a year, but if you’re planning to work, buy property or study, a tourist visa won’t cut it. Contact your nearest consulate for the requirements necessary, and work to get them together as hastily as possible. Some visas can be sent away for, while still other require multiple trips to the consulate to present and pick up your visa in person.

It’s all good practice, really – in Spain’s case, the waiting will become part of everyday life!

Live the Language

Language can be an Anglo expat’s biggest nightmare as English is not the commonly spoken language. Thankfully, the web is home to countless resources: podcasts, practice exams and videos and songs. I always suggest to my students that they read or watch something that they’re interested in in English, and doing the same helped me learn Spanish. Check out Notes from Spain and Note in Spanish – it’s a great resource for not just words, but also images and culture in España.

Many big cities also have free language courses or refugee centers, and chances are there’s a native speaker you could invite for a coffee. I checked out books and films from my local library to pick up a few extra words and phrases, which sparked an interest in reading travel memoirs. If you’re creative and willing, the possibilities will come.

Once you’re in your new country, consider signing up for a language course, as well – they’re more than worth their while!

Money Matters

Dealing with money is more than just learning to translate your dollars into foreign currency – let your bank and credit card companies know you’ll be away long before you go, research foreign accounts, and if you’re making money abroad, considering opening a separate account in your home country for card payments, student loans or miscellaneous costs that may come up while away. Again, knowledge is power.

In addition, I always make sure to have a small amount of local currency on me when traveling back to the US or Spain, as well as traveling outside the Euro Zone. This way, you can get public transportation to your destination or buy a coffee on a long layover without the hassle of changing money. Traveler’s check are still accepted in large cities; not all businesses in Spain will let you charge a purchase.

And I can’t forget about FACTA: if you’re an American, you aren’t free from taxation without representaton. All Americans must declare worldwide income, even if you didn’t earn any of it in the USA. Look it up in your passport! The IRS operates in various countries around the world; Panama’s IRS Tax office has jurisdiction over Spain.

Making Contact

Your home country will likely have an embassy and one or more consulates in your new country. Be sure to register with them, particularly if you’ll be settling in a place prone to political unrest or natural disasters – it the event that evacuation is needed, you will be notified and offered help.

Americans can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows constant contact with US embassies abroad. Ambassadors and their staff are also on hand for visa processing, passport renewal, and issuing records.

On that note, be sure to email other expats in your preferred destination to establish a pre-departure network for both information and the almighty rant session when you can’t figure out to unlock your phone/don’t get anywhere with bureaucracy/aren’t sure if you can get your favorite products from home. Expat circles can help you through tough times and get you on track when you first arrive.

Staying in Contact

On my first trip to Spain, Skype hadn’t been invented and many Spaniards didn’t have computers at home – I’d have to use phone cards or local Internet cafes to call home! Nowadays, technology has brought the world together through smartphones and broadband, and there are countless mobile apps for keeping in touch.

Consider unlocking your mobile phone for use abroad, study up on plans in your destination country and set up a listserv or email to let your loved ones back home know what you’re up to. Expats will often list missing friends and family as one of their biggest complaints, so making a conscious effort to stay in touch will help ease homesickness tremendously.

Attitude is Everything

As someone who constantly sees the glass as half full (and has already ordered another one), I think my attitude and grit has allowed me to deal with the frustration, disappointment and headaches that can come from living across the pond. Realize that not every day will be new, or exciting, or even fun. Know that it’s normal. Be open to new opportunities and learning from others. Enjoy it.

All tips listed here are my own because, well, I’ve been through them!

Are you considering becoming and expat, or have you lived or worked abroad? I’d love to hear your tips, as I sometimes deal with expat angst – even after nine years!

Eight Reasons Why You Should Teach English in Spain NOW

The most common question I get when meeting new people in Spain is, ‘Why did you originally come here/go to Spain/decide on Seville/move abroad to work as a teacher?’

I could answer this question in volumes, but it’s just easier to say, to travel, to learn Spanish, and to try out teaching English as a foreign language.

In March 2007, I found out about the Auxiliar Program, known in the United States as the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program. I gathered the recommendation letters, drafted a letter of intent in my best 101-class Spanish and sent off a packet to Madrid. Spending a year in Spain for 631€ a month sounded like a good plan.

This is where I shake my head and think, If only I knew that this was the start of everything.

I spent three years working as an auxiliar de conversación in a high school in Olivares (Seville). It has been, to date, my favorite job, one which I looked forward to going to every day. I got to talk all I wanted, plan activities as diverse as a gap fill about Evil Knievel to a Halloween party, and my coworkers bought me breakfast every day.

My last day at IES Heliche was gut wrenching, but, I came away with skills I didn’t think I’d ever acquire, and the job plus my formal training with an academically challenging and internationally recognized online TESOL diploma has led to others in the same sector in Seville. There are many nay-sayers who are quick to blame the program for its lack of organization or slow payment process, but I firmly believe that  you get out what you put in.

And now they give you materials about how to teach. I was thrown to the lions (lions that looked a lot like 13-year-old kids).

I receive emails everyday about teaching abroad. Given how difficult it’s getting to stay under the radar without a visa, I always recommend the auxiliar program or a similar gig which grants you a student visa and health insurance, along with a stipend. There are 3,000 jobs up for grabs around Spain which will pay you between 700€ and 1000€ a month in exchange for working 12-16 hours, and now countless companies are offering similar positions.

Let’s practice a bit of first conditional, in which we talk about circumstance which can be true in the present or future.

If you go to Spain to teach,

You’ll learn Spanish.

Immersion learning is one of the best ways to acquire a language. From dealing with the bureaucratic mess that can be the Spanish government to living with international students or workers, there is no doubt that your spoken Spanish will improve. Try turning off the subtitles on the TV, reading the local paper and chatting up the abuelos in the bar down the street. When I first met the Novio, he told me my castellano was gorgeous, but my mistakes made it difficult to understand me.

Nowadays, he’s threatening to not take me to anymore Betis games because my potty mouth is too much for the other fans around me. Spain is a great place to put your textbook Spanish from high school to use (and you’ll finally get to exercise the “Oh, they only use that in Spain” vosotros form!).

Spain is also home to several dialects and even another language, so if you geek out about linguistics, Spain will be an audible treat for you.

You’ll have ample time to travel.

Ever heard that Spanish people love to party? It’s true, to an effect, but there are multiple holidays that will make a long weekend (you’ll likely work just four days a week) even longer. There are a dozen national holidays that fall within the school year. Plus, you’ll get local and regional holidays off, plus two full paid weeks during the Christmas holidays and another during Holy Week. If you’re in Málaga or Bilbao, you also get another week off somewhere because the local festivals are during August.

You’ll travel for cheap.

The running joke when I was an auxiliar was, “Where is Cat going this weekend?” Since coming to live in Spain as an English teacher, I’ve been to every autonomous community and 20 countries. Budget airlines abound in Europe, and Spain has several hubs along the coasts and in Madrid. Sign up for offers from every airline that flies out of your nearest city, and you’ll be surprised how cheap it can be to get around Europe.

Apart from that, Spain’s network of public and private transportation is top-notch. All major cities are connected via rail, and private bus companies are a comfortable way to travel both long and short distances.

You’ll have people looking out for you.

When my mother first met my boss from the auxiliar program, Nieves, she gave her a hug. It had been three years since I’d worked in Olivares, but Nieves and I have remained close. My mom thanked her over and over for looking after me when I first arrived to Seville without a single contact and flailing Spanish skills.

Now that the language assistant program isn’t new, its participants know you’re likely in your 20s and far away from home. I was taken care of like one of their own, even offered winter coats, free rides to work and the opportunity to take part in several cultural experiences (I spent the first weekend in Seville betting on horses at the Pineda racetrack and then stayed out until 8am). That said, everyone has a different experience with regards to coworkers, but attitude can go a long way to forging healthy relationships with them.

You’ll gain international experience.

Getting a job in America seems scary competitive, so having international experience on your resume will be a great talking point in an interview. Apart from learning Spanish and trying out something new, be sure to tell a potential employer that you’ve picked up valuable problem-solving skills and explored diverse interests. Network on LinkedIn before returning home, keep a blog of your experiences and be sure to make your year or two teaching in Spain stick out.

You may just get sucked into it, too.

You’ll learn about Spanish culture, and not from a textbook.

They say experience is the best teacher, so forget all of the business you learned in high school from your textbook. Without a doubt, living in Spain and working as a teacher has given me first-hand knowledge of Spanish schools and Spanish life.

As a tutor, I became friends with several of the families who employed my services. This meant offers to attend first communions, family luncheons and even ride in horse carriages during the Feria. Inviting me into their homes meant I got an idea of how Andalusian families lived, from crowding around their braseros when it got cold to checking out what Spanish kids ate for merienda. While I only moonlight tutor now for one family, I’ve remained in contact with several of the households who once paid my groceries and travel habit.

You’ll have the visa and health insurance figured out.

Coming to work in Spain legally if you’re a North American is difficult. The various teaching programs offered to native speakers have the advantage that you’re awarded a student visa for the duration of the program which is available for renewal, as well as private health insurance during that time. I’ve had all sorts of work-ups and check ups done, just for the sake of milking it for what it’s worth. The student visa will also entitle you to student discounts and the ability to travel around Europe longer than a Schengen visa can provide.

To be clear, the auxiliar program through the Spanish government employs you for either 12 or 16 hours a week, which also gives you time outside of work commitments to try other things. I’ve taken flamenco and French class, worked for a student travel company and still found time to do tutoring and partake in the siesta culture.

You’ll get to live in Spain for an academic year, and you’ll get a stipend to do it.

You get paid to talk in your native tongue a dozen hours a week. If that’s not reason enough, I don’t know what is.

Not too keen on an assistant teaching position, or you’ve already gotten around the visa issue? In Seville alone, 26 new English language academies opened for the 2012-13 school year, and it’s a growing sector. Once you’ve got a TEFL degree, finding a place to work is far easier. There are also many alternatives to the auxiliar program that still get you the necessities to live here, and I’ve broken them all down for you.

If you are an auxiliar, tell me about the good and the bad of your position. Would you recommend it to a friend?

Seville Snapshots: SIMOF and the Moda Flamenca Industry

A few years ago, I had this moment where I had to pinch myself – I was sitting seventh row at a flamenco fashion show. I couldn’t tell you anything more than it’s name in Spanish, let alone rattle off the colors, fabric, cuts and even the numerous ways to style those ruffles.

SIMOF, short for Salón Internacional de Moda Flamenca, is one of the world’s greatest flamenco fashion shows. Showcasing more than 50 designers (including kids!), Seville’s convention bureau rocks to bulerías as the year’s top designs go down the runway.

When I went three years ago to a Friday afternoon to see Loli Vera’s designs on show at SIMOF, I was drawn into a design world, Tim Gunn style. Even though the models looked like they couldn’t have been more bored as they strutted (well, it’s hard to strut in a traje de gitana) in front of fashion bloggers and video cameras. I began to take interest in desginers – not just of dresses but also shawls and accessories – and giddily begin planning my Feria look a few months before the big event.

The Reyes Magos came a bit late this year, but they left me a fantastic present – money to go towards a new flamenco dress for the Feria de Abril, which I started designing last week with a modista. It was both nerve-wracking and exciting!.

If you go: SIMOF 2014 takes place from this Thursday to the following Sunday in the Convention center of Seville, FIBES. Entrances to the fairgrounds and stands, where you can buy fabrics, trajes and accessories, is 5 and each fashion show costs 10. You can find all the information you need at FIBES Sevilla’s official site for the event.

Have you ever been to SIMOF, or own your own flamenco dress?

Tapa Thursdays: Apple Strudel at Buda Castle

While Spanish food is one of my biggest loves, I am not one to turn down local fare in any of the places I visit. This meant wild boar tortellini in Florence, leubuckhen in Passau and even grasshoppers in China. A happy tummy means a happy Cat.

When I was on a shoestring budget traveling around Europe, I typically ate street food and made sandwiches in hostels and splurged on one meal. Now that I have a big kid job, I find that a far larger part of my budget on eating and visiting local markets.

Then my parents came to Europe and they offered to pick up the tab.

As part of our package on our Viking Cruise down the Danube, we were offered the option of taking walking tours with local guides. As someone who has traveled independently for six years, I tend to stick to a map and my own intuition, but I found Viking’s guides to be knowledgeable and quite humorous.

My most frequent question: Where do the locals go to eat?

Our guide in Budapest, Julia, showed us around the Buda Castle area and directed us to the Ruszwurm, a nearly 200-year old coffeehouse that had retained its recipes ever since. Famous for strudel – apple, sour cherry and even nut – it’s one of the most frequented and most beloved of the Hungarian capital.

When we walked into the cramped café, one of the other families on the cruise was leaving, so we snagged their seats and ordered an espresso for me, a cappucino for my sister, and an apple strudel and tiramisu to share. One thing you have to understand about my family is that we’ve all got a severe sweet tooth, so a certain amount of self-restraint was required to not get an individual pastry and fend off wandering forks.

The strudel was heavenly, flaky on top and tart in the middle. Our bill for two coffees and two cakes came out to 9€ (most places in Budapest accept euros). Warm apple strudel? These are a few of my favorite things.

Marek told us that we should wait until Vienna for apple strudel. Or, you could just wait until Ruszwurm. 

If you go: Ruszwurm is located at Szentháromság utca 7, just steps from the St. Stephen’s Cathedral on the Buda side of the Danube, and is open daily from 10a.m. until 7p.m.

Exploring Passau, Germany

One of the cities that really surprised me during my winter travels was Passau, Germany. Known as the Dreiflüssestadt, or the city of three rivers, this Bavarian town was walkably charming and the departure city for a cruise down the Danube with Viking River Cruises.

Passau reminded me a lot of Sighisoara, Romania with its pastel-colored rococo buildings and cobblestone alley ways. The peninsula of the town meets not only the Danube, but also the Ilz and the Inn. 

Lukas, an Austrian who is also a lecturer at the renowned university of the city, told us the city’s history, peppered in with anecdotes about city life and statues of patron saints floating down the river (really! That tricky Saint Nicholas). Having lived in cities with rivers all of my life, I found it irrisistably charming and picturesque, from the cobblestone alleyways to the dimly-lit beer gardens and antiques shops.

 

Before our official embarkation and welcome cocktail, my family and I stretched our legs by taking a taxi to the Oberhaus and taking in the view from above. Bavaria has famously good weather, and we were treated to a memorable sunset above St. Stephen’s Cathedral and nearby Austria to the south.

Have you been to Bavaria or Passau?

Visiting Spain’s Archaeological Sites

Spain has an ancient landscape where you can explore ancient human sites that date back to prehistory. The earliest sites, the caves and rock shelters, date back to the Paleolithic (Stone Age). Spain’s oldest archaeology actually pre-date humans; the Orce Basin in the Andalucía of Spain has evidence of the earliest known Homo erectus in Europe, from around 1.6 million years ago.

yes, that’s me in 2009. memories.

Cave of Altamira

The Cave of Altamira is famous for its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, which date from between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. This was the first cave in which prehistoric paintings were discovered and helped to change the way we think about prehistoric human beings today. The cave was discovered in 1880 and it is close to Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, which is 30 km to the west of Santander.

Atapuerca

Atapuerca is the site of a series of limestone caves near Burgos in northern Spain. The main site is called Sima del Elefante (“Pit of the Elephant”) and contains fragments of human jawbones and teeth dating back 1.1 to 1.2 million years ago. Nearby is Gran Dolina, which also contains human remains and some early tools from around 800,000 years ago.

Baelo Claudia

Baelo Claudia was a Roman town in Andalusia, close to Tarifa. It is one of the finest ruined Roman towns in Spain. The town developed as an important trading post during the first century BC under the Roman Emperor Claudius. It had a forum, market and theatre. Many of the ruins have been restored and preserved.

Lugo Roman Walls

The Lugo Roman Walls date to between 200AD and 299AD and are one of the finest examples of a late Roman military fortification. They were built to protect the Roman city of Lucus Augusti, now called Lugo, in the north-west of Spain. Lugo is the only city in the world surrounded by a Roman wall (the Ronda da Muralla). The wall has ten gates. The city dates back to the Celtic period and is named after Lugus, a deity of the Celtic pantheon. In 13 BC it was conquered by Paulus Fabius Maximus and renamed Lucus Augusti.

Belchite

Belchite, in Zaragoza, is a relatively modern ruined town. It was destroyed during the Spanish Civil war in 1937 and has been left untouched since. The town was founded in 1122.

Mérida Roman Theatre

The Mérida Roman Theatre was built around 15BC and is the one of most impressive Roman ruins in Spain. When in use it could hold an audience of around 6000 people.

Mérida was known as Emerita Augusta and was the capital of Lusitania. Today you can also find the ruins of the Roman circus, amphitheater and the impressive Temple of Diana and the Alcazaba Fortress.

Castillo del Nicio

Castillo del Nicio sits upon a hilltop called Cerro del Castor in the province of Málaga. It has extensive ruins dating from the late Moorish period. Roman and Bronze Age items have also been discovered at the site.

Ruinas del Castillo de San Luis

Ruinas del Castillo de San Luis is a ruined castle dating back to 1646 on the island of Tierrabomba. It once controlled the entrance to Bocachica, an important trade route during the colonial period.

What are your favorite arhcaelogical sites in Spain? Don’t miss Carmona, the dolmens in Valencina or Roman gem Itálica while you’re in Seville!

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