Andalusia: Off the Eaten Path

Spring is here, and while it brings all the things I love – sunny afternoon coffees over charlita, the springtime fairs and romerias and renewed ganas to trip around Andalucia, there’s one thing that I despise: my allergies. I cough and hack and sneeze my way into ERs throughout Seville thanks to being allergic to nearly everything in the air here but postureo.

The biggest culprit? Olive trees. This from my substitute to butter, the shame!!!!

I’ve been itching to visit Jaen, a province in the northeastern part of Andalucía, for years. Home to Renaissance villages, natural parks and….never-ending olive groves. While I’ll have to wait to get there, Anna Frisk of the blog Cut the Kitsch takes us on a visual journey of this oft-forgot province.

 Sniffles guaranteed.

A mesmerizing sea unfolds from the perch of Cazorla. The mountainside village in Jaen is not surrounded by water, but millions of olive trees. This ‘sea’, as its name implies in Spanish (El Mar de Olivos), is an endless dotting of green.


When I first came to Spain, my teaching placement situated me right in the heart of Andalusia’s olives. My previous knowledge of Spain consisted of little beyond the expected: wine, flamenco and tapas.  The region’s hefty haul of olive oil production (more than 20% of the world’s supply) hadn’t registered until I saw the blur of green from the train’s windows.

Throughout Jaen province, the sprawling pattern of olive trees gives the landscape a dual dynamism: an admirably esthetic and a pragmatic purpose. Yet in a country garnering great media attention for its culinary creations, Jaen has gotten little to none, especially outside the peninsula.

Moreover, in a world increasingly consumed by the health merits of the Mediterranean diet, Jaen holds its liquid gold, extra virgin olive oil. Enter Jaen and you enter a world consumed by the olive.

If you visit, here are a few musts to follow.

>Stock up on the liquid gold

Each town offers shops specializing in olive oil throughout the region. Walk in one, but make sure to ask. Chances are you don’t know what you should be looking for; ask the experts. They’re here.

>Taste it

Sure, it’s not wine country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t taste your way through the region.  This is perhaps my greatest olive related regret of Jaen; I never did a proper tasting. Google search “olive oil tasting in Jaen” and myriad of favorable results pop up.

>Tapa crawl through the UNESCO World Heritage jewels

The region represents more than its principal fruit. Tucked within the heart of Jaen are two UNESCO World Heritage cities, Baeza and Ubeda. I had the fortunate of living in the former. While the rest of Andalusia flaunts its Moorish details (of which the two small cities still have), Baeza and Ubeda proudly tout Italian Renaissance architecture, some of the best in Spain, too.

Moreover, it’s a tapas haven. If you’ve traveled through Spain before you may have realized that free and generous isn’t the rule, but the exception.

>Hike Cazorla

This is wild Spain at its arguable best. With a park profile that includes alpine meadows, mountain ridges, pine forests, waterfalls, wild animals and more, Cazorla (nearly) has it all. In fact, as Spain’s largest protected land tract, it quickly beckons those with any inclination toward nature.

It’s also tagged with the prestige of an UNESCO biosphere reserve, which means it gets additional international importance. If you visit, make time for a post-park stop at its namesake, a mountainside village that sits picturesquely beneath a castle.

After snapping a photo, sit down, order a beer, and enjoy the region’s favorite aperitif, fleshy and fresh olives.

Anna Frisk is a blogger and photographer who considers herself a vagabond with a day job. Anna first found the world via Okinawa, Japan. Since then, she’s trampled through mountains, temples and deserts to arrive here. Check out her blog at 

Have you ever been to Jaén? What should I visit when I go out there?

Applying to to the Auxiliares Program: How to Apply to be a Language Assistant in Spain

this post was updated in February 2016.

Nine years ago, I began researching a way to make it back to Spain. I was a senior at the University of Iowa, finishing a degree in journalism and minoring in the inter-disciplinary “how the hell do I get abroad.” 

Fast-forwarding to the present day, I’m sitting in the sunlight basking into my new home with a café con leche. My one goal post-college was to move abroad, and thankfully the North American Language and Culture Assistants gave me a visa, a job and the ability to make Spain my hogar dulce hogar. And since it began nearly a decade ago, loads more teaching programs in Spain have begun.

Remember Mike? He wrote about his intention to start a new life in Spain through the same program, and has gladly shared his experience of tackling the application process.

Tips on How to apply to teach English in Spain on the North American Language Assistant Program

Well, the application period for the Auxiliares de conversaciones extranjeros en España finally opened up. However, I felt that I was going into this application process basically blind. All I really knew is that I had to login to Profex (the application system they use), and upload documents. Everything I had read of various blogs and forums said that you should apply AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE! Basically, once someone applies they are assigned a number, and then once the application has been approved, placements in regions and schools are given out in the order of the application received. First preference being given to those who are renewing their current placements.

The website has a program manual that outlines the application process and a Profex manual that detailed each screen on Profex and how to navigate the page. Once I was actually in the process of applying, these documents were actually very helpful. I was able to begin working on the list of documents on the website which needed to be submitted for the application:

  • The main page of a U.S. or Canadian passport
  • A copy of college transcripts or college degree
  • Letter of intent or statement of purpose
  • Medical certificate (if not a U.S. citizen) – to be turned in during VISA application process
  • Letter of recommendation

Before the application period opened, I was diligently working on the collecting all the items above. The passport page was an easy photocopy, as was the copy of my college transcript. I browsed many forums and blogs, as well as the Facebook group for this year’s auxiliares to see if it mattered between the transcript or the degree. Everything I came across said that it didn’t matter as long as one was uploaded. Needless to say, I chose the transcript. The letter of intent was fairly simple, as I had to put into words why I wanted to teach in Spain. However, the only glitch with it was that it had to be 300 words, so my 750 word first draft had to be significantly reduced. Who knows if they really even read it though?

The website had a guide for how to write and submit the letter of recommendation. The letter had to come from a professor or former professor unless the applicant has been out of school for over five years. I contacted my former professor and faculty advisor. She was ecstatic to be writing the letter for me. I was thrilled because I had been nervous that since I could not ask her in person she may say no or put it on the back-burner and finish it later than when the application opened. My professor wrote the letter in the format they requested and mailed it in. I asked that she send me an electronic copy so I could upload it online just in case it got lost in the mail. Luckily, she obliged and I was able to upload a copy when I was applying.

On January 10th and 5:01 p.m. here in Milwaukee, WI, (00:01 a.m. in Madrid), the application period finally opened. I began logging in and creating a user account, while following the Profex manual. After I had created a username and began entering my personal information, the system started to load very slow and kept shutting me out. I attempted to login a few times and kept receiving an error message from the website. Quickly, I began searching forums to see if others were having this problem, and I found out that others had the same exact problem. It seemed as though the mad rush of applicants had overloaded their server.

I attempted to login nearly every hour, sans when I briefly slept; however, it was to no avail. The same error message popped up every time. Since it didn’t work through Friday Spain time, I figured it would be down through the weekend, which it was. Although, it did not stop me from constantly checking to see if for some reason it would work! On Monday, I was able to login and finish my application. The Profex Manual was a breeze to follow with actually having the web page up in front of me. Most of the fields that need to be filled in are personal information, college information, any teaching experience, and any study abroad experience, fairly straight forward.

After all that information was completed, the fun part began: selecting region, type of city, and school preferences. For regional preferences the applicant put each group in order of preference, from 1 to 3, and then selects one region within each of those three groups. The options for regional placements are:

Group A: Asturias, Cueta y Melilla, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarra, País Vasco

Group B: Aragón, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluña, Galicia, Islas Canarias

Group C: Andalucía, Castilla y León, Islas Baleares, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia

The regional preferences are followed by the type of city preferences, which allows the preferences of a rural community, medium sized community, an urban community, or no preference. Then, the school preferences consist of primera, secondaria, or no preference. Personally, I found this to be the most exciting part, as I was actually selecting where I would prefer to be located. Now, I know that I may not get placed in any of my selected preferences, which is perfectly fine with me. I was just excited to be actually submitting something that said where I would like to go and what I would like to do.

Once this part of the application is finished, Profex generates a .pdf print out. It is necessary to print this out and sign it because it needs to be mailed in to a specified regional coordinator along with a checklist that is initialed and signed.

An application becomes Inscrita once the online part is complete. When the regional coordinator receives all the documents the status is changed to Registrada. This is where my application is at this point. Admitada is the next stage, which is when all the submitted documents have been accepted. So far, no one that I know of has been placed past this stage this year.

According to everything I have read, it takes a long time to reach the next stage, Adjudicada, which is when they send the autonomous community assignment that the applicant has been placed in. You have seven days to accept or reject this placement. Assuming it’s accepted, the status becomes Aceptada. The final stage is when you receive your Carta de nombramiento, your school placements. These latter stages of the Profex application process are exciting to think about, but still seem far off for me. I’m just looking forward to being Admitada!

This whole Profex process was not actually as difficult as I had anticipated. Current assstant blogs and forums were incredibly helpful and reassuring throughout the process. Unfortunately, I discovered Facebook group for those applying to teach after I applied, otherwise that would have been pretty helpful too. In the end, I wound up with number 780. While it’s not the best number in the world, I still feel as though it is respectable and feel very comfortable that I should get a placement. I’m checking my applications status every hour, if not even more frequently, and I look forward to keeping everyone updated with my thoughts about this whole process.

Got any questions for Mike or me about the program?

Making the Choice to Live Abroad (and Stay)

My first steps in Spain landed in a big wipeout.

Armed with two suitcases, a carry-on and my laptop bag, I tried to hoist my backpack onto my bag, using a round, aluminum can as a platform from which to ease my arms into the padded straps.

Yes, I brought all of that with me. Two free pieces of luggage? Those were the days.


And I fell, right on my culo. I roared with laughter, falling over on my side and howling. That’s just kind of been my story in Spain.

After five years of living abroad, I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to live a life abroad in sunny Spain. The reasons that have kept me here are quite simple – ask any of my dozen friends who have been here to visit over the last few years, question my parents, read this blog start to finish in one sitting to really swallow the heartbreak of defeat, the uncertainness of a new relationship, crap work experiences. I have slowly made my life in Spain, from the first few shaky steps and the fall on my butt to establishing my version of happiness in my little burbuja in Seville.


Studying abroad is what made me want to move away from the US in the first place. Perhaps after reading too many of those Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul books, I decided that living abroad was ever going to happen, it needed to be right after graduation.


Just days before commencement, the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program offered me  visa and the promise of a job in a high school somewhere in Andalucia. The summer before leaving was full of hurried preparations, tearful goodbyes, and a yo-yo like inner peace with my decision. I kept telling myself it was just eight months, and that no one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home.

My reasons were simple enough: to learn Spanish and travel during a second chance at studying abroad. DJ Yabis, the blogger behind Dream Euro Trip had similar intentions. He writes: I wanted to study and live in Europe so I applied for a prestigious full scholarship (read: tuition, roundtrip flights, insurance and monthly allowance for 2 years) sponsored by the European Commission and GOT IT! Similarly, Mariann Kun-Szabo of tiny girl with a big bag said: I was selected for a scholarship to spend my internship in Spain, with all the costs covered, then I could not stop traveling. Like DJ and Marianne, I had an opportunity fall right in my lap to obtain a visa, work and live in Europe for eight months.

Then suddenly, a week before my plane took off rumbo Madrid, I felt like Spain was where I needed to be. On the plane I went, waving giddily to my parents as I skipped through security at O’Hare and into the International Departures terminal.

My year was not without its ups and downs – I struggled to learn Spanish, had trouble making friends and tried to not think about the life I was putting on hold for a year. Facebook became my enemy, my Skype calls home barely concealed my homesickness. I felt that every label I’d ever used to describe myself had suddenly been stripped away, leaving me fumbling for some sense of self-awareness. But I met the Novio, and he was worth sticking around for. My Spanish Adventure began to take root.


I have started looking at my life in terms of school years, just as I always have. After all, I’m a teacher and a student, and my worklife is measured in school years. My mother said, “Think of Spain as your super senior year of college.” Poor woman didn’t know I’d be on super senior year número six already, but giving myself a few months’ break in between keeps one foot in each bucket – one in España and the other in America. No one is really making my choose just one yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Seville throws me curveballs every other day it seems. If it’s not dropping my clothes out of the window when hanging them to dry (no tumble dryer), it’s the sting of not knowing if I’m always making the right decision. But the feel of the sunshine on my face, the fresh produce and the andalú that has kept me here. If I had to put it down in 25 words or less, I’d write that the folklore, the daily challenges and the blunders have kept me here, not to mention love.



When I put the question to my readers, it was clear that moving abroad is a change that many have decided to make. Be it the draw of adventure or to try something new, the promise of fresh love, language learning and running your fingers along walls that have existed far longer than you have. Spain is the romantic realization of sultry Latin dreams and of wild jet-setter nights.

Many of them wrote that they, too, had been lured by Spain’s familiar, yet exotic traditions and the chance to live a new adventure. Jackie’s response that she ended up in her happy place, Shannon remarking “I’d love to live in a place where something centuries old is still considered new. I want the romance of history, culture and new adventures,” and Robin of A Lot of Wind just wanted the adventure: We chose to live abroad because we wanted to reach out and grab a bit of life that wouldn’t have dropped into our laps otherwise! And I just love how Marianne of East of Malaga summed it up: It’s a land of beauty, wine and dance – with always a hint of a little romance ;)


And I’m not the only one to follow my heart when it came to sticking around in Seville for more than just the sunshine and siestas. Four readers met their partner while on short-term stays in Spain:

Natalia’s husband danced right into her heart on a week-long trip to la Hispalense: Feria de Sevilla, 2009—I spotted a charismatic Sevillano in a caseta and asked him to dance. Happily married and still dancing sevillanas! while Kaley met hers after a pick-up basketball game in Salamanca while studying abroad: 2009 Salamanca. Basketball win. Hemos quedado. Spilled the wine. Climbed the cathedral. Fell in love. 3 years later: I said yes! And Steph of Discovering Ice uses her boyfriend as the perfect scapegoat for her wanderlust: I was in love with a Colombian who was literally half the world away…we just used travel as an excuse to be together! :)

I sometimes think how different my life in Spain would have been had I not accepted the invitation from Kate to go out the night the Novio and I met. Like Melanie: I met my Spanish husband on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres. One seat away then could have meant a world of difference now.


Travel Bloggers’s responses interested me, too. As I make connection with like-minded travelers, I find that we have much more in common than the T-word. When it comes down to it, an adventurous spirit and the will to do something about it. When I think back on the times when Spain almost didn’t happen because of my own fears or the unwillingness to miss a Hawkeye Football season, I cringe at being so stupid. Alexandra Kovacova of Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler said: I hate boredom and wanted to learn more about this amazing world out there and different cultures. Raymond Walsh of Man on the Lam confessed: I wanted to cover the earth before it covered me.

Some worldly parents, like Talon Windwalker of 1Dad, 1Kid, 1Crazy Adventures said he “wanted my son to see the world and be raised as a global citizen & I wanted to get more living into our life,” whereas Durant Imboden told me that he “didn’t have a choice” because his parents took him along. My parents encouraged my traveling – even if it was just running from one end of the house to the other when I was a kid – and I feel I owe them for instilling an adventurous spirit and apetite for me, and taking me abroad when I was just old enough to have it stick in my head and put me on a direction for life.

Ash of The Most Alive hit the proverbial clavo on the head: Decided to build my life on the principles of adventure, learning and justice – not the social norms of 9-5 mortgage and retirement…
…now there’s something to live and travel up to.
Lex of Lex Paradise had the mentality for why I came, seizing a pasing opportunity and fulfilling a dream. He wrote: Well, I am now living in Spain as well ;) never thought but it just happened as it suppose to be ;)” which is why I’ve chosen for him to win the $15 Amazon Gift Card. I loved this project and the responses, so don’t forget that Karen’s book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, full of loads of laughs and sage advice, is available on Amazon for purchase (in paperback and Kindle format).

My Journey Back to Spain…again

My desire to live abroad was coupled only by my worries for how to make it happen. Thankfully, my study abroad office at the University of Iowa gave me the information on a relatively new program to teach English in Spanish public schools. I threw out my plan to follow my friends Matt and Brian to Ireland and began brushing up on my Spanish.

Five years later, part of my morning coffee goes to helping my readers find a way to make their dreams of sunshine and siestas a reality. One such reader, Mike, and I have been in contact for quite some time, and he’s finally decided to quit his job and apply for the Auxiliar de Conversación program that brought me here initially. Here’s his story:

Before I get started on my story, I’d like to thank Cat for being so gracious and allowing me to write a guest post as I’ve been an avid reader for a while now. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy my post as a guest author and find it helpful in whatever capacity they are looking for. I am currently applying for the auxiliar de conversación program in Spain.

However, my story begins long before me just recently pulling together my application materials.

My Story

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my mom had always told me that she was forcing me to study abroad when I was in college. She had studied in Copenhagen, Denmark  and told me it was an experience that everyone needs to have. During my junior year in high school I was afforded the opportunity to go on a week-long trip through Spain with my Spanish class. It was then that I fell in love with the language, people, cuisine, and culture. I knew I would be returning to Spain at some point in my life.

A recent shot of Mike in America

When I was in college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I took a Spanish class during my first semester. It was extremely difficult for me, and I ended up dropping the class. I thought I was done with Spanish and did not enroll in the class again. After a couple different major changes, I found myself with a foreign language requirement that had not been met. Thinking it would be an easy class since I could remember some basic Spanish from high school, I enrolled in an Introduction to Spanish course. After the first class, my professor noticed that I was ahead of the others who had never taken Spanish before and recommended to me that I move up a few levels. I was cautious, but ultimately agreed. The higher level course was naturally more of a struggle, but it was far more rewarding as I rekindled my love of the Spanish language. Following the course, I applied, was accepted, and studied abroad in Granada, Spain for a semester in the spring of 2010.

Studying in Granada, Spain


My study abroad experience was undoubtedly the best experience of my life,  and ever since I returned to the US, I have been yearning to return to Spain. After graduation, like many people out there, I applied for a bunch of jobs and eventually was offered and accepted one. It was a desk job, doing something that I thought I may be interested in; however, it was not for me.

Mike and his host family in Granada

Since accepting the job, I have dabbled with the thought of applying to teach in Spain, but have not been fully committed to it, until now. There have been plenty of reasons that kept me from applying, primarily that my job is steady, secure and well-paidl. Essentially, it is a job that many would probably die to have, but that’s not me. It’s a job that most would imagine themselves having when they are 40 years old or mid-career professional, and I do realize that I was lucky to land in it. This has held me back from applying to teach in Spain for over a year, but I had enough. While many may die to have my job, I would die to teach in Spain.

Over the past year, I have consulted with Cat as well as anyone I could find who taught in Spain or even another country about what one needs to know before teaching abroad. It has been a huge help to me in making my decision to take the leap, so thank you for everyone for your advice. The number one piece of advice that nearly every single person echoed was that if you don’t do it, you will always regret not doing it. I truly believe this is the case because I can picture myself always regretting it and wondering “what if” had I not ever tried.

Applying for the Auxiliar Program

Once a current auxiliar directed me to the website for applying and I found it, all I could find was information for the school year 2012 – 2013 program, whereas I would be applying for the 2013-2014 program. I started to panic because I figured I was doing something wrong and simply could not find it. I thought I was missing something obvious and was going to be late in applying. I checked the website just about hourly to see if it changed or if I missed anything. Then, one day, November 5 th to be exact, there was finally an update. It said they were working on the call for applications for 2013-2014, and that the application period would open up on January 8th, 2013. It also noted the manual for the application would be posted soon. I felt an enormous sense of relief.

As for now, I have been using the 2012-2013 manual and application checklist on the website to begin to pull together my materials. I realize that some of the materials may change, but I figure this will give me a jump-start for when the application period opens. If I end up doing something that is no longer required, I’m fine with that because it’s exciting doing it since this all part of me going back to Spain to teach! The two primary pieces I am pulling together are my letter of recommendation and my statement of purpose. An applicant also needs a copy of their passport and their college transcript or diploma.

Mike hiking in Ronda (Málaga)

While waiting for my transcripts and after pulling together my statement of purpose, all I have to do is wait for the application to open and the manual to be posted. I know it’s only the middle of November, and while it said December, I am still getting anxious and still checking back just about hourly.

I hope to keep everyone updated on my journey from America’s dairyland back to Spain. While Cat and I both came from the Midwest, Chicago and Milwaukee respectively, I can imagine that our experiences will be different since a lot has changed in the five years since she first left for Spain, yet I am extremely hopeful that my experience will be just as astounding and inspiring to others as hers was and is to me.

Hasta luego.


Mike will be contributing to Sunshine and Siestas regularly until he hears from the program about his (hopeful) return to Spain. Got any questions for either of us about being an auxiliar or about how to apply to the program? Or about doing a TEFL degree? Leave us a message in the comments, or join my Facebook page for more scoop!

Eight Simple Rules for Surviving Your Spanish Apartment

It’s January, time for a new start, or perhaps a new outlook. Or maybe even a new living situation.

When you’re abroad, you undoubtedly expect the best when it comes to language acquisition, looking for new friends and lessening the effects of culture shock. In that way, of course, it was like going to college, just with a little bit more life experience, for me. Being a journalist by college degree, I delved into my research about neighborhoods, pricing and what to not expect in my new casa dulce casa in Spain. But you never know when a few strangers are picked to live in a house, work together to survive convivencia and have their lives changed.


In living abroad, one is often faced with questions like, what do you mean there’s no dryer / oven / Walmart nearby? There’s not enough hot water for me to take a shower? What exactly do I do when I spill olive oil all over the floor? Add a language barrier, a mix of personalities (and maybe nationalities) and an ever-present landlord, and convivenciathe art of living together without throwing the compañero off the terraza and hoping he hits all the clothes lines on the way down – becomes ever-important. After three years of a shared piso, four roommates and countless frustrating situations, here are  eight simple rules to help you survive convivencia.

1. Be clear about the conditions from the beginning.

My first roommate is called Erin, and we shared a love for Lite beer, college football and the movie Center Stage. But we were also comm majors, so we learned early on that the easiest way to live with one another was to be able to communicate. When I say be clear from the beginning, I mean to lay down the rules and conditions until your ears bleed.

Some questions to clear up could be:

  • Can I have guests spend the night?
  • What day must the rent be paid by?
  • How will we split utilities?
  • Are we sharing food, just a few communal things, or nothing?
  • What’s your relationship like with the landlord?
  • Is there Internet? How does it work?

When each party is able to understand just how you’ll deal with tricky situation, a roommate who can’t pay, and cleaning, your convivencía will be ten times easier to achieve.

2. Make a chore chart.

It sounds silly, but when you get to a foreign country and are confused by pretty much every label, they help. When in Spain, for example, Mr. Clean doesn’t exist. instead, he’s called Don Limpio, and he can be used for all sorts of stuff in the kitchen and bathroom. Cilit Bang becomes the miracle liquid, and detergent pills are more common than its liquid counterpart. As Hayley points out, there’s a methodology behind the clean floors issue: vacuum, sweep, wipe down. As Spaniards don’t have carpet – at least in the South – you’ll find that cleaning your apartment can sometimes be a drawn-out, hair-pulling sunday morning routine.

Having a chore chart that’s agreed upon by all can be the most helpful way to ensure buena convivencia. I often waged small battles against roommates who didn’t clean or asked me to do it instead. And, when all else fails, you can hire a limpiadora. With the economic crisis rampant in Spain, many unemployed people are offering their cleaning services for as low as 6€/hour. Look on websites like Loquo or even on lampposts for fliers.

3. Communicate openly, especially about money, upkeep and type of contract.

This goes back to laying down the law upfront, and then holding your compañeros to it. If you get a contract, know the conditions (and brush up on your housing vocab) and be clear about how any communal money will be spent. Before moving in with the Novio, I lived in a shared flat with two other girls. The Spanish girl was in charge of handling the money and paying the landlady, so we gave her our rent plus an agreed amount each month. Anything we didn’t spend in utilities was used for cleaning supplies, household items like onions and oil, and the occasional Telepizza for us. Honestly, it worked, and we rarely squabbled about money. Don’t be afraid to confront your roommate if there’s a discrepancy, you need some doubt resolved or you think there’s a better way to do things.

4. Ask for a contract.

I found out the hard way that having a housing contract can be to your advantage if you plan on staying in Spain for more than a year or two. On the negative side, the contract makes you liable for damage to the apartment and to pay each month. When you’re an auxiliar, living in your piso for just eight months while you’re visiting America over the summer could be a hassle, especially if your landlady was not too keen on the idea of having subletters like mine was. On the other hand, having a contract serves as proof of residency, which could be handy if you need an empadronamiento, which is a legal acknowledgment of your residency. I ran into the problem of not having one because my landlady wasn’t paying takes to the government on me, so she outright refused to help me out. The plus side? I left a few months before I said I would and didn’t need to pay the last few months’ rent.

5. Tell your señora you’re not coming for lunch/merienda/dinner.

Call it a personal story (or maybe one I have heard a trillion times), but part of respecting your host family is a simple, Yo, Pepa, I won’t be joining you for another stew made of whatever it is that’s in your fridge. My little old host mom, Aurora, she of Radio María and fish head-eating fame, was never quiet about how much trouble it was for her to find a suitable meal for us. It was the great sequía of 2005 (when all of Spain suffered heat and a drought), and we barely ate a thing. Aurora took this personally and chided us to stuff our bellies. The problem was, I happened to be living with a vegetarian who couldn’t stomach fish, and I myself didn’t eat fish. We had a steady diet of Cola Cao, tomatoes and tortilla de patatas with plenty of cheese and nocilla chocolate (and I swore I lost about six pounds!). Still, Aurora nearly took the Lord’s name in vain when we didn’t turn up for lunch one day, and she’d finally figured out how to turn on the oven to make us pizza.

She just shook her head in disappointment. I realized then that we had become like family to her, and she was hurt that we hadn’t advised her that we chose Pans and Company sandwiches over her culinary delights. If you’re living in someone else’s house, abide by the rules and keep them informed. You may be an adult, but being on an exchange program means they’re also in charge (and many times, invested) in your well-being.

6. Respect the rules and the neighbors.

You may never exchange a word with the little old lady in 3ºD, but don’t go out of your way to piss her off, either. Little ladies in Spain pack a lot of heat, I’m telling you, and they chatter away with one another about you. I found out the hard way during my first few weeks at my apartment in Triana. My friends were visiting from nearby Huelva, and upon leaving the cathedral, ran into a group of minstrels. They day turned into evening turned into we were hammered enough to invite them to my house for a party. We stocked up on cheap whiskey and canapés before the tunos showed up, and transformed my tiny piso into a heathen paradise. I will forever associate the term “sexy bones” with Kait Alley and the 14-year-old we all swooned over.

Soon after, I heard a knock on the door, and ran away on instinct. Alfonso opened the door and told me the cops had come. They let me off with a warning, not the 100€ disorderly house fine. My German roommate begged me not to tell the Spanish one, but she found out soon enough. When I admitted the whole thing to her, she wasn’t too angry but asked me to be more respectful. After all, she’d been living in the building for ages, and instead demanded to know who had used her brush, which was full of long blonde locks.

Other ways to piss off your neighbors is having your shower leak (happened to us), getting locked on your balcony (the lady told me not to drink early in the morning), tanning on your terrace or having all of your guiri friends over Saturday night for a botellón.

7. Don’t settle

If you’re not happy with your living situation or you find something better, just move out. I know, it’s a huge pain in the ass to cart your stuff across town and up a few flights of stairs in the heat, but in the end you may be happier. I was excited to have an acquaintance a mere three minutes away, but not halfway into the year, she was moving out and into the center, where she shared a villa with an eclectic mix and was much, much happier. Offers come and go, so don’t be afraid to look for something that better fits your bill. Most auxiliares or Erasmus students freak out in coming to Spain and having just a few days to adjust to the language, jet lag and sunshine, and then think about trekking all over town to find a place at the height of the season (early September and mid-January, as the student turnover during this time is quite high).

I had a beer with a friend a few weeks ago who told me she’d moved from one neighborhood to another in Seville just recently. Her reasoning was that she was paying too much – although in a great locations with many amenities – to only live in Seville two-three days a week. She now shares a bedroom and pays a fraction of a cost. Be practical – know what you want in your future home, and move on if you can’t get it.

8.  Develop a penchant for beer.

Just trust me on this one. (Ok, I couldn’t think of an eighth rule, either).

People ask me all the time how it was that I came to call Seville home (including International House Hunters!!), and how I went about finding a place to live. There are tons of online sites and placement agencies, but I did all of the work myself. While I can’t say I loved the noise from the nearby soccer pitches or having to take cold showers every now and then, I did survive convivencia, Spanish temperaments and even a weirdo landlord who always came round when I was just stepping out of the shower (FOR REAL). Melissa, Sanne, Eva and Megan will forever be compis, even though it’s been ages since I’ve seen most of them. They may not be my bestest friends, but we dealt with different languages (English was the lingua franca), painting the walls ourselves, a neighbor who always cooked naked, a stampede of Chinese people in the teeny apartment above us, getting locked on the balcony and rockhard beds. And we survived. So much, so, that I now have bedbugs and the boyfriend on the daily. O-freaking-lé.

Tell me your roommate horror stories! Landlord fracasos! About living under a bridge down by the river!

Happy Spaniversary to Me!

Dragging my gently worn suitcases outside, I hoisted 100 pounds of my life into to car. Four hours from that moment, after a quick lunch at Portillo’s and a long goodbye, I’d be on a plane bound for Madrid-Barajas with my grandmother, ready to reimmerse myself in Spanish life for two weeks before making a nine-month move to Seville.

Ha, what would my life be if it actually happened like that?

That, my friends, was four years ago today. That’s about 12 percent of my life, as long as I called myself a Hawkeye, twice as long as I thought I’d ever make it in the land of Sunshine and Siestas. But, here I am, quasi married, españolizada’d and just plain happy with where I’m at.

When Helen left Spain a few weeks later, after we’d spent hours on trains, long meals getting to know each other, and discovering just how many facets Iberia seems to have, she left not just Spain, but me, too. I was all alone.

I took her to the airport in Granada and cried. Where would I go from here? Well, I went to Carrefour, Spain’s closest thing to Target, and bought a comforter. This had to mean I was a real Spaniard now, right?

As I read the reactions of first timers in Spain, I like to think I hit the ground running on this whole “España” thing. When Kike and I went to a wedding and I belted out the words to an 80s song touting just how great Spain is, I received cheers, and Kike pats on the back. I love Spain, and Spain loves me right back.

McDonalds is made of skinny cows? Deep.

So, in honor of my four years in the wonderful word of Cervantes, machos, lack of tacos and people in desperate need of my native tongue (aka I have a way to earn money always), here’s four things I love about it (hint: it’s not fútbol or flamenco):


Esa semana tan emblamética…There are no words sufficient enough to describe the sight of thousands dressed in flamenco dresses, the smell of fried food and sherry (ok, and a whiff of horse poop) and the sound of lively flamenco music pouring out of striped tents. I’ve lived some of my favorite moments in the Real, a stark stretch of nothing 51 weeks of the year, and many of them have left me feeling more Spanish than American (ruffles and a big old comb stuck in your head will do that to a girl).


My mother always said that food was a way to a man’s heart, employing me in the business of baked goods goddess when I was barely old enough to reach the counter. While it isn’t easy to cook in Spain with the conversion to the metric system, grabbing a tapa is as easy as walking ten meters in any direction. And, dude, do I love it all – dátiles con beicon, fabada, lentejas, gazpacho, solomillo. Since Spain has influences from around the Mediterranean and I’m the sixth member of a Spanish family, I am no longer concerned that I will whittle away to ná.

What’s more, meals in Spain are sacred. Midday grub is hearty and often lasts hours, stretching to café and then cognac. Going out for tapas is the way to be seen, be fed, and be happy – the ultimate social experiment. And Fernan Adrià has put tapas and haûte cuisine on the map in Spain, bringing fame to San Sebastian’s pintxos, Granada’s free tapas and a squealing little cochinillo in the central regions.

If you’re really daring, ask me what I eat. While I’ve never been picky, I’m certainly more adventurous (though I will never forgive my boyfriend for once feeding my pig kidney soaked in wine. Ew).


Maybe it’s simply because Switzerland was cloudy while I was there, but I love the varied landscapes Spain bets with. As one of the most mountainous regions in all of Europe, I have no shortage of valleys, rivers, peaks and everything in between. What’s more, Andalucía, the region I call home, meets the sea – both Mediterranean and Atlantic. The North has lush, rolling hills in Santander, stark plains in Castilla La Mancha and acre after acre of sunflower fields all over the country. Train and bus rides aren’t mundane – they’re inspiring.

La manera de ser

Call me crazy, but I love Spanish people, especially Andalusians and Galicians. The way a people can be so aware of their past, so adherent to their traditions and so stuck on living la vida buena. Anyone who knew me pre-Spain knows me as wound-up, neurotic and biting off way more than even fits in my mouse. But Spain’s attitude of mañana, mañana– just plain old taking it easy – has helped me calm down and take things as they come. That foreigner’s office business? Meh, this is Spain friends. And not having a job when school started? Well, this is the way things work here.

But somehow, I think I’ve ended up just where I wanted to be. And where I was meant to, too.

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