08 October 2013

Little Miss Teacher

It happened y'all. My first week of teaching is now complete.

How do I feel? Excited, nervous, frustrated?


But let's roll back a bit.

All auxiliares started teaching on Tuesday, 1 October. Many people were in the same boat as me, as in, we've never once taught a class before, much less multiple ones. So I did what most control freaks would do, and I went to visit my school the Friday before I started. Good thing too because (surprise surprise) I started walking in the wrong direction for ten minutes when I got off the metro.

The administrative building (and main entrance) to my cole.
My school is located in the Puente de Vallecas area of Madrid, south east of the city center. It's a solidly working class neighborhood, and you can tell just from walking around that it's predominantly populated by immigrants. I took three wrong turns and ended up on the opposite of the highway in a shopping center. Good work. When I finally made it to my school, I found myself with three separate buildings so I kind of just hoped for the best and knocked on the door nearest me. The school angel of God decided to bless me this time and lo and behold the school secretary opened the door. She immediately knew who I was and she took me in to me the rest of the administrative staff and the school director. From there she took me to meet Lourdes, the coordinator of the bilingual program at my school. 

You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Lockhart releases the pixies and it's chaos? That's basically what the 6o of primaria class (equivalent to the American 6th grade) looked like when I got there to meet Lourdes. Despite their general rowdiness, the kids were all really excited to meet me...they had even taken bets earlier in the day on whether their new teacher was male or female. I hope not too many kids lost money...

It wasn't my first day yet, so Lourdes just gave me the basic run-down of what my time at the school would look like:

  • Work schedule: Monday - Thursday, from 10-2, for a grand total of 16 hours a week (the maximum allowed by the government of the Comunidad de Madrid). What a difficult life I lead.
  • Students: primarily 1st and 2nd year primary, which corresponds to ages 6-7. Once a week for 45 minutes I would be with the very oldest (sexto...about age 11) and then with the very youngest ("los cinco años"). 
  • Subjects: English (duh), science, and art with the 1st years. I can't even draw a stick person, but considering the kids are 6...
  • Other random thoughts:
    • Most of the kids come from really rough backgrounds (broken homes, abusive parents, etc)
    • The vast majority of the kids are the children of immigrants (mostly from Northern Africa and South America). There's also quite a lot of Gypsies.
    • The level of English is all over the place. Kind of like Spanish classes in college.
    • The 2nd years have their Cambridge exam (essentially an English proficiency exam) at the end of the year. Come February, we will be doing mock exams with them to prepare. Anyone else getting flashbacks to the IB French exam?
Oh woe is me.

And then...


The cinco años classroom
So in I came with my hot pink pants because ¿por que no? My very first class was with Lourdes and the 2o class. I'm not going to lie, the entire first day was overwhelming. My classes are not very big, so I have less than 100 names to learn (I actually only have about 85 students total), but let me tell you, it ain't easy to learn a bunch of traditionally Islamic names of which many sound essentially the same. And then there's the repeats across classes and the strange pronunciations and boom, crazy Nic.

The teachers were all SO nice. I work primarily with Lourdes and Maria (the teacher in 1o), but I see all the others at lunch. The greatest thing about being placed in such a small school is the family-like atmosphere: all the teachers get together for lunch for 30 minutes of just random but entertaining conversation. They all took the time to introduce themselves and were so welcoming; you can tell they were genuinely pleased to meet their new auxiliar.

I could honestly sit here and recount every single brilliant moment of the first week but here are the highlights:

  • I used a globe to show the 2o class where I'm from and where it is in relation to Madrid. They all got so excited about finding where they were from and showing me as well. One girl in particular is from Georgia, a country she has no recollection of since she left as a baby. I helped her find Georgia on the globe, and she kept coming back to look at it again with such wonder in her eyes. 
  • One of the girls in my 2o class asked to go to the bathroom. When she came back, I realized she had used toilet paper to give herself a headband. 
  • My 1o class is a complete riot, but they never fail to flood me with hugs and high-fives when they go home for the afternoon.
  • Truth be told, I was not looking forward to working with the 6o kids. However, they were so excited with my class and so many of them came up to me afterwards asking if I could come back more than just once a week. 
  • My 1o kids now know all their colors, all because I bribed them with candy. 
  • Stickers aren't a thing here. Whaaaaaaa...?

There really hasn't been many negatives to speak of up till now. If anything the two hardest things are dealing with all the different levels of English and having to adapt myself to British English for many of their vocabulary words (rubber, the toilets, plait, etc.). And of course, I never seem to get enough sleep..these kids all need me to be high-energy and on the ball all day because they zone out as soon as it gets boring. My miming and dancing skills have improved dramatically in just a week, and I don't think I've ever spoken this slowly in my entire life.

Full steam ahead to week 2, amigos!

02 October 2013

La vida española

Ok, so I know I disappeared for quite some time, BUT I promise it's for a good reason...I didn't have wifi.


And then Blogger deleted my post and I had to write this entire post again so there's that.

I have now been in Spain for almost a full three weeks, and I'm going to attempt to summarize my first week here by breaking it down into sections. I'll write more on other stuff (namely, school!) in another post. Let's boogie.


On the morning of my departure from the States, I still couldn't quite wrap my head around leaving. I'm not really sure if it was denial or just a general numbness to avoid feeling anything too extreme. Saying bye to my little kitty was sad, since I so enjoy cuddling with her, but it was a bit easier to leave when she scratched my arm.
I was fine at the airport. Truly, I was. Until it came time to hug my mom goodbye. I don't really know how to describe it, but there's something different about a hug from your mom, and more so when you know it will be quite a long time before you can do it again. It was so incredibly hard to let go, turn my back on my family, and walk through security to catch my first flight to Boston. I'm not much of a public crier (though I do admit I cry a lot), but I couldn't help it on the three-hour flight. I was leaving behind almost every single person I love and hold dear, and as much as America drives me nuts sometimes, it's still home.
My flight overseas was much less tearful, especially once the tiredness set in. I arrived in Paris at 7:30 in the morning and used my broken French to cross what felt like the entire city of Paris just to get to the Air France terminal. Y'all, seriously, install some trams or something.
And then of course I went to the bathroom to put on some makeup because no way I was showing up in Madrid looking like something out of American Horror Story.


Going back to my point of being a cry-baby, the opening scene of Love, Actually always gets to me. There's just something so great about arriving at an airport and having someone there waiting for you with open arms and lots of love.
In a way, my arrival in Barajas was the closing of a giant circle. In the same spot where we said goodbye so many months ago, my Novio was waiting for me with a huge smile on his face. And yes, his hair was much longer and we were both dressed in summer clothes and we had individually been through so much in our time apart, but in that moment I swear I could have been in a movie. No photographs, please, paps.
My program provided us with accommodations in Moncloa, an affluent neighborhood in northwestern Madrid. I was really impressed with our hotel, namely the shower and bathroom were rocking. I was really lucky to have a great roommate who I got along really well with. After a brief chat, I strayed outside to explore my new home for the next 9 months. I took the metro directly into Sol, the dead center of Madrid, where I proceeded to get myself some cheap wine and a new SIM card. Spanish phone number, ca-ching!


CIEE provides us with four days of orientation while the government provides us one day after we're done with CIEE's. Even if at times the information was similar to things I heard before studying abroad or even just plain dull, orientation made me really thankful for choosing to go with CIEE rather than the Ministry program.
Topics we covered include:

  • Metro passes
  • the Spanish school system
  • Phones
  • Apartment hunting
  • Banking

I promise I'll write a post on all these to try to help fellow auxies out because...it's a lot.
As for the government orientation...well, I'm just glad I brought my phone and some pen and paper.

Moving abroad might seem extremely glamorous, especially moving to Europe (anyone else remember that That's So Raven episode where her cousin comes from Paris??). In a lot of ways, it is. Spain is a wonderful country and Madrid is a large city and it's always just bursting with life. But it's not always easy. I don't know anyone here, so I'm still trying to find my "group" of friends and even people for other things like a hairdresser, manicurist, etc. I'm terrified of screwing my students up or of being pick-pocketed on the metro. The transition hasn't been easy, but I think being off the internet for a while made it easier to sort of not hold on desperately to everything at home and try to find my own footing here.

I'll update y'all on whether I'm successful or not. Actually scratch that, you'll know if I'm successful based on whether or not I write. Ha.

Hasta luego!

05 September 2013

A Good Read on Gap Years

It's not particularly common to take a gap year in the States. It's definitely rare in the transition between high school and college, and while becoming more common between undergrad and graduate school, there's still plenty of people who choose to complete all their schooling in one go.

I'm going to admit that I always was hesitant about taking a gap year. I just felt like it was just easier to get all the misery and suffering over with at once rather than in chunks. My grandbig and big, though, both take a gap year before going off to medical school and absolutely raved about it. They used the year off to gain new experiences in the medical field and to just spend some time living as a real person rather than a student.

After hearing them go on and on about the things they were doing, I decided to take a gap year myself. Sure, it didn't blow over so well with my mom, but I've been out of school for nearly 4 months now and I have yet to regret my decision. The real world is no walk in the park: a full-time job is exhausting, you're probably not rolling in money, and gone are all my pre-set social events (thanks, sorority life!). But this is the first time in a long time my brain hasn't been fried (study abroad does not count). Eighteen years of schooling can take a toll.

Traveling is a great way to fill up that year. I, of course, actually will have a job while abroad, but if I had the money to just travel all year I totally would! Instead I compromised a bit. Here's a great article on reasons to take a gap year. If you're considering taking time off after school, definitely give it a look!

04 September 2013

One week, EEK!

I promise I did not realize that the title of this post rhymed until after I had already written it. However, let's pretend I'm incredibly witty and creative and came up with it purposely.

Moving on.

I wanted to write this post and then post it exactly one week before leaving (down to the time and everything) but unfortunately, these little nuisances called personal statements got in the way. So I'll have to just compromise and post it on the special day and not the special hour.

We're now officially a mere 7 days from my departure day aka one week aka single-digit numbers. And honestly, I don't know if I'm more excited or nervous. Excited is probably an easy one to figure out: I'm moving to Europe y'all! Nervous pretty much encompasses everything else. I have no family or friends in Madrid, I've never been away from home for so long, where am I going to open a bank account, there's no good-quality cheap nail polish, etc. Even the language has me stressing! I speak fluent Spanish but anyone who is a native Spanish speaker can tell you that the following analogy is probably correct:

British English : ebonics :: Spain Spanish : my homeland's Spanish
*Note: I will not call out my homeland on this blog. Loljk I probably will at least once but it won't be now.

I digress.

In preparation for my trip, here are some things that have gone down:

Shoe shopping. The last time I was in Europe, I did A LOT of walking. I'm talking I-lost-a-whole-eight-pounds walking. Unfortunately, this also left a lot of my most comfortable shoes completely destroyed. So flats and sandals were a necessity.

I got my eyebrows completely reshaped and I will be getting a haircut and a keratin treatment this afternoon. Yes, I know my hair is straight. Can't a girl just try to look fresh abroad?

I got a new crossbody bag because it was time to retire my previous one.

I made an appointment to get my metro pass WHAT

I unlocked my old iPhone so I can use it in Spain. I promise to write a post on the complexities of getting a phone plan abroad once I actually get there. 

I downloaded a Firefox extension called mediahint. This basically allows you to access sites like Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu from outside the States. According to my boyfriend, this can also be done if you do something with your ip address, but my technologically-challenged self did not really understand anything he said. Just download the extension.

I have finalized my list of graduate schools and have begun the process of writing my 8(!) personal statements. If I get into my top-choice program, you best believe I'm not completing those later applications.

My sister will turn 18 next week, so I'm trying to cope with the fact that my sister will now be an actual adult with the ability to vote. If you know my sister, you know why this is a major cause for concern. 

I went to Michaels and was geeking out so hard over all the Halloween crafts. All the things I could do with the little ones! In the end I settled for some stickers and basic craft supplies...for now.

The suitcases have been pulled out, although I can't say if any packing has been done. (Hint: if you're guessing no, you would be correct.)

It's a little surreal. Two of my friends are studying abroad in Italy and I am currently living vicariously through them. But it's really weird to think that soon I'll be so incredibly close to them. Sometimes, I genuinely want to back out and just stay rolled up in my mom's bed forever. But then the other day while I was at the bank, I told the representative of my plans for the upcoming year. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Enjoy every second of it, because I am still so mad at myself for not doing the same thing." It just made me realize how frustrated and full of regret I would be if I didn't go.
Violet speaks the truth, y'all.

So here's to a week of goodbyes, adventure, and another blog post in seven days from the other side.

PS do any of you know how incredibly difficult it is to go back to normal writing after spending over 2 hours on your personal statement? Dang, all I wanted to do was insert "nevertheless" or "unequivocally" somewhere in here.

20 August 2013

Travel Talk: Sevilla, Spain

The largest city in southern Spain, Sevilla holds a special place in my heart: it's the city where I spent 4 months taking the last two classes I needed for my Romance Language major and was my gateway to Europe. Size-wise, it can't compare to the larger and more popular cities of Barcelona and Madrid, but Sevilla nevertheless has its own charm and even a bit of a small-city feel. While I could write an outrageously extensive list of what to do, see, and eat in Sevilla, this post will cover the highlights:

Sights & Attractions

Cathedral and La Giralda
La Giralda

  • The largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the resting place of Christopher Columbus, the Catedral de Sevilla is a must-see. Admission is 8€, but if you're a student under 25 it's a mere 3€, a bargain considering the sheer size of the place. The architecture is absolutely stunning and it's incredible to see the amount of detail that went into the construction of the church. You can also walk to the top of the Giralda, which is the tallest tower of the cathedral and in all of Sevilla. From the top, you will have a complete view of the entire city of Sevilla and the surrounding areas. It can be exhausting to walk up there (especially in the heat) but it's worth the views.

Reales Alcázares
My roommate and I in el Patio de las Doncellas
  • Originally a Moorish fort, los Reales Alcázares is now a royal palace in the heart of Sevilla.The Moorish architecture is immediately evident in all the arches and detailed walls, especially in el Patio de las Doncellas. The gardens are also breathtaking and there's all sorts of flowers and fountains. Admission is free for all residents of Sevilla, 2€ for students 17-25, and 8,75€ for everyone else. If you're a resident, I highly recommend this place for an afternoon read...but not when it's hot out.
Plaza de España
Plaza on my way to uni classes

  • Possibly my favorite place in all of Sevilla, la Plaza de España is a large plaze quite unlike any I've seen before. The fountain is enormous and its mist offers a bit of relief from the summer heat, but my personal favorite part is the details along the walls that depict many cities across Spain. All of the architecture is intricately detailed and painted. If you're looking for a spot for relaxing, el Parque de María Luisa is immediately adjacent to the plaza, and there's plenty of grassy areas and beautiful scenery for all!
Metropol Parasol
It's like a giant mushroom...
  • If you're trying to get the sky-high views of Sevilla without the exertion that comes from walking to the top of La Giralda, I recommend el Metropol instead. Located in Plaza de la Encarnación, this mushroom-shaped wooden building known as Las Setas offers views of the city that do include the cathedral. You can walk all along the top of the building, and there's even a bar up there with drinks and tapas (warning: it is a bit pricy).

This was one of the main roads!

  • Although this really isn't located in the city but rather in the surrounding areas, if you have the time to take a day trip to Itálica, go. These are the ruins of an old Roman city and it's incredible how intact many things are. The most impressive sight is the Roman amphitheater (there's even lion scratch marks on some walls if you look closely!), but there are also some mosaics that are still mostly in great shape.

Food & Drink

  • One of our study abroad professors was kind enough to send us a list of some of the best places for tapas in Sevilla at the beginning of the semester. Eslava was one of the locations on there. While there is also a restaurant, I've never been to the restaurant, just to the tapas bar. They have many local specialties and, as such, is a favorite among locals as well. It's fairly busy, and if you're going on the weekend, I would recommend getting there before 8:30 or 9pm. The best part are the homemade desserts, but in all honesty, I never had a bad tapa here so you're probably safe with anything!
  • While studying abroad, we first came upon this bar on the recommendation of a friend's host family. Color me impressed. While I found the tapas to be a bit pricier than in other places I went to over the course of term, the food was absolutely delicious! I still have dreams about the bacalao I had here, so if you're a seafood fan, I definitely recommend it!
100 Montaditos
  • This was the first Spanish cerveceria I ever went to...but I wasn't even in Spain when I did. 100 Montaditos has small little sandwiches (montaditos) that come with all sorts of fillings: salmon, jamon iberico, even tortilla de patatas. Their biggest draw is their 1 euro deal on Wednesdays: all their montaditos are 1 euro, and you can get a mug of beer, sangria, or tinto de verano for a mere 2 euro. (If you live in the States and you have one of these near you, they have $1 Wednesdays!) These are all over Sevilla, although my personal favorite was the one located directly across from the Univeristy of Sevilla's Facultad de Historia.
Plaza Alfalfa
  • For a night out on the town with the locals, there's nothing better than Plaza Alfalfa. Located in the center of the city, Plaza Alfalfa is surrounded by smaller local bars and significantly less foreigners than most other locations. The price ranges can vary depending on where you are, but it's completely possible to pay just 4 euros for a sizeable mojito! While I can't speak for any of the discotecas here, the bars all have a really friendly atmosphere that can easily make for either a chill night out or a wild one.
Calle Betis
  • Tourist central to the extreme, Calle Betis is located along the south banks of the river between the neighborhoods of Los Remedios and Triana. There is no shortage of bars and discotecas on this street, and many foreigners choose to party the night away along this street. On our first-ever venture to Betis, my roommate and I came upon the Long Island Bar, which we absolutely loved for the rnadom assortment of people there as well as the fact that they have a different shot for each of the fifty states. We also stumbled upon a Latin disco. where there was plenty of salsa and bachata to go around.


Santa Cruz
  • Barrio Santa Cruz is what my mind pre-study abroad mind conceived as inherently Spanish. There's the small cobblestone streets, the balconies, the flowers. In the midst of all the winding streets, you'll find some small artisan and local shops. While not many sell clothing, this is a great place to find some unique or traditionally Spanish gifts and souvenirs.
  • I'm going to be totally honest: I didn't venture into Triana until about two months into my time abroad. On a weekend where I wasn't traveling, some friends and I ventured to the market on a Saturday. While we personally didn't buy much, there is so much fresh food and plenty of hademade crafts and artwork along the banks of the river. The food is more expensive than what it would be at a supermarket, but there's loads of local products that are worth buying for their sheer deliciousness.
El Centro (Calle Sierpes and Calle Tetuan)
  • This area was a danger zone for my wallet. These streets are quite narrow but it is literally just shop after shop. On Tetuan, you have all your big Spanish staples like Corte Ingles, Zara, Bershka, and Mango, but you also have smaller, local stores all along Calle Sierpes that sell all sorts of traditional Spanish clothing and artifacts. The best part is that this isn't like Barcelona or Madrid where the pick-pocketers are rampant. The streets feel incredibly safe.

Sevilla is much smaller than the more popular Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid, and I personally feel like there's also less attractions and tourist areas. However, there is definitely an abundance of tapas bars and restaurants so you'll always eat well. Based on pure charm, Sevilla is well-worth a visit, although I would say you don't need more than a week to hit up all the major sites.

Happy travels!

16 August 2013

On Leaving

"What are you doing?" is probably what I've heard more than anything for the past six months. Often, I even have to pause and ask myself, "Why in the world would you drop everything and just move across the ocean? You have actually lost your marbles."

I think every person is supposed to follow "The Plan" after college graduation: get a job (or go to grad school and then get a job), settle down and get married, have kids, work your way to the top, retire happy. For a long time, I thought I would "be responsible" and do the same, but in college I realized just how incredibly boring that sounds...sorry not sorry. Where's the adventure, the exploring, all the fun of youth? Studying abroad made me realize just how much I still can learn about myself, others, and the world in general by traveling and living in a foreign land.

I can't deny that I'm incredibly excited. I am taking a huge leap of faith here, but this opportunity fell into my lap and it has worked out in a way I could never have planned for. I'm young and really wanted to experience something new in a completely different environment before saddling up for school again. I get bored extremely easily (a huge problem in my life), and while I probably will eventually settle down into life in Madrid and have weekends where I lounge in my PJs and watch Downton, the opportunity for adventures and travel is much more at-hand than it is here. And I want to grow. Physically, I'm basically done and have been since I was about 10, but mentally? Spiritually? Home girl has heaps and bounds left, and what better way to do it than by challenging yourself to the extreme?

I won't lie and say that everyone has been supportive of my decision. I can't exactly blame them: it is a bit drastic and maybe even irresponsible. But ultimately, I am not doing this for them; I am doing this for me. It is not the traditional way of doing things and it does seem on the surface that I'm throwing away my college education. This, however, is perhaps one of the best opportunities I could ever have: I will be moving to a foreign city, with a steady job and reasonable salary, and I don't even have to work all that many hours. I won't be sitting in an office: I will be giving these kids a lifelong skill and give myself the adventure of a lifetime along the way. I want to prove to myself that I really can do anything I set my mind to, and really, after living abroad on your own, you can tackle almost anything.

I want adventure, not monotony and "average". I want to be able to move forward in life knowing that I've seen what I've wanted to see, do what I wanted to do.

Given all that, it isn't all roses over here in my little garden. I'm very methodical when I try to sort out my feelings, so of course I made a list on the strongest emotions I'm feeling...even though I realize that lives up to the emotional woman stereotype.


I don't think people take me seriously when I tell them I'm nervous or scared. Y'all, I don't know if you realize this, but it's kind of a big move. I'm moving to a city where I know no one. Sure, I speak the language and that makes it loads easier on one front, but I've never moved somewhere and been so completely alone. I can't drive home or fly back for a weekend; an entire ocean separates me from my family and friends. I've never taught for such a long period of time. In Sevilla I helped out with English classes at a secondary school but a) that was once a week b) I was told exactly what to do and c) I'm doing primary school now, and younger kids need more entertainment. I also have this ridiculous, if immature, desire to have people like me. And it terrifies me that my fellow teachers might not...or worse, my students. I'm scared that I won't make friends: I'm not an extrovert by any means. I'm scared that I might hate my job or Madrid. I'm scared that I won't find my niche. There's so many things that could go wrong, and my overactive and perfectionist mind can't help but bring these up, more and more frequently as I get closer to my departure date. I'm a big fan of planning; it's the main reason I keep a planner. Not having a concrete plan and knowing exactly what's going to happen...it's terrifying.


Piggy-backing off some of the previous points, I've been feeling quite frustrated throughout the process as well. There's the more obvious points of frustrations: the visa process was an awful debacle of sending papers all over the state, dishing out cash to a million different organizations, photocopying a thousand different documents, etc. The frustration of trying to semi-apartment search or work out a metro pass from across the pond. Dealing with the lax civil servants in Spain. But then there's the frustration that's inspired by people I know. I love my family and friends, but y'all. I am not going crazy, and it does irritate me when people suggest that I haven't thought this through. Trust me, I've given it plenty of thought. I'm not going abroad to go on an extended vacation: I've graduated, and while this isn't the typical 9-5 job, it is still a job. I can't just skip and travel whenever I feel like it as I did when I studied abroad. And don't even get me started on the frustrations of trying to navigate applying to grad school from overseas (and for those of you concerned, yes, grad school is still in the planner).


I was actually kind of surprised to find myself feeling sad about leaving. Obviously, I knew I would get sad about leaving my family and friends behind, but I think more than anything it's surprised me that I've been getting sad thinking about the moments that I'm going to miss. One of my friends and sorority sister is getting married in November, and I most likely will not be able to attend the wedding because of my school schedule. I won't be there to welcome the newest babies to my family for big/little reveal in the fall (dumb, I know, but I love my fam). I'll miss most of my sister's big senior year events. I won't get to see our new cat go from kitten to full-grown evil cat (sorry, I love my kitty but I'll always prefer dogs). My friends' lives will go on with new memories and new inside jokes, things I won't be a part of, and it makes me incredibly sad to think about that. I'll be spending Thanksgiving and my birthday without any of my family members or friends from home or college. And it goes without saying that nothing will be able to replace just being at home with a home-cooked meal with your family laughing around the dinner table.


Despite all the frustrations, anxiety, and sadness, it goes without saying that I'm also incredibly excited about what lies ahead. Up to this point, everything has worked out exactly the way I've dreamed of (and even more than I dreamed of). I absolutely love Spain, and the one time I was in Madrid I loved it. This is a new experience for me, and quite frankly it's one I'm looking forward to tackling. I get so excited thinking about my future students and spend many nights mentally planning lessons and activities for them. And the anticipation is killing me! I'm itching to get on that plane and just GO. Like, "Hello world, here I am, ready to conquer España!"...or at least my little primary school.

I'm so looking forward to this next chapter of my life. I am just relishing in the thought of not having to study or write papers for at least a year and having more time to myself and what I want to do rather than what my professors want me to do. I can focus fully on my job, grad school apps, and eventually (once those are out of the way), enriching my life in the way only cultural immersion can provide.

I know this post is really long: I kind of used it as a bit of a rant/confessional. Lately, I've gotten a lot of questions about how excited I am to be going, but it's not always rainbows and bunnies and I want people to know that. Moving abroad is not easy, even if you do speak the language. My time in Spain will be full of wonderful new memories and probably a fair share of poopy days, but I can't wait. Bring it, Madrid.

14 August 2013

Travel Talk

I've decided to start a new series on the blog. When I studied abroad, there were a couple of weekends where I literally just hopped on to a bus and went to a random destination we had decided on just a few hours before. We had no guide, no advice, and no clue about anything we were doing. While I definitely recommend doing that (it's so much fun, trust me), we also probably would have saved quite a bit of time if we had at least a small idea of what to expect when we got off the bus on the other side.

Which brings me to Travel Talk.

Essentially, these will serve as very basic guides for different cities around Spain and the world. I will try to include different sights, hotels/hostel recommendations, restaurants, and just general tips for each location covered. The best part is that I can't do this alone: while I've traveled a bit, I definitely have not done every city possible. So I will be getting help. At the moment, said help includes my two best friends from college but anyone who wants to contribute, just contact me (links are on the left!) and we can arrange something to feature you on the blog :)

The first Travel Talk is coming soon and will feature a city near and dear to my heart: Sevilla, Spain.

Happy travels!

For All Future Auxiliares

Liz from Young Adventuress recently wrote a post on the 10 mistakes auxiliares tend to make. A lot of these things are often suggested on the auxiliares Facebook page, but they probably are worth repeating because no doubt some people will still do these things. Personally I want to emphasize #5, #6, and #7. Saludos!

10 August 2013

Pesky Little Things

It's easy to romanticize your time abroad when you return to the States. When people ask you about your life overseas, of course you're going to neglect the grittier details and focus on the high points. I love Spain and Europe as a whole deeply, but now that I'm preparing to set off again for a longer period of time, I'm trying to be a bit more realistic with my expectations.

10 Things About Europe That Made Me Miss America

1. No screened windows
Y'all, this was a big one. I live in Florida, where mosquitos are an everyday thing. I don't do well with things coming in through the window. I studied abroad during a fall term in Sevilla, so the first month and a half was a literal hell because of how hot it was...I'm talking over 40 celsius almost every day. My señora didn't have the A/C on at all except during lunch, so during the day I would have to leave my window open to get a semblance of a breeze. Let me tell you, your room gets dirtier a lot faster.
2. Extra long laundry day(s)

As part of our homestay, our host moms were in charge of our laundry. You would think this is the greatest thing ever, and in many ways it is. However, my host mom, like most older Spanish women, was extremely thorough in her laundry. Between washing, drying, and ironing everything, our clothes would be gone for about a week and a half (or more) at a time. It got to the point where my roommate NE and I had to go buy extra clothes, particularly socks in my case, because we were always running out of one thing or another.

3. No ice
In the winter, this is actually not a big issue. The problem was the last few weeks of summer in Southern Spain. It is so incredibly hot and many times when you go to a restaurant all you want is a nice, cool glass of water. Well, good luck. It'll probably be cool when you first get it, but lukewarm within about 30 seconds. Fighting heat with heat, I guess.

4. Cyber-cafes/coffee shops

I honestly had never given this much thought, as I am not a coffee addict and had internet at my host mom's place. When midterms rolled around, my roommate and I decided to put in a little bit of effort and at least read our notes over once. However, it is nearly impossible to find a coffee shop to study in, something we could easily do on campus back home. Even the Starbucks were more for social gatherings over coffee than a study zone. In the end, we ended up at a nearly empty Dunkin in some really comfortable couches...and nearly zero studying done.

5. Modern amenities
As has been hinted at previously in this post, certain modern amenities that are commonplace in the US are not as common in Spain. Electricity is significantly more expensive in Europe than here (a situation that has only escalated with the crisis), and Europeans generally have a much more eco-friendly attitude about amenities. Dryers are not common and neither are A/C or heating. While you do get used to it eventually and learn to cope, it's hard to give up if you come from the States. I'm used to having the A/C on nearly year-round because of the Florida humidity, so my first few weeks in Sevilla were difficult.

6. Business hours

Ah, the famed Spanish siesta. It cuts the business day into two parts and effectively shuts down most Spanish cities from about 2 till 5pm. Banks are usually only open on weekdays, and even then only till about 1 or 2pm, making it difficult to reach one in time if you have classes all morning or work. You'll also be hard-pressed to find any 24-hour location, including convenience stores. One of the first debates we got into with our program teacher while abroad was the lack of 24-hour locations. She called them useless and really not essential, but I don't think she gets it: sometimes you just really want some Sour Cream and Onion chips at 3am.

7. Gypsies
My first encounter with the gypsies was outside the cathedral in Mallorca. I had never been to Europe before but I had been warned to watch out for them. Luckily, I was with a local so he steered me in another direction. In Sevilla, however, they're all over the center so a bit harder to avoid. The ones in southern Spain try to get you by offering this plant with healing powers. Unfortunately, while talking to/distracting you, another one may try to take your money. Gypsies are not unique to Spain though: they were all over Paris, particularly around the train stations and the metro, areas sure to be full of distracted foreigners. Like you would anywhere, it's just important to be mindful of your surroundings and keep your belongings close.

8. Lack of public restrooms and fountains

The first time I noticed this was actually at the beach. I had come with my swimsuit already on but a couple of people traveling with me had not. When we found a bathroom for them to change in, it turned out it cost €1,20! Just to use the facilities! There are no free public restrooms on the streets and most businesses won't let you use their restrooms unless you're a customer. And if you're thirsty, best get yourself a water bottle, because I never once saw a public water fountain.
9. No bagels
I absolutely love bagels. They're my absolute favorite to-go breakfast food (because you can't really take French toast to go). A toasted blueberry bagel with extra fluffy cream cheese? Heaven on earth. However, bagels are essentially non-existent in Spain. While a few people tell me they have managed to make them, it's just not the same as stopping by Einstein Bros. or Panera to get a warm, toasty bagel.

10. Poor customer service

This is probably the thing that most irritated me about Europe. Everyone in the service sector gets paid a fixed salary; tipping is not expected or encouraged. While I love not having to tip, it makes me wonder if tipping would perhaps improve the customer service (at least in restaurants). Many waiters are just straight up rude and service can be really slow. It's basically impossible to order, eat, and pay for a meal in an hour or less.

Have you lived abroad? What parts of daily living made you miss your home country?

05 August 2013

Dating a Spaniard

The wonderful Kaley of Y Mucho Más recently interviewed me about my relationship with my Spanish novio. Check out her article here! And if you want to find out how in the world the Novio and I manage, I actually wrote up a list of how we keep the romance going even from across the Atlantic.

Pack It Up

I am now less than 40 days away from my adventures abroad and many of my fellow auxiliares are probably in the same boat. Judging by the Facebook page, loads of people are freaking out about cell phones or finding a flat. Call me shallow, but at the moment my biggest concern is packing. I'm moving abroad, and it's not like college where I would switch out my wardrobe every time I came home. Luckily, the lessons I learned from studying abroad are still fresh in my mind. While this list is definitely not exclusive (things vary according to your own needs), I think it's probably what I'm going to base myself off of.

PS, this list is geared a bit more towards women, because I am female. Sorry, boys!

Nic's Packing List for España

Clothes and Accessories

  • Cute and trendy tops/blouses
    • avoid t-shirts unless you're planning to exercise. You will not really see Spanish women wearing a casual tee in public.
  • Jeans, particularly darker ones
  • Leggings and tights
    • if you're short on space, these can be bought for cheap at H&M
  • Shorts
    • avoid: sweatpants and gym shorts. Again, the Spanish generally dress much nicer than the average American college student.
  • a coat, preferably one that is suitable for both day and nightwear to save space
  • comfortable shoes! I cannot stress the comfort factor enough. You will walk A LOT, even in the larger cities like Madrid that have an extensive metro system.
    • a nice pair of leather boots would be ideal for winter. While generally more expensive in Spain, I saved space in my suitcase and bought mine at Zara for 80 euros.
    • other personal preferences: ballet flats, house slippers, one pair of heels (only if absolutely necessary...cobblestones)
    • avoid: packing every pair of shoes you own (go for shoes that can be paired with a large variety of outfits); sneakers unless you plan to use them to work out; Uggs...no one wears them; heels - they aren't very comfortable for going out, so if anything go with wedges instead.
  • scarves! Spaniards love them and you will be using them a lot.
  • underwear and bras
    • note: if you're really busty, I would recommend stocking up on bras here...European bras fit a little strange.
  • cardigans and sweaters
  • socks! LOTS OF THEM.
  • tanks, particularly ones that can be used for layering
  • at least one nicer and more formal outfit. You never know what kinds of events you'll be invited to.
  • pajamas (preferably pant ones for the winter)
  • a small bag or purse. I'm partial to cross-body bags because you can keep an eye on it at all times.
    • if desired, you can bring one more casual one and a nicer one for going out
    • keep in mind that pickpocketers are everywhere, and you'll be targeted for being foreign

Personal Hygiene

  • deodorant. The one in Spain is odd.
  • any medication you might take. Talk to your insurance in the States to see if you can take enough for your stay abroad. 
    • note: some medication will be available over-the-counter at Spanish pharmacies. Just take your prescription in and they will try to find you the equivalent.
  • pain killers such as Tylenol
  • any vitamins you take
  • Neosporin + bandaids (I'm accident-prone)
  • toothbrush + travel-sized toothpaste
  • makeup! It is much more expensive in Spain.
  • nail polish
  • chapstick, especially if you're attached to a particular brand
  • hair accessories: headbands, hair elastics, bobby pins
  • sunscreen...it's outrageously overpriced in Spain
  • travel-sized bottles for shampoo and conditioner. You'll need them if you plan to travel and stay at hostels.


  • laptop + charger
  • camera + charger
  • iPod + charger
  • headphones
  • flash drive
  • adapters for all your chargers 
  • cell phone + charger
    • if you have an American smartphone, you can bring it to Spain and just turn off data, leaving it on wi-fi only mode. You'll be able to iMessage, whatsapp, viber, etc. when connected to wi-fi. You can also bring your phone and have it unlocked so that you can enter a Spanish SIM card. I'll probably cover cell phones in another post.


  • another form of ID, usually a driver's license
  • credit/debit card(s)
  • health insurance
  • at least 100 euros in cash
  • a wallet
  • copy of all your important documents. Leave one copy at home and bring the other copy with you.
  • a carry-on that fits baggage restrictions for airlines like Easyjet or RyanAir
  • SOME craft supplies. Don't buy out Michael's, but you might find it useful to bring a few things (especially stickers).
  • measuring cups if you enjoy baking

Get in Spain

  • shampoo and conditioner
  • feminine hygiene products
  • regular-sized toothpaste
  • razor
  • blow dryer and straightener
    • you can bring your own if you really want, but many people have ruined theirs so watch out.
  • hair products (gel, mousse, hairbrush, etc)
  • soap/body wash
  • face wash/lotion
  • polish remover
  • floss
  • umbrella
  • maps...you'll find them useful, I promise.
  • any and all house needs: hangers, bedsheets, pillows, towels, silverware, etc. They have Ikea in Europe.

Bonus Tips

  • DO NOT overpack. I know everyone says this, but I cannot stress it enough. Spain is a very modern country, and many of the things we have here are available there. Advice from my study abroad office: take out everything you want to take, and then half it.
  • Most of the months you will be abroad will fall within the colder months. Heating is not as common in Spain as it is in the States, so make sure to pack winter clothes! I definitely did not pack enough when I went abroad and ended up buying a million new sweater tops at Zara (not the worst thing ever, but still). 
  • Take into consideration the weather in the places you're planning to visit. For instance, I visited London in mid-October, and it was much much colder there than it was in Sevilla at the same time.
  • The key with clothing is versatility and layering.
  • Realize that you will probably do some shopping in Spain (and elsewhere). Leave space in your suitcase for that unless you plan on just buying an extra suitcase.
  • If there is a particular candy you're attached to, you might consider bringing it. A girl I know brought a jar of peanut butter with her, I kid you not.
  • As an auxiliar, part of your job is to teach kids about your culture. It would be good to bring some things that represent home: pictures, American holiday goodies
  • The dress codes at the schools is generally very casual. No need for dress pants if you wouldn't normally wear them.
  • In general, Spaniards dress much more nicely than Americans. You won't see people walking around in sweats or a baggy tee. If you would wear it to work out or lounge around, don't bring it (again, unless you plan to exercise).
  • For my fellow sorority girls, no need to bring all your lettered shirts. You'll only make yourself stand out more.
  • Weigh your bags before you go to the airport. Check weight limits for the airline you're flying on. In general, the limit for checked bags is 50 pounds.

29 July 2013

Programs on Programs

If you want to work and live legally in Spain, one of the easiest ways to do it (besides marrying a Spaniard) is by being an auxiliar de conversación. Auxiliares act as the on-hand English language assistant at a designated school. Your role will vary based on the school and the age group you're working with, but generally speaking you will help provide the students with language development by speaking and instructing them solely in English. You will not be the main teacher, just an assistant. As such, the most important requirement for this position is being a native English speaker, not necessarily a background in education (although that will probably help you out when you start the job). There's a wide range of programs for auxiliares, and choosing the right one for you is just as important as deciding to move abroad in the first place. I've tried to accumulate the information I have for some of the most popular ones to give a general guideline.

The Ministry's program is run directly through the Spanish government. The application period opens in January, and while it's open until early April, it is highly recommended that you apply early. You will be asked to fill out an application, complete a 500 word statement of purpose, submit a letter of recommendation, and upload a transcript. There will also be a section for you to select your regional preferences. If your application is complete, you're basically guaranteed to get in. You will eventually receive an email notifying you of your regional placement (usually starting late May), and then a while later a second email with details of your exact school placement.

  • Payment details: €1000/month for Madrid, €700 for all other communities
  • Pros: no cost to apply or participate; easy application and essentially guaranteed a spot; placements all over Spain unless a particular region chooses not to participate (this year, they were Cataluña, Valencia, and Castilla-La Mancha)
  • Cons: cannot specify a particular city and limited options for ranking your top choices; program administration is disorganized and many things take forever to arrive (including placements); placements are first come, first served; program has a history of delayed salary payments to auxiliares 

This organization has a wide range of study and teach abroad programs in different countries. For Teach in Spain, there's actually different programs depending on your comfort level with Spanish and prior teaching experience. There are both 2 and 4 week immersion programs for those who want to bring their Spanish up to scratch. Teach in Spain Regular is for those with little to no teaching experience, the Basics program is more suited for those with more of a background (such as those with an education degree), and the Professional program is for those who wish to teach in a business setting rather than at a school. I am focusing on the two most popular, the Regular and the Basics. The application process is very similar to the Ministry one, with just few more requirements but still simple. After completing your application, you will receive an email when accepted and eventually a school placement (starting in late April). *note: I am participating in the Regular Teach in Spain program, so I am best equipped to answer questions on CIEE

  • Payment details: €1000/month in Madrid, €700/month in Andalucía
  • Pros: more organized than Ministry program; placements are generally better because they are given out earlier; plenty of support and advice from the staff both before departure and after; on-time payments
  • Cons: a rather hefty program fee (which covers things such as hotel accommodations your first week); only work in Comunidad de Madrid and Andalucía; CIEE acts as third-party between you and the government

I only applied to those two. The remaining programs on this page are other programs I have heard and researched on. I have also in some cases asked for information from former participants.

This program works solely with Catholic schools. The applications period opens in November and run through the end of January. BEDA is a bit more selective than most other programs, as they require a Skype interview (done in English and usually quite short). Many people have stated that having some sort of teaching experience or a high level of Spanish gives you an edge when applying. If successful you will receive in assignment in either Madrid, Alicante, Andalucía, las Islas Canarias, Castilla-La Mancha, or Murcia. More details here!

  • Payment details: Dependent on how many hours you work. This can range from €693 (16 hours a week) to €1040 (24 hours a week)
  • Pros: more organized than the Ministry program; no late salary payments; plenty of support from the staff in preparing for NIE/TIE paperwork; no preference given to those who apply earlier
  • Cons: program fee; required course with Comillas University that generally meets on Fridays (though not every Friday); limited to Catholic schools

Activa has a language assistant program to help them directly at their language schools rather than at an actual school. They do have programs that work in conjunction with schools to aid in language development but it's much more a language school than an actual school. They help in the preparation for all the official English language exams in Europe. To apply, you have to send your CV to the email listed on their site. They will contact you if they are interested in pursuing an interview with you. Language assistants with Activa work in 14 different cities across the Spanish peninsula.

  • Payment details: €900/month
  • Pros: located in some of the largest Spanish cities, including Barcelona and Valencia which no longer participate in the Ministry program; simple application process; rolling admissions
  • Cons: (according to some) long hours; rather spotty with communication and difficult to reach them with questions

Of all the programs on this list, this is perhaps the most prestigious. The Fulbright Teaching Assistant Program is available in many countries ad the requirements vary for each. For Spain, 41 spots are available in Madrid and 17 in Cantabria. As such, it is much more competitive and the application is more extensive. Applications open in May and remain open till October, and they include a statement of grant purpose, personal statement, references, and a foreign language evaluation. After the application period ends, there is an initial screening process, and, if selected, your application will move on to the final selection round.

  • Payment details: the amount of the grant varies by year depending on availability of funds and cost of living in your chosen area
  • Pros: extremely prestigious
  • Cons: much more difficult to receive a spot; will require undertaking a project in addition to teaching; aimed specifically at students and recent grads; no predetermined grant amount

Again any questions you may have, send them my way, and I'll try to help out as best as I can (or at least point you in the right direction!).

18 July 2013

Visa Application FAQs

All right, so now that my visa process is over and (almost) done with, a quick Q&A about the questions I got asked most often (and some of which I asked myself):
  1. What are the general requirements for the visa application?
    I wrote a post on this a while back. Keep in mind, those instructions are specific to the MIami consulate!
  2. Where can I find requirements for the other consulates?
    I compiled a list of instructions for the other consulates from other blogs. Any questions though should be directed at that particular blogger; I know nothing:
  3. Where can I find the visa application?
  4. Where can I request the Florida background check and the apostille?
    For the FL background check, you must mail a request to the office in Tallahassee. Make sure to note that you would like your check to be certified/notarized. Once you get it back, you can send it to the state for the apostille at this address.
  5. How long does the background check take to come back? And the apostille?
    The FL state background check takes approximately a week. The apostille took me approximately two weeks total time (allow at least 5 business days). FBI checks are known to take between 6-8 weeks.
  6. What does the medical certificate have to say?

    This medical certificate attests that Mr./Ms. ____________________ does not suffer from any illness that would pose a threat to public health according to the International Health Regulations of 2005.

    Signature                     Date

    Spanish version (your doctor can just write this on his/her letterhead and sign and stamp it)
    Este certificado médico acredita que el Sr./Srta. ________________ no padece ninguna de las enfermedades que pueden tener repercusiones de salud pública graves de conformidad con lo dispuesto en el Reglamento Sanitario Internacional del 2005.

    Firma                          Fecha
  7. Which forms need to be translated? Which need to be notarized?
    For Miami's consulate, the background check and the medical certificate will need to be translated. You may request a Spanish version of your background check from the state, and you may also request that your doctor write the medical certificate in both Spanish and English.
    The background check must be notarized in order to get the apostille. It is the only document that needs to be notarized/apostilled.
  8. How do I provide proof of financial support?
    Your carta de nombramiento from the Spanish government will provide this information as well as insurance info. If you're in CIEE, you will receive a letter directly from them with proof of insurance and income.
  9. Where is the Miami consulate located? 
    2655 S Le Jeune Rd Suite 203
    Coral Gables, FL 33134
  10. Who do I make the money order out to?
    Consulate General of Spain
  11. What is the actual appointment like?
    Read my post about my experience here!
  12. What if I don't have all my documents ready by the time of the appointment?
    Depends on what documents you're missing. The most important thing is to have your carta de nombramiento from Spain. Background checks are flaky, so if you don't have it in time for your appointment, Miami will let you mail it to them once you receive it.
  13. How long does it take to get your visa back?
    This varies by consulate, but in Miami it is usually within 4-6 weeks. My receipt tells me I can pick it up starting August 15th, so approximately 4 weeks from now. It may be less time if you are having yours mailed or are leaving earlier.


After two months of sending off random requests to the state capital, multiple trips to Kinkos, and a million questions on the auxiliares Facebook page, the day of my visa appointment finally arrived. For those who haven't had theirs yet, I will admit it is extremely pain-free as long as you have everything with you. Here's a basic rundown of how it all went:

  • Get there early! Miami's consulate requires an appointment, but once you get there, they give you a number and you go in based on that rather than appointment time. I got there at 8:30 (the consulate opens at 9) and there were already 7 people ahead of me even though my appointment was at 9. I lucked out because all the people ahead of me had something missing (no photocopies, missing consent form, etc.).
  • Make sure to have the following:
    • two copies of the visa application with a passport picture attached to each
    • original letter of acceptance from your communidad (extremely important!) and your CIEE letter (if applicable)
    • your passport and a copy of the information page
    • original and translated version of medical certificate, plus one copy of each
    • original background check with Apostille and translation, plus a copy of the check and the translation
    • driver's license and a copy
    • money order
  • The lady at the window asked for each of my documents in turn and then asked me to have a seat while she reviewed them and got me my receipt. When she called me up again, she gave me back:
    • original background check with the Apostille and original translation
    • original medical certificate with translation
    • driver's license
    • one visa application (with picture) stamped with the consulate's seal
    • a receipt
  • If you choose to pick up your visa in person rather than have it mailed to you, she wrote the date on which it will be available for pick up on my receipt. To pick it up, anyone can do it for me as long as they have the receipt and the visa application!
  • The entire appointment took about 15 minutes. It's really not that bad, trust me.
  • Check out this post on some questions I've gotten (and asked) about the process.
Buena suerte, chicos! :)

08 July 2013

To Do List, Version 1.0

So with my visa appointment fast approaching (next week, ah!), here is Nic's ridiculous to-do list is looking:

  1. Fill out visa application.
  2. Request and receive background check.
  3. Translate BGC using Rev Translation Services. Will take about 24 hours.
  4. Request and receive Apostille from the State of Florida.
  5. Medical certificate signed by doctor for both consulate and CIEE.
  6. Translated medical certificate (thanks, doc!).
  7. Two passport photos (but I'm going to Walgreens tomorrow or Wednesday).
  8. Copies of: letters from Comunidad de Madrid and CIEE, passport info page, my license. Kinkos, I'm looking at you.
  9. Money order from USPS.
  10. Book flight!
  11. Make money to take with me...work in progress. Anyone trying to give me a late graduation present?!?
Y'all. This is so legit now that my flight is booked. I was kind of iffy about purchasing one before getting my visa, but I did that before I studied abroad and didn't have an issue so I decided to go for it again. For those of you who are trying to book a flight, I definitely recommend STA Travel and Student Universe. They have the cheapest prices I've seen on international flights. I lucked out: I had enough miles on my frequent flier account to travel for free (minus taxes)! 

I will be posting about my visa appointment next week after it happens...hopefully it all goes smoothly!

30 June 2013

Great Article!

This is a pretty accurate view of how bad the situation is in Spain, and how much work they have ahead of them! Thanks, Huffington Post.

24 June 2013

Pisos and Barrios

I have a confession to make: I was too busy doing other "big girl" things these past few weeks to sit down and write a blog post. Mostly this has consisted of sending in my resume to various places in search of a job for the summer (I need money to take with me!), but I've also been quite busy researching graduate schools. But more on all that in another post. For now, I'm focusing on what I've been doing late at night for about three weeks now: piso (flat/apartment) hunting.

During college, I never lived in an apartment. Partly out of convenience and partly because it was fully paid for by my college, I opted for on-campus housing all four years of college. Back in my hometown, I have always just lived at home (hellooo free rent, utilities, and food). Come autumn I will be moving into my first-ever apartment, and to say that this is overwhelming would be an understatement.

My knowledge of the piso world was basically about equal to my knowledge of nuclear physics. So, none. Luckily, plenty of past auxiliares I know have been extremely generous in offering me advice about how to search for a good flat and what areas to live in. I have also been extremely lucky that several people who are Madrid natives (including my school's director and the bilingual program coordinator) have also provided me with invaluable advice and suggestions.

I know the entire process can be overwhelming, so I'm going to write out what I've accumulated in the hopes that it will help others as well!


Searching for a flat can be overwhelming. Madrid is a city that is full of students though, so they're not difficult to come by. The question is how to find them. There are actually loads of websites that have announcements for spaces that are available. Some of the most prominent ones include:

Personally, I've found idealista and fotocasa the most useful. I haven't quite decided if I want to live with a roommate or not, and those two sites provide a lot of options for flats. Easypiso is quite useful if you decide to go with a roommate, as people on there advertise empty rooms and such. I'm wary of craigslist in any country because of the whole craigslist killer thing, but plenty of people have found their piso through there with no problems! The great thing with these sites is you can filter flats based on how much you want to pay per month in rent, whether you want it furnished or not, and what neighborhood you want to be in.

Which brings us to the next topic of this post.

Neighborhoods of Madrid

[I will be referencing the neighborhoods seen above a lot, so I figured it's easier to provide a map so you know at least what area of town I'm referring to...]

When you receive your school placement, you can easily put the address into Google to get a general sense of what neighborhood you'll be working in. However, Madrid has an extensive metro and bus system as well as a highly advanced train system, which means that there really is no need for you to live in the same neighborhood you work in if you chose to. On the contrary, many auxiliares who work in the suburbs of Madrid commute from the more central neighborhoods of the city. 

Metro lines in Madrid city

My school is located in the Puente de Vallecas neighborhood, southeast from the city center. I'm a bit of a freak and Googled my school when I received my placement and searched till I found an email address. I sent a message and received a response from the school's director. He then put me in touch with both the bilingual program coordinator and the current auxiliar at the school. All three were extremely helpful in providing me with information regarding neighborhoods and commuting to the school. I've also received help from other Madrid natives and current auxiliares. Since my school is a mere 5 minute walk from a metro stop, I can pretty much live anywhere in the city since I will just take the metro to the school. As such, I've gathered information on pretty much every neighborhood, and I will attempt to summarize the ones I've been told most about here:


This area is in the middle of Madrid and consequently in the middle of everything. Gran Vía is considered the main central street in Madrid, and many of the big shops and restaurants are found here. The main tourist attractions are here, including Plaza del Sol, Kilometro 0, and Plaza Mayor. As such, it's pretty much always swarming with tourists and makes it a prime "work" location for pickpockets. The life found in Sol translates to lots of noise too, so if you're not a fan of noisiness, this might not be the area for you. 

La Latina

This is one of the oldest parts of Madrid, and as such is very traditionally Spanish. It is one of the few neighborhoods that has not been completely modernized in the way that other areas have been. Many of the buildings are older, which can mean that many flats lack modern conveniences like heating or A/C. Still, if you're looking for more traditional architecture, food, and way of life, La Latina is the way to go. (Also, rumor has it that some of the best tapas bars are in this area!)


[Centro area on map]
Extremely popular among the younger crowd, Lavapiés boasts a large immigrant community, making it a diverse neighborhood. It's easy to find all sorts of global cuisine and ethnic markets here and it's always bustling. The rent is comparatively cheap, too, but beware: the crime rate is high here! If you're planning on living alone, I would probably stay away from this area for safety reasons. 


[Arganzuela area on map]
I would describe Atocha as Madrid's connection to all of Spain. Here, you'll find Atocha station, the main train station of the city which connects many of those who live in the suburbs with their jobs in the city. Most of the most popular museums are also located relatively close by. This place is ideal for those who are looking to live in the city and commute to a school out in the suburbs. It might not be the hippest place to live, but it's definitely convenient and practical.


As the name suggests, the Retiro neighborhood surrounds the famed Parque del Buen Retiro, perhaps the most famous park in all of Spain. The park itself is enormous and offers sprawling grounds for all sorts of outdoors activities, such as picnics, a run, rowing on the lake, or even a nap on the grass. There are also loads of performances in the park, so if that's your scene, this may be the area for you.


Comparable to Manhattan's Upper East Side, Salamanca has some of the most high-end shopping and restaurants in Madrid. This is definitely an area that is aimed at those of better SES, but there is a selection of affordable flats as well. Families are definitely the predominant portion of the population, giving the area a quieter vibe than some of the other neighborhoods. Not going to lie, this is one of the neighborhoods at the top of my personal list.


Located on the northeastern corner of the city of Madrid, Moncloa is home to the Universidad Compultense de Madrid, the largest university in the city and the best university in the country. Students live in the surrounding areas, which is particularly great for auxliares who are looking to live with Spaniards or other Erasmus students. One of the people giving me living advice currently lives in Moncloa, and she does warn that it is a bit removed from the center, but easily accesible by metro and buses. The neighborhood also does not lack much, given that so many students live there.

**Of course, there are plenty of other neighborhoods I haven't mentioned on here. Some of these are smaller neighborhoods that are part of the larger areas seen on the map: Chueca (the gay neighborhood), Opera and Palacio (Centro), Embajadores (Centro), Malasaña (between Centro and Chamberí). If you want more info on some of the best places to live, I've found this article and this one that pretty much mirror what I've been told by a couple of people. Of course, I am not a pro, and I will probably present a much more accurate version once I live in Spain (probably more specific to the area I live in). Here's a good Google map of larger neighborhoods too :)

Other Options

There are also other possibilities for housing. If you're looking to find a place that brings the maximum convenience, residencias might be an option for you. These are basically like student dorms: you get a private room, in some cases a private bathroom, and a common living area. Residencias would be an ideal way to meet more people as well! A quick Google search for residencias in Madrid can bring up a lot of options, but this was one that was recommended to me.

If you're looking to avoid paying for rent entirely, you could consider being an au pair! For those of you who are clueless on what that is, au pairs are foreigners who work in a country as a sort of nanny and language teacher. In Spain, many parents (particularly those of the upper classes) have come to realize how important it is to start foreign language classes when young, so they hire au pairs for their children. You can live in with the family to save money on rent and you will also receive a small salary. It is possible to be a live-out au pair as well, but you have to talk about that specifically with the family. I've used this site to find families, mostly because I wouldn't mind being a live-out au pair to get some extra money.

Good luck to all my fellow auxiliares on their search! Hang in there, I'm still undecided!