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!

20 June 2013

Friday Five

1. I finally got my background check back from the state department! For those of you keeping tabs on this, it took approximately two weeks total to send the form, have them run it, and send it back. Not bad at all, I think. BUT OF COURSE, I forgot to request the certification of the document before they sent it back to me. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has done this and I'm certain I won't be the last. If you find yourself in the visa application process (in FL), here are some pointers:
    • When you send your background check form into the FDLE in Tallahassee, include a sticky note saying that you would like to have your results certified. You will NOT be able to get the Apostille without a notary signing (certifying) the document, so save yourself the hassle!
    • If you're like me and do forget to include the note, you have two options. The first is what I did: as soon as I got my background check back, I called FDLE and let them know that I actually needed a certified copy and had gotten one that was not. I asked "Larry" what my options were, and he told me he could send me a certified copy that very afternoon. Life saver. Once I have that in my hands (again), I'll be able to send the $10 fee and the document to Tallahassee to get the apostille.
    • Other people on my program have said that you can just take the document and have it notarized at your bank. My bff Larry said that usually doesn't work, and if they're willing to send you a new copy for free, just do that and be safe.
2. I have officially received my placement letter from the Comunidad de Madrid! I am now legally employed by the Spanish Ministry of Education :) With that, I went ahead and moved my appointment date. I am now scheduled for mid July...omg.

3. I have also been in contact with my school! There was an info email on the school's website, so I emailed and got a response from the school's principal. He put me in touch with the bilingual program coordinator and the current auxiliar at the school. They have both been extremely helpful! The auxiliar has given me advice on good areas to live and what her life at the school is generally like. The bilingual director has told me that while they haven't yet finalized the schedule for next year, it is quite likely that I will be with either primer ciclo (ages 5-7) or segundo ciclo (ages 7-9). She also told me it is quite likely I will work at least once a week with the "cincos", or the equivalent of pre-k here (squeal!).

4. I've now received two info packets from my top-choice grad schools, and it only increased my liking for them. I won't list them here, in case grad schools are stalking me and they get offended they're not on my list.

5. On a completely unrelated note, any fellow So You Think You Can Dance fans out there?!? I am SO pumped for this new season, and I've already started picking favorites. If you didn't watch the top 20 episode, you can find a list of the dancers who made it here and my two favorite routines of the night here and here.

Also, if any elementary school teachers are looking to expand their students' cultural horizons (preferably grades 2-4), let me know! I have an idea I'd like to try out and work on.

Happy weekend, folks! Have a sangria or two :)

PS shout out to those of you who aren't from the States and are reading this!

12 June 2013

The Art of LDRs

Today I decided to tackle an issue that some couples will face: the dreaded separation and move into a long-distance relationship. I think this might particularly salient for those future auxiliares who will be leaving a boy/girlfriend behind in the States in their pursuit of the European adventure. It might also be an issue for anyone who plans on going to college at a different school than his/her significant other.

"But Nicole," you might be saying, "who in the world made you an expert in LDRs?" Well, I'm not an expert, nor do I pretend to be. But I have been in a trans-Atlantic relationship for quite a bit now, so that gives me a bit of experience, if not expertise.

But let's back up and look at the Nic Sparknotes: while I was abroad, I met a boy through a mutual family friend. While we had never before then, we had heard quite a bit about each other. Over time we grew closer, and after many long discussions on the topic, we decided to start dating, even though we knew that I would be heading back to the States eventually.

Once I came back to the States, we kept our relationship going. Frankly, LDRs are not easy. There's not much of a chance of you going on actual dates, no physical contact of any kind, and in our case, we were in completely different time zones. But it is possible to make it work! Here are some ideas to keep the romance going even from a distance.

1. Send care packages

My Novio and I stumbled upon this one rather than deliberately planning to do so. It just so happened that my birthday rolled around about a month after we separated, and he decided to send me a package full of presents for it. I sent him one in return. Since then, we send each other one large packet every month. There's no need to spend loads of money on the content of the package, but make sure you put things that have some sort of meaning. We like to keep things interesting by making our packages themed. My very first package to Novio was America themed, so I sent him loads of things that aren't found in Spain: Nerds candy, Cool Ranch Doritos, cupcake mix, etc. Ideas for themes include: holidays, a specific color, a specific letter, seasons, childhood.

2. Surprise each other for the holidays

It's really easy to get sad or bitter (or both) during the holidays when you and your SO (significant other) have to spend it apart. So surprise each other! The Novio and I spent our very first Valentine's apart, but by no means did that mean we couldn't celebrate. I had already sent him a package that was Valentine's themed without telling him, but he definitely won the surprise challenge. He managed to contact one of my best friends, MB, and plotted with her to get me flowers in addition to my Valentine's package. He even made sure they were in my favorite color! Utilize your resources: friends, parents, classmates. It doesn't have to be extravagant, but again make it a thoughtful surprise :)

3. Use a webcam

In this day and age, I feel like everyone has one, but if you don't, you should! It's a great way to actually see each other and remember the smaller details of their appearance. Skype has been a huge lifesaver for us! Arrange a set day (or days) to call each other on Skype. We've found that Sundays are usually a good day, along with one more day during the week. It's also a great way to see each other for important days such as birthdays, Valentine's, anniversaries, etc. Skype is completely free as is Google hangouts. Google hangouts even lets you draw or play games while you talk!

4. Find a way to stay connected throughout the day

If you live in the same country as someone, this won't be too hard: a good text messaging plan can easily take care of this. For overseas romance though, you'll have to get creative. If both of you have iPhones, iMessage will work as long as both of you have data/wifi capabilities. Another option (and the one I prefer) is What'sApp. Last time I checked, it's free in the Apple App Store, but there is a version for Androids as well. This works just like regular text messaging, and it has the capabilities to send pictures and videos as well. Viber (free on the app store) allows you to send free texts and make free calls as long as the other person has the app as well. Voxer works more like a walkie-talkie and is also free. You could also consider Google Voice, but this most likely won't be free.

5. Watch something together

Watching something together will allow you two to bond over something. It can be a tv show, a movie, or even a YouTube video. The Novio and I first came across this idea when we were debating the merits of our respective tv shows. Ultimately, I convinced him to watch an episode of Downton Abbey (my favorite show on tv at the moment) in exchange for me watching an episode of Game of Thrones (his current favorite). He ended up watching Downton all the way through, and it was nice to have someone to discuss the plot twists and dramas with. I have yet to watch GoT all the way through, but I have promised I would so I'll be dedicating quite a bit of summer to that. For something that requires less time commitment, share your favorite YouTube videos with each other!

6. Ask each other random questions

This one might seem silly, but I promise it can get highly amusing! Asking each other questions can help you learn more about each other and the way you think. Of course, you can go with the more traditional route and ask relatively normal questions (favorite color, favorite movie, favorite Disney character, favorite Harry Potter character, etc). The Novio and I have never been quite normal though, so we go with more ridiculous questions. We're a big fan of "what if..." questions, but we also like ones like "If you were candy, what candy would you be?" Get creative! If you're stumped, this list might be a good place to start.

7. Document your daily life through pictures

This one is my personal favorite. Throughout the day, the Novio and I send each other pictures as a sort of documentary of our respective lives. If I go to eat at a restaurant with some of my girlfriends, I'll take a picture of my friends and provide their names, and I'll make sure to get a good picture of a meal. If he goes on vacation to see his grandparents, he'll take a picture of all the places he's at and explains what I'm looking at. Think of it as your couples photo album. It keeps you both aware of what's going on in the other's life and learn more about their life in their respective location.

8. Take advantage of snail mail

With all the technology out now, it's not very often that people send things through the regular postal service. Personally, there's nothing quite like receiving a handwritten letter though. Write your feelings and thoughts out on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and send it their way! It's such a nice surprise to get it in the mail, and there's something special about seeing his/her feelings written out for you to see and go back to whenever you want.

9. Play games together...sort of

We do this one on Skype A LOT. Of course, you'll have things to update each other on, but make sure your Skype dates don't get monotonous by playing games with each other. Obviously it'll be a bit difficult to play board games, but there are plenty of online games you can play. We really enjoy playing Never Have I Ever to see who the real BAMF in our relationship is.

10. Share music together

In your time apart, there is bound to be new music that comes up. If you're both in different countries, chances are that music popular in that country may not completely overlap with music that's popular in your country. If there's a new tune you've been jamming out to, share it with your SO. Turns out he/she may end up really liking the song (as happened with us and Radioactive by Imagine Dragons)!

LDRs are not easy, and it will be difficult. However, if both of you are committed to making it work, it can be done. This list is just a basic sampling of what can be done, but if anyone else has any other suggestions, leave it in the comments below! And of course, if you're struggling with an LDR, don't give up hope. There's plenty of people out there (myself included) who have been through it before and are more than willing to lend a shoulder to cry on and offer advice!

xx, Nic