06 Mar When the Going gets Tough in Spain
Just weeks ago we had what we thought was a decent plan. We’d nonchalantly rock up in Spain, score a nice apartment in Madrid, get some teaching work and build a life here. Now, after several weeks of continuous setbacks our plans have crumbled; we’re flying back to the UK next week and are contemplating a return to Asia in September.
Before I go any further I want to say that I’m well aware that our trials and tribulations are minor in the grand scheme of things. Even while in the depths of despair I constantly remind myself that we are lucky. We are in this situation by choice. We have work opportunities, money in the bank, a British passport, family we can stay with and for this we are more fortunate than most people in the world. When I’m particularly low, I conjure in my mind the devastation we saw in Leyte, an island wrecked by natural disaster. I remember the people I met there who, despite having lost everything – their loved ones, homes and livelihoods – still got up each day and carried on living. Yes, we are so lucky.
Nevertheless, when you feel trapped in a shit situation that you cannot figure a way out of, it’s hard to see the bigger picture and put your worries into perspective. For various reasons, it’s no exaggeration to say that the past couple of weeks have been some of the toughest we’ve faced since leaving the UK three years ago.
My Third-Life Crisis and Teaching in Spain
I have felt an internal storm building inside of me since the beginning of the year. It began after Christmas with anxiety-fuelled sleepless nights while house sitting in London. I was plagued by a chronic unease over finding myself back in London in my early 30s, in someone else’s home, looking after someone else’s cat with a blank year of half-baked plans ahead of me. Despite my fears, I told myself things would be fine when we got to Spain. We’d fall in love with Madrid and rent a beautiful apartment, my time would be divided between writing, teaching and volunteering. I’d learn Spanish, friends and family would visit us and everything would fall into place.
During our first month in Spain we travelled around the country, visiting the beautiful landscapes and seaside towns in the north. We had an incredible week of sightseeing in Barcelona, a city I genuinely fell in love with. Despite all this, I couldn’t outrun my inner turmoil. When we finally stopped still in Alicante and began applying for teaching jobs the voice inside of me became too loud to ignore, it told me: This Is All Wrong. I finally had to admit that much of my dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that I’m not doing the kind of work I want to do. I want to write and volunteer, to focus on building up my work experience – even if I don’t earn tons of money in the process.
I feel so ungrateful writing this, as we’ve had many interviews and job offers since applying for work in Madrid, in fact, I’ve never had so many opportunities thrown my way before. However, while I recognise that I’m still going to need to teach part-time to earn money, the thought of teaching adults instead of kids, which seems to be all that’s available right now in Madrid, fills me with dread. In addition, the pay in Spain is much lower than we anticipated; I was shocked that Andrew, with his UK teaching qualifications and years of work experience was being offered work for as little as 8 euros (£6) per hour.
Can we stay in Spain? Teaching and the EU Referendum
Andrew and I spent hours talking through everything and going through our options. Could we go somewhere else for a few months and volunteer, then hope to find better jobs to start at the beginning of September? Should we try and housesit for the next few months and focus on making money online? Should we move to another part of Spain or ditch the country altogether and go somewhere else? We spent hours researching cheap places in Europe to fly to and looked into volunteer options in places as far flung as Nigeria and Nepal. We sometimes thought about just giving up and going back to the UK. We spent a lot of time pining for Asia.
In the midst of all this, news from the UK about the EU referendum caught our attention. In June, Britain will vote to decide whether they want to stay in the EU and if they opt out, we could instantly lose our rights to live and work visa-free in Spain. This is a prospect that terrifies me for so many reasons and not just because it could drastically affect our work and travel options in Europe. This is a topic for a whole other post, but I hate the thought of the UK becoming a cut-off island – economically, culturally, politically – I believe it would be a disaster.
With the threat of the referendum looming this June, how can we commit to building a life in Spain beyond the summer? With all our other doubts about work, Andrew and I finally decided that, although we weren’t thrilled about our teaching prospects in Madrid, we’d stick it out for the rest of the academic year and consider other options for September. While Andrew would work more hours teaching adults, I’d concentrate mainly on writing and teach on the side.
The Shit-Storm that is Apartment Searching in Madrid
Now for the next hurdle: finding an apartment in Madrid. I can’t say we weren’t warned, as many people told us that finding a good apartment in the capital would be tough. We’re no strangers to difficult flat searches though since we lived in London for four years, a city with one of the toughest, most expensive rental markets in the world. During that period we moved four times, suffered through months of damp, cold, living in overpriced flats, dealt with unscrupulous landlords, paid extortionate estate agent fees and had several bedbug infestations. So, we thought we were pretty well prepared for our Madrid flat-hunt – how wrong we were.
After hours spent scouring housing websites, having Andrew call estate agents and private landlords (thank god he can speak Spanish, otherwise our search would never have gotten off the ground) and going to several viewings, we finally had to admit that it was impossible to find a short-term rental already equipped with wifi that was comfortable for me to write and work online from. To have any chance of finding somewhere we needed to sign a year-long contract, provide proof of work, pay hefty agency fees then wait weeks for internet to be installed.
Our one last hope was renting short-term through Airbnb; we found a beautiful two-bed flat with wifi and agreed to pay over the odds (850 euros per month) to rent it until June. Days later the owner emailed to pull out of the deal. Andrew was forced to back out of a job offer because we had nowhere to live and we were back to square one.
Our New Plans and a Return to Asia
You might well be thinking: what the hell did we expect to get when moving to a major European capital city at the wrong point in the academic year? Yes, we were deluded, we had been spoilt by the years we spent in Asia, where we took for granted extremely low living costs, high wages (at least for teachers in Vietnam) and a great quality of life. Despite my love of planning, I feel I finally dropped the ball with our move to Spain, I didn’t research enough beforehand and because of that we underestimated how expensive life here would be and how little we’d earn.
On the brink of despair, I remembered an email I’d received about working in English immersion camps outside of Madrid. On the off chance, I emailed over our CVs, we had interviews and were offered jobs on the spot. Now, we have work lined up for April, May and June in locations around Madrid, with most of our accommodation, food and transport costs included so we’ll actually be making and saving money. We’ll be working with kids on school trips, playing games and sports with them, doing arts and crafts and having fun. I hope it’s going to be a great experience.
In the meantime, we are flying back to the UK next week before we start work in April. Madrid has given us a bit of a mental beating and we need a breather to recover and plan for September, which will likely involve a move back to Asia where we can continue with our separate work goals, live well and be happy.
If anyone reading has gotten to the end of this long, convoluted post, thanks for sticking around. I don’t want this to end on a bleak note, so here are some lessons I’ve learnt from this whole experience:
Spain: it’s not you, it’s me. I cannot blame Spain for this rough patch we’ve been through; it’s a beautiful country and we love the laid-back aspects of its culture, the focus on food, friends, fiestas, fun and not working too hard. We are still excited to spend much of the spring and summer here working, exploring and learning some Spanish; we just don’t want to stay long-term right now.
We miss Asia. I had no idea this was coming. When we left Vietnam last May, I thought it would be a very, very long time before we’d even think of returning. Now, aside from the fact that Asia offers some of the best work options for us and the chance to live a good-quality life where we can save money, I just feel in my gut a deep draw to that corner of the world. I miss the energy and pace of life, the markets, massages and people, the temples, the smell of incense and the constant sunshine – just the feel of Asia. Right now, we’re considering a return to either Thailand or Taiwan in September.
Home is where the heart is. As great as it may be for travelling, we’ve had enough of living in Airbnb accommodation. We’re thoroughly sick of being crunched up in a room in someone’s home, having to ask every time we want to use the kitchen or the washing machine and work hunched over our laptops in bed. I crave a space of our own and regularly pine for our lovely, cheap apartment in Hanoi. I dream of having my own writing desk and book shelf, a sofa piled with cushions and blankets, a teapot and place to put away all of our possessions. We’ve realised that over the next couple of years we need to work hard to afford a home of our own and Asia is the ideal place to save money to achieve this dream.
Travel is still incredible. Wanting our own home doesn’t mean we want to give up on travel. There are still plenty of places we crave visiting and we have no plans to give up our dream of a location-independent life of simplicity, we just want a home base to give us some security. Despite the tough times, these past three years of travel have been the best of my life. I don’t regret leaving the UK for one second as the experiences we’ve had since then have been life-altering and have forced us to constantly re-evaluate how we want to live our lives. I think travel broadens your prospects in life and if we’d have stayed in London instead of leaving to travel, I believe I would have ended up seriously unhappy and riddled with regrets.
We are so lucky. Once again, this experience has taught us how lucky we are to be able to travel in the first place and to have so many options and opportunities. It reminds me how fortunate we are to have each other to lean on and amazing family who support us and agree to take us in at a moment’s notice. We are incredibly grateful for everything we have.
SJMPosted at 12:35h, 06 March
I may have mentioned this before, but consider South Korea for teaching opportunities which will also allow you to save lots of money! I did the ETIS scheme (in Seoul), and it was a really enjoyable year.
Is your partner a qualified teacher? I’m currently doing my PGCE and have a position for my NQT year in a good grammar school for next year. However I’m definitely considering a switch to working in various international schools as a way to explore in the future – good pay, good holidays and better work conditions I’ve heard than in UK schools!
AmyPosted at 16:01h, 06 March
Hi Steven, we definitely want to go to a place we know to start with in Asia, then we plan to visit potential countries like SK, Japan and Hong Kong to see whether we like them enough to live in. Yes, Andrew is a qualified teacher, he taught French and Spanish at a secondary school in London for nearly four years before we went travelling; he’s looking into international school jobs at the moment and they are very well paid. It sounds like that could be a good plan for you too 🙂
WiolaPosted at 16:55h, 06 March
Hello. It’s the first post of yours I have read, but even though it’s about some tough moments in your journey, it made me want to read everything about your trip. Your writing is beautiful and very nice to read. Thank you for all the effort you take to present your life adventures. It really sounds like the time of your life! Congratulations on your courage. I guess I will be a regular visitor here. Good luck with everything!
AmyPosted at 18:14h, 06 March
Hi Wiola, thanks so much for taking the time to read and leave a comment, I appreciate it. The time we’ve spent travelling has been incredible, we hope to continue for as long as possible!
AlisonPosted at 17:16h, 06 March
Don’t feel you have to apologise for your trials and tribulations – it is through those times that we learn about ourselves and what really want. So listen to your instincts and go for what you really, really want or what comes out of these times. No matter how far down the road you have gone, you can always change direction. Asia holds a special place in my heart too and I only spent 10 days there (in Vietnam and Cambodia).
AmyPosted at 18:17h, 06 March
Hi Alison, you’re right, the tough times do teach us the most. We hope this new direction will work out well for us; we’re so excited about the prospect of returning to Asia! I hope you get to return there one day too. Thanks for reading, I really appreciate your kind words.
PattiPosted at 17:39h, 06 March
There is a lot to be said for having a home base, Amy, and finding your way to that base is half of the fun, isn’t it? It will be interesting to see what the UK does about withdrawing from the EU, I hope not, but I don’t begin to know the politics behind the whole EU concept, I just know the open borders are great for travel! Spain definitely has its share of issues as well, but then again doesn’t every country?
I do believe everything happens for a reason. It seems as if your time in Spain really opened your minds and hearts to what it is that you truly want. And that’s a good thing, right?! It’s unfortunate that you had to go through the angst to come out the other end, but look what you discovered.
I am so glad you did get to experience Leon and Barcelona, both amazing cities. Continued safe travels my friends!
AmyPosted at 18:19h, 06 March
Thanks for the support Patti, you’re right, we have figured out a lot about what we want for the future. We’re also pleased to have spent time in Spain and look forward to a few more months here. I really, really hope that Britain doesn’t leave the EU – we’re keeping a close eye on the news.
HelenPosted at 22:02h, 06 March
Sounds like you two have had to make some tough decisions. I think your new plan sounds like a good one, if things aren’t working out then it’s time to move on and try something else. Very envious of you heading back to Asia in September! Still love reading your blog, you two are inspirational with what you are doing.
AmyPosted at 10:34h, 07 March
Thanks so much Helen, we really appreciate you reading and supporting us 🙂 Yes, we are very excited about going back to Asia, we’re going to do some solid research and planning to try and make sure this next move goes more smoothly!
Gilda BaxterPosted at 22:17h, 06 March
Amy, I am sorry you had some tough times in Spain, but sounds like you have come out the other end stronger and with new exciting plans. Having family and supporting friends is such a treasure, some TLC back in the UK will be great. Let’s all vote in favour of the UK staying with Europe, like you I believe an alliance with Europe is a much better plan for the future of Britain.
AmyPosted at 10:37h, 07 March
Hi Gilda, so glad to hear someone else on the pro-EU side, I’ll be really interested to see what the mood of the country is and catch up on the news when we come back. I’m really looking forward to seeing family and having cups of tea on the sofa with my mum, playing with my nephew and cuddling up to my family dogs! Perfect way to recover before we move on again 🙂 Thanks for reading and supporting our journey, we really appreciate it.
april summersPosted at 12:10h, 07 March
Hey! I’m teaching English in Hanoi and was actually thinking of heading to Spain to teach in the summer, once my contract here is finished.
Do you have any recommendations of good TEFL courses or programs to sign up with in Spain. Madrid was somewhere I really wanted to relocate to, so I’d be really interested to find out what company you eventualy found jobs through?
AmyPosted at 20:52h, 07 March
I’m not sure about TEFL courses actually in Spain; Andrew and I both did ours online/in London. There are probably a lot of courses available though. The company we’re working for only run camps until the end of May, but there’s another big chain of camps called Forenex, you can also find lots of work on the Lingo Bongo website, although most of it is for teaching adults at the moment. Good Luck! Be prepared for the apartment/room search here, it can be brutal!
RhondaPosted at 17:15h, 07 March
I so understand how you feel. I think it’s wonderful that you followed your gut instinct and didn’t try to force things towards how you had envisioned them going. As tough as its been, you probably learned some important things about what is really important to you. Good luck with it all and I can’t wait to see where you land in Asia!
AmyPosted at 20:54h, 07 March
Thanks Rhonda, although we gave it our best shot, we couldn’t ignore our gut feeling about living here long-term. We’re very excited about returning to Asia now!
KristenPosted at 04:01h, 08 March
I get this completely. However, it’s also making me so nervous, because I’m moving to Spain in September. I’m going through the ministry, so I’ll have a job lined up, but my Spanish isn’t great and finding an apartment terrifies me. I’m hoping because I’ll be looking for a room in someone else’s flat, it’ll be a bit easier.
I’m excited to see how you feel after June when your time in Madrid ends. I’m doing the opposite of you and teaching in Spain (and learning Spanish) for a year until my boyfriend can leave London and we’ll both go to Vietnam to teach for a year or two. This blog is great and I love checking up on your adventures!
AmyPosted at 09:15h, 08 March
Hi Kristen, it sounds like you’ve already made a great start and having a job lined up will help with so many things; a contract will make it easier to get your NIE, open a bank account and find somewhere to live (we’ve been asked for contracts for all of these things). From what we’ve seen, I think you’ll have a much easier time apartment hunting if you’re looking for a room in a shared house, we saw lots of these listings on Idealista.com; some were in English too. I think we have made our lives extra hard by wanting a whole apartment on a short-term contract, you really have so many more options if you rent for a year. I’ll have lots more posts coming up about all the official processes we’ve had to go through to help you prepare 🙂
Shaun's Cracked CompassPosted at 05:38h, 08 March
Love the candid honesty in this post. Sometimes you have to keep grinding it out until you hit the right conclusion, even if you knew it all along.
AmyPosted at 09:10h, 08 March
That’s so true Shaun, thanks for reading.
JadePosted at 09:16h, 09 March
It really is so much easier in Asia, and I think mostly because it is so much cheaper. After reading every single one of your blog posts about Hanoi we moved and settled in within a couple of weeks.
And my boyfriend Oli doesn’t want to teach anymore either, so he has had the freedom from cheap living costs to start up his own web design business. All within a couple of weeks of arriving. It’s been a dream, really.
The outcome of your tough patch sounds pretty great. I bet the summer camp job will be just what you need and want from teaching- you can’t go wrong with organised fun!
And coming back to Asia? Definitely an exciting prospect!
AmyPosted at 17:14h, 09 March
Thanks Jade, I hope the summer camp will be fun too, especially as there’s no formal teaching involved. Yes, we are excited about Asia! I’ve been enjoying reading about how you guys are settling in, makes me keen to get back to Asia 🙂
MelPosted at 01:36h, 11 March
What a crappy time and incredibly you’re still blogging away to all of us! I’m looking forward to the post when you look back at this time and say ‘wow, that was hard but I wouldn’t be in the great place I am now if I hadn’t been through that’.
At least now you’ll get even more out of Asia – those things that used to bug you about it might seem pretty small change now. And it really is enchanting – I’ve been to various places in Asia and to Bali many times over the years and the call to go back is still strong. There’s something about it that feeds the soul.
So enjoy the camp, and I hope your unexpected detour leads to a very rewarding new highway.
AmyPosted at 12:05h, 11 March
Hi Mel, I’m looking forward to writing that post too 🙂 Yes, and the things that used to bug me in Asia now seem a small price to pay for the kind of lifestyle we can have there – we’re excited to get back. Thanks for the support and I hope you also get to return to Asia someday soon.
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 12:59h, 18 March
Iam so sorry you to hear you were having a rough time in Spain,however,it is great that you have excperienced some beautful places in Spain and you will have some good memories of them .i hope the when you return to Asia you will enjoy it again over there.maybe Taiwan would be a great country to work in .good luck and best wishes with your future travels,love always ,Louisa
AmyPosted at 18:04h, 18 March
Thanks very much Louisa, we appreciate your support. We still have a good few months left to enjoy Spain before we head back to Asia, so we’ll make the most of it.
Victoria@ The British BerlinerPosted at 09:50h, 06 April
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Amy!
Don’t worry in the least that you sound ungrateful. You don’t at all. What you have done is to express the reality of living in another countryand the delights and situations that may occur. And you’re so right about prices in Madrid. They’re outrageous!
We’ve just got back from a fortnight in Spain & Portugal and even though I had been searching since November, I wasn’t able to get the hotels that I wanted, with the budget that I had allocated for a family of three and that would still have us in the centre of the city rather than in the suburbs! I was resigned to spending about €150 per night when another blogger who lives in Seville alerted me to a website that did hotel “alerts!” and I managed to find what I needed about two weeks before we left at €88.00 per night instead. Phew!
Re-what’s going on with Brexit etc. I’m just hoping that local Brits say “yes” to staying in the EU as it would be a shame. I’m married to a German and have a half-British, half-German child. I’ve also been here forever so I shouldn’t have any problems…!
Having read your post, it looks as if Asia is the way forward. Go for it. Go live your dream and I look forward to reading all about it later on in the year! 🙂 🙂
AmyPosted at 10:24h, 06 April
Hi Victoria, thanks so much for your comment. It sounds like you had similar trouble with affordable accommodation in Spain, it’s definitely a lot more than I expected it to be. We recently looked into visiting Portugal and decided it was too expensive, our money can go a lot further in Eastern Europe instead. It feels like Asia is the right way forward 🙂
IzzyPosted at 12:37h, 20 April
I am so sorry to hear that things didn’t work out in Spain but on the bright side, there’s a saying that experience is when things don’t work out and now you have tons of that which will only make you a stronger person in the long run. Tim and I had a moment of expectations vs. reality here in Saigon. We have been very lucky with work and housing but its been hard adjusting to new situations that are so different compared to our lives in Korea. It has been a lot of ups and downs and uncertainties and we are still assessing if this was the right choice for us. But the main thing is that we have each other. I think going back to Asia is a great idea and I hope everything works for the best!!
AmyPosted at 21:18h, 22 April
Hi Izzy, that is so true, we definitely have grown stronger from this experience. It sounds like you’re going through an adjustment period too, I’m sure you will love Vietnam though once you settle in. You’re right, travelling as a couple helps so much 🙂