Wednesday, April 1, 2009

So you wanna live in Spain, huh?

Many people have asked me what it takes to live in Spain. And, while it has been the best decision I have made, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. This, I have found is especially true of Americans.

As an American, the first thing you have to accept is that in Spain and the rest of Europe, you are the same as the African, Moroccan, and South American -- Namely, you are an illegal immigrant, and it makes little difference if you're from the greatest country in the world. That does not mean you can't find work, but it does mean you have no rights and that it will be more difficult with less pay -- at first.

Secondly, asked yourself: "What do you hope to accomplish?" Do you plan to stay for a year or two to learn the language? Why are you moving, and what is important to you? Is it a professional career or to live in a foreign land?

Regarding the language issue: Come to Spain and learn Spanish, right? Well, it depends. Many students come to Barcelona and complain because Spanish isn't the official language -- Catalan is. Of course it is, you're in Catalunya and the Catalans are proud of their language and culture. They don't mind speaking to you in Castillano, but it's not their mother tongue, so to expect them to is a little like going to East L.A. and hoping to improve your English.

The second point is probably the most important. As an American, I understand how important your job and career is to who you are -- In many respects it defines you. I'll leave whether or not I think this is a positive or not for another time, but I will say: to come to a foreign country and expect the same position and salary that you had in the states is delusional, and talking about how much you earned in the past will only lead to depression. Again, it is possible to climb the corporate ladder or have a career, but even when English is required, you will need to be able to speak Spanish or Catalan. Also, like in the states, networking is the key, this is especially true in Spain, Greece, and Eastern Europe, where many jobs go to people with connections and not the most qualified.

So what does that mean? It means: until you can gain a decent level in the native language and build up a network of connections, you will have to work in either a bar/restaurant, as an English teacher, or in a call center to live. If you're willing to do that, hustle, and go out and make a life for yourself -- then chances are your move will be a success. If either of these jobs is beneath you, feels like a step back, or doesn't match what you believe your self-worth is -- then save yourself the time and the trouble and come for a vacation, but not to live. That way you won't return home six or nine months later to the smug looks on people's faces saying: "I knew you'd be back."

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