By Kiersten B. Auxiliar de Conversación in Murcia 2019/2020
Moving to a new country can be very exciting, but also quite terrifying
It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new life — meeting new people, drinking sangrías, and eating tapas. However, one of the most challenging aspects of living abroad is leaving your friends and family and the people who know you best. For me, not only was the distance a challenge, but the time zone was, too. As I am from California, there is a nine-hour time difference, making it harder to just pick up the phone and talk to my best friends. And it was super-challenging to ask my parents for advice whenever I needed it because that would mean they would get a 2 a.m. phone call.
Luckily for anyone moving to Spain, it is filled with friendly people who greet you with enthusiasm and two kisses on the cheek.
However, it can still be a little intimidating starting a new community with people you’ve never met before and sometimes with people who don’t speak perfect English. So here are some ways you can start building your community, so that your transition to life in Spain can be a little easier.
Use Technology and Facebook Groups
Luckily, ConversaSpain creates a Facebook group for the auxiliares who are joining each year. This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself, share where you are coming from, what you’re excited about, and what you’re nervous about. This group will be a great resource when you are filing your paperwork with your consulate. Some consulates are stricter than others, so communicating with others can make the process less grueling. Along with this, once you get your school location, it is a great way to connect with other auxiliares who will be in your same city. This way you can plan to meet up once you all arrive, and you can even partner up to look for housing together.
Other Facebook groups include the bigger auxiliares of Spain or Murcia and the infamous Facebook group called Travel Spain.
Join Language Exchanges
Most of the bigger cities have language exchanges, including Murcia and Cartagena. If you happen to live or work in a smaller city, you may have to take the bus to Murcia to join in on the fun. Language exchanges aren’t just for people to practice a second language, but they are a great opportunity to meet new people with little to no pressure. Most of the people who go to language exchanges have been living in the city for a while. They can give you an insight on places to go and things to do. In addition, they are very welcoming to new people. When I first moved to Cartagena, Spain, I found two different language exchanges through Meetup.com and Coachsurfing. Not only did I find a core group of Spanish friends, but I also got to practice my Spanish in a safe and supportive environment.
Reach Out and Connect to Your Fellow Teachers
Some people may be nervous to mix work and personal relationships, but for me it has worked out great. My work relationships with the teachers at my school have grown into thriving friendships.
It all started when a fellow teacher invited me to have coffee.
Then another teacher asked me if I would like to practice my Spanish with her and do a personal language exchange. Since then, I’ve taken weekend trips with these teachers, tried new restaurants, improved my Spanish and, all-in-all, learned more about Spanish culture.
Don’t be Afraid to Spend Some Time by Yourself in the Beginning
Maybe you go to a language exchange and you don’t really connect with anyone there. Sometimes when we are in a new place, we worry that we might end up alone. But it’s okay to take time for yourself. I remember the first couple of language exchanges I went to; I didn’t immediately make a connection with anyone, so I waited a week or two. And the next time I went, I met completely different people and was able to make a better connection. In these moments, it’s important to remember not to force relationships. The friendships that are meant to be will come together naturally.
Oftentimes when you get to a school, parents will ask you to help their children improve their English language skills. Again, this will also allow you to make personal relationships, so only do this if you feel comfortable. But many times, when you start to spend more and more time with the family, they might invite you to dinner or a day trip somewhere. This is a great time to connect more with the parents and get to know the family on a different level. If anything, you have a group of people who will support you or who you can call in a time of need.
Join Hiking Groups
Just like language exchanges, hiking groups are very common and a great way to meet people. I’ve usually found out about hiking groups by going to language exchanges and then getting added to a private WhatsApp group that is focused just on hiking. The great thing about these hikes is that it’s usually the same core group of people that go almost every weekend, so you can really get to know people and start to develop relationships.
Follow Your Interests
If you’re into yoga or dancing or playing certain sports, there is probably a group for your interest in your town. By continuing the activities that you enjoyed back home, you can meet new people and gain new experiences, as well.
Try Something New
I remember one time I was asked to join a game of paddle. I didn’t really know what paddle was; I just knew it was some type of sport. Then I found out that paddle was a game very similar to tennis. Even though I played tennis many years ago, I was still a beginner. Therefore, when I started to play, I had to start from the basics. This was a great opportunity to really connect with a new group of people who taught me how to play the game.
The biggest thing to remember when building a new community is to just be yourself.
I know that might sound cliché, but it’s true. Authenticity matters when you are working with your students and when you are making new friends. It can be tempting to want to try to fit in so that you can have friends, but remember that people will be attracted to the real you.
If you want to know more about the role of an Auxiliar de Conversación don’t miss this blogpost for one of our auxiliares in Madrid.