*This is part of a guest post series where I highlight other lovely people who’ve decided to take the leap and immerse themselves in this bad-ass world of Spanish language learning. I want you all to do the same!*
Christine is a veteran. With two years experience as an expatriate under immersion in Andalucia, she shares all her amazing experiences living in Spain’s south, her travels in and out of the country, and her ace travel photography on her blog at Christine In Spain. Christine’s is always one of the first blogs I hit so I’m pretty excited to be having the opportunity to chat with her here!
Hi Christine! Thanks so much for joining us! Before we delve into your journey in the sumptuous south of Spain could you give us a brief introduction as to who you are and what you’re doing right now?
Thanks, Will! I’m a 20-something from the United States (Seattle, WA) who couldn’t stand the thought of locking myself into a 9-5 straight after graduation. Thankfully, the bad economy was on my side and getting hired was next to impossible, only making my desire to leave the States and travel a more viable option.
I had always wanted to go to Spain, so I looked into opportunities to come over, found work, and the rest is history!
My blog is a documentation of my photography and travels, a look into the expatriate lifestyle and my musings on Spanish culture. It’s been a great excuse for me to fine-tune my writing and teach myself photography, and I’ve enjoyed connecting with a lot of like-minded people through it.
Great! I think Spain provides lots of great photographic subjects and let’s not even get started on the lifestyle! Could you give us a brief rundown on why you initially decided to make the big leap to immersion in Andalucia? What was it about Spain that called to you?
As I said above, the thought of limited vacation days and working for “The Man” scared me. Oddly enough, in university I was extremely career-focused, completing several internships and constantly making contacts in the PR industry. However, a summer spent studying abroad in Greece changed me, and made me realize that if I can find a way to travel now while I’m young, why not do it?
A big part of me wanted to return to Greece, as I absolutely love that country, but learning Spanish has always been important to me. My father is from Mexico, but I didn’t learn Spanish as a child, and I grew up unable to communicate with half of my own family.
Not knowing the language made me feel like a huge part of me was missing.
I guess it would have made more sense to move to Mexico, but I had my heart set on returning to Europe after such an amazing experience in Greece, and Spain had always held an inexplicable allure to me.
Nice! The allure is something that’s definitely caught me. Tell us more about the initial trials and tribulations that you faced when you first arrived in Spain? How did you overcome them? Are there any ongoing challenges that come with this particular lifestyle of immersion in Andalucia?
I think the fact I had never been to Spain and had really no idea what to expect may have made me less prepared for the cultural differences. Though they’re not huge, there is a definite adjustment period. I do find myself favouring the Spanish lifestyle: more holidays, a late-night culture, and an unbeatable nightlife suit me well.
No ongoing challenges come to mind except for the fact that sometimes it seems no matter what I do; I’ll always be the guiri. Sometimes it’s exhausting to not just blend in—which fortunately I do appearance-wise, that is, until my accent is detected. However, this is the name of the game when living in another country and I’ve come to terms with it.
At least you fit in appearance wise. Imagine this rubio-headed angel and the guiri taughts he gets! Anyway, let’s talk Spanish. How much of the language did you know before coming out here? What things did you do to improve and where do you see your level now?
Yeah, my Spanish was pathetic before moving here. The funny thing is, I thought learning the language would be fairly easy since I’d be immersed in it, but I quickly figured out just how wrong I was. Immersion makes learning a language more convenient, because there are more opportunities to practice present themselves, but you still have to work your ass off for it.
I think I expected to improve a lot faster than I actually did, but it made me realize that language learning is incredibly personal, and everyone learns at a different rate.
One of the best things I did to improve was to meet native speakers for an intercambio, or language exchange. I remember the first few sessions being painful, I had no idea how I got through them! But I did. Every little thing I did in Spanish built up confidence; buying groceries, giving people directions, to eventually running my own business teaching English and communicating with parents completely in Spanish.
I also recommend the same book I noticed you’re using: Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses, as it gives you a great grammar base to work from. For listening exercises, I used Coffee Break Spanish, downloadable for free on iTunes. (ED: Also check out this post for more of my recommendations).
There’s no magic formula, you’ve just got to use what works for you. For example, I love going to the movies, so I continued doing so while under immersion in Andalucia, even though they’re all (duh) in Spanish. I went regularly enough that I felt it really helped my listening and comprehension, and was enjoyable all at the same time. (ED: I don’t feel quite the same!)
It’s been really rewarding seeing my progression from the beginning and how much I’ve learned since. I went from speaking only a handful of words and phrases to being able to hold my own in conversation, in-person, on the phone and via e-mail. However, I’m never satisfied and feel I still have quite a bit left to learn.
Conquering idioms and phrasal verbs—now those are some unruly beasts!
It’s always interesting to see how others approach language learning! Thanks for all the great tips. What are your favourite things about the Spanish language? Any favourite words? Do you see yourself using it in the future?
My favourite thing about Spanish is that it’s much more fun to speak than English. It sounds good, and I feel like there are more ways to express oneself in Spanish than there are in English. I also love how knowing Spanish has opened the doors to the amount of people I can connect with in the world.
As for favourite words or phrases, I don’t know why “ale…” is one of my favourite Spanish sayings, but it is. It hasn’t stopped being hilarious to me, and I love the creativity people use when coming up with all of the things they ‘go’ on when in distress. Yup, that’s what it means, people!
I know Spanish will be a language I speak forever. It’s become a part of who I am, and I feel more connected to my Mexican heritage than ever before. If I have kids in the future, I will ensure they grow up bi-lingual, not only so they can be connected to their culture, but also because it’s essential that people know more than one language in the modern world.
So what have been some of the biggest, major highlights of the past two years under immersion in Andalucia and Spain? What places have you enjoyed visiting the most?
Undoubtedly, the biggest highlight has just been making it through these past 2 years, and all of the ups and downs that come along with it. If Seattle were in the UK, I’d probably hold up better, but I do get homesick, and have only been back twice in the last two years. It’s a pricey trip to make!
Travel-wise, the highlights range from seeing the masterpieces of Picasso and Gaudi in their homeland, going to ferias in the summer, dining in one of the world’s culinary hot-spots, San Sebastian, and just getting to know the culture on a much more intimate level than any vacation could afford me.
Those are some pretty sweet highlights right there! For those like us who want to move out to Spain, or go under immersion in Andalucia, to have a similar experience, what should they know about? What advice would you give them?
I would strongly advise coming with a decent base in Spanish before making the move to a Spanish-speaking country. I don’t know what made me think moving not only to a place I’d never been to, but to a place I didn’t speak the language of was a good idea, but at one point I did. I wish I had come to Spain with more Spanish, as it would have accelerated my learning much faster and recommend anyone who’s considering coming to do the same.
Why put yourself through the painful process of starting from scratch?
Good advice but not entirely sure I agree! I’m more of an advocate of the just-jump-in style. Anyway, tell us about how you sustain your travels around Spain? Do you have any money saving tips whether it’s with travel, food, living or anything else that can help people out who are preparing for a trip or relocation?
Well, it’s not like I’m off travelling every weekend (unfortunately!). The cost of living in Andalucia works in my favour, as it’s not as expensive as other parts of Spain. There’s no budgeting plan I follow, except travelling within my means. As much as I’d love to try out a Michelin-starred restaurant, I know going out for tapas is friendlier on the wallet. I enjoy a luxury hotel as much as the next person, but Couch Surfing (ED: great tip check my experience for more) or hostels are not only cheaper, but allow you to meet lots of other travellers. Just do what works for you, and come to Spain with a decent amount in savings so you can start your travels right away!
Some good pointers there! Now let’s see. Tell us what are some your favourite things about the culture? What is it about Spain that you makes you enjoy living here the most?
I love and deeply admire the Spanish lifestyle because it reminds my American-Capitalist-self that the most important things in life in fact are not working, but rather, enjoying.
I agree with the work schedules here, and how the average person enjoys about 28 vacation days yearly, compared to the meagre 14 days or less back home.
I respect that the family ties here are so strong, and the priority placed on something as simple as sharing a meal together.
I agree with the belief here that you’re never too young to join your parents in a restaurant, or too old for a night out with friends.
All in all, I think U.S. culture (ED: and British!) could really learn a thing or two from Spain!
That’s great Christine! Lots of brilliant advice. Any last words for people out there interested in immersing themselves in a foreign culture, learning a language and travelling the world?
I can’t say how much this experience has enriched my life. It has forever changed my perspective on the world, and if I can encourage even one person to take that big step of breaking convention and doing something like this while they’re still young, then I’ll be happy.
You’ll regret more not doing it, than doing it, I promise.