Well look at that, it’s the end of September! My fellow Auxiliares and I have flooded the city of Madrid over the past week, and I know there are a few of you still out there anxiously awaiting your arrival. In my less than two weeks here, I’ve made some mistakes (of course) but also surprised myself with my keen ability to get. shit. done. In the hope that some of you may avoid some of the mistakes I did or celebrate the same small victories (understanding a conversation in Spanish? CHECK!), here’s a list of the five things you MUST do within 24 hours of arriving in Madrid.
Number 1: Buy a Spanish SIM Card
You may think you’re not addicted to your smart phone but as soon as you end up somewhere where it doesn’t work, you WILL panic. Assuming that you still need to find an apartment when you get here, how will you check email when you’re out and about? How will you make phone calls? How will you navigate the streets without google maps? Do you even know the difference between a kilometer and a mile when you’re trying to find something? NOPE!
The morning after I got to Madrid, my first stop was to Vodafone, a Spanish cell phone company that offers month by month plans for Spanish SIM cards. I purchased a SIM card for 15 euros that included 2GB of data and I think 200 minutes or something. I honestly can’t remember how many minutes I purchased because no one really talks on the phone here. Most people communicate by an app called “Whatsapp” that lets you send messages for free, so the data portion of my deal was the most important factor to me. It should be noted that I am a data fiend and have used all of it already, but basically all that means is that my internet programs run slightly slower than they did in the beginning. No big deal. I got my iPhone unlocked for free before I left home (I had Verizon) so all I had to do was pop in the new SIM card, enter the pin code and voila! I was able to surf the world wide web. Easy.
Vodafone locations are all over Madrid and from my experience and the experience of my friends, they have been very easy to work with. In the location I visited in Salamanca, the representative spoke English and was super friendly and straightforward. Other cell phone companies with similar plans include Orange and Movistar but a friend of mine had a problem with his service with Orange. The choice is up to you!
Number 2: Buy a 10-trip metro pass
Chances are, you’ve only got a few days left before you start going to school and will purchase a monthly Abono (more on THAT confusing ass process later) metro and bus pass. In the meantime, a 10-trip metro pass will provide the most savings as you attempt to navigate Madrid, especially because you’ll probably be walking for the most part. I’ve been here since September 13 so I’ve gone through two, ten trip passes already but at a price of 12.20 euros, the cost isn’t too bad. My suggestion is to only get on the metro if you have somewhere to be in a hurry or if the distance you’re traveling is pretty far. There’s nothing wrong with the metro at all, in fact, it’s one of the cleanest and well laid out metro systems I’ve ever used. Personally though, if I want to learn about a new place, I’d prefer to walk around.
Number 3: Make a friend
Newsflash: WE’RE ALL HERE IN MADRID AND NONE OF US KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING. We should probably hang out right?It’s always more fun to make mistakes and stumble through broken Spanish when a friend is around. Hit up one of the 8,000 Facebook groups and ask if someone wants to meet for dinner or just mention that you’re looking for an apartment. Some of my favorite groups have been 2013-2014 Auxiliares en Madrid, Auxiliares de Conversacion en Madrid (this groups is particularly helpful because former Auxiliares who currently live in Madrid are in this group and have a WEALTH of knowledge), Auxiliares de Conversation: Accommodation in Madrid and my number one group specifically for women of color: Bellas Morenas: España. Most of the groups are closed so you have to request admission, but I’ve already met some of these folks in person and they are all fantastic. In fact, it’s how I found one of my roommates!
Number 4: Sleep
Don’t try to act like you didn’t just de-plane from a wicked long flight and that you aren’t jetlagged. Even if you feel fine when you land, I cannot stress the importance of getting some rest during your first few days here. This was my biggest mistake and I sat in my hotel lobby uncontrollably crying when I hadn’t even been here for 24 hours. The problem? A lack of quality sleep. Although it seems like a great idea to hit the ground running when you get here, you’ll have so much to do and will want to do even more, so you’ll need your strength. For me, lack of sleep is directly tied to an emotional imbalance, so when I get tired, I also get pissed, frustrated, sad, anxious and stressed. On your first night, I suggest popping a mild sleeping pill and getting some zzz’s so you can really start fresh on your next full day in Madrid. The bars, restaurants, clubs and tourist spots will still be there after you’ve slept. You’ll thank me later.
Number 5: Speak Spanish
I know. Speaking another language for the first time is scary…but you must. I can honestly say that I was surprised at the amount of Spanish I was able to randomly produce when forced. When you’re looking for an apartment and need to know if you need to pay a deposit or if you’re starving and will scream if you don’t get some tapas in your belly pronto, you WILL figure out how to say that shit en español. When I found my (amazing) apartment, my landlord spoke no English whatsoever and I found myself negotiating a price with her. Like, what? I seriously pulled out some 7th grade Senor Padilla’s Spanish class verb conjugations and made it HAPPEN. Spaniards are also super friendly and patient when you are struggling so even if you get a few words correct, they’ll most likely understand what it is that you’re trying to say. I’ve been super fortunate to make some Spanish friends since I’ve been here and I’ve basically forced them to only speak to me in Spanish when they’d rather speak to me in English. Oh well. I’m determined to come home fluent in this language!
Are you an Auxiliar and here in Madrid or another part of Spain? What has been your experience over the past couple of weeks? Have you ever moved abroad? What were the first things you did upon arriving in your new country? Let me know below!