It’s been nearly a year and a half since we moved to our new home in Castelldefels, Barcelona. I have no idea where the time has gone and, after talking with a brand new school mum this week, I was reminded how far I have come on this little adventure.
There the latest newbie sat, wide eyed, a little apprehensive and overwhelmed at where to begin meeting friends, finding a doctor, a flower shop, adapting to shop opening hours, learning to drive on a different side of the road…And it brought back all of the feelings I also faced, and so quickly forgot, after we arrived.
I’m a real believer in everything happening for a reason and only being given what you can deal with, but I have to say that I now realise it’s been no easy ride trying to settle in. So, in the hope that it makes things a little easier for another expat out there somewhere, here are my tips for making the transition a little easier.
Make friends…Say YES to all invitations
Expat life can be very isolating if you’re not willing to put yourself ‘out there’. More to the point, it is so important to find people you can trust and call on when you might have a little emergency. The fact is you are highly unlikely to have any family around.
Luckily I swing between being a little social animal (I love a good girly chat) and that FOMO (fear of missing out) thing, so it wasn’t too difficult to quickly find a lovely bunch of fellow expat school mums. They’ve been so important to me. Just mentally knowing that I have someone to call for a coffee and chat if I’m at a loose end is a real comfort.
So, my first tip is to try your best to never turn down invitations. If you have children at school, push yourself to go to coffee mornings, help out at school events. You’ll be surprised at the people you meet, and the similar stories that they have. Most tend to be in the same expat boat and are just as in need of friends as you are. I was exhausted the first few weeks but it was worth it and I still raise my hand for all school volunteer requests!!
Host your own local get together once you’ve established some contacts. The first Christmas we were here I invited all of the expat people I could get my hands on to our house for drinks. It was a great socialising opportunity for everyone.
Social media is also a great way to meet people. I simply searched for Castelldefels in Facebook and luckily found an expat page dedicated to the area. It’s been a lifesaver when looking for recommendations on Doctors, Vets, a Dentist and even where to find items in the supermarket!
Get a pet
OK, this isn’t something that you can do right away, however it’s a definite way to get people talking to you. Six months ago we adopted a rescue puppy. Spain is such a dog friendly country (pretty much everyone seems to have one!) and there are local dedicated parks and beach areas for them where you can chat away with fellow pet lovers. It has really helped me practice my Spanish language.
If you can’t get a pet then do some research about volunteering at a local rescue shelter perhaps. They are always looking for people to help out.
Join local clubs
Embrace local life and sign up for new clubs and classes. This is another great way to meet people but, more importantly for me, it’s a great way to progress if you are learning a language (especially good if you have children).
I make sure that the exercise classes that I do are in Spanish (to be honest, there’s not much choice of anything other than that!). The first few I go to are always confusing (i.e. sneakily having to keep one eye open in Yoga to make sure I’m not still sitting on the floor whilst everyone else is standing up!) but little by little I have learnt new words and met people outside of the school circle.
Learn the language
I’ve accepted that I will of course never truly BE Spanish or Catalan and will therefore never fully fit into the ‘local’ community but there’s a lot that can be said for trying to adapt and converse.
Language schools are often offered by the council or you can always find private classes or tutors.
I personally recommend a site called Verbling. I have two one our sessions a week via video call at times that are convenient for me. I also think it is much more affordable than private face to face lessons.
Understand the culture
People in the UK tend to be quite chivalrous and most of the time we’re pretty good with our manners, right? Well, that’s possibly been the biggest learning of all for me here. I’ve really had to adapt to a lot of things that initially left me fuming as I thought people were being rude!
Turns out these behaviours are simply the norm here…Pedestrians rarely thanking drivers for stopping at crossings, drivers not indicating round roundabouts or being remotely grateful if you’ve stopped for them to let them out of somewhere, people pushing in front of you to get on the train/through doorways/supermarket tills (it doesn’t matter if you’re a little old lady either!).
So, make it easier on yourself and do your best to adapt and not waste any energy on getting frustrated with any new culture qualms. Most of the time the people don’t know any different and it’s not done out of malice. I still bite my tongue or scream in the car at least once a week but that’s better than it was.
Aside from behavioural differences, make sure you’re also prepared for service differences. I’ve still not quite adapted to Spanish eating or shopping hours…or the customer service…but I’m sure I’ll get there.
Obviously the list of tips could go on but these are the things that have been particularly invaluable to me in speeding up the settling in process.
Have you faced the same major changes of adapting to a new culture? Please share your top tips in the comments below!