10 Things All New Auxiliares Should Know

I remember last year at this time when I was thinking about doing the Auxiliar de Conversacion program in Spain. I had about a million questions running through my head, and I felt like every blog post I read or facebook group post I read was giving me some solid answers, but also some mixed answers on a few different topics. So, I decided to write this for new auxiliares about the top 10 things I think they should know BEFORE coming into the program.

1. It’s in Spain. I know this is obvious, but with the program being in Spain means that it operates under a spanish timeline. What I mean is that everything takes a little longer here. Everything from a visit to a restaurant to getting your NIE card. With that being said, you also won’t find out about your school placement for awhile, and even after you do, you probably won’t get too much information until the first day you walk into the school. Also, basically the whole month of August, Spain is on vacation, so don’t expect any emails regarding your school to be returned then. Unless you get a school director that’s super into technology and communication, which is rare. But remember the positive too–it’s in Spain! Siestas, vino, parties, different culture, travel, etc. 

Spain in a nutshell. (source)

Spain in a nutshell. (source)

2. It’s run by the Spanish Government. Be prepared for bureaucracy at is finest. It took me FOREVER to get my NIE/TIE because I live in Bizkaia but my school is in Gipuzkoa, so I had to go to San Sebastian police station to get my NIE (just the number), but then had to get my TIE (the actual card) from the Bilbao police station. Why? Not really sure. It really depends on who is working what day and your luck. But in my experience, put a smile on your face and attempt to speak spanish and (most) people will be helpful.

3. Brush up on Spanish BEFORE you come. Listen to music, study general vocab and verbs, etc. Check out my post about learning spanish if you need some ideas!

Don't be this person when you come. (source)

Don’t be this person when you come. (source)

4. Find housing AFTER you come. Don’t agree to anything before you come. It’s better to book a hostel or hotel for a week and figure out where you want to live once you get a feeling of the city or pueblo you’re living in.

5. Come with money. There have been lots of posts in the auxiliares facebook page and the general consensus is come with about $2000-$2500 saved. I came with that much and it really helped me when I needed to quit aupairing and live on my own.

6. Settle first, travel later. Yes, you’re living in Europe and it’s really exciting that you can travel everywhere so easily. But if I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t have traveled so much in the beginning here. It was overwhelming and I feel like now I have a good group of friends who have become my travel buddies and I enjoy the trips I take more. I think trying to settle and getting to know the city you’re living in first is really important. I didn’t feel settled here until late December, then I went to the USA for Xmas and it took me another money after I got home to resettle.

Me, when I got here lolol. I'm still like this. #wanderlustproblems (source)

Me, when I got here lolol. I’m still like this. #wanderlustproblems (source)

7. Use social media and word of mouth for private classes. I got the majority of my classes using the facebook groups. People always post about people wanting private lessons, and once you find a family or two, it usually just snowballs to more people wanting them. Be open to teaching both children and adults. I give a lot of lessons to adults and they are my favorite classes!

8. Bring an unlocked iPhone (or other phone that is unlocked). Seriously. This is one thing I STRUGGLED with when I got here. I don’t like to be that person that is attached to their phone, but when you move to a foreign country and are trying to settle, technology is VITAL. You need it to schedule private classes, for apartment searching, maps if you get lost. I didn’t have a working iPhone here until the middle of November (about 7 weeks after I got here) and it was just awful. If you have an unlocked iPhone, all you have to do is get a sim card and pop it in! It’s so easy. I use Yoigo and I love it. It ends up being about 10 euros a month and I have 3G and cheap texting/calling. In Spain, everyone uses Whatsapp, so text message prices never factor in anyways. And I only call for emergencies. I can recharge my sim card online and I do it every 2 months. So just bring an unlocked phone and save yourself the hassle of getting it unlocked here, or worse, having to buy a phone here. 

9. Not everything is going to work out–be flexible. When I first got here, I was a live in aupair. It was awful. It seemed like it was going to be the perfect situation because I would have free rent/food and only had to watch the kids a few hours a day. Well, a few hours turned into a lot of hours and I was overwhelmed and felt like I had no life here. After a month, I quit aupairing, moved out, find an apartment and began giving private classes. Just remember to be flexible and if something doesn’t work out, change it. 

Always true! No matter the situation. (source)

Always true! No matter the situation. (source)

10. Just breath! It’ll be fine! It’s going to be overwhelming at times, but it’s an adventure and a HUGE learning experience. The best part is, you’re in Spain, so everything is more laid back here. In the USA, I felt like my life NEVER slowed down and I was always going and stressed. Here, while I was really overwhelmed when I first got here, I did have time to relax and breath once I quit aupairing. So relax, half the struggle is making the decision to come and the first 1-2 months of living here. But like any big change in life, it takes time. You’re not going to feel settled and comfortable over night, but give it time. I really think it’s about making it over that 2 month mark, and then it’s pretty smooth sailing. 

Just go! (source)

Just go! (source)

I hope this helps any auxiliares who are thinking about doing the program! I would highly recommend it. And if you hate it, the time FLIES. I am in month 7 or my 8 month contract, and it seems like I just got here YESTERDAY. Let me know if you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them!

 

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A Day In Tuscany

click for source

click for source

When it rains in Bilbao, I always let my mind wander. Today, my mind has been in one place, and one place only: Tuscany.

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During my Eurotrip last May and June, I spent a little over a week in Italy, visiting Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre and Rome. We stayed in Florence for a few nights and decided to do a day trip to the Tuscan vineyards. BEST DECISION EVER.

View of Florence from Tuscany

View of Florence from Tuscany

We made a last minute decision and booked a day trip through Tuscany Bike Tours.

I remember taking this picture with our helmets on to prove that we rode bikes....lol

I remember taking this picture with our helmets on to prove that we rode bikes….lol

I remember sitting in our hostel in Venice (the city we visited before Florence) and just deciding to book a tour. For booking small tours or day trips, I would always recommend to wait until you are in Europe or in the specific city before you book them. Lots of hostels offer day tours or have a wall of brochures for every day tour imaginable, that you probably wouldn’t find through a google search. We booked day tours for the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, Stonehenge in Great Britain and Tuscany in Italy while we were in Europe. I know this might seem like a bad idea, but trust me, when you travel plans change and you want to have flexibility without feeling like you HAVE to go on a certain tour because you dropped 80 euros for it. For other tips on planning a Eurotrip, check out my blog post: How To Plan Your First Eurotrip.

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Anyways, the Tuscany Bike Tour included shuttle to/from Florence, bike/helmet rental, guided tour through vineyards, villas and olive groves of Tuscany, tour of a wine cellar, tasting of Tuscan wine and Tuscan olive oil, meal at a family run restaurant near the vineyard, which was amazing.

Wine cellar

Wine cellar

The guys who led the tour were awesome and I would recommend this day trip to anyone who likes wine, exploring, vineyards, pretty scenery, riding bikes and TUSCANY!

Classic Italy

Classic Italy

My favorite part of the tour was tasting the wine and getting a nice buzz during the day then riding through the hills of Tuscany.

Olive groves

Olive groves

Visiting the old castle and wine cellars weren’t bad either.

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Basically, if you are in Italy, anywhere near Tuscany, GO. If you are thinking about traveling to Italy, add Tuscany to your list. It was one of my trip highlights and my favorite thing I did while I was in Italy. Tuscany is one of those naturally beautiful places. It doesn’t have the fanciest architecture or big cathedrals everywhere, it has rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves. And to me, the natural beauty and simplicity of Tuscany is prettier than a lot of cities I’ve visited in Europe.

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Have you been to Tuscany? Do you prefer places with more natural beauty or more architecture? 

Ejercicio en Espana vs. Estados Unidos

So the first thing I did in Spain (even before opening a bank account or getting a metro card) was join a gym. Throughout college, I always found myself at the gym late at night (shout out to OSU for having gyms open until 2am!) and running half and full marathons at least once a year. So I knew once I got to Spain, I wanted to keep working out. I’ve been here for almost two months, which has given me enough time to try a few different workout classes and spend enough hours at the gym to really notice some differences. So here’s my top 5 differences between gyms in Spain and gyms in the US that I’ve noticed. 

1. Locker rooms: In the US, people are more private in the locker rooms. Here in Spain, women literally have conversations in the locker room completely naked and it doesn’t phase them.

2. Cleaning machines: In the US, after you are done using any machine the first thing you usually do is head over to grab a wipe to clean it. Here, nobody cleans machines after they are done using them. There isn’t even the option to clean the machine after, as there are no paper towels or wipe dispensers anywhere.

3. Metric system: This is obvious, but I totally didn’t think about it before I came. The weights are in kilograms and the treadmills are in kilometers/hour. The first day I walked into the gym and went to get free weights, I stood in front of them for a solid 5 minutes picking them up to see how they felt to me lol.

gym

4. Cycling classes: The cycling classes here are awesome! It’s like being in a discoteca. The instructor is like a DJ. They mix different songs together but also change the lighting throughout the class. There is literally a disco ball in the middle and it is awesome!!! In the US, in the cycling classes I have taken, the instructor leads you through different hills or intervals and motivates you. However, here, the instructor leads you through different songs. For example, there will be a song with a faster beat, so you pedal faster, etc. It’s really cool and makes the class go by quickly. Most of the music is also American, which is nice for me. So even if I don’t understand everything the instructor is saying, I can understand the music :)

5. Equality: In the US, especially at the gyms at OSU, there is always a clear divide: girls are more in the cardio area and guys are in the weight area. Here, it’s equal. It’s nice because at OSU when I would go to the gyms, I literally never went to the weight area because all the bros were there and it was honestly intimidating. But here, it’s fine. I don’t feel out of place if I want to lift weights (which I don’t really like to do anyways lol but if the rare occasion comes where I want to lift a little, it’s fine).

I’ve also been trying different fitness classes and I will say that I took a yoga class and it was the most unrelaxing yoga class of my life because I had no idea what I was doing–not because I’ve never taken yoga, but it was sooo hard in another language! I can understand conversational spanish when people are speaking directly to me, but following the instructor in the class was a mess! As I’m still learning spanish, I still need it to be spoken slowly and clearly to understand, but in yoga classes it’s too hard to hear the instructor. I’m not kidding when I say everyone was in a downward facing dog and I was like 5 poses behind. The lost American in a class of Spaniards….that was me lol. So I think I stick to classes based on music, like cycling and zumba, until my spanish gets better!

But I have noticed that exercise is a priority here in Spain (specifically, Basque Country, not sure about the rest of Spain). In Bilbao there are bicycle trails along the roads and sidewalks and many people run and cycle along the river every night. Also, every fitness class I’ve ever been to at the gym is completely filled. While everyone here enjoys partying and going out, I’ve noticed that most people equally enjoy exercise and staying fit! 

The Spain Struggle

I haven’t been keeping up with the blog for a multitude of reasons. A few being that I’ve made some living changes, gone on a few trips to other cities, picked up teaching private lessons, all of which have left me with not too much free time. The main reason, however, is that I haven’t really felt like posting another blog post about a cool city I visited or how awesome living abroad is. Because sometimes, living abroad really isn’t that awesome.

So here it goes; my first post that doesn’t make my life seem like a fairytale. If you follow me on Instagram, it looks like a float around, trying new foods, drinking lots of wine and exploring European cities, which is true. But what I don’t post about is the times where I am struggling at the police station to get my residency card, or the times I am sprinting for the bus to commute to work in the rain, or the times where I head out into the city and realize it’s the siesta so everything is closed. Those times are what I like to call The Spain Struggle. I think The Spain Struggle has become more evident lately, as my honeymoon stage with Spain is officially over. The glamour of living abroad has worn off and I’ve quickly realized that living abroad is very different from traveling abroad.

Somebody posted this picture in the Auxiliares de Conversacion Facebook group under a discussion thread about “How to Battle Homesickness”, and I instantly realized I was living this picture:culture adaptation

If you every talked to me before I left for my trips, I had so many ups and downs it was uncountable. One day, I would be so excited for Spain and the next I was thinking “What the hell am I doing?”. Then, I arrived and Bilbao and it was amazing! New friends, new foods, cheap wines, traveling, the beach, etc…what could be better? I was in the honeymoon stage, and it lasted a solid month. What a great month it was! I went to Vitoria, San Sebastian, Paris (will write about it soon) and even wrote about my favorite things about Basque Country! So what’s my problem now? Why am I out of the honeymoon stage?

Well, it’s because the first month, I felt like a tourist. For me, traveling has always been a short term thing, knowing I was going to arrive back home in Ohio after “x” amount of days/weeks. While I did move away for college, I was only an hour and a half from home, so I could easily drive home for the weekend, or even night, if I wanted to. But here, I am across the Atlantic ocean, in another country. I can tell I’m experiencing culture shock because suddenly, I feel more American than ever. I want peanut butter and a coffee to go and jimmy johns to deliver and soy milk…..

Anyways, The Spain Struggle is definitely real, but I’ve learned the best way to combat it is to think of everything as less of a struggle and more of an adventure. Maybe I did have to go out of my way to San Sebastian to get my NIE card, but I also discovered an adorable cafe and spoke with the barista (in Spanish!) who encouraged me to move to San Sebastian this summer. I’ve also learned that while it is important to try to adapt to the other culture, it is okay to have days where I just want to watch Netflix, in English, all day and only talk to my American friends and hug people when I meet them instead of doing the “European kissing both cheeks” thing. Like everything else in life, adaptation takes time and is a process.

Thankfully, I do have American friends here in Bilbao that make me feel like everything I’m feeling isn’t crazy, and my friends and family at home in Ohio are amazingly supportive and make me feel like I never left when I speak with them. Even though some days feel like I’m taking two steps back and one step forward, I am learning to embrace the set backs and just allowing myself the time I need to adapt. I guess that’s one thing I have in common with Spaniards, giving myself as much time as I need. They always say here “calm” or “don’t worry”. So I guess in some ways, I’m adapting to the culture more than I think :) 

Trip to Vitoria and My First Pinxtos!

Today, I had my first day of orientation for my job as an auxiliar! I woke up extra early because the bus ride to get to Vitoria is about an hour and I have to take the tram to the bus station. One thing I’ve loved so far is Bilbao’s public transportation. I purchased a Barik card that can be used on the metro, tram and Bilbao bus system. All you do is add money and you get transportation cheaper than if you were buying single tickets. So simple!

Before orientation, I met with some fellow auxiliars at the bus station and we took the bus. Our first day of orientation was en el Salon de actos del Gobierno Vasco, which is a government building located along the outskirts of Vitoria. The orientation was all in spanish so it was really difficult for me to understand, until an Australian guy who apparently either works for the government or is an older auxiliar started speaking. He spoke slowly and more animated than the others. I felt so accomplished after he finished talking about the TIE/NIE (aka green cards) we will need to legally stay in Spain and I understood exactly how to get one! He also made me feel really excited to be doing this program and to be living in Basque Country. I haven’t even been here a week and I already feel like I’m in the best region of Spain. 

The orientation was short and over by 11:30am, so some fellow auxiliars and I went out to explore the city for a few hours. Vitoria is the capital of Pais Vasco, so I was really excited to see the city. Since we began on the outskirts at the government building, at first I was unimpressed. However, after walking about 10-15 minutes towards the center of the city, it transformed into a beautiful city and I went pretty picture (and later, instagram) crazy.vit2

vit1

vit3I really enjoyed walking around Vitoria! It has beautiful, old architecture and is a very “green” friendly city. It’s very clean and they encourage green things like using public transportation/buses. While in Vitoria, I also had my first pinxtos in Basque Country!! They were SO GOOD. Pinxtos are the basque version of tapas. I love them because they are really small portions so you can try a bunch! I got two; one was a ham sandwich on a sweet croissant and the other was caramelized bacon, goat cheese and a walnut on a sliced baguette. I obviously also had to have multiple copas de vino blanco because I aupair in the evening and wine is necessary for that. And drinking wine at any hour/all hours is completely normal in Europe……so yeah, I’m never leaving ;). vit4

Instagram

I made it!

It’s been a whirlwind so far and this is the first chance I’ve had to post, but I’ve made it to Spain! My total travel time to get here was over 24 hours, so I was EXHAUSTED by the time I arrived. I booked my flight through STA travel because it’s really cheap if you are a student or under 26, but I didn’t really look closely when I booked it. Long story short, I ended up having a layover in NYC between LaGuardia and JFK, where I had to get my 70lb suitcase from baggage claim at LaGuardia, find a shuttle and then recheck it at JFK. And, I got off at the wrong terminal for the JFK airport so had to take the crowded airtran with all my lugguge to get to the correct terminal. Thank god I backpacked Europe before doing this alone, because if I hadn’t done that trip, I’m not sure I would have even been able to figure out what terminal I needed to be at lol. But it was such a pain to have to go through checking my bags and security all over again. And, when you travel internationally, you have to clear customs and go through security a third time. I was over it by the time I was in the Madrid airport.

Luckily, on my flight from JFK to Madrid, I made a friend who is also doing the auxiliar program! The seat on the plane next to me was open, so she came and sat next to me the whole flight. It was so nice to have someone to talk to during the flight and we had to go to the same terminal in the Madrid airport so it made that leg of my journey more bearable! Once I got to Madrid, I got on the plane to Bilbao and it felt like I blinked my eyes and was there! I am aupairing part time with a family here, so my spanish mom came and picked me up from the airport! She came with her mom to pick me up and it was honestly hilarious; my suitcase was huge, their car was small and lots of spanish was being spoken. When we got to their flat, we walked around Bilbao a little then I took a shower and fell asleep FOREVER. I woke up later that evening and walked outside my room and met the kids I’ll be aupairing. They are SO ADORABLE. There are two twin girls who are 6 and a boy who is 8. Really sweet kids. I can definitely tell that they will be challenging at times, but it will be fun!

The next day, I woke up and we went and got a sim card for my cell phone. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE UNLOCKED BY A FACTORY AND I PUT THE SIM CARD IN AND IT DIDN’T WORK. SERIOUSLY. So, I’m waiting to see if I can get the problem sorted out with my iPhone and until then my spanish family gave me a flip phone to put my sim card in…so I OFFICIALLY HAVE A SPANISH PHONE NUMBER. We then went on the funicular to see the whole city of Bilbao!!! 

bilbao2

 

That night, I went out with a few other people from my program. Lots of tinto de verano and  botellon. Apparently bottelon is normal as everyone in Bilbao knows and talks about it. Essentially, it’s drinking outside in public lol. So, we went to a store and bought some cheap alcohol and drank on the streets of Bilbao. Lots of vino blanco for me lol. I also didn’t even leave to go home until 4am last night and was surprised by how many people were still out. I love Spain.

Today was chill. I walked around the city with my Spanish dad and he gave me an official tour, showing me literally every corner of Bilbao. It’s a relatively small city, so very walkable. We walked for about 2 hours. I finally got closer to the Guggenheim today too! SO PRETTY!

bilbao3

 

Tomorrow if my first official day of aupairing and I’m also going to the beach and trying to open a bank account and get a gym membership (wish me luck on the last 2….)! Hasta luego! 

Adiós USA!

Tomorrow I’m leaving for Spain! I can’t believe it’s finally here! I have a layover in NYC where I switch airports from LaGuardia to JFK, which I’m dreading, but other than that I’m really excited. I skyped with the previous aupair of my host family today for over an hour which actually took away a lot of the nerves I was feeling about many things. There’s still a lot of things I really don’t have organized at all, but I learned with traveling you can only plan so much. Planning every detail is never going to work and can actually end up being really frustrating when it doesn’t go according to plan. Lindsay and I learned that early on during our Eurotrip in Ireland with bus tickets. But if I did have 3 wishes prior to going, this would be them:

Wish 1: If there is one major thing I wish I had figured out, it would be my cell phone. AT&T wouldn’t unlock it because it is under contract until November which basically means I can’t buy an international SIM card and put it in my phone. So, I’m just going to take my iPhone and see if I can get it unlocked in Spain. If not, I’ll just buy a cheap pay as you go flip phone and use my iPhone when I have wifi.

Wish 2: I also wish the program I was teaching English through had more information. I kind of expected this going in because I read a bunch of stuff online about it being pretty disorganized, but I would like to know my teaching schedule and when/where our orientation is. I’m only supposed to be teaching 12 hours a week, but I’m teaching in a small town outside Bilbao which is about 40 minutes by bus. I’m hoping to only teach 3-4 days a week so I don’t have to make the commute as much.

Wish 3: Be fluent in Spanish. The struggle is going to be real in Spain with my sub-par Spanish speaking abilities….LOL. No hablo español muy bien….

Other than those minor (okay…major details), I feel pretty prepared! I’m ready and excited to take on this adventure! VOY A ESPAÑA!  

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