Long time readers of my blog will probably recognise some elements of this post. But before you jump ship, grumbling about not having the time nor inclination to read old content, let me just say that this is more of a “reimagining” of my thoughts and ideas on a particular theme, rather than a simple rehash of old material. You know, like when a band re-records an entire album of their own music, and it actually ends up sounding better than the original version. No? Well here is is anyway: my thoughts on living abroad, rewritten with the benefit of hindsight, the wisdom of age, and an expanded arsenal of ‘life skills’. Enjoy.
Ah, Barcelona. Wonderful place. Everyone and their cousin’s been there at one point or another, right? Whether it was for a stag do, Sonar, or, um, the Mobile World Congress, it’s still one of Europe’s most popular spots for a quick getaway. And not without good reason, either: it’s a city with a beach, the weather’s seldom anything but awesome, and the place is positively teeming with beautiful people.
But going there for a long weekend to eat tapas and hook up with girls on Tinder is one thing; moving there – like, to live – is quite another. It’s something I tried, in 2010, when I took a job at an international school just outside the city. After that didn’t work out, I tried again the following year. And again in 2012… and… well, you get the idea. But! They say you learn through failure, and my repeated attempts to settle in the Catalan capital certainly yielded a number of important lessons. So, for anyone thinking of giving it a go there – or any other European city for that matter – I share with you here the most pertinent of those lessons, in the hope that you’ll avoid making the same mistakes I did, and, you know, go and make your own.
First of all, do your research. Does the city you’re moving to have a good public transport system, which will negate the need to drive your car out there, all the way from the UK? Yes? Okay! (Newsflash: you don’t need a car in Barcelona.) Luckily, I crashed mine after just three months, forcing me to depend on the city’s wholly dependable public transport system. Result.
Another biggie, mistake-wise, was not getting to grips with the language. Although my Spanish really isn’t too bad, and my lack of fluency didn’t prevent me from getting by on a day-to-day basis, living in a foreign city – even one as tourist-centric as Barcelona – there are countless situations where you’ll need to be able to do more than order a cerveza grande. Crashed cars, lost bank cards, busted door locks, broken washing machines, leaks in the roof… believe me, they’re all waaay easier to deal with if you can string together a few coherent sentences.
Learning the language will also help you integrate and make new friends. Another no-brainer, right? You may already have a great bunch of mates back home, and they may have all promised to visit you, but when you realise that they were all basically lying, you’re gonna need to put yourself out there and actually, like, interact. I know: ugh. But seriously, do it. Otherwise, be prepared for long bouts of loneliness and navel-gazing bullshit.
Finally, on the subject of things going wrong and feeling lonely, learning to accept that it happens – yes, even in Barcelona! – and not freaking out about it… well, that too is an immeasurably important life-skill when it comes to living abroad. Because it really is a fantastic experience, and if you can stick it out for long enough, you’ll be sweet. It’s only after you’ve failed at everything, or you just think, man, I really miss overpriced coffee and pre-packed sandwiches, that it’s time give up and return to the green fields of England. After all, you can always go back next year for your mate’s stag do, right?