Guest Author Lester Herrera is from the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently living in Madrid, fulfilling his dream to live abroad. You can read his other articles here.
Everyone knows that moving and relocating, especially to a new country has its challenges. As I write this article in my new place, I’m still trying to get settled because the first three weeks haven’t been easy but they haven’t been extremely difficult. The two things that have gotten me through these first three weeks have been the people I met at my hostel and the people who are in my program (Auxiliares de Conversación). Without them, I would have been a lot more stressed and wouldn’t get things going.
The Beauty of Staying in Hostels
Obviously, when you stay in HOTELS, you can get your own room with many amenities. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hotels, but when it comes to traveling in Europe, particularly in Spain, hostels are the way to go for me. Despite the fact that I don’t have my own room in most hostels, I still feel right at home. The coolest thing about staying in hostels for me is that I am able to meet a lot of amazing people from different parts of the world and hear things about their culture as well as hear their perspectives on America and Americans in general. The thing that made my stay at my hostel in Madrid very special was that there were a lot of guests in my hostel that was in the Auxiliares de Conversación program and it was by no way of a coincidence. At our program orientation, it was said that there are about 1,500 program participants who are working in the Comunidad de Madrid (Madrid and neighboring cities). So take note: Around early-mid September, there will be at least over 1000+ Auxiliares from the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France, and even Germany raiding the hostels and streets of Madrid.
Apart from meeting great people at my hostel, I was able to connect with the hostel staff. In my opinion, the hostel staff is a huge deal breaker to determine if it’s a great hostel or not. They are your best advocate when it comes to your goals and interests in a particular destination. They have told me where to go for Tapas, when to visit the museums, which supermarkets to go on a budget, and many more. In my situation, I initially intended to stay at a hostel for a week, but I couldn’t find a place right away so I had to keep extending my stay at the hostel and I eventually got a discount and some leniency on certain services. By the time I got my place (more like a room to rent), I was very thankful for my hostel for everything that they’ve done. To show my token of appreciation, I bought a gift for the staff for going out of their way and making my stay a pleasant one since the process of finding a place was very stressful.
The Ideal Living Situation
When I started looking for places, it was a bumpy road, given the fact that I would be commuting at least an hour if I wanted to live in the center of Madrid. I wasn’t the only one on this bumpy road; other participants in the program were sharing my pain in finding a place. It definitely got more stressful, especially when people in my hostel celebrated and said that they got a place. I was definitely happy for them, but I kept saying to myself, “When it will be my turn?”. The way I got though it and how I gave myself encouragement was giving other people at my hostel who can’t find a place encouragement as well. I wore my “counseling” hat on, like I did when I was helping clients find work. Instead, I was giving other people encouragement by telling them, “You’ll find a place, it’s a process we all have to go through!” Plus, as someone who is a strong advocate for networking in general, if I found something on FB or on Idealista, a website that shows available rooms for rent in Spain, I would definitely spread the word.
After numerous phone calls, flat visits, and interviews with potential roommates, most of my fellow participants were able to find their humble abode for the next 9 months. As for me, I initially wanted to be in the heart of Madrid and commute to my school which is an hour to an hour and a half from the center of Madrid. Most of the participants were trying to be in the center Madrid and commute mad hours as well, but I wasn’t gonna have any part of it. I was done with commuting for 45 minutes to an hour to my job in the Bay Area and I just wanted to take a simple commute and not take too much time going to my program site. So, I decided to expand beyond Madrid and was open to live just outside of Madrid. By the time I found my place, I was able to walk 5 minutes to the metro train station and walk 10 minutes to my school from the station. Plus, if I wanted to go to Madrid, I can walk 10 minutes from my house to the Renfe Cercanías train station, and take the train to the center of Madrid which would take about 30 minutes.
I got a place, but I can’t move yet!
So, I was able to finally get a place that is near the metro station and the Renfe Cercanías station if I wanted to go to Madrid, however, I had to wait a couple of more days since it wasn’t the 1st of the month. Note: For those who are planning to take a gap year and are reading this article right now, please note that “patience is truly a virtue” (cliché, I know). On the Wednesday before the 1st of the month, I got my place and signed my contract, however, I had to wait almost a week. So that meant staying at the hostel and paying additional nights at the hostel. At least my landlord allowed me to move some of my stuff right before the 1st of October.
While I was waiting to move, I ended up meeting more amazing people at my hostel. Everyone that I met was amazing and had a story to tell. However, if there is one person that comes to mind, it would be this guy from Portland, who shall remain nameless. When I met him, he told me that he was working in the non-profit sector like I was. We definitely compared my work in the Bay Area, and his experience working in Portland. As much as it’s great meeting different people from different backgrounds, it was pretty refreshing to meet someone that had a similar background as me career wise. So, yup, I wore my networking hat and exchanged information. A week or two later, he contacted me again and wanted to know about the professional organization that I recommended he join because he was trying to look for non-profit work in Portland and he forgot about the organization. I reminded him about the YNPN, Young Non-Profit Professionals Network and that he should check into the Portland Chapter and get involved so he can connect with other non- profit professionals in his area. Coming away from that conversation, I realized that despite this being my first year, I shouldn’t be afraid to give information and advice. I was able to get great advice from the Auxiliares de Conversación groups in Facebook and every advice has been so helpful and in my case giving input can go a long way. At the end of the day, people will know if the advice given is right for them to follow. Just because it works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for another. You have to do your research and compare before making a decision.
The Big Move
Now that I was ready to leave my hostel, it was a huge relief and was ready to go on my way. Luckily, my landlord allowed me to spend a night before the 1st at the new place on the couch before the former tenant moved out. I was able to meet with him briefly and he gave me great advice in terms of teaching and where to go around town. He definitely told me to take my time settling in and not do too much. Right now, I’ll be unpacking my two big suitcases and settle in my new home away from home!