Today is day 13 in Madrid.
What amazes me the most is the range of emotions that can be felt within a short time! So far, I’ve been excited, in awe, afraid, sad, confused and quite definitely lost. But this is not the first time that I have travelled to a foreign country, nor is it the first time that I’ve moved to a shiny new city! The difference is that for the first time, I am somewhere that will be “home” and I do not speak the language fluently nor am I familiar with the culture. This place is unlike other temporary travels since I have to figure out how thrive and make a life for myself. No matter how adventurous your spirit, something like this inevitably make you pause.
As pathetic as it may sound, I admit that there were many days when I wanted to simply stay inside the aparthotel (apartment + hotel) to live in my safe little room bubble. This feeling was stronger especially on days when I was out without my handy interpreter (a.k.a. spouse) and not a single Spanish word sounded familiar to me!
However, I am in MADRID! Everyone has told me of how wonderful, fun and amazing it is here. And I am not about to spend three weeks frozen in defeat. So, I took some steps to get acquainted with my new city, which I will share below.
1. Walk around the neighborhood.
This was one of my favorite. It allowed me to become familiar with my surroundings and easily explore new sights, sounds and smells (which was not always pleasant). Also, I did not have to interact with anyone other than the occasional “¡Hola!” from a friendly passerby. Plus, it was a great source of exercise which made me feel very accomplished!
2. Make one simple goal to accomplish every day to bring a new experience.
Everyday, I planned one specific experience that I haven’t done yet. For example, I wanted to go shopping at H&M one day. Instead of walking to the shop in my neighborhood, I decided to visit the one at Gran Vía, a popular shopping area in Madrid similar to 5th Avenue in NYC. Since I knew what to expect, I was better able to prepare the Spanish words that I may need to accomplish my task.
Remember, however, to leave yourself open for unexpected, spontaneous things. Those occurrences can make your new life much more interesting!
3. Search for your comfort food.
The power of food is amazing. Not only is it fuel, but it can make you feel “at home” even when you are not quite there. As an immigrant who lived many years in the States, I’ve had my share of moments where I felt out of place. If I can find a nearby Filipino store and get a hold of my favorite snacks, I feel a sense of relief and contentment in an otherwise unfamiliar place. Sure, it doesn’t solve everything, but it helps!
Within the first week, I visited 2 Filipino stores to grab a can of coconut water and chat with the store workers. It was comforting to meet my other kababayan (even if their Spanish was better than their English and my skills are quite the opposite). Now I know exactly where to go the next time I am a little homesick.
4. Connect with other expats in your new city.
The internet makes this goal a lot easier. Just a few searches revealed several Facebook and Meetup groups in Madrid where I could find other expats. I knew they were around somewhere, and it was encouraging to easily find activities where I could meet with them.
To date, I have not met up with anyone yet. And I am also on a search for a church in Madrid, which will be another great way to connect. Sadly, I have not found a “Filipino” group yet. So I will content myself with going to the Filipino store for the moment.
5. Take language classes.
This is another of activity that I enjoy. It kills two birds with one stone. One, you learn the very important skill of knowing how to speak the local language. Two, you meet other people who are on the same boat as you. Additionally, since many Spanish language learners come from all over the world, you can meet with people from other countries! The last time that I took classes was four years ago in Peru. It was a great experience, during where I made new friends from Holland, England and other states in the US.
6. Be patient with yourself.
This is something that the perfectionist in me struggles with, but it is the most important part of adapting to new evirons. All things new will take time before they become comfortable and familiar. You can only take one step at a time. Don’t be too hard on yourself because you can’t expect to know everything automatically! Plus, the fun is really in this process, so enjoy each moment, even when you feel completely lost.
So that is all that I have done so far. I’m sure there are other ways to feel more comfortable in a foreign new city. What other steps have you done?