25.03.18 — Writing

The Joys, Trials and Tribulations of Moving Abroad to Work

When I’m feeling a bit sad or maybe stressed out about something, I tend amongst other things to write, as it’s an activity which allows me process my thoughts and enjoy the catharsis of committing them to paper. I might write a little poem in my notebook, a rambling stream-of-conscience essay on my phone, or just a short bit of fictional prose. What I never seem to do though is publish or share such ramblings in any way, and so I’m here with a more reflective post than usual in which I hope to do just that.

You’ll all know by now that five months ago I permanently upped sticks and made the move from a life in the north of England to work and live the big city life in Spain’s capital, Madrid. People have commented on that it was a big decision to make, but in all honestly I never really thought too much of it, as I seem to be someone who gets worked up over the small things instead of any big decisions or changes.

I seem to be someone who gets worked up over the small things instead of any big decisions or changes.

As much as I loved my time in Leeds with all my friends, and despite years of happy memories living over the border in Burnley, I always knew that I wanted a change of scenery from Leeds, and that Burnley didn’t really have anything to offer a budding designer, so I always wanted to move away in some way. What I never really expected was to find myself enchanted by Madrid after my first visit back in 2015, but I returned home determined to at least bag a short stint of work experience there during my placement year at university. I managed to do just that when I was offered a six month internship with Erretres starting in February 2016, as most of you probably know.

So now we get to the juicy bit: what is it like to pack a bag and move abroad to start work?

I remember I was in Madrid and ready to leave for Barcelona when I got the news, which was just in time as I’d arrived with a bag full of portfolios ready to knock on some studio doors. After binning those and enjoying a rather more relaxed trip, I arrived home with the pressure of packing six months worth of my life into a 20kg suitcase in just over three days. What was I to take?

It wasn’t the first time I’d left home, having left Burnley for Leeds two years earlier, but this time I couldn’t just ask my mum to drive over with the frying pan and pyjama bottoms I’d forgotten.

So there I was, at the ripe old age of twenty, trying to decide between packing a towel or another pair of trainers. It was an exercise on trimming down, but a challenge I quite enjoyed, which may be partly why I am recently trying to lead a minimalist lifestyle (which I shall be talking about in another blog post soon no doubt). I remember wondering how on earth I was going to survive without my camera tripod, but being hefty it had to be left out, and then before I knew it I’d zipped it up and I was (kind of) ready to go.

I remember that I was still surprisingly calm, the packing had been relatively smooth, and the only thing on my mind was trying to squeeze in visits to see all my friends and family before I boarded my one way flight. Despite this feeling of relative peace, I didn’t get a wink of sleep the night before flying, but I still can’t say that I was upset or panicking even as I waved goodbye to my family at the airport. It was sad to be leaving them, but we’d already talked about them visiting and I was reeling in the joy of being offered a job at a company I admired, so the overriding feeling was definitely excitement: I was ready for the adventure.

I think that first night of being in Madrid was when the reality of the situation began to set in, once I’d found my way to the hostel I’d be staying in for a fortnight. I had a chat with the lady working on the reception for a good while, but soon I closed the door behind me and suddenly I was alone. It was once I was completely alone that I realised the gravity of the situation I had just flung myself into; but that isn’t to say that I panicked, I’d say it was more bewilderment that anything. As ever I had a list of what I had to do the next day, so I felt calm in knowing I had something to keep my mind occupied.

I couldn’t just ask my mum to drive over with the frying pan and pyjama bottoms I’d forgotten.

The panic really hit the day after that: my first day at work. From their website and online communication, I had assumed that Erretres would work in a mixture of Spanish and English, and Esther who was the first person to arrive and greet me spoke to me in English, so I had relaxed a little bit. In this case then you can imagine my shock when after a few minutes she said she was going to switch to Spanish as I’d have to get used to it, and suddenly as the office began to fill and as people began to greet me, I realised that I’d inadvertently thrown myself into a working environment where Spanish was pretty much the only language used.

The first thing on the agenda was (and still is) a planning meeting to organise the team, and it was during this that the panic set in – I understood barely anything. A team of 15 or so people talking over one and other and laughing at jokes I hadn’t understood was disconcerting to say the least, but I had in my hand an overview of the plans, so I decided I would do my best to try and figure out what was what as the day wore on.

Throughout the next few weeks I can’t really report that things got any easier, and I’d be lying if I said that some severe doubt had set in. I wondered if I’d over-faced myself, as starting one’s first professional job is a challenge enough without it also being your first time ever properly using a language that you’d stopped learning at college two years prior. Life outside the office brought with it as many trials and tribulations as it did within, as I didn’t understand how healthcare worked, what opening times were, how to order food, how to be polite, and how to be sure not to upset people. There was also the challenge of meeting new people and making new friends, something which always makes me anxious regardless of where I may find myself.

I can’t say exactly when or how it happened though, but at some point I found that I had inadvertently gotten into the groove of things. I had a small network of friends, which was enough for me as a rather introverted being, and having being exposed to Spanish pretty much 24/7 I was beginning to pick up the lingo. Things were going well until I was struck down by a string of illnesses, which brought with them the first moments of panic as I realised I didn’t have access to a GP, and wasn’t living with people who could take time to take care of me should I need it.

This began quite an anxious period of my six months in the city, as during a visit to the hospital due to chest pain they found that my blood pressure was high. This only served to make me more nervous about my health, and so even though work was a lot of fun and the weather was gorgeous, I often found myself too preoccupied to really kick back and enjoy myself.

It was a shame really then that the time around when I began to feel much more relaxed was also just as I was due to return to England. I was really upset to be leaving the people at Erretres behind, but equally I was glad to be heading back to the familiarity that England offered, not to mention the luxury of being looked after by my parents for a bit once more.

My final year of university then ensued, and as stressful and crazy as it was, it felt quite tame as I was once again reunited with all my friends and only a few hours away from home. Before I knew where I was I was being called on to the stage during my graduation, and I found myself in talks with Erretres to return towards the end of the year.

You all know by now how that story ends; as September came around I accepted a full time job at the company and the cycle of preparations repeated itself, although this time it felt slightly different. A certain carefree attitude can be adopted when one knows that one is to return after a certain period, but this time I knew that I was leaving for an indefinite period of time, and that felt rather more scary. Once again though I had already booked a badly timed holiday just before I was due to move, this time to Lisbon with my sister, so that served to take my mind off things for a bit.

Once I’d used my experience living there for six months to better guide my packing this time, I found myself zipping up my trusty battered suitcase once more and lying in my bed eyes wide open for the entire night. This time I was much more worried in certain ways, as it felt like a much more impactful and permanent decision, but also less worried, as the fear of the unknown was greatly quelled by the knowledge that I’d be returning to an office full of people I knew.

So let’s talk about the here and now.

Right now I’m approaching the six month mark since I moved out here to work, which is the same amount of time that I spent here back in 2016, but things this time do feel quite different. The culture shock (language, working hours, food) definitely didn’t hit me so hard this time around, and as I said, moving back to an office full of people I already knew felt like a return to normality more than it did a drastic change of scenery.

Also this time I think there’s a sense of freedom, almost a sense that I have nothing to loose. Instead of a six month intern contract, I have an indefinite one. As I now know the city, I have been able to find more permanent places to stay instead of moving around every month or so. I know that my parents would take me back in should I ever need to return home, and so I don’t feel so boxed in by restrictions.

 I think there’s a sense of freedom, almost a sense that I have nothing to loose.

With the freedom to take holidays and return to the UK, as well as knowing that I can leave whenever I want, I did wonder if I would become more susceptible to do just that – run back to the UK when difficult problems arose. It seems to have actually had the opposite affect however, as with the calmness that knowledge brings I feel much more ready to tackle such problems as they arise, rather than panicking that they might spiral into a much bigger issue.

I do miss England in many ways, especially friends and family, but with FaceTime and Messenger just a few taps away I never feel too out of the loop. Sometimes I feel like I could kill for mum’s slap-up Sunday lunch complete with lashings of gravy, but I can wait to return home for one of those – a few rounds of tapas works nicely to fill that gap for now.

And so, as much as I worry that I may have focussed somewhat on the negatives of my stint here two years ago, it can’t have been so bad, as I did put all my energy into making sure I came back. I have no regrets about either of the decisions, as my first time here served to teach me a lot about truly independent living, and having moved back I am having the time of my life.

If anybody by any chance is considering such a move for work, then I’d say just go for it. For me the joys always outweighed the trials and tribulations, even if I didn’t see it as such in the moment, and the whole experience has served to help me grow in many ways. It might not be the conventional way to start advancing one’s career, but I’m having loads of fun while still learning so much every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PS: I lied when I said I have no regrets – I regret not packing a lifetime’s supply of pork pies in my bag before I left. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.