One of my best experiences living in Spain was when I just started my university degree (see more about it here and here). I met a girl in the class who was also looking for a roommate and we decided to live together. Although neither of us was totally sure that the fit would work, we decided to go for it as we didn’t know anyone else to live with. Eight years later, this girl is one of my closest Spanish friends and one of the people whose conversations and general energy I value most—especially if I’m feeling a bit down. In fact, I would say probably around 50% of my former flatmates have turned into friends (some for a reason, some for a season, and some for life).
At the same time, it is no secret that moving in general is hard and moving abroad to live in a new country (where they potentially speak a different language) is, minimally, a bit scary. I have moved a fair amount in the last ten years and—like I talk about in this post—while some things get easier the more you practice, not everything does. And, if you are trying to make friends with people from the area, one of the hardest but possibly best things, in my opinion, that you can do is live with the locals. Now, I know that this might not be ideal for everyone and could be downright impossible in some situations but here are three reasons why I think you should give it a try.
1.) Meet new people
One of the main reasons I look for a shared place when I move abroad is because when you live with people you are forced to interact with them. By meeting people who are already integrated into the community, it is like you are connecting with people who already have know-how in the city. In addition, if you end up bonding with your flatmate(s), you could get access to all of his or her friends as well. And, in my opinion, the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find “your people” while abroad.
At the same time, this is not necessarily easy because living with people can be hard. Everyone you meet probably has a story or two about living with less than perfect flatmates—we’ve all done it and, in all probability, we have been one. However, just because you won’t get along with everyone, it doesn’t mean you can’t try. And if you can make it work, the friendships that are created when living together are special.
2.) Get to know the culture
In addition to getting to know new people, when you live with others you learn about their culture and the way they were brought up in a much more profound way than when you are just friends. If you take the opportunity to be politely curious about why they cook like they do or pay attention to how cleaning is done differently than you do at home, you are expanding your perspective on what is really going on in the culture.
At the same time you can try to cultivate additional cultural understanding by talking about these differences in a respectful way. To get the most out of the experience, my suggestion would be to share your cultural background with your flatmate(s) as well. And, while you are having the conversation, remember that just because you do things differently, it doesn’t mean that one of you is necessarily right or wrong, just that there is more than one way to do the same thing.
3.) Improve your language skills
Over here at Sincerely, Spain we want to support every adventurer on their language journey. However, learning a language is hard (I tend to say it is like a roller coaster—with lots of ups and downs). That is why we try to share all of our tips and tricks on how to improve your Spanish. We have already talked about books to read, tv shows to watch, and how to intercambio. We talked about Spanish class and ways to learn the language outside of class. At the end of the day, however, one of my favorites is living with native speakers.
In fact, I would say that living with native Spanish speakers is one of the reasons why my Spanish is so good—it forces you to communicate even when you are tired and frustrated. Even when your flatmates speak English they will still want to speak to you in Spanish (at least sometimes). Therefore, you will find yourself practicing your language skills much more intensely than if you were living with non-native speakers.
Note: It is my personal opinion that your skills improve more when practicing with native or almost native speakers, although I do know lots of people who are not so particular of their speaking partner’s skills and, at the end of the day, all practice is good!
So there you have it, three reasons why you should consider living with Spaniards if you are planning on studying abroad (or living abroad) in Spain. Tell us about your expectations or experiences in the comments!