Confessions,  Living Abroad

3 Lessons Learned After Moving to Spain

Dear Stella,

Today, she has been so kind to share with us three of the biggest lessons she has learned since moving abroad to Spain. We imagine you may have similar experiences upon your move as well and so we hope you appreciate these insights from Gabriele. Without further ado, here’s what she had to say…


3 Lessons I learned after moving to Spain

I feel like it was yesterday when I took a 6 AM Ryanair flight to Madrid, which marked the beginning of my Erasmus Semester adventure. I was on my way to the North of Spain, a small city called León. I was so nervous, did not know what to expect and barely spoke Spanish. I was excited about studying abroad as it was part of my bachelor programme.

And five years later, I am still in Spain. I kept extending my stay because I liked being in Spain so much. After doing an internship in Madrid I ended up finding a job and decided to stay in Spain. And now, I call Madrid my home. After five years of living in Spain, I became fluent in Spanish. I have an international friend group and many beautiful memories to look back to.

So, looking back, what did I learn during my stay here? I want to talk about three important things that I learned during my time in Spain below:

1.) Spain is much more diverse than you would imagine

What is the first thing that comes to someone’s mind when thinking about Spain? Sangría? Paella? Maybe Flamenco? What else? The truth is, that Spain is much more diverse than you would think. And it makes sense; it is a big country. It is one of the largest countries in Europe! So it only makes sense that it is very diverse, culturally just as well as geographically.

I lived in the North of Spain for one year, and you would be surprised how cold it was. And yes, we even had snow and it rained a lot! But then, if you compare it to Córdoba or Sevilla, cities that are in the hottest regions of Spain, even the winters are very mild. So the weather and the seasons really depend on where you are in Spain. I find that very fascinating.

Here, I feel like we also have to mention the cultural differences. The North is culturally so very different than the South. I think everyone will agree with me on this one.

For example, the South of Spain has a huge Arabic influence. You can find it in their architecture, when we think about the Alhambra, just as well as in the language. The language nerd inside me was so fascinated when I found out that many Spanish words that start with “Al” actually originate from the Arabic Language. For example, “Alhambra” means “the Red” in Arabic, most likely due to the Red colour of the outer walls of the Alhambra.

Apart from that, the South of Spain is also known for its laidback mentality. And no wonder; the summers are so hot, it’s impossible to get anything done during the day.

And those differences even show in the cuisine: I feel like the food in the South of Spain is lighter and ‘cooler,’ where cold soups like gazpacho and salmorejo are present. While in the North, you will find heavier stews made out of beans or meat.

Looking back, I sometimes even feel ignorant about how little I knew about Spain before I moved here. During the last five years, I had the chance to travel and live in the North of Spain. But I also travelled to the South of Spain a lot. I still find out new interesting facts I didn’t know about.

2.) The Importance of Knowing Spanish

Before moving to Spain, once I went on holiday to Barcelona and had a great time. When it came to language barriers, I was able to get around with English and did not really feel the need to learn Spanish. Boy, I was so wrong.

When I arrived in León for my exchange semester, English was not very useful. Keep in mind, it is a small town with 120.000 inhabitants. And then another surprise: The university was not able to offer international students as many English classes as they promised us. Long story short, for me it meant: either I am learning Spanish really fast or I am failing my classes.

But living in a smaller city in Spain also had its benefits. I was able to pick up Spanish quite fast. And by the end of my second semester, I was writing the same exams as my Spanish colleagues, and I did not fail them (Thank god!).

What I am trying to say is, knowing the basics of Spanish is very important. It will be important when you have to deal with bureaucracy, governmental appointments or even flat searches. But knowing Spanish will help you a lot in finding a job in Spain, in case you are planning to stay here long-term.

And apart from that, don’t you think it makes sense to learn the language of a country you live in? To be honest, since this was the first time for me moving abroad, I thought I could make it work by knowing English. But then again, can you expect everyone in a foreign country to know English? Probably not.


3.) Culture Shocks in 3…2..1

A huge thing I learned during my time in Spain: culture shocks will come. And there is nothing you can do about it. I would just suggest laughing about it and appreciate the difference in cultures. And not trying to fight against it. Culture is a huge part of everyday life. So when I moved to Spain I found out very quickly that many things were done differently than in Germany. And when it comes to cultures, there is no right or wrong.

Even though culture shocks were not new to me (I grew up in a Lithuanian family in Germany, and even then I experienced culture shocks and cultural differences), I remember being very confused when I could not find a kettle in my first flat share in Spain. How the hell was I supposed to make myself tea? Well, in the microwave, according to my landlady. That is just one example of many differences you will encounter. Another really common difference is how late Spaniards have lunch and dinner in Spain. I was even confused when I found out that Spanish people leave their shoes on while walking around in their flat. At least in Germany, this is considered to be very disrespectful. Now, I am so used to it that I accidentally left my shoes on while visiting my mom in Germany. The look on her face was priceless…

But you will not only find cultural differences that will confuse you. There will also be cultural differences that you will find very beautiful. For example, I love the tradition of Spanish families having a loooooong lunch on Sundays. That is why many restaurants or businesses are closed on Sundays. When I lived in León, a friend of mine invited me to spend Sunday with his family. His grandma made a HUGE paella for the whole family! I am talking about a paella big enough for 10-15 people. I find this very beautiful. And maybe, since I am an expat whose family is far away and I do not get to see them that often, I appreciate those types of traditions even more.

To sum it up, I think moving abroad makes you learn many things. From being independent, learning another language to being alone, starting from zero and making friends. Here, I tried to talk about three very important lessons I learned during my time in Spain. I am sure that everyone’s experience is different, so I am very happy to hear about your opinion and feedback in the comments.

x Gabriele

Thank you, again, to Gabriele for sharing these lessons learned with us. If you would like to connect with Gabriele and check out her further content, she can find her on Instagram as @thelithuanianabroad and on her blog, Have you had similar or different experiences in Spain? Let us know down below.

Dear Stella,

Today we welcome to the blog a very special guest writer, Gabriele of The Lithuanian Abroad blog. Gabriele is a twenty-five-year-old expat who currently lives in Madrid. She was born in Lithuania, grew up in Germany, and moved to Spain five years ago. Although she currently lives in Madrid, but she is always curious to explore new places in Spain as well. Her hobbies include learning languages, reading books, and traveling.

One Comment


    Wow, I find that so inspiring. I’m always intrigued by people who choose to make a new country their home. Personally, i like the idea of visiting Spain and it being a holiday. Maybe i have always been underestimating that you can still have the same joy from actually living there too.

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