The 10 Commandments of Apartment Hunting in Spain

Gorgeous illustration of Madrid's barrios by Helena Ecija. See more of her work here.

Gorgeous illustration of Madrid’s barrios by Helena Ecija. Original photo and more of her work here.

I once spent a summer combing through apartment listing websites. Those were a simpler times, when a grainy photo of a terraza or the phrase “gastos incluidos” was enough to get my heart racing. My research quickly turned into an obsession. My friends nearly staged an intervention.

I’d been sending out general interest emails since June, which was completely fruitless. Rooms move so quickly here that I typically received responses to the effect of “Sorry, the room has been taken,” or “Move-in in October? We’re looking for someone for next week.” In fact, 80% of my emails went unanswered.

Compared with a few of my friends, who spent about two weeks in hotels and Airbnbs before they found rooms, my apartment hunt in Madrid was relatively painless. I owe about 70% of that to my trusty planning skills and 30% of that to luck. I arrived in Madrid on a Friday and had three apartment visits scheduled for that afternoon/evening. We had two more the next day, and one on Sunday.

I visited my current apartment on my first day in Spain. We returned the next day to meet the two housemates, and, after an hour-long chat with the girls, I called the landlady to rent the rooms. By Sunday I was settled in my new piso. I’ve spent 10 happy months in my apartment. We’ve had relatively few roommate issues (see number 6) and my neighborhood is perfect for me (see number 5). We have a huge terraza, a large living room, central heat, and two bathrooms. See, you can have it all!

This process can be really stressful, so I’ve put together some tips on finding an apartment. Without further ado, I give you the 10 Commandments of Apartment-Hunting in Spain.

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The Problem(s) with my Spanish Bilingual School

This is actually a typical conversation you might have with one of my students.

This is actually a typical conversation you might have with one of my students.

I’ve been debating whether or not to write this post  — especially because I’m not sure I’m “qualified” to write it. But then again, I’m not qualified to be a teacher and here I am. My intent for this post is not to blindly criticize, but to provide a comparison and critique of and/or have a venting sesh about the illogical classroom practices I see every day.

I understand that this is a different country and a different system, but I’m frustrated. And I want to talk about it.

I’d like to present a few disclaimers/basic facts before I start:

  • I’m not an expert on this system. If you disagree or if you have any other insights I’ve missed, please post them in the comments. I’m always open to a friendly discussion.
  • Yes, I’m American and, yes, I know our school system has plenty of problems of its own. I’m not writing this because I want to sit around and say “Our system is the best. The end. Amurica.” Because, while I did have a great public school education, there’s so much reform and work to be done, especially in our schools with less resources.
  • There are bad teachers everywhere. I recognize that. In high school I had an economics teacher who literally read the newspaper while we did worksheets or copied the textbook. One time we watched Bee Movie, because supply and demand of honey I guess. (?) We all suffered and, needless to say, I learned very little about economics. I did learn, however, that Bee Movie = two hours of my life I’ll never get back.

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“Teaching” English in a Spanish Elementary School

Gleeful shouts fill the air. Erasers go flying across the room in not-so-graceful arcs. Two girls build crayon towers with wild abandon. A small boy uses his pencil case to bludgeon another boy in the head. Entire classes surround their hapless English assistants (ahem, me) from all sides in the form of one massive, sweaty hug.*

Welcome (or should I say bienvenidos?) to a typical class period at my Spanish school. Let me say that again: Not play time. Not recess. Class period. 

Sheep vs. Car

Real photo of me trying to walk through the hallways at school. (Spoiler alert: I am the car.)

Spanish primary schools just might be insanity incarnate. The reason is simple: The teachers rarely discipline anyone. Few kids raise their hands unless prompted. They get up and walk around the classroom without asking permission. One of my 2nd-graders actually pulled a wheeled drawer out of a bookcase during a lesson and proceeded to roll around in it, scooter-style.

It’s all been a little overwhelming, to say the least.

I work primarily with 1st- and 2nd-graders, although I have a couple classes each week with 3rd- and 5th-graders. The kids themselves are pretty cute, which, in the most trying times, is their only redeeming quality; that and the fact they’re all really excited to have classes with me and the other auxiliares. They’re really curious about us, and the best questions/comments I’ve received include:

  • “Do you have a son?”
  • “Are you Spanish?” (Hah hah hah really, kids?)
  • “Do you like One Direction?”
  • “Did you know that when you stab a wasp in the eye, his eye juice comes out?” (This one was asked in Spanish, with “eye juice” being “zumo del ojo.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that one.)
  • “Do you have a boyfriend?”
  • “Do you eat cheeseburgers every day in America?” (I think Europeans sincerely think this sometimes. Then again, I really struggle to tell anyone what a “typical” American meal looks like since we’ve borrowed food from so many cultures.)
  • And, my all-time favorite: “Do you like your life?”

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6 Things You Learn From Your TEFL Certification

This is how learning about past participles and subject/object verbs makes me feel. (Okay, so we weren't actually learning that in this photo. This is me, left, and mi amiga Megan editing our capstone magazine. But it was equally as frustrating.)

This is how re-learning English grammar makes me feel. (Okay, we weren’t actually learning grammar here. We were editing. Shout-out to Megan, who absolutely loves this photo.)

I never thought I’d be a teacher. Ever. As an auxiliar, I’m technically not supposed to plan lessons or be left alone with a class. But I realized I didn’t even know what a lesson plan looked like. So, I decided to do the online Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification.

Now, 1.5 months and hours of homework later, I know a lot about teaching theory and methods. I’ve memorized the best seating arrangements for the classroom and I have a renewed hatred for the parts of speech. And, bonus: Having a TEFL certification allows you to charge more for private English lessons. That means more €€€ (and trips to Zara) for me.

Here’s a quick list of my top TEFL-inspired life lessons.

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