Life in Spain Podcast Interview with Mariel

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Sally
Today’s guest is Mariel. She is joining us from Madrid. First, thank you very much, Mariel, for joining us today and talking with us, and sharing your experience about moving to Spain.

Mariel
Thank you so much for having me.

Sally
So can you tell us a little bit about what your life was like before you moved to Madrid?

Mariel
Well, I was living in San Diego, California, and well, actually, you know, the outskirts of San Diego suburb in Chula Vista, California. And it was great. I am we can say I’m a border baby, which means that my life was split between Mexico and the United States at all times. I’m both Mexican and naturalized American citizens. But I went to school in Mexico, and then I lived in the United States. And it was wonderful. I love Southern California; the beaches and the weather is magnificent. And I’m a Disney fan. So you saw me in Disneyland every week. So I had a wonderful eye.

Sally
Excellent. And so then what brought you to Madrid? And was that the first place that you move to in Spain, or were there some other places first?

Mariel
No, this was the first place that I lived in Spain. So what happened is back in 2014, I graduated from University with a degree in history. And I noticed that there wasn’t really the specific degree that I wanted a master’s degree was not to be found in the United States in the areas that I wanted to go. So I found one in Madrid. So I moved here in 2014. And I thought it was only going to be here for a few months, go home, and that’d be great. And I loved it here. And unfortunately, I did have to go back to the States; my mother was diagnosed with cancer. But ever since I left, I wanted to come back and finally was able to a couple of months ago and I came back to my duties to do another master’s degree.

Sally
Excellent. Wow, that’s fantastic. I’m very sorry to hear about your mom. It’s unfortunate. You were there for a couple of years, then left, and now you’ve just recently returned.

Mariel
That’s correct. Yes.

Sally
Just in time for lockdown.

Mariel
Oh, yeah. Lockdown. But at least I know what I’m missing. Right. People might be I might say, you know what, this is not worth it. I’m going back. But I’m willing to wait for it. So I’m willing to just wait for things to go back to normal. It’s worth it being here.

Sally
Excellent. And I did see on the news the other day, you guys did get quite a bit of snow in Madrid. It was record levels of snow, and I’m originally from Canada. You know, I don’t want to sound bad, but I laughed a little bit when I saw people out with their dustpans trying to shovel snow away, and I get it because it’s not normal to snow. It was a little bit cute to see.

Mariel
You know what, being from Southern California, I only saw snow when I felt like it. I would go up about 45 minutes from Chula Vista. There’s a town called Julian, California. Best apple pie in the United States, I have to say, and we would go up there and see snow and then go back to our Sunny Beach weather. But then here it, it’s gonna snow. I’m like, Oh, it’s great because I was told that it snows, but it doesn’t stick. So I thought, Oh, well. It’s going to snow. Beautiful. I’m going to see snow falling for the first time. And then it didn’t stop for three days.

Sally
Yes, it was a lot of snow.

Mariel
A lot of snow. We saw a car slowly starting getting buried.

Sally
I’ve heard every five years or something they’ll be what we call a little skiff of snow or a sprinkle where it pretty much melts immediately or maybe stay on the ground for a couple of hours and then melts, but it was snow that I (even from Canada) looked at and considered a lot of snow.

Mariel
My goodness, for a Canadian to say that. It was a lot. Yeah, we’re pushing through it now. I mean, we’re expecting a little bit of rain. So hopefully, the snow will melt a little bit. We have been really hard trying to get to the market to get food because you have to walk everywhere here. And I mean, even if you could, you had a car you couldn’t drive. It’s so slippery now. It was really bad, but you know, we’re getting out of it.

Sally
Well, that’s great. So what have you found was one of your biggest obstacles for you to move to Madrid?

Mariel
Well, the biggest obstacle I have to be completely honest is that bureaucracy, I’m kind of used to, you know, things being a little bit more streamlined when it comes to what you have to do, you know, for any kind of, for example, a visa or anything like that, or, for example, in the United States getting a passport getting your driver’s license, it’s just so streamlined, and you know what to do. The thing is that here, you get ten different answers from 10 different people. And you don’t know which ones right? And you try to go online to try to figure out what to do; you go to the official websites, and I kid you not, I think they’re probably just as bad as the people giving you all that incorrect information. To be honest, the best way that I found out how to do things was from other people who had previously done it. So that was my number one resource about how to get things done so that it would be any kind of procedural thing that you have to do. That was probably the hardest thing when I came here.

Sally
I experienced that I was a few years ago, I had applied for a student visa coming to Barcelona to learn Spanish. And I lucked out that the flat where I was staying and had roommates there and my one flatmate was a lawyer. And so he said, no problem. I can help you with it. So he helped with it, and then I had to go get my actual identification card. We had to go out of town because getting an appointment was impossible in Barcelona. So I had to wait a couple of months for that. We had everything we needed when we got there, and the gentleman asked for all the documents. Then he asked for one for me being registered to live here. My flatmate said we don’t need that. The guy said, yes, you do. He replied, look, I’m a lawyer, I’ve been online, I went through everything that it says we need to have, and we have all the documents here. There’s nothing that says that she needs to be registered yet because she needs this ID card. And the guy just said, well, I want it. So we had to come back to the city race around that day because it was a Friday, of course, and everything closes early on Friday. I found a place, thankfully, that was open. Then I had to go back myself on the Monday with all the documents, because that was part of the thing, too. He said, you know, we can’t wait two more months for another appointment; I need these documents. Otherwise, my time expires. So the bureaucracy can be very, very frustrating. And different people have different experiences.

Mariel
Yes, I mean, I am thankful that I was very lucky. Because again, I use the resources that I had, which was other people. And when I got here, you know, there was a pandemic going on. So getting an appointment for the new year was practically impossible. But I joined a group of American students, or Americans, just mostly young people that come here to teach English at the local schools. And they were putting together a group on WhatsApp that would just notify people when there were appointments. And I told them, Look, I am not a moron, but I really need help. And they said, don’t worry about it, come into the group, and we’ll help you. Within two days, I had an appointment. So it was amazing. I’m still in that group because now I help other people get appointments because they (lawyers) charge you for something that’s supposed to be free.

Sally
I had to pay you. I did. It was one of the things that I finally gave in. I was so frustrated, and I don’t even know how long I spent trying to get an appointment that finally I paid a lawyer. And within three days, I had an appointment. And it was just so frustrating that they’re supposed to be free. But you can never get one until you pay and the lawyer doesn’t do anything; they don’t go with you. They just said, oh, here’s your appointments. I’m like, so I paid for an appointment.

Mariel
Yes. And now I’m kind of helping, like in the Facebook group for MCs, because I’m Mexican as well. And for Mexicans in Madrid, I have my own WhatsApp group helping people find their appointments without paying, you know, because like, you know, paying it forward. So that’s the best way, and because I literally have people calling me and they’re like, I’ll pay you if you’ll just look for it. I’m like; I’m just a student, helping people out; I’m sorry, I don’t do that. But right now, bureaucracy is one of the obstacles. Yes.

Sally
And just for our listeners to know, a NIE is basically like your social security number or your social insurance number in the US and Canada. Its government-issued number that you have to have for taxes and to get a job and open a bank account, and all kinds of things. And it’s so frustrating because you have to have it, but they make it very difficult for you to get it.

Mariel
Exactly.

Sally
Yes, that is definitely a challenge. What was one of the biggest things that surprised you about moving to Spain or Madrid, more specifically?

Mariel
Something that surprised me is how there is a different philosophy of life here, and it’s just a completely different way of seeing things, doing things just being, I find that people enjoy their life a lot more than people in the US because there is a lot of I don’t know exactly how to explain it. But I mean, I know this is kind of like everybody says this. But here, people don’t live to work; they want to live. So you go to work. And then after work, you go out, you have dinner with your friends, you stay out late, you go to the movies, you go to the museums, you go on the weekend, you go to France, you get paid vacation so that you can spend time with your family. And you take long lunches, you go home and take a nap. You know, it’s just a different philosophy of life.

Sally
I found that too for me, in Barcelona. And so with the beach, it’s just been very, it is it’s an outdoor lifestyle. People enjoy being outdoors, like one thing I love about it is year-round, you can sit outside on a terrace and have a coffee or have a lunch with your friends and enjoy it. So it is definitely a very different lifestyle here than it is from North America, that’s for sure. So what would you say is your biggest adjustment then to living here?

Mariel
I know this sounds silly. But it would be timing everything through the bus schedule and the metro. Because again, in Southern California, I have a car, and things here just take a little bit longer to do going to the store or going to get some paperwork done or going to school or going to the gym and things like that. It’s just it takes a little bit longer because you have to use public transportation. But that being said, it also gives you extra time, for example, I catch up a lot on my reading on my commute, listening to music, and just kind of just thinking of things that I have to do. So it’s kind of a trade-off. And also just changing the pace of my life because I was very fast-paced before like I have a lot of things to do. And here everybody’s kind of like, chill. It’ll get done. Don’t worry about it; it will work out, you know, you’ll be fine. Yeah, maybe just the pace of everything is a little slower here.

Sally
Right. I have yet to visit Madrid. So how is the Metro bus system there because I find in Barcelona, it’s so good. There is, generally speaking, a metro (train) every five minutes there, will be one train at the station. There are many buses, and with traffic and parking, I have found that not all the time, but sometimes it is actually quicker to take the metro and the bus than it is to drive. Not so much that it is faster to drive somewhere, but by the time you find parking, it is in some instances better to take the metro. I like that we have here Bicing, which is the bike. It’s a public bike system and their stations all over the city. It’s very inexpensive. You can just grab a bike, you have it for 30 minutes, drop it off, and I find it very convenient.

Mariel
I would say that the metro and the bus system are really good. So it is five minutes from one station to the next is great. My only disadvantage is that I don’t live in the center of Madrid I live in the suburbs. Because it’s a newer area, my closest metro station is about 10 minutes walking, which is not bad. But there’s a lot of buses that are that connect me to the center. We have the scooters, we also have the bicycles, and we have a car to go. So if ever, I need to go to IKEA and get a big item or anything like that. There’s a lot of little particles everywhere, but we are very well connected. So I find that very comforting because in the United States, when I was younger and didn’t have a car and had to go to different places, the buses over there or just it was scarce, and it was inefficient. But here, I mean you literally can get anywhere in public transportation.

Sally
Yes, that’s one thing that is a big difference I found from Canada to Barcelona. The public transportation system is so much better here. And the same is what you said with the option of the car to go, or there’s little scooters, not mopeds, but like stand-up scooters, things that you can take all over the place the bike, it’s great. I do enjoy it because then I don’t need to buy a car. And that was one thing, I don’t want to have to buy a car. But if I need a car to get somewhere or go for the weekend, there are so many car-sharing programs that are here. It’s wonderful.

What are a few things you wish you knew before moving to Madrid, even before the first time you were there for school?

Mariel
I wish I knew there were seasons. Because coming from Southern California, we have two seasons, spring and summer. And here, I didn’t know. So I needed to be better prepared when it came to weather. I also just wish I knew that you really have to take your time and do your research when it comes to where you want to live. And having a plan if you’re coming here to work because things are just so different, getting a job and keeping a job. Because something I didn’t know is that most people here are only temp workers, they’re not really full-time workers. So you don’t know if six months or even three months from that day that you have a job will still have one. So you really have to plan contingencies that will happen. And I really wish I knew that when I got here. I was here to study, so I didn’t have to work. But now that I’m here that I want to stay here permanently, it is very difficult to find a job and keep a job. So there’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to that. I think that’s the number one thing to be honest about because everything coming from living in Mexico when I was younger, Mexico and Spain are very similar. So I think I kind of was already ready for certain things about the bureaucracy; it is funny because Mexico is kind of like that as well. It’s complicated. So I think I’m a little better prepared than most because I was a boarder, baby. So I was able to experience both worlds. So I had experiences from both worlds. But definitely, those were probably the biggest obstacle.

Sally
That was really surprising to me. I’m self-employed. So when I talk to people, and they would say, well, my contract is up. I didn’t realize that every job here is a contract. It could be a one-year, it could be two weeks, it could be a six-month, it could be three months. Whatever it is, once that’s up, that is the potential that’s it, your job is done. For example, in Canada, you get hired, you have that job until you either quit, get fired, or get laid off. So it’s very different here that they could just be like, well, your contracts up, and we’re hiring somebody else. You haven’t done anything wrong; you’ve done a great job, but your contracts up. So that’s it, which is very, very strange for me when I found that out. To realize that it’s not up to you. You have a job, but you’re not going to be with the company for three, five, or ten years. They could just offer that contract and somebody else when it is up. A new person can just come in and take over even though there’s no real reason for you not to continue working there.

Mariel
It surprised me a lot when I first heard it. And one of the things that I heard is the high degree of unemployment, and it amazed me because there is a very large amount of people going to school with master’s degrees and doctorates and you know, not just bachelor’s degrees, this is a very educated country. The problem is their work contracts. I believe that there’s no job security. So they’re losing a lot of people to countries that do have job security, which I feel I try not to judge countries, especially as a historian; there is this we are taught not to judge things with our values. And it applies to history and applies culturally and socially. You don’t judge other countries, other people with your values, or your experiences, but I do compare and contrast, and I do find that one of the main issues here is the kind of practice they have, their labor practices. It is a big factor of why this country has high unemployment is because there are advantages to constantly changing their employees and not keeping them because that way they don’t have to get insurance and vacation and things like that. But then that high turnover also creates other problems. And you have all these brilliant people going to Germany, going to England, going to Austria, going to the United States, and just you know, taking their contributions elsewhere while they can be in their country and making them here. It’s all because you don’t have job security.

Sally
Right. And another thing, too, is that I hear quite a bit is the wages. The wages are quite a bit lower, generally speaking in Spain, compared to I think all the other European countries, maybe not all, but that’s what I hear people say, and I don’t know what the wages are everywhere, of course. But generally, people say that the salaries are substantially less in Spain. So they come here, they get educated, they get all of their degrees, because like you said, there are so many people in school and high education. Then they take that education, and they go to another country for a better wage and better job security.

Mariel
Exactly. That was my plan because I studied for a master’s degree in sciences. If I were to take that or to attend school in the United States and get a degree of that similar degree, I would have to pay upwards of $50,000 for an okay school, not a Harvard, not a Yale or similar. Right here, I’m going to one of the best universities in Spain and Europe, one of its in the top 50 universities in Europe, and I paid 3500 (euros) for my degree.

Sally
Wow.

Mariel
Yes. And as a, you know, a foreign student.

Sally
So I had no idea that education was that inexpensive.

Mariel
Here 3500 (euro). And after I’m done with my thesis, I am going on to get another Master’s, and probably a Ph.D., because it is, education is very cheap here, then that’s what I’m saying. That’s why I get so frustrated with the fact that all these people are so educated and leaving, because I see people in the University, and it’s not just young people, you see older people, too. I mean, everybody’s going back to get even more educated because they place a high value on education, but unfortunately, they’re not staying here.

Sally
Right. And is your University in English or Spanish?

Mariel
It’s in Spanish.

Sally
Great. Is there something that you miss about, I want to say, as your home country of the United States, but do you perceive the United States as home or Mexico is home?

Mariel
This is the thing? Because I live by the border, it was both for me.

Sally
Okay, so is there something you miss from the United States? And is there something you miss from Mexico?

Mariel
Yes, from the United States, I miss, I’m sorry, this is gonna sound horrible. But I miss having shopping options because I would go to TJ Maxx and get a very cheap candle. And I can’t do that here. But not talking about, you know, anything frivolous like that, from the United States, I will just miss it’s from Southern California, I would just say that I miss the weather. And I would also miss more, of course, my family. But I’m mostly, to be honest, I just love the place where I lived. But what I miss most about the United States, or it would be the proximity to Mexico. I know it’s weird because, from Mexico, I can tell you it was the food. The people, the way people treat you like family, it doesn’t matter where you go in this just the sense of just happiness and joy of just the Mexican people. And in Southern California, it bleeds through it just people are like that because if you’re not from Mexico, you’re in contact with a lot of people that are from Mexico. And so in California, it’s that multiculturalism, that is, because of the close contact with the border, so from Southern California, I would miss that’s what I missed the multiculturalism.
I know that I can go to an Asian market and get what I wanted. Or I can go to a Vietnamese shop and get what I wanted. Or I can go, and today I want to get Thai food. And tomorrow I’m going to have Iranian, and there’s just a variety of things because it’s multicultural. And that’s what I miss. But to be honest, I felt a little bit that I was fleeing the United States when I left because and I’m sorry to get political, but this is the main reason I left. The main reason why I left is that I don’t like the direction that the country was taking. I didn’t like the fact that it was becoming normal to be racist, or it was becoming normal to be an extremist. And it was normal to have a president that would insult people that would not represent good values and decency. So I, to be honest, I was fleeing that I was leaving that behind. So when I moved to Spain, it was coming back because I felt something special when I was here. But also the fact that I didn’t want to live in the United States anymore because I didn’t like how the country was or the direction the country was taking.

Sally
Right. And you moved to Spain, yourself. As you said, your family is still in the United States. Are they still there now?

Mariel
My sister moved with me, my sister and my little dog. But my father is still in the United States, and my brother is still there as well. And they’re going to continue living there. I mean, we’re all very concerned. But our life is there. And I’m sorry, their life is there. My life is here now. But their life is still there. And they’re going to continue living there. Yes. But I do have most of my family lives in Mexico. My dad, uncle, and a couple of my family do it live in the United States. Again, it’s more like, you know, we have family on both sides of the border.

Sally
Yes. Great. And so what tips or advice would you give someone who’s thinking about moving to Spain?

Mariel
Do your homework, do your homework. I mean, have a plan. First of all, what are you coming here for? Are you coming here to study? Okay, what are you going to need? You’re going to need your visa, when you come here, you’re going to have to go to school, and where will you live? Okay, so how are you going to get your classes? How are you going to get to school? When you find a place to live, are you living with roommates? Are you living by yourself? Have a plan because things are not as easy here. You have to do some legwork to get things done. Because things take time, so have plenty of time to have a plan, have plenty of time to do it. And just knowing that things are not going to be the same. You’re coming to a different country, and things are done differently here. And you can just throw your hands up and be like, I don’t understand why they can’t do things right. There’s no right or wrong.

Sally
It’s just different. That’s right. You need to be careful with knowing some of the rules. Because when I was looking for an apartment one time, I was really mad with an agency and the owner of the apartment because they said, Oh yeah, well, the standard contracts that we would sign you know what standard, it’s two years, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, No, it’s not a standard contract in Spain right now. It’s five years, not two. And so, even when you’re working with agencies, you need to be careful. What a lot of people also don’t know is here, you usually have to pay two months deposit plus one month to the agency, and then your first-month rent as well. So that’s equivalent to four months that you’re out of pocket right away. In Canada, it’s usually one month deposit, and I don’t think we (renters) pay agency fees there. It’s been a long time since I’ve rented, I can’t remember. So that’s a completely different thing. So financially, there are other things that people also need to consider as well, because that’s a lot of money out of your pocket for your first month.

Mariel
Exactly. And that was my experience because the first time I was here, and I think there’s been a shift in the last five years, because the first time I was here, I was looking for apartments, and I did not get permits with an agent attached. Most of them were private people that were renting out their extra apartments or rooms and such. So I was very lucky to find an amazing apartment with just a, you know, a private person. I didn’t go through an agency. But this time around, I didn’t have much of a choice. I think it was most people are just going through agencies now because they just don’t have time to, I would say, check the people that are trying to rent. So they just farm it out to an agency. But yes, I was surprised by the cost. And to be honest, I could not have afforded this myself, my sister and I, we shared the cost, but you would have to you know, come with a roommate or have substantial savings if you are going to do this by yourself. I was surprised exactly like you said, I paid two months’ deposit, the month that I was going to be here, and then the agency. So it was pricey. And it’s something that I had no idea because the first time I was here, it didn’t happen. So it’s a big thing.
Another thing that I didn’t know and you need to research is that, unlike the United States, you have options here when it comes to gas and electricity. And I would and just, again, do your homework because you can spend a lot of money if you go with the wrong company, you need to look at things like that when it comes to phones and the internet and things like that there’s not a monopoly here. When it comes to electricity and gas and energy and phones and internet, there are actually choices here. So again, it’s just a lot of preparation. It’s something that I would really recommend doing.

Sally
Right, it’s it is. I think the biggest thing too, is for people to do some research, talk to other people. There are lots of Facebook groups that can be joined to ask questions. Take into consideration, though, that not everybody’s nice on a Facebook group. And not everybody has the same experience as well, but definitely to do some due diligence and check things out.

Mariel, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. I think that was some fabulous tips and information for our listeners and things to do and sharing your experience with us. I really appreciate it.

Mariel
Well, thank you so much for allowing me to tell a little bit about my experience. I hope that just helps people out because, to be honest, other people helped me get to, you know, where I am today, having everything done. So, it was just other people that helped me out through this very complicated process of moving to another continent. So, thank you again so much.

Sally
Great. Thank you.

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