5 Curiosities About Being an Au Pair in Finland

If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know that I’m currently living in Spain. So where did being an au pair in Finland come from?! For this article, I’m diving back to my first experience of living abroad, which has been a catalyst for much of my travelling life since. 

I was an au pair in Raisio, Finland, from September to December 2013. At 18 years old, I had just finished my A levels, and decided to take a gap year before university to experience more of life first. I love children, travelling, and languages, so I figured that au pairing would be a good way to start. And thanks to a Finnish friend who lives in England where I’m from, I’d already learnt a few words of Finnish. I organised my host family through the Au Pair World website, and after an Italian family arrangement fell through, I ended up in Finland with my lovely host family of two parents, three kids aged 5-13, and a cute little dog called Helmi!

Au pairing was an eye-opening experience in many ways, especially as I didn’t know much about Finland before I moved there. In this article I share with you five curiosities I discovered as an au pair in Finland. 

1. Saunas

They’re Everywhere!

The Finns love saunas! Every public swimming pool has a sauna, and most houses and even flats have one. Some houses even have more than one! In fact, the official statistics show that there’s almost one sauna for every two people in Finland! That was pretty shocking to me, coming from a country where I’d maybe seen a sauna once in my life. My host family had two houses (I’ll come back to this later). Their main house had a sauna, albeit they didn’t use it much. The public swimming pool nearby had a sauna. And their second house had two saunas: one in the main house, and one in the small cottage next to it. So I was never stuck for sauna options!

My Experiences

The nicest, most rustic sauna was in that small cottage, and most evenings when we were there we would use it. It was on the beach, so it acted as our shower after swimming in the sea, and we’d use buckets to pour water warmed in the sauna over our heads while trying to avoid getting shampoo in our eyes. Or it would be the final part of a relaxing evening spent under the stars. When the kids were involved, it would also be an opportunity for a water fight. The nicest saunas have a kiuas (wood-burning stove) which heats up stones, and then you throw water on the stones to create steam that heats up the room. The water you throw on the stones is cold, which makes it very tempting for young children to throw at each other (or at the au pair!). 

You Have to Be Naked

Yes, Finns would definitely argue that a sauna can only be fully enjoyed naked. Whereas in other countries swimwear is mandatory, in Finland it’s the opposite: no swimming costumes allowed! This includes public saunas. They do, however, have separate saunas for each gender. Even so, it was an interesting experience for me. Since I didn’t really know anyone in the area, I ventured into a public sauna with the knowledge that I would never see anyone else there again. But thinking as a future teacher, I can’t imagine going into a naked public sauna that a student might walk into. In our home saunas, the family recognised that as a foreigner I might not be comfortable with naked saunas, so I wore my swimming costume, but I did have the odd naked sauna with the kids. 

And the kids didn’t even acknowledge anything was unusual. Nor have little English children I know until they reach a certain age. This highlights how our aversion to nakedness is a cultural creation. In England we learn that it’s not OK, but in Finland they don’t. This is also seen in many bathrooms in Finland which have multiple showerheads together, so more than one family member can shower at a time. A useful function, but I can’t imagine taking a shower next to my mum! If you can get past the initial awkwardness, it’s quite liberating to have a naked sauna experience. And it’s much easier to get changed after swimming when you don’t have to worry about covering yourself in your towel. 

2. Summer Cottage

I mentioned that my host family had two houses. This is really common in Finland, and many families have a house in the city and a second house (often just a cottage) by a body of water, like the sea or one of Finland’s numerous lakes. This second house is the mökki, or summer cottage, because the family mainly stays there during the summer holidays. My family’s mökki was only a 30-minute drive away, so we went there on weekends and school holidays. It was on the coast, so its garden included a beach with a hot tub and mini jetty! Next to the original small cottage (which is basically just two rooms, a sauna/toilet, and a bedroom… the Finnish essentials) they built another house with a wall featuring floor-to-ceiling windows to look out over the sea. Beautiful. 

There is something really special about the mökki. Being closer to nature – the sea and the woodland – and away from crowds of people and distractions almost takes you back in time. Life is simpler. The kids play outside (they also had a games console which they enjoyed, but with such interesting surroundings they often chose the outdoors). Most things have to be done in town, so they have to wait until Monday. You’re too far from others to arrange to meet up. So the pace of life becomes slower, and while it’s hard to find time for regular saunas while living in the city, you think nothing of heating up the hot tub and sauna every day to relax there. There’s still lots of maintenance for the parents to do, but it’s manual work close to nature rather than the stressors of day-to-day jobs. 

3. Skiing

You probably know that Finland gets pretty cold over the winter (once when I was visiting it was -27º Celsius), so it probably won’t surprise you that they like skiing. But the southern part of the country is fairly flat, so cross-country is the go-to variety. My host family had a cross-country ski loop that was just a five-minute walk from their house (the rest of the year it was a pleasant woodland walk) and spare skis, so I was excited to join them. But cross-country skiing is so hard at first! I was rather embarrassed as I clumsily waddled along and a 3-year-old Finnish girl glided past me much more gracefully! I did gradually improve though, and loved the freedom of skating through the Narnia-esque woodland. It’s a hard workout, both for cardio and every muscle in your body!

But winter wasn’t the only time I saw people skiing. Since it’s such an important sport and even a way of getting to work in the winter (there are ski tracks cut along snow-covered pavements), you have to practise year round. This resulted in some surprising contraptions, like short skis on wheels, so you can keep in shape even when there is no snow!

4. Finnish Language

Of course, I knew they spoke a different language, and I knew the basics of that language before I became an au pair in Finland. But it has plenty of its own curiosities. For one, the Finnish language doesn’t have gender. There aren’t even different words for “he” and ”she.” It also has something called “consonant gradation”, which means that when the ending of a word changes (this occurs often as it also has 17 grammatical cases), sometimes the letters in the middle of the word change too. This makes it really hard to know the root word to look up in the dictionary, and online translator tools weren’t great for Finnish when I arrived. But even though it has complications, it also has handy phonetic spelling and a lilting intonation which I love.  

5. Food

As an au pair in Finland I ate with the family, but overall I wasn’t a massive fan of the food. But it did help me expand my tastes! They love their ruisleipä (rye bread) and while I ate it daily, it’s not something I miss. The maksalaatikko, or liver casserole, however, I couldn’t tolerate! But they do have some nice sweet food. You know about cinnamon rolls (korvapuustit), but they’re so much better when freshly made by Finnish grandmas! Blueberry pies were also a staple at cafés, and I always got excited when Finnair offered complimentary blueberry juice. Berries are also the star ingredient of kiisseli (a strange, jelly-like dessert the grandma often made) and the salty liquorice salmiakki was an interesting discovery. I wasn’t there at Easter to eat their notorious rye porridge (mämmi), but I enjoyed their Christmas joulutorttu pastries, and the reindeer sausage! 

by Kira Browne

Moving Abroad While Pursuing My Dream


Au Pair Madrid Spain Amanda WhittenAmanda Whitten has been a writer for Dreams Abroad since September 2017. During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown in Madrid, Spain, she had plenty of time on her hands after moving abroad and living there for several years. She has given teach abroad interviews before, but we wanted to share her experiences moving abroad while pursuing her dreams, too. Amanda is from Oklahoma and has been abroad in Madrid since 2016. She is currently a language and culture assistant at a school in a town called Leganés and is pursuing her dream of living abroad in a different country. 

She was asked similar questions that we ask our first-year teachers but we are still excited to hear about her experience!

When did you arrive in Madrid?

“I first arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in mid-September 2016. I’ve been here for about three-and-a-half years.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad in Spain?

“I chose to teach abroad in Spain for a number of reasons. First, Spanish was the language that I had chosen to learn by default — my high school only offered Spanish. The university I attended offered several languages, but Spanish was the only one with a full major. Because of that, I knew that I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country. I studied abroad during 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and I became aware that they offered teach abroad programs around the world. Since I had already been to South America, I decided against applying to teach in Chile. I came to the decision that my destiny lied ins Spain.”

Had you ever taught before? 

best memory at EAFIT

“Technically, I had taught one or two classes when I completed my practicum after earning my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Other than that, I was wildly inexperienced and clueless.”

If not, what were you doing before you decided on moving abroad?  

“I had known for the latter part of my teens and my twenties that I wanted to go somewhere special like Spain to teach English. My best friend’s parents had mentioned it to me in passing when I was in college around the time I was 18 or 19. They explained that I could go practically anywhere in the world to do so and get paid for it. I felt intrigued, and the idea stuck to my brain ever since.

I knew for a long time that I wanted to try moving abroad. From 18 until 28, and until I finally accomplished The Dream, I worked in everything from pizza to retail to social services. It finally dawned on me when I turned 26 or 27 that I was going to be 30 soon and that I somehow had to make it all happen. Hello, extra credit card debt! It’s hard to save up for something that feels like an unattainable goal. That being said, before I left, I did manage to save up a little bit for expenses. Now, I fortunately have everything paid off. It was a good investment.”

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? Where are you teaching? 

“I had very vague ideas about everything. I have to admit that I didn’t actually do a lot of research about Spain. In college, I wrote practically all of my essays and papers about Argentina. I had this very broad, ideal notion that moving abroad would be very dreamy and poetic and that all the men would act and look like young Antonio Banderas, which I think I mentioned in another one of my articles.

When one of my friends suggested that I save up, take a vacation, and go to Spain first to see how I liked it, I felt flabbergasted. I mean, how could I obviously not fall in love with Spain? It was, like, in Europe?!?! All I could imagine was the running with the bulls (which I am now ironically staunchly against), afternoon siestas, lots of walking (which wasn’t far off base haha!), and street-side cafes with terraces and outdoor seating.”

How did you prepare for your teaching abroad job? What steps did you take? 

“I prepared by getting my TEFL a couple of years ahead of time. When actually packing my suitcases, I brought some things from home to show the students (like a yearbook and US dollars). I think planning a bit more would have been a good thing. Nonetheless, the whole venture was so overwhelming and exciting, that I basically just winged everything.”

teaching abroad

What are your perceptions of Madrid?

“My perceptions have evolved somewhat over time. I’m in quarantine now because of the Coronavirus. Something that gave me a sense of pride and belonging happened when people started clapping and cheering outside their windows and doors as a sign of respect and support for healthcare workers every night at 8:00pm. The solidarity is amazing and I have a new-found respect for this city.

Aside from that, Madrid is fast-paced. They are not as generous with their tapas and tap water as other cities such as Granada. The air often has a lot of contamination. It is a multicultural metropolis with an amazing history, jaw-dropping architecture, and a lot to do. Rent is high, but groceries are cheap. There are bad people here, like in any place, but I also feel very safe and secure here. I’m glad to be here, but I definitely am looking forward to possibly changing regions in exchange for a slower pace of life and new, rich experiences.”

What are your goals while you are abroad? How have they changed over the years?

“In the beginning, I thought that I would spend a year abroad, and that would be that. I would move back to the US, buy a house, and adopt a dog. I still have those illusions, but a year has become nearly four, and I don’t really know what is going to happen next. If Bernie Sanders wins somehow and Medicare-for-all gets passed, I might really move back home.

As it is, I have become accustomed to having my taxes count for something that tangibly affects me in a very positive way. I’m also in love with the easy, cheaper travel and the lifestyle that I lead here. It’s really nice, and I don’t have to worry about the disaster waiting for me around every corner. This is not to say that I don’t love the United States. I do, but for right now, all of this is better for me personally.”

Update: Welp. That idea is out the window (concerning Bernie Sanders). Is there still any hope at all out there for a single-payer healthcare system for the US?

What has been the most difficult since you arrived? 

Amanda Whitten art“I would say that navigating the unspoken, unwritten rules of Spanish society and culture that are a given to anyone actually from here has been the most challenging. Example: If you don’t greet every single person that you come across at the school or if every time you enter or exit a room you don’t give a general Hola/Buenos dias/Hasta luego, you will come across as a cold, rude person. This was a mistake that I made constantly for the first year that I was here and even after I learned. I continued to make this error because it’s hard to change a lifetime of little habits.

Second example: I didn’t know that as a new person, I would have to try to ingratiate myself into the lives of Spaniards. I was accustomed to living within a culture where people make an effort to include the new person, where the responsibility does not lie with them, but the veterans of whatever place that they are new to. My advice to newcomers moving abroad is to bring treats like little croissants or pastries to the break room. Make conversation and put yourself out there! Spanish people are so very friendly, but we have to navigate their norms. We are in their country, after all. 

Life Under Quarantine

Another challenge has been enduring quarantine while in Madrid. It’s a big city so it’s taking us longer than other places to return to a more normal life. If I were at home in Oklahoma, I’d be able to go outside into the woods. A positive from this uncertain time is that it’s given me a chance to reestablish good habits and to start new projects. I’ve been making art projects and investing time in myself.

For example, I finally dusted off my old watercolor paints from college, started painting with them. I made a Facebook album titled “Quarantine Art” that I’ve filled up with paintings. One of my favorites is an elephant that I think perfectly captures the melancholy that I was feeling at the time. It’s simultaneously pretty to look at, if I do say so myself.  In addition to that, I made an album called “Quarantine Rainbows” because I noticed during this long stay-cation that I seem to see a lot of rainbows from the window of my room. It kinda makes me happy to randomly look up and see an unexpected rainbow there. I wanted to share that feeling with other people. Therefore, I’ve included a couple of photos in this blog for you to see, as well.”

What has been the best experience?

“Before the quarantine began, I would have had to choose between scuba diving in Malta or navigating the island of Tenerife solo. But the applause and solidarity that I mentioned above happened in a moment of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. It may not have just been the best experience that I’ve had in Spain, but perhaps in my entire life. I’ve never felt something so grand — something that was so much bigger than myself — in my life. It encompassed all of the experiences that I’ve had in Spain as well as a few in my life before. Before this, I had never quite felt at home in Madrid or that I fit in quite as well as I’d wanted, but now it really feels like home.”

How do you feel about the culture so far? Do you feel like you have immersed yourself into the culture?

“I speak English almost every day at high school and I live with people who are originally from Ecuador. I would say that I immersed myself most when I was an au pair for a short time in 2017, where I learned a lot about Spanish culture and the lifestyle of the mid- to high-rollers. It would be very beneficial for my Spanish speaking skills to work for a while as a waitress or at a supermarket, but I have to admit that I am afraid to do that.

I’m afraid of making customers or coworkers upset by fumbling my Spanish or not understanding them correctly. I already worked in customer service in the US, and it was horrible!!! I can’t imagine doing it through my second language. But, I’m getting a little off track. No, I don’t feel like I’ve truly immersed myself. Nonetheless, I’m living the life that I want, and I get to experience a little bit of everything. That’s much more than enough for me.”

Wrap Up of Moving Abroad While Pursuing My Dream

Amanda is waiting to hear if she will continue her role as a language and culture assistant. She has applied for a different location in the Canary Islands as her first choice. The placement letter will inform her as to if her location has been changed or not. If it’s not the region she prefers, she will reject it and try to work with an academy, or perhaps teach online classes — or both. She is anxiously waiting to hear back so that she can plan for her future living abroad in Spain. 

by Leesa Truesdell


Non-Bilingual School Education For My Third Year

by Amanda Whitten

The Third Year’s the Charm When Teaching at a Non-Bilingual School

If you’ve just stumbled onto Dreams Abroad and have somehow made it to my page – welcome! If you’re like me, you probably won’t be interested in going back and reading all of my past blogs just to be caught up to date with my latest posts. Therefore, what follows is a short, proportionally inaccurate timeline so that you won’t be confused when I mention something from previous articles.

time line amanda whitten time abroad

This visual of my time in Spain doesn’t include all the places I’ve gone or the things that I’ve seen that have kept me, at the very least, sane, and at the most, in love with living in Europe. There have been events that seemed horrible, like getting voted to not return to my first school or being asked to leave my au pair position. However, these events ultimately set me on a path that let me explore some of the ins and outs of Spanish education, both bilingual and non-bilingual schools, and Spanish culture.

fountain sunlight

A Toe in the Water

My first school was a public bilingual school. The level of apathy towards learning not only English but in learning in general, appalled me. I was shocked at the level of disrespect that I witnessed. I saw students telling professors to shut up. Kids slept through entire trimesters and never faced any backlash or received extra help. There were kids whose only plan for the future was to go viral on YouTube and get rich. That was their sincere justification for doing nothing at all.

There was a stark difference between the kids who, for whatever reason, had intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. They were intelligent and had an adequate command of English. Many of them had been a part of the bilingual program for many years and cared about their education. However, they were few and far between. To make matters even bleaker, some of the teachers didn’t even want the auxiliars to be there. We were seen as a waste of time and money.

Non Bilingual Education

Wading In

Then I taught at a private, international, democratic school. I encountered students who took control of their educational experience. Of course, there was the occasional lazy kid, but the vast majority was interested in learning English. That school employed a number of methods, including one where they let kids with high levels of English skip the lunch line. If they wanted the benefits of knowledge, all they had to do was apply themselves and make an effort. I saw a rate of transition from non-fluency to fluency that was so speedy that I couldn’t believe my ears or eyes.

Non Bilingual Education

At the same time, I was moonlighting at a semi-private traditional school. My first teaching experience was somewhat mirrored in this newest school. I began to believe that only non-traditional schools were capable of motivating the greater majority of their students. For one reason or another, I wasn’t able to continue a second year at that non-traditional school and I feared another miserable experience. How could a public, normal, non-bilingual school even compare in a positive way to a bilingual public school? I was worried that I wouldn’t make personal connections with the students or that they wouldn’t have learned enough English to be able to relate to me or me to them.

I’m pleased to say that my worries were unfounded. Maybe it’s because my first school was in the isolated mountains. Perhaps it’s precisely due to my theory that being cost-free and bilingual caused parents to send their troubled kids there as a last ditch effort to teach them English. Maybe it’s all a coincidence.

park Non Bilingual Education

Dreams in a Non-Bilingual School

All I know is that here, in Leganes, as an auxiliar in Madrid, I am having the kind of experience I dreamed about when I first arrived in Spain. The kids want to talk to me, especially the younger ones. They think I’m funny and entertaining. They listen to my presentations and we have lots of debates, especially with the older ones. Since it’s a non-bilingual school, I’m able to focus almost exclusively on English instead of having to create art theory presentations that will somehow get these complex ideas across without being above everyone’s English levels. I’m encouraged to tell my point of view on things whether it’s the origins of Christmas, the United States’ political system, or the current immigration situation in the States.

churros chocolate teacher students

I get along with and have almost no issues with any of the staff. I really feel appreciated, more so even than last year. Instead of forcing the puzzle pieces to fit together, they are beginning to fall freely into place. There is an air of positivity here. Maybe it’s because the parents are very involved (before Christmas break, they organized churros and chocolate for ALL of the staff and students). Perhaps it’s my attitude and how I went in determined to be more organized than ever. Maybe it’s just this town.

There are more colegios here than I have ever seen in one place (coincidentally, I’m once again moonlighting at a second colegio through an academy here in Leganes, and it, too, is going exceedingly well). Most importantly, they want me to renew. They want to keep me! I don’t want to jinx it, but it really does seem like the 3rd time’s the charm.

Well, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading!



The Little Things

Hey there. It’s me again. Your local, friendly Spanish wanna-be (according to another quiz/blog thing. I need help, I know. Do you think they have AA’s for people who take too many personality quizzes??). Today is a short blog, as I’m taking a break from the short novels that I seem to have a habit of writing. My entry today consists of some small differences that I’ve noticed between Oklahoma and Spain. Some of the differences may make some of my compatriots say, ¨Wait, but we have that here.¨ That may be true, but I can’t speak for New York or California, as I have never been there – or at least, I haven’t spent enough time in either state to notice everyday living differences. So, here it is:

Número Uno: Utilities and Miscellaneous

  • Back home during the winter, I always turn the heat at night when it’s the most cold (i.e. freezing depths of hell. Sorry, I mean winter.) and the most needed (duhh), and leave it off during the day.  Do that in Spain, and your heating bill will be freaking outrageous. I’m talking like 400 a month, as opposed to the $80 to $100 that I was/am used to.  ? Why do I have that specific figure in my head? Guess.
  • Almost no one has or ever uses dryers here.
  • Even the window blinds are different here. What would be a special order and a very expensive purchase back home, are the norm here. They are great blinds, though, because they’re truly efficient at keeping out the heat/cold.
  • Back home in the ol’ OK, I have always lived three ways to make sure that I didn’t die from exposure: Central heat and air (a true and masterful godsend, in my opinion), gas/electric furnaces (get thee away from me, Satan!!!), and wood stoves (?). Here, they have ceramic radiator contraptions. You can put clothes or blankets on them to dry, without worrying about burning your house down! And that is pretty damn cool.  
  • You know how we have Velveeta, and how it doesn’t need to be refrigerated? Well, here there is milk, MILK, I say, that does not have to refrigerated. Crazy, I know.

Número Dos: Indoor Living Habits/Things Learned While Being an Au Pair

  • If you want to try your hand at being an au pair, DO NOT GO BAREFOOT. Most Spanish families don’t do it and might be super judgey about it.
  • DO NOT GRAB A BLANKET FROM THE SOFA AND WEAR IT AROUND YOUR SHOULDERS. Again, Judgey McJudgersons. Side note: If you want to be an au pair, be aware that not only could there be a cultural differences, but that there might also be a class difference.
  • The Spanish are very structured when it comes to eating times. They eat at specific times and have literal courses. For example, the 1st dish might be a soup, and the 2nd dish, which is eaten separately and only after the first, could be chicken empanada or a la plancha. Also, they like to have a small dessert after their meal, which is usually a coffee, a yogurt, or a piece of fruit.  
  • Everyone knows about Spanish siestas. But did you know that wearing PJ’s in the middle of the day for said siestas is a normal thing? Preposterous!!!
  • Air conditioning: a lot of Spanish people think it is the devil and will barely use it, even when they have access to it. Most places don’t have it, but the ones that do are a higher class type of place, such as hotels, shopping centers or restaurants like Corte Inglès, or McDonald’s. Wait…McDonald’s?

Número tres: Hanging out in the city

  • Burger King, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell: These are all places that are in really, really nice buildings, which is usually not the case in the States. I’m talking about winding staircases, marble walls and granite floors, etc.  
  • Public spaces in Oklahoma that are perfectly manicured with perfect bushes and gorgeous flowers tend to fall into two categories: golf courses and universities. Not so in Spain. Gardeners and gardening is still a viable trade, and even small towns are beautiful and perfect. There are many community spaces with fountains and an abundance of colors.
  • The variety of meat available is also much wider. You can order/buy rabbit or duck in a restaurant/store at (usually) the same price as chicken or beef. Also, you can buy a thousand types of seafood, like squid or octopus or whatever. I may miss American food a lot (Oh, generic Chile’s how surprised am I that I miss thee so) but I think having so many options is pretty cool. I’m not even going to talk about the stupid amount of varieties of jamón they have. I mean, they are obsessed.  
  • They still have public phone booths here. I’m not sure if they work, though.
  • Speaking of marble and granite, the stuff is everywhere. I designed kitchens for a little while in the ol’ OK, and granite countertops were always the dream, and an expensive one at that. Here, I notice that even walking around in the metro stations, that the stairs are sometimes made of unfinished granite. I suppose that it’s just that widely available here.
  • Cleanliness: In the city, about every 10 feet there are little trash cans that are hung everywhere down the streets. It makes it easy to not litter. People still do, but it makes it way nicer to live in.
  • China Stores. Madrid doesn’t have Dollar General or Walgreens, but it does have China stores on every corner. They are nicknamed as such, because they are almost always owned by people who are/appear to be of Chinese descent. China stores are AMAZING. They have everything, and for a much cheaper price than any other place. Need teaching supplies? China store. Need cute clothes? China store. Need tools or gadgets? China store! Sometimes the things you find there are actually decent quality. Sometimes they fall apart. Either way, I love them.

Numero cuatro: Social Interactions

  • This isn’t really a difference, but more like a contrast to how I thought things would be.  Firstly, I thought the men would all be tall, and have dark, wavy hair. Basically, I was imagining a country full of Antonio Banderases. BAHAHAHAHAHA. No. Actually, a lot of people look like people from Oklahoma. People who look like they should be out in a wheat field, smoking a tobacco pipe and in overalls, open their mouths and out comes Spanish. Now THAT was surprising.
  • Contradictorily, a lot of people are extremely well-groomed here. There are a lot of beards out and about, without a hair out of place. During the winter, a lot of slender, stylish men wear scarves and nice coats. Their hair is perfectly coiffed and gelled, some of them even wear hose (hose!) under their pants, and their shoes are polished and shiny.
    Years of not-so-subtle social conditioning caused me to be repulsed by these men when I first arrived to Spain. Words like ‘pricks’ and ‘pansies’ came unbidden into my mind. I’ve gotten used to it now, and I even bought my boyfriend a new scarf. 🙂
  • In Oklahoma, I never worry about getting pickpocketed. I can walk around a mall with my purse wide open and my phone in my back pocket without any problems. But if I find myself out at sundown walking, my neck hairs will stand up on end and I just might worry about getting raped or murdered. In Madrid, Spain, pickpocketing will probably happen to you eventually, one way or another. However, I have rarely felt unsafe here even while out alone at night at 3am. It is a strange contradiction.  
  • Earlier in the au pair section, I mentioned siestas. A lot of people back home imagine the Spanish lifestyle to be super relaxed. This is mainly because of what comes to mind when Spain is mentioned: bulls, sangria, sexy people and afternoon snoozes. Don’t be fooled, though. They take these afternoon breaks because they (small business owners mainly) have been working since before sun up until long after the sun goes down. That’s also why a lot of stores close down from 3pm. to 5pm.
  • I don’t go clubbing very much, partly for the following reason: I went to one of the most famous clubs once, called Kapital, and was surrounded by babies. Sorry, I mean 18-year-olds. The drinking age here is 18, rather than the States’ 21, and so club entry is not limited to those that are 21 and older. I don’t think that they check the ID’s very thoroughly, though, because some of the whippersnappers looked younger than 16.  Balderdash, I say!!!
  • Back home, most older folks are in bed by 9pm, or at least, that is the case with my family. In Madrid, nightlife is not just for the young, but also for the young at heart!  Spaniards love to socialize! I have been out at 5:00am after clubbing or doing whatever, and it is not unusual to see little old ladies with their walking canes and fur coats, looking fabulous, out and about. Forget bulls and sangria, the Spanish symbol should be one of these feisty little old ladies.

As time goes on, I’m sure that I will notice a million more things that should be added. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Spending time in any new place can be a challenge, but it can also be pretty cool. Recently I went to explore Lanzarote, an island off the coast of Morocco known to have a landscape unlike any other  on Earth. Tune in again to see an update to know more about what my latest adventure has in store. ?

Yours truly,

Amanda AKA Squirrel

Surviving the Storm

Dreams Abroad: Surviving the Storm

Hello, it’s me again (Adele pun not originally intended), your local, friendly, hopefully not-too-hipstery nomad.  (I absolutely loaaattthhhe hipsters but all the internet quizzes tell me that I am one. So Grrrr. ) Originally I had planned to talk about my six month stint as a live-in au pair, but I have discovered that I cannot at the moment do this.  Everytime I try to think of a witty, clinical, cut and dry process to talk about the cultural differences and the conflicts that followed, I find myself just wallowing and wanting to mostly verbally bash the family.  That’s not fair because the problems we had weren’t just their fault.  I think.  ANYWAYS, I said all of that to tell you to stay tuned for next time or the next ( or the next next next time) if drama and negativity is your thing.   Instead I want to focus on something different, lighter perhaps, but no less significant for me.  

A photo of me in Oklahoma before my trip to Spain began.

For Better or Worse

Whatever my experiences here in Spain have been, they have been nothing if not rich.  Perhaps at times they were rich in pain and despair or perhaps rich in joy and wonder, but always poignant nonetheless.  For every moment that I have cried myself to sleep, I have found myself in breathless wonder.  I shall try to convey my meaning as precisely as possible but if things turn out cheesy instead capturing the artistic feeling that I desire, I apologize ahead of time.

The first 10 months of my time in Spain were very difficult for me.  After having gotten settled into the perfect apartment that I found in  Idealista, a popular website for rentals, set up in the perfect village and reveling in finally living in my perfect dream, I got kicked out.  It turned out that the landlord’s mother was going to come live in the apartment and didn’t want to share which is understandable.  I have a hunch that I was being illegally subleased to because after two months and after excuse after excuse, my roommates never did give me the landlady’s contact information.  I suspect that they knew from the beginning and just wanted extra money.  They themselves were in their own strange situation.  They were a couple from Chile with a small daughter.  The mother was supposed to go to England to study English but since she didn’t speak said English, when customs asked if she was there to work, she allegedly misunderstood the question and answered, “Yes.”  They *permanently* denied her entry and turned her away even though the dad and baby were already through the gate. Therefore, they came to Spain for three months before having to go back. Naive, trusting Amanda had no contract, no rights, and barely any money aside from my monthly income and I already had bills back home. That was completely on me.

In orientation, they strongly suggested we get a contract but apartment hunting in Madrid in September specifically and, well, also year round (except in August) is a bitch so I settled. So, after a month of desperately searching for cheap accommodation, I found work as a live in au pair.   I am grateful but I should have just tried to live in hostels for a while. While all of that was going on, two people in my family passed on, one from a drug overdose and the other from cancer.  Complete and total devastation ensued for a time. One death took me completely off guard and ruined me for awhile. The second death was somewhat expected but still very difficult as the person, my grandpa, was and is my favorite person. It is from him that I got the travel bug in the first place. He deserves a post of his own so I will leave it at that for some other time.  Needless to say, these sad events probably manifested in toxic and subtle ways that made interacting in such a new physical and cultural environment more complicated than it had to be.  The last blow came circa April when I found out that the teachers at the school did not want me to come back.  I can not pretend that it was all their fault. I have made mistakes.  But this was a huge shock and disappointment.  With this auxiliar program, if you don’t renew in the same school, then you can’t work in the same region as an auxiliar.  They wanted to send me far south to Murcia!!! The only good thing about that would have been teaching near the ocean and Andalusian culture but even that was thwarted because they assigned me to some dry, isolated desert school.  On top of that, payments to auxiliars in the south of Spain are NOTORIOUSLY 2 or 3 months behind. I had found love and a new life in Madrid just for it to about to be taken away.   I could not afford to get uprooted again and this time so far away.

Needless to say, I was broken hearted for a majority of my first year.  Fortunately, I was able to travel and those experiences among others and the ease of having them are what originally convinced me to stay a bit longer.  Otherwise, before I met Esteban, I probably would have given up and gone home.

What follows is a mezcla of memories that I was able to focus on during these turbulent times. Stay tuned for these memories in my next post!

Love forever,

Amanda (Squirrel)

To see more of Amanda’s posts, click here. Thanks for reading and keep living your Dreams Abroad!

by Amanda Whitten