Working Abroad in Spain - My Experience

By: Molly Sears-Piccavey

You can take the girl out of Nottingham....
You can take the girl out of Nottingham....

When I made the move from Nottingham to Spain in 1998, I thought it was going to be a breeze. I already spoke Spanish at an A-level standard and had varied work experience. I was convinced that finding work in a busy city like Barcelona was going to be easy.

On arrival to Barcelona, I realized that my Spanish wasn´t so great. Also the local language was Catalan. For many jobs and to do paperwork you need to know Catalan language as well as Spanish. It wasn’t going to be as easy as I had first thought. A local family I knew was even on hand to help me out, but things were still tough for a newly arrived expat.

Working in another country can be so much different from your home country. The local language may even be the same as your native language, but office politics, expectations and the culture of a workplace can differ hugely.

Besides trying your best to learn to speak the language, the only way you can prepare for these variations is to talk to other expats. If you can, find people in the region where you want to live. Speak to them about basic daily things and see how they may differ from your current lifestyle. The more insight you can get from different contacts the better. Now there is so much information available online and offline. When I moved in 1998 Internet was not an option to get information.

Learning the local language doesn’t happen just by being in the country. I made huge efforts during my first years in Spain, including reading Spanish novels and only watching TV in Spanish (it was hard work -- no satellite dish for me!)

Working in a Spanish environment you notice that the timetable varies. In some Spanish companies lunchtime is from 2pm – 4pm or even until 5pm. This allows many to eat at home with their family and then return to work mid-afternoon, at 5pm. In the UK office I was used to having sandwiches at my desk in 30 minutes or so. The end of the day in Nottingham was around 5.30pm.

Another difference in Spain is that in summertime many companies have a reduced timetable. This is as the temperatures rise it can be difficult to be productive. The heat can make you sleepy. If you have to work outdoors or have a manual job then I can even be dangerous in the hot sun. Before you get jealous of the short summer hours, I must say that the timetable for the rest of the year has more hours each work day to compensate the shorter days in the summer months.

Here are some tips about Working abroad that may help:
  • Before you go
    Try to get as much information about the area as possible from other expats living in the area or nearby. Maybe you can even find work before you leave, moving only once a job has been secured. This may ease financial pressure on arrival to the new country. Many companies are now interviewing over Skype or videoconference systems.
  • Listen
    Actively listen to locals or local expats. You may not agree with them initially, but being open-minded and getting different perspectives on things should help you to make good decisions.

Once you are in your new country, it´s good to observe things. Try to notice all that is going on around you. Seeing how things are done by locals may give you clues to why things are done in such a way. Observing customs can unlock a lot of information and give you great knowledge in your new surroundings.
  • Speak to the locals
    If your Spanish isn’t too good, try a language exchange. Often Spanish people are learning English. This can be a good way to network too. For my first decade in Spain, all my friends and colleagues were only Spanish. It was difficult sometimes as I would miss chatting about things back home. Sometimes I would feel frustrated and misunderstood; maybe I couldn’t find the word to say exactly what I wanted to. But the upside is that now I am able to see things from different opinions, the Spanish perspective and the English point of view.

Try to adjust to the timetable of the place where you live. It should make your working day much easier, and you will adjust more easily to the lifestyle if you accept the local timetables and eating habits.

  • Office politics and Corporate culture if you work in Corporate environment abroad. Try to get to know your colleagues outside the office if possible. You may work with other expats in the office or have many multicultural colleagues. If that´s the case adjustment maybe easier. Even so it´s good to get to know the culture of the place outside your door. Be aware of the place in where you live and work.

If you are in an environment with local people, the adaption maybe complex at first. Make sure that what is expected of you at work is clear. If there are language barriers then its preferable to get information in writing or by email rather than spoken. This way you can recheck details later. Of course you can also use Google translator or a ask a colleague to help to ensure that you getting all the details that you require.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMolly Sears-Piccavey is a British expat living in Spain. Blog description: the blog of an Expat in Andalusia, Spain. Sharing the real Spain. Read my piccavey blog, discover the magic of Granada & the spirit of Andalusia.
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Contest Comments » There are 29 comments

Danielle Gouwens wrote 10 years ago:

Love your blog Molly, I hope you win and look forward to reading many more.

Jennifer Riggins wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant! It perfectly describes how we all show up in Spain (and probably other countries) thinking we're totally ready for it, only to get kicked back on our asses. And then we work hard to learn the language and make friends and it all becomes good! Just like you say, Molly, it's all about having an open mind!

Rod Younger wrote 10 years ago:

As an anglo-spaniard and being very fortunate in being bi-lingual I have not had to go through this experience but what I can say is that I have seen a lot of foreigners come to Spain who have failed miserably to learn Spanish or integrate because they didnt do what Molly did - she is spot hard work to start with but you will reap the rewards if you follow her advice!

Lorna Penfold wrote 10 years ago:

Very interesting blog Molly, and reminded me I really need to improve my Spanish!

Alan Parks wrote 10 years ago:

Great blog Molly, as always :)

Sarah wrote 10 years ago:

Molly, Great read and oh so very true ! You certainly have a wealth of experience to share !

Stephen Hall wrote 10 years ago:

All good, sound advice. Good luck, Molly

Rachel Webb wrote 10 years ago:

Nice one Molly, it´s a big step that takes a long time to adjust to and the language learning never ends!

Fiona Watson wrote 10 years ago:

All good advice - can't vouch for Spanish office politics, but Molly has years of experience of that. Best of luck!

Vern wrote 10 years ago:

Wise words from a wise young lady. Molly knows what she is talking about so sit up and take notice.

Annie Manson wrote 10 years ago:

I always love your blog pieces Molly - simple to follow and always filled with useful need to knows.

Matthew Hirtes wrote 10 years ago:

Great advice, Molly. Language exchanges are an excellent way of learning Spanish. We have a number where I live, in Gran Canaria.

Ali Meehan wrote 10 years ago:

As ever, Molly brings her experiences of arriving in Barcelona as a foreigner and down to earth advice into a helpful post.

Siobhan wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant blog about working abroad from someone who has walked the walk and talked the talk! Great tips especially those about the work place. I\'ll be keeping this as a favourite and will share with anyone who asks about working abroad as it can translate to and country not just Spain.

wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant blog about working abroad from someone who has walked the walk and talked the talk! Great tips especially those about the work place. I'll be keeping this as a favourite and will share with anyone who asks about working abroad as it can translate to and country not just Spain.

Paddy Waller wrote 10 years ago:

Nice article.....lots of reality

Tamara Essex wrote 10 years ago:

This is great stuff, really useful. I so agree with you about language exchange ("intercambio"), it's been the best way to improve my Spanish and learn some colloquial phrases the books never tell you. As your "stalker" I read every post, turn up at all your recommended walks or restaurants, and now will be following this advice too. Keep on blogging!

Lisa wrote 10 years ago:

I love the way Molly not only shares her first hand experiences but she also shows others how to learn from them by providing tips and ideas ... great post as always!

Maxine Raynor wrote 10 years ago:

Reading this has reminded me of my own experience of working in Spain and getting used to having a 3-course meal every day instead of sandwiches at my desk! Definitely a good idea to embrace the local culture rather than thinking "but back home they do it another way"

Ana Isabel wrote 10 years ago:

Great blog Molly

Maya wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant advice, nothing sharpens the mind or the appetite for life than by completely reframing your existence- in a new environment. Everyone should experience living in a new country for a while, simply to appreciate how much of what they regard as innate human habit is in fact only culturally specific

Sue Sharpe wrote 10 years ago:

Molly's posts are always interesting and informative - a 'must-read' for anyone moving to Spain!

Avistu wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! I did the reverse cultural experience when I moved from Avilés to Dublin. Google and Internet were already there but nothing is as helpful as first hand experience to the locals :)

Daniel wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks molly;-) hope to see u soon in barcelona!!!

Robin wrote 10 years ago:

Good article!

John Kramer wrote 10 years ago:

Great post Molly and so very helpful advice! nothing more important than local integration. If you can't marry least learn the language :)

Karen Knight wrote 10 years ago:

Great blog, will follow your adventures in Spain, keep writing

Carol Byrne wrote 10 years ago:

Molly is as sharp as the arrow in that picture when it comes to advice and anecdotes about her life in Spain - always in my RSS feed, I love to flip back and read her punchy posts when I get time.

Diana Berryman wrote 10 years ago:

Brilliant advice as always Molly, I need to go back to inter cambio very soon lol!

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