So you decided you wanted a change. Oh ‘I’ll become an English teacher’ you thought. So off you trotted and signed up to a Celta course. ‘Piece of piss’ you imagined. A month later, if you made it through, you’re still reliving the trauma of your near breakdown and having nightmares about the present perfect and the third conditional.
But you passed. And you thought, ‘heh Spain sounds cool’. And Seville seemed about a good a place as any. I mean people said it got hot, but heh, a few more rays of sun will give you some vitamin D right?
So here you are. Maybe you bagged a teaching position before you arrived. Turns out though you’re in Sevilla Este, all faceless avenues and new builds. Where’s the giralda tower again?
Or maybe you just packed up your bag in a fit of devil-may-care, no job, no place to live, just with a TEFL certificate hand and hunger for adventure.
The good news is your not alone. September is the time when language academies start back and new flesh arrives in town to find their way in the Andalusian capital.
I did it and survived to tell the tale. It was tough at times and often lonely as hell. But after a few weeks and some random evenings networking evenings that left me crying inside, I started to feel like Seville could be somewhere I’d like living.
So in honor of the new arrivals – TEFL or otherwise, here are my top 12 tips on surviving in the city.
1. Choose where you live and who you live with wisely
There’s a lot of dodgy accommodation in Seville, and some seriously strange people as well. It may be stating the obvious, but try and live with people who you think you might have something in common with. If you’re a student, don’t live with a 45 year-old woman with a cat and if you’re a 45 year-old woman avoid a house of Erasmus students. I struck gold when I first moved to Seville and shared a flat with a charming architect who’d himself lived abroad, and so without thinking twice he introduced me into his friendship group and many late nights of Ballentines and Coca Cola accompanied by drunken dancing.
Pick your area wisely. The centre is fun, a barrio more than half an hour walking from the centre probably isn’t. Most people start around the Alameda, Macarena or near to river. Triana is also a favourite, just make sure you’re not living in close proximity to a bar because you will never get a good night’s sleep again.
To find my first flatshare I used Easy Piso but there’s also SPOTAHOME a recently launched multi-media platform designed to smooth the process of finding accommodation in the city. Perfect if you want to sort out somewhere to live before you arrive, it’s aimed at foreign students or people working away from home as they personally vets rooms outlining in fine detail the pros and cons of each apartment or house. You even get to see a rough and ready video of each apartment, however you don’t get to check out the property yourself in person before you book it. Prices look pretty reasonable, and seem to be somewhere between 200 – 350 Euros per room, depending on location and whether a single or double.
2. Get a local breakfast hangout
I didn’t get it when I first arrived how essential to Seville society breakfasting out is. Apparently it’s a basic human right and at just over 2 euros for toast and a coffee, utterly affordable by most. People here are creatures of habit so tend to go to the same bar at the same time of day. So, smile, be nice, strike up conversations with the bar staff, or the old man who´s always there sitting at the end of the bar. Or whoever, it really doesn’t matter, but it will at least make you feel like people know you exist, plus there’s nothing better than starting the day with a friendly ‘Hola’ serving up a nice warm tostada, orange juice and coffee.
3. Take up a hobby
On the whole people knowing you exist front, attending something with some regularity is key, and a hobby be it salsa dancing, yoga, a running club, leaning how to Rollerblade, again it really doesn’t matter what the hell it is, but you want to do it with the same people at least once a week. For me in my first year in Seville it was Salsa classes and after a few weeks I had my own little salsa crew with social events throughout the week, should I have wished. Or you could try my favourite exercise crush Entreenate whose mix of outdoor exercise classes and fun guarantee some new friends.
If you’ve arrived in September it’s a good time to sign up to any activities. Somewhere that’s got loads of dance and movement classes is Latidos in Triana.
4. Get an intercambio
As an English speaker you are much in demand. Due to the pure chance of being born a native English speaker, right now in Seville that makes you hot property. Everyone and I mean everyone is learning English, but they have very little chance to practise. There are organised language exchange events on offer in Seville, but more often than not, it´s 20 Sevillanos, a solitary Swede and a Russian. I have nothing against Sweden or Russia, but what our little Spanish friends really want is a real life native English speaker. So when one does occasionally pop up, they are immediately surrounded, which if you’re a new in town Norman-no-mates and haven’t had a conversation for while in any language, will at least fill that gaping hole of loneliness, at least for a couple of hours.
I would also recommend trying to meet up with someone regularly on a one-to-one basis, as is generally far more productive and pleasurable, both in terms of improving your Spanish and developing a long term friendship with someone.
5. Learn Spanish
It’s obvious, but vital. You need it, I’m sorry, but you do to have any faint chance of feeling part of the place you’re living. But be patient. It takes time and commitment, and classes. Don’t expect just to pick it up from listening to some tapes. Go to class, get an intercambio, speak to random strangers and try to enjoy.
Here are some academies offering Spanish classes:
6. Hang out where the international Boho set go
There are two bars in Seville where if you go often enough, you’re bound to make friends. First there’s ‘Alfakeke‘ on Calle San Vicente. There’s an international, friendly clientele who are warm and welcoming to the various waifs and strays who pass through its doors. Not far from Alfakeke is ‘Anima‘. An institution in the city’s nightlife, Anima plays hosts to twice weekly live music concerts on Thursday and Sunday evenings, where you often see the same friendly faces enjoying which ever happens to be the band of choice that particular evening.
7. Go Irish
Despite being half Irish, I’m not one to seek out the local Irish bar in town, but a lot of people do. And the main guys in Seville are ‘Merchants‘. They are the self proclaimed number one sports bar in Seville, but if rugby or some sport involving kicking or throwing a ball is your cup of tea, then Merchants is the place to watch it. Plus there will be other people of the same sport watching ilk congregating, which I assume must be fun.
If you want to take your Irishness even further, why not join the Gaelic football team. You don’t have to have any Emerald connection, or even necessarily any prowess at the sport, just be willing to turn up to practise on Sunday mornings near the San Jeronimo rugby club.
8. Network your arse off
I’m not a natural networker. It actually brings me out in a cold sweat. But having said that, if you’re new in town, it’s a necessary evil (unless you’re one of those weird folks who actually enjoy it). Internations is a worldwide network for ‘expats’ (hate that word, but moving on). Their monthly meetups used to be free, but I’ve been reliably informed that they will be charging from now on. Attendees are usually a motley crew of international folk coming together to have a lively evening while getting to know each other further. Another option is to sign up to one of the growing number of Meetup events in the city. There’s every imaginable type of group from straight up social events to yoga, meditation and Japanese food lovers.
And exciting news for regular readers of the blog is that I’m almost certainly going to begin monthly ‘I Know a Little Place in Seville’ meetups at cool hang outs around the city.
9. Say yes
When I arrived in Seville I had decided to say ‘yes’ to anything and everything (within reason). One of the joys of living abroad is that you’re no longer confined by the social codes and norms of your country of origin. You can do whatever you want, with whoever you want. Be prepared to strike up unlikely friendships with people you might not have considered ‘suitable’ at home. Be open. Be free!
As a footnote, since writing this article a year ago, I have become familiar with the wonderful world of Tinder and just as a word of precaution, probably best not saying yes to everything here. Please use common sense and discretion.
10. Shop in your local fruit and veg shop or market
Buying fruit and veg in Seville is fun yet terrifying at the same time. If you’re learning Spanish, it probably tips more highly on the terrifying scale, but once you crack a smile from the lady serving your cebolla or she calls you ‘hijo/a’ (that’s son or daughter and a perfectly normal greeting in these parts) , you´re on your way to winning her over and having one more person who acknowledges your existence.
11. Talk to strangers
A good friend of mine from the UK, who shall remain nameless, felt so lonely one Saturday night as he wandered the streets of Madrid, that he followed a bunch of English people who were obviously going to a house party, through the door of the party he wasn’t invited to, and into a life long friendship with someone he met there. I’m not suggesting you go to such extremes, but DO talk to that person who you keep seeing in the same cafe, or why not go up to that table of people at the concert and ask if you can join them. They will almost certainly not say no, and if they do, sod them.
12. Don’t rely on Google Maps
Seville’s a tricky city to get the hang out in terms of lay out and as tempting as it is to bust out Google Maps on your smart phone, it won’t help you in the long term. The old fashioned paper maps I think give you a better indication of how the different areas fit together. And if you’ve been lacking in human contact, there’s no better way to remember you’re alive than asking for directions.
Also, don’t be afraid to cycle around the city. The bike lanes are really well laid out and it’s often quicker to get from A-B by bike than by taking the bus. If you don’t want to commit to buying a bike there’s always the city’s Sevici service or for a friendly bike shop try Bicicletas Gomez del Moral in the Alameda.
So there you have it. Try some or all. Be patient. And be ok to spend time with yourself. And don’t feel bad when you see large groups of smiling people hanging out and having fun. They’ve been going to the same bar with the same people for the last twenty years and would never dream of breaking that routine by up sticks and moving to another land. So when you’re feeling sad and lonely, give yourself a pat on the pack for breaking out of your comfort zone and trying something new.
If you’ve read this and have other suggestions – don’t be shy to leave your ideas in the comments box below.