Living in Spain Social Life

Yes! I’m an expat in Spain! Shit! I haven’t got any friends!

October 5, 2013
josh taylor blogger

Yeah. Nobody ever sees it coming. But the truth is, making friends as an expat is not an easy thing, no matter how sociable you are.

If, like me, you have arrived/plan to arrive in your chosen adopted homeland completely alone, barely able to communicate in the local tongue and high off the back of an enviable social life at home, there’s a good chance you’ll have found things/will find things a bit difficult to adjust to at the onset of it all. It’s a massive change, which is often regrettably underestimated.

lonely person, crowd

I had a job waiting for me when I arrived in Spain, and with that a predetermined group of people who I would call friends for one year. Except most of them weren’t friends, at least to begin with. Of the fifteen or so people I worked with, I genuinely got along with two of them; we liked the same music, enjoyed going out to big gigs and festivals and shared the same sense of humour. Then there were a couple of others who I could at least have a laugh with, but with the rest it always felt forged and there seemed to be no end to the string of painfully awkward drinks-and-tapas-after-work moments. I suppose that at first my issue was getting used to having friends much older than I was. Having more or less just taken my first proper leap since University, I was completely out of my comfort zone. It was weird.

However, with enough perseverance and will power, one adapts oneself and accepts change like this. That first year in Spain was the most socially challenging of my life, but I came out the other end much more mature and independent than I had ever been before. It shaped me, and broadened my horizons. More English-speaking friends eventually came out of the woodwork and as my Spanish improved so did my confidence in actually using it on a social level, even though I essentially said the same thing in the same bar to the same people, drunk, every weekend. But still.

That’s not to say, of course, that it’s the same for everyone. Maybe you’ll fall into a solid crowd of people straight away. Maybe you’ll fall in love straight away, like Fiona and Erin did! Moving to a city certainly helps; as soon as I arrived in Granada I started to meet people from all walks of life and corners of the earth on an almost daily basis, and many of them turned out to be best friends. Now I try to maintain a strictly Spanish social life as much as I can (intercambios play a HUGE role in this), but inevitably I find it easier to get along with other, like-minded, English-speaking guiris for ease of banter and common ground etc.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter who your friends are or where they’re from; being an expat is a mutually exclusive experience and a wonderful thing to share with people who you would have otherwise never met. And no-one can truly understand that until they’ve had a crack at it themselves.

gareth bale spain lonliness

Poor Gareth. I know just how he must be feeling. I wonder if he’s considered an intercambio?

Did you struggle to adapt to the expat lifestyle? Are you struggling to adapt to the expat lifestyle? Or was it the most seamless transition you’ve ever had? Either way, let’s hear about it!

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  • Anna Kemp (@thedragonchats) October 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

    think living in a foreign country has it’s complications – and this is the biggest for me. On the one hand, I think it made me much more social, more likely to “seize the day” and broadened the range of my friendships… but as the years clock up, the expat cycle of people-come people-go gets very wearing…I ended up sticking with a core few who had been here for years – and going native. (Having said that, I think life might be more uncomfortable as an expat – no firm social group, increased insecurity – but in the long run it is way, way more exciting… you just have to weigh up what’s more important I suppose)

  • Marianne October 12, 2013 at 4:58 am

    As well as the upheaval of moving to live in another country and the possibility of the language differences, other important factors that might influence the ease of making friends depend on your age, whether or not you are married (or have a partner – or children), where you choose to live (city or countryside) and whether or not you have a job.

  • mappingthepeace October 13, 2013 at 8:01 am

    I agree – I find intercambios a wonderful way/excuse to meet new people: both last year in a smaller town and this year in the big city of madrid. It had definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone but has made me a much more open person.

  • mappingthepeace October 13, 2013 at 8:03 am

    But it was funny arriving to madrid and at first having a list of things to do, ie. Sort NIE, find piso, get bedsheets.. it got to the point where the next thing on that list was “make some friends…’

  • Kaley October 17, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    It’s difficult. The real friends I have are few and far between, and a lot of them I owe to my husband.

  • Move to Granada Spain - Frequently asked questions October 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm

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  • Ellora June 1, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    This blog post speaks to me! I moved to Granada 3 months ago from New Zealand and I’m working as an au pair, leaving me with limited social occasions to meet new people. I came speaking no Spanish at all and have picked up a little but not a whole lot. Back in NZ, I was a very social person and it’s very strange being here and having no friends. Thanks for this post, makes me feel a bit better knowing I’m not the only one 🙂

    • Josh June 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

      It certainly takes some getting used to. And good on you for learning so quickly– it isn’t as easy in Andalucia, land of swallowed words! I know a South African girl in the sam shoes as you, but she complains that she is always so busy looking after the kids! I’d recommend you go along to an intercambio evening– The Granada Couchsurfing community hold one every Wednesday…

  • Seleena July 6, 2014 at 11:39 am

    This is an invaluable read – thanks very much Josh! I have been staying in Sevilla for the past two months, but from my first visit to Granada, it completely stole my heart – I have been back twice since – only for a couple of days at a time, and this week am staying 9 days to get more of a feeling for the city and its people. Since yesterday , this was definitely one of my worries of being “part” of something and not always being alone. I am hoping these days here will give me a more solid idea of whether I want to move here – I am looking at moving here for an initial 6 months and seeing how it goes – but am anxious for sure! I am big on travel and living in new places and I hope that this will be another positive adventure!

    Also, if any of you want to learn spanish part-time – there are spanish courses which are quite good value for money – I am going to attend their classes next week so let’s see how it goes! 😉

    Thanks for the intercambio advice – will definitely check out the couchsurfing community!

    • Josh July 8, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      You’re welcome! Sevilla is a fantastic city and I love it there but Granada has the edge when all things are considered I think. I’m sure you’ll know what’s right for you though 😉

      Good luck with your Spanish classes!

  • Arabella February 28, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    It’s a feeling all the migrants have at some point. It’s never easy to start from zero. I wrote about the same issue when in England:
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    • Josh March 1, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      Yes it’s never easy…but with enough discipline and perseverance we can strike a healthy balance of native English and Spanish speaking friends. Too much of one and not enough of the other makes you feel like there is something missing… Nice blog by the way!

  • Lydia January 28, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I have just stumbled across this post and it sums up how I feel right now. I’m an English teacher in Granada (aren’t we all?) and I’ve been here for a few months.

    I spoke no Spanish when I arrived 3 months ago and still haven’t managed to do a course due to the timings of my classes. My Spanish vocabulary has increased (mainly food based items!) but I still cannot string a sentence together.
    I have been thinking about language exchanges but because my Spanish is non-existent, I will just go and speak English and that won’t broaden my mind very much!

    Really enjoy this blog and will use the advice from this post to inspire me to get out there.

    • Josh January 31, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Hi Lydia, your situation will sound familiar to a lot of other English teachers like yourself living in Spain. Without much Spanish it’s really tough settling in. However, you mustn’t fear language exchanges – they are the number one way to meet like-minded people and break through the first language barrier! There is one every Monday in Casa Lopez Correa in El Realejo, another in Hannigans on Friday night and a few others scattered about town. You should check them out!