On 26th April 2019, I landed in Girona, which is a 2-hour ride from Barcelona. And once I touched down and inhaled the fresh salty air, I knew, my dream had just come true. All my next months were about to be difficult, challenging, sometimes lonely, and frustrating. But as I landed in Catalunya, I promised myself that it would be a great year and I would be a winner!
Let me start this story by telling you that wherever you ever decide to move, migrate, or go study even for a brief moment – it will never be easy. Only if you happened to have a sugar daddy or mommy who will support you at your every baby step, otherwise, it will suck to be an immigrant. But you will LOVE the feeling of being capable to start your new life from a scratch and convert it into a masterpiece.
The immigrant life has no mercy. Especially in a country that you don’t speak the language of. And if you don’t know anyone there, it will be even tougher. But I never regretted any step I have made and after moving from Ukraine to Poland, to Brazil, to Germany, back to Poland, and finally to Spain, man, every single day was so much worthy!
People of Catalunya
Even before landing in Catalunya, every second person was warning me about strict Catalan nature. I heard so many stereotypes about them, so many different stories of how no one spoke English or Spanish to foreigners but only Catalan. How locals refused to switch to Castellano if you don’t understand Catalan. But! That might have happened to some, but never did I had this situation. During my first three months I live in El Poble Nou neighborhood where mostly Catalans live, Catalan is spoken, Catalan is written everywhere. I was babysitting two kids and every time I would go to the park some random people would start talking Catalan to me, To what, I would just reply that I speak Castellano as I am not a local. And then we would start speaking in Spanish and they would ask me dozens of questions about Ukraine, about my volunteering, about me.
There are strict Catalans who are very law-abiding and would look weirdly at you if you look like a foreigner but show me a country where there are no such people. Everywhere you go you will catch unpleasant looks here and there, but does it really mean that all the region is just like that. And what about thousands of other looks full of kindness?
So your Castellano will be enough to survive even in a small village of Catalunya.
There are foreigners who have been living in Barcelona for over 10 years and don’t speak even a word of Catalan. And still, the city keeps going. People get jobs in Spanish. People make friends with Catalans in Spanish. Ask for coffee in Spanish.
Another thing is, why wouldn’t you learn the basics of Catalan? Since we are guests at their home, why wouldn’t we want to understand them better? To deep dive into their culture and history? Create a brighter life in Barcelona? And I am not saying each of us has to get a B2 of Catalan, but what kind of impression will you make on locals if you ask for vermouth in Catalan?
Just to add, there are dozens of free courses of Catalan (also Castellano) organized by city counsels. So just think about it!
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Finding Work in Barcelona
This chapter of my life was one of the most frustrating. Spain can’t boast of its wide variety of job opportunities for foreigners. The market is competitive and salaries are not the highest in Europe. Yet you will find people from all over the world pursuing their dream career which makes it even more complicated as suddenly your native Russian, Arabic, or Chinese are not that unique. I speak fluently 5 languages and know foundations of 2 more and I was struggling in finding the job in this city of joy. I sent over 30 CVs to international companies for internship positions and entry ones. Do you know how many replies I got? Two! Including those that were starting from “We regret to inform you…”. I was desperate. I didn’t know if they ever answer or call me.
I started sending my CVs directly to the HR department of companies which had no jobs in my area listed in the hope they would just like me and save my CV somewhere on the computer. Unsuccessfully.
This is how in reality it works. You will get your job way, like really way faster, if you integrate with locals and network.
I would go to different local events: from a city musical festival to LGTB+ parade, and just talk, talk, talk. It took me a while to be able to name my problems and share them with strangers. But the desire of waking up in Barcelona won. I was sharing my struggles with everyone. Everyone knew what my degree was, what languages I spoke, what I was good at, and that they have to let me know if they hear about a vacancy.
I was going to networking events via Meet.up. I was meeting people on Couchsurfing events, playing volleyball, BBQing, starting talks on food fests, and in the bars. And it worked out! I was referred to one of the most successful digital marketing companies – Criteo. I started my internship working for the Polish and Eastern-European markets. Later I transferred to a Spanish team and started covering retail media.
Spain is all about how many people you know. And how fastly you are able to solve your job problems!
Sports in da city
You are not fully local if you don’t do sports. You can be jobless, introverted, or sun hater, but you must have a sport that you love! Everyone who lives in this city is active! People start a day with 6 am yoga, paddle surfing, jogging, and end a day at 10 pm playing beach football under the street lights. Local fitness stars organize work-outs in every single district at any time of the day. Most of them have free trials and a lot of free classes if you bring a friend.
Do you know why quarantine was extremely annoying for Spanish residents? Not because it is boring at home and you are sick and tired of your roommates. They could not do sports. On May 2, when people, were allowed to do sports outside for a restricted amount of time, at 6 am all the streets got crowded with runners and bikers.
Yummy Food of Barcelona
That was one of the biggest reasons for me to move to Spain. Food! How can you not love the Meddietrnean diet? All these fresh vegetables, sea fish, exotic sweet potatoes, papayas, mangos, shrimps, avocados, and varieties of goat cheese. Supermarkets have special sections with products gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian, and vegan. That is one of the easiest countries to stay vegan and still have delicious meals. I even sometimes think about going vegetarian ( still can’t betray my goat cheese). Everything that we consider luxurious and is expensive in Ukraine, here costs less than 5€.
And avocado toasts and mango smoothies are not a dream but a reality. I have learned more recipes here in a year than in my last 5 years traveling and living in different countries. I just go to a supermarket and buy a fruit that I have never seen before and just start asking people for recipes or surfing the Internet. And I end up with quinoa muffins, orange pies, and baked sweet potatoes.
In summer, the flight tickets go all the way up and Barcelona becomes one big airport with people coming and going day and night. Everyone who lives in Barcelona 365 days a year uses this time to get the rest of the big city life. Thank God, Barcelona has amazing train connections between adorable villages, hidden beached, mountains resort, and even Andorra. Every single weekend during summer, I catch a regional train, pay 3-7 € and go up to the Pyrenees or down to beautiful towns with amazing natural beached like Sitges, Garraf, or Tarragona.
You don’t need to be rich to explore waterfalls or calas, as people call small beaches here. You just need time and willing to catch an early train to Costa Brava and find an adorable spot there. Don’t be afraid of just hopping off the train in an unknown city just because you liked them from the train. Most of the trains and busses run every 20-30 min so you will not be left roofless for the night.
Party on The Streets of Barcelona
I still don’t get those who spend 17-20€ on a one-club entry in Barcelona, when there are dozens of parties on the streets every single weekend. From April to late November, every district celebrates life. Every street is decorated, live music, people dance like there is no tomorrow and wins the street whose music is the loudest and the crowd is the craziest. There are days of Barceloneta, of Gracia, of Sants. The city welcomes the national day of San Juan, which is on June 23 – the longest daylight. Then we jump into La Merce, when every single district puts street DJs, set fires, and dances every night. You don’t need t stay in the queues and be nicely dressed to enjoy the night here.
I moved to Barcelona at the end of April, just in time for all the big celebrations. And oh gosh, I had a calendar of all the events and all the fests so not to miss none of them and was going crazy! There were too many parties! Spanish people definitely know how to celebrate life enjoy the moonshine
It has been one full year of me living and creating in Spain. And for the first time, I feel home. I don’t need to be all the time on a plane to be excited for the weekend. I have found supportive people from all over the world and I get up with sparkles in my eyes and a desire to jump on my skateboard and run to the beach so as to surf or to play volley. If you consider moving to Barcelona, drop me a line, man. I will help you as much as I can!