One of the best things I ever did was deciding to move to Spain for a while when I was 19. I had just finished school, didn’t know what to do next, and didn’t have a full-time job or an apartment. I decided it was the perfect time to move to another country for a while. I had long been wanting to go to the US but that kind of move would require a visa and more money than I had. Spain was warm and only a four hour flight from home – plus, I had always wanted to learn Spanish. I applied for a job, got it, and a month later, on February 28 in 2007, I landed in sunny Málaga with a suitcase, a boyfriend and a mind set on a new adventure.
When you’re moving abroad, people will tell you to get as many things fixed in beforehand as you can. We didn’t. We had a job and a little money for the first month or so but that was about it. We had no place to stay and we didn’t know anybody there. So after our first night in a hostel in Fungirola we went apartment hunting and only managed to find a really horrible, small room in a run down hotel by the promenade. I don’t want to go into details out of respect for anyone reading this, but trust me when I say it was absolutely disgusting, but we really didn’t have a choice but to move in.
We had a few days to settle in before we started our new jobs. We fixed some practical things like a bank account and a social security number and were excited to start our new job with our fantastic new colleagues, who were also young Swedes. Unfortunately three hours into my first working day, I realized that telemarketing just wasn’t for me. So I quit. It was the shortest job I think anyone’s ever had and it’s really not like me to give up on something so quickly, but when I know something’s not right for me, there’s nothing that can keep me there. Oh well, you live and you learn!
I started taking Spanish classes instead in a neighbouring city called Benalmádena to where I commuted every day. I had really, really good teachers and learned Spanish rather quickly. I got to know a really nice fellow from Japan, but he was only there for a few weeks and I was left with two other students: one elderly, Canadian man, who didn’t understand that Pablo is a Spanish name, not a word, and a German girl who barely spoke English. And then, one day, a new Swedish girl, Caroline, started and we instantly became BFF’s. For lunch we’d buy olives and bread, and lay on our school’s sunchairs while talking about everything. Sometimes we’d go to her place after school, a big villa with a pool and view of Morocco, and sometimes I’d go back to Fuengirola and soak up the sun on the Los Boliches beach while listening to Amy Winehouse.
After somehow sticking out a month in our horrible little room, we managed to find a proper apartment in Fuengirola, in the lovely little neighbourhood called Los Boliches. We lived on a street we dubbed “Alex street”. There was Alex, my boyfriend, Alex, the Cuban ex-boxer turned bartender who owned the bar on one corner of the street, and Alex, the Polish fast-food chef who owned the fast food joint on the other end of the street. We’d eat at Polish Alex’ place (I’d always have french fries with ketchup and quickly gained weight but it was the only vegetarian thing they had) and we’d drink mojitos at Cuban Alex’ place.
One evening we got robbed by a gang of young guys who were hanging out on our street, clearly looking for trouble. They came from nowhere and punched Alex (the boyfriend) in the face while the others grabbed his wallet from his pocket. Before I had a chance to react, Alex (Cuban bartender) came out of his bar with a baseball bat and screamed profanities at the idiots who robbed us so they ran away. Afterwards I called the police, and since they didn’t speak any English I had to explain what had happened in the little Spanish I’d learned. When the police arrived they managed to find them and one of the robbers was busted for marijuana possession. What’s that word….? Oh yeah, karma.
One of my fondest memories from this time is this homeless man in Fuengirola who took it upon him to also take care of homeless dogs (So sweet!). He’d wander around with an old pram, carrying his few belongings and 6-7 sleeping dogs. One of the dogs was really fat, or so we thought until one day 4 puppies joined the homeless man and his little family grew bigger. This man is to this day one of my personal heroes. Not only did he take care of those dogs even though he barely had food for himsel, he always smiled at people as he walked by, always fed his dogs before eating himself, and once I saw him helping a woman in a wheelchair up a slope. He never expected anything back – no food, no money and not even a smile. But when he got either of these things he was always grateful and kind. Even on days when I felt really blue and sick of it all, I would always lighten up whenever I saw the homeless man with his dog friends and think that the world isn’t such a horrible place after all. It can’t be when there are people like him. I wasn’t the only one impressed by the man. Once when we were shopping for groceries we saw him walk in with a middle-aged woman, carrying a shopping cart. Turns out, she bought him a whole shopping cart full of food, dog food, water, clothes and much more and I will always remember the smile he had walking out of the grocerie store that day.
Exploring southern Spain
While Fuengirola is great, I really wanted to see as much of southern Spain as possible, and we had access to a car so we took every opportunity to travel. We visited Marbella and Puerto Banús where all the rich people would enjoy oysters in the restaurants while the not-so-rich gathered around to admire their Lamborghinis. We visited Estepona, although I have no idea what we did there. We visited Málaga, home town of Pablo Picasso, the beautiful white village of Mijas, wonderful Granada where we wanted to visit Alhambra but arrived a few minutes too late. We drove all the way to Sevilla, which we really loved – I still want to go back some day and visit it again. We saw the majestic, scary bridge in Ronda. And of course, we went to Gibraltar where monkeys roamed free in the mountains.
We experienced Spanish easter, Semana Santa, in Málaga with a huge parade and golden statues of Jesus carrying the cross. The weather shifted from rainy and cold-ish to sunny and really hot. Slowly we got to know more and more people, we developed routines, had favorite restaurants and a favorite spot on the beach. Spain started to feel like home.
My Spanish course ended in June and believe it or not but I ~almost~ spoke fluent Spanish after around three months. But end of school also meant end of money and we began to long for Sweden again. Sure, Spain was beautiful, sunny and fun but it wasn’t entirely easy to live there either, especially when you do not eat meat (I gained around 8 kilos in 4 months), the only job options for us back then involved telemarketing and frankly, the heat by the end of June was a bit too much for me. So we packed our things, partied one last night with our Swedish friends and managed to make it on the flight back home in the nick of time. It was only four months of my life, but I remember that time of my life so vividly thanks to all the things I got to experience living abroad. Despite living in Fuengirola, which is occupied by Scandinavians, I learned much about Spanish culture and the Spaniards thanks to my school. I got to know wonderful people who I still keep in touch with. And most importantly, I made memories for a lifetime.