Manal: Windswept Words
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Madrid, etc.
I spent the first 22 years of my life in the beautiful, ancient city of Lahore, Pakistan, flying kites, raising puppies, road-tripping in the Himalayas with my family, dancing in the rain and eating the best possible food in the world. Since then, I've lived in California, New York, and most recently, Madrid, where I moved in September 2013. I am a journalist by training, though I do a bit of everything; carrying within me a bit of every place I have passed through.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog, “Windswept Words”, in 2009, after I moved to Ithaca, New York with my husband, who was studying at Cornell University at the time. Having always lived in big, bustling cities, tiny 20,000-person Ithaca, nestled amongst woods and waterfalls, was the real culture shock for me! When we moved there, I did not have a job and knew absolutely nobody. Starting a blog was just the most appropriate thing to do!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I have several! A random few here:
- Scents of Ithaca - (Ithaca, May 2010)
- Warmly Winter - (NYC, November 2010)
- Is there a Pakistan to go back to? - (NYC, January 2011)
- Not Being - (NYC, May 2011)
- Change - (NYC, July 2011)
- The Freedom to Be - (NYC, September 2011)
- Unemployed but Happy - (Madrid, December 2014)
Tell us about the ways your new life in Madrid differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I wouldn't say I experienced culture shock when I moved to Madrid, Madrid being a large, cosmopolitan city, similar to the other European and North American cities where I have either lived or traveled. Compared to life in my hometown Lahore, however, Madrid is a world apart – I can't even begin to describe how!
The biggest “shock” for me in Spain was the language. I did not speak a word of Spanish when I landed here a year and a half ago, not knowing that most Spaniards' barely spoke any English! And again, I did not know a single person (apart from my husband). For the first couple of months, even though I had started taking Spanish classes, I thought I would never be able to make any friends, never be able to find anything to do. Given my particular visa status, I was also not allowed to work in Spain. I felt like a tourist who had overstayed her holiday. Even simple things like grocery shopping, buying random household items like light bulbs and washing detergent, seemed formidable tasks. The worst was going to the doctor! Everything was just so complicated when you couldn't express yourself the way you wanted.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Madrid? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was not prepared for anything, to be honest! If I'd had the opportunity, I would have taken basic Spanish lessons before coming, of course. But apart from that, I don't think I could have prepared for anything – it was all a matter of exploring, discovering and learning things as I went along. And I'm glad for that experience, that journey.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Madrid?
Number one, and fairly obvious – learn and speak Spanish!
Two, look beyond the conventional for ways to make money or to make friends. If you don't only want to teach English, you can teach a number of other things - art, music, dance, cooking, anything you are passionate about - and easily advertise on Meetup or Facebook. And to meet people, don't just rely on pub crawls and beer socials – join a sevillanas class, a guitar class, a running group, a volunteer group, somewhere you'll get to mix with locals and not only expats. The opportunities are limitless!
And lastly, go with the flow! Having lived in two distinct cultures, Pakistani and American, I find that Spanish culture falls somewhere in between, so I have not had a very hard time adjusting to it. But in general, if you find yourself getting annoyed by how late things always start (who invites you to dinner at 10pm!), by bureaucracy (I have to renew my NIE ALREADY?), by siesta (why is that shop ALWAYS closed at the exact time I go out to do my errands?)... Don’t complain. Just go with the flow. In Spain, everything happens at slower pace – learn to enjoy it!
How is the expat community in Madrid? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Madrid is not as diverse as that of San Francisco or New York, for instance, or of London or Paris. There is a good-sized American/English/Irish and Latin American community, and a much smaller South Asian/Middle Eastern/East Asian & African community. But I've managed to find great folks from several different circles, doing all sorts of interesting things, so I can't complain!
How would you summarize your expat life in Madrid in a single, catchy sentence?
MOLA MOGOLLON! ;)