#DareToDreamMadrid: Megan Williams on moving from Johannesburg to the Spanish capital
We arrived in Madrid at the beginning of May. My husband was offered a move here and we thought it was a great opportunity to learn a new language and expose ourselves and our children to a European culture.
Living in Madrid is very similar to living in Johannesburg! Johannesburg is also quite dry and does get hot. Madrid this last week has been hotter than Johannesburg and you don’t get the afternoon electric storms that we are used to in Johannesburg, but otherwise it is very similar. I think Spanish people are similar to South Africans in that they are more laid back about life and although they work hard they also have a lot of fun. Madrid seems to be a very vibrant and busy city with people going out and socialising after working a long day – this is very similar to Johannesburg.
As far as I have been told there are a lot of expats living around our area which is one of the reasons we chose it. But we have only met one family so far – as things settle down we will try to meet more people and when the children start school in September I am hoping to make a lot of new friends for us and for the kids. I don’t yet feel integrated but I think that will come with time. We live on a golf estate with large houses – we chose this for the kids and the dogs. They are used to this type of area from living in Johannesburg and we like the active lifestyle it allows for cycling and running and walking the dogs.
At the moment our typical day is still unpacking boxes and sorting our things as well as hoping Movistar will arrive to set up the internet and phone so that we can also setup our TV. Eventually I guess it will be a school run and then me looking for something to do while the kids are at school all day! I would like to find some sort of job since the kids do have a very long school day but I need to learn Spanish to make this realistic.
I think it is key and vital to living here that we learn the language. We did learn VERY few basic words – I tried to find a tutor in South Africa but couldn’t so we didn’t know much. Our first month here we spent half an hour a day doing a Spanish self-study course. But then our furniture and things arrived from South Africa and we have had to spend the last few weeks setting up our house. I think without the language it is quite lonely and a bit depressing.
The main practical challenges we have encountered so far have been due to the language. We need to learn to speak Spanish. It is impossible to make telephone calls for services we need, like the internet, television or mobile phones. We have to go into the actual offices to organise these things and even then without an English speaker and with our limited Spanish it is difficult to get anything done. There are so many things I still want to organise – we still don’t have an internet connection and our mobile pre-paid SIM cards don’t allow us to make international calls but we can’t get the local providers to help us because they don’t speak English. We have to rely on our estate agent and our landlord’s sons to help us with the language.
The great benefits of living in Spain are the weather and being outdoors and active. I think also the access to Europe is fantastic so that we are all exposed to different cultures and communities.
We have chosen the international school for our kids because of the language. For now they would feel isolated without knowing the language and I think it’s already a very difficult move for them. They need to be able to make friends quickly and a local school where they can’t speak the language would have been impossible for them. I can’t comment on the education system as we haven’t started school yet.
My husband is a freelance sports reporter and it is an interesting time at the moment with so much going on. He was always more of a Barcelona fan, but we live in Madrid now and we must support the team. We have enjoyed driving past the Bernabéu stadium right in the middle of the city – it’s quite unique. Real Madrid is the most successful European club so we are privileged to be part of that and Dan is certainly enjoying travelling around Europe with the various sports stories he is covering.
I don’t think we will move back to South Africa, but never say never! We moved from the UK to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and just ended up staying. It’s a great country, very interesting and wonderful for kids, but I am not sure we would go back.
Three of my favourite places in Madrid so far are the Retiro Park, Plaza Santa Ana and the Parque de Attraciones.
Three things I could not do without are the internet, Google translate and coffee!