American by birth, Spanish at heart: Erin’s enthusiasm for Salamanca Spain

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Erin Corcoran

July 12 2006

-Where were you born?
In Rhode Island; I grew up just outside of Providence.

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live alone.

-In which country and city are you living now?
I live in Salamanca, Spain, which is a small Spanish city, the site of Spain’s oldest university. It’s 2.5 hours away from Madrid.

-How long have you been living in Spain?
Just over two years.

-What is your age?
43

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Spain?
That’s a long story. I was a diehard corporate workaholic who quit her job, sure that it couldn’t be my life I was living. An offhand comment brought me to Spain for a language course, and I fell in love with the language and the lifestyle. I had always wanted to try living in another language, to see who I was in another language, and I was eager to see what the world (and the US) looked like from another vantage point. In a way I’m doing now what I didn’t do when I was in my 20’s – travelling and living in another culture. There was no decision. When I asked myself what I wanted to do, this was it.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Hmmm. Yes, at first. It’s a breeze for Europeans, but for an American getting that first half a foot in the door is challenging. Challenging but absolutely possible, if you just give it time, patience and perseverance. I found my job here while I was living in the States, and the company handled all of the visa paperwork to bring me over. We waited almost six months for my first work permit.

-How do you make your living in Spain? Do you have any type of income generated?
Until May I worked as Director of PR and Marketing for a business of Spanish schools for foreigners in Spain and Latin America. They have to sell in languages other than Spanish, obviously, since their clients do not yet speak Spanish…and voilá, that meant they needed a native English speaker with marketing experience. (Hint: Selling well in English is a great “in” for a job in Spain, and being American can be an additional advantage, if the US represents a key market for the company or they want to adopt US-style client service, business philosophies, etc.)

I found the job by reading the company’s newsletter! They ran an ad that just said “Erin, this is you!”

I’ve just left the company to launch my own (very small) business, a communications and marketing consultancy for small businesses that want to promote themselves internationally.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes and yes.

If you want to work in Spain, then yes, you need to speak Spanish! If you speak Spanish well, plus English and any other languages, you’ll have an easier time finding work. There’s a huge demand here for people who speak at least a couple of languages.

I guess it comes down to whether you want to be an “expat” or a member of your local community. In the Costa del Sol, you could easily live without speaking Spanish, but you wouldn’t be living like the Spanish live; you’d truly be an expat, a foreigner. I wanted to live in Spain, in Spanish, with Spanish friends and business contacts and customs. My mad crush on the language is what brought me here, originally. Also, I want to be like any of my neighbours, just with weaker r’s and an unusual penchant for spicy food.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I’ve moved a lot in my life, so I’ve gotten used to always missing somewhere – all the places I am not, at the moment! I’m just not a person who misses people or gets homesick. It’s incredibly easy to keep up relationships from far away these days. I just call, write, visit, Skype…

Salamanca is always full of cultural things to do - concerts, theatre, exhibits, art - since it’s a university town and a standard stop for Spanish tourists. The hiking is great here, and I spend a lot of time wandering around Spain, travelling, alone and with friends.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
Yes. Just this week I received a modification to my residency – so that now I have permission to live in Spain as a self-employed person. This process really was seamless and quick (it took about three weeks), probably because I’ve already been here for two years, working.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I rent, and I pay far more than any reasonable Salmantino would, but I wanted a guest room, my “American” breathing room, and a patio. I pay 600 euros a month, but you could easily live alone here for 350 or 400. I’d like to buy soon.

-What is the cost of living in Spain?
In a small city like Salamanca, it’s quite low, apart from buying an apartment. In all of Spain, the cost of living has risen dramatically in the last few years, while salaries have not. That can make life particularly expensive, particularly in Madrid. Eating is luxuriously inexpensive, though; both eating out and buying food at markets. I eat two pinchos (tapas) and a drink at lunch for 2.50 Euros.

-What do you think about the Spanish people?
I adore the locals; they are why I live here! There aren’t very many Americans who live in Salamanca, although lots of foreigners pass through town as students at the university or one of the (many) private Spanish language schools. As a result, Salmantinos can be a little reserved, at first, with a foreigner. The Spanish take friendship very seriously, and, in my case, anyway, tended to hold off a little till they saw that I really was here to stay. Now I almost never feel foreign. Neighbours, friends, business contacts take you in as just another neighbour, in my experience. The only time it can be difficult, honestly, is at the holidays. Many traditional Spanish families consider holidays “family only” occasions and truly can’t invite you, which can take getting used to, for an American who’s used to “more the merrier” get-togethers.

Another notable local custom, I guess, is kissing on both cheeks when you meet someone, even in business, which I’ve grown to really like. There’s also the emphasis on family, and community and friendship. The spontaneity as well, has taken some getting used to. No one plans much of anything in advance, so you keep the house clean and the cell phone on.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Spain?
Positives: It depends what you want out of living abroad. We speak an incredibly gorgeous language called Spanish for one thing, that’s a big part of what I love about living here- living in another language. And Spain is a beautiful, beautiful place, with lots of variety, geographically, mountains, coast, wetlands, cities. There are still lots of quiet little towns you can escape to in Spain, places where time seems to have stood still. So much history, architecture, culture, people who value people over anything else and who truly live for the moment, doing one thing at a time, savouring every conversation. The Spanish simply love life, and have a way of staying childlike all their lives.

In Salamanca we live in the street, which I love; almost no one stays in their house other than to sleep, and eat, occasionally. And Spain has wonderful raw ingredients for food and wonderful wines. Just a good quality of life, if you ask me!

Negatives: It can take a long time to do anything. Life (at least in a smaller city) just takes time. And both bureaucracy and an appalling lack of even the slightest client service can be frustrating.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Spain?
I’d just say that there is a lot more to Spain than the expat and tourist-infested coasts. Come see Spain, and meet the Spanish.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Spain?
Well, I blog about my life here at www.wandering-woman.blogspot.com

Expatica (www.expatica.com) does a nice job keeping up with Spain.