Friday, 24 May 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Cat Gaa

This week’s guest blogger gives us the low down on her expat gripes and takes us through the trials and tribulations of adjusting to European work habits.

Moving abroad to live and work in Southern Spain for a year brought on its own set of challenges, even with the promise of a job, a visa and European health insurance. I stressed over finding a place to live, setting up a bank account and making friends, not to mention having to do it in another language. Then, of course, there’s the later  eating hours, the different customs the lack of Anglo manners and the constant cat calls in the street.

One of the factors I didn’t consider was getting used to a different way of earning a living. Six years, four jobs and a work visa later, I’m still learning to adapt to Spanish work ethic, hours and treatment as an Anglo working in a foreign country.

Working for the Weekend (or not)

As an American, I felt I was doomed to a thirteen-days-of-holiday existence. I had scared myself into thinking that I’d have just one gap year to travel, learn some Spanish and postpone my entrance to the working world by accepting an eight-month teaching position in Seville, Spain. The North American Language and Culture Assistant Program promised me 12 hours of work in exchange for a student visa and 631€.

As it turned out, I did the Goldilocks of ESL jobs:

Twelve hours in a classroom meant loads of afternoons spent figuring out what the fuss is behind the siesta, taking flamenco class and tutoring for extra money. It seemed that every few weeks, we were giving a day off for some holiday, and since they often fell in the middle of the week, we wouldn’t be expected to return to work until the following Monday. Called a puente, or bridge, the “Where’s Cat going this weekend?” Too, too little!

After three years in the auxiliar program, as it’s called in Spain, I began working as a first grade teacher in a private school. Free time, planning hours and long weekends ceased to exist, and I was heavily underpaid. Too, too much!

I’ve finally found a balance between working and playing by taking a job at an after-school language academy. Sleeping in, getting morning errands done and completing a master’s degree make up my morning, rather than snotty-nosed kids. I work part-time for a full-time salary and benefits, and still have time to pursue other interests. It’s just right.

As I write this post, I’m enjoying an afternoon off from teaching due to a national holiday. All work and no play? Not for this guiri.

Secrets, Secrets are no Fun

Were you ever the new kid in school? I was at age 12, and at age 22, I became the most interesting thing happening around the bracero and in the cantina of the high school where I worked. Coworkers whispered about me within earshot, and as soon as word spread that I’d started dating a Spaniard, the rumor mill worked full-time.

What’s more, I was required to get a doctor’s note if I ever missed school. Strep throat, allergy injections and check ups were no longer just my business, but also the business of the director and whoever she felt like telling.

Office Politics

There’s also something to be said about office politics and the general disorganization of the schools I’ve worked in and the offices I’ve needed to get business done in. Last-minute mandatory meetings, trash talking about others during work hours and favoritism was rampant at the private school I worked at, and it drove me insane.

And what’s with all of the coffee breaks?! How does anyone get anything done?

Tit for Less Than Tat

Perhaps the most difficult part of working abroad has been the difficulty in getting a visa and struggling to make good money. Life is hard for a North American guiri, and recent changes in labor laws mean that getting work permission and visas is extremely difficult (I got married as a result). It’s a vicious cycle: without a work contract, you can’t get a visa, and you can’t get a visa without a work contract. When you do get hired, don’t expect to make the same money as you would in your home country. There exists a term called mil euristas, and the average salary for young workers in Seville is a mere 1000€ a month, plus health benefits.

What’s more, experience counts very little when it comes to job searching. Most fields require a specific degree. Never mind that I’m a native speaker with six years of experience giving English classes: I am very limited to where and in what I can work, which is why I sucked it up and sign up for a master’s program through a Spanish university. If experience is the best teacher, Spain’s got you schooled.

Despite some of these of the pitfalls, I’m quite happy working in Spain. I enjoy teaching and the freedom it gives me to explore other interests, travel, and enjoy a cold Cruzcampo beer at the end of the day. I’ve learned to separate my work life from my home life, and now keep my mouth shut when it comes to oversharing. As for the incessant coffee breaks? If you can’t beat them, drink up, as they say!

About the author
Cat Gaa turned down a job at a radio news station and turned up in Southern Spain, where she now wrangles kids by night while blogging about life in Seville for a guiri at Sunshine and Siestas. Catch up with her on twitter and instagram at @sunshinesiestas

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