Nov 19, 2021

If you’re thinking of swapping snow for sun this winter, or want to live, work and travel in Europe – then you’ve come to the right place. We caught up with Stepabroad participant Joelle, who we helped move to Spain earlier this year on the Working Holiday Visa, where she now works as an au pair. Read on to discover what it’s like moving to Spain, how to be an au pair in Spain, and the best slang to speak like a local… 


Why Did You Choose to Move to Spain?

Being born and raised in Alberta, Canada, I was never lucky enough to enjoy a warm climate year-round. As someone who does not particularly enjoy colder weather I figured moving to Spain would be perfect.

What Type of Job Do You Have in Spain?

I work as an au pair in Spain, for a family with two children, whom I also live with. When I am not taking the kids to nursery or after-school activities, I speak and teach English phrases and sentence structure. I work about 20 hours a week and my food, rent and housekeeping are included. Working as an au pair is great for younger individuals who really want a cultural exchange while making a difference in children’s lives, as they really come to depend on you. Do not worry if your Spanish is underwhelming, most families in Spain speak a bit of English and you will be amazed at how fast children learn, and how much they already know from being exposed to American television shows and movies.

What City Are You Located in?

I live in Algeciras, a city located in the southern part of Spain. Algeciras is a port city located directly across from Gibraltar, which is famous for its incredible views, beaches and monkeys. My favourite part about this city is the different languages people speak here. While most citizens speak Spanish I have met lots of people who speak French, as well as Arabic. I have also met Bulgarians, Romanians and Moroccans – Algeciras is a cultural hub for all. 

empty street in Spain
In some parts of Spain shops, bars and restaurants will close for a few hours in the afternoon for a siesta.

How Would You Describe Spanish Culture?

The Spanish culture has to be my favourite “thing” about Spain in its entirety. The slow paced lifestyle is very calming and people really do take their time; on walks, bike rides or anywhere they go – there is no rush. The shops also have very different hours than in Canada, mostly closing between 1-4pm and re-opening again at about 8-9pm. This is because it gives people time to go home and eat with each other, maybe take a little nap and feel rested for the next few hours of work. At first, my fast paced “need it now” attitude needed time to adjust, but now I love it and think it is important to take that break to have some family time, or even a little siesta. There’s a reason Spaniards live to 90 years old (also, the amazing Mediterranean diet might have some answers)!

Were You Nervous About Moving to Spain During the Pandemic?

As I hadn’t been in any big crowds in almost two years the only nerves I had were about being trapped in an airplane with other passengers for over eight hours; however, I am sure everyone was feeling the same. I realize that as long as I take all the necessary precautions to keep myself and others around me safe, I can continue to travel, experience new things and broaden my knowledge about the world – life is too short not too.

What Has Life Been Like in Spain During Covid?

In Spain, most of the citizens are vaccinated, therefore life is relatively normal. However, it is still mandatory to wear a mask indoors, businesses have a capacity limit and the bars close at 12am now instead of 4am, but you are welcome to see your friends and have people from other households in your home.

city street in Barcelona

Have You Been Able to Travel Around the Country or Abroad to Other Destinations in Europe?

I have been lucky enough to travel to other parts of Spain but have not yet adventured out of the country (though I do have plans to visit Amsterdam, Germany and Italy during Christmas). The different regions of Spain are extremely varied in terms of food, language and, of course, climate. I have been to Tarifa which is well known for its surfing and wonderful gelato (very tourist-like), and Granada which is more mountainous, can be a bit cooler and has amazing Arabic history. Another favourite spot of mine is Barcelona, which also boasts a rich history and is very lively. There are lots of students and young entrepreneurs that make this city very loud and fun during the evenings, but it is also one of the most expensive places to live in Spain.

How Do You Feel You Have Grown Due to Your Time Abroad?

I have grown IMMENSELY since moving to Spain. My favourite thing about Spain and the European Union in general is that you can let your “freak flag fly” and no-one seems to bat an eye or give a second glance. Really embracing who you are is very important and is celebrated. While I think Canada is getting there, I think we are very far behind in embracing ourselves and others. I am not the person returning home.

What Advice Would You Give to Other Canadians Thinking of Doing a Spain Working Holiday?

DO IT NOW! If the seed is there, let it grow. Start researching different cities in Spain to see where you think you would fit best – do you want somewhere quiet like Algeciras or more lively like Barcelona? Be open-minded and smile lots! Don’t be shy to meet new people and try everything, especially the food! Alberta is a landlocked province, so being able to have fresh seafood is a true delicacy for me, along with the freshly squeezed orange juice you can get in the supermarket – my mind was blown by this.

Canadian girl poses at Grenada viewpoint, Spain

Do You Have Any Words of Wisdom for Other Female Solo Travellers Thinking of Moving to Spain?

Be cautious but kind. If you’re doing things alone and you notice someone else alone, ask some questions – when out for dinner by myself I ask the serving staff what they like to do for fun or some of their favourite places to go. I give a sincere compliment to whomever is at table next to me – this creates the opportunity to find something mutual, build a conversation and to practice your Spanish. And of course always trust your instincts – if something feels off it probably is, so remove yourself as quickly as possible and get somewhere safe. If you’re working as an au pair and living with the family, make sure they understand your needs and really connect with them –  I am very blessed that my family here treats me like one of their own children. Also, triple check your luggage weight before you arrive at the airport to avoid paying the $100.00CAD overweight fee – I did not do this and had to pay extra.

Grenada beach

How Would You Say Stepabroad Helped You on Your Journey?

I would not have been able to move to Spain without Stepabroad. Shauna was an angel! The visa process was a bit tricky as there is only one office in Canada that processes them and the working hours are from 9am-1pm, so there is very limited time. Shawna answered all of my questions, even if they were repetitive, to ensure I understood everything that I needed to do to make sure I had the smoothest, easiest arrival to Spain. I would 10/10 recommend!

Favorite Spanish Dish So Far?

Oh goodness, I have so many!  However, my all-time favourite is the croqueta. This is a type of deep fried dumpling that has a combined filling of either ham, cheese, potatoes, fish or vegetables. It’s a great snack or tapas dish and is amazing paired with choco, which is a delicious battered squid.

Favorite Spanish Slang Term You Have Learned?

I love using the words “venga or vale” and my all-time favourite “no pasa nada.” These words translate to “come on, okay or alright” and “don’t worry about it,” which as a Canadian I say all the time.

Biggest Culture Shock?

Since moving to Spain, a big cultural change for me has been the time that then Spanish eat their lunch and dinner. In Canada lunch is usually around 12-1pm, but in Spain lunch can be served anytime between 2-4pm, which leaves dinner around 9-10:30pm.

skyline view of Barcelona, Spain

What’s Your  #1 ‘Must Visit’ Location in Spain?

Barcelona! Due to the history, culture and the city itself. You will love it!! ENJOY SPAIN and remember life is so short – go learn, embrace, enjoy and live!

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