Juan Liria followed his family and returned to his roots on the Iberian Peninsula a little over ten years ago. He's currently enrolled at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela and perfectly positioned as a young person to shed some light on the Spanish side of life.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Miami, Florida, USA. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, however.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Ourense capital, Galicia, Spain.
Q: How long you have you lived in Spain?
A: A little over two years.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: I moved here with my parents.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My father was born in Spain, and my parents had been considering moving back for a while. I had also always wanted to get back in touch with my roots. We just sat down to talk about it one evening, and here we are. I’ve just done my first year at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, and I’ve got three more to go.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: I like that it is small enough that you can walk from one side to the other in about two hours (if you take your time), and that it is really quite green. There are small parks and riverside promenades all over. The quality of life is really quite high. It’s really a very quiet, peaceful place, and the people like to take it easy. They can party with the best of them, though, and there are several regional holidays to take advantage of.
Q: Any negatives about Spain? What do you miss most about home?
A: We have the same problem here as in any small Spanish city: it’s not Madrid/Barcelona! It takes longer to get anything done here than in the main cities, as everything is still pretty bureaucratic and centralized, which means anything you do probably has to be mailed to Madrid and put in a pile in someone’s office. There’s also a lack of international products, and a lot of the things I used to take for granted (soy sauce, anything Tex-Mex, pants not built for tall, gangly boys with no thighs, etc.) are impossible to find or really expensive! The thing I probably miss the most is just being surrounded by my own culture. There are references that the Spanish will never understand, and I sometimes feel like my insane knowledge of all things 90s is wasted on them.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Very. I’ve heard something about a ‘bad part of town’, but I’ve never seen it. I think in the whole time I’ve been here, we’ve had one serious crime. People talk about getting mugged in the sense of an urban legend: “It happened to a friend of a friend...”
About living in Spain
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: There really isn’t any bad place to live here. Every part of the city has its benefits. The portion north of the river Miño is more modern, but it’s generally perceived as farther away from everything. The old town (everything from the Avenida de Ribeira Sacra, south along the river Barbaña), where I live, has much older buildings (naturally) and is a bit rougher around the edges, but it is also the most beautiful part of the city and the most historically interesting. It is also where all the government buildings are located, as well as the main parks.
Further south, you’ve got Barbadás and Valenzá, which can technically be taken as suburbs. They are also much more modern, with comfortable and luxurious condominiums. The surrounding countryside is quite beautiful as well, with lots of small properties and rural farms.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Spain?
A: Quite high. The standard apartments are comfortable and relatively large. They are also quite nicely decorated, and the Spanish take security very seriously. Unfortunately, central heating and cooling are not available in most of the older buildings, and the Spanish are quite fond of tiles, which get rather cold in the winter.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Spain compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Renting is much cheaper in Ourense than in Miami. Electricity is rather expensive, though, and the bill goes up every year. Internet service is also expensive when the quality is taken into consideration. Good clothes can be ridiculously expensive, as can be food. Fresh fruits and vegetables are really the only things that are cheaper than in Miami. Despite the fact that Galicia is known for its fishing industry, fish is a bit on the expensive side too, as are meats.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The locals are usually pretty nice, but can be difficult to get to know at first. Northerners tend to be colder all over the place (except maybe in the Midwestern US). I’ve built up a good circle of friends, but it’s taken me two years, and they still don’t quite compare to the friends I left behind. I don’t know many expats here, but I have a few expat friends in Santiago. Spanish universities attract quite a few foreign students.
About working in Spain
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: I haven’t actually needed one, as I am student. I’m also a Spanish citizen, so this wouldn’t have been necessary.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: Things are tough here, just as in the rest of Spain. It seems there’s at least one person out of work in every household, and mine is not an exception.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: People here like to take it easy. They like to enjoy their lives. This is great for them, but awful for everyone else, especially when the people doing the enjoying are government employees! The ‘mañana’ attitude prevails in Spain, and anything that can be done tomorrow, will be put off for a week.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: Nope. Did it all on our own. If you can hire a relocation company, I would recommend it!
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: I’m not really sure what the primary schools are like, nor the high schools. The universities are quite good, but completely different from an American institution, and they take some getting used to. There have also been quite a few changes to the system lately, which has everyone a bit confused.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Excellent! I can’t really complain about the public system. One thing to keep in mind: people here are very trusting of their doctors and do not tend to self-diagnose. If you go to the doctor with an ‘opinion’ of what’s wrong with you and how it should be treated, the doctor will look at you funny and just do as you suggest. They will not examine you, as you apparently think you’re smarter than they are. As far as they’re concerned, if something goes wrong, it’s your fault! If you just put yourself in their hands, however, you will usually get exactly what you need.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: If there is anything you haven’t sorted as far as paperwork is concerned, get it sorted AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! Everything takes MUCH longer when you’re actually in Spain, and people will not even bother with you if you don’t have everything in order. If you’re moving to a region with its own autonomous language, DO NOT under any circumstances think, “I’ll just learn it when I get there,” or “I won’t really need to learn it, as I already speak Spanish”.
Regional languages are very important in this country, and you are expected to speak them if you live where they are spoken, just like everyone else. Learning the language before you move will greatly improve your chances of getting a job. It will be absolutely impossible to even apply for some jobs if you don’t speak the regional language.
~ Interviewed June 2010