Join AIL Madrid in Raising Funds for Nepal!

Hey Guiris!

carrera liberty guiriJust a quick update about an important cause from an organization we love: our friends over at AIL Madrid Spanish School are impressing us yet again with their ability to take action and help others! As you can see on the AIL blog, their staff, professors, and students are running the Carrera Liberty on May 31st to benefit victims in Nepal and are aiming to raise 1.000€!

Almost their entire staff and tons of professors and students have signed up, and we encourage all you guiris to join or donate before May 31st (contact: As we all know from reading the news, it’s a worthy cause and, knowing as many AIL students as we do, we feel confident backing this hard working team.

Go AIL Madrid!


Moving to Madrid: The Ultimate Checklist

suitcaseHey Guiris! I’ve decided to take a minute to get back to the very basics of moving to Madrid in this post: what to pack! This list applies to anyone and everyone, despite the duration of your stay, so read on and feel free to add additional items you seasoned guiri’s have found helpful in the comments.

The following essentials have been discussed and hashed out among numerous guiris here in the city, so you can feel confident when you’re preparing your suitcase that you’ll be ready for any adventure that Madrid may bring you! Let’s get started:

1.    Your passport!

passportYou might be thinking, “this is obvious,” but that doesn’t make it any less important! Even if you’re from a European country, this vital ID is necessary to complete visa processes, take weekend trips to Morocco, and even to check into the occasional hostel.


2.    Smart Phone (unlocked)

This is the easiest way to bridge the gap between your home country and your new life here in Madrid. With all your original contacts, photos, apps and more, your smart phone is a great tool to help you navigate your new home. Grab a new SIM card at one of the many stores in Madrid (Orange and Vodafone offer pay as you go SIM cards, and Movistar offers monthly contracts if you already own the phone), or pick one up at your Spanish or teacher training academy. I know AIL Madrid offers them at the front desk and rents smart phones as well, all you need to do is ask!

3.    Some sweet shadessunglasses

In a city that’s sunny 65% of the year, a good pair of sunglasses will take you far. You’ll find them perfect for days in the park, walking to class or work, or a weekend lunch on one of Madrid’s many terraces.

4.    You favorite bathing suit

This item is easily purchased here, but make sure you have one either way. Madrid’s warm seasons (spring, summer, and winter) bring access to all the city’s public pools, as well as many private ones (motivation to make new Spanish friends!) In addition, the beach is less than a two hour train ride away, just waiting for you and your long weekend!

5.    Light, simple layers

light layersYou can ski or hit the beach within just a few hours of Madrid, so flexibility and layering are your best friends in the varied climates of this beautiful country. A scarf to throw over your shoulders is invaluable when visiting a church or visiting the mountains, as is the ability to take it off and bask in the warm rays in the park or at the beach.

6.    A secure purse/bag

I want to take a moment here to say I’ve never felt unsafe in Madrid. Be it dusk or 5am, my personal safety (as a young foreign woman) has never caused me a moment of worry or distress and I couldn’t be more grateful to have that feeling of security. That said, like any big city, the center has a few pickpockets. The easiest way to combat this is to have a purse with a zipper/magnet or, for the gents, to keep your wallet in your front pocket: yes, it’s that easy!

7.    A practical pair of shoesShakira+Antonio+visit+Madrid+8k0H209etMZl

The first day I arrived in Madrid I was given a copy of Hidden Madrid, a book full of walking tours and historical information about the nooks and crannies of this expansive city. This book, combined with a good pair of walking shoes, has exemplified more than anything what almost everyone who visits Madrid says: “the best way to get to know the city is by foot!

8.    Converter

If you arrive in Madrid without the ability to plug in your electronics, don’t worry: just stop by a ferreteria and they’ll set you up with what you need. But it’s definitely easier to arrive with at least one converter so that you can stay charged and in touch throughout your arrival and have one less thing to think about.

9.    A camera/phone

For those of you who have already lived here for a while, I’m guessing you feel the same as I do: some of my most cherished memories now belong to Madrid and I have the photographic evidence to prove it! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a photographer, you’ll want something to start documenting your new life and adventures in Madrid.

10.    A kindle (or whatever form of book you prefer)

reading metroI recommend a kindle simply for easy transportation: when you’re traveling or commuting, having a compact entertainment source with a variety of books can be hugely helpful! I joined the hundreds of readers on the metro right after my move here and have never looked back. It can also be the perfect companion for a sunny afternoon in the park or at a café, or lend a helping hand when it comes to practicing your Spanish: try reading a book you’re familiar with in your native language, but in Spanish!I started with Pride and Prejudice; the translation is simple and the vocabulary is useful in everyday life.

11.    A weekend bag

weekend bagMadrid is one of the best connected cities in Europe, with high speed trains reaching every desired destination within the country and cheap flights available to all the neighboring countries. Whether you want to hit the beach in Malaga, walk the streets of Avila, or take a quick weekend trip to Paris or Rome, having an overnight bag can make the decision to go that much easier (and help you avoid problems with RyanAir baggage regulations!)

12.    Something to share from home
maple candy

Bringing a small treat, a style of music or dance, or even new mindset to share with others is one of the best ways to make new friends and expand your new life in Madrid! Every time I visit home, I come back to Madrid with a bag full of maple candies, chocolates, and various arts and crafts to distribute among madrileños and guiris alike. What’s your country or state known for?

My final note regarding packing is this: don’t over think it and pack light! Madrid has great shopping opportunities for all budgets, and you’ll be able to find anything you meant to bring but forgot. Whether you want to avoid baggage fees or feel like discovering what all the Spaniards are wearing before selecting your own wardrobe, going light is always the best option!

So, get packing and come to Madrid: we’ll be waiting for you!

Meet Joan! An AIL Madrid Featured Student

> Joan is a 19 year old AIL Madrid student from San Diego, California, USA.

> She has been studying at AIL for nearly three months so far.

> Joan just earned a two year professional degree in dance, an art that is both her passion and her work.

> In San Diego, she teaches children´s ballet, as well as gymnastics and ice skating.

Joan on AIL Madrid:

“I love this environment because there aren´t formal tests, except the one at the very end. It´s not about the grade, it´s about actually knowing [Spanish] …. I just have to do what I need to actually learn the material, not to pass a test, so I feel like I’m learning way more in these three months than I did in school. I have a much more positive feeling about language learning now.”

Joan and her Host-Family:

“Family is so important here and that’s really nice. They always eat dinner together, and I spend Sundays with the family.”

“After class I´ll go over all my stuff with [Lucia, my host-sister] and we play the same games that we play in class… it usually clicks when I go back home and talk to the family and go ´oh ok, that’s what that was´. It compliments my class time.”

Joan on Being a Local:

“I feel more local than when I did my other [Europe] trip; we were going everywhere and it was very touristy. But because I’m kind of living here, I get to do local things and just live the daily life, which I really like…I go salsa dancing every Monday,  I was surprised that people were just so serious about it! They just took you and started dancing with you and speaking in Spanish!”

Joan´s Advice:

“I like that every day is a challenge because I don’t speak the language; going to the store I have to pump myself up and think ‘you can do this!’ … So that’s what I would suggest. Get out there and try it!

Joan on the Future:

“I am coming back. I already want to book my flight, I already miss here and I haven´t even left yet. I´m coming back!”


Spain sin Espanol

There are many ways to learn Spanish once you get to Spain.

The biggest reason I have heard for not moving to Spain has been “I don’t speak Spanish!” At first, I thought that was an acceptable reason to avoid the country, given how difficult language barriers can make communication in the most ordinary of interactions. However, I have come around to the point of view that, if you are a person with a chance to move to Madrid, it doesn’t matter all that much whether you know Spanish initially and here’s why!

  1. You’ll start learning as soon as you get here: if you have to start work before taking any Spanish classes, you will still start to pick things up instantly. That said, Madrid is home to a lot of high quality Spanish academies, so the opportunity to learn is right here waiting for you! Our favorite is AIL Madrid, since you’ll also start to build an immediate sense of community and a friend group as a newcomer to the city. I spent years in the United States learning “donde está la biblioteca?” type phrases, but the Spanish you learn here will be more applicable and instantly fire-tested because you will be really trying to buy groceries or tell the taxi driver where you are going, not just practicing with a classroom partner.
  2. You are probably prized for your English speaking skills: whether you are here as an English teacher or as a business person in another field, knowing English will be a helpful if not essential element of your job, and there’s a good chance that (as long as you let them know ahead of time) Spanish won’t be. Every day there are more people who speak English in this country, and even those who don’t speak it really well often can understand you. If you’d like to take advantage of this, try getting your TEFL certification with TTMadrid and they will link you in to the network of English teachers here in Madrid.
  3. Living in a country where you don’t know the language does something special to you: Everyday life is more of an adventure when you are constantly trying to understand and express yourself in a non-native language. You will learn unforgettable lessons, laugh at yourself, and be frustrated, but you will not cruise through your days without any memorable experiences. I know this is true because, even though I came to Spain with a reasonable level of Spanish for someone who had never been immersed in the language, I myself have experienced it. I feel more alive here because every conversation has to be a little more intentional and, in the middle of a conversation, I get to ask what a word means and learn something totally new.

Don’t let the reason why you don’t come to Spain be lack of knowledge of Spanish; while it won’t be an easy life at first, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks!

In search of snow

So close, yet so far...

Though it may not feel like it this week, believe it or not it isn’t summer in Madrid. Down here in the city it’s sunny and warm and it seems like spring has come a bit earlier than expected. However, a glance north to the sierra shows that it is indeed still winter! I’ve always traveled to Chicago at Christmastime, so a winter without snow is very strange to me. A few weekends ago I decided to hop on the Madrid Cercanías train to see some of the white stuff in the mountains.

The C-8 train from Madrid leaves from Atocha or Nuevos Ministerios and makes it up to Cercedilla in just over an hour. I took this time as an opportunity to drool over Madrid’s skyline and desertlike surrounding areas while the folks around me rode along anxiously in their snow gear. Upon arrival in Cercedilla, I approached the ticket counter to ask about continuing train tickets to Navacerrada on the C-9 line to Cotos, a small mountain town on the border of the Comunidad de Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha. The Cotos station is currently closed due to some construction work, so Navacerrada was about as far as I could hope to get.

Ticket Counter Guy informed me and the 25 or so people in line behind me that tickets for the C-9 train could be purchased on the train that would be leaving in two hours. I took those two hours and walked up into Cercedilla to enjoy the sun and have a quick lunch. From town I enjoyed beautiful mountain views and quaint small-town charm, complete with ridiculously cheap cañas and abundant aperitivos. After two hours passed, I returned to the train station to find an enormous crowd of snow-seekers decked out in their finest cold-weather attire waiting to board the C-9 and purchase their tickets. A different train employee walked to the front of the crowd and announced that only those passengers holding return tickets for line C-9 would be allowed to board the train, and that there were no available tickets to be purchased. A few people boarded the C-9; the majority boarded the C-8 back to Madrid. The moral of this story: I should have bought my ticket in advance!

So, how do you do that? Well, the C-9 has different rules from the 4th of December to the 24th of April this year. This means it will be 100% mandatory that travelers purchase their return tickets in advance at Cercanías stations before leaving. The C-9 tickets are different from C-8 tickets, as they’re in a different transport zone. There are a few ways for you to purchase your ticket up to the snow:

  • If you have an Abono Transporte, you can ask for an ampliación at ticket windows that will allow you to pay the difference between your Abono’s zone and zone C2.
  • If you do not have an Abono Transporte, I recommend that you purchase an Abono Turístico, or a Tourist Pass. A return ticket from Madrid to zone C2 costs 12 euros, but a single day Tourist Pass in “Zone T” also costs 12 euros, and this will allow you to take as many forms of public transport as you like, all over Madrid, for one day.
  • If you have an Abono Transporte for zone C2, you must still reserve a space at the ticket window. In the winter, this route is extremely popular but there are very few trains running on the weekend. Be sure to get your seat!!

Now that I know this information, I suppose I’ll have to try again very soon… if the recent weather patterns mean anything for the snow on the mountaintops, we don’t have much more time to see snow!