Have you ever thought about going abroad with the Erasmus program?
If yes, you have two options: study abroad at a university or do an internship with a company.
I chose option two and after some searching online and applying to a handful of different companies, I ended up with OnSpain in the beautiful city of Malaga.
After finding a place to live, booking a flight and buying heaps of sunscreen I was faced with the real challenge. What did I expect to take away from my three-month work experience in Spain?
Being a student of translation and interpretation at a language academy in Germany, of course the language aspect was the most important one for me. Being an Erasmus student, going out and enjoying myself was, of course, right behind learning the language.
So finding a good balance between hanging out with the other Erasmus interns in my workplace and spending time with locals to really learn proper Spanish was my biggest challenge.
But how do you go about making friends with the locals? Here you can find my (unprofessional) opinion on how to get started…
One of the reasons why I decided to find a room in a shared flat outside of the school accommodations, was my hope to live with a couple of Spanish people and to make first connections with locals right away. Unfortunately that plan didn´t turn out the way I had hoped. I ended up moving in with two middle aged women, one from Italy and one from Hungary.
But even if that way I ended up speaking a lot of English in our place, I had no reason to be sad about the situation, as the two girls, even if they looked like my two mommies, were actually pretty hilarious and took me out for drinks more often than was good for my liver. So the party part of my stay was all set.
But how was I going to meet some locals? If you already have Spanish friends it’s easy. You will always meet new people, no matter where you go with them.
As probably in any other country meeting friends of friends can easily turn the friends of your friends into your friends as well.
But what if you don’t have this advantage? Well, speaking from experience, meeting new people in Germany can be quite difficult. It takes people a while to warm up towards new colleagues or teammates in sports teams.
Everyone mostly sticks to their old circle of friends without really wanting to leave their comfort zone.
To paint you a (slightly exaggerated) picture: If you chat someone up in a bar or club they might think you are only trying to flirt with them. If you start a conversation with a stranger in the street they might immediately think you’re crazy.
And if you talk to a random person on the train they might think you are only doing so for some ulterior motive.
So what can you expect in Malaga? Well, it really does feel completely different.
People here communicate non-stop. No matter if they know the people they are talking to or not. If something funny happens in the street, they comment on it.
If something weird happens on the train, they comment on it.
You order a coffee in one of the cafes and the waiter might ask you how you like the city and whether you’re here on vacation or to study.
People even start the most random conversations while waiting in line to the bathrooms in bars just to pass the time.
Does that immediately make you friends? Probably not. But it sure is a nice ice breaker.
And if you ever meet someone you feel you have a connection with, this will make it rather easy to ask that person to hang out to get to know each other better.
Plus those small conversations give you plenty of chances to practice your Spanish.
Go on a trip
Another good idea to get in touch with people is to go on a trip. Here you can either choose something organized professionally or you can set it all up by yourself.
The pre-organized ones might be full of tourists though, depending on the season. But if you’re lucky you might get to meet some curious locals who are exploring the region just like you.
Organizing everything by yourself might be a bit more strenuous but at the same time also way more adventurous.
It will definitely put you in contact with Spanish people, might it be at the bus or train station in search of the correct platform or while checking into a hotel or hostel (whichever you prefer or can afford).
I would always go for the hostel though as it usually is a great place to meet new people.
The common rooms are always full of young travelers who are more than happy to find someone to spend some time with.
Once you´re out and about exploring the area, don’t shy away from asking people for recommendations.
That way they might be able to give you some tips for which places you should absolutely see and which ones to avoid.
For that you can always count on the local´s pride for their country. Spaniards love their country and they love to share it with you.
Go to events
Bigger events like concerts or festivities can also be good occasions to get in contact with people. And boy are there a lot of them in Malaga.
It feels to me like the people here like to celebrate everything. Well, good for us because those parties are amazing.
Depending on the season you might find yourself catching sweets in the parade of the Reyes Magos, dancing on the beach in the Noche de San Juan or drinking Cartojal in the streets of the city center during the Feria.
Concerts or even music festivals are also a great opportunity to make friends. Even if you don´t know the bands, as they are mostly Spanish indie bands, these events are always a lot of fun.
Plus the concerts and festivals are almost always a lot cheaper than in most other countries.
The music and the beers put everyone in a good mood and the reason for the celebration can give you a great first topic for a conversation.
And don’t worry, most of the Spanish people are so open and communicative that it won´t get awkward. And even if it does, you just move on to the next. 😉
Look for an “intercambio” (interchange)
In addition to everything mentioned above it is always a good idea to look up the local language exchange groups.
That way you will get to know a lot of people who find themselves in the same situation as yourself. Foreigners and locals alike.
One of them is, for example, “Intercambio de Idiomas en Malaga”. Go to the meetings and see if there is someone you feel like befriending.
Meet up to do a tandem. Maybe you can help your tandem partner improve their English or you can even teach them your native language.
And as mentioned earlier, it only takes one friend to make a whole bunch of them…