Life-changing. That’s the best word I can think of to describe my 2014/15 year of living and studying in Alicante, a not-too-big but wonderful city on the southeastern coast of Spain. It was a privilege that resulted from studying Commerce with Hispanic Studies at University College Cork. It was a year of immersing ourselves in Spanish culture, meeting amazing people along the way, and travelling to places we would otherwise never have been able to.
It was a year that encouraged me to finally leave my comfort zone. It led to me spending the summer of 2015 in Cape Cod. Furthermore, it was the eventual inspiration behind my current situation, living and working in New York City.
Despite our initial departure date for Alicante being 30 August 2014, the preparation was underway much earlier than this. Accommodation was a critical area that needed research and planning.
Here’s my advice on how to find accommodation in Alicante.
ACCOMMODATION FOR SEMESTER ONE
Let me take things back to mid-December 2013 for a bit.
Due to the level of interest in Alicante, a few of us were unsure about our destination. For a short while, it seemed like we were destined for Santiago de Compostela. This was UCC’s attempt at dividing out students between their partner universities. This would not have been the greatest of outcomes as, after initial thoughts about Barcelona, we were completely fixated on Alicante, in no small part due to the prospect of glorious weather and nearby beaches.
I still remember the feeling of sheer relief when I found out that Alicante would be my destination for the year abroad. I was on my laptop at the living room table at home when I saw the email and I jumped for joy, screaming “yessss I got Alicante!!!” down the hall to Mam. All we knew about Alicante was that it was a coastal city and that the weather would be great. Beyond that, knowledge was quite limited.
This is where the importance of preparation comes in. None of us had lived abroad for months at a time before. It was unchartered territory. Luckily, UCC passed on the email addresses of students who were actually in Alicante at this time. Firsthand advice would be a great place to start.
Thus, in the early months of 2014 I emailed 3 or 4 girls who were studying in Alicante. They all replied with excellent firsthand advice. One in particular passed on Facebook details of her friend’s landlord (who shall remain nameless for privacy reasons). After making contact through Facebook in July 2014, I was sent photos of available rooms in his apartments.
The girls had advised that we live in the city centre as the university is in San Vicente del Raspeig, a roughly 30 mins journey via tram from the city. Also, other than a shopping centre, there was not much else near the university. Luckily, our soon-to-be landlord’s apartments were smack bang in the city centre, an ideal location.
After discussing the available rooms and possibilities with my Alicante-bound comrades, I thrashed out arrangements for the lads and I with our Spanish landlord. Myself and one gent from Cork would be in one apartment, whilst the third gent of our trio would be in an apartment just upstairs with one of the girls. Two more girls would be in an apartment across the way from mine, and the final girl in our group from UCC would be in an apartment about a 10-15 mins walk away.
Try to ignore the colourful nature of my September 2014 wardrobe
After informing our landlord of the arrangements, I was sent downloadable photos of the contracts on Facebook, which we would have to print off, sign, scan and then send back.
This early preparation meant that our living arrangements were finalised well in advance of leaving for Alicante. It was nice to have it sorted out so we could look forward to our time abroad.
LAST DAYS OF SEMESTER ONE AND PREPARATION FOR SEMESTER TWO
Coming towards the end of semester one, an increasing number of fellow Erasmus students were telling us that we were paying too much for rent. Yes, €270 a month for a nice double bedroom is considered too much in Alicante. Any Irish person would jump at the opportunity for such a price, especially considering the outrageous rental prices around the country at present.
As well as this, we realised ourselves that, because six of us UCC folks lived in the same building, we were not speaking as much Spanish as we could. Also, one too many parties led to a few of the neighbours not being our biggest fans. Oops!
Therefore, we made the decision to each find new apartments. Two of the girls would end up remaining together but the other four of us each found new places to live.
I began to do research online, using websites like easypiso.es. After a while, I came across a nearby Spanish language school (which will remain nameless) that offered accommodation options. I reached out in late November 2014, organising a viewing of one apartment in particular for the first week of December. After being left impressed by this apartment, I decided that this would be my home for the second semester.
I was due to fly home for Christmas holidays on December 19th so, once again, I had organised things ahead of time. As I said earlier, preparation is the key. I flew back to Ireland for five weeks, safe in the knowledge that the day I returned to Alicante would be move-in day.
On January 26th 2015, I was back in Alicante and it was time to move into the new apartment. I would be paying €210 a month for a relatively sizeable single room. At the time, I don’t think I realised just how nice the apartment was. There was a decent kitchen with washer/dryer, a lovely living room and a large corridor that made the apartment feel much bigger overall. It was a proper Spanish apartment.
For the first few months, I would share the apartment with a lovely Italian girl from Rome who spoke great English and Spanish, and a quiet Polish girl who spoke no English but excellent Spanish. Sometime in late March, a quiet South Korean gent moved into the fourth bedroom. Overall, it was a very continental apartment but it was cool. It was in a good location not too far from the other Cork lads so we didn’t exactly move to all different corners of the city.
The months flew by at the speed of light and here it was, the day that I was flying back to Ireland. Thursday June 4 2015. Despite my hopes, this is still the last time I was on Spanish soil. I’m confident that this will change in the not-too-distant future, though.
SOME WORDS OF WISDOM
My year in Alicante definitely taught me a lot about independence and made the idea of living abroad for a long-term spell seem more attractive. These lessons definitely helped me prepare for and get set up in New York over the last few months. Now I’ll pass on some words of wisdom that I think could go a long way.
I’ve mentioned it a few times in this article, but I’ll say it yet again: preparation is key. I’m so glad that we arranged our accommodation for the first semester with time to spare. It made the idea of making the move seem much easier and more straightforward. There would be no two-week stay in a hostel or Airbnb. We were able to settle immediately and get started with making the most of the year.
One thing that I do think about in hindsight is whether moving to new apartments was the greatest idea. My second apartment was lovely and all, but I think that with a bit more discipline and encouragement, we could have motivated each other to speak more Spanish. We should have implemented ‘Spanish-only’ hours or nights. I do think we may have taken the easy way out in that regard, especially since our learning of the language went downhill in the second semester (as I shall discuss next week).
By dealing with an organisation who specialise in providing quality accommodation, you can make your experience abroad much more fruitful and enjoyable.
Luck can play a big part in how your accommodation pans out, but overall I think we make our own luck.
In my next post, I will tell you all about how I organised language courses during my Erasmus year.
For now, ¡adios amigos!