I arrived in Valencia one month before my lovely wife did, so therefore I was dealt the ‘please find us an apartment before October’ card. At the beginning, all was well as I knew somebody from the International TEFL Academy alumni group that was allowing me to stay with them whilst I looked for a reasonable place to live. I had already made and paid for several online housing reservations before arriving, just to find out that they were rejected because the room was already occupied, or because the landlord didn’t accept couples, or, simply because they didn’t feel like renting to someone that day. Queue the weeks of waiting for agency refunds. Having a quarter of our total saved ‘Spain money’ out in cyberspace with no good estimate of when it would land back in the bank account, on top of still having nowhere to live, put a lot of pressure on me to find somewhere decent and affordable to live ASAP. Coming into the apartment hunt, I had no intention to pay anything over 300 euros per month for a room in a shared flat, a very feasible goal given the relatively low cost of living in Spain, and Valencia in particular.
Right, so, I bummed a few nights on my friend’s couch as I got a few leads here and there on apartments, all of them being shared with other students or teachers, which was fine. One evening, as I was preparing for my first apartment visit, I was listening in on a conversation at the dinner table about what I thought to be the living situation of my friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s apartment. Mind you, the conversation was in Spanish, so I was really only processing about 75 percent of what I was hearing. Luckily for me I understood enough of the conversation to gather that there was a room in her (the girlfriend) apartment that would soon be vacant. She told me it was small, interior, and most importantly cheap. We set a time for me to come look at it, and my mind was made up before I ever even saw it that it was going to me our future home. Not only was it cheap, it was literally half my budget. Fantastic, right? One hundred-fifty euros a month. Exquisite. I was obviously very pleased with myself.
The time to visit came, and I came around to my future address in the student barrio of Benimaclet. I met my future roommates, all of whom were Spanish (as they still are, I’m fairly certain they are all still alive). “Great for me.” I thought to myself, while I struggled to get my Spanish brain activated as I introduced myself to all of them. After all, my purpose for being in Spain was to become fluent in Spanish, so why not have Spanish roommates?
As I had been told previously, the room was small and interior. An interior apartment means it gets no direct sunlight. It is important to note that I do not consider myself a city boy. Having been raised in rural Idaho in the Western United States, direct sunlight was the only kind of sunlight anybody could get into their home. I would be lying if I said that I knew of one single interior facing apartment in the whole state of Idaho.
As I soon found out, I had been ignoring my sunlight privilege for all 22 years of my life until it was suddenly stripped from me. I quickly realized how awful it was to live without waking up to sunshine streaming through the window. I could now empathize with the entire population of England and Ireland. I know it sounds dramatic, but ultimately the lack of sunshine is what led me to eventually move out of my Benimaclet apartment. Despite the fact that my roommates were very kind, I was close to school, and it was incredibly affordable, the dungeon-esque feel of the flat made it unbearable after a short stay of three months.
The moral of the story is that I settled. I agreed to something that did not suit my nor my wife’s needs, because I created a false sense of urgency to find an apartment when I could have spent several more weeks looking for something that would have been much better. When moving abroad, it is important to remember that while it feels like vacation for a while, eventually one falls into the routine of daily life, meaning, at some point a fair share of one’s time will be spent in the place of residence. It is a very uncomfortable feeling to be uncomfortable in your own home. Take your time, choose wisely, and don’t jump to decisions without thinking it through. Sometimes it is harder to get out of a contract, than it was to get the contract itself.
There will always be more apartments.