How I Made Friends with locals in Madrid – and how you can too!

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This one goes out especially to those of you who may be getting ready to leave for Madrid to teach English, however in all reality, it can be adaptable to anyone out there travelling extensively or moving abroad for other reasons. Below I’ll tell you how I was able to make friends with locals in Madrid when I taught English, as well as a few truths about it based on my experience. 

I’ll be the first to admit that it is not in my immediate nature to be bold and strike up conversations with people, and I feel that I am not alone on this. It can be awkward as it is, so adding another layer of foreign-ness can be daunting. Understandable. However, I also realized that if it’s not done, it will really make or break the overall experience of being abroad- that I will say. Whether you put yourself out there or not, the way you interact with people will determine how much you either love or dislike your experience in Madrid.  So know that you are in full control of how your experience is going to go, and that you can definitely go out and meet people, and become acquainted with the locals and the culture.

As a somewhat type of disclaimer, I do want to mention that I am bilingual in both English and Spanish, and even though it definitely did come in handy to know the language, if you read on, you’ll see other challenges that came along that were not related to language…so just continue reading! 

TO START OFF

Let me explain my situation a bit. I am Mexican-American and my first language is Spanish. Being born in the US and going to school here has allowed me to learn English to the point in which I feel a bit easier to express myself in English.

While in Spain, I moved to and worked at a school in a small-ish suburb town a little outside the city center of Madrid. I was the only native English teacher/speaker and even though I knew Spanish, part of the rules were that I was not to tell the students that I knew Spanish.   

It was a bit difficult to make friends at the beginning, especially under those conditions. I totally understand that those were the rules, however that also meant not many teachers feeling comfortable to come up to me to introduce themselves.  I myself really didn’t know how to initiate the conversation especially since some of them either had a very basic level of English that could not sustain a long conversation, or they flat out didn’t speak English. There were a limited amount of teachers who did have a good level of English speaking abilities, however even with them it was a little difficult to start and sustain conversations. So it was a little difficult to get acquainted with the teachers for the first few months.  

During those first few months, my only conversations with teachers were lesson plan ideas and me reporting back to them on students that had misbehaved during my lesson.  However, some would ask me what I have seen in Madrid so far, and they would also give me suggestions on what else to see.

I notice that as nice and welcoming they were, it was still hard to break into their circle of friends and acquaintances. I wondered why. 

Towards the end of my first semester, I noticed no such luck in making friends or even acquaintances. It came to a point where I started questioning my personality, and then questioning theirs. “Do they not like me because x, y, and z?” “Is it that i’m not friendly enough, or that I’m too friendly?” The point was that it was nearing Christmas time, and I still hadn’t felt like I had made any friends at work, and I wanted to change that.

The second semester was about to begin, and I knew I didn’t want to leave Madrid without making at least one local friend. So I took a different approach, and this was what I learned.

{Mostly} all that I knew about making friends in school and in America went out the window here

In America, people are extremely friendly. It’s one of the things we are known internationally for. Is it always honest though? Are we truly that excited to see each other when we bump into each other at the store? I found that in Madrid, people were very honest whether you liked it or not. They will let you know if they like your outfit, or they will question it. They will call you out on a mistake right away, and they are not afraid to express their emotions, on the whole spectrum of emotions haha. No shade to Americans, but I feel that here we often see value in quantity of friendships rather than quality. Of course, there are exceptions, but that was what I noticed being the new teacher at school. In America, if there is a new kid at school or person at work, especially if they are foreign, people will flock to meet them initially and ask them about their home country even. Here, it wasn’t so much the case. I really had to break into their circle myself, or else it would be difficult for them to come to me. Spaniards value their friends a lot, like a lot. So it takes time for them to warm up to you, to observe you, and decide if they want to invite you out somewhere. I mean, it took me a full semester to get somewhere with a few of my co-workers haha. However once you’re in, you’re in and it’s a friendship in which they see you as more than just a friend or acquaintance, but someone closer and more meaningful to them. Part of their family. Quality friends that still after I moved away, we continue talking to each other through whatsapp and planning on when I’ll be back.

So what advice can I give you to make friends with locals in Madrid?

Patience, it will be worth it

With that being said, yes patience will be a requirement. it’s not like when we’re in school as a student and we are willing to make friends with whomever just to have someone to talk to , and fast. Nope! In Madrid I found that again, it’s about them letting in people with whom they have known for a bit and observed. It’s after they feel that they like you and that you can add some sort of quality to their lives, that they will accept you completely. And not just them, but their friends, and their families. It’s a whole package deal.  

Pay attention to what they are talking about

Were all my teacher co-workers around my age? No, but some were and for the ones that weren’t I listened in to what they talked about with other teachers. Beginning the second semester, I decided to start conversations with teachers, and be more persistent with it. I decided to start conversations in Spanish when kids were not around, and in the teachers lounge, and offered to help them with their English over coffee or when they had free time. I noticed their conversations and started to notice similarities we had, and that helped me whenever I wanted to reach out. So to help you out in the process of finding out how even you can start a conversation with a teacher co-worker, or really anyone abroad, I have created this bonus cheat sheet that will give you a few good starting talking points that I personally used while I tried to make conversations abroad.

BONUS: Where do we start? Conversation prompts to use when making friends in Madrid!

Quickly, I do want to mention that if you don’t speak Spanish, don’t let that be a barrier between you getting to know your co-workers and making friends with them, or other locals! If you attempt to speak Spanish, they will help you out, and opportunities to help each other out and get to know each other will arise. You could even do a language and cultural exchange, and you’d both benefit as you’d both be learning new languages and cultural awareness. Don’t be afraid to try it out, and let me know how it goes! 

Don’t over do it. It’s ok if not everyone likes you

There were teachers that didn’t care to have conversations with me, and that was ok. Don’t be mad if you see that people literally walk pass you and don’t even acknowledge you. Not everyone will like you, and that’s totally ok. It will happen here and everywhere. If you start to see that some people clearly don’t want to start or continue a conversation even after you reach out, simply don’t continue. Just as they observe and decide if they want to be friends with you, you also have to do the same and realize if some people are worth bringing into not only your close circle of friends, but also your family abroad and experience overall. No negative vibes, y’all!

***

What about you guys?? Have you ever lived abroad and found it difficult to make friends with locals? I’d love to know what you thought and what you did to make friends, especially if it was in a different country.  Leave your tips and stories in the comments below! Remember to download the conversation prompt ideas cheat sheet, I promise this guide will help you get started on breaking the ice and establishing and expanding your social circle while you’re teaching in Madrid, and really anywhere in the world 🙂 if you are teaching this year in Madrid, or anywhere then I just want to say that you’re about to have an AMAZING year. Have fun, teach those adorable kids, and make friends 🙂

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Maritza | Travel
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🇲🇽🇺🇸 Travel & Culture Exploring the world to learn and experience more than one way to live life. It’s not only achievable, it’s necessary. https://linktr.ee/travelnotesandthings
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