You did it! You got your application in in January, you collected all your documentation and you successfully applied for your visa for the auxiliars de conversación program in Spain. Plane tickets are sorted, but not your suitcase. If this is your first trip abroad, or your first time living in a foreign country you may be wondering: what the hell should I pack??
Below you’ll find a summary of what to pack for your first year as an auxiliar in Madrid! While not the end all be all packing list for every individual, use these guidelines to help you fill or take things out of your suitcase to get luggage down to your allotted weight allowance.
Madrid has a cold semi-arid climate, with rather cool winters (read: sporadic snowfall, temperatures around or slightly below freezing) and low humidity. Don’t be fooled by the term “cold semi-arid” though because summers are hot, hot, HOT. Highs of over 100ºF (38ºC) are not uncommon in July and August and uncomfortably warm afternoons may linger well into September and early October. Pack some lighter weight pieces in breathable fabrics like cotton, linen (which wicks away sweat!) or thin silk. Winters can feel quite cold, especially when the dry winds blow down on the city from the Sierra. You can leave the parka at home though, and get through the year just fine with a medium-weight coat, a scarf, hat, and gloves. If you need to sacrifice something to free up space in your suitcase, consider buying a coat when you arrive from a high-street shop like Zara, H&M or Mango.
In general, it’s a good idea to bring clothes for layering: mornings can feel pretty chilly, but with a camisole and a button down or knit top under your cardigan, you should feel comfortable and to change for the warm, sunny afternoon all you’ll need to do is take off a layer or two. You’ll be walking a lot, so don’t forget to pack or purchase some good cotton socks to cushion your feet.
If you’re with the official Ministry Program then chances are that the dress code won’t be especially strict. Schools often advise their conversation assistants to come dressed in business casual but this usually just means What business casual really means. If you’re working with really young children, it may be a better idea to come work in clothes that are strictly wash n´wear. Preschoolers don’t care about the difference between a golf shirt or a button down, and if you’re working in infantíl there’s a chance you may get spit up or tinkled on.
That said, it’s a good idea to have a few pieces where you can dress like a responsible adult if the situation calls for it. You’ll be well served by a blazer, sports coat or other tailored jacket, some simple but elegant dress shoes and a smart skirt or pair of trousers in a solid color. Feel free to get more creative than that! Madrid is full of stylish people who love clothes but simple separates often take the guesswork out of dressing for people who don’t.
TL;DR: Pack layers, bring a blazer and skip the suit.
Good quality sneakers and athletic shoes are often more expensive in Spain than they are in the US. If all you need are a decent pair of New Balances for schlepping around the city, you’re good; those aren’t especially expensive and are easy to find year-round. However, if you’re a serious runner you might want to bring your shoes with you, as proper running shoes often start at €100 and can cost upwards of €200. Discount outlets are rare and there is no DSW or Famous Footwear. There is, however, Decathlon, which has some very economical options but you should probably talk to a doctor about whether or not they’re going to mess up your feet or your back.
It’ll probably still be really warm when you arrive, so packing a pair of sandals is a good idea. -But if you need to free up the suitcase space, you could probably score an end of season pair if you’re arriving in the beginning of September. I’m not really a fashion writer, so I can’t tell you if boots are a must during the fall and winter, but I can tell you that my feet are fucking freezing in a pair of Chuck Taylors in January whereas they stay relatively toasty and comfortable with thick socks inside a pair of leather boots.
Stilettos are not often seen outside of Huertas and Salamanca so consider leaving those at home and buying a pair of comfortable and cute block heels if you want to blend in.
TL; DR: Bring comfortable shoes
The consensus is nearly unanimous: most auxiliars in the Facebook group insist that packing your favorite deodorant from home is a must. I’ll be honest: I’m a Sweaty Betty who buys natural deodorant so whatever product I buy never seems to work no matter where in the world I buy it from. However, I can agree that if you’re particularly attached to a brand of moisturizer, shampoo, or other personal care products, you should bring that with you; cosmetics and personal care item are relatively more expensive in Spain.
You’ll recognize a lot of your drugstore favorites like Maybelline, Revlon and Cover Girl in chains like BodyBelle and Gilgio, but they might not carry your go-to formula for certain things. Un-tinted, unscented face cream with SPF seems to be less of a thing in Spain than in the States, and if you want sulphate-free hair care products you’ll probably need to visit a specialty store or buy directly from a salon. Don’t panic though, these products are available, they just aren’t as ubiquitous.
Pro-tip: Check out the websites of local chains to see if what you want is readily available.
Most auxiliars supplement their monthly stipend with private tutoring sessions and/or they’re asked to bring materials and activities to enrich their classes at their assigned school. You may want to bring a few slim picture books for young children, or you may want to pick up something like packs of stickers or individually wrapped sweets to give as classroom prizes. You’ll score bonus points if you bring a sweet they’ve never seen before or find stickers that relate to your state or home city.
Branded seasoning salts, spice mixes and gravy powders are not really thing in most Spanish supermarkets. If you use Mrs. Dash, Lawry’s Seasoning Salt or Bisto Gravy Powder on the reg, you might want to pack it. Other popular suggestions are hot sauce, pure vanilla extract and dry ranch mix.
What to leave at home
Skip the appliances and heat styling tools for hair. YMMV but I’ve known enough people who brought their expensive ceramic curling iron and a converter, only to have it totally fritz out on them because the voltage was wrong. You probably won’t need to bring grammar text books as an auxiliar, but if you’re worried about having reference material there’s HowtoGeek – Getting e-Books for the Nook or Kindle, or as a PDF. You may even be able to electronically borrow books from your local libraries.
We’ll be posting lots of tips and tricks over the next several weeks to help you get ready for your adventure and then to help you settle in when you touchdown in Madrid! Be sure to bookmark us or subscribe for updates delivered direct to your inbox!