Photo courtesy of Rachel Huffman.
I’m Mexican, with Cuban and Spanish ancestry. I don’t go back to Mexico that often. In fact, this past Christmas was the first time I went home in four years. I have fond memories of my childhood, though.
In 2003, I quit the job I had in Mexico and moved to Madrid to study a master’s degree in Management of Information Systems and Communication. Jobs kept me in Madrid, on and off, for five years. In between, I lived in the UK for two years and Paris for one.
Love brought me to Barcelona in 2011. My girlfriend at the time, who I met in Madrid, landed a very good job at a pharmaceutical company here, and we moved, just like that. Although we are not together anymore, I’m very happy I ended up in Barcelona. The quality of life in the city cannot be beaten. I have never considered leaving.
I volunteer as an InterNations Ambassador. I earn a living as a consultant, that’s technically my career, while my work with InterNations is my passion. Founded in 2007, by Malte Zeeck, Philipp von Plato and Christian Leifeld, InterNations is the largest global network of expats, with representatives in 390 cities worldwide and 1.9 million members to date. I discovered the organisation for the first time after I came to Barcelona, and I immediately wanted to get involved.
I really support the philosophy behind InterNations. The focus is on helping expats feel at home abroad, meet people and find information about their new and unfamiliar environment. I have started from scratch many times in my life. I have had to find jobs in foreign cities, make new friends, set up the internet in my apartment and figure out where to buy certain necessities. In fact, when I first moved to Madrid, I even fell for an online scam when reserving an apartment before I arrived. I turned up at the apartment and nobody opened the door. A neighbour told me I had not been the only one, so I took a taxi to the nearest hotel. I see InterNations as a safe harbour for people in similar situations.
As an InterNations Ambassador, I welcome new members to the Barcelona community. Every day, I answer emails from expats asking about the city—if the rent they are being charged is fair, how the healthcare system works, what’s the best neighbourhood to go to for a drink on a Thursday night and so on. InterNations provides an amazing resource for newbies, answering their personal queries and offering support in a place where they don’t know anyone else.
There are four ambassadors in town. Between us, we organise and host events exclusively for InterNations members at some of the best venues in town. I think the best part of event organising is when all the work is done, it’s happening, and I am able to relax and enjoy the moment.
Our events range from casual meet and greets for newcomers to themed nights at local bars. We organise nights out to listen to live jazz, as well as dinners, wine tastings and hikes in and around Barcelona. In the past, we’ve hosted Catalan cooking workshops and arranged specialised tours, like last month’s tour of the fishing port and market. There is also a more serious side to InterNations. We invite our members to business presentations by Barcelona CEOs and networking events, and hold regular book reviews.
I think that one of the hardest things for expats is knowing how and where to connect with people—to join the community on a social level. Depending on the city, this next step can be easy or more difficult. For example, my first experience as an expat was in Madrid, where I felt really welcome. I remember a commercial on TV that I simply loved, it said, ‘If you come to Madrid, you are from Madrid’. Plus I was young, in my early twenties, and the people there took me in, showing me places around the city and inviting me out with them. I was lucky. On the other hand, when I moved to Barcelona I was in my early thirties, at a different stage in my life. I had my job. I had my girlfriend. It was harder to step outside those already established comforts and extend my social network to include new acquaintances from here.
The best advice I can give to a newcomer is to come to an event with no expectations and a big smile. In InterNations there are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet. In fact, I met one of my closest friends at an InterNations event.
I think Barcelona is the place to be. It’s part of this romantic notion of coming to Europe and living in a beautiful city that has everything to offer. Barcelona is not too big, not too small, surrounded by the sea and the mountains, and full of sunlight. And more specifically, if you ask an expat why they chose this city as their new home abroad, I usually get the answer, ‘Why not?’