How not to do your Year Abroad: Part 1

First stop: Barcelona. Where we discover Spanish housing and hombres, and how to overcome being the exploited intern

Kateryna Pavlyuk

It's all downhill from hereKateryna Pavlyuk

September 2016. Having miraculously managed to secure a three-month translation internship only two weeks prior, I bought a one-way ticket to Barcelona (I implore that you notice the artfully crafted three-two-one countdown above). I had no living arrangements organised before leaving (though my Year Abroad ‘placement details’ form may have stated otherwise), but I figured this was for the best as I wanted to meet potential flatmates in the flesh and to see any potential abode-to-be in the brick. I booked a hostel for two days, thinking surely I could sort out accommodation that was a) ideal and b) inexpensive over the weekend of my arrival, right? Wrong. So very wrong.

I sat on idealista – the tauntingly named property-listing site that everyone in Spain directed me towards – for the best (and worst) part of an entire weekend in the hostel kitchen, surrounded by the distinct aroma of stolen food and hangovers. I sent over 30 emails and made over 20 calls, to absolutely no avail. You’re not in Cambridge anymore; don’t expect to receive email responses promptly (or, if you’re in a Hispanic country, ever). I very quickly discovered that apartments - be they shared with 12 people, shoebox-sized studios, or snail shells – were snatched up faster than hot churros.

My flatmate insisted it was a good idea to get Tinder. Advice was taken; app was downloaded. Advice proved wrong; app was deleted

This meant that at 7am the following Monday, as I was getting ready for my first day of work in a 12-bed dorm, a group of Australian girls stumbled in, all glitter and giggles, from a night out and a British bloke, with that quintessential English charm, politely requested that I “turn the fucking light off”. I ended up having to dish out a lot more than I expected at the hostel, staying there almost a week, but to cut a long story, and an even longer week, short: I did eventually find somewhere to live. And while I didn’t find it through idealista, but through the ex of a friend of an acquaintance, it was, funnily enough, ideal.

What went well: In spite of all the preceding palaver, I ended up living in a gorgeous apartment, in one of the best neighbourhoods in the city, with the most phenomenal flatmate ever (we got through, on average, five bottles of wine and three blocks of cheese per week).

Even better if: I didn’t depend entirely on providence being good to me, factored in the Spanish (lack of) speed in replying to any form of correspondence, and began emailing way in advance.


Could it be my Don Juan? (Spoiler: No) Kateryna Pavlyuk

Having just gone through a tough break-up before coming to Spain (to gloss over a cataclysmic series of unfortunate events with a conveniently trite stock phrase), I had next to no interest in or emotional capacity for romance. But my Spanish flatmate insisted it was a good idea to get Tinder, even if just as a way to “meet people” in the city. Advice was taken; app was downloaded. Advice proved wrong; app was deleted. I hereby present, as promised, the shittiest (this will later emerge as an unfortunate pun) Tinder date ever.

He was one of those. You know the type. The one who has three photos in which his face is often all but obscured – ‘mysterious’ you tell yourself – but you give him the benefit of the doubt (and entertain the fact that he might have a ‘great personality’). He arrives late. When in Spain, expect nothing less. I clock a guy scanning the street and realise, cue Lionel Richie, that it’s me he’s looking for. He clocks me. We walk across the plaza towards one another (cinematic it was not; a stoned skateboarder nearly amputates my toes en route).

And then I saw them. His velcro shoes. Surely not. Surely, surely, his Stan Smiths are [ripped/in the wash/insert any, any excuse] and this will be a funny story he’ll tell me later tonight. He immediately apologises for being late and proceeds to explain why: “I was crapping”. I must have misheard him. I beg his pardon. “I was crapping”. I beg, once, twice, thrice more a) for his pardon and b) that this is a bad dream. He looks at me like I’m thick. “Crapping. You know, shitting”. My mental playlist switches from Richie to Avicii: wake me up when it’s all over.

When I asked him to list something he liked, the only two things he could muster up were “his dad” and “water”

It was only over two hours later, and I was awake for it all. It transpired my Don Juan got diarrhoea in reaction to the antibiotics he was taking… for the tonsillitis he developed a few days before… ergo meaning he couldn’t drink. So he sipped on a coke while I sought solace at the bottom of my wine glass (no such solace found), while managing to dig his germ-infested fork into every single one of the patatas bravas we got ‘to share’ (taters with a side of tonsillitis? no, gracias).

But it couldn’t go further downhill from here, right? Incorrecto. I won’t recall the entire encounter – more than anything in an attempt to forget it – but the petri dish opposite me proved to be a raging nihilist, and not in a devilishly alluring Sartrean way. When I asked him to list something, anything, he actually liked, the only two things he could muster up were “his dad” and, I shit you not, “water”. I deleted Tinder that same night.

What went well: Nothing. Kids, don’t date. (Although, when I met a friend the next evening at a local bar to vent out this tall tale, we by sheer chance discovered what are indisputably the best croquetas in Barcelona. Silver linings come coated in breadcrumbs.)

Even better if: I found absolutely any other way of spending that evening. Seriously, kids, don’t date.

Not the ticket to true loveTinder


I was fully aware that my internship would be unpaid. However, I was far from even remotely aware of quite how difficult that would prove (especially when not in receipt of any Erasmus funding because, convinced I would spend my entire year in Latin America, I didn’t apply for any; error #1,983). The role I was actually signed on for was ‘Project Manager’, which is essentially a glorified synonym for ‘emailer’, but I had little interest in logging translators’ invoices and a lot of interest in translating. But emailing gets more fun with time, right? Again, wrong.

So I speak to my boss and ask if I can dip my toes in some translation work. She tentatively agrees and gives me a small text for a regular client, which receives the thumbs up. Fast-forward to a month later and I am essentially the company’s main Spanish to English translator. This is all very phenomenal and fantastic – and free. I was saving the company a pretty penny by doing the work of a professional translator, at the speed of a professional translator (a lot of work was taken home over evenings and weekends), for the pay of an intern; absolutely gratis.


Mountain View

Are you a hunter or a gatherer?

It took me having an absolute meltdown in the flat one evening, when I was bombarded with three projects simultaneously and had no idea how I would afford my upcoming rent, for my ever-wise flatmate – who incidentally works in HR – to tell me that this was not okay, even by Spanish standards. After a lot of talking to myself in the mirror and internal pep talks, I eventually plucked up the courage to confront my boss. It wasn’t a conversation I would want to have daily, but she was surprisingly understanding and we decided to meet on middle ground, agreeing to me being paid half a standard translator’s rate. And let me tell you, there is perhaps nothing that makes you feel quite as mature (see: old) as creating your own invoice template.

What went well: Many a call to HMRC and many an administrative nightmare later, I now have an ongoing freelance translation contract with this company. This means I can now, at the very least, reimburse a stupidly expensive night out (when you swear you only had two G&Ts but somehow your bank balance is £57.25 lower the next morning) by taking on the odd translation or two.

Even better if: I spoke up earlier. Though, granted, this is easier said than done. You’re a student, not a slave, so don’t kid yourself that it’s acceptable to work 13-hour days for free, no matter what country you’re in.

Next up on HNTDYYA (which for marketing purposes I will hereby rearrange into the anagram THYN DAY), we cross the Atlantic and head to Chile, for soggy hotdogs (not a euphemism) and that absolute travel-story classic – a rabies scare.