Wednesday, 2 July 2014

FAQs & my advice for future English Language Assistants in Melilla

  • How did you prepare yourself for the year abroad? I didn't find that my university prepared me that well for the year abroad. However, I was given a year abroad handbook by my university, which was fairly useful. I got my information from emails from the British Council and the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. I also found a Facebook group for the English Language Assistants in Spain and we all gave each other advice. Twitter is also a great way to get your questions answered quickly. I found that getting a response by email (especially in Spain) took quite a long time and sometimes its just easier to make a phone call or rock up somewhere to ask in person. For more advice, see Third Year Abroad Answers, The Mole Diaries: Melilla Volume 1 and Volume 2The Newcomer's Guide to Melilla and Melilla: 6 Reasons To Fall in Love. If you have any questions after reading this blog, please don't hesitate to get in contact with me.
  • Why did you choose Melilla? Melilla was interesting because there was a mix of languages (Spanish, Arabic, Berber, and French), cultures (Spanish, Moroccan and West African) and religions (Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu). Travel, accommodation and food in Morocco were cheap so I was able to walk across the border and have cheap weekend breaks in many different places. However, it is quite small, travel to the Spanish mainland is quite expensive and I did feel quite isolated at times. There were very few English-speakers, but at school I was mostly speaking and teaching in English. I never had the opportunity to visit Ceuta, but from what I heard is, it’s pretty similar. It’s probably easier to access Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland from there. I remember that I chose Melilla over Ceuta because it has its own airport.
  • How can I get to Melilla? You can fly to Melilla from Madrid, Málaga, Almería or Granada, but until you become a resident this is very expensive. It should cost about 5 euros to get to or from the airport by taxi during normal hours. The airport doesn't open until 7:00, so I wouldn't recommend arriving much earlier than that. It's cheaper to get to Melilla by flying to Nador (close by in Morocco) and crossing the border, although this isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. There are also ferries from Málaga, Granada and Almería, but these tend to take a long time and can be expensive depending on the time of year. 
  • Is Melilla safe? The only thing that bothered me were the strange men (mostly Moroccan) who may harass you.  I tried being nice and I tried ignoring them, but they can't take a hint! The only way to avoid them is to be rude. After that you shouldn't have any problems and I felt safe walking along main roads when it was dark.
  • Is it safe to cross the border? The border sometimes felt a bit dodgy but I never had any problems. However, I wouldn't recommend crossing alone. You need to get a form to fill in from the last security desk before you enter Morocco in order to cross the border. Some Moroccan people try to sell them to you or offer to fill them in for you but you can get them from the desk for free.
  • Why did you choose to be an English Language Assistant? I was considering a career in teaching and earning money as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me travel during the year and over the summer and I still have some savings left over! I personally didn't enjoy working in the school, but I had some friends who loved it. I think it really depends on the school. I only worked 12 hours over 3 days per week. It was a refreshing break from studying and now I feel prepared to go back to university for my final year.Sometimes I regret choosing to work at the school because I didn't enjoy the job and it didn't improve my Spanish as much as I'd hoped, but I had some friends who loved it. At least now I know one job which I'm not interested in doing.
  • How did you have enough money? I knew I needed some extra cash during my year abroad, so I worked two jobs the summer before and I decided to the English Language Assistantship to earn money (a monthly allowance (ayuda mensual) of €700 subject to a number of procedures that you have to follow) and stay in Europe to get an Erasmus grant of around €220 per month (paid in 2 instalments). Therefore I don't know the average salary for a teacher in Melilla. I got my tuition fee loan and maintenance loan and grant during the year, but I only paid a small proportion of my normal tuition fees If you're a student, keep your receipts of all travel expenses. You may get a grant to cover some of your travel expenses if you normally live in Englandafter paying the first £303 of your travel costsEarning money as an English Language Assistant as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me travel during the year and over the summer and I still have some savings left over! I think there's only so much you can do until you actually arrive. Depending on your bank, transferring money to a foreign account or the commission  to take money out of a cash machine aren't always so bad using an English card, and I paid my deposit and first month's rent doing that. Once you get there, find a hotel if you haven't got accommodation already and I would suggest focusing on getting a bank account. Finding accommodation often depends on knowing the right people and that may take time. Sorting out my residence and bank was the most stressful part for me. For some reason I managed to organise accommodation without a bank account. If you don't have an address before you open your bank account, you can always use a friend's address (some of my friends used mine) or the organisation's where you will be. BBVA cuenta blue is a good account to have because its free for people under the age of 30.
  • Did you pay tax? I don't know the income tax rate in Spain, but I would guess that it is lower than mainland Spain in order to encourage people to live in Melilla. A Double Taxation Agreement exists between the UK and Spain. Under this agreement UK assistants are normally exempt from Spanish income tax for a period of up to 2 years. However, it is normally the case that 100% of the remuneration received abroad will be liable for UK tax. As I didn’t earn more than £917 (€1,045.60) per week, I didn’t pay any tax. It is important to know that the agreement only covers teaching jobs. You might be taxed for any non-teaching jobs and should check how much you are allowed to earn per year without having to pay taxes. You are reminded that the UK tax year extends from 6 April to 5 April and that income earned in the UK between April and the start of your assistantship may be taken into account when your own or your parents' tax liability is being assessed.
  • How did you communicate? I only started learning Spanish when I started university, so when I arrived in Melilla I had only been learning for 2 years and I was very nervous about this. It came naturally once I arrived and I started picking up more. People in Melilla are generally quite patient with people who aren't fluent in Spanish because there is already such a mix of different cultures and languages within the city. French could help, especially if you decide to go to Morocco, but Spanish and Arabic are mostly spoken. In my experience, most people didn't know much English except the English teachers themselves and the English native speakers at the British Centre of Melilla, for example.
  • How did you find somewhere to live? Through being given the contact details of a friend of a friend of one of my English language assistant predecessors in Melilla, who's contact details I found on the list sent to me by the British Council, I was lucky enough to be able organise accommodation before arriving. I was careful and asked for some photos of the flat beforehand and had several conversations with my future house mate. From seeing the photos and speaking to her, I felt like I would be happy living there. I lived with a local for the first 3 months of my year abroad, but she lost her job and had to move away so I started searching for a new flatmate. I received an email from a girl studying at another university who had found this blog by typing 'year abroad Melilla' into Google. She was coming to the city for the last 4 months of my stay and I told her that I was looking for a flatmate and kept the spare room free for her. It's not always easy, reliable, or cheap to find a place to live online (If you want to try, I would suggest, especially in a small place like Melilla. As Melilla is so small, information isn't always posted online and news is often spread by word of mouth, so it's worth asking around. It may be easier to just book a hotel. Hotel Anfora is probably the most reasonable hotel and TRYP Puerto Hotel is the most well-known with modern rooms and an incredible breakfast. It's not the end of the world if you have to live there for a few days and chances are someone who you meet will know someone looking for a flat mate. If not, try the student residence. There is a campus from the University of Granada in Melilla, but I never visited it, and I myself never came across the student accommodation. I think regular accommodation is pretty affordable anyway.
  • Who did you live with? At first, I lived with a Spanish native. This is key to improving your Spanish and finding a social group. You don't have this opportunity if you live with an English speaker who you spend time socialising with outside of the house, and perhaps it puts too much pressure on your English social group. I think who you live with all depends on the situation: where you're living, how long you're living there for, whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert and whether you have friends close by. I lived alone for about 2 months between my first flatmate leaving and my second arriving and this was a really difficult time. However, I consider myself an introvert and I don't have any problem spending a lot of time alone, so the concept of living alone wasn't a huge deal for me. It was certainly drama free that way! Whilst it was nice to have my own space and live in a clean flat, it was very lonely and I was struggling. As I lived in quite a small city with few young people and my workplace wasn't very welcoming, I found it hard to make friends and it took time before I found my own social group. You need perseverance!
  • When did you know which school you were going to/ how did you get in contact with your school? I found out sometime in August. I was really worried before my year abroad because I heard very little from my school before I arrived. Don't expect to hear back immediately, especially if you contact them during the summer holidays. If they don't tell you everything you need to know, don't worry, it will be sorted when you arrive. Make an effort the contact the school as soon as you know which one you're going to, but don't expect to hear back immediately, especially if you contact them during the summer holidays. If they don't tell you everything you need to know, don't worry, it will be sorted when you arrive. If you're really worried you can usually check with the British Council or the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte via email, telephone or Twitter (which tends to get a fast response).
  • What would you recommend to take with you?
    • Proper walking shoes: they may look fairly unattractive, but if you plan to travel, you will be walking lots. I made the mistake of only taking pumps to a city without many shops and my feet suffered.
    • Extension cable: This saves you using multiple plug adapters (but make sure you bring a spare just in case).
    • Rucksack: This is an easy and safe way to carry your things whilst travelling. I also used a combination lock (so I didn't have to worry about having a normal padlock and losing the key or getting it stuck inside the padlock) between two zippers so potential thieves couldn't open my rucksack from behind. 
    • Hand luggage suitcase: Although it is slightly heavier that a soft case, I realised a hard shell hand luggage suitcase made it easier to limit my luggage because the case couldn't expand much. I also used my combination lock for this suitcase if I left it in a hotel or hostel.
    • Portable charger: you can find these online (eBay) and all you have to do is charge them up and carry them with you if your phone's (or any other device's) battery dies whilst travelling.
    • Dry shampoo: I use this often and when I was in Melilla it wasn't available in shops.
    • Easy-Hide-IP: This basically hides your current location and enables you to choose another one. You can choose a place in the UK and it lets you watch BBC iPlayer, 4od and many other things (such as Netflix) that you wouldn't otherwise be able to use abroad.
    • Google Translate, CamDictionary or any other translating app that works offline.
    • E-reading app or device (Google Play, Kindle) so you can read books and not have to physically carry them around (be careful when you pack because you will probably buy lots there and you might have to leave some things behind).
    • Typical English things for the students to see. For example; newspapers, magazines, train and bus timetables and tickets, leaflets, photos, postcards, tea bags, sweets, shortbread, mince pies, a Christmas cracker (my students were very excited by this), or a Christmas pudding. Beware of expiry dates for food. I bought some mince pies in September and they expired shortly after, so I was unable to take them to the school. Fortunately, a friend gave me a recipe and I made my own instead.
    • Don't pack too many winter clothes. You probably won't need them. However, expect a turn of weather in November and be prepared with several jumpers and a thin coat. There is no central heating in most apartments, which isn't a huge problem because it is generally quite warm and you will get used to it. However, make sure you have a duvet or lots of blankets when it starts to get cold. The only duvet I could find was at Supersol supermarket and cost 40 euros.
  • Did you get insurance for the year abroad? I got Endsleigh studying abroad insurance for the year, which cost me £187.32. I broke and lost 2 phones and they gave the money to replace both.
  • What did you do about a mobile phone? Buying a basic phone saves money, but you can't use WhatsApp. Spanish people love WhatsApp, so it is useful to have internet access when you're out and about. I would suggest bringing an unlocked phone with you. I took my iPhone then just switched between my English and Spanish SIMs and I didn't have any problems other than getting it unlocked. If your phone is locked to a provider in your home country, a SIM from the same provider in Spain will still not be accepted and it makes your life easier to have an unlocked phone when you arrive. I made this mistake, thinking that I could use a Vodafone Spain SIM card with a phone locked to Vodafone UK, but eventually I managed to unlock my phone. I was on pay as you go and the case is a lot different to the UK and it is very cheap. €10-20 could last me 1-2 months. I still had all my English contacts on my phone and could talk to them on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime or Skype. I didn't feel like I needed two phones because I rarely used my English SIM in Spain. You could also consider getting a dual SIM phone. I would say that getting a Spanish number is one of the first things you should do when you arrive, because friends and people interested in private classes will ask for your number and won't want to pay extra to use your English number. You may also need it to get full access to your bank account, as they may text you a code.
  • How did you get your NIE? I took the EX-18 to the oficina de extranjeros. The Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte will tell you to take the EX-15 form to the oficina de extranjeros. When I was there I was told this was the wrong form and needed the EX-18. Also get the 790 form at the oficina de extranjeros because you will need this to pay the fee at the bank. Arrive early to queue for the oficina de extranjeros. It opens at 9am. The first time I arrived at 12pm and wasn't let in. The second time I arrived at 8:50, went in at 9am, got my ticket and wasn't seen until 12pm. Bring at least two photocopies your passport and the paperwork sent to you by the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. The oficina de extranjeros and the bank will probably ask you for them. Once you have your NIE, you can get a residence certificate that entitles you to half price tickets for planes and boats. Go to the Ayuntamiento de Melilla. You will need your NIE, passport and house contract. Don't use the main entrance on Plaza de España, use the entrance on the corner of Avenida General Macías and Calle Pablo Vallesca.
  • I don't have a very big luggage allowance, how can I decorate my room? I found it difficult to make my room feel homey. I love writing letters and postcards, so I sent some to my friends and family and I received some replies. I stuck them all over my wardrobe with blu tac, which added some life to my room and reminded me of everybody who cares when I felt alone.
  • How did you meet people? It really depends on where you work and your individual situation. I had a negative experience at the school, but I knew others who had really positive experiences. There are a community of English speakers at the British Centre of Melilla. I tried to integrate into the local community, for example by going to the gym, but I often found that it was disorganised, for example it wasn’t communicated if a class was cancelled. I also tried to find like-minded people by volunteering at CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants). Be confident speaking the foreign language, make an effort to socialise with the teachers, go to cafés and bars (even if that means going alone), and look for other students in your area. At first it may be difficult and feel impossible to make friends, but keep trying and you'll find some eventually!
  • What are the shops like? On weekdays offices such as banks and the oficina de extranjeros are usually open until around 2pm. Shops are generally open 10:00-13:30 and 17:30-20:30. Queues are ridiculously long. Whether it be in the post office, oficina de extranjeros or fresh food counters at the supermarket, it is usually best to go in, take a ticket from the machine, go away to do something else then come back later. Alternatively, go early in the morning or late at night to avoid queues. Many things such as tobacco and alcohol are cheaper in Melilla than they are in duty free in Spain.
  • Do you know if they use their own stamps there, or do they use ordinary Spanish stamps?I was under the impression that you cannot get stamps for Europe from the kiosks on the street. I just went to the post office where they ink stamped it. I hope this helps!
  • How can I get around? I basically walked everywhere. Melilla is quite small and I personally don’t think you need to worry about travel. However, there are quite a few hills (which you can’t see on Google Maps and Melilla doesn’t have Google Street View yet). I did buy a second hand bike, but I didn’t use it very often and eventually sold it. I wouldn't recommend it because it's not always safe to park a bike in a public area, there are lots of hills and the roads aren't very safe. Bikes are stolen very often, no matter how big the lock is. Park it inside or take it with you when you can. There's a reason that most bike parks seem to be empty. There is a bus that costs about 80 cents, but I never used it. Many people have cars and use them to drive short distances, so chances are when you get to know someone they will offer you a lift. Otherwise, a 5-minute taxi journey will probably cost about €5.
  • Where are the best places to eat and drink?
    • Being a vegetarian in Melilla is quite difficult. At restaurants make sure you check whether you can eat the meal before ordering.
    • Gastrobar Le Dillon's isn't a particularly busy or central place, but the tapas is amazing, the atmosphere is great and the staff are really friendly. This is one of the few places where it isn't too difficult to get vegetarian food. Sometimes they give you several free shots before you leave.
    • Pizzeria Anthony is probably the nicest restaurant in Melilla. Amazing stone baked pizzas, a little pricey, but an amazing atmosphere. It does get busy often.
    • La Cervecería is unique, nice decoration, delicious tapas, central location. Gets busy often.
    • Entrevinos is in a central location and one of the best bars in town.
    • La Pérgola is a bar which has really nice views of the port, lovely at sunset. Great drinks and nice fish, which are a little pricey but large.
    • Heladería California is probably the best out of the few ice cream parlours in Melilla. A big variety of sizes and flavours and there's slush puppies (granizados) too! Only open from about May until the end of September.
    • El Caracol Moderno II has a great variety of Moroccan cuisine. A bit pricey, but well decorated and excellent service. It doesn't look great from the outside and the entrance isn't that obvious. On the corner there is a run down entrance, but walk a little further down and you will find the much nicer main entrance.
  • What is there to see?
    • Melilla la Vieja is a large fortress which is north of the port in Melilla. It is probably the best spot to see the whole of Melilla by day or night; there is a panoramic photo point near the military museum. There are some interesting museums and art galleries and nice restaurants and bars around. 
    • Plaza de España is surrounded by monumental buildings such as the town hall, the Bank of Spain and the Casino Militar. There's a lovely water fountain and its a nice place to sit.
    • Parque Hernandez is a park near the centre with lovely plants and water fountains.
  • What is there to do?
    • The beach is lovely and doesn't get very busy until around June.
    • I never saw anybody surfing, but perhaps windsurfing would be possible as it can get really windy. I saw people sailing at Club Marítimo de Melilla, but I heard that becoming a member is expensive.
    • The night life in Melilla isn't up to much, but Sala Manhattan is probably the most popular club. There are also several other bars and clubs around the port (Puerto Noray), which seems to be the main clubbing area.
    • Plaza de las Cuatro Culturas (Four Cultures Square) is named after the mix of cultures that exist in Melilla (Spanish Catholic, Moroccan Muslim, Jewish and Hindu), this square has a variety of bars and restaurants. There is also a pharmacy (where you can buy mosquito repelling bracelets, which I recommend for when it's hot!) and the tourist office.
    • The Oficina de Turismo (tourist office) has some information about events in the city, although not all of the staff speak good English. Here you can buy tickets for the tourist train for 3 euros, which usually leave 2 or 3 times a day when it's fairly warm and take you around Melilla la Vieja and the city centre.
    • Parque Forestal Juan Carlos I Rey is a large park, not far from the airport, with several parts and is separated by a road. One part has a animal area with tortoises, horses, birds, sheep and goats and a desert fox. The other part has a lake, river, playground and snack kiosk.
    • Los Pinos (The Pines) is a forest in the north near the border. It is great for barbecues or picnics and interesting because you can see the border itself. To get there it would be best to drive or take a taxi.
  • What did you do for your year abroad project for university? I think that current affairs are a good thing to write about as there is lots of recent information available and your university will probably like it. Due to Melilla's location, there are problems with immigration, so I focused on that. I also focused on the effect of immigration on employment, which is affecting Spain quite badly at the moment.
  • How did you document your year abroad? I tried to update this blog every 2 weeks and I wrote notes about important events on my phone or paper so I wouldn't forget what to write. I also bought postcards when I went to some places and took plenty of photos. If I want to remember what happened, I can refer to my photo albums on my computer or my posts on this blog. I kept all the tickets from the transport I used and places I visited and put them all into a box display frame when I got home. I did these things because I'm not a fan of wasting my money on tacky souvenirs. I also wanted to create some resources for people going to Melilla for the first time, because there was little information available to me before I left (see more links at the bottom of this post).
  • How did you get your things back home? When I returned home with my things, I tried to prioritise and unfortunately I had to leave some things behind. I booked a flight with British Airways rather than Ryanair. Although the ticket was more expensive, it included a free suitcase with 23kg weight limit, so it probably worked out cheaper than paying to take a suitcase with Ryanair.
  • Did your relationship survive the year abroad? I had already been in a long distance relationship between the UK and Finland for a year before I did my year abroad, so it wasn't much different for me, other than the flight between us being slightly longer and expensive. I think distance can really help you value your relationship and you appreciate your time together much more. It's also really fun to share your new experiences with your other half if they come to visit. I prepared myself financially because knew I needed some extra cash to support our relationship during my year abroad. If you are flexible with spending money together this definitely helps, so you can help each other out when you need it. Skype and other things like texting are great, but I think its best to limit it so you do go out and experience the culture. Encourage your other half to get their own hobbies so they don't feel like they're just waiting for you to return. In the long term, its much healthier to maintain your own life alongside your relationship because if you do happen to break up it won't be the end of the world. I also think establishing trust before you go is very important because jealousy is not a good thing. Becoming jealous, overly protective or controlling is unlikely to help the relationship survive. My relationship survived, but that's because I was ready for the challenge. If you're very dependent on your other half and used to spending every waking minute with them, its bound to be harder. If your relationship can survive the year abroad, then you're probably ready for many other challenges that may come your way in the future!
  • How did you deal with returning home? When I struggled, I tried to remember the things I disliked about my year abroad and the things I really missed from home and made the most of them when I was back. If you really miss your year abroad, try to talk to people who you met there or others who have been on a year abroad who can understand. It will probably be confusing at first and unless your family and friends have lived abroad, they may find it difficult understand your struggles. In fact, I found that many people were reluctant to hear about my experiences or failed to even acknowledge that I'd been away, which was extremely hurtful and beyond my comprehension. Others advised me that this may have been due to jealousy.
  • How did you continue your Spanish after the year abroad? There are many ways to maintain your language skills after returning from the year abroad. My university has a Spanish society and a group called the 'Language Cafe' where Erasmus students doing their year abroad in the UK, language students and anyone else come along to practice their languages. You could try searching on Facebook for groups. Meetup is also worth a try.


  1. I loved this post! Melilla is more than border fences! Read 6 reasons why you should visit Melilla!

  2. Hola. Es muy grato leer tu blog. Has hecho un gran trabajo haciendolo. Yo naci en Melilla y en el mes de Abril fui despues de 37 años. Fué muy emocionante. Este es mi blog donde encontrarás videos que grabé y puse música. Tambien otras cosas útiles:

    Un abrazo.