The Mole Diaries: Melilla (Volume 2)
I chose Melilla because my degree has a strong focus on third world countries, so I thought it would be really interesting to be so close to an African country. I was looking at Melilla and Ceuta and ending up choosing Melilla because it has a (very small) airport. Originally I wanted to go to Latin America, but I couldn’t afford it. Melilla is great if you want to go somewhere Spanish speaking, but not necessarily the mainland. It is very interesting culturally, due to its location and history.
How to get there
You can fly to Melilla from Madrid, Málaga, Almería or Granada, but until you become a resident this is very expensive. 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. It's cheaper to get to Melilla by flying to Nador (which is close by in Morocco) and crossing the border, although this isn’t a particularly pleasant experience.
Where to find accommodation
Don't worry about whether you have 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 (I was sent the contact details 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 paid €350 per month (including bills), which is expensive for Melilla, although I was on the promenade and very close to the beach.
It's not always easy, reliable or cheap to find a place to live online, 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. 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.
What to pack
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.
As I was an ELA, I was teaching in a school instead of studying at a university. I was incredibly worried about my school because I didn’t have much contact with them before I arrived. My advice is to 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.
Top survival tips
1. Try to integrate into the local community
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!
2. Take the EX-18 to the oficina de extranjeros to register as a resident
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 that this was the wrong form and that I 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. This is probably due to the city’s problem with immigration, as I don’t think this a problem in other parts of Spain.
3. Once you have your residency card, you can get a certificate that entitles you to half price tickets for planes and boats
Go to the Ayuntamiento de Melilla (the town hall, just behind Plaza de España, on the corner of the end of the road leading to the sea from Plaza de las Cuatro Culturas). You will need your residency card, passport and house contract.
4. Bring an unlocked phone with you
If your phone is locked to a provider in your home country, a SIM from the same provider in Melilla will still not be accepted, so 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. 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 will text you a code. Spanish people love WhatsApp, so it is useful to have internet access when you're out and about. You could buy a cheap phone and use that, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that because you wouldn’t have internet access outside the house.
5. Try to live with a 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 and that can put too much pressure on your English social group.
6. Buy a mosquito repelling bracelet if you have a problem with bites
You can find them at most pharmacies.
7. Bring 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, or a Christmas pudding.
8. Ladies: there are lots of strange men (mostly Moroccan) who may harass you.
The only way to avoid them is to be rude. I tried being nice and I tried ignoring them, but they can't take a hint!
Don't worry about how much Spanish you can speak. If you can only speak little or no Spanish, don't worry. It will come naturally once you arrive and you will start 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. Due to Melilla’s location close to Morocco, there are a mixture of languages which include mainly French and Berber (a variety of Arabic). However, during my time in Melilla I also heard people speaking German, Dutch and Danish. Perhaps this is because Morocco has a prominent tourism industry, which usually requires the ability to speak several languages.
Language resources I used
I took a Spanish study book and a small Spanish guidebook with me. However, these were heavy and I couldn’t really carry them around with me or take them back home. In the end I bought a small electronic Spanish > English dictionary, which provided very useful.
Favourite bars and cafes
• La Cervecería: in the centre, great variety of tapas and good service.
• Gastrobar le Dillons: a little bit out of the way, but very relaxed, extremely cheap and friendly staff. You will probably get a free shot… Or three!
• Carte D'or: a cheap café on the promenade, very close to the beach and where many other native English teachers seem to congregate.
I am a vegetarian and in Melilla it was quite difficult eating out. At restaurants make sure you check whether you can eat the meal before ordering. Seafood is an important part of the cuisine in Melilla, so if you don’t eat fish, you may have to be extra nice and ask them to prepare something without fish (for example, if you order a ‘vegetable’ sandwich, it usually also contains tuna). People often failed to understand, got confused and thought I was vegan or made fun of me.
ShoppingThere aren’t a huge amount of shops in Melilla. In terms of clothes, many shops are expensive and most shops don’t offer many larger sizes. Your best bet is going prepared or organise a shopping trip to the mainland, for example Málaga. 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 The markets are a good place to buy cheap products.
Getting around townI 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. A 5-minute taxi journey will probably cost about €5. 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.
The port is the best place to go for clubs, but there are also some bars in Barrio Real.
Weekends and unmissable places
With the exception of the beach, the cinema (which is cheap, but only has one screen), limited clubs and a few museums (most of which have free entry), there isn’t that much to do in Melilla. However, if you can, make the most of the opportunities you have there and go travelling. It is expensive to get to the Spanish mainland, even with the residency certificate which entitles you to cheaper travel. However, the hotels, food and trains in Morocco are very cheap and there is a train hotel for long journeys. I especially recommend Fes, Marrakech and the desert.
Don't expect going home to be easy. It will probably be confusing at first and unless your family and friends have lived abroad, they may find it difficult to understand your struggles. In fact, I found that many people were reluctant to hear about my experiences or even failed to 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.
Useful websites I used