01 October 2011

How to do what I'm doing

Folks who have been reading my blog for a while may remember what I had to do in Slovakia in order to be there legally, and this whole process hearkens back to the ordeal we had to go through (though me, not so much) in order to be in Italy legally.  I’m writing this because I found some blogs helpful when I was in the Auxiliares de conversación application processes, and maybe some people are just wondering how I get to do things like move to Mallorca, so I’ll start from the beginning. 

Disclaimer: This is not any sort of legal advice, this is just me sharing my experience, so your use of this information is entirely at your own risk.  Seriously.

Part First: The Application
I found out about this whole program (Auxiliares de conversación) rather serendipitously via a vague comment on a friend’s status update on Facebook.  There was enough information there for me to google it and find out exactly what the program was, and find the application and everything.  The application is really pretty extensive, but also standard job application stuff – most of it is online, and it’s multi-part and in Spanish.  Then you have to print that out and include other documentation, like your FBI record, university transcripts, doctor’s note and statement of purpose.  Getting all of that together was a bit discouraging and almost caused me to not apply, to be honest.  The good news is that some of it comes in handy later, sort of, so once things are gathered once, you’ve got them.  All of this gets mailed to a regional office depending on where you live.  Then you wait, being nervous about your application number according to when you submitted, etc.

Here's a message board that can be helpful, but you sort of have to sift through the info to get quality in the midst of hysteria. When everyone’s waiting and offers start being made, they start to fire up. 

Part Second: The Offer
On the Profex application site, you get a status called ajudicada, and this is how you accept the position.  Then you get a letter from your region, which is a critically important document for your visa and NIE card, so keep the original!  That letter also tells you where you’ll be teaching.

To follow up on the message boards, someone in my region also set up a Facebook group, which has been maybe more helpful because it’s more specific, and uses people’s names instead of just usernames on the boards.  I’ve been able to friend some people who will be in the same area as I will be.

Part Third: The Visa Application
I was in Europe for most of the summer, and in the long run, it would’ve probably been cheaper and nicer and easier to stay there until it was time to go to Mallorca.  But you have to apply for the visa from wherever you’re a resident/citizen, and then to a regional office based on where you live.  Interesting note here: I sent my application to Washington, DC, but had to go to the consulate in New York City for my visa appointment.  You should pretty much apply for a visa appointment the second you get your placement letter in the mail.  I frantically e-mailed the Ministry of Education representative at the consulate and he was a big help – pretty much this is someone you want to be in contact with, if for nothing other than reassurance.

The visa application is also where the costs start to add up, on top of the $140 visa fee (remember, often these fees are reciprocally priced).  The New York consulate accepted a State Police record (easier and quicker to get than the FBI record check – which also costs a nominal fee), and because of the appointment I had at the consulate I had to pay for overnight mailing both ways and a courier service, which is a bit expensive, because you must get the Hague Apostille and that is a big PITA. Then there are the little bits, like the passport-sized photos (which I always do myself with my own digital camera, Photoshop, and Target, also good to DIY so you can make the European passport-sized photos in the USA) and extra copies of various documents, doctor’s visit for more recent certification of health, the pre-paid UPS envelope, and in my case, bus tickets to New York City.  Mostly because I had to rush the Apostille thing for my background check, this whole part of the process, including travel, cost around $400 – not something I want to flaunt but to let people know for practical reasons, because I didn’t really know or think about this aspect of it as I was going through the process myself.

Then again, a wait, to get your passport with shiny visa back.  The nice woman at the consulate was able to tell me when my visa would be issued, which meant that I knew from when I could buy my plane ticket.  One way to Palma via Barcelona!

Part Fourth: The Arrival
I got to Palma alright, and since I had a large suitcase and backpack and have never been here before, I took a taxi across the island (about 40 minutes or so by car) from the airport to Port d'Alcudia.  I had made arrangements at the Hostal Vista Alegre for 4 nights.  I found it in the Lonely Planet Spain: Balearic Islands e-book, which said that the hostel was "pokey" but "tidy".  My room faced the marina, which was excellent, but the shared bathroom was clean but one of the most annoying I've ever had to use.  They also offered me a room with a private bath, but without the view -- I'd rather be inconvenienced with the bathroom but have the view, I guess.  I'd stay there again, just in one of the doubles they have that apparently have a view and private bath.  You just can't beat the price in this area.

Here's what my view was like there:

Jet lag really got me, and I had arrived exhausted anyway, so I slept the first day.  It was really difficult to find unlocked wireless networks anywhere, and I needed to get a SIM card for my phone, so I went to Palma to pick up one -- quite unnecessary but I wanted to see how the buses worked.  I went to Palma again Friday, thinking I'd be able to go for my appointment for my documentation, but I got a bit disoriented and wasn't able to find out where to go until it was already a bit late.  So I walked around Palma, found where I'll probably buy a used bicycle, and did some housewares shopping for a few things I needed for the apartment.

Part Fifth: House Hunters International
One of my colleagues had sent me a few phone numbers, and I had found one local agent online beforehand.  Getting an apartment was a huge priority, because not only did I want to get settled, but the hostel bathroom was starting to get to me.  Hot water here seems to be either cold or scalding and so unless there's a trick or it depends on the time of day, taking a shower isn't quite as pleasant as I'd prefer it to be.

After making 4 phone calls from the list my colleague sent, and talking to the agent, I made appointments to see 3 apartments -- just like House Hunters International!  

The first was with the agent, for a studio in a resort condo complex. 
It had a newly-renovated kitchenette (but rather shoddily done) and new paint job (also sloppy looking).  The building was all-condo and had a doorman only during the day.  It faced south and had a view of S'Estany Gran, a large estuary, and the sea.

The second was with a private owner, for a studio in a different building in the same complex.
It had all new appliances, more sleeping space, and a building-wide wifi system already in place.  The owner had lived in this apartment for many years and it had many details that made it feel more homey and designed, somehow.  The building was part hotel, part condo and had a 24 hour doorman. It faced north and had a view of the Cap del Pinar and Cap de Formentor.

Both studios had a balcony, TV/DVD, washing machine and microwave, the same layout, and differently themed yet equally tacky main lobbies.  The first one was €25 less per month than the second, but also included a half month's rent for the agent's fee, and I'd have to have the internet installed myself, it seemed.

The third one I ended up not even looking at because while the location was in some ways much, much better than the first two, it was too big (= expensive) for one person.

Can you guess which one I picked?

... ... ...

I went with the slightly more expensive but much nicer second studio!

Here's a floorplan of it I made:

Because I just had one suitcase, moving in was kind of quick.  There are a lot of large-ish convenience stores nearby catering to the self-catering tourist crowd, but I haven't gotten to do a real grocery shopping yet because I don't have a bicycle yet.

Coming soon:
Part Sixth: Getting Legal

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