Since she was a child Francesca Luke has dreamt of living in a sunny Mediterranean country and fulfilled that ambition when she moved to Madrid to work as an English Teacher. She tells us more about her life in the Spanish capital and also how the company she co-founded can help you to live with a Spanish family in Madrid, working as an English Language Assistant.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I like to say that I’m from Cambridge (England) as it’s a beautiful city that everyone has heard of. But really I’m from a little village in the heart of the flat farmlands just outside of Cambridge. I also think of Brighton, a vibrant action-packed town on the south coast of England, as home as I spent my student days there.
And what did you do there, then?
I spent my childhood climbing trees and riding anything with wheels (skateboards, rollerblades, BMX) in my village. When I was 16 I commuted to Sixth Form College in Cambridge and enjoyed the escape from village life. In Brighton I did my degree at Sussex Uni and had the time of my life. Then I spent a year working as a web designer before I got itchy feet and had to go travelling again!
How did you end up in Madrid?
Since I was a child I always had a dream of living abroad in a hot sunny country where they grow amazingly tasty tomatoes! I think I was inspired by family holidays in Greece, Portugal and Spain where we spent long lazy lunchtimes on a shaded terrace. After uni my boyfriend decided to do a TEFL course and we thought why not move abroad! We’d been to Madrid for a weekend and loved the culture, tapas and general feel of the place, so we decided to quit our jobs, pack up our backpacks and head that way!
Have you lived abroad before?
No, I’ve done a fair bit of travelling around the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Eastern and Western Europe, but I’ve never actually lived abroad before. I’d highly recommend living abroad though. It gives you such a good insight in to another culture. Plus it’s a great skill to learn another language. Before I came to Spain I could only say “My name is Fran” and “Two beers please” in Spanish, now I’m getting there on the road to fluency. After my uninspiring German GCSE classes at school I never thought I’d learn a language in my life!
So what’s so good about Madrid?
Sunshine, tapas, vino, people, architecture, blue skies and hidden secrets. Talk to any madrileño (person from Madrid) and you’ll notice their eyes sparkle when you ask them about the city. Madrid is a city that’s full of energy and passion; it’s a brilliant mix of modern and traditional. It has that certain something that is hard to describe, but once you’ve got hooked on Madrid it’s hard to ever leave. The tapas culture is fantastic, places range from sleek bars serving delicious morsels on a stick to old tabernas serving hot plates of patatas with cool crisp cañas.
And what don’t you like?
The mañana, mañana attitude! It’s a stereotype of Spain that deadlines don’t matter and everything happens tomorrow…well sometimes (not always) this stereotype rings true! My English brain finds it hard to cope with non-existent deadlines when Tuesday soon becomes Wednesday which soon becomes next week! Although, I have to say I think I’m slowly adapting to this attitude!
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
Both, if that’s possible. I feel like an insider in the sense that I share the same passion for Madrid as the locals. I fully enjoy Spanish culture and cuisine. I’m in the middle in the sense that I love the Spanish outlook on life, at the same time I struggle to fully understand it! I feel like an outsider in the sense that although I now speak Spanish and love the culture here I still spend a lot of my time speaking English with English people.
How do you support yourself?
For a few years I worked as an English Teacher and then a Course Co-coordinator in an English academy for kids and teenagers. During this time I noticed parents really wanted their kids to have fun whilst learning English with native speakers. So along with my partner we set up www.myfamilyabroad.com. We place English-speaking volunteers to live with Spanish families to help them with their English. In return the volunteer receives free food and accommodation with the family and an invaluable insight into the Spanish culture. It’s an interesting program for people looking for an alternative gap year, a life-changing experience or to kick-start their career in the TEFL/ TESOL world.
Any advice for wannabe Madrileños?
Do it, take the step and come out to this amazing city! Whether it’s for a weekend or a lifetime you won’t regret it. Come with lots of energy, enthusiasm and a big appetite. Don’t worry about ticking off the “tourist sites”, Madrid is a city that’s best enjoyed by wondering the beautiful streets, enjoying a café con leche on a plaza and soaking up the atmosphere.
Is the move permanent?
I originally came out to Madrid with my backpack, a Spanish phrasebook and very few plans. I’ve now spent the last few years of my life here, met some great people, learnt Spanish and set up my own business. For now I’ll definitely be staying in Madrid. One day I hope to live by the sea in the south of Spain, learn to surf and grow my own vegetables…but I’ve got plenty of years ahead of me yet!
Finally, tell us about something typically Madrid (or Spain)
The passion for food. You can easily talk to a Spaniard for an hour about jamon (cured ham) or ask about the best way to make a tortilla de patata and you’ll be there for days! There is a bar, restaurant or café on every street (more or less!) in Madrid. Food is central to life here and people are so passionate about it and rightly so, I love it! You’ll rarely catch a Spaniard rushing their lunch or eating a microwave meal. It’s all about good quality, simple food and of course it always tastes best when it’s cooked by mama.
Francesca co-founded myfamilyabroad.com, a fun and affordable way to volunteer abroad, to match volunteers with Spanish families in Madrid. In exchange for free accommodation and full board volunteers help a Spanish family with their English.
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