Spanish study gives fresh insight into realities of moving abroad

Spanish study gives fresh insight into realities of moving abroad

The realities of adjusting to a new life abroad are the focus of a new report that gives a fascinating insight into how the British integrate with Spanish people and their cultures.

Dr Karen O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Science at the University of Aberdeen, has published the findings of a two-year research project that has revealed an increasing trend in the number of northern European people who move to Spain and how they cope with living in a foreign country.

The study, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), arose out of research Dr O’Reilly carried out in the 1990s, which explored the way of life of British migrants in the Costa del Sol.

Dr O’Reilly’s latest report covers a broad range of topics relating to the migration of Europeans to Spain including tourism, relationships between migrants and the natives, language barriers, cultural, political and economic integration, and inclusion problems.

From 2002 to 2004, Dr O’Reilly used a variety of techniques to gather the report’s findings including individual and group interviews, and questionnaires in four communities in the Malaga province of Andalusia.

The main reasons the respondents gave for moving to Spain were the weather and the benefits to health, the slower pace of life, quality of life, the Spanish culture, and the cost of living. Some wanted a new challenge or the opportunity to begin a new life. The factors that pushed people to think about leaving the UK for Spain included a negative experience at home, to escape high crime rates and to give their children a better life.

Dr O’Reilly’s strategy was designed to ensure the research covered all age groups as, although many of the migrants are retired, more and more younger families are now migrating with their children.

Dr O’Reilly said: “There is a lot of research into the phenomenon of retirement migration in Europe, but no-one up until now has looked specifically at the extent and nature of social integration of these and younger European migrants in Spanish society.”

Spain’s tourist towns have experienced huge population growth, increasing immigration, and the presence of a constant multi-national migrant population in recent decades. Some towns are growing at dramatic rates and now inland areas are also being affected as people look for cheaper property and land away from the built-up coastal zones.

Dr O’Reilly continued: “The constant presence of what are locally termed ‘residential tourists’ is becoming a feature of everyday life for people in towns like Fuengirola, Mijas, and Alhaurin El Grande, in Andalusia.”

According to the most recent data available there are 587,691 people from the European Union living in Spain; 161,507 from the UK – making them the fourth largest group of immigrants after Ecuador, Morocco and Colombia. The proportion of Europeans living in the towns covered by the study ranges from nine to 33 per cent of the population of those towns.

“There is some interaction between Spanish and other Europeans, but this seems minimal. There is little expectation that they will mix and so little effort is made to establish friendships and relationships. On the other hand, there are some migrants who want to mix more but are finding it very difficult.”

Dr O’Reilly’s study also suggests a complete lack of interest in Spanish life and culture. Almost half the respondents to the survey never read a Spanish newspaper and almost half never watch television in Spanish.

“However, the other half, who do take more of an active interest in Spanish culture, often have difficulties obtaining information about events and activities and so can feel excluded.

“Of course, as language improves alongside other aspects of social integration then people will be more aware of, and involved in, cultural events, but in the meantime they need more information. There is also a serious lack of information about rules, regulations, rights and responsibilities, which makes it difficult for European migrants to be fully participating citizens in Spanish society.”

In an attempt to improve the flow of communication and interaction between the migrants and the natives, Dr O’Reilly’s research details a number of recommendations including help and information on the range of issues that affect migrants, including legal, political and citizenship matters; avenues through which people can meet and interact, and information in their own language about cultural events.

Dr O’Reilly said: “There is some evidence of good practice - some town councils have established special departments for foreigners which offer a range of services. More of such initiatives are desperately required, in both inland and coastal areas.

“One of the main findings of my research revealed that there are people who want to integrate and to make their futures in Spain, and these are the people that policies should be directed towards helping.”

Dr O’Reilly’s report entitled, The extent and nature of integration of European migrants in Spanish society – With special reference to the British case, is available in both Spanish and English.

Key web pages for those considering a move to Spain can be found via www.idealspain.com and www.andalucia.com

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