Homeless due to COVID19! Madrid week nine

I’ll admit it’s a bit of a clickbait-y headline, but yes, on Tuesday I was made homeless due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Let me explain.

I’m currently living in Madrid, on long-term attachment from my home university of Portsmouth in the UK. I’ve been here since January to work with a collaborator of mine. We followed the news as the virus spread through Asia in January, but overall we were not concerned that it would affect us here in Madrid. Then the first cases were detected in Europe, and then at the end of February, in Madrid itself.

On Monday we received an email telling us to work from home if we have a long commute on public transport. Given the location of the campus on the distant outskirts of the city, this meant practically everyone packed up and left on Monday evening knowing that we probably wouldn’t be back together in the institute for some time. Then on Tuesday morning, two things happened.

The first was a confirmed infection of a person working in the building next to the institute where I work, the very same building that houses a large cafeteria in which probably hundreds of people eat their lunch every day, including me and my colleagues. The university immediately cancelled lectures and all other activities for the next two weeks (though I suspect this will be extended).

The second was my Airbnb host asked me to leave her house.

Before arriving in Madrid, I’d been lucky to find a room via Airbnb. The host had three spare rooms that she rents out to students such as myself, and the house was large and peaceful in a quiet, residential area of the city, with a fairly easy albeit long commute to the university every day.

However, as the virus arrived in Madrid, my host became increasingly worried. She had an underlying health condition that meant she would likely be hit hard by the virus if she were to become infected. So, in an attempt to control her local environment and self-isolate as much as possible, she asked me and the other guest to leave.

This meant that on Tuesday I had a frantic day of trying to find a new place to live. The majority of cheap rentals that I could find were not willing to take on a tenant for such a short period of time (I only need a place until the end of June, when my long-term attachment ends) and would come with other complications such as being only partly furnished or not having wifi (which is pretty crucial seeing as I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future).

In the end, it was Airbnb to the rescue yet again. While the service is clearly a problem in many major cities, causing rents to be driven up and long-term residents to feel alienated in their own homes, it’s been a godsend for me this week. I was able to find, reserve and pay for an apartment with minimal difficulty, and it’s fully furnished with all bills included and even came with a folding bike should I wish to explore the city on two wheels.

I’m looking forward to getting to know my new neighbourhood and am already feeling more relaxed due to having a whole apartment to myself — after living alone for three years, I was finding sharing a house a bit stressful. Ultimately what could have been a very difficult situation has resolved itself quickly and satisfactorily. I’m very glad that I have the funds to support myself to make such a move, all provided by STFC for the duration of my long-term attachment. This money can be applied for by any first year PhD student funded by STFC, to be used at any point during their PhD. Considering how much I’ve enjoyed my Spanish adventure so far (even though it’s been affected by the coronavirus) I would wholeheartedly recommend any PhD student to go on long-term attachment if they can, for the scientific and personal benefits are numerous.

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