Dr Carlos Conde Solares first came to the UK in 2002 on an exchange between his Spanish university in Oviedo and Queen Mary University in London.
“I was in my early 20s, and in my imagination the UK was the most culturally relevant country in the world. It was the land of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the land of punk, youthful creativity and cosmopolitan inclusivity. It was, in short, a land of opportunity,” he told The Local.
Thirteen years later Solares is director of Modern Languages at Northumbria University, which has come top of the National Student Survey in the past four years for student satisfaction and regularly welcomes Spanish students into its thriving languages department. Spanish students at Northumbria have gone on to work as ministers in the Spanish government and for local football team Newcastle United.
As a Spaniard who describes his identity as: “Half my militant and heartfelt Spanishness, and half my passion for my adoptive country and its welcoming, forward looking curiosity,” here is Solares’ list of the top things you didn’t know about Spaniards in the UK.
The northern Roman marvel with Spanish roots
Did you know that Emperor Hadrian was born near today’s Seville? And did you know that breathtakingly scenic sections of Hadrian’s Wall can still be seen in the countryside between Newcastle and Carlisle?
A Galician corner of London
At the Centro Gallego in London you can meet the real pioneers of the 20th century: Galician migrants from the 40s and 50s who speak perfect English and perfect Galician whilst they enjoy a glass of Albariño in their West London bar, sharing often trilingual stories and laughs with the younger generations.
Did you know that Spanish is now the most popular foreign language in British universities?
Brits love Spain
Ok, so we knew Brits loved the Costas but did you know there is a rich tradition of Hispanism (the study of Spanish literature and culture) in the UK? In fact, some of the world’s most renowned scholars of all things Spanish are British. There is a shared history (of peace and war… and tourism!) between both countries, and many institutions that celebrate it: the British Spanish Society, the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, and the cultural and social institutions related to the Spanish embassies and consulates. At a more popular level, Spanish food, Spanish drink, Spanish football and Spanish customs are all part of the UK’s collective imagery.
Spanish food is a firm favourite
Despite the UK's (inaccurate!) reputation for bad cuisine, these days you can get ingredients to cook any dish you like, particularly any Spanish dish! I am from Asturias and I can cook excellent paella de mariscos or fabada asturiana whenever I like.
A Spanish queen of England
Catherine of Aragon, who Henry VIII famously divorced. Photo: Kilom691
Did you know that the dignified, driven and purposeful Catherine of Aragon (Catalina de Aragón, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs and first wife of Henry VIII) is buried at Peterborough Cathedral? She is one of the historical symbols of the shared past of both proud imperial nations
The Blackfriars restaurant in Newcastle. Photo: Dposte46/Wikimedia
While Spain boasts he world’s oldest restaurant, El Botín in Madrid, did you know that the oldest restaurant in the UK, Newcastle’s The Blackfriars, was originally a friary, set up by Spanish monks in the 12th century?
You're likely to meet Spaniards wherever you go
Enter the tube at Bank or Liverpool Street (in the UK and Europe’s financial district) and you’ll hear lots of conversations in Spanish amongst suited up young professionals; visit a cutting edge scientific laboratory at Oxford or Cambridge and you will meet many of your compatriots; Spanish talent and Spanish technology and businesses are almost everywhere. From Emperor Hadrian to Cesc Fàbregas, David Silva or Newcastle United’s Canarian young gun Ayoze Pérez, many Spaniards have found their place here.
When it comes to elections, more Spaniards are registered to vote from the UK than live in some provinces, such as the North African Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
The UK is the top study abroad destination for Spanish students
When it comes to studying abroad, Spaniards can’t get enough of the UK. Be the reasons linguistic or cultural, Spaniards flock to study in Blighty more than any other country. In my Modern Languages department at Northumbria we are very proud to build on decades of tradition when it comes to hosting Spanish students. We keep in touch with them, and many have gone on to work for the university itself, in Newcastle and back in Spain, even for the local football club, the legendary Newcastle United –Las Urracas (the Magpies), as Spanish commentators call them.
Northumbria Universiry also collaborates with the Instituto Cervantes and will host an international conference on Medieval and Golden Age Spanish Studies on July 9th and 10th. In 2016 Northumbria will host the 61st International Conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland, becoming the first new university to do so.