Confessions of an Expat

I have a confession…

Slicing jamón Iberico in Cordoba, Spain

Slicing jamón Iberico in Cordoba, Spain

Expat life is not as glamorous or romantic as it may seem.

I’m enjoying my time abroad but the truth is, it’s not all tapas and fiestas in Spain.

Ok, I said it.

Us bloggers can make it appear pretty romantic and alluring- dashing off to faraway lands, eating delicious food, sipping wine and taking gorgeous photos. Now, I won’t deny these are definitely highlights and there are plenty of them to be had living abroad. I’ve had my share and will have many more this academic teaching year.

Photo time! My brother Byron and I

Photo time! My brother Byron and I

But living abroad is still living life. I still face challenges. I still go grocery shopping, cook meals, do laundry (without a dryer and constant rain), and spend time with new friends. I still have the same emotions. Their just amplified and more intense when I’m living in another country.

It’s life just in a different country. Living with a slightly different set of rules.

I also still have to earn a living, though I know I’m very lucky to have an easy job thanks to the Spanish Ministry of Education grant. I also have, what seems to be endless, opportunities to teach English as long as the desire for native teachers to teach English stays de moda, the style of  Language Academies.

I have to learn the ropes of a new city, meet new folks and make new friends, which can be a challenge wherever you are, even when you speak the same language. I have to navigate bureaucracy, which I seem to encounter less in my own country but I know the USA offers lots of bureaucracy to immigrants. As a foreigner, you get to stare bureaucracy in the face and curse the air for why you have to deal with it; endure paperwork and processes that should be easy but never are. You have to talk with government folks in their native language who often don’t care, and/or don’t seem to understand their own countries processes, and no matter how much effort and questions you ask, you feel like you don’t get anywhere. There’s no escaping bureaucracy. And to top it off, I have to speak in a language that’s not my own. On the daily. Because that’s the only way I’m going to improve and that’s what I have to do if I want to communicate with people here.

Angelica and I taking a break at the Alcazaba, Almeria

Angelica and I taking a break at the Alcazaba, Almeria

I’ll admit, life abroad can seem easier than at home. And sometimes it is, I live comfortably here, don’t have a 40 hour work week or commute and have a nice bedroom in a shared apartment. In San Francisco, finding an apartment can be an ordeal, especially if you don’t want to give your entire paycheck to your landlord every month.  Life abroad can feel like an opportunity to play hooky from “real life”; fitting into society, knowing what you want to do, having a career, but life still happens. Travel writer and journalist Michael Kohn’s sums it up well, “Don’t be fooled by the notion of the ‘real world’. When you’re on the road or living in a different country, you’re in the real world, and there’s no rush to go back.” For many, there isn’t any rush to move back to the USA or wherever they’re from and I get where they’re coming from. Living abroad gives me perspective about what I want for myself.

Are you happy? A good question to reflect on

Are you happy? A good question to reflect on

Realizing what I want or rather, what I don’t want:

I’m nearly three months into my 2nd year as an expat, starting from scratch in a new city and it feels like I’ve been here for ages. Time seems to pass differently or maybe it’s what happens when you’re in a new city.  I’ve grown tremendously since I hopped back on the plane and made a commitment to myself to start anew in Vitoria- Gasteiz. I’m so grateful I made the leap.

Plaza Virgin- central meeting spot in Vitoria

Plaza Virgin- central meeting spot in Vitoria

Things I thought I wanted a few months ago (travel in Latin America for undefined amount of time) or a year ago (living abroad in another country) have shifted. I’m looking at life through a different window. In April, I remember my mind raced with possibilities of what I could do because I didn’t feel ready to jump back in the fast lane of the California lifestyle. I didn’t think I’d return to Spain (I had a bf I had to consider)  but I pondered other adventures we could take and ways I could keep improving my Spansih and how we could make it possible.

Flashback to the first weekend of January 2012, after ringing in the New Year  in San Francisco, I joined a friend in Lisbon, Portugal to seize our winter holiday vacation. Lisbon enchanted me and within a day of roaming the city, I had visions of living there to learn the language. My mind spun as I walked through Rua Agusta street into a big plaza, pondering possibilities of how I could combine my career interests and continue living abroad.

Rua Agusta

Rua Agusta in Lisbon, Portugal

Twelve months later, these grand ideas of living in Portugal, as well as living in the South of France, to learn French, have slipped away. Knowing how much effort it takes to learn a language and what living abroad entails has given me much needed perspective. Being immersed in a language and country is key to learning but it doesn’t guarantee fluency after 9 months, or three years, it requires constant effort.  I’m improving daily but I still feel far from the “fluency finish line.” Those don’t exactly exist because learning a language is a journey, not a destination. Heck, I’m still learning new vocabulary in English.

My goals and wants have changed. Some folks are destined to be long–term expats, serial expats (move countries often) or long-term travelers. I can see the charm but I know it’s not what I want, since I’ve had my share of long term backpacking in Africa, and what will be almost two years of living in the Iberia Peninsula come May. I don’t think the travel bug will ever leave me (it’s just goes dormant after I satisfy the itch) but now I’m craving roots and community, having a place of my own and being surrounded by friends and family.

 An expiration date:

Knowing my job and time in Basque Country is temporary can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it helps me push past the challenging times; I can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. And a time limit motivates me to fully aprovechar, take advantage of opportunities, knowing that putting it off, could easily mean it’s never going to happen.

A curse because I know that I’m here for a short period, I’ll make friends, create a temporary life here and then move home.

Another view of Plaza de Espana, Sevilla

Plaza de Espana, Sevilla

Before I arrived in Andalucia, it seemed everyone and their mother encouraged me to date a Spaniard, “It’s the best way to learn the language,” they said. Sure, it’s enticing- it’s a good way to “master” Castellano, get to know and understand the culture faster, have insider tips on where to go, plus all the benefits that come along with being in a relationship. Sometimes I wonder if I’m limiting myself- sure I like the notion of meeting someone and attempting a bilingual relationship to experience what it’s like, though I know it’s not as easy as it sounds.  But there is a big part of me that equally doesn’t want a relationship- I don’t want to fall for someone and be forced to make choices that involve bridging two different worlds, and cultures, especially knowing that I don’t’ want to be an expat for the long term. It seems it only would complicate my life right now.  I know being near my family and living in California is where I’d want to stay for a long while once I return.  Or so that’s my plan.

I have a friend who is married to Spaniard and I know the challenges they face and I follow plenty of expat blogs to know the difficulties that are involved. Sometimes it’s easy to “envy” them and think they’ve got it all but nothing is ever black and white; I can read between their words.

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that no one is knocking on my door.

I’m focusing on myself and enjoying the ride.  I’m happy just where I am.

And I remind myself this is just where I’m suppose to be.

Are you an expat- can you relate? Have you had an experience than changed your perspective or made you realize you wanted  or didn’t want something after you gave it a try?

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30 thoughts on “Confessions of an Expat

  1. Pingback: Transition time: What comes next? | Roamingtheworld

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  3. Pingback: Why I “chose” Vitoria- Gasteiz or How Vitoria- Gasteiz chose me! « Roamingtheworld

  4. well written and expressed! I felt the same way when coming home to the states on vacations from our home in italy. All my friends didnt understand when I’d complain. But just wait….you’ll move home and 10 years from now your time will seem much more exotic than you think it is now. Not that Im talking from experience…..(:) But, the best part is you’ll always have that with you, in your back pocket. Being an expat never ends, even when you go back home.

    • Thanks for the compliments and stopping by! I’m feeling a lot better since I wrote that post but still realize Spain isn’t going to be my home for the long-term.
      But you’re right, sometimes being in the bubble we forgot what “we’re actually doing.” Learning and growing in ways we don’t always realize in the moment!

  5. Hey love! Ripping a page outta my soul and putting it out there, I see. 😉

    Ah, hun, nothing’s easy, and the life of an expat definitely isn’t glamorous a lot of the time, but we both know we wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else, at least not now. 😉 Hang in there, I have a feeling that things are going to come together for you (for us) this year. It’s a learning process, you know? And we’ve learned SO MUCH from our time abroad, it’s time and wisdom that’s absolutely priceless. And I think most goals are an ever-evolving thing… it would be sad and scary if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be striving for things, we wouldn’t be living. And you’re right, things aren’t just black and white… because there’s a whole range of colors out there!

    Sending you much love!

  6. Wonderfully written! As a new expat to the UK (moved here to be with my British husband) I find myself struggling with many of these concepts, especially the idea of establishing life not just going on vacation. Best of luck in future travels!

    • Thanks for stopping by and for the compliiment. Expat life is an interesting ride, indeed. Best of luck to you as you settle in.

  7. Great post, i can definitely relate. When Sarah and i set off on our travels, i imagined us jumping from country to country, covering the globe in a few years. It quickly became apparent that that wasnt how we wanted to travel, and that settling in one place for months at a time was much more suited to us. The great thing is that we have the option to do so!

    I think travel is a very personal thing, and most rewarding when you acknowledge how YOU want to do it.

    • Hi Tyrone,
      Thanks for stopping by my blog and saying hello.
      Yes, it’s funny how our perspective changes once we start living and experiencing something. It’s the best way to realize what we do and don’t want.
      I agree, Travel is very personal and everyone has their different goals and desires. Happy for you both that you’ve learned what works best!

  8. Nice post! Sometimes when I talk to people back home, they seem to think I’m on a permanent vacation. They tend to forget that all the ‘real world’ things exist in pretty postcard places too!

    I guess I’m guilty of perpetuating that too, because I tend to post mostly positive things on my blog. But sometimes it’s hard to write about the tough times because it requires being open and vulnerable. Kudos to you for doing it!

    • Thanks for the compliments, Jessica. This post took me a lot of time to write and convey all my thoughts and feelings.
      Before I returned for a 2nd year, it was interesting to see the different reactions of my friends- most supported me, some questioned if I was delaying the real world but truth is, I’m not delaying anything. I’m living life and it has it’s ups and downs.

  9. I never expected to fall for a Spaniard and end up in Seville for more than nine months. I still have the days where I can’t seem to crack the Spanish system, or the hoops I have to jump through seem monumental, or I fight with Kike, or spend hours on Facebook peruising what I may be missing back home. But I’m willing to bet life back home wouldn’t be a breeze either, and I think that going home now would be much harder than it seems.

    My mother and friends back home are trying to encourage me to think about if I want this to be temporary or not. But, like you, I’m just enjoying the ride!

    • The beauty of the unexpected, Cat!

      I imagine the more time you spend in a place the harder it is to let go and change plans. You’ve built a life here yet miss things back home… I know my mom is thrilled that I’m feeling ready to return home so I can only imagine your mom wanting to encourage you back home. I’m sur at some point, you’ll just know, whether you want to make Sevilla your long time home or move back.

  10. You have some good points. I like the ending. I would recommend that you enjoy the journey, by enjoy I don’t mean party till you drop, but take it all in. your (life) journey takes you through Spain, think of this 2nd term in Spain as a transit stop on your journey. Expats as I see them around the world, just come to work in the new country but mostly hang out with people from their own country. I would also recommend that you immerse yourself by making a few relationships (not necessarily a bf/gf one). Be a Spaniard, take part in protests, volunteer, make your adopted country a better one. last but not the least, smile, you are one of the lucky few that gets to do this.

    • Thanks Guri. Yes, I know I’m lucky. I have many more posts I want to write, including being the lucky one. And yes, I’m making Spanish friends… and volunteering and getting involved. Those goals I made before hoping on the plane are happening! woo woo!

  11. I can relate to A LOT of what you’ve said here. Before moving to Spain, I thought that after maybe three years, I’d move to Portugal to learn Portuguese. Now I’m not so sure whether I’d have the strength to do this all over again so soon. It’s a daily effort, building a social circle and learning to communicate with ease. Rewarding, but definitely an effort.
    A friend of mine wants to us to go to Brazil next year for three months or so, and I’d be happy to do that if it comes off.
    Unlike you, I don’t really have a place that I feel anchored to wish to return to…
    Who knows, you might decide to stay on another year 😉

    • Thanks for commenting. Goes to show us how important it is to live our dreams to realize, what we want and don’t want.
      It’s definitely worth it and considering how much I have learned and realized in the last 3 months, I’m sure come May, I’ll have even more perspective.
      I wont’ say never because I certainly didn’t think I’d be here this year but I’d say it’s highly unlikely I’ll stay another year. Vitoria is nice but not a place I see myself staying and starting anew for a 3rd year in Spain, just doesn’t sound fun but who knows, I am curious where the road will lead me.

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