Lessons I’m Learning Living Abroad

Living abroad for the last year and half has been teaching me many lessons and it’s been an amazing journey as I learn more about myself and just who I am. Here are just a sampling of lessons that I continue to learn and be reminded of. 

To ask for what I need:

I’ve never been one to ask for help or to reach out to others to help me, except occasionally from my family. Though I don’t consider myself the typical American,living abroad has made me realize my American ways– being independent and always striving for self-reliance. However, life is easier and makes more sense when you reach out, ask for help/guidance and allow more doors to open for you.

Living abroad often means sinking or swimming. In a land where I have to speak an adopted language on the daily, I’m forced to reach out and ask for help whether it’s looking for an apartment, asking for directions on the street, dealing with bureaucracy such as how to extend my visa or even just meeting new people.


Bend the truth:

This year I’ve learned just how ingrained my values are.

I’m honest. I tell the truth. I strive to do the “right” thing. All the time.

I expect the same from others.

But more often than not, bureaucracy requires you to bend the truth to get what you need to process paperwork or to take a class. I unfortunately didn’t learn this lesson very well and lost an opportunity to take Spanish classes this year simply because I was honest. Too honest. You know when you go out of your way and say more than you need to because you were trying to cover your bases, when you really should have played dumb. Yeah.

Playing with the reflection of art sculptures

Playing with the reflection of art sculptures

Or when I reapplied to the program only so I could stay legally for the summer and despite many phone calls, embassy visits and too many stops at the foreigners office with all mountains of paperwork and a website stating you had a position the following year but without the actual  contract in hand because it would be sent a month later, you were forced to be illegal. You know when you try so hard, do the right thing and then it falls in your face. Meanwhile, Others look at you like, why did you even bother? You just wasted a lot of time?

I can only say, But at least I know I tried and know a bit more about how the system works…”

Now the positive of all this is I”ve learned just how strong my values are and who I am. Despite my strong valores  not always getting me what I need in Spain, at least I know what it’s important to me. Thanks mom, you’ve taught me well.

P.s. Maybe this explains why my dad always tried to teach me when to break the rules. He had years of experience of knowing when to do it and when not to.  I’m still learning.

Beauty of networking:

Ask any businessperson or someone looking for a job the answer will be the same:  “Networking is the key” and often one of the most successful ways to land a job. Looking for a job isn’t the only time networking is important or helpful but going hand in hand with reaching out and asking for help, I’ve been learning to be a better net worker, which often requires me to push past my comfort zones.

Blogging means I don’t only write and take photos but I also read a lot of expat and travel blogs and have been fortunate to meet fellow bloggers. Sometimes I’ve been apprehensive to reach out or ask questions because I thought maybe“more successful” bloggers wouldn’t be willing to help me or others could be too busy or simply may not be interested in meeting me, but I’ve learned that it’s been the opposite! Bloggers tend to be quite friendly and interesting folks who love meeting other people with similar interests. I’ve been lucky to have met some pretty awesome women and a few have become good friends including Michelle from lovemondegreens (visiting in Belfast), Lauren from Sobremesainspain (whom I traveled with in Asturias for 9 days), and Cat from SunshineandSiestas who was gracious enough to invite me to not one but three casetas during the Feria of Abril in Sevilla!

Lauren (sobremesainspain) and Lauren (roamingtheworld) in Oveido, Asturias

Lauren (sobremesainspain) and Lauren (roamingtheworld) in Oveido, Asturias

I’m continuously reminded to reach out and connect because you just never know where it will lead. And it just makes the world a bit more interesting and that much smaller!

Not caring what people think:

This will probably be a life long lesson for me, it’s definitely a daily work in process yet I practice this on the daily by living in Spain!  I don’t look Spanish, I make mistakes constantly while speaking Castellano and I have a lovely guiri accent. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable and silly but there is only one way to improve: to keep speaking! I’ve learned I always stand out here in Spain and Basque Country with my fair skin and freckles and if that wasn’t enough, I still have an American accent. Once in a blue moon, someone mistakes me for a Spanish person and I light up but as soon as I open my mouth, they know I’m not from here.

That’s ok.

I’m not going to look Spanish or Basque and you know what, that’s quite alright. I’m from somewhere else and sometimes it’s GOOD not to blend in. Aren’t we encouraged from a young age to be different, anyway? Why do we always try to blend in…and  conform?!

Street sign

Street sign

 Challenges to live in another country:

I appreciate the effort, the struggle, the hardship it takes for one to uproot their life and live in a completely different country. Before moving abroad, I used to wonder why many ethnic communities tend to stick together in their new adopted land and not socialize with their new fellow country mates but now I get it; I understand. Being able to continue your culture by sharing a common language, eating your traditional foods, joking and sharing your ways of understanding the world is important. Living in another culture isn’t always easy and naturally we want our comforts of home; things that remind us of home when know.  Naturally I gravitate towards the expat community because it’s nice to have friends that speak your language, understand what you’re going through all the while, I’ve expanded my social circle to meet people from Euskadi, Spain and around the world.

 Yet I feel I have it easy-

1. I know life in Spain isn’t a permanent move, which makes it a lot easier when I have my down moments and feelings of homesickness. Yes, it happens to the best of us.

2. Spain is in the western world and a lot similar to the USA vs. if I moved to the Middle East or Africa, (maybe minus South Africa).

Teaching me more about my father and about my culture:

My dad and I, before I embarked on my African adventure

My dad and I, before I embarked on my African adventure


My father is Chilean and though Spain is NOT Chile, I’ve been noticing a lot of cultural similarities. My dad loved bread and if he didn’t have bread with his meals, it was if he hadn’t eaten. In Spain, bread is everywhere and not a day goes by where I don’t see at least 5 people with a pan de barra, in their hands as they make their way home to prepare la comida or la cena.

The way my dad spoke, his tone of voice and intonations are practically igual.. When ever he would speak to his mom on the phone or visit his best friend in Southern California, I’d always question why he was angry and he’d “shout” ‘I’m not angry, it’s how we speak.” I didn’t comprehend it then, but manners and ways of speaking are built into the language. Spanish speakers talk loudly, are animated and often use their hands while speaking, which is all wrapped up within the language.

The more interesting thing about it all is I never felt like I grew up Chilean. What does that mean, anyway? Heck, I had  a Chilean father but he was just my father, you know?! I’ve only been to Chile once and that was without my father. I learned on that visit just how Chilean my father was ( foods, expressions, ways of speaking, perspective of the world, directness, etc.)  but what did it say about me?  Something I’m still learning, processing and figuring out…

There are so many other things that you may just read about it in another post…

What has living abroad taught you? Can you relate to any of my experiences?


8 thoughts on “Lessons I’m Learning Living Abroad

  1. Pingback: Part II: Lessons I’m learning while living abroad | Roamingtheworld

  2. Pingback: In the Classroom: Role Reversal | Roamingtheworld

  3. I never realised how “British” and “Dutch” South Africa really is, until I went there. I still find it amazing.

  4. I think you made the right decision coming to Spain. Even if it isn’t all clear now, I’m sure you’ll continue to learn as the time rolls on. But as you so clearly noted, I agree that the most important lessons are connecting – to ourselves, our ancestors, our world – and compassion, for others, immigrants, elderly, young, peers. Kudos to you!

    • Thanks Lauren!
      Yes, this year has been an incredible year full of learning and realizing what I “want” or think I want! I can’t imagine how life would have been had I stayed… To us both for continuing to push forward even when life doesn’t seem to make sense!

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