My Expat life: Specific Questions Answered

Intro

What are some little things you have to do to “fit in”?

People in Spain walk slowly, speak quickly, dress seasonally. I have definitely actively slowed down my walking. Also they use an absolute ton of emojis. Despite the totally mild weather, I’m currently wearing a giant puffy jacket. I don’t have the language skills to actually speak that much more quickly. As for the emojis, well you would have to WhatsApp me to know for sure but it’s definitely a lot more than ever before.

What’s the hardest thing about meeting friends and dating?

Language. Pure and simple. I hate not being able to express myself properly. However, something really positive that’s come out of having a language barrier is that it makes me look at people in a different way. Not to sound too new-age but I feel like I have a better idea of a persons’ soul by having to negotiate linguistically. Are they patient? Do they help without judgement? Do they repeat themselves? Are they generous with my limited language? All of those things speak to someone’s character.

I do have a number of really good friends in Spain, especially here in Cartagena. I’m so lucky to have found amazing people who happen to speak English with me. However, I’m equally lucky to know people who don’t speak anything but Spanish and are incredible people.

What’s it like to be a woman abroad?

In general, I haven’t seen a huge difference between being a woman in Spain versus in the States. Violent crime here is less but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen to women. The only major difference is the cat calling. Seriously – it is gross and it happens all the time. In the States it would happen occasionally; here it’s a daily issue. You can read my thoughts about it here.

Do you ever encounter anti-American Sentiments and how do you cope?

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I haven’t come across that many specifically anti-American people sentiments. There are definitely some anti-American government sentiments right now which can’t be helped. I have encountered anti-American sentiments while traveling and there is little bit of a bias towards British native speakers here just because the major exams Spanish students take are all from Cambridge.

How hard is the visa process?

The visa process wasn’t too bad actually but the process of getting a national ID can be a real pain in the ass. When you are working on your visa – it’s sort of straight forward. You collect all the documents – none of which are too difficult to obtain. Then you give it to the embassy office nearest you along with your passport and a fee and then they send it back a couple of weeks later.

The national ID card, called a TIE, is just unnecessarily obnoxious. It involves at least 2 trips to the office which can be as close as in your town or as far away as Madrid, if like me you want a little program help. Just be ready to be astounded at how obnoxious the bureaucracy is.

Are there any little cultural things that irk you?

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They sure as shit aren’t moving over for you.

There are many. The biggest ones are also the smallest. The one that always comes to my mind is that Spanish people have no concept of how much space they take up. I find that people rarely or never move over on slim sidewalks, no matter how many people abreast they are. Maybe it’s just because of this song that my dad used to sing to us (“single file, Indian style, facing traffic all the while”) but this is the number one thing that irks me. Also that men never excuse themselves if they run into you.

What are tips to finding opportunities abroad?

I think probably the best way to find opportunities abroad is through networking. If you see a friend has been living abroad for some time – ask them how. Networking is one of the easiest ways to find a position abroad. There are so many opportunities, it just might depend on your field if you want to pursue them. There’s also the question of volunteering abroad for either a longer or shorter period. If you are going to volunteer, I recommend doing a ton of research, talk to former volunteers and really delve deep into the program before committing.

How does this experience compare to living and teaching in Colombia?

 

Anyone who has talked to me about living in Colombia knows that I have such a love-hate memory of my experience there. My mental health was not in a good place. I wasn’t eating properly. On top of that, my living conditions weren’t great (tarantulas in the shower) and while I was technically a volunteer, I was not paid my stipend until very near the end of my stay.

As a country and culture, I LOVE Colombia. The people are fascinating and the architecture is vivid. Nightlife is incredible. I loved my school. I loved my principal in particular. I cannot wait to revisit there.

Living in Spain is different. I didn’t go in blind – I knew about the culture. I had been here several times before moving here. On top of that, I knew a number of people who did similar programs and I could hear about their experience. I’m financially more comfortable, although I will say there is a similar level of difficulties and annoyances. In Colombia, I had a field director help me with documentation. At least this year, I’m on my own to figure out the system. My language is a lot different now – a fair amount improved than when I lived in Colombia.

It’s hard to compare the two experiences. I guess if I had to summarize – I encourage everyone to visit Colombia. Go immediately. Soak it in. It’s a seriously incredible place. If I were going to pick which place to live, I have to pick Spain. At least for now.

What’s your favorite Spain only foods?

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I don’t have a ton of foods that are Spain exclusive that I love. I’ve had a few really excellent paellas. I do really love padron peppers which are just pan fried but I don’t often eat them. I have had some amazing jamon but also some that was really underwhelming (I don’t have the Spanish DNA to know how to find good ham).

Probably my favorite simple pleasure would be tortilla de patata which is just an omelette with potatoes which is shaped sort of like a piece of cake with pan con tomate which unsurprisingly is bread with some tomato on it. It’s simple. It’s usually pretty fresh and it’s completely ubiquitous.

What has surprised you the most about living in Spain?

I didn’t expect geography to play such a large role in my overall happiness. I am so much happier here in Cartagena just because of how welcoming in general everyone is. In Zaragoza, the overall feeling was a lot colder. Yes, I have my best buddy up there, but other than him – I was pretty lonely in Zaragoza. I guess this was especially surprising know how warm the Spanish are said to be in general.

Are you more insecure in Spain about anything?

YES. So I mainly blame Zara for this but seriously – I feel so much larger in Spain than in the states. I do feel a little bit insecure about my size in general here in Spain but I’m working on looking at my health in general as a way to feel secure. I am more active in Spain. I eat better than I do in the states overall. My mental health is as peaceful as it has been in my adult life. So while I do wish I could shed about 10 pounds – I try to not compare myself to any other gorgeous Spanish woman. Guess what – we all are lovely.

Where would you live in Spain if you could move anywhere?

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This one is sort of tough. My dream city is definitely Barcelona, although my buddies would argue that it’s not Spain. I also really love Valencia. I would say if I had to choose – I would pick Valencia just because the prices are better, it’s not quite the size of Barcelona and it has everything you need – good weather, beach, lovely historic center and good shopping.

Has your Spanish accent changed from Colombian Spanish to Spanish from Spain?

It has for the most part. I now pronounce the “c” and “z” as a “th” without thinking about it too much. Reminder: my Spanish isn’t that good so realistically my accent is actually just a shitty American one.


 

Let me know if you have any other questions – I’m absolutely down to answer more about how my life has changed here. If you do have any questions or comments, write them in the comments section below!

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