So You Want To Move Abroad…
I’ve been living in a foreign country for eight years now. And although I may miss my family and friends, I have never had regrets about leaving my comfortable life, family and full-time career in retail management. I have been able to explore new places, learn about different cultures and languages, and share my culture and language. This is not to say that moving to a new country or a new continent doesn’t come with its own challenges. People back home question my decision to leave the typical “American” life on the reg., finding a place to live can be stressful, and not knowing anyone or not having your family and friends can be quite lonely.
(one of my first trips after moving to Spain. Peniscola, Spain. Contemplating life and my decisions)
If you move abroad you will probably encounter the same questions that I am constantly asked. “When are you going to come back and settle down?”, “When are you going to find a “real” job and a husband?”, “What about your financial future? Don’t you want to retire early?”, “Who will take care of you?”. And if you are like me and almost 31 years old, the lifestyle that I have is not as valued in the American society as a white picket fence, a husband/wife, and beautiful children. Plus, I’m not going to lie, sometimes moving abroad comes with it’s financial setbacks and every once in a while I find myself asking for a bit of help from my family (I started off abroad with lots of debt and I remain in the hole, I’m still working on this part). The constant nagging from family can be annoying, having to ask for help is the last thing you will probably want to do, and sometimes the feeling that you have let your family down can be real. I have missed precious time with my niece and nephew and I think about them and how I need to call more often. It can be difficult to keep up with everyone; time flies abroad and life gets busy. It is hard to explain to everyone back home that it is not that America isn’t great or that they aren’t loved, it is just that each person needs to live their own life, make their own decisions and do the things they love to have a happy and fulfilling life. And as of now for me, and maybe for some of you, a fulfilling life does not mean having kids or a corporate 40+ hour a week job. I am learning new things everyday about people, places, politics, the global economy, how my actions affect others, spacial and self-awareness, and myself. When I first left home, I thought I would only live in Spain for a year, to figure out what I wanted to pursue as a career back home, but as I fell in love with the country and continue learning each day, I’ve realized that there is so much more to do before returning. I hope that if any of you make the decision to uproot your life and move, that you feel the same way….I know that you will.
(platja de formentor in Mallorca)
Once I received word that I had been chosen as a Culture and Language Assistant in Spain, I had to find somewhere to live on an island I had never even heard of and could never have dreamt I would be living on one day. Besides all of the language and culture difference, my biggest concern was where I would live! And this was actually so much easier than I thought it would be. First, I got on FB and I joined all of the groups that I could find in Mallorca. I wrote a post in each group asking about places to live. From these posts, people directed me to websites from Spain that I could use to find an apartment, and some people even posted places that were for rent in my price range. I then contacted the landlord of places I found for rent and I explained I was moving from out of the country and asked if I could see more photos of the rooms, and I asked for videos as well. I also contacted the school where I would be working and asked about places to live. My first year in Mallorca, I finally decided to live with a teacher who worked at my school. She showed me photos of my room and bathroom and told me she could even take me to school! I didn’t even have to pay a deposit and she said she would pick me up from the airport! Obviously I could not pass up this deal. And eventually, my host became like a big sister to me and I really owe most of my experiences to her!
(One of my bedrooms in Palma. Proving that an expat can still have simple style)
Most people won’t find a place this easy, of course. Moving to Madrid was a bit trickier, especially since so many people are looking for places and many are just Airbnb or short term leases now. But again, I joined as many Madrid FB groups as I could, and I searched idealista.com. One day I saw a post on FB that had a cute bedroom and modern kitchen and I messaged the lead as quickly as possible. I asked for a video and more photos, and the landlord took me on a virtual tour of the apartment (I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to Madrid before finding a place). I asked questions about smoking, pets, friends staying over, family coming to visit, quiet times (yes, some apartment have quiet hours), cleaning schedules, etc. I also asked for previous tenants and I messaged them to find out if the place was legit (remember there are many scams out there). When I finally felt 100% comfortable with the situation, I said I would take it! I sent the deposit to the landlords account (I wouldn’t recommend doing this until you are 100% confident and cannot stress enough to be safe! Remove yourself from any situation you do not feel comfortable). I moved in a month later and the flat was perfect!!
(My room in Madrid. Got the chair off of Wallapop for 15euros, the nightstand at Ikea for 29euros and the rug at Ikea for 10euros. I framed a Madrid metro map and put it in a 2euro frame from Tiger. I will always make sure that my rooms are outfitted/styled to my comfort. A girl still needs to feel at home in her room.)
Besides family issues and housing…you may be thinking about friends!! Thousands of miles between you and your best friends can seemingly take the fun out of exploring a new city and cause more of a feeling of loneliness than excitement. My first year abroad was my toughest year; friends were scarce and I kept thinking, “damn, I wish Meghan was here so we could conquer this city together”. It took me a long time to realize that I had the ability to make just as good of friends abroad. Thank the Internet gods that social networking exists! Facebook, Meetup, Instagram and Tinder are my go-tos. You can find a like-minded travel buddy by searching expat groups on social media in your new city: CouchSurfing, AIRBNB, <your city> expats, and Girl Gone International groups are just a few. Find people with your same interests on Meetup and Facebook Groups.
This past year I started going to a pole fitness classes and the other students not only made me feel welcomed, but I now belong to a group. Find an activity you are interested in and search for that activity in your area. You can also start your OWN FACEBOOK group in the city you reside and host super easy events in free-open spaces. My friend Oscar started an expat group in Palma my first year, and now it is a group of over one hundred people and he hosts events/hikes/parties almost every weekend. Every year I usually make a Facebook event for all of the people in Mallorca who work in my same teaching program…it takes less than 2 minutes to make the event and we just meet at an outside public bar. Search for sports, bike groups, music groups, chess clubs, running clubs- at first it may be scary to go by yourself but soon you will find that your interests remain the same no matter where you are and people are more welcoming in a sports or art group than they may be in a social setting in a group of their friends. Plus, taking classes or lessons in your new city will help you to learn the native language. Get on Tinder and start swiping to find native people who want to show you around and who are interested in practicing or exchanging languages.
(In Mallorca at Platja Ses Covetes.)
Getting through these first hurdles seemed unreachable, but I soon found out that there are people all over the world who are just like me. And these people want to help! Ask questions and there will be someone who answers them. Now, I like to pay it forward, or pay it back, by making myself available and open for others to ask!