Hi everyone! I’m super excited to share this month’s Expat Wisdom post. If you’re new here the Expat Wisdom project is something I do each month where I share the story of one of you guys! The goal is to create an online community to support and learn from each other. You can find out more about the project here, as well as how to get involved.
This month we’re hearing from Julie from Siesta & Sangria! She’s an American expat living in Spain and she has a super interesting story to share with us.
My expat story begins in the spring of 2012. I was in my second-to-last year of college, or junior year as we call it in the US. I was thrilled to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience to study for a semester abroad in Seville, Spain, to take my Spanish language skills to the next level for my Spanish minor.
I quickly fell in love with the endless sunshine and beautiful old buildings. I enjoyed literally getting lost grabbing tapas in the city’s charming cobblestone streets. This was before I had a smartphone with Google maps to guide me around! I explored much of Europe and Spain during these amazing months.
Early in the semester, I started dating a guy from Seville, or a Sevillano as they say. The next few months were very special as I experienced Seville’s hidden spots like a local. Once I returned to the US at the end of the semester, my boyfriend and I continued to date long-distance, between Europe and the US, for five years.
My love of Spain continued to grow during this time. I returned often to visit and spend holidays in Seville. With each trip, I learned more about Spanish culture and explored more of Spain. Over the years, my boyfriend and I brainstormed many ideas of how we could start our lives together. Finally, in the spring of 2017, those dreams became a reality. I booked a one-way flight to Seville, Spain and the rest is history. I was officially an expat living in Spain!
Adjusting to my new home country
The last four years have been a whirlwind of excitement, nerves, and extraordinary adventures in Spain. It’s been amazing to finally live in the same city as my long-term Spanish boyfriend. I have to say that there were no major culture shock surprises as I had spent so much time in Spain over the previous five years. But I still had to adjust and make my new home country really feel like home. So here are three tips that I’d like to share about adjusting to life abroad.
Learn the language
When I moved to Spain, my Spanish was pretty good, but I was nowhere near fluent. I had forgotten a lot of vocabulary since my time abroad. I remember being nervous to pick up the phone every time it rang! I wanted to improve and be confident in understanding and speaking Spanish, so I got right to work.
I was living with my boyfriend and we spent almost all of our time speaking Spanish to each other and with his family and friends. I watched movies and TV shows in Spanish. I started a note on my phone with any new vocabulary words. This list soon became a very long one!
Around two months in, I became a bit frustrated. I was improving, but only so much. By this point, I’d imagined that I would be fully “fluent.”
I kept at it though and I’m so glad that I did! I can’t remember exactly when my Spanish started to really improve, but I’m now completely confident in my language skills. I can navigate daily errands and fully express myself in Spanish.
I found that what’s most important regarding learning a new language is being patient and consistent; most likely it won’t happen overnight and will take hard work. If you’re moving to a new country and have little knowledge of the language, it could be a good idea to start using Duolingo before moving to learn some everyday basic vocabulary to get a head start.
Find out about cultural customs
Sure, I knew a lot about Spanish culture before moving to Spain. I had been dating a Spaniard for five years after all! But I didn’t want to stick out as “that American” everywhere I went. So I observed what was going on around me to learn more about everyday life in Spain and fit in among Spaniards. I realized that it’s not always the big things, but rather the little things that people do differently day-to-day that make a culture.
Seville is a city where people always go out. The streets are full of restaurants with outdoor seating. The plazas are lively with children playing soccer and people socializing. People enjoy starting the day with coffee and a breakfast toast out at the bar. This is now one of my favorite things to do as well!
The eating schedule in Spain is also much later than most of Europe and the US. It took me a while, but I am now much more accustomed to the 3 pm lunch and 9 pm dinner. I am always snacking though, that hasn’t changed!
When it comes to adjusting to life in a new city, let alone a new country, I believe that patience is key. Getting up to speed on a new language and new cultural customs can seem overwhelming. So take it at your own pace. Moving and living abroad has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Some days are better than others and it can be stressful. However, being patient and not comparing yourself or your progress to those around you is key. Just take it one day at a time and be patient as you embark on this amazing new experience.
I hope you enjoyed reading Julie’s story – you can check out her blog here. If you’d like to see your story featured next month, send me a DM over on @little.miss.expat on Instagram!
See you next week,