InterNations Featured Blog
Kirstie: Entre Flores, Fandanguillos, y Alegrias
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Spain, etc.
My name is Kirstie Jeffries, and I'm from Los Angeles, California. I first came to Spain as part of a high school summer study abroad program, spending a month in Granada, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with the country. I was fortunate enough to spend a school year studying in Madrid during college, but even that wasn't enough, so here I am living in Sevilla and working as an English teaching assistant (through the Spanish government's auxiliares de conversación program) about an hour outside the city. Hopefully I'll be teaching in Madrid next year!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I've been blogging since it was still cool to call it a “weblog” (or maybe it was just me?), and when I left to study in Madrid, I knew I wanted a way to record my memories in Spain as well as to keep friends and family back home updated on my life abroad.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I had a great time writing the overly dramatic “How the Seguro Was Won” about my frustrations with Spanish banks. Another favorite is “10 Things I'll Miss Most About America,” written before leaving for Sevilla this year. Really, I love all my entries, because each one is a souvenir of the wonderful trips I've taken and experiences I've had while living in Spain.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Spain differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life is always more of an adventure here, even relatively routine, mundane events. Here, I'm always an outsider, which has its pros and cons. Apparently mullets are still semi-acceptable (although I'm grateful that they've decreased in popularity in recent years), ham is worshiped like a god, wine is crazy cheap, and milk doesn't need to be refrigerated. Getting a taste of Spain in high school without really being here as a true, responsible adult made it easier to adapt once I came back, especially because I spent the three years in between researching everything I could about Spanish life. That's not to say I'm not always noticing new differences between Spain and the U.S., but I embrace them, even when they're negative. The best part of living abroad is learning to appreciate cultural differences!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Spain? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think before studying in Madrid a part of me naively expected my time in Spain to be one hundred percent exciting, fun, and carefree, which was not the case. The time I've spent abroad has been the best time of my life, but with the ups come some serious downs. Living abroad isn't an elongated vacation; it becomes your normal life, with all the regular challenges and setbacks you would experience back home. Now I know not to worry if I'm not having a blast all day every day, because, overall, life in Spain is ridiculously fantastic.
Also, having received an amazing Spanish education in high school, I expected to arrive in Madrid and need a few days of brushing up before being basically fluent in Spanish. Not the case, obviously. I'm still far from perfect, and it was frustrating at first, but I'm proud of how much I've improved over the years.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Speaking of making mistakes in Spanish, once, when I was studying in Madrid, I stopped at McDonald's (I know, I know) with a few friends. We sat down, and one friend went to order, returning a few minutes later bewildered. Turns out she had gone to the counter and said, “Quiero un coño.” The man working there pointed down and asked, “¿Un coño...?” and then pointed to an ice cream cone and continued, “¿...o un cono?” My friend had ordered a vagina. All right, maybe I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old for giggling at that story years later, but at least now I know never to confuse the two!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Spain?
- Don't be afraid to make language mistakes! Well, maybe try to avoid mistakes like the one above. When I first came to Spain, I was hesitant to speak to Spaniards because I kept cringing at all of the grammar mistakes I heard myself making. Most Spaniards won't judge your mistakes and will appreciate your effort, and if you don't dare to make mistakes, you'll never get the practice you need to improve your Spanish. As long as you're getting your point across, learning, and making Spanish friends in the process, that's what matters.
- Go outside your comfort zone as often as possible. I know that's a common piece of advice, and by going abroad you're already doing that, but make the most of your time in Spain by trying things you wouldn't otherwise try. If you're a shy person, start talking to a stranger on the street. If you're a picky eater, try that weird-looking dish. If you're nonathletic, join a local soccer team. Many of life's greatest moments come from doing something you wouldn't have otherwise done.
- Push aside homesickness for now. It's easy to think the grass is always greener on the other side, and, when you're abroad, you'll undoubtedly miss people, places, and foods from back home. Being homesick is inevitable, but try not to dwell on it too much. For many expats, you have the rest of your life to spend in your home country and only a finite amount of time to live abroad. Don't pine for home – enjoy every minute of your time in Spain!
How is the expat community in Spain? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I've been fortunate enough to meet a ton of amazing, intelligent, fascinating expats in Spain. Many of the people you meet abroad are adventurous and open-minded, and you're bound to have a lot in common. Plus, sharing the experience of living abroad allows you to get incredibly close to people super fast and create lifelong friendships. For many reasons, it's important to meet and befriend locals, but I'm also a firm believer in the idea that a solid group of friends from your home country or who speak your native language is essential to your expat experience.
How would you summarize your expat life in Spain in a single, catchy sentence?
In the words of the now passe internet sensation David After Dentist, is this real life?...and, if so, qué suerte tengo.