InterNations Featured Blog
Sarah: Love & Paella
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Spain, etc.
I’m an American and I’m currently living in Málaga, Spain. A few years ago my husband and I were working at desk jobs, living for the weekend and we though: other people have adventures! Why not us? Why not now? And so we packed up, sold our furniture and cars, and moved to Spain to be English teachers.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I first started a blog back in 2008, when we spent a few months working in Africa. I thought it would be a great way to communicate with friends and family back home. When I got back to America, I felt like it was a great creative outlet so I kept it up, and when we decided to move to Spain I felt it would be perfect. It’s my digital scrapbook – little stories and travel anecdotes, pictures and videos. It keeps the creative juices flowing.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours? Please add the URL as well.
Sure! Some of the posts that have been most popular are a little series I did on the differences between cultures, called Stuff Americans Like and Stuff Europeans Like. Another one I wrote on the joys of English teaching is called The Hardest Part of Being a Teacher (Is When Someone Farts in Class). If you’re a photography fan or a foodie, you might like How to Make a Real-Deal Spanish Paella or American Food is Not a Myth. And if you’re in the mood for something more poetic, two of my all-time favorites are Stop and Listen to the Music and Autumn.
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?
In America, life is endlessly complicated but accomplishing little things like doing laundry or calling the plumber are easy. In Spain, my life is more simple: beach, wine, sunshine. But little, everyday things like going to the bank and getting your landlord to call you back are nearly impossible. Things take a lot longer here to get done and sometimes they just don’t get done at all.
I love living here and I think the culture shock was less of a sudden tsunami of disorientation and more a slow buildup of incidents and little things. I was really thrown off by kissing everyone as a greeting – we never do that in America. Or the fact that when eating in a restaurant, ice and free refills are a no-go and beer is literally cheaper than water. These things build up over time until one day you go back home for a visit and it shocks you how much you don’t fit in anymore.
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 would have done more flashcards and verb conjugations. I would have tried harder to listen to Spanish on the radio or podcasts or television. The first few months were rough linguistically and I remember feeling completely overwhelmed when my new boss tried to work out my schedule and sort out tax and payment forms in a language I only barely understood. Other than that, I felt well-prepared and I think I managed alright in the end. The only was to learn was to try.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There are too many to count. As an English teacher to young children, my best blog material comes from the crazy things they do. I had to teach sex education this year to eleven year olds, which…yeah. I swear the kids made some sort of secret pact to pronounce all the naughty words wrong, knowing that I was obligated to correct them. So for two weeks I’m sitting in class enunciating “penis” over and over and over while they giggle and innocently ask “PAY-nees?” Those little punks.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Spain?
- Learn Spanish. Seriously.
- Bring sunscreen. It’s ridiculously expensive here, and you’ll need it.
- Decide which side you’re on: Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. Football rules the country, and everyone from your boss to your friend’s kid will want to know which team you root for.
How is the expat community in Spain? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
To be honest, I haven’t become very involved with an expat community. I have some English-speaking friends but for the most part I hang out with Spaniards – it’s the best way to soak up some local flavor, and besides, they’re pretty fun.
How would you summarize your expat life in Spain in a single, catchy sentence?
One big sunny circus of adventure if you can let yourself relax and enjoy it (just don’t try to be productive or anything.)