Expat Interview With Lauren - American Expat in Spain

Published: 8 Dec at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Spain
Lauren David has always dreamed of living in Spain and when she was offered a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education to be a Language and Culture Assistant, she couldn't refuse. What she thought would only be 9 months has become a second year. She's traded sunny desert skies and free tapas in Andalucia for cold, overcast days in Basque Country in the North of Spain. She's curious what this year will bring. Before she moved to Spain, she traveled solo from East- Southern Africa when she purchased a one-ticket to Dar-Es-Salam and told her parents and friends, she may be gone for 3 months or 3 years. Lauren returned safe and sound 9 months later, accomplishing her dream to travel from Eastern Africa to Cape town, South Africa. Lauren blogs at Roaming the world (see listing here)

Roaming the world

Here's the interview with Lauren....

Where are you originally from?
San Francisco, Ca. Well, Walnut Creek, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In which country and city are you living now?
Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I arrived in late September 2012 and will be here until May 2013, possibly longer. Will see where life leads.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I was offered a Language and Cultural assistant position (teaching English assistant position) from the Spanish Ministry of Education. I work in a high school 4 days a week assisting/teaching English classes.

Roaming the worldDid you bring family?
No, I'm here alone.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It's an interesting experience- it's like riding a roller coaster-you never sure where the bumps, curves and drops are going to happen or where they will lead. In the beginning, everything seems knew and better but after awhile the novelty wears off and I can find the beauty in the good and bad of living in a different country. My first year in Spain, I was constantly comparing things to my home but now that I'm starting a second year, I know what to expect and am more aware of the good and difficult things living abroad brings. I still have my ups and downs and feelings of homesickness but you get through it.

Last year, I had the same grant but taught in a high school in the region of Andalucia in a beach town called Roquetas de Mar, Spain.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It's very easy to fall into the expat social circle but I try to meet and spend time with locals whenever I can. I've met Spanish folks and friends through my job, the couchsurfing community, intercambios (language exchanges) and while traveling within and out of Spain. This year I'm hoping to meet more people by getting more involved in local communities including; agricultural and food community, taking Spanish and dance classes.

Roaming the worldWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Vitoria- Gasteiz is known for rainy days and cold weather but it doesn't stop people from riding their bikes, going for a run or meeting friends for a café. There are many natural parks and mountains to explore and hike as well as, neighboring towns to visit. Bilbao and San Sebastian within Basque Country (Euskadi) are only an hour away by bus and Pamplona and Logroño, the capital city of the wine region of Spain, La Rioja are only an hour- an hour half by bus and less by car. I'm hoping to explore the big cities and little pueblos this year!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I enjoy the lifestyle, the pintxos, hearing and speaking Castellano, the nightlife and how there are certain hours of the day and night when families and friends are out and about. You know when it's siesta, the timeframe to eat the biggest meal of the day and rest, because hardly anyone is in the street.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The cost of living is high in San Francisco. Rent seems cheap in comparison, though rent in Vitoria is a lot higher than where I was living last year. It's all relative, right?! Food seems to cost less but it depends where you're living and the shops you frequent. Also, in most places in Spain you can order Menu del Dia (Menu of the day) Monday- Friday (sometimes on weekends)where you have a starter, entree, desert, bread and drink for 9-15 Euros. If you're hungry or want a big meal, it's a good deal. This is something we don't have in the States. You can find lunch specials but not a 2-3 course meal with a drink.

Roaming the worldWhat negatives, if any, are there to living here?
So far, so good but the cold is coming and I'm not used to below zero weather. I'm from sunny California, after all!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Be patient and be kind to yourself. In Spain, there is a lot of bureaucracy ( like in most places in the world) and often times, getting things taken care of, can feel like everyone is against you. I've learned everything always works out, somehow, someway but being patient is key. There have been many times I've wanted to give up such as applying and getting my visa/residency card, opening a bank account, trying to do all the right things to stay legal in the country and other constant hoops one must deal with, when you are a foreigner.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
One of the hardest things is missing family, friends and the comforts of home. I love food and often miss the easy access to buy different types of ingredients readily available in California and eating out at ethnic restaurants. Mexican food is my favorite but in Spain it's just not the same-it doesn't compare and always leaves me disappointed.

It's been an interesting experience learning and improving my level of Spanish and realizing how crucial language is. I hadn't really thought about how difficult it must be for immigrants until I have to speak a language that is not my native tongue daily- sometimes I get frustrated that I can't express myself in the way I want in Spanish but it motivates me to keep practicing, speaking, studying. Little by little.

Roaming the worldWhen you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I realized this summer when I went home how important it is to have a plan- try to coordinate a job in advance and have new goals (even if my plans change). I didn't plan to return to Spain but when I had the opportunity to come to a new region and life unexpectedly changed for me at home, I figured why not come back to Spain for a second year and start anew.

This coming year, when I return home, I'll be better prepared for what I need to do and how to take care of myself during re-adjusting and reverse culture shock. I also had the idealistic notion there are many things in Spain that are better- lifestyle, job hours, more time for friends, etc- but I realize it's just different and a lot of people are struggling with the bad economy and lack of jobs. There is good and bad with both places, one isn't necessarily better. And I have a new appreciation for my own country, my home town and all the opportunities available to me.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
If you're moving to Spain-

  1. Learn the language- It's always helpful and in Spain many people don't speak English even though it's a very popular tourist destination.
  2. Be patient with yourself - Spain is a very bureaucratic country and I have often felt people don't know their right hand from their left when it comes to taking care of paperwork.
  3. Come with an open-mind.
  4. Know you will experience ups and downs and living abroad has it's challenges.
  5. Take time to meet locals and venture out of your comfort zone.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started my blog in 2007 when I set off with a one-way ticket to travel from Eastern to Southern Africa solo. I wanted to share my experiences and stories with friends and family back home. It was also a way for them to know I was still "safe and sound." After my travels, I didn't write frequently until I moved to Spain in September 2011 and wanted to document and share what it's like living and teaching in another country. My blog focuses on what it's like being an expat, spanish living and culture and now Basque living, Food and traveling.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact me by email anytime on my blog.

Lauren blogs at http://roamingtheworld.wordpress.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Roaming the world has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add some blog love and support her at ExpatsBlog.com! If you appreciated this interview with Lauren, please let her know by leaving a comment below.
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