Australian Expat Living in Spain - Interview with Vanessa
|Published:||4 Jun at 9 AM|
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Here's the interview with Vanessa...
Where are you originally from?
Manly, Sydney, Australia
In which country and city are you living now?
Ciutadella de Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
How long have you lived in Spain and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been living on the island of Menorca since 2006, and before that I visited regularly from London whilst I was living there. I've known Menorca since I was a child as my grandparents retired here from the England about 40 years ago and spent their last 25 years here. Although my family still lived in Australia we have always come to the island as often as we could. I'm based in Menorca right now and happy here, but I imagine that I will always be island hopping between Spain and Australia. I consider myself to be lucky enough to have the best of both sides of the world.
After the boom in the events industry around the time of the Sydney Olympics it was the perfect time to take a break and see a bit of the world by backpacking around Europe. I then moved to London and landed my dream job working for the largest concert promoter in the UK. During that time I made the decision that changed my life and decided to start learning Spanish. No-one in my family spoke the language and we still had the house in Menorca that was in need of a lot of repair. As the family member living closest to the island, I started to learn Spanish so I could manage the required renovations in the house and communicate progress to my parents.
In the last couple of years in London, I met my current partner who is Menorcan and we went back and forth to see each other as the renovations progressed. Despite working on some of the biggest tours for top international music artists, I felt my heart pulling me towards the sun and simple island lifestyle of Menorca. It was a complete contrast to London in every way. I loved my work, it was an amazing and unique experience. But in the end I had fallen in love with Menorca and everything that the island had to offer.
Did you bring family with you?
I moved here to be with my new found family; my partner and his three gorgeous children. Then shortly after my Staffie adopted us too! From London to Menorca I went from single gal to the female of the family in one short flight!
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
As I knew the island, it wasn't a difficult transition for the most part as I was familiar with the lifestyle. Learning two languages at first was tiring, as was understanding different ways of doing things, and the resident entitlements you have. In certain situations you need to speak competently, and know specific vocabulary related to filling out forms and discussing problems. So much of life here is simpler and easier, but the toughest part of the transition was going from being able to demonstrate my intelligence and value through my speech and work in my own language, to my initial incompetency in those areas due to the change in language and country. There is nothing more exasperating than knowing what you need to say, but not having the vocabulary to say it. Or wincing at your own pronunciation because your tongue doesn't have the practice to make words sound the way they should! I sometimes wish I didn't have an accent when I speak Spanish, but at least I'm fluent now and can speak confidently.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I was very lucky to make friends easily as all my partner's friends made such an effort to get to know me, regardless of my basic language skills at the start. It was a wonderful experience as they were genuinely interested in forming a friendship with me. I learned a lot about people and communication; in friendship perfect language is not so important, in government offices and with tradesmen it is! Most of my friends are locals, and I speak Spanish most of the time. I don't feel the need to speak my native language all the time, although we do mix all three languages at home. I think mixing with the locals from the start served me well in the long run with the language and gave me some of the best friends I've ever had.
I always say that the lifestyle in Menorca is based around the four Fs: Family, Food, Fiesta and Freedom. Whether you are visiting the island or looking to move here, I recommend you get into the swing of the lifestyle as soon as possible! Here are a few tips:
Truly enjoy the time you have the with the people you are with. Be it family or friends take advantage of being away from the distractions that normally rob you of quality time with your loved ones. In Menorca you will have the time to catch up with them and laugh a lot no matter what you do. Either you will be making memories with your loved ones or making new friends along the way!
One of the best things to do is try all the local food! Whether it's paella and sangria, all the locally grown fruit and vegetables in season, a visit to the local bakery to try the typical pastries and cakes, taste test the local beers and wines or the gin made on the island, indulge in a different flavour of locally made ice cream every day, enjoy the best steak you've every had or the famous Jamon Serrano, or taste the island's specialties of Lobster Soup or Cheese. The gastronomic experience in Menorca will leave a smile on your face, make you feel good and feed your spirit whist nurturing your body.
Be sure to see the purebred Menorcan horses. Spanish stallions are famed for their beauty and talent, but you haven't seen the best till you discover the Menorcan breed. If you are lucky enough to be here during the local horse fiestas in summer they are a must see. For all the right reasons you will never forget it. Alternatively, if crowds are not your thing, be sure to see the horses in action at a horse show or enjoy horse riding in the spectacular natural surroundings of the island. I still catch my breath every time I see a beautiful black horse pass me by on the side of the road, and I don't ever want to lose that appreciation as it's one of my favourite aspects of living here.
Discover the culture and architecture of the towns during the day and the restaurants and bars at night. Menorca during the summer provides entertaining experiences with their 'terraces' where restaurants and bars line the balconies and streets with tables for al fresco dining and drinks. Relaxed Mediterranean style 'chill out' that will tantalize you with tastes and atmosphere.
Make the most of the freedom you have on the island. Freedom from commitments, to disconnect, to relax, to explore the dozens of unspoilt beaches in Menorca, discover new activities or live like a local, to not check your watch, or be in a hurry, not check your e-mail, or stick to a schedule. Enjoy the freedom you have to totally unplug, the question is.... will you?
What do you enjoy most about living in Spain?
I love that my life is simple yet with a richness, vibrancy, and harmony that provides a quality of life I could have never had in a big city. No complications, no rush, no stress, no pollution, no obligations or scheduling conflicts. I spend my time doing what I want in an affordable island paradise which is safe and clean, with friendly generous people who are passionate about their relationships, food, culture and home. There is so much to enjoy it's hard to pick what I enjoy most!
How does the cost of living in Spain compare to home?
If you compare by current standards and exchange rates, the cost of living is much lower here than in Australia. In the 12 years I've been away from Australia the exchange rate has changed enormously in favour of the Aussie Dollar, which is not good for us now if we visit Australia. Prices and wages are much lower here compared to other European countries and Australia. The problem is that although prices are lower the cost of living is rising faster here than wages, which are definitely not keeping up.
Some people say the island is too quiet, but I've lived in big cities my whole life and welcome the change in pace. We work to live, not live to work. There are no big shopping centres, no raging nightlife 7 days a week either. But it's almost always sunny, with an abundance of fresh air and space. It's safe here and people are happy and healthy.
If I had to pick anything it would be the limited transport options to get off the island during the winter, flights are infrequent and can be very expensive a lot of the time. Also there are limited work options, even less now with the current economy. You are lucky to have any job, and fortunately I have a seasonal job working with great people. Almost all work revolves around providing goods and services to locals or tourists, which completely eliminates many career options.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Spain, what would it be?
Give it a full year or two all year round and make a big effort to learn the languages.
You will instantly love the summer, but winters are beautiful too as they are mild and quiet. Anyone who lives here and loves it will tell you that Menorca is stunning in the off peak seasons of Spring, Autumn and Winter. Regarding the languages, I can tell you from experience that the best decision I've made in my life was to learn Spanish and push through the barrier to understand the Menorcan dialect of Catalan. Be determined to learn but don't take yourself too seriously as you will make mistakes whilst you're learning. I really do treasure being trilingual, it keeps you sharp mentally and opens you to a world of fun, friendships and an appreciation for yourself and others you could have never imagined. It was hard at first trying to learn Spanish whilst everyone around me spoke 'Menorquin' to each other, but the steep slope at the start was 100% worth it and now I can't imagine my life any other way.
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Not having a full time income from fulfilling work that maximizes my education and experience. Whilst I love that people here don't define themselves by their job, it is frustrating to be restricted by the island's economy revolving around seasonal work. Specifically in my case I knew I had to leave my career behind completely as there are no international music artists on tour in Menorca. It was big decision to leave what I had worked so hard to achieve over the years, knowing I couldn't immediately start a job here that was comparable.
The other aspect is the financial side of seasonal work. When your job only exists in the summer, but you have a whole year's worth of living expenses, naturally there is rarely any money 'left over' to get ahead or do anything normal outside of cover basic living expenses. It's a limiting cycle in that aspect, but you do learn that there is a lot you don't need when life is simpler, and with less stuff there is less time and money spent on maintenance too.
When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Returning home is an odd concept for me now as I feel like I have two homes and feel both familiar and a bit out of place in each of them. The longer I am away the more I change and the more my home in Australia changes too. I'm sure I would have no problem, but I feel like I will always have a foot on both islands.
- Allow yourself time to settle in, make the most of each day and don't sweat the small stuff. Hurdles will be inevitable, but they will pass and the good times will endure.
- Adopt the Menorcan lifestyle and avoid sticking to what you know. The quicker you adapt to the life and way things are done here the easier things will be for you. Most of the time that's easy to do and you will welcome the positive change in yourself.
- Learn Spanish and at least understand some Menorcan if you are going to live here, even if only during the summer each year. It's a courtesy we expect when people come to live in our countries yet many English speaking people think that they don't have to learn Spanish to live in Spain. Plus you miss out on so much if you don't, it's like living in a bubble!
- Find out as soon as possible your rights and responsibilities when living here regarding residency status and benefits, registering in different government offices for work, taxation, payments, medical, driving and local council registry of persons, property, vehicles etc. The sooner the better as ignorance can be costly, and the rules are different for people from inside the EU to those born outside. Get the information, then ALWAYS check it twice.
- Make some local friends! They will become some of the best you've ever had, help you with things you need when you don't understand and make you feel at home faster.
It all started when I realised that I was sharing the same tips and advice to my friends and family who came to visit me as I was to tourists that I spoke to each day at work. People like myself who wanted to do and see the best of Menorca. My journey to discover the local lifestyle has been such a rewarding experience, I'm always excited to pass on what I have learned to others so they can have the same experience on holiday. Everyone knows that if you want to find the best then ask a local. Australians are famous for seeking out friends and family to stay with overseas, not only to catch up or for free board, but because with a mate you will be sure to discover the best of the location during your stay. Also, in Australia we do a fantastic job of helping visitors fall in love with our country through our organized tourism information. So my blog is a result of combining my personal experience as a traveler, as a host here, and from my own country as a popular tourist destination.
How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Anyone is most welcome to contact me via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Menorca Blue is listed on most of the top social media sites.
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Comments » There is 1 comment
Lovely interview Vanessa. I am also lucky enough to live on this beautiful island, and love Vanessa's blog Menorca Blue. It gives such a true, understated view of life in Menorca. I often pass on the Menorca Blue link to my guests, prior to their arrival on the island, all of who have commented on what a lovely website it is. You are a great ambassador for the island Vanessa. Looking forward to your next posting. Caroline