Why Are You in Spain?

Ah, the question. The question. I ask it a lot of others; they in turn ask it of me. I love and hate this question, because I love knowing other people’s stories, but I have no idea how to answer it without starting off on some ten-minute-long storytelling session, leaving my questioner with his/her mouth agape and mind reeling by it all.

So, let me just ask you, readers:

Why are you here?

Now that I’ve asked that, I can tell you why I’m here. As it says on my about page, I came to learn Spanish. I stayed for a boy. Mainly.

Would it shock you to know I kinda sorta hated study abroad? I was old enough not to get homesick, but I still did. I did not like living in a teeny-tiny room in an old nunnery with walls so thin you could hear your roommate typing late at night. I didn’t like having to wash my clothes in the shower because the laundry room charged upwards of $10 a load. (This was back when the one euro equaled something like $1.50.) I didn’t like feeling as if it were impossible to make friends except for drinking buddies and intercambios who weren’t really interested in hanging out with me after hours. I didn’t like seeing my bank account drain slowly down to almost nothing.

But I did like learning Spanish. I did like that, and so I dove in headfirst, as much as I could. I got another intercambio because one just wasn’t enough. I spoke to all the waiters in Spanish, even if they insisted on speaking to me in English (the bastards). I studied vigorously, even when all of my classmates were basically taking a semester off. I traveled as much as my budget would allow. I learned to love red wine, olives, and tortilla de patata.

But there was so much I didn’t know at the end of my stay! I didn’t know how to tapear, I hadn’t mastered the subjunctive, I had never had a real Spanish friend that I could text and ask to hang out with. This bothered me. I went back for my senior year unsure of the future and what would happen after May 2009.

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As senior year wore on, I had a decision to make—find a job or go back to Spain? I chose Spain, specifically Salamanca. I was excited to experience a new side of Spain, to live in my own apartment, and meet Spaniards. Oh yeah, and improve my Spanish.

I got back to Spain in September 2009, a year and three months after I’d left Toledo. A few days later, I met Mario. He came to the door of the place I was interning, and I was unintentionally rude to his friend and him, but he still went out to dinner with us. The next day, I pretty much asked him out, and the rest was history. My mother waited patiently by the computer to hear updates about this guy I talked about all the time, even though she’d warned me not to fall in love with any Spaniard (only because that could keep me far away from her). Oops! I was head over heels after a few weeks. After a month, I met the family. After three, I was ready to stay indefinitely, if it meant we could be together.

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Staying in Spain is not an easy task for many reasons. There’s bureaucracy. There’s homesickness. There’s cultural differences that drive me crazy at times. There’s times when I get so sick of Spanish, of struggling to find the word that I just want to scream, pack my suitcase, and get on the next plane to Chicago. Get me outta here! Mario knows this more than anyone. Luckily, although he wouldn’t feel the same way, he sympathizes as best he can.

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There are some expats that love Spain much more than I do (although, don’t get me wrong, I do love it), and they’d stay forever if it were up to them, boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife / lover or not. I wouldn’t, though. If not for this husband of mine, I’d be in the States, where my family is, where my friends are, where my history is. Living in another country wears on me, and I’d love to be able to just hop in my car and drive to my parents’, but right now it’s just not possible.

Right now we’re here; right now this is our home. It may not be for forever. That’s okay. When I married a Spaniard, I gave up that right to certainty about where home is. Home is here. Home is there. Home is Zamora, it’s Crawfordsville, it’s Bloomington, it’s Salamanca. It’s Spain and it’s the US. That’s why I’m here.

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What about you?

25 comments

  1. Thanks for keeping it real, Kaley. I think lots of us get the impression from the Spain expat blogosphere that the country is just a .~*FaBuLoUs*~. place with perfect weather, no cross-cultural mis-communications, loads of friends, traveling every weekend, and wine and jamón for every meal. But working as a foreigner means you’ve got to stick it through the daily grind and ups-and-downs of life, be that getting sick or feeling like you can’t understand anyone you talk to. Glad you’re keeping an open mind about where “home” will end up being!

    I’m in Spain for the language assistant program, probably primarily to travel and next to practice/improve my Spanish. I haven’t found an española to date…yet. Haha. We’ll see what happens!

  2. OMG I am glad that someone else has said it. I also get the impression that other expats LOVE this country with a burning passion. I like living here, just as I have liked four of the five states I lived in in the US. But it has it’s ups and downs, it’s good things and it’s bad things. I have only lived in Madrid and it is by far the biggest city I have ever lived in. I wonder sometime if I would love Spain more if I lived in a smaller town.
    Why am I here? I met my husband in the States, we work doing field work in the Colorado desert and fell in love over the summer. At the end of the summer he had to go back to Barcelona but by then we were addicted to each other. The only thing is that I would not move out of the US. Instead he came to do grad school in the US and we ended up living in various States for 10 years before we made the decision that he should accept a job here.
    I have never met another expat with this reverse migration situation. Also the language we speak at home, that is the most comfortable, the language we default to without thinking? English. Learning Spanish has been bigger challenge for me because my home and work are English oriented.

  3. My story is different than most and much less romantic than yours! I’m here because the U.S. Navy gave my husband orders to Rota. We originally hoped to go to Italy, but then our options were Maryland or Spain, and we really didn’t have to think twice. We knew that we wanted to get to Europe, so beggars couldn’t be choosers. Spain it was! And to be honest, I love it here, always dreamed of living in Spain, but had no idea it would be an option with Graham’s career (the base here is very small). The Navy will have to drag me out of Spain, kicking and screaming, when his orders are over next year.

  4. That was a really cool post, Kaley, I love hearing about why expats chose to be in the country they’re in, it’s fascinating, and it’s never for the reasons most people think (“Do you hate America? Why else would you want to live anywhere else?!”, etc.).

    I also loved your passion for learning Spanish, that I can absolutely relate to. Have you considered starting in on any other languages??? You should! You’re in the perfect place to do it: Europe. You’ve got France right next door, start on French! Or German. Or Polish. Or Czech. Or Dutch. Go for it! Are you a bit bored or want something new to accomplish? Well there’s your new hobby, ha! Seriously, I’m just thinking of what I would want to do if I were you, maybe that’s not right and your situation is totally different, but I just love learning new languages so much (and it sounds to me like you do, too) that I thought that might be something you’d want to try. We could get some really interesting blog posts out of a whole “Kaley learns French” debacle…oh, and you should definitely make videos of yourself learning/speaking whatever language you go after, too, heh :D

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  5. I love this: Right now we’re here; right now this is our home. It may not be for forever. That’s okay. When I married a Spaniard, I gave up that right to certainty about where home is.

    You make a wonderful couple!

    1. Couldn’t have put it better myself. The Nov and I are at a bit of a crossroads now, and maybe it’s Seville, maybe it’s Mallorca, could even be Salamanca because there’s a base! But our home is really about us and what we make of it, and we have no idea where it’s going to take us.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this! I’m not the most familiar with Spanish expat blogs, but I read enough blogs about living in a foreign country that you present another perspective. I think a lot of blogs really over-glamorize travel. It’s amazing… but just like with anything — the highs and lows are proportional to each other. You have some pretty big trade-offs you’re dealing with and it’s more than okay to acknowledge them and say, “Hey, you know what? I miss this, this, and this.” So I’m glad that you present another side of things.

    I’m not in another country, but sometimes I deal with those same things. Of feeling distant even though I’m not SO far away.

    Why am I here? (my location; not at this blog) That’s a good question and I’m trying to figure out the answer. :)

  7. I just never settled or particularly liked America (I’m British but lived in the US for 20 years) so when an opportunity came up to move to Thailand, I took it :)

    10 years later, I now split my time between Thailand and Spain. Couldn’t imagine a more perfect life as I love both countries equally. Best decision I ever made was becoming an expat, and I recommend it to anyone.

    Great blog, btw, and cute husband :)

  8. Very nice post. Wow. Some of your experience mirrors mine except I didn’t go back and I didn’t stay. I also had a serious relationship and of course my family was against it and part of HIS family in Spain was against it (I had support from his sister and his father but his mother was horrified that he’d have an American girlfriend). Without internet to help us stay in contact it withered, so I didn’t go that route. I can imagine the difficulties living there. And of course the question that provoked your post. When Spanish ask a question like that it’s their directness. It’s benign curiosity I think. You’re doing great, it’s a huge adjustment, marriage alone is a huge adjustment! And in another country.

  9. I hate getting asked that question because I came for the same reason, but it turned out to be the most painful experience ever. A lot of the time I struggle to balance being honest (and risking looking crazy) with telling the short version (and people can usually pick up that I’m hiding something).

    It’s fascinating to see the other side of the coin, and like a lot of people have said above, it’s nice to read an honest account. Whichever way you slice it, it’s a tough thing to do.

  10. In Spain there is a saying that says: the ox is not wherefrom it is born, but wherefrom it grazes (el buey no es de donde nace, sino de donde pace), Probably do not use you as much, but it is a way of confronting the tests that the life is putting you. Anímo. The good things of the life, always overcome the bad ones.

  11. It seems like you’re doing quite well, adjusting to what life is throwing at you regardless of the location Kaley. It’s hard to do especially when we’re also balancing learning another language, understanding cultural norms, finding jobs that may be out of our university degrees, etc.

    I personally am here temporarily. When I came, I felt this incredible affinity to stay, to find a way, and 3 and a half years later (between back and forth trips and other random places) I’ve made Spain a kind of second home. It’s definitely been challenging and emotionally difficult because I moved so much, and so many attempted friendships were always intercambio based, but at least the food and mi chico kept me sane. Now we’re just in another temporary flat, in another temporary cycle until we have his visa and can official start to make some of our own decisions, things under our control.

  12. This is why your blog is one of the very few Spain expats blog I choose to follow because you keep it real.

    Anyway, it’s funny thinking why I’m in Spain when I’m leaving this country in a few months. I’m here because I’ve always wanted to travel and see Europe and also improve my Spanish. Also a tiny bit because I’m a Real Madrid fan (*cue people asking why when I’m American and this and that*). Been living here for 2 years as an Auxiliar, so it’s time to move on and go elsewhere. It would’ve been easy to just say, “yep going home to Chicago after June”, but I did meet someone here. He’s British, I’m American so we have to figure out where our next home will be.

  13. I love your honesty. I’m tired of reading people write only about the amazing things they come across here, because let’s be real, Spain is not utopia and is nowhere near it. I always feel suspicious of people who never speak of the downsides.

    In any case, I hope you can move back one day. Home is where the heart is, and for some people that means it’ll never be a country they didn’t grow up in. I’m like you – I love what I’ve experienced in Madrid, I love Spain, and even though I feel so comfortable in Madrid and have zero major problems, I am not Spanish nor will I ever be. I guess the only thing we can really say is to enjoy the moments you have there because they won’t last forever!

  14. Hi Kaley, I really liked your post as it reminded me a lot of when I first moved to Spain in early 2002. I think a lot of us (expats who move abroad) are surprised by the amount of uphill struggles we first run into because everyone back home thinks we’re living the dream life and that nothing could be better, and lucky us, etc. etc. As much as I liked living in Barcelona, my experience there (for many diverse reasons) made me initially think that living abroad wasn’t for me, even though I hadn’t lived anywhere else outside the states besides BCN. I was thinking about going home until I came to Madrid and a new world opened up, and 11 years later I can’t imagine living anywhere else. But Madrid (like every city) is far from perfect and just because one expat is happy living here doesn’t mean that you should be as well. My point is, that sometimes it takes bouncing around (and lots of patience) to find the best environment for you and I think you’re to be commended for having tried out different cities such as Toledo, Zamora, Salamanca and now Madrid. The adjustment period is much longer than any of us would have ever imagined, but my best advice is to focus on the things you like about Madrid and Spain, and put your energy into making those experiences even richer. And don’t ever hesitate to rely on the large expat community here, as all of us have been through similar experiences and hearing about those from others always helped put me at ease in those early years. So hang in there, once the rough edges are polished, living abroad really is a beautiful experience :-)

  15. I sure do appreciate the candid nature of your post. I live in the U.S., but one of my restless “grass is greener” dreams is to live in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country. It’s so glorified in my mind and the reality of your post really brings me back to earth. So thank you for that.

  16. I came to Spain as part of the ever popular North American and Language Assistant Program for two reasons: 1. Every since I was 16, I wanted to come to Spain to learn Spanish. 2. I wanted to “test” out a career in teaching ESL to see if it was for me. I majored in English Language and Literature but I never wanted to become an English teacher. I thought well…I do want to see the world, I do want to experience new cultures and learn new languages and I’d hit a dead end in terms of finding a career or even a good job and thought why not give it a try?

    Sadly, I didn’t improve my Spanish at all. I didn’t make many Spanish friends and even though I have a Spanish roommate, we started speaking in English and never stopped (she’s a 5th year student at an English academy trying to get her B2 certificate). I could barely understand the Spanish that is spoken here ((I’m in a small Andalusian town). I tried to inquire about Spanish lessons at an academy but didn’t get a response…and my ads for intercambio via Loquo went unanswered. A teacher did pass a number to me of a friend who gives Spanish lessons but somehow I lost it. In my last month here though, I did start going out more and even practicing my Spanish (with the help of my phrasebook) with Spanish waiters/bartenders. Yes, my Spanish is that bad; I feel I know even less than before. This really sucks for me.

    After doing this program, I am definitely sure that teaching is NOT for me. Oh well. I thought my mind might change about teaching but my first instincts were right. I’ve had many challenges here (extremely BORED and LONELY, money issues, spending holidays alone, etc) but I’ve reluctantly signed up for a second year…simply because I don’t want to close one door without another one being opened (there doesn’t seem to be any job prospects back home) and I didn’t accomplish all of my goals. I WANT to learn Spanish…I want to improve upon my crappy high school and somewhat better but not great college Spanish classes. Even though I signed up to come back here (to Madrid), I may not…I still may cancel. If I don’t come back to Spain, I plan on doing an intensive Spanish course in Latin or South America and just call it day.

    My bad for writing a book but yeah I love the realness of your blog posts. Yes, I’ve read how lovely Spain is by bloggers and posters on many message boards and while I like it a lot here…I don’t love it. Overall, I don’t hate it either but there are definitely some things that I loathe. I guess it is quite different from what I imagined…not in a good or bad way. I just thought I’d love it more and I don’t so…

    1. Thank you for your comment and compliments therein! I try to keep it real. None of the things I post are for blog traffic, I truly believe in what I post.

      I understand you when it comes to coming to Spain and being unsure of why you do it and why you stay. I am still teaching English because it is the best-paying, most-satisfying job there is! I do not want to do it in the future, but as for now it “es lo que hay”.

      Some people really love Spain and their time here; some people don’t. Honestly I was one of the people who didn’t. I stayed and keep staying because of Mario. Without him, I’d be long gone.

  17. I’m here to go to bookbinding school. It’s not something we really have at the undergraduate level in the US, and the approach to arts training is (obviously) different here. What is valued is different and I feel lucky to get a bit of both.
    Many people live an international life because they have to (a bicultural family, military assignment, jobs, etc.) … and since it’s not easy, and I didn’t have to, I’ve struggled with the ‘why’ of voluntarily splitting my life between two countries. I think you put it perfectly … you sacrifice the certainty of knowing where home is. But you get two homes. :)

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