Manifesting a move to Spain & living as an expat. Written by Ariana Del Rio
Back in mid 2015 I knew I was moving to España (Spain). I didn’t actually have written confirmation, but it was a feeling I had in my gut that Spain was where I was headed. Fast forward to the present moment and I am writing this in a café in Spain where I’ve been for 18 months now. I moved to Galicia in the northwestern part of the country to teach English. Many people relocate for work, others move for a fresh perspective on life. I moved for both of these reasons, but also because I was coming into my own and needed to be far away from my California home to allow myself the space and mindset to become my own woman. When we live in an environment where others project onto us who they believe we are, or who we should be, we don’t give ourselves the space to live authentically.It may be friends, or family, may be colleagues, but the words of others over time begin to affect us. I needed the distance; I craved it. So I made a choice.
On the other hand, I am also a traveller. As soon as I was old enough to work and save money I began travelling to other parts of the world. It was during my university semester abroad that I fell in love with España. In 2008 I was hosted in the big capital city Madrid, and spent my days living and exploring for nearly five months independent of loved ones back home. With all of Europe just a plane, train or bus away, I got to visit some of the iconic European cities that year too: Lisbon in Portugal, Rome and another six or so cities in Italia, and Paris in France. I knew that what Spain had taught me in those five months away from California was life-changing. My eyes were opened. A whole world was opened to me, in fact, one such a contrast from my life in Los Angeles, and from the U.S especially. So it was that year that the seed was planted: Some day I’d return to both Spain and Europe to live for an extended period of time.
I think I almost applied for the teaching position in Spain 3 different times in three different years, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I got serious. I collected all the documents needed (college transcripts, letters of recommendation) and wrote my letter of intent. Then I thoroughly vetted the website and read up online about others who had participated in the same programme. By early April 2015, I had sent off my application, both online and by mail (very close to the due date) and so now I only had to wait for word back. The way this programme works you could wait months. I scoured the online communities of teachers in this particular programme to get answers when I didn’t hear back in June or July as they had initially said I would. Even though nothing was confirmed I had made up my mind that I was going to Spain. I knew it was for me. I can’t tell you how or why I knew, it was just something I felt. When the confirmation email arrived in my inbox would be the moment I could proceed logistically (Visa stuff, plane ticket, goodbyes), but in those summer months I acted like I was shortly moving across the Atlantic Ocean to that European continent.
I started wrapping up my life in a way in Los Angeles, and then I did something kind of crazy (but necessary) and went to México as a solo traveller in September, even though I hadn’t heard anything back from the teaching programme. I left to travel for two weeks in the Yucatán region, but then extended my travels to three weeks and finally to a full month, and it was there in the jungle of Palenque Chiapas that I got the email. I really shouldn’t have because the hostel where I was staying in the said jungle only had shitty wifi that you paid for by the hour, which meant I was only checking my emails every few days. On October 9th I received an email with “Adjudicación de plaza” in the subject and the words “Galicia” and “Si desea ACEPTAR ” in the body of the email. Translation: Admission, to the region of Galicia, and if you’d like to ACCEPT; I had three days to respond.
I was shocked. It was October 9th and the programme had already begun on the 1st. I was in the jungle in the south of México and I had to either accept or decline within three days. Believe me when I say, in those moments it wasn’t so clear anymore. I had been travelling and seeing places and meeting people that changed me, and accepting this job would mean leaving to rush back to California to prepare to move to Spain. Rushing because the school year had already begun and because they had given me a very late assignment, and it was all kind of muddy in my mind as I stared at the email on the screen of my phone.
Once I meditated a bit with the notion, walking around in the gorgeous and natural setting I had come to love and value, I returned to my room, opened up the email again and a huge smile came across my face. I knew in that moment that I had said yes. In my heart I had accepted the position. So I paid for the shitty wifi to go online and make it official. Then I booked my ticket back home to Los Angeles for the week after and made my finger printing appointment, Visa appointment and later purchased my flight to Spain. It cost roughly about $1,500 for me to move, including a round trip ticket, all the necessary paperwork and the Visa fee, but it was money well spent. Looking back I have absolutely no regrets. Sometimes I cannot believe that I did everything that I set out to do, that I let that seed grow into a plant and have made a life in Spain for the past 18 months. Although I arrived late, after a few short months of working at my primary school I renewed for the same school/city for a second year.
CHALLENGES OF LIVING ABROAD/AS AN EXPAT:
Location: Something not everyone knows about Galicia, Spain is that depending on where you live in the region and where you come from, the weather could be daunting or at the very least quite challenging. For me it was absolutely challenging from the moment I touched down in late autumn. If the cold doesn’t get you, the fog and damp might chill you to the bone. Or perhaps if you are used to sunshine (like in California) you might freak out when it goes missing for months at a time behind the gray skies and dark clouds and rain. I got sick a lot here in my first year.
Temporary gig/Salary: This position is an 8 month contract for the school year, October through to the end of May, meaning you don’t get paid during the summer months. Also, the salary is less than Spanish teachers make, and less than what I was used to. I have had to supplement my income with private classes here.
Adjusting to a new Culture and Lifestyle: Luckily for me the language wasn’t a problem. I picked up Gallego quickly and could also speak Spanish whenever I wanted to. Here they have a bilingual system, both Gallego and Spanish languages. But other things took some adjusting to. . . whether it was the smoking culture, or the culinary delights (lots and lots of meat) or the eating and drinking very late at night and into the morning hours, there was definitely a period where I had to get used to a different way of life. I appreciate the Gallegos for who they are, but I still get in a bad mood when I’m caught in a cloud of their cigarette smoke. Seriously. But if I have a glass of delicious local wine in hand, it does help me to cope.
GEMS OF LIVING ABROAD/AS AN EXPAT:
Location: There is a lush forest just a 10 minute walk from my apartment and two rivers that flow nearby, which makes for lots of exploration and nature time. I also live relatively close to the border of northern Portugal (2 hours by car) which allowed me to visit several times, and even inspired a two week road trip with my mum and sister. Also as I mentioned before, as Spain is in Europe, I’ve done a lot of travelling because of cheaper flights and good planning in these 18 months . . . and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
Temporary gig: This job has given me the freedom to take full advantage of my summers in Europe. No one gets to tell me where to be; I’m independent here and I love how comfortable I have become as a female traveller and SOLO TRAVELLER! Speaking of summer it is just around the corner for me now and that’s exciting.
New Culture and Lifestyle: There is no way to get bored when you open yourself up to others, new people and new cultures. Not only here in Galicia, but in all the countries I have travelled to since living here, I have opened myself up and learned how people live the good life, how people share meals and drinks, secrets and intimate moments. I have made friends in other parts of Europe. I have visited them in their cities and countries and been eternally grateful for all these opportunities to expand my mind and transform my lifestyle.
I feel so very blessed that I went after something I wanted for my life. Cheers to another year as an expat!! I move to the islands off the eastern coast of Spain in September for a whole new adventure! If any of you want to know more about this teaching programme or life in Spain, please feel free to reach out! I’d love to help.
P.S – Have you joined our Solo Women Travel Tribe yet? This is a private Facebook community for Solo Women Travellers from all over the globe. This is a place to learn, inspire, share & connect with fellow Solo Women Travellers. CLICK HERE to join us!