What It’s ::Really:: Like to Live Abroad

Kind and caring humans: “What’s your favorite thing about living in Spain??!”

Me: “We love it! It’s beautiful!”

The real answer is probably not the “sangria, travel, and cathedral” answer you’d expect – although those things don’t suck.

The real real? Living abroad is not vacation. It’s learning how to sit with discomfort and push yourself to grow and learn every single day. It’s simultaneously my favorite and least favorite part of this foreign adventure. 

You know how much you hate to call your cell phone provider? Now try that it Spanish. 

What about that gynecologist appointment you’ve been meaning to make? Yep, all in Spanish, using Spanish insurance, your medical stats in the metric system, billing in euros, and now you don’t know how to get home because you took a cab to the appointment frantically translating “pap smear” and “menstrual cup” on your ride to the hospital.

This is pretty much how we live most days. Uncomfortable, pushing it, laughing at mistakes, crying at mistakes, a little bit frustrated, making an idiot of ourselves, and a whole lot of lost. Lost in translation, lost in systems, and literally lost in the city. 

Especially in the first year,  nothing comes easy – from buying sheets in centimeters to finding ingredients for taco night. Some days I embrace the difficulties and some days I take a break from the hard stuff and go to Five Guys like “f*ck it. I’m American and today we’re eating a greasy bag of fries from Idaho”

The positives: Family. We struggle together: Navigating the new, laughing at the bumps in the road, falling down, learning the language, and practicing how to jump hurdles. Setbacks are becoming normalized, patience – essential, and we’re giving our kids the gift of grit.

A great example of this in practice: Our first trip to the dentist…

Pick up the kids from school early, walk 20 minutes home to get dad who cancelled work calls, grab a snack, brush teeth, walk 20 minutes to the dentist map in hand, arrive at dentist, answer Spanish insurance questions, my husband is up first and returns in under 90 seconds. 

Me: “What the heck? You’re done?!!” 

Him:  “Yeah, she just talked to me and then looked in my mouth. I think that was like a consultation or something”

Yep. Booked 4 consultations, not teeth cleanings. 

New appointments for next week. Dentista parte dos. That same night, we found a new restaurant on our way home which has become Max’s favorite spot to eat in the city and we laughed our faces off at my mistake. Paul was not mad at my Spanish error, the kids were not upset at an extra trip to the dentist, we just laughed at ourselves and hypothesized about the American dental hygiene obsession. 

We learned that Americans hold the reputation in dentistry for having the best teeth. Interesting. The consultation hygienist  looked in our mouths and immediately knew we were American. She also told Max that his Spanish was beautiful and he was so proud.

This is exactly the rollercoaster we bought a ticket for. Scary, hilarious, confusing, boundary pushing, but always punctuated with lessons and takeaways. 

The majority of days we get off the ride and scream or sigh: “Wowww, that was crazy!!” With every pass we learn our strength and learn how to extend grace to others who are also living their own version of ‘roller coaster crazy’. 

Learning to live with discomfort, adapt, and extract the silver lining is exhausting and completely worth it. After almost 2 years of this we are stronger as a family and much wiser. 

So, “What’s my favorite thing about living in Spain?!” 

“We love it! It’s beautiful!” 😉