Ready to Move Abroad?
"When you were a kid in New Jersey,” I said to Rich, “did you ever think you’d move abroad?”
“Me either. I thought it was something that people only did in books and movies, not in real life.”
So you can imagine how gobsmacked we were a dozen years ago when we found ourselves leaving Cleveland, Ohio to settle in Seville, Spain. How — and why — do (reasonably) sane, (mostly) normal people like ourselves decide to leave behind all that's comfortable and familiar to venture forth into the unknown?
To get to the heart of this question, I decided to interview the one person who could really shed light on the subject: my husband, Rich.
What took you overseas for the first time?
I was in the Navy from 1966 to 1969. First I was on a refrigerator ship out of Norfolk, Virginia carrying supplies to the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean; later I went to Vietnam. But it wasn’t until I was out of the service and visiting relatives in Ireland that I realized how great it was to connect with another culture. Looking back, I regretted that I’d wasted the opportunity to get to know the Vietnamese, Italian, French, and Spanish people I’d encountered during my time in the military. I vowed to make up for that in the future. Since then I've traveled to more than 60 countries, and I always make an effort to talk with locals.
[Note: For more about how to connect with locals, click on any of the photos below.]
What inspired you to move abroad?
After I took early retirement, I felt like my world was getting smaller and smaller. I needed a sense of adventure. Visiting southern Spain, I realized I’d found what I was looking for. It's challenging but at the same time much more relaxed and less money-driven. Family and friends are treated as genuinely important, not something to fit into the margins of your day. In the US, even something as simple as having a coffee has to be scheduled weeks in advance, but in Seville, it’s far more spontaneous; friends ring your doorbell in passing and invite you to join them at the corner café. In some ways, it reminds me of the America of my childhood years.
What’s the most embarrassing moment of your expat career?
Oh God, there are so many. OK, here’s one. When we first moved to Seville, I wanted to make a small repair requiring a screwdriver. I checked the dictionary, and all the way to the hardware store I kept muttering “destornillador, destornillador, destornillador” (screwdriver, screwdriver, screwdriver). Unfortunately, the minute I stepped through the door, my mind went blank and I blurted out a similar word, ordenador (computer). This caused such intense mutual confusion that I was forced to abandon the attempt and flee the scene without buying either a screwdriver or a computer.
At the time, I was pretty chagrined, but afterwards it struck me as funny and I’ve been telling the story for years. Living abroad has its challenges, which add a lot of zest to the daily round. Scientists tell us such challenges keep our brains sharp, so I figure I must be at the top of my mental game by now.
[Note: For details of other road disasters and embarrassing moments, click on any of the photos below.]
Any advice for those considering expat life?
Expat life is not a 365-day-a-year vacation. Do your research, and if possible visit several times so you know what to expect — not just about great places to lie in the sun drinking sangria, but in terms of cultural vibrancy, work opportunities, and your particular interests.
[To help you get started, click here for the new InterNations poll in which 14,000 expats give their opinions of which destinations you should put at the top of your list.]
What do you say to those who equate being an expatriate (someone living outside their own country) with being an ex-patriot (a person who is no longer loyal to their nation)?
That’s nonsense. Americans never stay put; on average we move eleven times during our lives, usually to pursue new opportunities. Just as going away to college doesn’t mean you stop loving your parents, living abroad doesn’t mean you stop loving your country. I am a very loyal American. I served my country. I pay my taxes. I always vote. I spend part of every year in the States. But I am also pursuing new opportunities in a larger world. Travel helps me gain fresh perspective — which in my opinion is needed now more than ever.
What do you miss most about the USA?
Burritos. To me, that’s the taste of America.
And what about the future?
I consider myself a permanent ambassador of goodwill for our nation. Many people have said, “You two are the first Americans I’ve ever really talked to. You’re not at all what I expected.” And that’s when the conversation gets interesting.
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11/27/2016 01:41:43 am
I knew this one would speak to you, Steve; as a fellow expat, you know what I'm talking about! Thanks for your kind words, I'll pass them along to Rich.
11/26/2016 07:14:28 pm
Great food for thought as we contemplate our next moves.
11/27/2016 01:43:07 am
I hear a lot of talk about Americans moving abroad in 2017. Here's hoping you've got Seville on your short list, Denise.
11/27/2016 07:21:44 am
Oh, yes, to so many of the observations and experiences. We've had much the same in Greece. One of the things that always amazes me is that comment about Americans as we've heard it ourselves many times. Now that we are getting to know other non-Americans better it is interesting (no, make that rather sad) to hear what they thought we all were like or worse to hear of their experiences in traveling in America. Not always that warm welcome that we've received on this side of the Atlantic.
11/29/2016 02:15:21 am
Clearly we all have a lot of work to do as ambassadors of goodwill, Jackie!
11/27/2016 09:48:29 am
We're thinking about spending more time at our place near Nerja. Who do you recommend we consult about the bureaucratic intricacies of residency in Spain?
11/29/2016 02:18:21 am
Start with the Spanish consulate nearest you in the US. They can give you all the paperwork — and there is quite a bit of it! But it is all manageable, you just go through it step by step.
11/29/2016 06:40:48 am
Thank you, Karen. Our closest one is in Los Angeles. I understand from another US expat in Spain that the consulates don't take/make appointments. You just have to hope they will make time for you after you've traveled (375 miles in our case) to see them.
11/29/2016 02:59:45 pm
Alicia, I'd call and check about the appointment; each consulate may have its own policy, and you could at least find out when they're least busy. Also, ask them if there is an online source for the forms, so you can arrive with the paperwork started. When we did our initial long-term visa application, we had to go to Chicago twice — and the second time they forgot to give us part of the paperwork and tried to make us return for it. But as we were flying out to Spain the next day, they finally agreed to FedEx the papers to us. The package arrived in a snow storm literally one minute ahead of our ride to the airport. Added a lot of spice to the departure!
11/27/2016 04:57:33 pm
He's right about the burritos!
11/29/2016 02:19:02 am
Rich is a man who knows good food when he munches on it!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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