I’m bringing my Expat Living interview series out of “hibernation” and I can think of no better person to start with than Erin from La Tortuga Viajera.
I had the very fortunate opportunity to meet both Erin and her husband in February while in Spain. They’re awesome and I think that like me, you’ll be amazed by their heart warming love story. I also like the fact that Erin and I share a common love for street art and cool cafes.
Erin from La Tortuga Viajera
Apart from all questions I’ve answered below, you should probably know that I have a deep affection for Spanish wine and food (jamón, tortilla española, croquettas and manchego cheese to be exact), holiday-themed socks, and Spanish grandpas.
Where Are You From? (City/Country)
San Francisco Bay Area, USA
Where Are You Living Now? How Long Have You Been There?
I’ve lived in Madrid for four years now.
Have You Lived Anywhere Else? Do You Plan to Stay in Your Current Location or Move Somewhere Else in the Future?
Other than different cities in Northern California (and SF, where I left my heart, of course), I’ve only lived in Madrid. I hope to stay in Madrid indefinitely, although my Spanish husband really wants to move to the US (which I intend to postpone for as long as possible, i.e. forever).
What’s Your Story? What Made You Decide to Take the Big Leap and Leave Home?
Love! I initially came to Spain for just three days with friends, but then I met this Spanish fellow during a 15-minute chat in a bar on my last night. I gave him my email and forgot about him, but then he wrote me a couple of days after. Eight trips to Spain and a year and a half later, I finally made the big move.
Do You Ever Miss Home? What Do You Do to Cope?
During the first couple of years I definitely missed home a lot, but now I rarely miss it much. I’ve definitely hit my stride here and spend most of my time just tremendously grateful to live in such a spectacular place that makes my life rich in so many ways. I truly can’t complain.
How Do You Blend in and Be Accepted by Locals?
I find that the Spaniards are by and large a really welcoming bunch, so being accepted doesn’t require much effort. I suppose as long as you like jamón and share a love for the country, then you’ll fit right in.
How Do You Stay in Contact with Loved Ones?
Mostly over email, and messenger on my mobile. Occasionally I will get on skype or pick up the phone, but somehow the day-to-day instant messages make it feel like they aren’t so far away.
Did You Have to Learn a New Language? If Yes, What? How Did You Go About Learning the Language and How Long Did it Take You to Become Fluent?
You could probably get by in Madrid without speaking much Spanish, but if you want to assimilate, then you better hit the books. I took all sorts of approaches, from one-on-one classes in the States to government subsidized ones here in Spain. There is a lot of gray area with fluency, though, so I don’t know that I can pinpoint when I actually felt like I’d finally arrived (even after passing Spanish exams at the highest level). I can definitely say, though, that after a few years of being here, I felt like I’d reached a real comfort level with the language where I just didn’t think or worry about expressing myself anymore.
What Has Been the Most Shocking Thing You Learned About the Local Culture?
This might sound pathetic, but I’m still really shocked every time I have to choose between water and a glass of wine, and the wine is always cheaper. That is shocking…shockingly awesome.
Your Number One Tip About How to Live Life as an Ex-pat.
Do your best to see the good in any given culture. I think too often it’s easy to be critical of things that don’t work the same, or different ways of doing things that might just seem absurd (and trust me, there are lots of those here), but it’s important to remember that it’s all relative. The key to happiness abroad (in my experience) is never losing sight of all the good a place has to offer.
What Do You Love Most About Living Abroad?
Learning something new everyday and always being challenged.
What Has Been Your Best Experience to Date in Your New Home?
Gosh, I’d probably have to say my wedding. Having 40 Americans fly over for a 12-hour party that lasted until 8am inside of a 700-year-old monastery…well, that’s just kind of unbeatable.
Did You Make the Move Solo? Or Are You with a Spouse or Significant Other, Other Members of Your Family, or Friend(s)?
I made the move solo, but had my Spanish boyfriend (now husband) waiting for me on the other end :).
What Do You Do Work Wise? Did You Have a Job Before You Arrived or Did You Look for Work When You Got There? If You Didn’t Have a Job, How Did (Or Do) You Land Work?
In the States, I worked in marketing for Silicon Valley tech companies, and continued working in the tech industry when moving to Spain. I didn’t have much trouble finding a job as my profile was in high demand (tech+marketing+Silicon Valley+native English speaker = offer). Eventually, however, I came to terms with the fact that working in Spain for startups was a much different experience than working for Fortune 500s in California. Motivated to make a change, I decided to follow my heart and start doing something I truly loved. Now, I focus almost all my time on freelance writing, and am loving every minute of it.