I like to think that two and a half years of living abroad in Barcelona has equipped me to offer some insight and advice to those looking to move abroad and become future expats.
If living abroad has taught me one thing, it’s that living abroad isn’t so…uncommon! I used to think it was – picking up your whole life and venturing to a world unknown.
But actually, it seems like every day I meet a new face here from a different part of the globe. People from all different cultures and backgrounds with rich stories to match and offering great pieces of advice for future expats.
It amazes and inspires me!!
While I’m still learning and picking up knowledge everyday, here is some of the best advice I’d like to offer to future expats entering this exciting chapter in their lives!
5 Pieces of Advice to Future Expats
1. Get Connected
Ok, I know these days Facebook can be a bit of a snore (Zzzzz! I spend most of my time with @theexpatchronicle on Instagram these days) but some of the communities you can join on Facebook will be vital!
Before we even had a signed contract for our relo, I had already found answers to tons of questions in groups like International Expats of Barcelona, Expat Moms, Barcelona Moms, Moms with Babies in Barcelona.
These strangers became my lifeline to a world unknown and were able to offer personal accounts on everything from neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, banks, playgroups, summer camps, furniture stores….I’m telling you, lifeline. At least once a week I still refer to these groups!
2. Learn some history behind the city you’ll soon call home.
You’ll appreciate where you are much more if you come to understand how it got that way! It took me a full year before I really began to understand the symbolism within the walls and streets of Barcelona, Gaudi‘s incredible artistic vision, the mystery behind La Sagrada Familia and more.
I thought I was in love with this city when we first arrived – but today more than ever.
During the first few weeks settling into your new city, be it Barcelona or elsewhere, your mind will be spinning with logistics. But do try to carve out one afternoon to ride a Hop On Hop Off bus. Touristy? Absolutely YES. But a wonderful way to see the highlights of your new home city and learn a ton of interesting facts in a quick amount of time.
3. Don’t assume the home you fall in love with is where you should be living.
Please please don’t fall into the trap of choosing a home based on photos! Our search started on websites like Idealista and Engel & Voelkers. We were thrilled to have a long list of options within our budget – and all in the most beautiful, majestic and romantic part of the city, Gothic Quarter.
This would be easy! Right?!
Wrong. Gothic is beautiful and romantic – for a date night! (It’s still my favorite part of this city.) But to raise a family there with young kids?! Definitely not! Once we learned this after the initial pre-move visit, our search started all over again. Swarming with tourists during the day and drunken university students at night, this neighborhood is a blast to visit but may have been a nightmare to live in.
Do yourself a favor and learn about the neighborhoods in each city; they all tend to have their own personality and vibe. As far as Barcelona is concerned, barrios (neighborhoods) such as Sarria, Sant Gervasi/Bonanova, Eixample, Poble Nou and Tres Torres are all lovely for families. Wish we had known this from the get-go!
4. Choose to blend in instead of stand out.
I realize this goes against most expats’ mentality of living life to the fullest and “choosing the road less traveled” but if you want to be treated like a local and mix amongst them – then you mustn’t look like a…Yankee (in our case!).
That meant baseball caps were only worn on rainy days, American flag shirts were reserved for bedtime and flip flops reserved for the beach. The idea is not to change who you are but rather to fully embrace the attitude and style of your new cultural surroundings.
Truth be told, the locals can still spot a “guiri” (foreigner) a mile away. But more often than not these days, I get asked, “Italiano?” instead of “Americana?” Which makes me giggle and of course, I wouldn’t dare argue otherwise ha!
5. Never stop taking photos
Some argue that living “in the moment” is a lost art. People have forgotten how to put down their damn camera phone and relish in the present. And while I am definitely one of those people that try to limit the constant snaps and clicks (for the sake of driving my husband and children insane), being an expat is an exception to the rule.
Why? Because the term itself “expat” represents something temporary. Not forever. An end date in sight. Which means this chapter in our lives of adventure and excitement will someday…..be a thing of the past.
And that scares me.
When our memories of Barcelona eventually start to fade, photos will be all we have. Sure, I take the obvious ones of monuments, churches, beaches, dishes. But I can always find those images with a quick Google search.
What I won’t find are photos of our everyday life here. The view of mountain and sea out the front balcony of our apartment. The beautiful pattern of stamped sidewalk pavement throughout the city.
Our teenie tiny euro kitchen (of which I have both a love and hate relationship with!). The even tinier building elevator that we’ve successfully managed to fit all five of us plus a stroller inside of! Our sweet doorman whose familiar face day after day has become like family.
The first nervous day photos at international school and special teachers that have made all the difference for our kids’ transition.
The sparkle in our all of our eyes that comes with new experiences.
The smiles of wonderful friends we’ve made and will cherish for a lifetime… Those are the kinds images I want to reflect back on when I am old and grey – and my children have families of their own.
This time is ours. Your time will be yours.
It’s our job, our responsibility, to capture as much of it as we possibly can in the short time that it lasts.