Discovering Yourself as an Expat…

If you’ve made a big life change, such as moving abroad to become an expat, you realize how much of a personal journey this is. It doesn’t happen all at once, rather it is a gradual thing. After a year or so of living abroad, you look back and realize how much the experience has grown and changed you! I call this discovering yourself as an expat.

You’ll soon discover things about yourself you never knew!

“What are you passionate about?” When was the last time someone asked you that question? More importantly, when was the last time you asked YOURSELF that question?

I had the opportunity to reflect on my personal journey of self discovery during my recent interview with a fellow blogger. She wanted to know all about our expat life, how the experience has changed our family and what our plans are after this chapter comes to an end.

Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?

Lauren: Absolutely! I’m a native Jersey girl and have lived my whole life at what locals call the “Jersey Shore” with salt air and white sandy beaches. I’m a wife of ten years to my true “knight in shining armor”, Tony, and together we have three children (ages 8, 6 and 2).

I’ve always loved writing, interior design, restyling furniture and photography. Oh yea, and I would travel far and wide for an outstanding platter of nachos with Sangria!

You come from the United States. Why did you decide to move to Europe?

Lauren: Moving abroad was something my husband and I always talked about since we knew his current job in corporate could allow us the opportunity to do so.

His company is HQ in Geneva, Switzerland so it was less of a choice for us to move to Europe and more of the most sensible location. But to be honest, if our move wasn’t to somewhere in Europe, I’m not sure I would have been as excited.

I absolutely LOVE this part of the world and fell in love with it 10 years ago when my husband and I took a one year anniversary cruise there.

Was Spain the first destination on your list?

Lauren: There were several other locations we could have ended up relocating to in Europe – Geneva, Paris, London. Each option had its pros and cons of course.

But when we learned Barcelona was also a possibility, our hearts started racing with excitement. We had only heard great things about it – the food, the weather, the people, the culture.

Knowing we could someday call this place home helped solidify our decision to make the move.

Was it difficult to change the whole life while having your own family? What was the most challenging aspect for you?

Lauren: Most definitely! As a mom, you want your kids to feel safe and stable in their home life. And here we were packing up our home, leaving everything that was familiar to our kids and asking them to basically start OVER in a foreign country. Talk about major mom guilt!

Related Article: Why We Chose to Move Abroad – The Expat Chronicle Story

I worried constantly about how they would adjust – to the language, the international school, to city life. But my husband is a very even-keeled kind of person and he constantly reassured me that they would be just fine and become stronger individuals in the process. That was comforting!

The most challenging aspect of moving abroad with the little ones was the adjustment of public transportation! We sold our cars in the USA and now in Spain rely on buses, metros and trains. As a single, this would feel liberating! As a mom of three toddlers, it’s a challenge!

But one that we’ve grow accustomed to and accepted as a way of life in any big city. I also think that in the last two years riding mass transit, my kids have become acutely aware of their surroundings and sense of direction. It’s awesome to watch!

What should one remember about before moving overseas?

Lauren: The best piece of advice I ever received before moving abroad came from my children’s pediatrician in the USA. When discussing vaccination and medical needs overseas, he could sense my concerns and simply said, “It’s a modern world. You’re not headed to a third world country. You’ll find everything you need.”

Related Article: 5 Pieces of Advice to Future Expats

And that simple advice has stayed with me throughout the entire process. Whenever I felt overwhelmed trying to figure things out in Barcelona, I always thought about this. It helped put things into perspective. And that doctor was RIGHT.

While it may take a little longer to find what I need, I always do somehow, someway. It’s a modern world.

How does culture of Spain differ from in the USA? Have you ever faced any awkward situations?

Lauren: It’s no secret that Americans are overworked and stressed. We always push ourselves to be more, do more, have more. The biggest difference I’ve noticed with Spanish culture is their contentment.

Flashy cars and big homes aren’t a huge priority. Freedom and family are. Weekends aren’t spent running errands, working overtime or maintaining the home.

They are spent relaxing, enjoying good food and in the company of friends or loved ones. On Sundays, most restaurants and stores are closed. Same goes for weekdays from 2pm-5pm. Doors shut and the Spanish retreat to their homes or a local cafe for a cerveza and good conversation.

Life is “tranquilla” in Spain and while we still have the fast-paced achiever mindset as Americans, we do appreciate slowing down and living in the moment as a family.

Do you ever try to transfer your American nature on the foreign ground? How do the natives react?

Lauren: I wrote a fun article for my blog, The Expat Chronicle, recently titled “4 Qualities Being an Expat Won’t Change”. And basically I share the personality traits about myself that, regardless of how they may or may not be embraced by our international circle in Spain, I’m very unlikely to change.

For example, I’m a very sarcastic person. I notice the Spanish and other European cultures not so much. But it’s a part of my personality that has helped me laugh through stressful situations and brought smiles to the faces of American friends. I don’t ever see this changing, it’s just who I am.

Also, I’m a big hugger. It’s part of my Italian heritage I guess! You asked about any awkward situations. Well, I’ve hugged other parents of different cultures on the school yard and later realized I probably should not have – it could be against their religious beliefs! Mental note taken ha!

Spain is famous for food, flamenco and tequila. What do you appreciate the most? Is there anything you’d like to change?

Lauren: The food is really fantastic, as you said! So much so that when we return to the USA for a visit each summer, our bellies take days to re-adjust to the American food.

Fruit is vibrant in color and as sweet as candy. Veggies are super crunchy and flavorful. The meats all taste different too and contain less fats/oils. And cheap! The food and drinks are inexpensive in Barcelona, so we have the chance to dine out more, which I love!

Related Article: Living in Spain – 5 Things You’ll Fall in Love With

If there was one thing I would change about the city, it would be the dirt. I know, it sounds silly – but as a mom with three toddlers taking your kids for a quick trip to the park can turn into an absolute mess!

Since it hardly rains in Spain, you don’t find tons of grass. So the parks and playgrounds are mostly dirt and sand. Ugh, such a headache that most parents just let their kids run around barefoot haha. I’m not quite there yet!

How do Spanish women differ from the ones you used to know? How does a Spanish wife function in the macho world?

Lauren: One of the first things I noticed about my new Spanish friends was their transparency. The people are very direct. While they may say things with a smile, they do not waste time sugar-coating it. Things like, “Why is your baby crying?”, “Your child needs a coat!” and “How’s that President of yours?!” have all been said to me at one time or another.

And as someone who doesn’t get easily offended, I kind of find it refreshing! I’m a “get to the point” sort of person. As mothers, the Spanish seem so tranquil! I never see them yelling at their kids on the bus or playground. When a child has a tantrum, they remain expressionless and handle the situation unemotionally.

It’s kind of fascinating to watch as someone who can get a tad more hot-headed when my kids misbehave. In terms of how the women compare to the macho man’s world, they sure hold their own!

Most Spanish women I’ve met have thriving careers and earn a nice living.

What are you passionate about?

Lauren: I’m a pretty passionate person in general! Of course, my marriage and three amazing children are at the top of my list.

On a personal level, as mentioned, I love writing and have my degree in journalism. So creating my blog and sharing our experiences as expats has been such a gift!

I’m also obsessed with interior design, decorating and restyling furniture. I had a thriving furniture restyling business in the states before moving abroad called LuLu Restorations.  It was such an amazing creative outlet that helped balance me as a mom.

And last, I’m passionate about new adventures, the unexpected. Life should be about challenging ourselves and constantly growing. If we stay in the same place all the time, life gets pretty stale.

So being an expat and doing it with my children has made us all open to whatever life can throw at us. It’s an exciting time and seeing it through my kids’ eyes is priceless!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

Lauren: I think in ten years my husband and I will be looking to settle down somewhere and have more stability for our kids. Being expats has been incredible and a chapter of our lives that we will always look back on fondly.

But at some point, we’ll want to give our kids “roots”. Only time will tell where exactly that may be…

Which motto would you like to share with my readers?

Lauren: When I was asked in high school to write an essay about my personal motto I chose one by Henry David Thoreau. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve always imagined.”

And even to this day 20 years later, that motto rings true. Everyone has a dream inside their heart. A vision for what they want their life to look like. But only the ones that truly believe with confidence that they will achieve those dreams, can.