We recently spoke about the difficulties you may encounter when talking to your family about moving abroad and some general strategies that can help you smooth things over. While I recommend starting with that article if you find yourself in a situation in which your parents or other family members are resistant or unsupportive of your decisions, Claudia and I would also like to provide some insights on our personal experiences with this conversation.
I have to admit, I’ve had it pretty good when it comes to support from my family. I really can’t complain as we’ve never had any arguments or grand disagreements about my decision to move to Spain while I studied abroad, taught abroad with Auxiliares, and now live abroad long-term. That doesn’t mean it was an easy decision for me to make nor for my family to accept; it simply means that we have found healthy ways to discuss it, look at it, and grow from it.
One should also keep in mind that I have left home to move abroad a total of four times now (three of which were to move to Spain) and each conversation has been a little different, each growing out of the experiences I had had prior to that point. My motivations have changed a bit along the way, but I think these underlying messages that I have been able to convey to my family are the ones that have stayed consistent.
I love it
First and foremost, my family knows how much Spain means to me. This was not an argument I could use to convince my parents about moving abroad the very first time I came to study in Spain (as I didn’t know the country at all back then), but since then it has become one of the greatest factors. For me, Spain represents my home in a way that Chicago does not. I am NOT saying that I don’t care about Chicago; where I grew up will always be important to me and I will forever cherish my suburbs and the family I have back home. At the same time, there is something uniquely special about a home you choose for yourself, which is what I have come to find in Granada.
Part of the reason I feel so strongly that Granada is my home is because it is where I have started my adult life. Of course, the validity of this argument has been strengthened over the years and arguable wasn’t one of the most convincing factors the first time I moved abroad. However, after living in Spain the year about college graduation—when all of my friends were also starting their first real jobs, moving into their first apartments away from school and family, etc—I learned how to do all of those first ‘real adult life things’ here in Spain. As hard as it can be to start out in a new city, a foreign country is so much harder. The result, however, is that you come away with that much stronger of skills and confidence.
Each time before coming, I have been sure to get my personal financial situation in check. After graduation, I worked extra hours over the summer so I would have some savings, applied for an income-based repayment plan for my student loans so that my payments wouldn’t kick in when I was uncertain about having enough income to pay them back, and I opened a new account at a more internationally-friendly bank. These steps were crucial as they put my parents at ease, knowing that my student loans weren’t going to become a burden they had to bear while I was off gallivanting in Spain but that they could access my bank if need be.
The moral of the story is that I did my research and I planned ahead. My parents could see that then and so they were confident I would take just as much care once I was on my own in Spain. For this reason, they have also been incredibly supportive and helpful when I’ve needed them to look into something in-person at my American bank, make transfers, etc. It sounds funny and counter-intuitive, but I believe that demonstrating my independence and responsibility in this way actually causes them to be happy to help when I need it.
I’m not running away from them; I’m chasing my dream
This one is hard to convey and you never know just how your family will internalize your absence, but the best I’ve been able to do is to be as forthcoming as possible. “It’s not you, it’s me” has never seemed like a more honest explanation than in this case. Moving abroad means that you cannot manage to come home on a regular basis. It means that you will miss family celebrations, but also some of life’s most difficult moments as well (read my thoughts here about preparing for death and illness in the family). It’s incredibly hard not to be there for your family when you know they need you as well as to be off on your own when these trying circumstances arise. You have to decide if that’s truly what you want and a choice you can live with at this point in your life. If you decide that it is, be sure to let your folks in on the fact that you’re not trying to put them through strife on purpose.
Rather, there are other factors at play, the most important for me being that Spain is my dream. It’s funny because I didn’t grow up knowing that I wanted to live in a foreign country but the more and more time I’ve spent here it’s become more and more clear to me that this is the life I dream of having. And I didn’t realize this until recently, but my mom says that this thought is one that has stuck with her: I was raised in a generation that was constantly told to go after our dreams, yet so many of us get caught up in the routine and normal life we think we are supposed to have that we don’t go after it. I AM chasing my dreams, though, and my parents are proud of that.
While I’m sure all of the above mattered to my family, the factor that seems to outweigh all of the others is actually the simplest one—I’m genuinely happy here. It’s sometimes hard to express just how much you love living somewhere, just how much it feels like home, and just how much you’re thriving there (especially if you’re trying to convince your family of this BEFORE you go) but when my family sees the huge, goofy grin on my face, the excitement in my voice, and the light in my eyes when I tell them about my latest adventure abroad (may it be monumental or something as simple as a game I played with one of the kiddos I teach), that sincere happiness becomes undeniable.
“I miss you like crazy, but it’s okay because I know you’re happy” is something I hear time and time again on the phone and in cards from my parents, grandma, etc. I know that living so far away puts a strain on my family ties and may make things more difficult on all of us. At the end of the day, however, they have made it clear to me that all of this is relatively moot in comparison to my happiness.
As I said at the beginning, I’m incredibly lucky to have a family that feels this way and I know it may not be the same case for everyone. Still, I think there is something to be said about each of the points that have been important when talking with my family…perhaps they are ones you can identify with and convey to your family as well!