We recognize there are many different paths that lead to life abroad and you may be wondering how I personally ended up living in Spain. As opposed to Claudia, I think my journey is rather traditional, stemming from a study abroad semester in Spain that eventually led to long-term living abroad in the same country. Still, it’s easy to look back years later and see your path as a clear trajectory whereas, along the way, it felt more like an unpredictable, winding road. Thus, I’ll try to walk you through each stage and explain what was going on for me at the time.
Study Abroad in Alicante
When I was a sophomore in college (age 19), I decided to go on a study abroad program to the southeastern, coastal city of Alicante, Spain. My alma mater offered a university-run program in Barcelona (which would have been a more comfortable choice, seeing as it would involve going abroad as a group with other students and faculty from my university). However, after talking with others who had studied abroad, I was convinced that I wanted to go through an unaffiliated program and have the opportunity to really feel “on my own.”
Of course, the program I chose through CIEE was still incredibly supported and they walked us through so many of the scary things like visa applications, course selection, and homestay placements. I tested into the highest level of their program so I took all my classes in Spanish, including two courses directly at the Universidad de Alicante (my other three courses were taught through my program).
I had a wonderful homestay experience and loved the fact that I was able to call beautiful Alicante, a lesser known destination than Madrid or Barcelona but still a decently-sized Spanish city, my home. I made a lot of good friends I’m still in touch with today, but I will admit that we mostly lived within an American bubble. Our program, and by extension, my group made a good effort to immerse in the culture and we promised to only speak Spanish (aside from talking with people from home). Still, I later realized how very much this experience was only a bridge between my American and Spanish worlds, not “full immersion” as the program claimed.
Teach Abroad in Granada
One thing I was particularly grateful for were CIEE’s organized trips during my study abroad semester. Knowing that we would visit Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, and a number of smaller cities and towns nearer to Alicante (like Villajoyosa, Benidorm, and Murcia) took the pressure off of me to plan my own vacations within Spain. My favorite weekend trip of all was to Granada, a magical Andalusian city I had only heard amazing things about.
As I wandered the streets with my friends, exploring the Alhambra and getting lost in the magic of a flamenco show in the Sacramonte caves, I felt filled with a conviction that I would live there one day. It was a small feeling that I didn’t act on for years, but it was there from the start all the same. Come my senior year at university, that nudge returned and pushed me to apply for a variety of programs to return to Spain and, specifically, to Granada.
In the end, it was through CIEE’s branch of the Auxiliares de Conversación y Cultura that I landed a teaching assistant placement in Lobres, a tiny town near Motril (a small city on the coast directly below Granada). I quickly made friends with a few other people with placements in the area. With two of them placed in Motril itself, I was tempted to live there near them, which would have resulted in a 10-minute commute to work instead of a 50-minute one from Granada.
In the end, though, one weekend with a different new friend in Granada reignited the spark I had first felt in the city and I was quickly moving into an apartment with random roommates there. That year was pure magic. My contract through the Auxiliares program only required me to work twelve hours a week, yet I received a stipend that easily covered my monthly expenses. As a result, not only did I get my first taste of teaching but I also took up new hobbies like meditation and yoga and had time to take on a few private lessons, learn how to cook, and travel on extended weekends.
Living / Teaching Abroad in Costa Rica
To be perfectly honest with you, I still sometimes wonder if I should have just stayed in Granada and reapplied to keep the same position for a second (and third) year of assistant teaching as some of my friends did. I absolutely loved my life abroad and felt so at ease in Granada. However, I felt a need to test that—to see if what I loved about living here was truly because of GRANADA or solely the experience of living in a foreign country and language.
As such, I decided to return to the US for the summer with the intention of selecting a new Spanish-speaking country to move to for the following year. After much research, my sights were set on Costa Rica. I had an incredibly positive experience finding a family in San José that took me and treated me like one of their own—through Couchsurfing! I originally got in contact with the daughter through the website that’s more for connecting people on a short-term basis, yet it quickly turned into a longer-term arrangement.
I was so lucky to have their support, an instant insight into the local life, and their kind words of encouragement when I’d been there for over a month and still hadn’t landed an interview, much less a teaching job. Eventually, I did get hired at a really good academy I enjoyed working at, but my tenure was short-lived. Due to the death of a friend and the hospitalization of my grandfather, I decided to return home only three months after arriving.
Had I wanted to return afterwards, I’m rather sure I would have been welcomed back by my work and family there. However, I knew in my heart that Costa Rica wasn’t the place for me. Under other circumstances, I imagine I would have stayed at least until the following summer but I decided to take my need to return home as a sign. In the end, Costa Rica taught me exactly what I wanted to know: it was, in fact, Granada that captivated me.
Living Abroad in Granada
After eight months back home, mostly living with my grandma as we both learned to cope with our grief, I decided to return to Granada in the fall of 2015. Thanks to the contacts I still had in the city, I had an interview lined up in the very first week after arriving and was quickly offered the job. Again, I sought out random roommates on PisoCompartido and this time it resulted in more lasting connections and friendships.
For the first couple years, I split my time between teaching English at a language academy, giving private lessons, and teaching English online. Over the following two years I slowly cut down on my teaching gigs, moving away first from the academy, then in-person private lessons, and, at the end of 2019, I left teaching altogether. It was a hard choice to make, as I loved my students and had learned so much from teaching English, but I had different plans for myself.
Along the way I had met my now-husband, got our first home together, and got married both here in Spain and in my hometown in the US. It is with his never-failing support that I had the confidence to quit my job and pursue my passion—becoming a published author. When I embarked on this journey at the onset of 2020, I had no idea how quickly (if at all) I would achieve that goal. By July of the same year, however, I self-published my first collection of short stories and I’ve since published my second set, Snapshots of Spain. I think this new collection may be particularly interesting to you, as it’s based on stories of expat experiences in Spain. Please eel free to sign up for my author mailing list to stay in-the-know on details of new projects, too.
My Sense of Home
And that’s essentially my abroad journey. For some people, it’s the thrill of moving somewhere new that inspires them but, for me, it’s really about this one particular country and the city of Granada in specific. I found a new sense of home here. Of course, I miss my friends and family back home but I also don’t know any adult life different from this one. This is where I feel I’ve become an adult and established my “real life.”
Often, when a live abroad stint has an end-date (like my study abroad and teach abroad experiences did) it’s difficult to feel fully settled or that you can truly call the place you are living in your home. For me, those feelings dissipated many years ago. I’m still a guiri, I’ll never truly be Spanish, but I’ll also never fully feel American again either. Thankfully, I’ve found a place to exist amid those mixed emotions that still feels like home.