After graduating from college, I decided to skip out on finding a full-time job, and instead applied to teach English abroad in Spain. I think a lot of people view what I'm doing abroad as a huge "vacation," a giant long trip to Europe, or may even romanticize the idea of living abroad and being abroad. I've been here for two years now, and I know that before I moved over here, I definitely romanticized the idea that I'd be taking vacations to exotic areas, participating in super cultural festivals and meeting a bunch of different people from all over the world.
I had this idea of always having my cafe con leche, sitting on my terrace with the Spanish sun warming my skin. Then, I'd go out with friends for tapas, dine on Spanish ham and delicious cheese while drinking wine by the glass for only 2€. While I have to admit some of these things are true, my life is not a fairy tale European getaway.
Y'all, there's something that is called work. I carry on with my normal "day-to-day" life just like the rest of my family and friends do back in the States. I wake up, go to work, come home, do house chores, go to my private lessons, prepare dinner, prepare for my next day and try to work on my blog. In actuality, I'm doing a lot of normal things that everyone else does, but the difference is that I'm in a different country. Besides asking in English where I can find the eggs in the grocery store, I'm asking in Spanish and hoping that I understand the reply!
On the weekends, I'm traveling or even staying home and doing MORE house chores, grocery shopping, or even find myself getting to the point where I'm bored out of my mind!
As a second-year expat teaching English, I've been asked by a lot of people when I'm coming home to really get started on "my life." After talking to a few other expats about their conversations with family and friends from home, I noticed that I am not alone with these nagging questions. What usually ensues in conversations like these are:
- "When are you coming back to get a real job?"
- "What about being an adult?"
- "You can't travel forever and think you can make money like that."
- "You need to find a job with a high paying salary."
- "You can't avoid adult life forever."
- "What about finding a job with health care, your retirement fund, buying a house?"
While all of these are very casual reminders that I'm not going about the "American Dream" the normal way, they also leave me feeling stressed and extremely confused with what I'm doing.
I'm not the only expat who feels this way! Did our "adult lives" all of a sudden stop after picking up our bags and moving abroad? Mm, no. Sadly, we are not all here gallivanting through Europe and taking pictures for Instagram all day. Although, that would be ideal! The truth is the bills need to be paid, plane tickets don't pay for themselves, and food doesn't magically appear without money. Us being an "adult" didn't not happen, it's happening, but it's happening across the Atlantic Ocean, in a different language and in a different culture!
Here's a little secret for everyone: my life, and the lives of many expats, aren't vacation getaways, they're our real lives made with real experiences and real work. Really, try teaching English all day long. It takes a special talent to be THAT patient.
So, to all of the other expats who have continuously received this question, and to the family and friends who continue to ask when we're coming home to get started with "real life"/join the "adult world" and let go of this traveling escapade abroad, I tell you:
"MY REAL LIFE IS HAPPENING! I'M BEING A RESPONSIBLE ADULT!"
I wake up every day with responsibilities and obligations to go to work, pay my bills and try to create more of a life here abroad. I find it personally insulting when people tell me that this is just a "stint" abroad to avoid working in corporate America; when I work really hard at what I'm doing over here. I don't have my parents to fall back on if I were to ever need help, I don't have my family here to help me figure out the foreign bureaucracy, I don't have many friends here, and I certainly don't have English to fall back on when I am trying to deal with legal documents, landlords, doctors, etc. I had to teach myself the language and the culture to get started!
When you start paying bills, paying for rent, and budgeting your own income to pay for vacations, purchases or a night out, I think this counts as being an "adult." You're right, I make less money than I would back in the United States, I don't have my own car and am not making car payments (do I really want to make car payments?), and I have the luxury of choosing to hop on a plane to visit Portugal for 80€ if I wanted to. I have my own apartment, where my landlord comes the beginning of every month to collect rent, which I pay for with money that I've earned. I have water, electricity and gas bills that I need to take into account. I have health insurance from my job. Where exactly am I NOT part of the "adult world"?
I have more rants, funny stories, cultural confusions and life in general as an expat in Spain on my blog TheQuirkyPineapple.com. And to be honest, I know I can't teach English forever, but that isn't to say this isn't a real job, either! Living abroad doesn't mean that your life magically stops and it's a giant vacation. It's hard starting over and creating a life in a foreign city or country. Not to mention, even harder in a different language. Cut your expat friends or family some slack, because what they're doing is not easy!