I've been living in Southern Spain with my family for a decade now.
Raising kids far away from family and friends is really hard.
I have to paid taxes both in the US and Spain, and we save money to travel back home to see family.
Moving abroad was freeing at first, as if I'd finally gotten out of a relationship that just wasn't working.
I dove head-first into Andalucía, and it was love at first sight. From flamenco shows in Granada's historic Albaicín to grilled sardines on the Costa del Sol, southern Spain became the sanctuary that I was so desperately seeking.
But just like with romantic partners, the honeymoon stage eventually faded, and I learned firsthand that it doesn't matter whether you're on the Mediterranean or in Metro Detroit. Every place has its issues.
While I'd love to say my life is nothing but sangria, sun, and siestas, the truth is there are many challenges that come with living outside of one's language and culture.
Living in a foreign language is hard
One of the biggest adjustments to moving abroad was living in another language. I used to dread paperwork back home, but having to deal with federal offices and legal paperwork in a foreign tongue involves a different kind of frustration and fear. From visas to rental agreements, everything I need for being, living, and working is in Spanish. Even at an advanced level, reading official documents can sometimes feel like deciphering "Don Quijote."
I'm still not used to driving here
Driving isn't as simple as it sounds, either. Although I'd had my Michigan driver's license for almost two decades, Spain only recognized it for a few months. For years, I rode my bike and public transportation to avoid my fear of stick shifts and narrow European streets, but eventually, I had to enroll in driver's ed — a process that took months, cost 500 Euros, and bruised my ego after failing the first practical exam.
Then, a year after getting my license, a car accident started an avalanche of new second language experiences: police and insurance paperwork, car repair, doctors' appointments, and even back surgery.
I have to pay taxes both in Spain and the US
Although some countries have treaties with the US government that prevent citizens from being dually taxed, the only way to avoid dealing with the IRS is to give up your US citizenship, and with no plans to expatriate, I still have to file taxes in both countries.
I'm both an outsider in Spain and in the US
Many Spaniards cannot see beyond my foreignness, recognizing me as a "güiri," a term used to refer to white foreigners that strongly denotes naiveté. I used to tolerate it, even calling myself one because I was new and I didn't fully understand, but it's not so endearing after a decade. Regularly referred to as a güiri by strangers, students, and even in-laws, it's a constant reminder that I don't fit in here.
In addition to being a foreigner here, many of my US friends and family members also see me as some sort of outsider, sending me into a serious identity crisis.
The hardest thing is being away from family and friends
By far, the most challenging aspect of living abroad has been living far from friends and family, and that has only gotten harder after having children. Of the hundred guests at our wedding at the foot of the Alhambra Palace, only nine from my side were able to fly over. As if flights weren't costly enough, flying our family of four back in summertime to visit my American side means spending $5,000 on flights. While many of my friends are saving up for college or a down payment on a house, our savings go toward seeing family in Michigan.
Although living far from my American home hurts my pocket, not having family nearby to help me raise my kids or watch them grow has been a different kind of torture. While smartphones allow us to communicate daily, I can't drop my kids off with my mom or invite my family to their birthday parties or flamenco recitals. I'm also far from holidays, traditions, and cultural events that were crucial to my Midwestern upbringing. Instead of baseball, fútbol; in place of Santa Clause, the Three Kings; rather than the tooth fairy, Ratoncito Pérez.
Trying to find a healthy balance of my kids' multiculturalism without confusing them or setting them up for social exclusion has been dizzying.
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