US expat in Spain
Interview date – April 2013
What is your name? Heidi Wagoner
Where are you originally from? Oakland, California U.S.A.
Where are you living now? Almuñécar, Spain
How long have you lived there? We left late August 2012.
Where did you live before that? Apex, North Carolina U.S.A.
What made you decide to make the move? We had been living there for 12 years with the hopes of our careers taking us international. About 2 years ago, we realized that wasn’t likely to happen. We really wanted to live internationally again, as we had in the late 90’s. We wanted to give that experience to our children, so we decided to make it happen on our own.
Why did you pick this country? We wanted a Spanish speaking country, so the kids could learn the language. In addition we desired diversity and history, so Spain fit the bill. We had back up countries in Central and South America, just in case our visas didn’t come through.
What are your future plans? For now it is a bit open ended. We started this journey wanted to be away 1-2 years. Now we are trying to get creative to see how we can extend further.
Did you bring family and/or pets with you? How have they adapted? My husband and kids are with me. They have all been Super Stars! The adjustment has gone so well, they even crave more, thus us trying to figure out how to extend.
How many kids do you have? We have 2 children, Lars is 10 and Anya is 8.
Were they born in your ‘home’ country or in your adopted country? Or elsewhere?! They were both born and raised in the same home in Apex, North Carolina.
How have your children adapted to your move? There were a few cultural awareness bumps in the beginning, but they love it. They asked if we could stay in Spain another year.
Do you speak the local language? If so, how long did it take you to learn it? I am beginner/intermediate with my Spanish. I can definitely get by and have a conversation, but by no means am I fluent. Alan and I attended Spanish class twice a week the first 4 months here. That helped get us over the hurdle us just knowing basic Spanish. We have also supplemented with a few online course. The best way is to just get out and have conversations with people. They are more than understanding and will correct you when needed.
Have your children learned the language? What method of language learning worked best for them? They are pretty close to fluent after just 7 months. They have been in nearly full immersion by attending public school. They play outside with their friends and have both joined after school activities. All of these help with them learning the language.
What three personality characteristics would you consider are necessary for a success expat life? Be accepting of change and at time embrace it. Try to live the local way rather than hoping to live your old life in a new place, otherwise you may be set up for disappointment.
What do you miss? We obviously miss family and friends, but we do keep in touch with Skype. We really miss certain “American” foods that we can’t get here, so we are thrilled when visitors come with surprises.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved? Our move actually went like clockwork. We did loads of research in advance and it was actually easier than anticipated. That said, the first month or so for the kids at school was a challenge. This was an expected challenge, but either way it was a rough patch. The social skills of the Spanish children are just “different” than children in the U.S. Not good or bad just different. We can all look back now and see how much we have grown and changed.
How do you keep in touch with your friends and family in other countries? We love using Skype for either calling phones or a video chat session. Other than the time differences, it feels like we are right there.
Where do you take your holidays? Each holiday we have chosen to explore more of Spain and/or Europe. That is why we are here after all.
What customs do you find most unusual about your adopted culture? We still get a little frustrated with Siesta time. Everything shuts down for about 3 hours from 2-5 or so. In a way it is good as we have that as family time to just hang out, but when you need to get something from the store or visit attractions, it can be frustrating.
Sometimes we feel like we have stepped back in time. Many modern conveniences are very uncommon where we live. We need to hand wash our dishes, we need to hang dry our clothes. There is little storage space in the kitchen and fridge, so we are at the market a few times a week rather than a weekly shop.
Tell us about local food you and your children love or hate. We are not a family of foodies, so this has been a bit of a challenge. The kids love Migas, which is a local dish a bit like corn meal with meats and veggies. They love their fresh bread every day from the bakery too.
Is there anything that is ridiculously cheap or expensive compared to where you used to live? Pork and Lamb! Anything about that pig is crazy cheap here. We happen to be big bacon fans and can get big thick slices for very little money. Of course, we are in southern Spain and this area is known for its produce, that that too is very inexpensive.
What do you most appreciate in your new country? We love the diversity and appreciation of families. No matter where you go, children are welcomed with open arms. There are parks and playgrounds everywhere and the kids are pampered.
How did you make new friends in your new home? We met some other expats in our Spanish class, have made friends with parents from the kids school and after school sports as well as all of our neighbors. We also frequent many of the same stores and restaurants, as we live in a small town, and have become friends with many shop keepers too.
How to your spend your time? Have you taken up any new hobbies in your adopted country? We spend time building up our blog, taking online courses to keep up our IT skills as well as Spanish. We also go exploring and really soak up the local culture.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog. How long have you been blogging? We started our blog a few months before we left, so it has been about 10 months. To be honest, it has been since 1997. Before the term blogging existed we were doing it with our own website. We had moved to London and wanted to keep our family and friends in loop. We started wagonersontheweb back then and kept it up to date until we started WagonersAbroad.
Why did you start blogging? Initially we wanted to do it to keep our family and friends up with our adventures. Not long after starting it, we began to receive comments and questions about what we were doing from strangers (some of whom are now our “on line” friends). We tell it all and hopefully give you a bit of a chuckle here and there as well. We hope to help others step outside of their comfort zone and make their dream happen.
Has it contributed to your well-being in any way? Not financially yet, but it does keep us in touch and in conversation with so many people. It is very beneficial for the kids to see how far they have come with their Spanish and their embracing change, by looking back at our early videos and blog posts. They look it up on their own sometimes and come running to us saying “Mom, I don’t remember speaking Spanish so slowly” or something along those lines.
Take care and we’d love to hear from you! Just look for WagonersAbroad.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Heidi!
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