Immigrant life has been illuminating to say the least. Sometimes l have to pinch myself because it seems that the past five years have just flown by. Technically, it is 5 years and 4 months to the day we left the U.S in search of greener pastures. Long time readers know that we got tired of the rat race, and things really came to a head after my sister’s passing. Our dreams of travel had somehow gotten pushed into the background and we found ourselves saddled with jobs, cars, house (no white picket fence though) and 2 dogs instead of little human beings.
Three months after my sister died, Federico’s dad also passed away. At that point, I had come to hate my retail pharmacist job. It was no longer fun, and actual patient care became came secondary to company greed. It was more important to sell patients crap from the front store, and pharmacists became salesmen. We were basically asked to bully people into buying medication, something that left a sour taste in my mouth. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge. So we did!
Musings on immigrant life after 5 years of travel:
In every relationship, there has to be the good time Charlie and the Scrooge! Guess which one l am. I wanted to take off right away and figure things out later. He shut that down really fast. We had to save a certain amount of money, get rid of deadbeat properties, and be debt free. I totally hated him for at least a year :-), but we hunkered down for the next three plus years to make it happen.
What is immigration?
Immigration is defined as the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country. This is exactly what we did when we moved from America.
Our first destination was Malta after extensive research. The cost of living was great, the weather pretty good and English was an official language, along with Maltese. The plan was to stay there indefinitely. It was convenient to Rome (1 hour by plane) to his family and Nigeria is a lot closer than the U.S so it was a win-win situation. While we enjoyed our time there, we discovered that island fever really is a thing, which brings me to the first point.
Related: Selling our house from abroad
Immigrant life lessons learned:
Paradise can become a fish bowl:
At the beginning, it was wonderful. Idyllic and we enjoyed it very much. After a while though, island fever began to set in. I hadn’t believed in that, but l think around the 11th month mark, we got bored. It felt like we had seen and done what we wanted to on the island. It is only about 17 miles long after all.
Malta also get insanely crowded with tourists and our normal 20 minute bus ride to get groceries stretched to 75 minutes because space would only be available on maybe the 4th, 5th or 6th bus! When we switched flats, our first requirement was one close to a grocery store so we could walk. We ended staying there for 15 months total. This brings me to the next point.
Be ready to make changes:
It would be wonderful if things worked out as planned. Once we realized that Malta was over for us, we had to decide where to go next. I didn’t want to research anything. As long as the winters weren’t too severe, we were open to pretty much anywhere. I literally closed my eyes, pointed my pen at the European map and it landed on Malaga, and that’s where we headed. Looking back, I should have discounted that one and pointed again :-).
We only lasted 7 months in Malaga. Neither one of us liked it for many reasons. It was a stressful time. I’m not the cleanest person in the world, but l actually refused to go grocery shopping or to the bank with him because it required walking towards the back streets which reeked and you forever had to dodge dog poop, like every other step. We have dogs and l just can’t understand why these f******s don’t pick up after their dogs.. and they eat on at the sidewalk cafes!!!
Think of your expat/immigrant life as an ongoing experiment. Be Goldilocks and keep looking for the right fit! We rocked Seville for 2 years and the search for cooler weather landed us in Valencia which we are both loving so far. Federico has mentioned staying for at least 2-3 years! without any prompting from me. If it happens, so be it. If not, on to the next place.
Visiting a place as a tourist versus living there is completely different:
We had done a 2 week research trip before actually moving to Malta and we loved it. Restaurants, beach, discovering ancient sites, the sister island of Gozo etc. It was great and money was of no concern. Moving there on the other hand, you realize that life is a bit more tedious. You have to do the regular things like groceries, laundry, etc, especially when living on savings and rental income. The newness wears out and it becomes like home, so if your home life sucks in the U.S or wherever, prepare for it to suck wherever you move to. It doesn’t just magically become a fairy tale.
You need to adjust to your new life and the way things work THERE!:
This is a big one for most people. I have to admit that Federico struggles with this. He’s constantly frustrated at the grocery store (slow cashiers, even slower customers), bank (nice to the locals, rude to the foreigners), restaurants (only 1 waiter for the whole place). I just accept that’s the way they do things and go with the flow. He constantly compares it to the U.S. I think the customer service there spoiled him forever. He complains about that in Rome too (just so you don’t think it’s only in Spain :-) ). There are no McMansions, people live in average houses or apartments where the bedroom has just enough space for a bed. Get used to it. There is hardly any open floor plan.. haha! I still have a bit of trouble with that, but l’m getting better, as is he. Point is, you can not go and change a whole country, you can either blend in or f**k off!
Your family and friends count may shrink:
Neither one of us has a gazillion friends to begin with. You will find that a lot of them don’t understand your need to travel. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone needs to be traipsing around the world. They may start to distance themselves from you. You have to be okay with that. My core friends, I’ve known for 30 plus years and I’m still friends with most of them. Same for him. My family always knew l was the weirdo in the family, so they are never surprised when we move. We only have to worry about 2 dogs who are happy wherever we are. A few friends have become polite strangers, and that’s okay. Be ready for jealousy to rear its ugly head sometimes.
Adapt to the food and local cuisine:
After these past years, I have come to dislike ham, not that l was ever a big eater of it. That is the main food in Spain. Italy too come to think of it, so it has not been a hard adjustment for Federico. He has eaten it since birth. Other local Spanish food involves a lot of potatoes, and delicacies like pork cheeks. Be adventurous and try new foods. I have seen other immigrants craving food from home and spending an awful lot of money on groceries because they will only buy familiar foods which means higher prices of course since they are imported. They of course then complain that their cost of living is no different… well..duh!!!!
Have your ducks in a row before setting out for immigrant life:
I won’t go into that too much. I have already written about the shysters. Unless you have a portable job or have funds, don’t pick up and think you can just get a job once you arrive. Spain for instance has a high unemployment rate and jobs are really hard to come by. If you do get one, the pay is insanely low. A lot of the locals work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. At our gym, the instructors pay was just lowered to 9 euros/hour and their hours cut to boot…and they speak Spanish!
Slow travel makes sense for us:
I admire the people that travel and are constantly on the go. It takes way more energy than I’m willing to expand. From the beginning, we had always known that slow traveling would be more our style. We moved to Europe because we wanted to experience life here. We also wanted a base. We have always signed a long lease, and will continue to do so. We get to see a side of the cities that short term visitors don’t. We eat at local places, shop for Spanish products, thereby lowering our cost of living.
Related: Valencia life update
You’ll find it both harder to make new friends and easier to make new friends:
You will definitely find it harder to make friends with locals. I have found for the most part, most Spaniards, Maltese, Germans etc..etc.. have and keep friends from childhood till death. It’s almost impossible to break into that inner circle. They do however make really good semi-friends. Ones you say hello to at the gym, restaurants, grocery store, have a bit of conversation. It makes your day, and truth be told, I’m okay with that. You will find it easier to make online friends, ones who are maybe on the same path, or others contemplating the same path. Some even become real life friends which makes it awesome. I think you also become more of a “world” citizen with travel. It broadens your horizon and hopefully, it makes you realize just how good you have things compared to the rest of the world.
You say Expat, I say immigrant:
Whatever! Just don’t be a twat!
Life is good..and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. Maybe first class travel :-). I have to slip one of my favorite movies in here because l love the way Nacho says it. We don’t wake up at 5 though.. haahaa!
My last point is perhaps the most important one, at least to me :-)
Love the one you’re with in your immigrant life:
I am extremely stubborn. Federico is equally stubborn, if not more so! This can make things very heated when we disagree. If there is no love pulling you through, forget about it. Your couple travel becomes a solo one! We’re coming up on twelve years of marriage and know each other pretty well so it works. One thing l do look for in an apartment is space for us to cool off after a fight. He has the knack to read people right off and if he feels you’re a phony or a not so nice person, it’s over. You’ll know it, I’ll know it, everybody will know it. It seems to be a European thing. I meantime, operate like an American as Calin’s wife puts it :-). Politeness all the way. During your travels, you spend all time together, so it’s important to have a strong bond. Laughter goes a long way.
Immigration Life Stories:
Living here has meant meeting with other immigrants who have settled in Valencia and hearing the stories. Most are similar to ours which just goes to show that most people just want a sense of belonging, peace and a better quality of life.
So, there you have it, our reflections after 5 years of slow travel. Are you travelers? If so, what kind of travelers are you? Do you have anything to add to these points? Anything you might have discovered on your travels that will benefit others?