Did You Become An Expat For Love?

One minute I was on a plane heading for Sevilla to try to learn Spanish, and the next I’m watching a stunning Spanish lady walking down the aisle towards me, yes me, to become my wife, wondering, how the hell did that happen? And to think, I wasn’t even intending on staying in Spain for long, and I definitely didn’t want a girlfriend stopping my plans to travel more. But that’s the thing about love; you never know when it’s going to take control of your life and turn you into a soppy fool.

Have you fallen for someone in another country and given up everything to be with them? There must be a ton of expats who have become enchanted by a local girl or guy and made that tricky decision to make a go of it with someone with a different nationality. Quite a few of the expats I know here, the long term ones with kids and a house and several points cards for the local Spanish supermarkets, have decided to stay here because of amor – love.When I tell my students about how I met my wife they often shed a tear. It all happened back in 2005. I’d been teaching in an academy for about a month and was pretty sure that I didn’t want to stay in Sevilla. It was too hot, too claustrophobic, too dull, and trying to understand locals with thick Andalucían accents was even trickier than attempting to make out what my granddad, with his strong Irish accent, used to say to me. So I was set on heading for South Korea; I’d just come from Thailand and had enjoyed teaching out there immensely, so I wanted to get back out to Asia. But everything changed.

I know it sounds a bit corny, but it was definitely love at first sight. I was five minutes into the first lesson with a new group of adult students, when the door opened and in walked an attractive young lady.

“Hello,” she said, smiling, and almost knocking me out in the process.
“All right,” I said, noticing that on her t-shirt she had ‘looking for paradise.’ She sat down in the corner of the class and I continued with the lesson, suddenly feeling jittery about teaching.

After the first week I could sense something was in the air. There was a definite chemistry between us. I’m not sure whether it was the way she spoke English, the way she smiled at me, or the way she just looked so damn cute all the time, but something inside me was reaching out to get to know her better. So, not wanting to draw too much attention to the fact I was already falling for her, I asked out the whole class for a drink.

“See it as ‘a congratulations’ for getting through the first week,” I said, winking at her. Most said they would come, but only two turned up, one being my future wife. That night there was another lad there with a decent level of both English and Spanish who was able to translate for us, which was fortunate because her level of English wasn’t too great, and my Spanish was awful.

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Each Thursday I would invite out the class and she would always turn up, as would most of the blokes on the course at this stage too, some who tried to smuggle in on her, but there was no chance. As time went on we started hanging about at weekends, or in my breaks at work, all in secret, because I wasn’t supposed to date a student. We actually had to sign a contract saying so, not that it stopped me.

Luckily, the course was only for three months, so as soon as she finished we started going out properly, and could walk down the road holding hands without worrying about getting spotted by my director.

It was tricky going out with a Spanish woman to start with, as it was for her to go out with a crazy English lad who was still craving to travel the world. Language was a problem, but each time we met up I made sure I had a dictionary. I loved the romantic way we taught each other our languages as we fell in love. The first couple of years were hard as well. I was confused about staying in Sevilla, and she was unsure about moving away from her city and family. So someone had to give in. I even had a job offer back in England to become a primary school teacher, but I turned it down.

When I asked her to marry me while out on a surprise walk in the countryside about five years later, I didn’t realise exactly what marrying a catholic girl would involve. When we announced the engagement to her parents, and they asked if we wanted to get married in a church, I wasn’t expecting that I’d have to get baptised as well. You see I was never baptised as a lad because my parents wanted to leave the decision to me, at least that’s what they say, but there was a rumour that they couldn’t decide on the godparents.

I had to do catechesis classes with a local priest, who was pretty modern considering how traditional Sevilla can be. I even remembering him giving us words of wisdom that we had to ‘enjoy each other’s bodies as much as possible.’ And he wasn’t talking about giving each other piggy backs. I was a bit worried about the two families communicating at the wedding because the only people who really spoke the two languages to a decent level were us, but everyone got on well, and seeing them together was a once in a lifetime event, hopefully.

At times it’s not easy living in another country, where everything seems to be more complicated in a different language and things don’t quite function as you might expect. It’s all irrelevant though really. I have someone next to me who I’m crazy about and each day that passes we grow more and more in love and closer together. It’s amazing how far we’ve come, from those first couple of weeks not knowing how to speak to each other, to making a family together. Our first son was born in September 2013 and our little girl is due at the start of April. We still have the odd communication issue, normally when stress levels rise, but it’s remarkable how we seem to be able to shrug it off and stay so close. But I guess that’s what love is all about.

What about you? Did you fall in love and give up your home country to be an expat? I’d be interested to hear your story.

Barry O’Leary has been an expat in Seville for nearly ten years. When he’s not teaching English, he writes a blog A Novel Spain which is about how he sees life in Spain. He has also lived and taught English in Brazil, Ecuador, Australia and Thailand and travelled around the world in the meantime. His non-fiction travel literature book, Teaching English in a Foreign Land, about his adventure as a TEFL teacher has sold over 2,500 copies.

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