2014 was a revolutionary year for me, and a turning point in my life. For ages I’d been toying with the idea of going back to England, or moving from Sevilla to another city, preferably a less traditional one, or just one with a beach, but during last year a few things clicked into place which made me realise I’ve become a true expat.
So, what happened? Here’s a little breakdown on why last year was such a turning point.Sevilla is home
I used to hate living in Sevilla. In fact, after just a month of being here I was convinced I’d made a massive mistake. Sevilla was too small, hot and stuffy, and full of pompous Sevillanos obsessed with their image. Then I fell in love, and since there is about as much chance as separating my wife from her family as there is of banning the consumption of jamón in Andalucia, I’ve battled with my inner self and decided to stay.
The thought of leaving Sevilla actually makes me feel nostalgic, but in a sad way. So much has happened here and, despite aggravating moments, I’ve grown to love Sevilla. I take for granted the glorious weather here, abundance of bars and restaurants, and peaceful and safe places to walk with kids. Now that I understand the language more I feel like less of a foreigner, and slightly more integrated, even though I know I’ll always be an outsider. I have to admit though that Sevilla has become home.
My son was born in 2013, but it was during 2014 when I really learnt how to be a Dad. I’d been waiting to be one for years, but wasn’t ready to give up my freedom, savings, and ability to watch a full game of football. Having a little baby in the house was a struggle at first, but mostly it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed becoming a kid again: playing cars on the floor, being interested in cartoons and kids stories, and remembering the tunes to nursery rhymes.
But with fatherhood comes responsibility. Kids need to stay in one place, have stability and security, don’t they? I can no longer dream of just packing it all in and swanning off to India on a mad backpacking adventure. Gone are the days of saving up my hard earned cash to blow on crazy nights out, romantic weekend trips away, or expensive bottles of rioja. We’ve started thinking about the right schools for our kids, moving out of the noisy centre to where it’s quieter and safer, and maybe even getting a dreaded mortgage. There’s no doubt that Fatherhood has made me more settled, and more of an expat.
When I first started teaching English in Sevilla I worked for a terrible Language Academy. There were no contracts, rubbish pay, and the director was a bit of a psycho. Then I got a job with ELI, one of the most successful language schools in Andalucía, and possibly Spain. At ELI I really learnt how to become a teacher. The training and support have been excellent, and the students are top class. A couple of years back I did a DELTA, Diploma in teaching English, which helped me take my teaching to the next level.
Working at ELI is great, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to set up my own place, or maybe become a teacher trainer. But I’ve began to realise that it doesn’t get much better than this. Teaching will always be teaching, sure you get good days and bad days but it’s hard to find such a great company with the conditions and support that we get.
Buying a house
There can’t be many more ways of declaring you’ve become an expat than buying a house, or at least attempting to. We are in the process of buying at the moment. It’s a stressful ride, especially with mortgage issues in a different language, strange laws, and dodgy Estate Agents trying to pressurise us. We are still in the early stages, but hope to move somewhere more permanent this year, and make that final expat plunge.
So those were the main reasons why last year I really became a long-term expat. I’m hoping this year will be a great one too. Here are a few of my Expat New Year’s Resolutions to help me settle in further.
New Year Resolutions
1. Have patience with drivers who don’t stop at zebra crossings, or at least try not to vision throwing something at their window.
2. Try to be friendlier to my neighbours. Not only the ones I get on with, but the annoying noisy ones downstairs who drive me, and the wife, crazy.
3. Take in a cake to work, and actually cook it, and not pretend that I did even though it was my wife.
4. Skype family and friends more, just because I have a kid running around doesn’t mean I need to be a stranger.
5. Learn from the chefs on Spanish Top Chef. Break away from the usual choices and cook something different.
6. Don’t spend my working life waiting for the holidays – they disappear far too quickly.
7. Try not to go to a bar or restaurant in Sevilla convinced they will rip me off. Maybe accept the excuse that adding an extra beer, or dish, was an honest mistake.
8. Start reading in Spanish again. I’m always going on to my students about reading in English to expand their vocabulary, but never do it myself.
9. Enjoy being an expat and live life to the full.
What about you? Have you got an expat related resolutions? How will this year be different for you?
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.