My name is Karen Southall and I live in Coin, Malaga. I am a freelance journalist and also jointly run a new online directory called Roundaboutspain.com
I left the UK 20 years ago, when I was 21 years old with a boyfriend. I was working as a reporter on a local newspaper but always had an urge to travel. When the boyfriend was diagnosed with Crohns Disease we decided to take a year out and we went to Tenerife for 6 months and then back-packed through Europe. Of course we then had the travel bug so from there we went to Australia for 2 years. We came back to England in 1995 but 6 months later we had itchy feet and decided to go back to Spain as we had both loved it there. So we converted a van into a camper and drove down to the Malaga region. We planned to stay for a year or so. That was 15 years ago.What challenges did you face during the move?
We arrived on the coast in May 1996 and our problem was finding somewhere to live as most places were only available for holiday lets and therefore very costly. When we did find somewhere on a 6 month lease our next hurdle was getting a telephone line/internet installed so I could work. In the mid 1990s this proved difficult!
How did you find somewhere to live?
We drove from Malaga to Gibraltar hunting for somewhere and basically rang people directly from their ‘Alquiler’ boards up outside their apartments or townhouses etc. We trekked around the estate agents and eventually discovered the Sur in English. After 6 months in our little townhouse in Fuengirola we then moved inland and rented a house Cartama and then later in Alhaurin el Grande. When the boyfriend and I split up in 2000 I bought a house and some land in Coin where I am based today.
Are there many other expats in your area?
One of the reasons I moved inland was to get away from the tourism. I found it difficult to live and work when it was so busy in the summer season. It seemed very transient and it became frustrating queuing in the bank or post office in August trying to do business behind 20 people sending postcards. Coin, 10 years ago, was a Spanish village and I felt more comfortable ‘living’ here and have local shop owners recognise me. There are of course more expats now living here but I have found many like minded friends here thankfully.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I find the locals friendly and helpful if you are polite and respectful. All my immediate neighbours are Spanish and initially when I bought my house (it was a 2 roomed shed) I appeared to be a bit of a novelty in the neighbourhood as they watched me (as a single female) struggling to cope with the land and trees whilst helping to build the house. I think they were bemused and somewhat intrigued by my methods. But saying that they were always helpful and kind.
What do you like about life where you are?
It’s not about the “Joneses.” It’s about stepping back a little, living modestly and being aware of Mother Nature. For me I also love having the animals, trees and the space around me that I had always envisaged for myself as a child. I am not a city girl but I love the countryside and tromping around the garden in wellies. I also think that this way of life can also offer my children a different kind of lifestyle. Not particularly better. Just different.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Being separated from my family. When I was younger and left the UK I was eager to escape and be independent. As I get older and my children grow I miss them having grandparents, aunts and cousins around them as I did. They can’t miss what they have never had but I do wish they had that, as I wish I had them around for me also.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be prepared for it to be hard work. Many come here expecting the sunshine to make everything better. At the end of the day you have to work harder here to make a living, establish true friendships and build yourself a life. There are no benefits, very little support and no back up. Spain is what it is and it is far from perfect . But then again where is? Personally I like imperfections, they make life a little more interesting.
What are your plans for the future?
Who knows. I find that it’s hard to make concrete plans as life throws unexpected obstacles or circumstances at you that mean you then have to change your whole outlook. I am busy with work and I recently set up an online directory for children and families with my friend Suzanne Nixey which I get a real buzz from. So at the moment my children, my partner and I are all happy where we are. As long as that continues then I am content to stay here in my little corner of the world which feels like home.