Making the Choice to Live Abroad (and Stay)

My first steps in Spain landed in a big wipeout.

Armed with two suitcases, a carry-on and my laptop bag, I tried to hoist my backpack onto my bag, using a round, aluminum can as a platform from which to ease my arms into the padded straps.

Yes, I brought all of that with me. Two free pieces of luggage? Those were the days.


And I fell, right on my culo. I roared with laughter, falling over on my side and howling. That’s just kind of been my story in Spain.

After five years of living abroad, I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to live a life abroad in sunny Spain. The reasons that have kept me here are quite simple – ask any of my dozen friends who have been here to visit over the last few years, question my parents, read this blog start to finish in one sitting to really swallow the heartbreak of defeat, the uncertainness of a new relationship, crap work experiences. I have slowly made my life in Spain, from the first few shaky steps and the fall on my butt to establishing my version of happiness in my little burbuja in Seville.


Studying abroad is what made me want to move away from the US in the first place. Perhaps after reading too many of those Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul books, I decided that living abroad was ever going to happen, it needed to be right after graduation.


Just days before commencement, the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program offered me  visa and the promise of a job in a high school somewhere in Andalucia. The summer before leaving was full of hurried preparations, tearful goodbyes, and a yo-yo like inner peace with my decision. I kept telling myself it was just eight months, and that no one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home.

My reasons were simple enough: to learn Spanish and travel during a second chance at studying abroad. DJ Yabis, the blogger behind Dream Euro Trip had similar intentions. He writes: I wanted to study and live in Europe so I applied for a prestigious full scholarship (read: tuition, roundtrip flights, insurance and monthly allowance for 2 years) sponsored by the European Commission and GOT IT! Similarly, Mariann Kun-Szabo of tiny girl with a big bag said: I was selected for a scholarship to spend my internship in Spain, with all the costs covered, then I could not stop traveling. Like DJ and Marianne, I had an opportunity fall right in my lap to obtain a visa, work and live in Europe for eight months.

Then suddenly, a week before my plane took off rumbo Madrid, I felt like Spain was where I needed to be. On the plane I went, waving giddily to my parents as I skipped through security at O’Hare and into the International Departures terminal.

My year was not without its ups and downs – I struggled to learn Spanish, had trouble making friends and tried to not think about the life I was putting on hold for a year. Facebook became my enemy, my Skype calls home barely concealed my homesickness. I felt that every label I’d ever used to describe myself had suddenly been stripped away, leaving me fumbling for some sense of self-awareness. But I met the Novio, and he was worth sticking around for. My Spanish Adventure began to take root.


I have started looking at my life in terms of school years, just as I always have. After all, I’m a teacher and a student, and my worklife is measured in school years. My mother said, “Think of Spain as your super senior year of college.” Poor woman didn’t know I’d be on super senior year número six already, but giving myself a few months’ break in between keeps one foot in each bucket – one in España and the other in America. No one is really making my choose just one yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Seville throws me curveballs every other day it seems. If it’s not dropping my clothes out of the window when hanging them to dry (no tumble dryer), it’s the sting of not knowing if I’m always making the right decision. But the feel of the sunshine on my face, the fresh produce and the andalú that has kept me here. If I had to put it down in 25 words or less, I’d write that the folklore, the daily challenges and the blunders have kept me here, not to mention love.



When I put the question to my readers, it was clear that moving abroad is a change that many have decided to make. Be it the draw of adventure or to try something new, the promise of fresh love, language learning and running your fingers along walls that have existed far longer than you have. Spain is the romantic realization of sultry Latin dreams and of wild jet-setter nights.

Many of them wrote that they, too, had been lured by Spain’s familiar, yet exotic traditions and the chance to live a new adventure. Jackie’s response that she ended up in her happy place, Shannon remarking “I’d love to live in a place where something centuries old is still considered new. I want the romance of history, culture and new adventures,” and Robin of A Lot of Wind just wanted the adventure: We chose to live abroad because we wanted to reach out and grab a bit of life that wouldn’t have dropped into our laps otherwise! And I just love how Marianne of East of Malaga summed it up: It’s a land of beauty, wine and dance – with always a hint of a little romance ;)


And I’m not the only one to follow my heart when it came to sticking around in Seville for more than just the sunshine and siestas. Four readers met their partner while on short-term stays in Spain:

Natalia’s husband danced right into her heart on a week-long trip to la Hispalense: Feria de Sevilla, 2009—I spotted a charismatic Sevillano in a caseta and asked him to dance. Happily married and still dancing sevillanas! while Kaley met hers after a pick-up basketball game in Salamanca while studying abroad: 2009 Salamanca. Basketball win. Hemos quedado. Spilled the wine. Climbed the cathedral. Fell in love. 3 years later: I said yes! And Steph of Discovering Ice uses her boyfriend as the perfect scapegoat for her wanderlust: I was in love with a Colombian who was literally half the world away…we just used travel as an excuse to be together! :)

I sometimes think how different my life in Spain would have been had I not accepted the invitation from Kate to go out the night the Novio and I met. Like Melanie: I met my Spanish husband on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres. One seat away then could have meant a world of difference now.


Travel Bloggers’s responses interested me, too. As I make connection with like-minded travelers, I find that we have much more in common than the T-word. When it comes down to it, an adventurous spirit and the will to do something about it. When I think back on the times when Spain almost didn’t happen because of my own fears or the unwillingness to miss a Hawkeye Football season, I cringe at being so stupid. Alexandra Kovacova of Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler said: I hate boredom and wanted to learn more about this amazing world out there and different cultures. Raymond Walsh of Man on the Lam confessed: I wanted to cover the earth before it covered me.

Some worldly parents, like Talon Windwalker of 1Dad, 1Kid, 1Crazy Adventures said he “wanted my son to see the world and be raised as a global citizen & I wanted to get more living into our life,” whereas Durant Imboden told me that he “didn’t have a choice” because his parents took him along. My parents encouraged my traveling – even if it was just running from one end of the house to the other when I was a kid – and I feel I owe them for instilling an adventurous spirit and apetite for me, and taking me abroad when I was just old enough to have it stick in my head and put me on a direction for life.

Ash of The Most Alive hit the proverbial clavo on the head: Decided to build my life on the principles of adventure, learning and justice – not the social norms of 9-5 mortgage and retirement…
…now there’s something to live and travel up to.
Lex of Lex Paradise had the mentality for why I came, seizing a pasing opportunity and fulfilling a dream. He wrote: Well, I am now living in Spain as well ;) never thought but it just happened as it suppose to be ;)” which is why I’ve chosen for him to win the $15 Amazon Gift Card. I loved this project and the responses, so don’t forget that Karen’s book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, full of loads of laughs and sage advice, is available on Amazon for purchase (in paperback and Kindle format).
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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. This post makes me even more uncertain about how Spain features in my future; I just got back from a trip to France for my auxiliar vacaciones de Navidad, and I was very surprised at how much I missed Spain even one week into the trip. I ended up returning to Spain earlier than I had planned (still traveling, though) and it really concerned me how elated I was when I got back in the country. I don’t know what that means…but what I do know is that I <3 Spain.

    BTW I totally lol'ed at your opening story and accompanying picture 😀 Reminds me of when I dragged a massive suitcase, backpack, and messenger bag all across Madrid in September because I had no idea what "consignas" meant at the time. Smacking my head…
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Córdoba, Spain: Christians, Jews, Muslims…and TravelersMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I remember getting home from a trip to Prague and Budapest and pressing my nose to the window when I saw the olive trees. Spain feels like home now, so the original two-year max plan got thrown out the window pretty early on!

  2. Isn’t it fascinating how we all have different reasons for traveling or for staying. When I came to the Canary Islands (part of Spain for anyone who doesn’t know & reads this) I decided to give it 5 years (this because we moved almost lock, stock & barrell & to give my young kids a bit of stability…..wrong thinking, but it worried me back then.) Every five years I’ve run a mental check & am still based here after more than 25 years. In that time I’ve found quite a bit I dislike about the country to be honest, but it still has me hooked for now. I was lucky not to have any of the initial problems you did, though. Never had any regrets or second thoughts in the early years! Wishing you a happy & interesting 2013 :=)
    Linda recently posted..2012: Postcards to MyselfMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I’ve always lived Spain in one-year increments, too. Starting to change my thinking… Here’s sending you abrazos to your little isla, Linda! Good to hear from you.

  3. This post hits home, which is understandable since I just returned to the states after studying abroad in France. I’m scared of what the future may or may not hold – it’s full of uncertainty! But I know I will do everything I can do to end up back in France! Life in America seems too easy now. For example, I no longer have to think about what to say to the cashier at the Monoprix or to the employees at the open market. I actually really miss thinking in French…well, being forced to think in French. On another note, you are an inspiration! If I knew the URL to the last blog I wrote, I would put the link here; however, I don’t know it off the top of my head. But it’s on my fb if you ever want to read it. Writing it was actually a sad moment because it’s the last post of my Fall 2012, study abroad experience. It makes no longer living in France a reality.

  4. Ah-ha! I figured out the link situation with my blog! So this goes with my last comment. I hope you had a great holiday!
    Beth recently posted..Back in the USAMy Profile

  5. I love leaving abroad! I love the challenges and the excitement each day brings! There’s never a boring moment ;D
    DJ Yabis recently posted..How much does it cost to travel in Spain for 7 days?My Profile

  6. Despite getting married in Gran Canaria back in 1997, I never envisaged living here. Despite my wife’s desire to move back to her home island. Then came a fateful February day in 2004 when our then youngest son Alex contracted leukaemia. After a six-month residency in Great Ormond Street Hospital, we moved over for the extra family support. My wife’s from a sterotypically large Catholic family. Nearly nine years on and I’ve gone through much of the same struggles which you have, Cat. But I’m still here. We both are.
    Matthew Hirtes recently posted..GuiguiMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Amazing how your partner’s family become your own – I was just the witness in my brother-in-law’s wedding! And, yes, we’re all still here for something, and we can all lean on each other (even if just to rant!). Saludos, M.

  7. I met my partner on a trip to Montreal (I was scoping out where I may want to live in Canada). Suffice to say when I got to Canada 6-months later on my working holiday my intentions to travel the country kind of slowed and I ended up 2 years in Montreal! 6 years later we are pretty much permanent nomads and travel together now.
    Forest Parks recently posted..Possibly My Most Useful Travel Item? What’s Yours?My Profile

  8. I am so far behind in my blog reading for I have missed several of your posts. but this one pulled me in. I think I have mentioned some of this before….I chose to study abroad (all those years ago) as a junior in college as a way to learn Spanish better. I had always wanted to go to Europe so Spain seemed a logical choice. I remember as the plane touched down in Madrid feeling very scared and thinking “what have I done??” I too was very homesick and had the misfortune of falling in love the summer before my year in Spain. and I always say that had I not gone to Spain I’d have married and divorced him! So nearly 30 years later I returned to celebrate my 50th birthday and brought my hubby and then 10 year old daughter and we covered a lot of ground during our two weeks there. Both hubby and I fell madly in love with Malaga and hope to retire there in LESS than 8 years, if all goes well 😉 I can’t escape the feeling that I belong in Spain. Even tho I was homesick all those years ago, I did have a great year with lots of memories and I fell in love with Spain then. So….that’s my story. España te amo.
    tobyo recently posted..Sunday post – Architecture from SpainMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Was wondering where you´d been! I had that same feeling early on in my time here that Spain was just right, and it still is. I think I’ll reach a point – if it ever happens – where it’s not right and I can make the decision to move on. Like I said, the coming was easy but deciding to stay is sometimes hard!

  9. “No one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home…” I think this concern is part of every voluntary move abroad to a terrifying new place, not just the one you embark on right after college :) Nice post.
    Sam recently posted..Our Trip to FreiburgMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      most definitely! I’ve known a few to stick it out oit of principle, which I can respect, but I made myself a promise of just eight months, knowing that I could full well stay or go just as easily.

  10. A few months ago I looked the same like you on the first picture. Packed with two suitcases I moved in Buenos Aires, and now living there. It is lovely to read about like-minded people :) Thanks for the mention!
    Tiny Girl with Big Bag recently posted..We peeped into the volcanoMy Profile

  11. Hi Cat,

    Your blog is fun and packed with great information and photos, I´ve given you a Lovely Blog Award. Read more and get your Lovely Blog award here
    Rachel recently posted..Getting and Giving a ´One Lovely Blog Award´My Profile

  12. Inspiring words :)
    Larissa recently posted..Our 10 top travel stories of 2012My Profile

  13. Great post and thanks for the mention! I can totally relate to so much of it! 2012 was my first full year abroad and while it has been one of the best years of my life, it has also been one of the toughest! Here’s to 2013 being even THE best and that I can put all those nagging worries to rest! :)
    Saludos desde Colombia!
    Steph | recently posted..How to Make Money Online and Travel: Our First Successful ExperimentMy Profile

  14. i SOOOO love that we can explore and enjoy the world. love this story!
    wandering educators recently posted..Photographer of the Month: Mihailo RadičevićMy Profile

  15. i love your writing style dear and i LMAO to see all that luggage to start your travels with. i also love how you interwove so many other great bloggers into the story, and how different, yet the same the human spirit is. we actually had trouble leaving our amazing lives in israel and now, i think, have even more trouble imagining living back there again. oh, sigh. can’t wait to read more. gabi
    gabiklaf recently posted..When You See A Wonder Of The World, Exhausted- Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia) – Nomadic Family Travel Blog For Long Term Budget World Travel With KidsMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, Gabi! It’s pretty amazing when you stop and think that the world is waiting for you. Hope your family feels the same! Sending abrazos from Seville.

  16. I really like this story – the honest, fearful yet fearless type of post. Just taking that step and realizing there are so many other great nomads and travellers out there surely helps keep the dreams alive. I’m trying to decide if a long-term move and learning Spanish is one of my next moves too…we shall see!
    Red Hunt recently posted..Recently Extinct Travel ExperiencesMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hi there, thanks for stopping by! The act of actually moving was thrilling and I was willing to take the chance. Then actually making a life here, between bureacrazy and job searches? Now that’sthe tough part!!

  17. You’re right, the time to make your choice will come, and even then, things can always change! For now, just enjoy your time in Seville and your traveling adventures, because you’re doing alright for yourself. And no matter what anyone says, your time there is priceless, and an invaluable learning experience.

    ¡Ay, como echo de menos mi España!
    Michi recently posted..Snowy days, burning cars, and a bit of history on Northern Ireland.My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I had no idea you went back to the haven’t been showing up in my RSS feeds! Apparently you’ve been blogging!

  18. While it seems that you have had your fair share of trials and obstacles with making the decision to live and travel abroad, it is amazing that you have been able to settle in and make so many connections. Your story is very inspiring to me considering the fact that I am considering living in Spain after college. Do you have any advice for making such a drastic move? What has been your most exciting cultural experience while living in Spain? Thank you so much for this helpful blog!!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hey Arika! Thanks for getting in touch. I studied in Spain in 2005 and wanted to move abroad when I graduated in 2007 – fuera dónde fuera!! Th opportunity to teach in Spain sounded challenging and fun, and I’ve been teaching in Seville since then! Please feel free to get in touch whenever you like – sunshineandsiestas @ gmail. com, or subscribe for updates!

      As for cultural…does being married to a Spaniard count? Un abrazo.

  19. spain is really great country :) but i suggest Turkey , too. there are alot of historical and fascinating place :)
    fizyoterapi ve rehabilitasyon recently posted..Adana fizik tedavi ve rehabilitasyonMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Check out my posts on Turkey by clicking on the drop down menu! I went last Spring and was blown away!

  20. This is such a great entry. I feel like I’m ready exactly how I feel/what I’m doing. I just applied for the Auxiliares position as well as a grad school position in Madrid. After studying abroad for a year in Granada, it really did feel like a calling…I just had to go back to Spain.

    I am loving reading through all your posts! Makes me miss my querida Andalucia but it’s so exciting too!
    Thanks for the blogging inspiration too! The website is great :)
    Katie McMullen recently posted..Colegio Caja GranadaMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Aw, thanks Katie! Whatever you end up doing, I’m sure it will be one of the best decisions you’ve made. If you make it to Andalucia, let me know! I’d be happy to buy you a beer (I’m getting a car from the Novio, so I’ll be mobile!). Suerte!

  21. Hi, Great post. Thanks


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