Six Years in Spain – Six Posts You Can’t Miss

Six years ago, my 90-day student visa was cancelled as I stepped off the plane in Madrid’s Barajas airport. Happy Spaniversary to me!

Somehow, in the span of six years, my blog has gone from a little pet project to being a story of sticking it to El Hombre, of carving out a space in my little Spanish burbuja and learning to embrace my new home. People know my Spain story…or so they think.

Want to know something? My first year was hard.

And so was the second and third.

And then I couldn’t figure out how to stay in Spain legally and make enough to support my tapas and traveling habits.

Just recently, my group of guiritas and I were talking about how we all finally, finally – after four, six or even eight years – feel settled in Spain. I’ve written before about how I feel like I have a life in two places, like I can’t be 100% present in either, and that choosing one over another would be extremely painful.

I’ve made Seville my home, but it’s been like the prodigal rollercoaster – highs bring elation, lows bring the dark storm clouds of depression. During six years in Spain, I’ve weathered homesickness, disappointment, rejection, a break up. I’ve cried with friends over Skype when their loved ones have died, gotten teary when getting the news when amigas have married or had kids, and I’ve missed it.

Today, as I celebrate six years living in the land of sunshine and siestas, I’m actually reminded of the times where I’ve had to grit my teeth or scream or curse the Spanish government for their inefficiency.

Think you know the girl behind this blog? If you haven’t read from the beginning, you may not know the whole story.

Year One

I arrived to Spain on September 13th, 2007 and promptly toppled over, the weight of my bags way too much to handle (and before I got weighed down by solomillo al whiskey and torrijas). This was, in many ways, a taste of what was to come: stumbling, falling, laughing about it, and getting up again.

While it was the direction I wanted to take after college, I felt utterly alone in Spain. I came without knowing anyone, with little Spanish and no idea what to expect in my job. The first few weeks were trying, and I was ready to up and go home. Meeting Kate and Christine, two guiris with whom I’m very close, changed everything (thankfully). When I read the following post, of how lonely and depressed I was, I cringe. What a difference a year (or five) makes. read: Sin Título.

Year Two

Believe it or not, my second year in Spain was tougher than the first. Yes, I spoke more Spanish and, yes, I had the abroad thing more or less figured out. But it was the year that the Novio started going to Somalia for long months with no phone contact, the year that I had serious doubts about a life in Spain and the year I almost went home forever…that was the intention, anyhow. Oh, and I got hit by a car, too.

But by far the worst was the fact that my ugly American was creeping in. I was discriminated against for jobs, told my Spanish was absolute kaka and got taken for tonta. Apart from my personal doubts, I was so sick of the sevillanía that had me feeling like an outcast. read: Hoy Me Quejo De.

Year Three

My third year in Spanilandia was by far the most fun – loads of great fun with close friends, traveling to Morocco and Prague and Budapest, finally coming to terms with my two years in Spain. I was determined it would be my last, but it was just the beginning. The Novio and I rekindled our romance not even 12 hours off the plane, and I decided he was worth staying in Spain for. As I tearfully said goodbye to my students at IES Heliche, I was faced with the problem of how to keep living in Spain legally.

I figured out a way to skirt around stupid government regulations in what has been my proudest moment to date. Getting a last-minute appointment o renew my NIE number and lying through my teeth, I could breathe easier knowing that the Spanish government would come knocking on my brother-in-law’s door if I ever got in trouble. Suckers! read: Breaking Rules and Breaking Down.

Year Four

My fourth year of Spain seemed to have everything turn around: I got a steady job, I moved in with the Novio and I had a great group of friends. I was no longer an auxiliar, traveling on the weekends and botelloning around the city. Just when I began to feel comfortable, I was faced with making loads of grownup decisions about a stable future in Spain (with a pleasant surprise!). read: What a Week.

Year Five

For six years, I’ve made a living teaching people my native tongue. After three school courses as a language and culture assistant with the government, I scrambled to find a job, register for a social security number, and then learn the politics of working at a private school. While the gig provided me with the financial support I needed and a steady job, I soon realized it wasn’t for me. After two years, I had to say goodbye to a job that I enjoyed, forcing me to realize that I was an adult and I would have to make tough decisions every once in a while.

I miss my kiddos all the time, but still get some contact hours at my academy while playing the admin role as the Director of Studies (no, I do not blog full-time). read: Saying Goodbye.

Year Six

Alright, I’m a hag and I admit it. Cautiously optimistic after a few years of disappointments and setbacks in Spain, sure, but my ornery abuelita card has come out recently as I start to get annoyed with Seville. Don’t get my wrong, it is the ciudad de mi alma, but as with any city, there are things that drive me absolutely insane.

If it weren’t for wearing a tight flamenco dress once a year and the cheap beer, I’d be out. As my dear sevilliamericana la Dolan says, ‘La sevillanía me mata y me da vida.’ read: Jaded Expat: Four Things I Dislike About Living in Seville.

My Spanish life is just that: life. I pay taxes and get unemployment benefits, I have car payments, I have a house to clean (dios do I miss my señora). I’m a young professional living for the weekend, traveling when I can, and taking the good with the bad. Since the beginning, I fought to have raíces here not because I’m afraid of failing, but because I feel like it’s where I am meant to be right now.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while living abroad?  

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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. What a great post! I think reflecting is so important. I just arrived to do my first year and I am trying to remember there will be a LOT of ups and downs here and a lot of loneliness too. I really enjoy reading your blog!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Nah, you’ll get there. Life in Spain is glorious and tedious, fun and oddly boring at the same time. I love the paradigms in this country.

  2. Great blog, we’re hoping to move to Spain next year, had enough of the UK and will be there over winter (again!) Whether we’ve sold our property or not. Property being a huge canal boat!
    Nothing’s selling here either..
    Heather recently posted..With a quack quack here, and a quack quack thereMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thank you, Heather! Let me know if I can be of any help…just not as a deckhand. I have no idea which side is starboard, despite the six dozen times I’ve seen Titanic.

      • lol, I only know because my hubby used to build planes! Next time you’re sat on an Airbus, check out the wings and make sure they’re stuck on proper…
        Oh you wouldn’t believe the running commentary I get from him when taking of & landing about why that flap’s there and what that aileron is doing on an angle. Then there’s “And if that section there was down instead of up we’d crash to the ground” (Yes well I really needed to know that dearest one).
        Thanks very much for your offer of advice, we still have a lot to learn! Can’t wait to get back there in January, we’re now looking at a little place an hour south of Benidorm called La Zenia

        From Heather, commonly known by one and all as Heth :)

  3. I think I need to do a post like this sometime. It’s fun to see how you’ve grown and changed over the years. I also go back and cringe at old blog posts, but I appreciate them nonetheless, because I can see how far I’ve come!
    Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted..So You’re Dating a Spaniard—LaurenMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Oh, my old blog posts are TERRRRIBLE! When I migrated and went back to do SEO last year, I actually deleted some that were not even worth fixing. YIKES.

  4. Great reading, Cat. I admire the honesty and frankness with which you write about all of your experiences – not just in this post – but all of them, which is why I look forward to reading them. Getting on in life is difficult wherever you may be, even in your home country, I think that being in a foreign land sometimes just amplifies the difficulties that everyone faces in day to day life – but perseverance pays off – keep getting back up every time life (or cars!) knock you down. We only get one shot at life – it’s not a read through. :-)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, Sue! I love living here, even on the rough days, and I think it’s important that THAT comes through on this space. Appreciate all your reading and shares loads…and the fact that you’re bética, of course! 😉

  5. Life should always be an adventure. I prefer living life on a rollercoaster than sat on a comfy cushion (only figuratively mind you… I don’t go on REAL rollercoasters anymore – am too scared)… and it sounds like you do too.
    So what if it’s not always as seamless as we’d like – doesn’t that make it all the more fun?
    Here’s to your next six years love!
    Elle xxx
    Elle recently posted..Spanish Crossword – AnimalsMy Profile

  6. Loved this, Cat! You should be so proud of yourself for sticking it out this long. Here’s to a another wonderful year for you!
    Christine recently posted..Ria de Villaviciosa: Cruising on an EstuaryMy Profile

  7. I love the honesty here, Cat. You hit the nail on the head when you proclaim–first thing!–that these years were hard. There were difficulties, but you there certainly were good things worth working towards. A huge congrats on this Spainaversary !
    Cassandra recently posted..20 Spanish Things I Miss in AmericaMy Profile

  8. Oh how I loved everything about this post. There are so many downs to each up of living abroad. My friends at home constantly tell me how exciting my life is and I have to remind them that if they actually saw my days on my computer, cleaning, doing laundry without a dryer and a kitchen without so many normal appliances, they wouldn’t find my life so glamorous. It’s so hard not being there for the people at home through both the good times and bad, and equally as hard not having people from home during my own tough times, like a break up right now, but I know I am better for it all.
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..frivolous friday.My Profile

  9. I’m in month four ! I’ve no regrets ! It’s absolutely the right decision for me , but the loneliness is often unbearable ! But I had that same feeling in the uk and feel there is nothing for me there !!!
    I love Spain and the Spanish people , I have bought a beautiful house in Cadiz but am working in Madrid at the moment and writing on google plus.
    My Spanish is improving and I know one day when I get to stay in Cadiz I will feel better more settled its where my heart is , but I’m gradually discovering Madrid too !

  10. Curiously the biggest challenge wasn’t being a house husband to our then toddler Alex in our fist year here. Diagnosed with childhood leukaemia at eight months old, the risk of infection was too much for him to attend nursery. But, yay, he could go to the beach which means I’ve now visited around 50 of Gran Canaria’s 80+ playas. No, the most difficult challenge was my first job here. In a private school whose sports facilities provided dramatic views of the Atlantic below. It got so bad that I contemplated continuing my walk down past the football pitches and over the every-day-more-alluring cliff.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..Casa Cueva El Mimo, ArtenaraMy Profile

  11. Great post Cat! Well done for sticking to your plan and staying so long in Spain, in fact happy anniversary! Make sure you always follow what you want to do, no matter where in the world you are and how hard it can be.

  12. I love this reflection post! Happy Spain anniversary. People seem to forget that my life in Spain is just regular life too; they seem to imagine I’m on a permanent vacation.

    I don’t know if I could pick just one thing that’s been the most difficult in my two years here; the whole thing has been really hard. Luckily, things have eased off a bit these past few months, but living abroad is tough.
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..Where in Spain Thursday – The Catalan Human ChainMy Profile

  13. Chelsea Alventosa says:

    Uffff I feel like I’m following your same path. Entering my 3rd year here knowing its my last as an auxiliar is terrifying because what comes next? And now the laws have changed again making it harder to get residency with the Pareja de Hecho that we have… Everything is a bit nightmarish at the moment but in just trying to let things happen in due course. *deep breath*

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Que dices!!! If you have pareja de hecho, you’re able to work legally and get into the social security program. You have temporary residency, and after your third renewal with pareja de hecho, you can get permanent residency. What’s more, you have an entire year – Kike and I did pareja de hecho before the law changed in our favor, and given that he’s in the military, I have even more benefits.

  14. Happy Spaniversary! I can’t imagine six years in one place, I get too antsy and move every 18 months or so, so congrats on sticking it out through it all!

  15. This is a fantastic post Cat. I know about 100x more about you than I did before. Taxes, visa, getting started with credit history…. are my list of top 3 hard things! Also making friends.
    Kate @30Traveler recently posted..Koh Samui – Great Beaches + ConvenienceMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thank you! You’ve been there, you know it’s not always fun….but it’s been worth it, and I’m proud of myself!

  16. I really enjoyed reading this post – so inspirational.Go Cat!

    I’ve been following your blog for almost an year now, but there were many things I did not know about you :-)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Well, now I’m blushing! I am quite open about my life, but sometimes all of the touristic stuff gets in the way. Thanks for stopping by all this time (and coming out of the woodwork!).

  17. love this reflection. look how far you’ve come! :)

  18. Nice reflection. Isn’t comforting to be able to look back and know that the hard times didn’t break you but made you stronger. Happy Spaniversary!!!

  19. Congrats on your journey!

  20. A refreshing and candid retrospective.
    Larissa recently posted..A foodie taste of Chapel Hill, North CarolinaMy Profile

  21. A refreshing and candid retrospective. Best of luck with the next 6 years :)
    Larissa recently posted..A foodie taste of Chapel Hill, North CarolinaMy Profile

  22. Thank you for being willing to tell both sides- the good and the bad of living abroad. I hope your 7th year is your best one yet!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Announcing Green Travel Reviews (& Great Prize Giveaways)!My Profile

  23. My biggest challenge was facing the feeling that I was “missing out” on something back in the US… now that I’m back I think I’m missing out on what’s going on overseas. Can’t win!
    Happy Belated Spaniversary! :-p

  24. Cat, you wrapped up nicely! I like how you express it, so people see the differences :) I was living in Spain for 6 months, maybe I going to write 6 months in Spain, 6 posts you may like :)
    Lex @ Lex Paradise recently posted..A comfy stay in Busan KoreaMy Profile

  25. I love this post. I think all of us expats find peace in reading about others’ misery, victories, tears and smiles. I’ve been battling the second-year blues recently, at the same time I’ve been battling the Spanish government to get them to fix a major administrative error that gave them justification to refuse to renew my TIE. Anywho, you ask what the hardest thing we’ve went through has been: No doubt my darkest point was choosing to call off my wedding, leaving behind my love of six years, to continue working in Spain. I just wrote about it here Hopefully someone finds comfort in my experiences, like I have in yours!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I read your post – DIOOOOOS santo! I’m sure that was beyond difficult and required a crazy amount of thought. It’s definitely reassuring to know that you’re not alone, and that there are so many others struggling day after day. Let me know if you ever make it down to Spain – we can commiserate over a beer!

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