My Spain Story

The first great travel novel I ever read could have been , “Go, Dog, Go!” We all start somewhere. My parents attest that I was running before walking, and they’ve chased me everywhere from gymnastics practice as a kid to various countries around the world. Go, Cat, Go!

But my Spain story starts about 30 years ago, back when my mom was a junior in college. Her cousin decided to elope, and my Grandma McCrae, furious for not being invited to the wedding, told my mother that she could choose anywhere in the world to study abroad for a semester. She chose Rome and ate gelato on the Spanish Steps while studying fashion and pasta for an academic semester.

When I graduated from high school and was preparing to study journalism at the University of Iowa, my mom told me the same thing (just no eloped cousins in this part of the story). Spain escaped my lips faster than I could let her words fully process in my head. It was settled – I would go to the land of toros, tapas and sunshine to study Spanish and the art of the siesta.

I chose Valladolid as my destination of choice – a former capital once inhabited by Cervantes and Columbus – and spent the summer of 2005 with a host family, attending language classes at the Universidad de Valladolid. Study abroad profoundly changed the course of my life.

While I was there, I learned enough Spanish and enough about the siesta to want to go back. As my mom embraced me a few weeks later at O’Hare Airport, I simply announced, “I am moving back to Europe.”

And there it was.

I found a job teaching English in Sevilla as a North American Language Assistant at a local high school. Totally out of my comfort zone and unsure if I’d like being la maestra, I jumped in and haven’t looked back since, moving to Southern Spain’s capital in September 2007.

I began teaching at a rural high school, where I found that I actually liked teaching, and that I was good at it. I come from a family of teachers and am comfortable being at the center of attention.

I used my weekends and long breaks to travel to places I’d been longing to travel since I was a kid – Ireland,  China, Germany and every corner of Spain – racking up more than 30 country stamps in my passport. In the meantime, between tapas and siestas, I met my Spanish boyfriend, the Novio.

One year in Spain turned into two and three, and as my teaching program expired, I had to make a choice: Fight bureaucracy and stay in Spain, or chalk it up to a great experience and go back home to Chicago?

I fought the law, which is hard on Americans wanting to live and work in Spain, and the law handed me a loophole.

Nine years, four jobs and a bilingual wedding ceremony later, the Novio and I ended up in Madrid. SandS has always been about southern Spain, but La Capi was calling and I had to say goodbye to my querida Sevilla.

And despite the language fuddles, the cultural blunders and the feeling of having a culo inquieto, I’m finding olive oil to be an appropriate substitute for butter, I have a hankering for old man bars, and that Spain may just be my finally destination.

If you’d like to read my story from the very beginning, visit the archives page for easy navigation by month – all the way back from July 2007!

I’d love to hear from you about anything Spain related – teaching, settling in, traveling. Send me an email at, or join me on Facebook, twitter or instagram!


  1. Hi Cat, what program did you go through to teach abroad? and other random questions like how much are you getting paid per month and is it enough?? I’m trying to decide what I want to do next fall, and teaching in spain is definitely on my list- you can email me at


    • I just realized that was a stupid question “is it enough?” well, it probably is seeing as you’ve been there for years…I think I mean more along the lines of insurance, rent, traveling, yada yada..I don’t want to be asking my parents for grocery money haha

      • Hey Corey, and anyone else, I did three years in Sevilla with the Auxiliares Norteamericanos program ( This consisted of working in a local and public high school for 12 hours a week, assisting English teachers plan and implement bilingual curriculum. Yes, the pay seems like next to nothing, but you have to realize that the cost of living, even in a city like Seville, it far lower than in the US. I paid 240 euros a month for rent and utilities, about 100 for groceries, 25 for transportation, etc. I also made up to 500 euros a month just for tutoring, which is both legal and widespread in Spain.

        For anything else, email me! Thanks for reading!

  2. Colin Culbreth says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I tried that link you provided, but it says “404 error, page not found — all in Spanish)

    My name is Colin. I’m an American and speak fairly proficient spanish (little rusty). I am interested in Teaching English in Spain, but I hear for an American it’s nearly impossible. And to get a visa, you need a job… and to get a job, you need a visa. So it’s frustrating. I read your blog online, and was curious if you could offer any information.

    I have a masters in Education, 16 months teaching experience in South Korea (ESL), and am a licensed teacher in the state of Washington in the USA.

    I would really appreciate any help or advice.

    Thanks so much,

    Colin Culbreth
    Masters in Education

  3. I’m enjoying your blog. I made the same choice you did 28 years ago, and my Sevillana friends from that period are still among my closest, most intimate friends. It was a life changing experience. Now, I go back periodically to Seville to live with Spanish gypsy friends I made along the way. I’m a writer. My debut novel is scheduled for release in October, 2012. It’s set in Seville. ( Happy blogging. I’ll be tuning in.

  4. I hope to have advanced reading copies available in June. I’ll send you an arc. Do you read ebooks?

  5. Absolutely missing it. La feria is where I learNed to appreciate fino! and I agree about the kindle. Loving it! I ‘ll send you a copy as soon as I have the arcs. Enjoy La Feria. I’ll have a cup of La Gitana to remember.

  6. Just tagged you in a “getting to know you” blogging series, should you want to participate. I hope you’re having a wonderful time at feria, can’t wait to read posts about it! Ciao guapa! 😉

  7. Love, love, love your blog and everything spain! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hey Cat,

    I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award – congratulations! Follow this link to see the post and learn more about the rules for this award:
    Thank you for inspiring me!

    Sam recently posted..Very Inspiring Blogger AwardMy Profile

  9. Hi Catherine

    Recently found your blog and enjoying it very much – entertaining, interesting and enlightening!

    M & S
    M recently posted..Things we miss about ÓrgivaMy Profile

  10. Wonderful story Cat. You have some really engaging blog. Will be following you starting today.

    Shane Gomez recently posted..Estrellas De MendozaMy Profile

  11. Love your story. Spain is one of my favorite countries on the planet. Since we travel one dish at a time, Spain has plenty to offer. I had a great meal in a small town of Ubeda spring lamb. The best I’ve ever had. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Judy at Two Broads Abroad recently posted..Naples, Italy: Pizza and Street ArtistMy Profile

  12. Hi Cathrine, came across your blog via Sue Sharpe on twitter. Love your story and really nice to find another free-spirited American in Spain. Hope to meet one day in this great country.
    Bo recently posted..Curious AlteaMy Profile

  13. WHat a terrific story! I want to know what your Mom said when you told her you were going back… !!
    Mrs. Chasing the Donkey recently posted..Sunday lunch at Hotel BoskinacMy Profile

  14. Cat

    Hi, I have sat on that exact spot in the Plaza de San Nicolas in Granada on many occasions, usually at sunset (many years ago now in the 1970s, before it became the “go to” place for student drinks at night) in the quiet, watching the sun go down behind the snowy Sierra peaks, bloodshot sky and the Palace. Last there last year when I got up early and went to see the sunrise for the first time-see my blog. Enjoy reading your posts, I too love the Plaza de Espana, last there a few years ago with my now ex-wife, so sad as well as happy memories. Was in Seville for a day last month and met up with Fiona Watson who I am sure you know. Paul

  15. i happened to stumble upon your blog because I was looking for other bloggers who share my passion for Andalusia and I’ve begun to love every bit of it. I’ve been seduced by Seville and can’t wait to go back to Southern Spain.

  16. Raymond says:

    Spain seduces. I too can’t get enough of Spain. I’m missing Spain again.

  17. traveltheworld says:

    Hi Cat!
    Read your story…pretty awesome how a simple trip turned into a new and different life. My boyfriend and I are travelling throughout Spain in the month of August. We are spending 3 days in Seville then leaving 1 day for a day trip! Any specific “hidden gems” we should get to…?

    • Cat Gaa says:

      Ofu! It will be very hot in August and many restaurants will be closed for the whole month. I’d try and avoid being outside during the day, and seeing as much as you can in the morning and evenings (that’s what siesta was invented for!). The rooftop bars are nice for the evening and dusk, and the gardens of the Alcazar have a concert series called “noches del Alcazar” which are really nice. Calle Sierpes and Tetuan, as well as main plazas, get sun shades, so be sure to drink plenty of water and bring sunscreen! If you’re here towards the end of the month, let me know!

  18. …Hey, Cat–thanks for stopping by The Pumpkin’s Head, although I didn’t see your comment until today (stupid spam folder)!!…

    I know quite a few of us NALCA babies/Spain n00bs look up to you (esp. on the Facebook groups)!!…
    Betty J. Ogburn recently posted..A Dedication to Zaragoza–My Future Home…My Profile

    • Cat Gaa says:

      Aw, that’s really nice of you to say, Betty! I’m sure you’ll have a great time in Aragón, and you have so much networking done already. Enjoy the process, and reach out whenever!

  19. Hi Cat,

    I stumbled across your site while doing some research for our trip to Seville next week and just wanted to say I love your blog! We’re really looking forward to our first ever trip to Seville–my husband’s mum’s side of the family is Spanish but from Madrid and the Canaries, so this will be a very different experience.

    Hope you’re enjoying your summer!

    Steph x
    Steph recently posted..Steph explores… PeckhamMy Profile

  20. Hi Cat,

    Being a Barcelona blogger I have been going through blogs planning my trip to Sevilla, with my parents, and the south next month and really enjoy your adventures. It is a great adventure to live here. Thanks for sharing
    sarafina recently posted....because of the super festive, Fiesta de Gracia…My Profile

  21. Dear Cat,

    My name is Joyce and I work for is a free one stop website for people preparing to move or working and living overseas. We provide a myriad of services for expatriates and we have over 2,000 articles to help and support the people moving around the world and we are now creating an interview section to help the expats with real life experiences!
    We quite enjoy your blog about living in Spain, it is very interesting and informative. Would it be possible to interview you to further share some of your tips and feature some of your first hand experience as an Expat and your interview will be published on our Expat Interview section as a guide for our expat readers. The questions are mainly about the day to day lifestyle of an expat. If it would be possible, could you also send some photographs that we can use?
    Of course, if you accept, we can add a link to your blog or some of your website.
    The questions are enclosed, feel free to respond freely. You can return the doc with your answers if you accept this invitation.
    Thanks in advance and do let me know if you prefer other means to conduct this interview and we would be happy to accommodate your terms.

    Best regards,

  22. I caught you interview on Amateur Traveler. I like your site. About Spain being your final destination, I like the way I heard some Zen monks explain it. They would say you’re going to become Spanish dirt.

  23. You’ve no idea how much I envy you! You are living both the dream AND “la vida loca!”

    I hope to one day move to Spain and make a living there in a small village in Andalucia or Navarre. I was born in Colombia so I think I qualify for the 2 year residency requirement to get a Spanish citizenship. I speak both English and Spanish fluently and have had experience teaching high school level though I don’t have a degree, (I was a shop teacher so I am very handy, lol)

    Have you had any experience with Ibero-americano residence permits? I found the embassy website very difficult to decipher.

    Love your blog hope you can check mine out.
    Julio Navarro recently posted..On the Hydroponic FarmMy Profile

    • Hi Julio! Looks like you’ve got a few emails waiting from COMO Consulting, my other page. Hayley is a pro with visa issues, so you’re in great hands!

      Looking forward to reading your blog and staying in touch!

  24. Oh my god.. you did it! I wish I could do the same. I have thought about it for years, but the unemployment rates scare me a little. How are things going over there now? Has it been hard finding work? I work in Human Resources, and I also studied Spanish in Spain (Alicante) several years ago and have that same interest in going back that you do! It’s inspiring to see that you’ve made it work.
    Danielle Ramona recently posted..14 Reasons Why You Should Work OverseasMy Profile

  25. Cool blog Cat! It’s always comforting to hear that others had to endure the same pain to get a visa (no, wait, that’s not right…). But, misery loves company! Congratulations on finding something you love and pursuing it in spite of challenges and naysayers. Good luck on the rest of your journey.
    Tim M recently posted..Girona, Spain: Costa Brava and a Bit of BasketballMy Profile

  26. Hello from another Chicago girl venturing to Madrid! (Getting out before this crazy Chiberia) I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog so far :)

  27. Hi Cat!
    I loved your story! I shared your resource of April’s Fair Vocabulary. It’s really useful! Thanks! I’m an English teacher as well, from Seville :) I’d love to meet with you, if you’d like :)
    Kind regards,

  28. Cat,

    I am a high school Spanish teacher of 35 years and have two more years to retirement, but have considered continuing to teach if it were teaching English somewhere in Spain. Let me know if you think that is a crazy notion or doable. And if doable, what steps or agencies might you recommend?


    • Hi Mike, apologies for the late reply but am on holiday. Teaching in Spain is definitely doable, though there is quite a bit of ageism in the sector, I’m afraid, and it’s difficult to get work permission. Why don’t you email me ( if you’d like to talk more?

  29. Hello Cat (fellow Chicagoan!) :)
    I’m wondering where Seville ranks on the cities you’ve visited in Spain? Because I get asked frequently on my top 5 favorite cities I’ve been to, and Sevilla is always included in that top 5 (Istanbul, Kyoto, Paris, & Chicago being the other 4).

    I absolutely love this city. Great read and pictures!


  30. What an amazing story! I just have this great memory of Seville, I love southern spain and I was lucky enough to find this luxury apartment and my holiday was just a stop in paradise to be honest. The sun, the food, the people… I can understand how you could easily fall in love with the city! Great blog! :)

  31. Hi Cat! Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us!!!

  32. Olivia Currado says:

    I’m so happy that the first blog I googled about living in Seville has lead me here, as I started reading I noticed how similar my current situation is to yours and it makes me so excited for my future here in Spain!! I am currently living in Valladolid and working as an au pair and I will be moving to Seville in June, so glad to hear about other positive experiences from an American living in Spain :)

  33. Hey, Cat! It has been such a great pleasure to read your experience living in Spain. As you have already said, this country has a lot to offer, not only in big cities, but also the smallest ones (or even the villages!).

  34. After 10 years of being in Barcelona, sadly I must agree with you. This city is like most traveling destinations – great for vacation and that’s it! I have lived in Austria, the Balkans, Vietnam, China and the US. Barcelona is the only place where I have issues with the local mentality and people and I am fed up. I really dislike it big time, after giving it so many chances and will move to real Spain.

    • Hi Arion, I have become somewhat jaded as I’ve lived here longer – though I will say that moving to another city and then abroad for a short time has changed my mind. I stick to my barrio and my family, and that helps me cope when I am fed up. By the way – have you read my post on how I feel about Barcelona?

  35. I ran across your blog about a year ago. Read it all from the beginning to the end. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess your life has taken up whatever time you had to blog. My wife and I are planning to retire to Spain in early 2025. Looking at the Valencia / Gandia area. No real need to respond to this. After reading about 14 or so years of your life just thought I’d say hi and thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Dave – completely taken over! I write for a living now and have small kids, so I find very little time. That said, I do miss the creative outlet and hope to start blogging more. Thank you so much for reading – so do look me up if you make it out this way!

  36. Linda Perez Del Rocco says:

    So excited to read your blog. My husband and I have been to Spain many times. My father immigrated to the U.S. in the 40’s to flee Franco’s regime. He was from the NW Santa Eugenia de Riberia, Galicia. I have been to the farm as a child and also about 5 years ago. When I go with my husband he likes to stay in Malaga. We are retiring at the end of this year and want to spend at least 3 months a year in Spain. Do you ever run across furnished apartments that would rent for only 3 months? It is just the two of us and I have a 7lb. service dog that is constantly with me. I have diabetes and my dog is trained to bark and attract help if I faint. Anyway regardless would love to meet you when we are there. I am fair in Spanish but my husband is not. Please write me back.

  37. La plataforma de turismo rural de sevilla, os espera para mostraros otra sevilla diferente.

  38. Hi Linda, have you looked into Spotahome or AirBnB? They’re for short-term stay and operate in many Spanish cities. You could also consider buying or a retirement visa. If you’re interested in Spotahome, I have a discount code. Just drop me an email! sunshineandsiestas @ gmail. com

  39. Cómo me gusta ver mi pueblo preferido, San Nicolás del Puerto, en la portada! Un saludo.


  1. […] up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and daily cravings for Cruzcampo later, she writes at Sunshine and Siestas about Sevilla before escaping the summer heat by heading for rainy Galicia to run an English […]

  2. […] commenters on other blogs. Once I found Cat, I thought I’d found a kindred spirit. She’s the kind of blogger I hope to be: dedicated, funny, irreverent, full of life, amazing at Spanish (with an Andalú […]

  3. […] commenters on other blogs. Once I found Cat, I thought I’d found a kindred spirit. She’s the kind of blogger I hope to be: dedicated, funny, irreverent, full of life, amazing at Spanish (with an Andalú […]

  4. […] Sunshine and Siestas, Cat tells us about her experience as an American living in Seville. She was bitten by the travel […]

  5. […] teaching year to begin in October. Seville was a place I’d dreamt of for years, so I contacted Cat Gaa from Sunshine and Siestas – an expat who calls Seville home – who told me “August in Seville – yikes! […]

  6. […] By the way, the ‘bureacrazy’ tag came to me through the blog of a feisty ex-pat American who married a Sevilliano. It fit with our experiences in France and we were indeed nervous. But unlike Cat, we haven’t […]

  7. […] reading- Sunshine and Siestas is a blog about Seville and Southern Spain by an American expat . It is full of handy guides about […]

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