Moving from New Jersey to Barcelona is quite a change! It is a change that makes you enjoy life and embrace everything that comes with it. Of course, it’s not always so easy. Things don’t always go smoothly, but with advice for future expats, it could help to embrace this change much easier.
Our story today is from Lauren Smith, an American wife, mother of three, expat and blogger from New Jersey and now living in Barcelona! Her blog, The Expat Chronicle, shares all the aspects of her experience, all the ups and downs of going from the hectic to the hilarious. Also, she wants to help all the people out there who want to make the same step.
So if this feels like it’s something for you, keep on reading the top tips for you, future expat! One thing that she has learned from this experience is how much she feels inspired and amazed by all the stories of people who, like her, have moved to Spain from another country. And don’t think this is so uncommon! It’s so easy to meet new people with different and rich stories, but all united by the same spirit of living abroad. This makes also realize to Lauren that maybe somewhere out there is probably another “Smith Family” going thru the same nail-biting agonizing decision-making that we were prior to relocating here for my husband’s job.
For this reason, she wants to share few tips to live this experience at the best, as she said “I’m NO expert and a lot of my expat friends would be much more qualified to write this…but I like to think that 18 months here has at least equipped me to offer some helpful advice…”
#1. Get Connected
This is how I found answers to tons of questions, even before signing the contract of our relocation. I joined groups such as International Expats of Barcelona, Expat Moms, Barcelona Moms, Moms with Babies in Barcelona, and this made my move much easier.
All these people help me through the unknown world, giving me advice on neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, banks, playgroups, summer camps, furniture stores and so much more. Nowadays, I still count on them at least once per week!
#2 Try to learn at least some of the history behind the city you’ll soon call home.
To truly appreciate your new home, you really have to understand how it got that way! It took me a full year before I really began to understand the symbolism within the walls and streets of Barcelona, Gaudi’s incredible artistic vision, the mystery behind La Sagrada Familia and more. When I first arrived, I fell already in love with this city, but today, after everything I have learned about history, I’m in love more than ever!
Once you arrive, you are busy with settling down and arranging everything for your new life in this place. it can be busy, but please try to take off one afternoon and jump on a Hop On Hop Off bus and enjoy some time around the city. Yes, very touristy, but for sure worth it. It is a wonderful way to the main landmarks of the city and learns a bit more about interesting facts, all in a quick amount of time.
#3. Don’t assume the home you fall in love with is where you should be living.
Here you should really be careful! When we started our search on websites like Idealista and Engel & Voelkers, we were so enthusiast to have a long list of options within our budget and in the most beautiful part of the city, like the Gothic Quarter. It all seems easy, right?
Nope! Gothic is amazing and romantic, but mainly for a date night! But it’s definitely not the best to raise a family with children! We learned this after our pre-move visit and our search started all over again.
So, my tip is to learn about the neighborhoods in each city before looking for a new home, and even before moving there. As far as Barcelona is concerned, barrios (neighborhoods) such as Sarria, Sant Gervasi/Bonanova, Eixample, Poble Nou and Tres Torres are all lovely for families. Wish we had known this from the get-go!
#4. Choose to blend in instead of standing out.
It might sound strange and against the most expats’ mentality, but if you want to be treated like a local you have to mix among them – then you mustn’t look like a…Yankee (in our case!); which meant that we started wearing baseball caps only on rainy days, American flag shirts were reserved for bedtime and flip flops reserved for the beach.
I’m not saying you have to change yourself, but simply fully embrace the attitude and style of your new home. I also admit that the locals can still spot a “guiri” (foreigner) a mile away. At least now I get asked more often, “Italiano?” instead of “Americana?” Which makes me giggle and of course, I wouldn’t dare argue otherwise ha!
#5. Never stop taking photos
I’m not that kind of persons who live with constant snaps and clicks, but I do believe there is an exception for expats! If you’re wondering why, here’s the answer! The word itself “expat” means something temporary, something with an end. It’s a beautiful chapter of our lives, full of excitement and adventures which will be part of the past at a certain point. This scares me.
This is why I find photos important, to avoid memories fading away. Of course, I take pictures of monuments, beaches and more, but these are easily found with a quick Google search. What I’m really focused on is the photos of our everyday life here. For example the view of mountain and sea out the front balcony of our apartment. The beautiful pattern of stamped sidewalk pavement throughout the city.
Our teenie tiny euro kitchen (of which I have both a love and hate relationship with!). The even tinier building elevator that we’ve successfully managed to fit all five of us plus a stroller inside of! Our sweet doorman whose familiar face day after day has become like family.
Also, the pictures of the first day at international school, a very nervous day where the teachers have made all the difference for our kids’ transition. Yes, also the sparkle in our eyes that comes with all our new experiences.
Those are the photos I want to look at and be brought back to that memory, to that beautiful moment when I am old and grey, and my children have families of their own.
This time is ours. Your time will be yours.
It’s our job, our responsibility, to capture as much of it as we possibly can in the short time that it lasts.
Thank you Lauren for sharing your experience and giving us top tips to embrace this experience as much as possible. For all of you thinking of even starting a business in Barcelona, we have more suggestions for you. Read on the 7 tips to open a business in Barcelona. And if you are curious to learn about expatriates, here’s what expatriation really is.