Welcome to the podcast. Today we have Katheryn on the podcast to tell us her experience with living in Spain. Thank you very much, Katheryn, for joining us today.
Thank you, Sally. A pleasure to be here.
Excellent. Can you give us a little bit of background about what your life was like your day to day, how things were before you decided that it was time for a change, and wanted to move to Spain?
Well, it is kind of funny because Spain is not the first country that I moved to as a foreigner. I was living abroad before living in Spain; I lived in Ecuador for a year. Before all of that, I guess I could tell you that I was working in the United States as an art teacher. I just had the itch to travel, to experience something new. I had always had friends who were from other countries growing up, and just thought that it was an experience I wanted in my life.
But I guess my day-to-day life to answer your question is one that was maybe more stressful. I was working, not just one job, but maybe like three jobs. I think at the time, living in a city that was smaller. I live in Barcelona. So, I was living in a smaller city on the east coast. In North Carolina, the community there was really nice. It was a lot of art (scene), and I’m an artist. It was nice to have a very close community in that way was more artistic and interesting. But my day-to-day life was, I would say, a lot more difficult.
I had to pay for things like health insurance, pay for my rent, to pay for a car because transportation was not so good. And that was also a big motivation for me too, you know, as a young person, to explore other options before deciding to move abroad. I guess that was a big factor for me, that and curiosity.
Great. You initially went to Ecuador for a year, and then why did you then decide to leave Ecuador and move to Spain?
Well, in Ecuador, I should say my best friend. It was Ecuadorian. We met in college in the United States. Her family was just really wonderful towards me while I was studying.
I got to know them very well, so I decided to go to Ecuador, knowing her family. I stayed there for a year, learned Spanish, lived with her family. There too, but wanting to develop a little bit more, I felt like it was a really interesting experience for me and a good one to learn, to live in another culture. Still, I felt like I needed to consider developing myself professionally and thinking about perhaps studying again if I would be serious about living in another place. Spain seemed to be the best option for me because it was a Spanish-speaking country. I live in Barcelona. So the first language here is Catalan, but Spanish, you can get by with Spanish here. I wanted to live somewhere where Spanish was being spoken and also a place where I felt like I could really study and live comfortably. For me, that was the best option.
It makes sense, and a lot of people don’t realize that in Barcelona and the whole Cataluña area, that Catalan is the first language. Spanish is second. Your kids are taught Catalan in schools as their first language and Spanish and English as well. So, a majority of people here are trilingual.
When you decided to move here, did you move here by yourself?
Yes. I moved here by myself, and I also moved to Ecuador by myself. It was something that I wanted to do. My family is in the US, and it’s probably the most complicated part of living here. Just to be by yourself and try to navigate a new city, a new country, maybe a different language, new culture, all of the things being involved. So those have been the most difficult challenges, but also the most exciting.
How long have you been here?
In Barcelona over three years, I moved in September of 2017. So, it’s been over three years, three and a half, maybe.
Was Barcelona the first city you came to, or have you lived in a few different areas and then decided to settle down in Barcelona?
No, Barcelona was the first I have yet to do the other part. So that’s the big plan is like after finishing, studying here, I would like to floor more regions of Spain and perhaps even Europe and decide exactly where I want to stay if that’s a thing.
Excellent. You talked about some of the obstacles and stuff with moving to a new country by yourself. I know about as I’ve done the same thing, and it definitely has its challenges, but what is one up to the biggest surprises you’ve had for yourself moving here to Spain, whether it’s a negative surprise and one positive surprise?
This was a disappointment for me. I was prepared for the things like the legal issues, all of these issues that I had just talked about. I think I was more prepared, having come from the US and then as a socialist country, Ecuador, which I think I had, I struggled with way more, like in terms of like the bureaucratic system there and like processing legal documents and things like that.
But one thing that I was not expecting or prepared for, and this is totally my opinion based on my own experiences. It felt like I wasn’t expecting a certain coldness from people when I first came here. And I’m not saying that that’s true across the board. I’ve learned throughout my time here, I’ve been in different situations where that’s definitely not the case, but I feel like when I first moved here, I moved to the center of the city, which was like a mistake for me.
But, I had just come from Latin America. I’m from the South of the US. People in both places, especially like where I was living in Ecuador, although it was a big city, I was living in the capital of Quito. People were really, really warm, and open and very embracing, and like a lot of different ways.
I felt like I’ve made a ton of friends there that, and it was so easy just to get to know people, even not speaking the language, just trying to learn it. I made good friends, and it almost felt like friends for life because I still talk with a lot of them, but here I haven’t had the same experience.
It was just really different in that way and kind of jarring for me. The contrast was pretty shocking. So I would like just be openly friendly and talk to people, random people. And that definitely wasn’t part of the culture. It was just, that’s just not how it was done.
I think it’s because where I live in Spain. But even so, I think it’s also just like part of maybe more of European culture, of more reserved type of culture that it’s just different in that way. I didn’t understand it at first and was kind of shocked by it. I just felt like I was asking myself, what am I doing? I need friends. It was hard to do that here. The thing too that I know and hear a lot too from people is that, of course, there are wonderful people that live in Barcelona, and they are friendly and stuff, but there is a large population that doesn’t like tourists. They would use spray-paint on walls and the ground and write “tourists go home.” Even though people who live here and aren’t tourists, but they are ex-pats, they’re from other countries, they’re still viewed as the “Tourists.” And they aren’t very welcomed or very welcoming to them. I’ve known some people that have lived here for years, and they just said it’s unfortunate because there are some of the locals that just don’t want tourists here. They don’t want foreigners here, and they just want independence. They wish to have the whole Cataluña region be Catalan and then decide who comes and all of that. So, it definitely is one of the challenges.
I kind of moved at sort of an inopportune time for that too. I moved two weeks after the attacks on La Ramblas, right into the city center. That same year, weeks after I had moved, they had like the massive protest, an independence protest, some of the biggest ones ever. I was right in the city center. I remember going outside for days because it was just so intense. It was a daily thing. It was clear that I didn’t necessarily physically fit in, and my accent was different. It was like a mixture of different things.
I came from Ecuador, so I learned Spanish there, and there’s different Spanish terminology from there to Barcelona. I was learning Catalan and trying to do what would give me some friends, who were not from Spain, who were also trying to learn Catalan. I guess just getting involved in different things here, like studying and kinds of things that helped me get friends. I found it was a lot harder to make friends with people who are from here versus people who were from any other country that was living here.
I agree with you on that. I have one friend that is from Spain and some acquaintances because I go to co-working spaces. But friends that I really hang out with and do things with are all from other countries.
I have a good friend from France. I have a good friend from Portugal. I have met other people from different regions in Spain, too. After being here for a few years, I feel like I’ve been able to actually connect with people from here, but it’s usually through another person that already knows them.
And that’s been cool to start to meet people from here in a different way and connect with them. But usually, they’ve also had more experiences traveling abroad too. So, they’re more like me. One of my good friends here, I met through my boyfriend, and she’s from here, but she lived in Mexico for a year. She’s kind of like more on an international page in a certain way. That kind of makes a difference too; it is like just the individual person and their experiences.
I agree. It seems like people who have traveled more are more open to meeting more ex-pats and international people living here, where the people who haven’t left the city or the area are pretty closed off.
I mean, if they’ve traveled through Spain and they’re a little bit more open, but it’s very interesting to see. I see that the ones, the ones who travel more, are the ones who are open more to meeting others. I guess if your only experience of dealing with foreigners is through tourism or people who are just using your country in that way, your culture in that way, just as a touristic or viewing it only in that way, you know, I can kind of understand how like that could develop like a kind of resistance.
I completely get it because there are bad tourists, those I see from down the beach or the street. I see them coming, and I’m just thinking, Oh gosh, I need to cross the street. I don’t want to be near these people. There are bad tourists out there. It’s unfortunate because then they give everybody a bad name.
Exactly. And since this is the biggest industry here, it’s a different thing with the COVID; I think with this recent phenomenon with COVID and seeing how there’s no tourism. So seeing how behavior patterns change, what people think about that, how there are serious discussions here about how there needs to be, how we need to promote different industries in Barcelona, and that kind of thing. I think that’s a really smart move for them. Honestly, they should have different industries and be exposed to maybe foreigners in different ways in every industry or because they’re a major international city, but at the same time, why it’s mainly due to tourism and they’re so dependent on just that one.
A lot of people come to Barcelona because it’s cheap to get to Barcelona. Flights in Europe compared to other countries so cheap and they’re thinking, well, we can just go, we’ll just party. Get drunk, sleep on the beach. You know, they’re drunk down the street, screaming at three o’clock in the morning, and walls are paper thin in buildings in this country. It’s like, people don’t realize they can walk by, and I’m up one floor. If they’re talking, I can hear what they’re saying as they are walking by, people just don’t realize that, but it’s unfortunate.
So, what would be a few things that you wished that you know now that you wished you would’ve known before moving here?
Maybe like the extent to which I understand the language, but I also think that also came from living here. So, it’s kind of hard, but that’s like a big thing because I mean, it’s how you communicate with people and I guess. I don’t know, not taking things so personally in a certain way. If someone appears to be angry at you here, I think that just the ability to kind of brush it off sometimes and move on with your life.
Also, not always looking at strangers is necessarily like, Oh my gosh, they’re going to be my best friend. Because that’s what I was used to before, and I think that goes with living in most big cities, you know? I think I was, maybe with some exceptions, necessarily taking things too hard.
I like living here. In many ways, it’s easier. In certain ways, you know, it’s more of a relaxed culture too. There is more importance to things like luxury time, all of these other aspects of life, to having these things for yourself. In other ways, I think I’ve tried to learn how to relax here. However, in certain things, they’re impossible to break. I don’t like here how people walk slowly on the street. I don’t understand that at all. Or they just like stop right in front of you as you’re walking.
That drives me crazy too.
That’s why I’m walking it off, and they just dead stop. And it’s like, you can’t just stop, especially when it’s crowded. I can’t jump.
Another thing is just postponing something until a later time or not feeling this urgency ever to get things done. That’s something that has taken me time to just chill with certain things and not maybe focus on other things that are more important. Instead of just waiting, waiting, waiting for something to get done, but that’s something I wish I kind of had known ahead of time.
Well, you know, maybe you shouldn’t waste so much time waiting for something to finish or waiting for someone to respond. You just do what you need to do and relax about things that can maybe wait and not feel like they have to be done at this exact moment all the time, as bad as that. That sounds, I think that’s like something I had to learn here, and I wish I kind of had known.
It is very different coming from, I’m going to say North America in general, whether it’s Canada or the United States, we are a very go, go, go society. We are used to, and sort of expect things to be done very quickly and immediately, right. When in Spain, it’s more about enjoying time, have the siesta in the afternoon, go for a walk, things get done later on.
It is different, and it is adjusting to. I guess I wish I had known earlier to kind of see the beauty in that too. Seeing the beauty of well, maybe it’s not necessary that we have all of the stores open on Sunday, or if everyone wants to take a break in the middle of the day, at first I thought Spain is so retarded, I don’t understand it, but now I’m okay, well they just need chill time. Everyone needs chill time. Let’s just take that time, respect it. Maybe if you need to do something else in your chill time and not take a siesta, that’s fine, but not criticize everyone for wanting that because it’s a lifestyle.
It’s an important factor here. They put cultural importance on that. So it’s, well, okay. Just accept it, and I believe too, part of the reason we left our home countries was there were things that we didn’t like, and we wanted different experiences. But sometimes it is hard when you’re so used to something that it’s, at first, it’s frustrating.
For me, everything closing in the middle of the afternoon was frustrating. That’s when I would go do my stuff. I would go out, and everything’s closed again. I forgot. And I did it so many times. I still do it occasionally, but now I’m used to it. I loved the fact that everything’s closed on Sundays. I mean, restaurants and small cafes and convenience stores are open. If you need to get a couple of groceries or forget to pick something up, you can get it. But I think it’s fabulous to have things closed on Sundays.
Is there anything that you miss about the United States or from the United States?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. I mean, you never get certain things out of yourself. I mean, like roots, you know, and I guess that’s important in different ways to every person. Still, for me, it’s definitely really important, my family and also, even my city, where they manufactured cigarettes, or they used to. I am really, really missing my community there.
I’m going to be honest; it was a unique place to grow up and be part of the development, culturally. When I was teaching art there, when I was doing different things, I felt like I was helping to construct a community. And so like that is something that I’m still working to find here I have in certain ways, you know, like with art, been part of exhibitions here and have had groups of artists, friends here who have helped me with that. That’s cool to be part of a cultural experience in a different place. But that’s something that I’m still kind of searching for in certain ways, is like being more adopted into the fabric of the society in a certain way. So that’s something I really, really, really miss is just that like my close friends, my close family, like the community.
And that way, that’s something that I’m still yearning for in a lot of ways. I don’t think you’ve ever really over it. That takes time, though, too. Right? Cause when we realize it, like when we grew up with our home country, you know, we have our family and our family’s friends and kids, and we go to school, and that’s how we meet people.
So when we’re adults, it’s a little bit harder because we don’t have that already kind of built in system for us when we’re moving to a new country. Hopefully, with work, that could be one that’s sort of built in a bit to get to know people. Or school, if we’re studying, we’re doing things more on our own, and we’re more independent, then I think it’s harder, and it takes a longer time to build that community.
Barcelona has given me a lot of different opportunities that I wasn’t expecting. Especially with things like professional opportunities, that’s something that’s crazy to me is how quickly I was able to find different things that were, I think, just total luck of meeting certain people. They introduced me to someone else, and they introduced me to another person, and there are networks here, and it’s a very cultural city.
So that worked really well with art as a big thing, (but also studying), help working. I did work. I mean, I do work. I work as an English teacher here too, but that’s limiting in certain ways; you’re there for that specific reason. I think that has given me (post-COVID, especially) has given me more options, as far as finding friends. I’ve heard language courses/schools here are good for that and different opportunities to meet people, I guess, on a deeper level.
But since it is such a transient kind of place, I think for a lot of people, it’s harder even if you sign up for a language course or something like that. You can meet a lot of different people, but most likely a lot of those people go back to their home countries, or they don’t stay here for very long. They’re not tied here. They’re not necessarily interested in putting down any kind of roots here. So that’s a little bit challenging, but I don’t know; work brought me to meet friends.
One friend that I do have from here, a good friend of mine, introduced me to my boyfriend. So I have a significant other, and he’s been here for a long time. He’s also an immigrant from Argentina, and that helped me to make more friends that are from here. He knew them from a long time ago or from his studies here.
So that’s a different population. It’s totally different from maybe what I would have found on my own. That’s part of it too, I guess, finding significant connections with people and establishing more.
That’s great. It was great to hear about your experience here and, I hope our listeners liked to hear about it too. Many people think you live in Spain, you live in Barcelona, it’s so glamorous all the time, but you know, it’s still life, and it’s day-to-day life and their struggles. Thank you very much, Katheryn, for joining us today and sharing your experiences with us.
Thank you, Sally; it was a pleasure to be here.