I’ve been living in Barcelona for around 13 months now. That’s enough time to get to know the coastal sun-city that’s big enough to get lost in yet easily available to being explored fully. Below are some of my experiences of living abroad you may find useful if you’re planning on making the leap overseas. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from my time in Barcelona (you probably didn't expect a few)!
A home away from home:
After a busy 13 months I’ve gotten to know this city well. Barcelona has this intoxicating and laid-back atmosphere which is relished by those who wonder its streets and are amazed by unique architecture. The infamous Antoni Gaudi has touched parts of the city with his truly special master-pieces.
"Barcelona has this intoxicating and laid-back atmosphere which is relished by those who wonder its streets and are amazed by unique architecture"
My 13 months out here so far has been a journey I had never expected to be so good. My move from the grey life in London out to the sun-infested and vibrant culture of Barcelona was something I cannot understate. While in winter it barely drops below 10 degrees Celsius and for six months of the year it’s over 20, the warm climate is perfect for all. Espresso or “cortado” is appropriate at any time of the day out here, as is "cerveza" (no translation needed). There are no “normal shops” in this city, only endless streets lined with tapas bars that are inter-twined with Catalan spirit and life. Barcelona is in no rush to do anything. And I love it.
Be ready to change:
When or if you choose to move abroad, there’s so many things you have to figure out, especially when you live somewhere with a different language. Looking at the latest stats on MoveHub, it’s clear that living overseas is good for your health, wealth and happiness. And according to their study of 1,000 expats, “life is a lot sunnier, more relaxed and far less pressured and more enjoyable”. But things run differently and you have to adapt. You can never anticipate it being perfect or prepare you for what to expect. You learn to just go with the flow. Slowly but surely you can look at yourself and realise you’re changing around the new environment. And when you realise this it’s a special feeling knowing that a city has the power to change you.
"There are no “normal shops” in this city, only endless streets lined with tapas bars that are inter-twined with Catalan spirit and life. Barcelona is in no rush to do anything. And I love it"
Those Spanish or French classes you might have taken once? Nah, they don’t mean anything when you have a local Spaniard going full force at you in some lyrical madness. Or was that Catalan? If you think that today’s world of Skype and Whatsapp can somehow make up for not being back home, then you’re wrong. Can anything bring you closer to home? Nope, it’s just not the same. You have to fork out for the flights and get used to knowing the airport better than your own home. You also end up with two of everything. It’s a nightmare having to buy a new clothes, a new desk and new lights when you have all of this back in your old life. Not all of it can realistically be shipped to your new flat. Especially when you take just one bag like I did. You have to pack light and collect the rest trip-by-trip as you eventually visit home again and again.
The power of a new city:
When most people move abroad, they often speak highly of their new homes, but there’s always that niggling aspect to any new move. And Barcelona is no different, it has those long-waits for any kind of restaurant and café service, that crowded feel in areas by the beach and the ceiling above you in your career. But despite this, Barcelona has that power to swallow you whole.
It’s easy to be lost among the mess of colour and uninterrupted life, with the freedom to explore the coast line at your fingertips. Unimaginable beauty surrounds Barcelona and the Southern Spanish coastline, with the mountainous Pyrenees and Basque country to the North offering a unique blend of environment in which you needn't escape the Spanish borders ever in a lifetime. It’s hard to find a reason to leave the Catalonia region even – you can never get bored.
"Most of my new friends at work won’t ever make the trip back home again. The trip to Barcelona really has the ability to be a one-way ticket"
This bustling international metropolis kindly mixes foreigners and locals in a cosmopolitan clash. They’re ambitious but they’re relaxed about it. They’ll know they will get where they want to be, someday. And they’re in no rush to skip the pleasures of life to pursue that career as quickly as possible. So why am I confused about Barcelona? Well, life is honestly harder. Yes you get that love and mystery of foreign land, but it’s kind of like starting life again, elsewhere. With the unfamiliarity comes insecurity. And in a new life where I've left my things behind, including a busy lifestyle, things just seem … incomplete and somehow short-term.
Prepare to become that guy:
If you get the chance you have to leave your home and work abroad. The mix of new cultures on offer changes you personally in ways you can’t imagine. From my own experiences, I would never have experienced that young and ambitious culture anywhere else. The possibilities to travel and do endless enjoyable things keeps you on your toes. But you will be endlessly asked if you speak the language or love the beach. No I don’t speak Spanish, merely Spanglish at a push. Yes, I love the beach, but I’ve probably only been once every three weeks at best. Yes, I do enjoy my tapas and sangria, but no I don’t drink it daily like everyone expects. Aside from the questions, you’re also seen to be a hero. People find out about your life when they visit, the little insights and pay-check at the end of the month – you become that expat who’s living the dream. It’s cool to have that status. When I come back and visit the UK, the people are bored, the food sucks and the weather is … well, you already know.
You’ll learn to love the things you used to hate, like rain:
It’s true, however, that I miss my home island of the UK. After a year away you realise it’s the little things back home that you don’t realise how grateful you were for. And from my experiences in Spain, I miss the green, I miss the rain and the grey (hard to believe, right?!), I miss not having to cool down every 5 minutes from the burning sun. And let’s not forget the every-day supermarket food. You don’t realise the beauty of Cadbury’s chocolate until you leave!
Stuck in limbo:
Living in a multi-cultural and tourist hotspot is kind of depressing. Barcelona is on any top-10 for amount of tourists visiting. And in any top 3 spot for tourist-per-indigenous head. With so many new faces every day in a not-so-big city, people come-and-go and it’s everywhere. If you work in this kind of environment, surrounded by people on holiday, you crave traveling too and begin to miss home and your friends. It’s a strange feeling I’ve never experienced before. I worked out that it’s almost too true that expats are less likely to plant roots in a city like Barcelona. The reality is, the economy is struggling and the desire for expats to fully integrate into Catalan culture is lacking, if not, non-existent.
There’s a point where you can kind of be stuck in limbo, neither here nor there. It’s difficult to comprehend at times. Friends back home get on with their lives and you start to miss out on all the excitement, the birthdays, the weddings and the births.
But the aforementioned are so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Nothing can compare with the decision you make to move. Treat this as a call-out to all those wanting to move abroad and thinking twice before they commit.
Don’t think, just do it. The sacrifice in home-comforts, salary or whatever it may be, are too worth it. It’s an experience you’ll never get again.
Barcelona is now my home away from home. And I’ll always come back here with a smile on my face, from wherever I may go next in my journey.
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