Things I Would Have Done Differently When Moving Abroad

Even though it seems like I just got here yesterday, I’ve been in Spain for just about two and a half years now. And overall, it’s been a pretty great 2.5 years. I definitely wasn’t expecting to stay this long, but here I am with no plans to leave, and I feel good about my decision to stay.

The learning curve, however, has been pretty steep. I was barely old enough to drink in the US when I stepped on the plane to come here, and had never lived so far away before. Going to college in-state an hour and a half away from where I grew up was perfect: I was far enough out of my comfort zone that it gave me new experiences, but close enough to come home when necessary (like the time I twisted my ankle in Zumba and thought it was broken – Mom to the rescue down US 33!).

But coming to Spain was different. Out of the 46 million people in this country (which I had never set foot in), I knew exactly one: my future boss, and that was only via email. Luckily, said boss ended up being a saint who went out of her way to make me feel welcome in Spain. After getting over the initial shock, I think I’ve settled in pretty well.

Nobody’s perfect, though. God knows I’m not. And thinking back on the last two years, there are things I would have done differently. These aren’t necessarily life-changing mistakes (obviously I survived them all and I’m doing just fine), but knowing different ways of going about these situations would have made my life a whole lot easier.

Being more persistent

I’ve heard it time and time again throughout my life. “You are just so nice!” they say. “No, really, you are too nice.”

I’ve always been a people pleaser. There’s nothing I hate more than feeling like a burden on someone else. Throw in a language barrier, and my first year or so in Spain essentially made me a doormat, which I really regret.

When the internet company I contacted in September said they would call me with an installation time within a week, I should have gone right back and politely but firmly checked up on that when they failed to do so. As a result, I didn’t get internet in my apartment until December. To be fair, I did try contracting with another company during that time and they even came out to my place to try and install it, but as luck would have it I lived on the only street in town where their signal wouldn’t reach.

I spent the better part of three months scrounging for free wifi in my tiny little town, all because I didn’t want to be the annoying foreigner bothering the people in the little internet shop. When in reality, they were the ones who said they would do something and never followed through. I finally did go back into the shop and ask about it, but only after rehearsing the most polite, non-annoying way to say it in Spanish as possible.

Cafe work
Writing out PR plans at a local cafe. From Insta.

I got a little better as the year went on. In May, the light in my kitchen burned out. It was one of those fluorescent tube-type things, so I didn’t know how to replace it by myself like I would a normal bulb. You best believe I was calling my landlord every single day. And…he never answered or returned my calls. I spent the last month with a little table lamp awkwardly on the kitchen counter so I could see. But I at least felt better about the fact that I was making an effort to get things done. I just wish I would have started doing so earlier.

Learning to say no

This is one I’m still working on, and it ties back into the being-too-nice thing. No, random lady I’ve never met who got my number from a friend of a friend, I will not find someone to give your kids private classes. I’m not your personal headhunter. When I decided to no longer teach private classes, I committed to finding new teachers for all the families I taught last year, because I know them and genuinely cared about making sure they were covered for the next year. But when random people started messaging me asking if I could teach them (no, I have another job and no longer teach private classes) and then if I can find them another teacher, I wish I would have simply said “no” rather than busting my ass to help complete strangers (and bothering the Cordoba auxiliares facebook group with “another private class opportunity!”).

I usually loved the classes themselves. Especially when we got to play games. From Insta.

Planning out my side hustle better

Speaking of private classes. They can be a wonderful way for auxiliares to earn some quick extra cash. However, I really overdid it last school year and took on more classes than I should have because—circling back to the previous points—I felt bad saying no. As a result, my Mondays last school year looked like this:

  • 8:30 am-2 pm: work at high school.
  • 2 pm: Leave work. Run from last class (armed with coat, bag, etc. to avoid stopping to grab my stuff in the teachers’ lounge) to bus stop in front of school.
  • 2:01 pm: Get on bus.
  • 2:15 pm: Get off bus. Run up to apartment. Inhale a bocadillo or forkfuls of Ramen while sorting through materials for afternoon classes.
  • 3 pm: Get on bus again. Head to first private class.
  • 3:30 pm: Get off bus. Teach first class.
  • 4:45 pm: Leave first class, which is technically supposed to end at 5. Run to bus stop. Take bus to next class.
  • 5:10 pm: Get off bus. Run to second class, which is technically supposed to start at 5.
  • 6:40 pm: Leave second class. Run to bus stop.
  • 6:50 pm: Get on bus.
  • 7 pm: Get off bus. Arrive at third class with seconds to spare for 7 pm start time.
  • 8:30 pm: Leave third class. Go home and collapse on couch.

As you can see, I was spreading myself way too thin, working quite literally 12 hour days. And all that running I mentioned was literally running. If you know me, you know I don’t run. So that’s how much of a hurry I was in to get from place to place.


The second class of the day was the last one I agreed to teach. I managed to (barely) squeeze it into my schedule and although they were a very sweet family, I should have considered the logistics of getting from place to place. Those extra euros were nice, sure, but were they worth the literal running around town and stress? I now teach online and no longer have to deal with the logistics of private classes, and this was a huge part of my decision to do so.

I’m obsessed with my super cute planner, but didn’t think to use it to write out exactly how much time I would have to get from class to class. From Insta.

Taking better care of myself

Long gone are the days of staying up until 2 in the morning watching Netflix and eating an entire thing of Mercadona guacamole with tortilla chips and calling it “lunch.” I’ve always been fairly active and went to the little gym in my small town quite a bit, but I wasn’t balancing that out very well with other aspects of my lifestyle my first year in Spain. Nowadays, I try to cook healthier, balanced meals in the evening for dinner and always make enough so that we can eat the leftovers the next day at lunch.

But, when home in Columbus, always always always eat the chocolate peanut butter donut at Buckeye Donuts. Because balance. From Insta.

Bringing more shoes

No, seriously. I’ve always known my feet are on the bigger side. Luckily, US women’s sizes 9 and 10 (depending on the brand) are super easy to find back home. That equals out to about a 40 or 41 in Euro sizes. I am under the impression that all Spanish women have incredibly tiny feet, because it’s nearly impossible to find anything above a women’s 39 here. Usually, my shoe-shopping experiences go like this:

Me: *sees cute shoes, checks boxes, nothing in my size*

Me: *carries shoe to probably-tiny-footed-saleswoman (PTFS)*

Me: Hi, do you guys have this in a fort-

PTFS: No, sorry.

Me: Oh…okay. *walks away using gigantic feet*

And then there was my very first shoe-shopping experience in Spain, during which I admitted to the PTFS that I was from the US and unsure of my European shoe size. She was pretty much like “no pasa nada!” and proceeded to hand me a European-UK size conversion chart, which helped even less. (The Everyone Thinks I’m British saga continues.)

Sadly, no room in the suitcase for all these beauties. From Insta.

Seriously though, the extra suitcase weight would have been worth it if I’d thought to bring more shoes.

Have you moved abroad? What are some things you wish you would have known? I’d love to hear from you!

Author: lindseyzimmerman

I'm a marketing pro, writer and cat person from Columbus, Ohio living in southern Spain since 2015. Usually drinking manzanilla, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once).

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