Heather in Galicia: "Get ready for delicious food, beautiful weather, and an all-around great place to live!"

Published 2016-10-06 14:00

Since she was 13 and her first trip in Europe, Heather knew that she will live on the old continent. She's now living in Galicia, Spain, with her boyfriend, teaching english and living. She gives us her US expat feelings about this delicious country.

Hi Heather! Can you introduce yourself quickly and tell us about your projects in Spain?

My name is Heather from TravelGuaranteed.com. I’m a 20-something female living as an expat on the coast of Galicia, Spain. After getting my first taste for travel at a very young age, I made myself a promise: no matter what else happens, travel will be the one guaranteed thing in my life. Since then I’ve been budgeting my money to explore the world and so far I’ve visited 14 countries. I love thorough travel where I can experience the culture, learn the languages, meet the people, and try the local cuisine. Currently I’m running my blog (which I named after that personal promise), learning Spanish and Galician, and teaching English to fund my journey through the world.

In your blog, you wrote that you're fell in love with travel when you were 13, why?

When I was 13 my family and I went on our first transatlantic trip to London. This was my first real exposure to a foreign country and I was instantly intrigued by how different everything was from my home.  I loved how historic the streets and buildings were, the English way of living in the city, and the culture. I remembered seeing these fantastic photos in my history books and now I was there in real life! It felt almost surreal. I think I had been in London less than 24 hours when I told my mom that I wanted to live there. I wanted more time to see and experience it all. That trip ended up being one of the most formative times of my life and has changed who I’ve become today. Traveling has been my main focus ever since.

Why did you choose to live in Spain?

Looking back at it now, I think I was always meant to be in Spain. Of course I had saved and planned for years to live abroad, but how I ended up in Spain is kind of a coincidence. During high school I studied Spanish and decided in university that I should study abroad in a country where I could really learn to speak the language—another life goal of mine. I moved to Spain instead of South America because I already loved the other countries in Europe that I’d seen. Plus the city of Murcia had an excellent intensive Spanish course.

Why do I live in Galicia now? After graduation I returned to Spain for a month to visit friends and I met my soulmate in this northern region. It felt like a sign that I was supposed to move back to my favorite country that I really missed. Now I live with my boyfriend in his hometown on the Galician coast.

Galicia Landscape

As a US citizen, did you have particular papers to acquire?

Yes, if you are planning to be in Spain for more than 90 days. U.S. citizens can visit Spain for up to 3 months, but past that they will need some kind of visa. To live in Spain you will need either a job offer, acceptance letter to study in an educational institution, proof of self-employment income, or to marry a Spanish national. Then you will be asked to provide (at least) an official background check, a valid passport, and a signed medical certificate to prove you’re healthy. 

How were your first steps in the country ? Was it easy to find accomodations and to integrate spanish society?

The first time I moved to Spain I was nervous since I barely spoke Spanish and I didn’t know anyone in the whole country. When I arrived, though, I was surprised by how generous, welcoming, and social the Spanish were to me. I found the more sociable you are, the easier it is to integrate into the society.  I made a lot of friends and felt at home in a short amount of time, even before I knew Spanish very well. (More Spaniards know English than the country gets credit for.) It took a bit of time to get used to the siesta when every business closes in the middle of the day, and the late-night lifestyle, but now I love it! Finding accommodations is very easy, whether you’re looking for an affordable hostel or an apartment. Every time I’ve moved apartments I’ve found a new one to rent in less than a week.

Galicia building

How can you describe spanish culture compared to US culture?

One of the first things I learned about Spanish culture is in the saying, “Trabajamos para vivir, no vivimos para trabajar.” It means, “We work to live, not live to work.” This emphasizes a fundamental difference between Spanish and American cultures. In America we have this mindset that “time is money,” so we strive to work hard and get paid for as many hours of the week as we can. Our work ethic and careers are a big part of our identities. In Spain, however, like the saying describes, people are more concerned with their quality of life outside of the workplace. Spaniards are extremely social people. They want to spend their time enjoying a drink with a friend, going on vacation with their family, or sitting down for a good, long meal with good company. Because the society is so social, my small town, for example, hosts free events and concerts throughout the year so the residents can have a good time. This is one of the things I love most about Spain. Both America and Spain are very nice countries to live in, but the cultures’ views on time differ greatly.

What does your everyday life look like in Galicia? I suppose that the spanish rhythm is different?

I guess I will answer that in the most Galician way possible by saying, “That depends; what time of year are we talking about?” (Galicians love to reply to a question with a question.) As an English teacher in Galicia, my day-to-day life greatly depends on the season and the weather. The region is notorious for its months of non-stop rain in the winter. In these months I spend the mornings teaching at my high school and the afternoons privately tutoring in my house, trying to stay dry. On the weekends, mostly everyone stays at home due to the rain.

Conversely, the summers in Galicia have the most beautiful weather that anyone could ask for—and I’m on vacation then! Starting in June there is some kind of concert, festival, fair, or local party in a different town every week of the summer. There’s always something going on and everyone is out in town. On an average summer day I will teach a couple hours of private English lessons, go to the beach, eat some seafood tapas at an outdoor café, and enjoy a free concert at night with friends. The rhythm of life in Spain is very laid back and relaxed. Everyone is just trying to live a great life.

Heather in Galicia

Spain is one of the biggest country of Western Europe. Which part did you see? Any preferences?

I’ve seen a great deal of Spain but won’t be satisfied until I see it all! I’ve of course been to Madrid multiple times and Barcelona. When I lived in the south I saw a lot of the regions of Murcia, Andalucia, and Valencia. During that year I took separate trips to the islands of Mallorca, Ibiza, and then to the university town of Salamanca. Now that my home’s in the north, I’ve visited most of Galicia, parts of Asturias, and I’m working my way across northern Spain to the regions I’ve missed. My sights are set on País Vasco next!

Although I loved Murcia and the south a lot, nothing beats the north of Spain. Galicia is the hidden gem of Spain—with its world-renowned food, beaches, wines, and beer—I may never leave!

Any advices for a soon-to-be expatriate in Spain?

My best advice for anyone moving abroad for an extended amount of time is to take it one day at a time. There will always be good days and bad days, even if you live in the most beautiful and fun place in the world. It’s important to tackle any new challenges as they come day by day; don’t worry about things that are out of your control. The first few months can be overwhelming, especially if you’re homesick, but give it some time. You’ll find things you love about your new home. But if you do want a change or to move back, that’s ok too. Ultimately you decide your future.

My second piece of advice is to maintain a strong support system, both in your original home and your new one. It’s never easy to be far away from friends and family, but you won’t feel as homesick if you keep in touch with them. I like to message my loved ones during the week and we always reserve a time on Sunday to video chat. Make sure to not isolate yourself in your new country either. Meet new friends and try to find your niche. Wherever you go, you’re not alone.

And for soon-to-be expats in Spain, get ready for delicious food, beautiful weather, and an all-around great place to live!