The long battle to become a full-fledged expat

Becoming a full-fledged expat has been a long, hard battle. When I first came to Seville, almost 12 years ago, I never expected to embark on such a magnificent journey. I merely came to learn some Spanish, teach a bit of English, and maybe have time to play my guitar. Now, I’m a true expat; a guiri (foreigner in Spanish) who has turned part Sevillano. But the lengthy process was tough.

Sevilla…photo by Cabanillas

Excruciating at first

After travelling round the world teaching English in South America, Australia, and Asia, it was difficult to keep my itchy feet in one place, especially in a city which was hard to settle in. The 40 degree heat was too much, the Andalusian accent overly tricky to understand, and making friends with locals was painful.

I had only managed to find work with a cowboy language school as well, so my earnings were poor. I earnt just enough to pay my rent and food, and maybe go out a little. After two months I was already planning a trip back to Asia.

Then I met a Sevillana, who mysteriously hypnotised and seduced me with her magical powers. She was my student (I was 25 and she was 21) and we immediately fell for each other. At the start we had a few problems communicating, especially as we were both beginners in each other’s language; we relied heavily on pocket dictionaries, and the language of love. Despite cultural differences and ways of thinking, we became each other’s media naranja (half orange as they say in Spain) as we fought for something pure, a love which is hard to find.

I was still unhappy in Seville though. It was too small, claustrophobic, and traditional. When I got offered a job as a primary teacher back in the UK, I panicked and made a rash decision to leave Seville, and split up with my girlfriend. Straightaway my heart broke, as did hers. Losing such a special love was too much to take: half my heart was telling me to go home, to be in my country, with my family, but the other half was telling me to try harder, and work on the magical bond that we had. So I turned down the job offer, and we moved in together.

Once I’d decided to stay, living in Seville was easier. I found a new job working for a more established language school with better pay and conditions. I started to make more friends too, although teachers rather than locals. I found Sevillanos too cliquey and difficult to bond with, probably not helped by my weak level of Spanish.

Battling on

For about two or three years I battled with my decision to stay in Seville though; it was too noisy, busy and stressful living in the centre at times, especially at weekends. I grew up on the outskirts of London, where it’s a lot quieter, and you have that option of going into the capital when you want. I missed travelling a lot too. I was happy at work though and learnt how to become a decent teacher thanks to the excellent training my company provided. Also my level of Spanish began to improve.

Becoming a writer

Another aspect that kept me here was the working timetable. Teaching English in the afternoon gave me enough time to concentrate on my writing in the mornings. I read self-help books on how to write, and slowly became a writer. I published a travel literature book about my trip around the world, and also started two blogs.

I’m close to publishing a contemporary romance novel, funnily enough set in Seville, about an English guitarist who falls in love with a Sevillana flamenco dancer.

The power of religion

But something was still niggling. As my love for my girlfriend grew, I realised that she was the one, so I had to make more commitment. After going together to several weddings back in England, I started to think about proposing to her; it just felt like the right thing to do. So in May 2010, I planned a surprise trip to the countryside and proposed, she said yes, of course.

When the shock settled, we began speaking about the wedding, and we both wanted to get married in church (as did our parents), which meant I’d have to become catholic.

For me it wasn’t such a drastic move as my father is catholic, plus I’d had my fair share of church on Sunday with the scouts. Our parents never got us baptised because they wanted us to have the freedom to choose when we were older.

I’d also become a fan of Semana Santa, a religious festival in Spain, which opened my eyes to the world of Catholicism. Doing a catechesis class in Spanish was strange; not only because of the new vocabulary, but also the ideas and mentality. I had a lot of questions about God, and Jesus, which I still have, but I soon began to appreciate it more.

In November 2010 I got baptised and did my communion, and then participated in Semana Santa the following Easter. It was an honour to be part of such a traditional procession, dating back to the 17th century. I was the first British person to be in the brotherhood. I’ve participated in most years since.

In September 2011 we were married. Getting the two families together was a wonderful moment, as was the honeymoon to New York afterwards.

Almost there

So, now I was married, a catholic, and had made a pledge to my wife. Married life was great and I was becoming a true expat. The next year I did a diploma in teaching English (Delta) and my wife did a secretarial course. We were happy, living in a flat in the centre, but something was missing. We both agreed there had to be more to life. That’s when we started talking about having kids.


Being an expat father

Our son was born in September 2013. It’s funny how you worry about the birth and becoming a father during the whole pregnancy, but once you have your son in your arms you just naturally want to look after him. I was smitten with him and began to feel as if my life in Sevilla was finally complete. We were so happy being parents that we decided to have another. Our daughter was born in March 2015, just 18 months later, and we were lucky enough to buy a house a month after.

Finally settled

So, now we live on the outskirts of Seville, much like I did when I was a lad in London. We have our two kids, who are now 3 and 2, and have become a family.

Having my own crazy bunch here has made that long hard battle to become an expat worth it. I’ve also started to make more Spanish friends; there’re not actually a bad bunch! I miss stuff back home, obviously my family, mates, and football, but having my own family here takes up so much effort and time that I’m constantly on the go. I appreciate what I have every day though.

If you’re thinking of becoming an expat and living abroad, then just go for it. It’s such an eye opener. It won’t be easy at the start, but if you’re passionate about learning another language, and about becoming part of a different culture, then go for it.

5 thoughts on “The long battle to become a full-fledged expat

  1. Wow, what a journey. Congratulations on 12 years an expat and all that you have accomplished.

  2. Thanks for reading my blog, I’m enjoying yours as well. I’m feeling somewhat pulled to be an expat but not sure where I’d want to live yet. I appreciate you sharing the good and bed of your journey.

    1. No worries. Thanks for leaving a comment. What sort of place do you want to live in? What’s stopping you?

  3. I moved to Medellin, Colombia and fell for a wonderful girl there, like you did in Seville. But I was skeptical if love could truly bloom as we were both just beginning to try and learn each other’s languages (that’s how we met). Hearing your story has given me an additional boost to not focus so much on the language barrier and just continue to help each other. Your story shows that her and I can develop a lifelong relationship despite the initial language barrier, just as you and your wife did. Thank you for the motivation, and congratulations on your happiness.

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