Each Tuesday I feature an interview with someone who is living overseas or is an avid traveler. This week’s interview is with someone who is very near and dear to my own heart. Back in summer 2009, soon after finding out that I’d be moving to Spain in September to work as an English teacher, I decided to search out a conversation exchange partner in Seattle to practice my Spanish. My original conversation exchange partner, upon finding out that I’d be teaching in Majadahonda (a town to the NW of central Madrid) insisted I meet a friend of hers, another Spanish girl who was also currently calling Seattle home, but whose hometown was this very same place where I’d be working that fall. After a summer full of coffee dates in which I stumbled through Spanish and Elena practiced her English, it was time to head across the pond to Madrid. What started as a chance to practice one another’s languages has now turned into a friendship that has spanned countries and even continents. I have Elena to thank for helping me with my first apartment search, teaching me the meaning of “garrafon” in Spanish (which I’m sure saved my liver) and serving as my official tourguide when I visited her in Romania a few years ago. Today I’m excited to introduce you to Elena, a Spanish girl in Chile (one of the many places she’s called home in the past few years!)
Elena, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m from Madrid, Spain, and am currently living in Santiago, Chile where I work as a lawyer. I love to spend my spare time reading, traveling and skiing, and overall I like to try new things all the time, and have new projects. I’m passionate about life, about new experiences, getting to know new places and different cultures.
Where all have you lived abroad? What was your favorite and why?
I have lived in three different countries, the first one was the United States, the second one Romania and the third one Chile. In every country I have had positives experiences and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to live there. I think my favorite country was the USA. I lived in Seattle and I found it to be such an amazing city (so, I don’t understand why Melissa is living in Madrid ;)… ), I also believe that I probably love Seattle the most because it was my first experience living abroad, I was 22 and I was eager to live in another country. Now I miss Seattle’s lakes, parks, and how nice people were there … Although, now that I am living in Chile I feel torn between whether I prefer it here or in Seattle because I’m also having a great experience here.
What is the most difficult part about living abroad? What is the best part?
The most difficult part is being far away from my family and close friends, and also feeling like you don’t completely belong there. The best part is getting to know new cultures, having new experiences, meeting new friends and most importantly, when I’m abroad, I do what I want to, and I feel that I get to know myself better.
What have you learned from living abroad?
The most important thing that I’ve learned while living abroad is the importance of respect. Especially respecting different points of view, and different lifestyles and ways of doing things. The first few times I lived abroad I saw the way people did things and I automatically thought that these things should be done differently, specifically in the way that I was used to doing things. I think that when you live abroad you have to learn to simply observe the customs of the country you’re living in and try to avoid judging. I’ve also learned that if there’s something I don’t like in the country where I’m living, it’s better for me to focus on something that I do like. This is what helps me to maintain a positive attitude when I live abroad, especially on those days when I feel homesick. Above all, I recommend that anyone who lives abroad avoids telling a local person just how poorly they think things function in the country. The people who call this country home tend to be sensitive and these hurtful comments aren’t going to do anything to change the country in the way you want it to.
Would you consider yourself to be an ¨intentional expat?¨ Why?
According to the definition on your blog, I would consider myself to be an intentional expat. Every time I’ve left Spain I did it because I wanted to. First, I wanted to study English and live in the states. After that , I felt that I was missing living abroad and went to Romania, and the last time I did it for personal reasons, but to a certain extent I can’t avoid this nagging feeling of always wanting to live new things, become familiar with a new country and have new adventures. I think that I’ve always had the spirit of an “intentional expat” inside of me.
What´s the best place you´ve ever traveled to?
I have many favorite places, but I don’t have a “best place” yet. However I did love visiting Hawaii and Delta del Danubio in Romania. Those were completely different from any other places that I had visited before.
Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?
I don’t really have one, but I would like to get to know Latin America and Asia better. I’d also like to regularly practice some sort of sport like yoga or running on a more regular basis. Up until now I haven’t been able to find a way to do it!
Do you watch TED Talks? What´s your favorite one?
I hadn’t watched them until you asked this question, but now I have and I’ve found some of them really interesting! I especially like Amy Cuddy’s talk entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful?
Do it, or you will regret it!! And if you want to have a great experience, do some research about the country you are planning to move to. Living abroad is usually great, but it is even better if you really know about the place where you are moving to.
Thanks so much Elena for sharing with us a little bit of your own expat experience! Do YOU have a story you’d like to share? I’m always looking for new faces to feature on the interview series so if you’d like to get involved, please get in touch.