It’s Monday and that means that it’s time for another edition of the Intentional Expat Interview Series. Last week’s interview with fellow blogger J Russell Mikkelsen was a huge success and this week I’m excited to introduce you to Jhey, a Spaniard living in the states. I also met him several years ago in Alicante when he was my Spanish teacher for four weeks. In the years that followed we traded places, but we’ve stayed in touch in the way all 21st century expats should…via postcards


Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and where do you currently live?

My name is Jhey, and although I am originally from Spain, I currently live in Hoffman Estates, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago). I came here through a program called “Visiting Teachers” that provides professionals in education with the opportunity to teach abroad. It is bilateral, meaning teachers from Canada and the USA are sent to Spain, and vice versa. After working in two other schools, I am now finally settled at South Elgin High School, teaching Honors Spanish 3-4 and 7-8, as well as AP Spanish Language and Culture. And I love it.

What are some of your hobbies and what are you passionate about?

My hobbies are traveling and connecting with cultures. I´ve always been drawn to this, and that’s what I’m passionate about. I’m also a grammar nerd, so anything that involves words, etymology, and syntax I’m automatically interested in.

What motivated you to move abroad?

I have always found languages and cultures interesting. I think deep inside, I always knew there was a whole different world outside of Spain waiting for me to explore, but sadly, my family does not share my curiosity for the different and unknown, so I never had the opportunity to travel when I was a kid.

I majored in English and Literature, and when I was in my senior year in college, I was offered the chance to finish my degree in Aberdeen, Scotland. Needless to say, I was all packed and ready to go five months my trip started.

Ever since I had my first experience of being immersed in a different culture, I knew that there was a plethora of opportunities waiting for me that I did not want to miss out.

Where all have you lived abroad and which place was your favorite?

I’ve lived in Dublin (Ireland), Aberdeen (Scotland), Belfast (Northern Ireland), Freiburg (Germany), and Elgin and Hoffman Estates (Illinois, USA). Every place holds special memories for me and made me experience amazing moments that made it unique and incomparable; nevertheless and for many reasons (most of them personal), I’d probably say Aberdeen is my favorite, mainly because it was the first place that fully exposed me to something completely different and it was the greatest eye opener for me.

What’s the most difficult part about living abroad? And what’s the best part?

Living abroad to me is like a roller coaster ride. For every up there is a down and that’s the beauty of it. Yes, not everything is great, but there is a certain balance that makes it worthwhile.

I’ve recently learned the hard way that the fact that I am the only member of my family living in a different continent tends to hit me harder in my lowest times. Of course I have made friends these last 7 years, but family is family, and the fact that they are so far away in terms of distance (and 7 hours ahead of me) makes coping with the not so happy moments a lot harder… but if I have to pick an upside to this, I’d say it is that it’s making me grow thicker skin =)

And of course there are great moments to it. So many that I could be counting them for weeks! Therefore, if I had to pick only one, it would probably be the fact that I’m growing a lot as a person. All those little things that are culturally shocking make my day all the time!

What have you learned from living abroad?

 I’d perhaps say that being outside of my comfort zone has made me realize that there is so much more that I can be or do with my life. I’m grateful I’m getting to experience, learn and grow everyday through random things my students say, or things my colleagues at work teach me through their experiences in the States or from my trips. I now consider everything important or relevant, because there is something to learn from even the tiniest of things.

What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?

Well, let me tell you it is not always easy! But at the end of the day, it’s something I chose to do and no matter how discouraging or ridiculously hard some moments are, there is always a positive balance to it that’s makes it worth my time. That doesn’t mean I’m shinier than the sun 24/7, but I know my experience would not be as enjoyable if I let it get me every time.  Life is never easy, no matter where you live, so why not get the most of it while you’re at it?

What´s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?

That’s a tough one. I always travel back to Dublin, Barcelona and Edinburgh. I’ve been to each of these places many times and I love the atmosphere, how much these cities have to offer, the culture… everything. It’s really hard to pick one! I’ve also recently made a trip through Portugal and fell in love with Porto.

Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?

I do have a bucket list, and I’ll share three of the things I want to accomplish, in no particular order =)

    • Travel to Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Tokyo and Alaska.
    • Improve my German by living one or two years somewhere in Germany (probably Berlin).
    • Go to the Opera.

Can you share one experience abroad that´s been truly ¨blogworthy?¨

The first time I was in Dublin, my English was terrible (but I was aware I was there to learn, so I tried to not let my inability to express myself accurately get me). I had spent my high school years learning how to write formal letters in English and great college level essays. I could recite the irregular verbs chart in my sleep, but when it came to speaking, I couldn’t remember speaking one single word in class (except for the occasional skit). My teacher never spoke or pronounced a single word, so I could spell a word perfectly, but couldn’t say it out loud.

So anyway, I get to Dublin after a tiring trip (back then there was no way to get go directly from Alicante, Spain to Dublin), and all I wanted was an apple, shower and bed, in that order. I was sure I could at least say those three words until my brain was rested, and then I could spend the rest of the summer showing off my vast knowledge of the English language. And there I was, in the kitchen, trying to ask for an apple that I kept pronouncing like “ay-pole”. The lady kept staring at me while I repeatedly said “ay-pole… ay-pole”. I didn’t realize how much I was going to have to work on my phonetics until that very moment… But that just made me want to work harder!!! =)

Do you watch TED Talks? What´s your favorite one?

I’ve been hearing about them a lot lately and was introduced to them by a school workmate. She recommended that I watch Ken Robinson’s “How schools kill creativity” after one of our talks during PLC time. I’ve been watching quite a few ever since. I also love Colin Stokes’ “How movies teach manhood.”

What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful? 

Just do it, but for the right reasons!

Don’t do it because it’s the cool thing to do, or because it is what your friends want to do. If your mind is not set to receive and accept, comparisons will arise and you’ll end up hating all that is being offered to you.

Do it knowing that it will probably be the most rewarding thing you will ever experience, if you live it with an open, unbiased mind. Do it because you want to be a part of a broader universe. Do it because understanding the way people interact with each other in their own habitat is what makes it interesting and exciting. Do it even if you don’t agree with everything you see, hear, feel or taste, but respect it all because you’re being allowed to participate in it. And lastly, do it because it will make you grow to limits you never imagined before.

I can absolutely relate to Jhey’s feelings of going abroad for the first time and realizing that there was “a plethora of opportunities I didn’t want to miss out on.” I’m glad that exploring some of those opportunities helped me to cross paths with Jhey or we wouldn’t have had the pleasure to have him as part of The Intentional Expat’s Interview Series. GRACIAS!!!

 Are you living abroad? Do you love traveling? Or are you intentionally living your best life possible in your hometown? And most importantly…would you like to featured in a future interview on this blog? If so, please get in touch.