Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Living in Barcelona - Surviving the First Year Blues

As most of us who have up and moved to Barcelona can attest, the life of an expat is full of ups and downs, especially during the first year.  There were days that seemed to validate our decision to come here, and other times that probably had us contemplating either moving back or trying some place new. Yet, we didn't, and as the time passed, we found ourselves more settled and at home with more good days than bad.

I remember the first few months as full of excitement - everything was so new and  fresh.  The life, the people, the energy were unlike anything back home.  Two in the morning no longer signaled the end of evening and best of all I didn't have to drive.  Conversations no longer started with "What do you do?" but rather "Where are you from?" My days no longer consisted of the same old routine, but
instead offered a new adventure as I explored some new nook of the Barcelona that I had discovered accidentally.  It had been a long time since I felt so energized.

But, just like nothing in life lasts forever, same goes for the rush of living in a new city, and around my sixth month the sheen wore off. Feelings of loneliness to crept in. Living alone in a foreign land with a strange tongue made basic communication seem like mission impossible some times. Even if I used the right word, my pronunciation would have people grimacing as I butchered their language, and there were many times I ended up buying something I didn't need or want just to get out of a store before facing further embarrassment. After situations like this, I thought about the life I had left: my family, my friends and my ability to communicate freely and confidently. But as my old boss once told me: "What you miss no longer exists," and he was right – Life was fluid and not static, and all it took was a call home to reconfirm this. Of course, knowing this didn't make it any easier.  So, what did?

For me: It was getting out and reminding myself of why I had chosen to move to Barcelona. I'd wander the streets and get lost in its beauty, ending the day with a beer outside and some people watching. I also found particular solace in the two medieval churches: the Santa Maria del Mar and the Gothic Cathedral back when it was free.  Far from a religious man, I was nevertheless happy when the holy water didn't burn, and sitting in such magnificent buildings brought a certain serenity and peace to my confused mind.

I also broke my promise to avoid all things expat or English, and completely immerse myself in Spanish culture. Enough nights going out and not catching a single word made the need to sit and have a chat a priority. It was at the English pubs where I befriended not only expats, who had decided to make Barcelona home, but also Spaniards and Catalans, who were interested in improving their English and helping me with my Spanish. And, by the end of my first year, the foundation of building a life in a foreign country had been accomplished - some favorite spots to collect your thoughts, a network of friends to help and support you through the ups and downs, and a basic grasp of the language to lessen the moments of embarrassment. 


  1. I enjoy reading your blog as we are getting ready to move to Barcelona. I find it interesting and informative. Thank you!

  2. Wow, this piece was a joy to read. It is exactly how I imagine things will be for myself when moving from Rotterdam (The Netherlands) to Barcelona in 2010. I especially liked the sentence: "For me: It was getting out and reminding myself of why I had chosen to move to Barcelona. I'd wander the streets and get lost in its beauty, ending the day with a beer outside and some people watching."

    It's why I fell in love with the Great Enchantress: I got lost in its beauty while wandering the streets...

  3. Moulding yourself according to an alien culture is very difficult. I visit and stay in Apartments in Barcelona and enjoy alot. But it is absolutely different than your situation.