Cat Gaa - Expat in Seville, Spain
Cat Gaa is a 29-year-old teacher, trainer and entrepreneur who lives in the region of Andalusia, Spain. Originally from Chicago, USA she relocated to Spain due to a desire to improve her Spanish fluency. “Given visa restrictions in the EU, I knew it would be better to come on some sort of program, so I applied to be an English Language Assistant through the Spanish government,” Miss Gaa explained. Presently, she has been living in Spain for seven years.
Miss Gaa notes that in Spain, the positives outweigh the negatives. “I feel like I’m at my best self in Spain – I eat better, make time for friends, am outdoors more, and travel as often as possible,” she said. However, she noted that one of her struggles as an expat in Spain involves Spanish bureaucracy. “The processes here are often slow, riddled with forms and fees, and the civil servants often don’t know what the rules and regulations are,” she said. Miss Gaa also added that it was difficult to meet people and make friends at first. “There were few social media, few social groups and I had the added element of not knowing Spanish. Plus, I find that people come and go in a year or two, so I’ve had to focus more on my long-term relationships. Nowadays, it’s easy to network on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I’ve even started a professional group for English-speaking women to foster this,” she said.
The relocation process is one that is filled with a number of requirements and procedures to fulfill which can be difficult by slow-moving formalities. Expatriates who are not familiar with the needed requirements may end up feeling confused. To make it easier for expats, hiring the right relocation services can help when it comes to processing the necessary paperwork. Like Miss Gaa, it can be challenging for expatriates to meet friends while overseas, especially when there are language barriers to overcome. To make socializing easier, expats are encouraged to look for available clubs and associations which can offer many opportunities to meet new people in your host country.
Find out more about Cat Gaa’s experiences in Spain in her full interview below.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from the Chicago area, but after studying in Northern Spain for a summer, I decided I wanted to move back to Iberia to improve my fluency.
Q: What made you move out of your home country?
A: Given visa restrictions in the EU, I knew it would be better to come on some sort of program, so I applied to be an English Language Assistant through the Spanish government. I planned on a year or two, but have been here for seven and just bought a house! Spain is my long-term plan.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: When I applied to the Language Assistants program, I was given a choice of regions to teach in. I chose Andalusia because of the weather (no Chicagoan in their right mind would want to go somewhere cold and snowy). The government placed me in a small town outside of Seville, where I have been living for seven years.
Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?
A: After seven years, I find it funny how overwhelming everything was to me in the beginning. From the language to the timetables to the culture, my first few months were really tough. After all this time, though, I still find it hard to be away from my family and friends. Now that I’m starting to move forward professionally and in my relationships, I’d love to be able to share these things with them – and I miss live music and a reliable postal service!
Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?
A: Ugh, Spanish bureaucracy’s bad name precedes it. The processes here are often slow, riddled with forms and fees, and the civil servants often don’t know what the rules and regs are. For this reason, I co-founded COMO Consulting Spain, a residency consulting firm that cuts through the Spanish red tape. We’ve been fielding queries about visas, residency and even getting things like Internet and health care set up. The issue in Spain isn’t just the lack of information, but that fact that what little information there is, is all in Spanish. That’s why we founded COMO – to help ease the transition process.
Q: Are you living alone or with your family?
A: I moved to Spain alone and have since found a strong circle of friends and family. Even if it’s just to rant about bureaucracy or lack of turkeys on Thanksgiving, it’s nice to have people who understand you.
Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Spain? How did you manage to find a social circle in Spain?
A: To be honest, it was difficult at first. There were few social media, few social groups and I had the added element of not knowing Spanish. Plus, I find that people come and go in a year or two, so I’ve had to focus more on my long-term relationships. Nowadays, it’s easy to network on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I’ve even started a professional group for English-speaking women to foster this.
Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?
A: Seville itself is a beautiful, historic city, but real Spain is in its small villages. You can’t miss the Pueblos Blancos, the jaw-dropping beaches or the Roman ruins scattered around the western end of Southern Spain. And stuff yourself with tapas!
Q: How does the cost of living in Spain compare to your home?
A: Everything is far cheaper out here! A cup of coffee costs 1.10 – 1.50 €. You can eat well for under 10€ for meals in inexpensive restaurants. Spain boasts many Michelin stars, though in Seville you won’t pay more than 40-50€ a head for a good restaurant. Good wine is pricey, but a decent wine for take for a special event is 8-10€. As for cigarettes, not sure because I don’t smoke!
Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?
A: Sevillanos are notorious for being a bit closed off to outsiders, but once you’re in, you’re in for life! I can count on my Spanish friends for anything.
Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Spain?
A: Thankfully, the positives outweigh the negatives! I feel like I’m at my best self in Spain – I eat better, make time for friends, am outdoors more, and travel as often as possible. The negative aspects are trivial – a house with no heat, poor public transportation to move around the city and the lack of haste when it comes to processing paperwork or getting mail delivered!
Q: How do you cope with homesickness?
A: I think I have learned to cope all right. There are many things that can set me off – football season, foods, milestones – but I stay in touch via mobile apps, Facebook and email, pay a little extra for food products to be shipped and spend holidays with my American girlfriends. Each year, we do a cookie exchange, Halloween and a big 4th of July fête. It helps me stay connected to my home.
Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: The only way we’d move is if my fiancé’s job took him elsewhere. We’d consider the US for the quality of education, though I’d love to move once more before we starting planning a family!
Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
A: I’ve experienced quite a bit of self-doubt when trying to decide if Spain is right for me. Working outside the teaching realm has proved to be difficult, between lack of jobs and poor pay, and I’ve often asked myself if I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I thankfully have a lot of interests and therefore a lot of avenues for revenue, and my current job allows me to fit it all in!
Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?
A: Research, without a doubt. I come across people every day who haven’t thought far enough ahead, are unaware of visa restrictions or are shocked by nuances in the country. Often times, they want to live the same way as they do in their home country, but with better weather. Where’s the fun in that?
Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?
A: Apart from my own blog, Sunshine and Siestas, I love reading other expat blogs.