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Reflections on One Year in Valencia: The Journey Continues

A year ago on July 4th we arrived in Valencia … those first few months were a whirlwind and quite stressful, between the crazy heat and humidity we weren’t at all prepared for, rental housing woes, understandable but still difficult parenting challenges with all of the transitions, navigating a new city and some very stark cultural differences … there were many times we didn’t think we’d last the full year here.

But we did it. What helped? The kinship with and support from budding friendships with fellow expats who had done it before us. A lot of deep breaths, exercise, cheap massages, many glasses of tinto de verano, and telling ourselves to “tranquila, we’ll figure this out” (most Spaniards will tell you to “tranquila” when it comes to most things in life). Eventually around the sixth-to-seventh month mark we started to feel less like tourists and more like a family living our life here and part of the community, thanks to our supportive school, practicing our Spanish at every opportunity (classes and private lessons for Dave; intercambios and long conversations at the nail salon and with many patient parents from school for me), and doing way more listening than talking when it comes to most topics. Though we have some wonderful friendships with parents of kids of a similar age, we’re also enjoying our friendships with people who don’t have kids or who are retired empty-nesters. These are relationships I doubt we would have found and been able to nurture in the same way in LA.

Though these won’t be revelations to anyone who’s lived in another country, we’ve garnered two main takeaways the past year: (1) expat life is just life in another country; and (2) experience is the greatest teacher. On balance, we’ve enjoyed our life in Valencia and thus decided to renew our temporary residency visas (which actually extends the amount of time we are able to live in Spain for another two years).

On the positive side, we’ve enjoyed:

  • living in a smaller city, with excellent public transit and biking options which make it possible not to have a car;
  • experiencing the slower pace and more relaxed approach to work and life in general;
  • a much less competitive, lack of “oneupmanship” atmosphere in terms of schooling and raising children, and generally finding that families are much less over-scheduled than in the US;
  • the high degree of safety on a daily basis making our way around the city, both in terms of the extremely low rates of violent crime in Valencia and absence of gun violence/mass shootings;
  • a much lower cost of living than LA in nearly everything (groceries, alcohol, childcare, school fees, healthcare, dining out, and travel), allowing us to save more and still maintain a high quality of life;
  • better-quality produce, dairy products, and fresh foods, with less additives, pesticides, etc. since Europe has stricter regulations than the U.S.;
  • watching our son acquire Spanish fluency over the course of the past school year and demonstrate independence, curiosity, adaptability, and resilience;
  • the ease of travel within Europe and to destinations in North Africa and the Middle East; and
  • making local friends and enjoying the expat community, which is eager to connect.

In terms of challenges, we’ve struggled with:

  • navigating the notorious Spanish bureaucracy for various immigration-related and administrative tasks;
  • finding and being satisfied with rental housing (a very stressful and frustrating process in Valencia especially since the pandemic – more on that in a future blog post);
  • transitioning from a single family home type of lifestyle to apartments with shared walls that, for various reasons, haven’t been an ideal fit;
  • being far away from family and friends; and
  • many cultural differences, from daily schedules and mealtimes, the value of customer service (or lack thereof), the quality of some goods and services we’ve experienced, etc.

For July 4th we celebrated at the American Space Valencia’s annual picnic festivities and also with friends who hosted a house party with American-style burgers, hot dogs, and side dishes, bringing back flavors from home. At the house party, it was mostly non-Americans from many other mostly European countries. The host noted that it’s very easy to focus on the negatives and frustrations with our country of origin, especially these days, but then asked everyone to go around and share one thing we appreciate about the USA. It was fascinating to hear what the non-Americans shared and how that impacted our own reflections.

No country, or place to live, is perfect and it can be easy to idealize life in another country. In the end, we’re still working, parenting, and making our way through daily life. But living here in Spain has helped us focus in on our values and priorities in a different way, and design the life we want to live, so we are very grateful for that opportunity as we embark on Year Two in Valencia.