After moving to another country, Edgar Llivisupa reflects on what he learned. Now back in his home state of New York, Edgar lived in Ontinyent, Spain as a language assistant. While his travels certainly aren’t over, here are five things he’s learned since moving to another country and coming home.
Setting Myself Up Financially for Moving to Another Country
I had an abundance of banking products ranging from bank accounts to credit cards to handle before I relocated. Firstly, I moved all of my financial accounts to an online bank to take advantage of higher interest rates as I didn’t need a physical branch. Next, I opened a Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account that provided unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide. I avoided any fees when withdrawing my money anywhere across Spain.
However, upon arriving in the country, I learned of the TransferWise (now known as Wise) debit card. It would become my favorite asset while traveling around Europe as it can hold multiple currencies. Keeping myself updated with the different fees when loading, converting, or withdrawing between currencies was a hassle, but it felt great to shop at Tesco in London one week, Mercadona the next in Madrid, and then pay for my subway fare in New York just a few weeks later.
Finally, I, unfortunately, had to devise a credit card strategy in case the Valencian government delayed my payments. It’s a common issue across Spanish language assistant programs. I had to select cards with no foreign transaction fees to avoid unnecessary costs. In addition, I took advantage of introductory offers to avoid interest charges. Fortunately, this gave me more time to repay creditors after spending on trips across Europe.
Whenever I start looking at moving to another country again, I will look at how to best organize my finances to manage my money across countries and currencies.
Since I had not traveled before leaving for Europe, I was clueless about the money needed to enjoy myself after moving to another country. I was fortunate enough to have a relative in Madrid. They warned how pricey traveling can be after combining dining, transportation, and lodging costs. For that reason, I started saving up a year before applying to the program.
However, I learned that traveling across Spain can be done under any budget. Getting between locations can be achieved either through train, plane, or boat. Carpooling via BlaBlaCar was the most inexpensive and enjoyable way for me to travel. The locals I rode with provided me with sights to explore and foods to try. They also shared parts of their lives with me, which I really enjoyed. There was some distrust and unease at first but the thrill of adventure overcame my trepidation.
Getting the Basics
Accommodations spanned from cheap Airbnbs and hostels on the outskirts to luxurious hotels in the center of the city. Food is also the same, ask any American or European on vacation in the country and they would agree. Groceries are cheap. There are also inexpensive bars with cheap beers and sandwiches. And as for the pricey restaurants within hotels with a menu del día, this multi-course meal is also available in less luxurious establishments.
Most towns have a tourism center with free tours around the area. In bigger cities there are inexpensive museums and cultural centers. If you’re interested in Spanish football, there are the high-end teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but smaller teams within the first division have cheaper tickets. Keep an eye out for matches between inner-city or regional rivals with an intensity worthy of a visit.
Where Are You Trying Food?
I tried dishes the country was known for in Ontinyent, Madrid, and Valencia during my first year and was underwhelmed. Churros, paella, croquetas, and pastries were great, but if I ever ventured out to what I would later learn was a specialty of another region, I would be disappointed.
During my summer in New York in 2019, I learned how many dishes in the country were regional. Neighboring towns could have distinct ingredients and preparation methods for these dishes. So I decided to try hyper-local foods as opposed to those eaten across the country. My opinion started to change. The epitome of this new perspective involved my experience with the bean stew fabada asturiana. I tried it first in Salamanca. Then, where it originated, in Oviedo. It won me over with the smokey, deep red, rich broth served with thick chunks of sausages and pork belly, contrasted by the silky, creamy, yet large white beans.
From that day onwards it became my favorite Spanish dish. When a local restaurant in Ontinyent offered it, I pounced. My heart immediately sank when I saw the broth was clear, ribs were served instead of pork belly, and the beans were quite small. After this experience, I focused solely on trying local specialties and trying to replicate them myself back in Ontinyent where I lived.
My travels centered around food. While I thought I knew what was considered local, some research and insight were necessary to discover if what I was eating could be the best version of the dish.
Actions Spoke Louder Than Words
I found that the best way to bond with others after moving to another country wasn’t to tell them what I was working on during my free time but show them. I would bring desserts, foods, and projects for my colleagues at work and it captured their attention immediately.
It helped even more if I used the local language. As I mentioned in a previous article, people commended me when I spoke to them in Valencian. Eventually, I was able to show a deeper interest in their culture via pictures of my cooking. They soon provided nuanced criticism and advice. They saw how much effort and details I put into recreating dishes from their region.
Regarding my school, I decided around November of 2019 to leave my tutor with some tools to help her teach the children spelling. There was a Catalan spelling game where kids had to match the right pieces to a piece of paper with pictures of farm animals, colors, and toys by aligning the holes and color. I repurposed those pieces to make an English version. It had been miserable working with software installed on the school’s mid-2000s computers. I felt ardent to provide my school with a new tool. It was free, visual, and beneficial to the most beginning learners. By the time my contract finished, I had given my school almost 60 of these playing sheets along with tools and instructions to create more.
Privilege Follows You
I have had to confront the idea of privilege and how I have been presenting myself in my time living abroad. I faced friendly teasing from friends for owning an iPad and iPhone, who remained completely unaware that my laptop cost over $2,500. Some would be impressed by my multi-bedroom apartment just for myself. Many would hear of the briefcase and backpacks I would return with from weekend getaways, full of souvenirs for folks back home. And I would see their dejected faces upon their realization that I traveled more across the country in a couple of years than they had in their lives.
That led some to see me as a privileged New Yorker in a small town, traveling freely and indulging in gluttony. It couldn’t have been farther from the truth. A lot of the money I spent I had either saved a year for or I eventually had to pay back. Their feelings about me almost felt ironic. I am a direct descendant of immigrants from Latin America who arrived with nothing to the country. Spending was tight growing up which prevented traveling.
I addressed these viewpoints while learning to not allow them to affect me. I told many that I would show them my life back in New York which wouldn’t be inside a penthouse overlooking Central Park but sharing a bedroom with relatives. Sometimes, my words didn’t change a person’s opinion and I learned to accept that. This will be important for me to remember when I start traveling across Latin America. I’ve already resolved to avoid beach resorts or tourist havens. Instead, as I interact with locals from developing or impoverished areas, I want to make them aware that the opportunities I have had have come with many challenges I had to face.
After COVID-19: Changing Outlooks
Certainly the pandemic disrupted our lives, requiring many of us to change directions or approaches to living.
My two years after moving to another country were not only a chance to travel, learn a new culture, and train in a new profession but also provided me with a chance to get out of the house, a desire for many people in their early 20s. I took full advantage and distanced myself from my family and friends in New York to live in the moment and enjoy my time in Spain, especially while traveling. That meant not calling or messaging anyone unless for an emergency and, up until the pandemic, I was content.
The pandemic made that outlook difficult as I wanted to check in on loved ones after reading how my neighborhood was the “center of the center” of the pandemic in New York. Monthly check-ins became daily texts or phone calls. Our conversations would include warnings and advice as Europe had been in its first wave before the States. I told them of new findings by Spanish health authorities, including doubts that COVID-19 was transmittable through surfaces or clothes. My family finally accepted me as an adult with the maturity I maintained during a time of uncertainty and hopelessness.
Although I am unsure if I will once again seclude myself from home once I relocate abroad, the stress from the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 fixed many relationships I had back home.