A Life Spent Abroad
I moved to Soller on the island of Mallorca, Spain in June 2014.
Before that I lived all over the world. From Honduras to the Maldives and from India to Scotland.
The reason for moving here was to work in a dive center and train to become a divemaster. Plus I had lived in Spain before, visited Mallorca once and really liked it so much that I thought it might be a really nice place to live.
If I were to describe my current city in one word, that would be picturesque. Soller is a small, beautiful and well-maintained town with such a relaxed, cozy atmosphere. The impressive church in the center of Soller and the pretty port with its amazing sunsets make Soller a surprisingly picturesque village.
The first thing a new expat needs to know when moving here is that everything moves just a bit slower. The Spanish like to take it slow anyway, but in a small coastal town on a sunny island that gets even more extreme. So relax, enjoy the island life and just accept that getting things organized might take a bit longer.
The language issue: I lived in Spain before and learnt the language back then, the hard way. I accepted a job in a construction company where nobody apart from the owner spoke any English. I can’t say it was all fun and easy but I did learn the language quite quickly this way. And although in any coastal town in Spain you can get by with English, it makes such a difference to speak Spanish. Especially here in Mallorca. People here are very friendly towards foreigners and if you can speak just a few words of Spanish they are happy to help you out with whatever you need, socialize with you and accept you into their community.
Since I moved here I stopped stressing about the little things. There is just something about living on an island that relaxes me. Everything just moves a little bit slower and although that can be somewhat frustrating at first, in the end you just have to give in and relax…
Since I moved here the new thing I started doing is exercising every day. Mallorca is great for hiking, cycling and any type of water sports. I’ve done a lot of diving, some hiking (it’s a bit warm for that in summer), stand up paddling and swimming.
My biggest lesson learnt was: When moving abroad things often don’t work out as planned. The job I came here for turned out to be nothing like what I was promised, so I eventually decided to quit. Unfortunately of course, but having lived abroad a lot I’ve come to realize that things often turn out not to be as you expected. So you adjust, change your plans and try to enjoy the positive things of this new experience as much as possible.
Some weird habits at the locals: Siesta is a thing I’ll never fully get used to. Shops closing in the middle of the day just so that the owner can have a nap… Most annoyingly is that not all shops close at the same time so basically any time from 1pm until 6pm a shop could be closed… Thankfully more and more shops, especially in touristy towns such as Soller, seem to understand they lose a lot of business this way and therefore stay open. But, if you need to get any business done, better focus on the mornings because then at least you are sure they will be opened!
My biggest cultural shock was not in Spain but when I moved to the Maldives. Thinking I was moving to a relaxed island nation, I found myself all of a sudden in one of the strictest Muslim countries in the world just after it had a coup. I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol, eat pork or wear a bikini… A woman didn’t seem to be worth much, I was constantly stared at and surrounded by a tensed, suppressed atmosphere with almost daily demonstrations demanding elections.
The weird thing was that I got used to that without too much trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I never liked it and still disagree with a lot of things that are happening there, but I was a guest in their country so I had to adjust. The real culture shock came when I first left the Maldives. I flew to Australia, a country with a culture similar to my own. I can hardly describe how overwhelmed I was by the freedom there. It was just before Christmas, a holiday that was illegal to be celebrated in the Maldives, Christmas decoration was everywhere and people were busy buying gifts, food and alcohol for the holidays. It all felt so strange… freedom: nobody stared at me, I was free to wear whatever I wanted, say what I wanted, do what I wanted and eat and drink what I wanted… Now that was a culture shock!
My funniest / weirdest / scariest experience was: What I love about living abroad is that it takes you out of your comfort zone and it helps you meet a lot of people that are completely different from you and experience a lot of things you have never imagined. I have had so many funny, weird and sometimes scary experiences that I can’t just name one, but I can list a few weird and amazing things I’ll never forget: During my first living abroad experience I woke up with a bat inside my mosquito net one morning while I was volunteering in Guatemala; I had to chase cows and a donkey off of our land every day when working in a hostel in Honduras, I partied on luxury yachts while living in the Maldives, I got stuck in the middle of nowhere in Gambia when our bus broke down, I dressed up in a sari and attended a traditional Indian wedding in Mumbai, I swam with dolphins almost every day while volunteering in Mauritius, I lived in a shed with iguanas and frogs for a couple of months, I was asked to do a photo-shoot in one of the most luxurious hotels in the Maldives and I met many, many amazing people along the way.
What I miss the most from home is cheese. Good Dutch cheese is hard to find abroad! No, normally I don’t miss many material things. If I miss anything really it will be my family and friends and just generally being around familiar faces and in a place where I know my way around.
Whenever I get home sick, what I miss is being surrounded by people who know me, people whom I can rely on. This normally happens after a month or two of being in a new place. The first excitement has passed, I’ve done a fair bit of exploring, it’s now time to settle in and build a new life, a new routine. That is also often the time I find out some people are less reliable than I hoped and my new city/village/land might not be as perfect as I first thought it would be. That’s when I start to feel home sick. Normally this quickly passes though once I get used to my new routine and build some closer friendships. But, at those moments, when I do get homesick, I often wonder why I keep moving to new places and why I have to miss out on quality time with my closest friends and family… It’s the price you pay for choosing to live as an expat I guess.
I go home as often as: At least twice a year. I bought an apartment in Holland last year to have a base because as much as I love traveling I also love to come home, spend time with my family and with friends that I’ve known most of my life. I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more since I started living abroad and truly cherish the time I get to spend with family and friends.
I keep in contact with my friends and family through Skype and Whatsapp, two of the best inventions ever! I remember when I first moved abroad 12 years ago, before Skype and Whatsapp… phoning my parents was so expensive that we hardly ever spoke to each other, many of my friends didn’t have internet at home so even sending emails on a regular basis was a challenge… Nowadays that is completely different: I speak to my friends all the time, stay in touch with people I’ve met all over the world and feel like the world has become a smaller place.
My favorite dish/local food is without a doubt Tapas! Tapa means ‘lid’ or ‘cover’ and the story goes that back in the days the typically Spanish leg of Serrano ham you found, and still find, in many Spanish bars attracted a lot of flies. To protect drinks served from the flies bar owners started covering the drinks with a small plate or lid and put a snack on top of the lid. That is, according to the story, where tapas came from… Tapas are still small snacks often served for free when you order a drink. Nowadays you can find many Tapas restaurants ranging from simple establishments offering inexpensive snacks such as ‘albondigas’ (Spanish style meatballs) and ‘patatas bravas’ (cubed potatoes, fried and normally served with a spicy tomato sauce) to more upscale restaurants offering high quality dishes in ‘tapa sizes’.
My favorite places in town are Es Plendido, a hotel in the port with a very comfortable bar and lounge where I often sit during the day to write my blog and do some work and La Base, a container converted into a bar, surrounded by beautiful yachts… If I ever end up opening a bar somewhere I want it to be a converted container on the beach!
I get around the city by foot and by car. Soller is a strange village as it’s divided into two parts: the town of Soller and the Port of Soller, located about 4 kilometers away from each other. Both Soller and the port are small enough to walk around but to get from Soller to the port you either have to rely on busses that don’t run too often and don’t run at night or use a taxi or car.
Street fashion? Being a coastal town, bathing suits and shorts are what you see most although people do dress up in the evenings.
My view on people: People in Mallorca are surprisingly friendly. I have lived in Spain before, on the Costa Blanca, and always felt like an outsider even after learning Spanish. In Mallorca people seem more open to foreigners and a lot more helpful.
Being an expat I often feel different. Although my friends and family all accept my lifestyle, most of them don’t fully understand my choice to move abroad, travel, start over in a new country every so often… It’s a lifestyle I chose that makes me different from ‘normal’. Thankfully nowadays a lot of people don’t want to be ‘normal’. I’ve met some amazing expats over the years sharing their travel stories, their ups and downs and their unique experiences. No life is perfect but if I’d have to do it again I’d choose to live as an expat again.
In 5 years, I see myself living in: I have no idea where I’ll be in 5 years and I kinda like not knowing. I love seeing the world, taking on new challenges in new countries. Although I see Spain as a nice country to live in, offering a great quality of life, I also believe there is so much more to explore in this world so I guess it will all depend on what crosses my path… I’m an entrepreneur, I love living on the coast and I love the island lifestyle so who knows, maybe I’ll end up starting a business somewhere on a tropical island someday…