Welcome to my series of Moving to Barcelona. Ever since the first time I lived in Spain, I knew I had to come back one day. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, the purpose of this series is give an honest account of what it took to move back, how I did it, and what the transition was like. Sharing the good, bad and the ugly. If you’re just joining this series, click the following links to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of my journey to move back to Spain! If you're already caught up on my journey, below you'll find Part 4.
Work trip to Toronto
In November 2018, I was scheduled to head to Toronto for a week for a work trip. But, I’m not going to lie, when I found out that I was going to go back to Canada, I wasn’t stoked about it. Maybe it was because it had only been 7 months since I left, or maybe it was the fact that it was already snowing…. (it was probably the snow...). Either way, I wasn’t excited to go. Don’t get me wrong, I was really keen and excited to see my Mom, my friends and colleagues, but I had a weird vibe. Maybe it was because I had left Canada both physically and mentally and wasn’t sure how I would feel if I went back, even if it was for a short work trip. I have dived head first into my new life in Spain. I have an apartment, I work remotely, I have a great routine, amazing friends and an incredible boyfriend. I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I feel like Barcelona is home.
So when driving into the city that I spent a better part of 6 years in, and one that I use to call home, it made me feel like Barcelona was just a dream… and that scared me. Was my life in Spain too good to be true? Would there be some sort of freak occurrence that would prevent me from going back? All the random and irrational thoughts were racing through my brain.
But once I got on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto’s public transit in the city) my thinking then switched and it felt like I was dreaming to be back in Toronto. It was such a strange feeling. I felt a bit out of place, but at the same time I knew exactly where to go, as if my subconscious was leading me through the city - whether it was which subway station I needed to get on and off to, to where I could get particular items to buy, I didn’t need to think twice about it. Weird, but a very cool feeling.
Heading back to Toronto for that week was a great opportunity to reflect on everything that had happened in the first 7 months I had been away. Particularly, tuning in to what I missed about Canada, or what had changed about me.
Here’s a quick list:
Things that I miss:
My mom + my friends
This obviously a big one. The relationships I had to leave behind is a toughie, but I’m lucky to have such amazing and supportive people in my life who believe in my move abroad. Also doesn’t hurt that they come to visit me in Spain!
Salads, and a better selection of vegetables (god bless Ontario farmers)
I think this is a very North American thing, we love salads. We eat a ton of vegetables at every meal - or least I was use to this when I lived in Canada. Given cultural and food differences here in Spain, salads and vegetables do not appear as often on menus in restaurants.
From my morning smoothies, or putting them in my oatmeal, I’ve stopped eating berries mostly because I find it hard to justify purchasing them. They are much more expensive here in Spain than they are in Canada.
Shoppers Drug Mart (or similar pharmacy / beauty stores)
Pharmacies in Spain are pretty nice, but their stock varies from pharmacy to pharmacy as each one is privately owned. I’ve only come across one store that is actually in my neighborhood that would mirror the closest thing to a Shoppers Drug Mart. Now when buying all of my toiletry needs such as shampoos, makeup remover etc, I get these while grocery shopping along with my convenient bottles of wine.
What I don't miss:
The rush and rat race of Toronto
As I mentioned this in my previous Moving to Barcelona posts, there’s a certain rat race culture in Toronto and North America in general. Life is a competition and it can be insanely stressful to try and keep up.
In North America, I also feel that there is an immense amount of guilt placed on ourselves, whether it’s around eating, or feeling like the obligation to go to the gym X times a week, or feel like you should be doing a 1,000 things at once (think hobbies, volunteering, side hustles etc). When I left North America, I left this guilt behind. I eat what I want, when I want. I’ve revisited my relationship with the gym and the reasons for going, and I’ve also re-evaluated my motivations for extra curricular activities.
The cold and snow
I’ll admit it, I’ve totally become a whimp when it comes to the cold, and I was warned about this before I left from one of my coworkers who lives in Netherlands. The “low" temperatures feel just as cold to me now as the dreadful sub-zero temperatures of Canada.
How I've changed:
I’m so much happier
My happiness levels have skyrocketed since being back in my “happy place” aka Barcelona. My moods, and energy are higher, I’m always smiling, and the constant sunshine, Vitamin D, and palm trees is a major plus and contributing factor.
I’m more relaxed
As I’ve mentioned in the my previous Moving to Barcelona posts (Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3), I’ve hit the breaks a bit when it comes to extra curricular commitments, or the expectations and pressure that I was putting on myself. I’ve taken a bit of a break, relaxed a bit and just have started to really live. Sounds silly, but you’d be surprised what a move abroad to another country and the integration into a new culture / lifestyle can do for you.
I’m more easy going
I am a planner, and living in a country where plans are made last minute, or are always in the air has taken some adjustments. I don’t feel the need to “fill my weeks” as often as I use to in Toronto. I’ve become more easy going when it comes to making plans or organizing things in advance. Things will happen when they happen, and spontaneous plans are usually more fun anyways!
While it’s totally normal and OK to miss things from home, it’s another thing to complain about it. Let me explain... I overheard a conversation the other day between two expats discussing their lives abroad in a café near my apartment. They were basically complaining how they didn’t have the luxuries of home or how things were so different here in Barcelona. Honestly, it really bothers me when people speak this way about living or traveling abroad. If you don’t want to experience the differences in living, or travelling to a foreign country, then I wouldn’t recommend going abroad. Relishing in the differences while living abroad is half the fun of being in another country! If you want everything in your life to be the same or have the same luxuries as home - then stay home.
While I miss some things about home, the number of things that is amazing about my new life in Spain severely outweighs the things I miss, or the frustrations I might have about being abroad. Just some food for thought the next time you are abroad and might catch yourself complaining about the differences in being abroad. Instead of saying “Why can’t there be X in this country” replace it with, “Wow, how interesting is it that they have X instead of Y?"
My First Christmas Away from my Mom
I’ll be completely honest. I severely underestimated how hard it would be to be away from my Mom for the first time during Christmas. Our Christmas’ are unique in that we do whatever we want, and while we have our own traditions they’re not the classic traditions most Canadians have. For example, it’s just my Mom and I, so we don’t usually do those large family dinners, because our family isn’t in Canada, they’re in the UK. I’m also an only child, which means we don’t have extended family through my non-existent brothers and sisters.
Although we don’t have our family here, we have each other, and that is what’s important. As I mentioned above, we do just about whatever we want. Tapas style Christmas dinner? Why not. Gourmet BBQ Chicken on Dec 25th? We’ve also done it. We eat, drink and relax. Usually December 25th, Christmas Day, look something like this: I wake up and go for a 5km run around the neighborhood (crazy right?), then I have a hot chocolate with a giant marshmallow and then we open our stockings. After stockings we make Eggs Benedict usually with Mimosas, then afterwards we open our presents. Since it’s just us two, we usually go a little nuts with the quantity and will buy usually 4 - 5 gifts for each other. Then we might watch a movie (think Love Actually or The Holiday), or have a nap, then get dolled up for our Christmas Dinner. Sometimes we get invited or “adopted” as I like to call it for Christmas Dinner, and we’ll head over to friends of my mom’s in Brockville. Which consists of traditional turkey dinners. To be honest though, I love my Mom and I’s non-traditional dinners, and our mantra of “we can do whatever we want” - so while it’s not traditional Christmas for most, it’s our tradition, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, let’s talk about why Christmas 2018 was really tough. 2018 was an insane and beautiful year. I was lucky enough to make my dream of 8 years possible (you can read about this in Part 1 of Moving to Barcelona), which meant that I was now experiencing the hard realities of living abroad. Mainly, the separation of your old life and your new, being away for holidays and missing major life events. In 2018, I missed 3 of my best friend’s weddings, various friends having babies, and for the first time in my entire life, I wasn’t able to spend Christmas with my Mom. Flights were unfortunately too expensive to justify the trip (either me going to Canada, or my Mom flying to Spain) and since my Mom had recently visited me for 4 weeks between September and October, we came to the decision that it would be best to spend Christmas apart.
Although I wasn’t going to be in Canada for Christmas, I was invited by my boyfriend and his family to spend Christmas with them in the south of Spain, in Málaga. I got to experience my very first Spanish Christmas and it was lots of fun, but very different from what I’m use to. First, there’s no snow! So it doesn’t really feel like Christmas (or at least the Christmas I’m use to as a Canadian), but there are beautiful lights and decorations all throughout the city/country. I also very much enjoyed the +16C temperatures and being surrounded by palm trees and views of the Mediterranean Sea. Other differences included, no traditional Christmas tree where you put gifts underneath! Next, Christmas Eve is the big day, and Christmas Day is just another regular day in Spain. Gifts are also not exchanged until Día de los Reyes Magos (Day of the Three Wise Kings) which is actually celebrated on January 6th each year. We however ended up exchanging gifts on December 27th once my boyfriend’s brother and his wife were in Málaga. It’s also tradition to eat fish and seafood on both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, and feast we did! We drank amazing cava, and wine, I stuffed my face with fresh bread and fish, and of course there was lots of dessert. We dressed up and took a family photo. It was really nice and I felt so very much included in their family, but I wasn’t ready for the pangs of guilt and sadness that would hit me the next day.
I woke up on Christmas Day late, and my boyfriend and his family were already upstairs, busy doing errands and random tasks around the house. I ate a normal breakfast, basking in the sun on their terrace that over looks the Mediterranean Sea, reading my Kindle. I didn’t go for my usual Christmas Day run for reasons that I can pin point to feeling sad, unmotivated and just generally lazy. There were no stockings, no Eggs Benedict and no presents (not that I need presents on Christmas Day, but it’s just apart of what I’m use to). The day was already feeling off. I eventually showered and got dressed and was counting down the time to when I could FaceTime with my Mom. She made some coffee as we chatted, and sat in her sunroom where she had our beautifully decorated tree up. Although we weren’t together, it was so good to see her via video chat. I asked her if she could open the presents I had mailed her while I was on the phone with her. So I could at least see her reactions over the phone. We chatted a bit about what we did the night prior for Christmas Eve, and she shared with me her plans for Christmas Day which she’d be spending with friends, eating and drinking merrily. I think we were both sad that we weren’t together but neither of us admitted it over video chat.
After we hung up, I went and ate lunch with my boyfriend’s family, and afterwards my emotions got the best of me. I went downstairs to the room we were sleeping in, and I broke down. I was sad that my Christmas Day was just another day, and that I wasn’t with my Mom. I underestimated the importance of our quirky traditions and our usual flow of Christmas Day. I really wasn't prepared for how hard being away for Christmas, for the first time in my life, would be. Luckily, I have an incredible boyfriend who comforted me throughout the holidays when I went through periods of feeling down, and really sad. There were tears (a lot of them), and when I apologized for crying (out of embarrassment and not wanting to be a hassle during the holidays) he told me to never apologize for how I feel, and that if I felt like crying then I should do so. Guess who won Boyfriend of the Year? I’m so very lucky to have a partner that supports me, especially emotionally, and he knows that living abroad isn’t easy. He was able to put himself in my shoes, since he has lived abroad himself twice before. He knows how hard it is, and he reassured me that if I was feeling sad, it’s ok. He helped me talk through things, and also helped to take my mind off things by distracting me with walks, driving lessons (he was teaching me how to drive a manual transmission), or by binge watching our favorite show at the time. He was my rock (message to him, if he’s reading this: thank you for everything during the holidays - you have no idea how much it meant to me).
Living abroad is a constant learning experience, one that is always taking you out of your comfort zone. What you do after these experiences is what really matters. What this Christmas 2018 taught me is that it’s important for me to till incorporate my own traditions into my life abroad, while still enjoying all of the traditions of the country that I am in - because that in itself is a experience! So next time I am away for the holidays in a different country, or away from my Mom - I now know that it’s important for me to still celebrate my own traditions, and do things on Christmas Day. Next Christmas, I will be more prepared. I will buy stockings, I will make a special breakfast and dinner. I will share my quirky traditions, and allow the people I am celebrating Christmas with, a peek into what my Canadian upbringing was like. And that’s the beauty of living abroad. It’s about sharing your culture, traditions and knowledge with the people you meet.