Moving from an American suburb to the vibrant city of Barcelona comes with its own challenges. Yet, it was an adventure of a lifetime for Lauren and her family, learning many valuable life lessons along the way.
It was also a personal journey, for Lauren, with many ups and downs. Yet, while she was facing her own challenges, she learned to push through them and found a new sense of purpose. Her journey even allowed her to focus on career dreams she never thought possible, resulting in her first children’s book. The book, a heart-warming tale about a young girl moving abroad with her family, is inspired by her own daughter and is a great book for kids preparing for their first move abroad. Read on for more about Lauren’s journey and how she involved her kids early on, to prepare them for an adventure of a lifetime.
Hey Lauren! Originally from America, you moved with your family to Spain. Can you tell us a bit about that journey? What made you decide to make this big step?
Moving abroad was something my husband and I always dreamed about but never thought could actually become a reality. Then when he received a tap on the shoulder to accept a new position at his company’s Barcelona-based office, we jumped on it. Our dream was finally happening! Now instead of traveling to Europe for a few days, we were going to have the chance to actually live there like locals!
The journey of moving here was not always easy, and there are a ton of logistics to coordinate with a big family of five. But we stayed organized and tried not to get overwhelmed by the details. We made sure to keep our eye on the big picture, which was the incredible experiences that awaited.
What are the essential things you did when you planned your move to Spain that you would highly recommend to everyone who is thinking of moving abroad?
The to-do list of expats preparing to move abroad is endless! It felt like, once we completed a task, it seemed there were four more to add to the list. What worked well at home was dividing and conquering between my husband and me. He handled certain logistical and relocation tasks while I took care of the children and schooling tasks.
We ended up selling our home in the U.S. before moving abroad, so that process in itself was very time-consuming and stressful. It meant we needed to pack up every single belonging, inventory which items would go into storage and which we would bring abroad with us, and then find temporary housing until our final departure from the U.S. The key here was being organized and trying to remove the emotion when decluttering.
I recommend selling off things you know you won’t need once you return from your assignment abroad. Baby clothes, furniture, etc. Only bring the essentials with you, since this is a modern world and you can find everything you need anywhere!
Next, start communicating with others in your expat city early. This can be easily done through social media platforms such as Facebook. The sooner you can forge relationships with other expats, the better off you’ll be. These people will become your lifeline for questions, concerns, or confusion you may have! If you have young children as well, connecting with other parents, perhaps those attending the same school, will ensure an early friendship once you arrive.
For everyone thinking of moving to Spain, what are your tips?
Brush up on your Spanish! While the local language is Catalan, most if not all locals do speak Spanish. And it will help immensely for any foreigner coming to this country. Locals really do want to see visitors make an effort to speak their language. As an expat, this will make everyday life so much easier.
Read about the culture online and be aware of some real differences compared to where you may be coming from. Alcohol is acceptable at any and all hours, many beaches are topless, siesta means stores are all closed during the week from 2 pm-5 pm, and dinner time is often not until 8 pm – so restaurants are usually closed until then. The pace here is much slower as well. Tasks that should take one hour may take all day. Things that should take one week, such as applying for a bus card for your child, could take one month. So be prepared to do lots of waiting!
These sorts of things came as a surprise to us, and we had to learn the hard way when we arrived here.
You moved with three young kids; what did you do in terms of prep work, specifically for the kids (i.e., school, kid-friendly neighborhood, etc.).
Anyone with children should start preparing their little ones early for the move. Begin talking about the new city/country. Play a language game at home to begin familiarizing kids with the native tongue. And open up a dialogue that invites kids to express their emotions about the move – positive or negative. These exercises will help everyone in the family to grow excited about the big changes that lie ahead. We purchased gift bags and special little items from Spain for each of the kids to share our news and get them excited early.
Once you arrived in Spain, how long did it take for you and your family to settle in? Were there specific things you did to make the transition easier?
I would say it took us about six months before we started to really feel comfortable and like Barcelona was home. We came from suburban life and moved into this big city – so that alone was a huge transition. But ultimately, we found our favorite park, the best pizza restaurant, and started making friends. Also, public transportation stopped being scary and started being a real convenience. So yes, I would say six months is how long it took us.
Looking back on the last couple of years, living in Spain. How has the move impacted you and your family?
It has given us so much more than we could have ever imagined. Our children are friends with other kids from all over the world. They have picked up the Spanish language beautifully and also speak some Catalan and Russian! They have superb city life skills such as watching traffic, taking the buses and trains, and experiencing some less than pleasant aspects like homelessness.
Most importantly, we’ve had the opportunity to take so many fantastic trips throughout Europe and Spain. The kids have hiked waterfalls, climbed mountains, tried exotic foods, and mingled with locals from other countries. These gifts have been more than we could have imagined from moving abroad!
Especially for kids, a move like this has a big impact on their lives. What did you do with your kids to make the move easier for them? Any special tips for parents out there who are thinking of moving abroad with their kids?
Being supportive and accepting is the KEY here. Your children will have loads of emotions surrounding the move, and it is important that as parents, we accept and embrace them all. As adults, we can internalize things more – our worries, fears, and uncertainties.
But children are usually much more transparent. So be sure to give them the time of day, answer any and all questions they have about the move, and try to focus on all the positives that the experience abroad will bring to them.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your book? What made you decide to write it?
The book was inspired by my middle daughter, who has a beloved stuffed bunny. She carries her around everywhere, and my husband and I often joke, “Bun-Bun needs her own passport!” Hence, the title of the book, A Passport for Bun-Bun. The story is about a young girl who learns her family will be moving abroad to a foreign country. She must pack up her belongings, say goodbye to friends and live in an unfamiliar place. Her and Bun-Bun must learn to embrace the expat life and appreciate the incredible gifts that can come from living overseas and owning a passport.
The goal I have for this book is really to bring comfort to any children getting prepared to move abroad with their family. It can be a scary and intimidating experience, but understanding that so many incredible adventures can come out of it is the most important part of all! I hope families will love it.
How do you see the future for your family? Is Spain home for the next couple of years, or are you considering moving somewhere else?
While we have loved our time in Spain, this will not be our permanent home. The term “expat” suggests a temporary arrangement, so we have always known this adventure would not be forever. We aren’t quite sure where we will end up next, especially with COVID impacting so much. But as long as we are together, that is what matters most.
To what extent has living abroad changed you on a personal level?
It has definitely changed me as a person, as a wife, and as a mother. Basically, you are challenged each and every day in some way as a trailing expat spouse. Whether it is language, culture, city life, professional development – or all of the above. And I have had to learn to really be strong and push through some of the more challenging times. I’ve always tried to look at the big picture and not the frustrations that can sometimes interfere with daily life (such as living on the fifth floor of an apartment building or not having a dishwasher!)
Starting a blog and writing a children’s book gave me a purpose. It really allowed me to focus on something that was just for me. It helped increase my awareness of living in Barcelona, meet new business owners here, and being a resource for other expat families. These are career dreams I would never have thought possible – but if I had not pushed myself as an expat and taken this adventure, I would have missed the chance to pursue them.
How do you think you will look back on this experience 5 or 10 years from now?
I will probably laugh and think we were CRAZY! Most of our friends and family still think it’s nuts that we sold our home, left our loved ones, and moved across the world. But in all seriousness, it was a lifelong dream! And we could not be happier that we took the chance and did it. I will for sure look back with warmth on the memories we’ve made, the friends we’ve met, and the lessons we’ve been taught along the way.
Any last advice for people out there who are thinking of moving abroad?
Absolutely 100% do it!! Don’t overthink all the specifics. Just make up your mind, and the rest will fall into place. You will be so glad you did! One last piece of advice: take LOADS of photos. Someday you’ll look back on them and be amazed at your accomplishment.
Are you planning a move with your family? Make sure to get a copy of Lauren’s book and help your kids get used to the idea of moving abroad in a soft, explorative way. A Passport for Bun-Bun is available at Amazon.
If you’re ready to plan your move abroad, make sure to get a copy of the Let’s Move Abroad book.