Blog picture: Letter deposits from the main mail office downtown labelled for “foreign” and “Spanish” mail.

Gentle reader, I have spoken to many expats and potential expats about their plans for living abroad. I love the exchange of ideas and opportunities that each person brings to the adventure. A common theme among the discussion topics is what it takes to reassert a feeling of “normal.”

I’ve said multiple times that the first two years that I lived here, I was truly awake and felt the newness of my surroundings. Everything was new and even going to the grocery store could feel adventurous. I grew and healed and spent a lot of time alone. I created new routines and processes that were very different than before. I also learned so much about what makes me happy. I was often alone but never really lonely.

This time around, I’m experiencing Valencia in a new way. A more permanent way. A more sustainable way. A more peaceful way. And I am thankful that I have the opportunity to live my life as an expat and a happier, healthier person. I know that I am doing what others have dreamed about, and that is why I share my experiences on this blog.

How do you define “normal” in your day to day routine? In the US it was so different! For starters, because we live in a city, we don’t have or want a car. Public transportation is so easy to navigate and inexpensive that I don’t miss having a car most of the time. Groceries are less expensive, and the quality of produce is much higher than what you can find in a typical US grocery store. And the normal routine of going to the grocery store has even changed, because we walk there and bring everything home in a cart.

But that’s only the beginning of defining the idea of normal. How do you create a routine that feels comfortable and comforting, even though everything around you is different than what you have experienced in the past?

  • Make local friends. This one can be tough, because others may not be looking for other friends. You may, however, find folks who want to practice English with you, and this can become a nice language exchange relationship. Use Meetup.com, International.org, and expat groups to make new friends.
  • Attend local events and invite friends or acquaintances along. I invited a friend through an expat social group in Valencia to a concert where one of my Spanish friends was directing and performing. People kept on indicating an interest, and suddenly there were 20 of us sitting in the audience!
  • Use mapping applications to find new places to visit. Honestly, I will choose a new place to visit across town and keep an eye out for new ideas along the way. Valencia is so densely packed with restaurants, stores, and attractions that it feels like there is so much to discover in each block.
  • Find a few “regular” places to visit and interact with people. Whether this is a dog park, a cafe where you can interact with the other regulars, a crafting class, a barber shop… frankly, wherever you can find your people. Here in Valencia, we have each found separate groups to interact and build friendships, as well as plenty of activities together as a couple. We have found a few coffee shops nearby that have become familiar hangouts.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of expat life. It’s always interesting to me to meet expats who are having a difficult time adjusting, but they are not making any tangible efforts. In some cases, that reflects a negative mindset about the opportunity abroad. Being an expat is hard work and a negative outlook can really bring you down, while a positive focus can help you see things as temporary setbacks with a larger personal payoff. With a positive mindset, you can more readily embrace your growing flexibility and adaptability to new opportunities.

After living here for almost 2.5 years this time, these are some of my tips for feeling more “at home.” For me, Valencia is an easy place to enjoy. Others might like larger cities, different environments, and unique social opportunities. I feel like I have found my sweet spot where my interests and opportunities can meet and be friends.