When you decide to pack up your comfortable life in your home country, and move your family to a foreign country, the reasons might seem obvious to some, and incomprehensible to others. Either way, when you actually do it, you'll find yourself answering one question again, and again:
Your response will become something like a business pitch: A one-minute explainer that convinces people that your idea is not crazy.
For many people in the international community, the answer is easy. They say, we moved for work, for love, for family, for stability or better opportunities. But if moving abroad is the culmination of a life-long dream, like us, you've got your work cut out for you.
To this day, when someone asks me why we moved to Spain, I take a pause and think before answering. Here's what I usually say.
"We've Always Wanted to Live Abroad"
Right after we got married, we took a “mini-moon” to an organic farm and ranch. Freed from the shackles of planning our wedding, we could finally plan our future. We made a bucket list of things we wanted to do in the first five years of our marriage: Having a baby was one, and living abroad was another.
We went on our honeymoon to southern Spain that summer. One afternoon spent drinking wine and eating tapas on a plaza, we said to each other,
“Yeah. We could live here.”
Our son Emmett was born in February 2014, but the dream of living in Spain still burned in our minds. Two years later, a chance conversation at a party sparked the fire. I was talking to one of Marshall's work colleagues, a Spanish teacher who had studied in Valencia. I told him that we were thinking of moving to Spain for a year.
“Oh really?” said the Spanish teacher. “My best friend lives in Barcelona, and he wants to live in Austin with his family.”
That was the moment where “moving to Spain” turned from a dream into something approaching reality. We got connected with the friend's family in Barcelona, and we both decided we were serious about a housing swap. (More on that process, in a future post.) We set a timeline of two years. Not everything went as planned (again, more on that later!) but our family made the move and couldn't be happier that we did.
"We Needed a Change"
I love routine, and I love the comfort of home. But at a certain point, routine and comfort can become oppressive. Working from home, there were days when I didn't go outside until four in the afternoon. Marshall had also been in the same routine for 13 years. He became a teacher when he was only two years out of college, and worked at the same school for his entire career. He loved being in the classroom and he loved his community (and they loved him back), but a teacher's schedule is rigid. He wanted to try something different - and moving abroad was a clear way to make a definitive change.
We were really happy in Austin. We loved our home, we loved our neighborhood and our neighbors and friends. We had family there, and a supportive personal and professional network. But we didn't want to let our comfort keep us from following our dreams. With our son still in preschool, it seemed like the perfect time.
"We're Starting a Business"
We weren't just quitting our jobs and going on sabbatical. (Although, "taking a sabbatical" sometimes became shorthand when we really didn't want to go through this whole list.) Marshall and I host a science podcast for kids called Tumble - hence the name of the website - and it was taking off. We had tens of thousands of listeners all around the world. It was beginning to make a bit of money. Not enough money to live on, but enough to feel that if we put more time and energy into it, it could support our family doing something meaningful and creative. For years, we'd been working on the podcast during nap times, nights, and weekends. If we could both devote ourselves to it, we'd be able to take it to the next level.
But doing that in the States felt impossible. If Marshall quit his job, our healthcare and childcare costs would skyrocket. At the time, the future of American healthcare felt incredibly uncertain, and we'd had a 50% teacher discount for Emmett's Montessori school. Both of us working full-time on the podcast in Austin was not an option.
But if we moved to Spain, as we'd already been planning, it could happen. Researching private healthcare (which we needed to buy in advance for our visa), we got reverse sticker shock. It was something like 150 Euros a month for our family of three. And, public school starts at age three! Even if Emmett didn't get into public school (it's competitive and we would be arriving after registration), Barcelona has a class of subsidized private schools called concertadas, where tuition is around 100 - 200 Euros a month. That was crazy! we thought. Also, bye bye car expenses! We will not miss you!
A move to Spain would be like getting funding for a startup in the form of a lifestyle discount. Importantly, we had savings from selling our first house (one thing about Austin: the real estate market is strong). We could afford to invest in our business and see what happened. (More about what it's like to run a business from abroad in a future post.)
It's What We Wanted to Do
As many justifications you have to move abroad, ultimately, the reason is because it's who you are and it's what you want to do. There's something inside of you that makes you want to see the world. It makes you open to new experiences, new cultures, and new experiences. You're open to learning things the hard way. You want to see what happens when you land yourself in a new country, and build a new life for yourself and your family.
To be completely honest, there are moments when I ask myself, "Why?" Life abroad is not a vacation. It's real life. With it come situations that will challenge your beliefs about parenting, partnership, and your future. It's the ultimate perspective-shifter, and you can't anticipate how your experience will change you.
But even in those moments of "Why," I know there's a reason. It's because it's what we wanted to do. We wanted to live a life that was about creating incredible opportunities for our family to learn and grow.
So when you're planning to move abroad, here's how to answer the "Why" question:
• Know Your Audience: You'll be telling your family, your friends, and eventually people in your new home. Each group will have their own questions. Prepare to go in-depth with your family, keep it more surface-level with friends, and let it serve as an introduction to potential friends. I also try to read people's reactions while I explain, to see how crazy they think I am.
• Shave It Into An Elevator Pitch: It's not a request for your life story. Can you explain in less than three floors?
• Learn it in Your New Language: If you're moving to a country with a different language, this is the new ex-pat's equivalent of "helpful travel phrases." After "How long have you been living in Barcelona?" this is the most-asked question I've gotten in Spanish.
• Know Your Real Reason - Really Know It. It will fortify you during those difficult moments. Because some people might never understand why you moved abroad. And there might not be words to describe the feeling that's pushing you. But you'll know that it is the right reason.