Forty-four years after graduating from high school, forty after graduating from college, I finally got my year abroad. Well, actually I got a lot more than a year abroad.
When I decided to retire early from my job as the managing editor of a national business newsletter, I knew I wanted to travel and to try living outside the U.S. My son and I had hosted a series of six foreign exchange students, each staying with us for a year of high school, and my son had spent a year in Switzerland as an exchange student. I figured now it was my turn.
So I started investigating the possibilities. Europe was the dream, and with the value of the euro tanking, it looked increasingly doable. But where? The choices were overwhelming, and I flip-flopped from day to day and week to week. I knew I wanted to avoid cold winter weather, so that meant Mediterranean. Greece? No chance I’d ever learn Greek. Scratch that. Southern Italy? Maybe Sicily? Very tempting. Malta? No problem with language there, but it’s basically just a big rock in the sea. Not much green. Still, worth investigating. Portugal? Spain? Southern France? All were attractive options.
By the time I retired at the end of 2014, my bags were packed — literally and metaphorically. I rented out my home in Baltimore to a visiting scholar at nearby Johns Hopkins Univ. I stashed my beloved Mini Cooper with a nearby relative. I had investigated visa requirements. I had made a huge spreadsheet of possible places to live, trying to narrow down my my choices, rating factors such as weather; easy transportation to elsewhere in Europe; feasibility of learning the language; affordability; good food; mid-to-large city with historic appeal, etc. I rented an apartment in Valencia, Spain for a month and another in Montpellier, France for two. And I arranged to stay with friends in Germany while I completed a course to become certified as an English language teacher. Within a month I was on a plane to Europe with no return ticket.
I had decided on a three phase approach. Phase one: Get to Europe, travel for a year, spending a month or two in places I thought were reasonable choices. Figure out if I really missed the U.S. and if I liked the expat lifestyle. Phase two: Pick one country, one place to try for, say, six months. See if it really fit and if I still liked being an expat. And phase three — if I made it that far: Sign a long-term rental contract and settle in.
So I rented an apartment in Valencia, Spain for a month and another in Montpellier, France for two. I arranged to stay with friends in Germany while I completed a course to become certified as an English language teacher. Within a month I was on a plane to Europe with no return ticket.
That was five years ago. I’m still here! Now I live in the south of Spain, on the coast in a small town about a 45-minute drive east of Malaga. I have a small newly built home, which consists of two mirror-image apartments. One is a loft-style place, where I cook, eat, sleep, read and knit. The other is a two-bedroom guest apartment for visiting friends and family. It also has afforded me the chance to easily do home exchanges, swapping the use of my guest apartment for accommodation in other people’s homes around the world. Doing this, I’ve been to India and Australia, spent one summer hopping around the Ireland and the UK and another doing the same in France. This summer, I’ve undertaken a nine-week, seven-city train sojourn around Europe.