8 of the most surprising things about living abroad (so far)

Of course you try to prepare for everything and expect nothing. Or, expect that many things to be different. Many of these things are living life imperfectly on purpose but a few of them we wished we had researched a bit more before departing. Here are my top 8 in no specific order.


Cell phone


We thought this would be easy. But many things have made this difficult. We didn’t want to give up our US phones or the numbers so we signed up for the minimum domestic service we could find to keep our phones. We use them on wifi still. But it is not easy to get a true cell phone package in Spain. You know how hard it was to get internet, right? Took us forever (and forever in this scenario is 5 weeks) and with that package we got one cell phone that has an amazing deal. I gave that cell to Erik and it now has the name of “Spanish phone”. I, on the other hand, bought a Samsung phone for around 130 euros and am still learning to speak Samsung…the iPhone is a different language. The sim card we have for my phone is horrendous. Not like civil war horrendous just ridiculous because I have almost zero data and every minute I pay 30 cents. I used up my 50 euro in a few weeks making calls about our insurance….and don’t get me started on that! The beauty of this situation is that I can’t be on my phone unless I have wifi. And although wifi is everywhere here, I am not on my phone as much. *bright side




We love our beds and a good night sleep above all else, but we had no idea how much we were going to miss our bedding. And by bedding I mean our sheets, our pillows and our blankets. Honestly, if I had known, I would have packed one set for everyone. The big problem with doing that was the size of the beds. Here in Spain, every bed, except for Spider’s is a twin bed and in my defense, we didn’t have any twin bedding at home. But, when you think about it, bedding is very personal, and since we are using the rental beds, I should have brought a bit of home to make it more comfy and cozy. And since we are getting personal, don’t we all agree that it takes a few or 10 washes to really break in some bedding properly. You know, to get the proper softness and the suppleness…and of course the fresh smell. Amazing how the world around you can be drastically different but when you walk into your bedroom and see familiar sheets and lay your head on your favorite pillow, any and all worries immediately melt away!




It was extremely easy to vote. This was a big concern for me and that previous sentence was a huge relief! I don’t talk politics on social media but I take the responsibility of voting very seriously and I knew this November’s vote was going to be very important. I don’t know whether it was do to the state or the county where I live, but getting my ballot, voting and registering my vote took a few days of back and forth and all of about 10 mins of my time…and half of that was because the printer we bought is archaic! I don’t know about you but I feel so incredibly accomplished after I vote that there was NO way I was gonna miss out on the feeling.


The community


I remember moving to NYC. The first year I hated it. I was a nor-cal girl and I had a hard time finding my way in the big city. (even though I lived on the Upper West Side) Then, after one year into my NYC life, I loved it. I loved it because I had figured out my neighborhood. I became a part of my community which turns out was about a 5-block radius. Now, in Spain, it wasn’t easy and we never hated it here but we have found our community. It has taken us a couple of months of ordering at the same restaurants, of walking the same direction, of signing up for activities and of taking the leap of embarrassing ourselves with language! We now know Elena at the ice cream shop, Paco who is our butcher and Nacho, the kids’ soccorista coach. The kids have made friends and play-dates have happened. We thought it would take much longer to feel a part of Santander, we gave ourselves a bit of an emotional warning about that, but we have been pleasantly surprised. We just came home from a trip and were thrilled to be back, well, “home” as we called it. It made me smile because we have only been here for 3 and a half months but, familiar things make you feel at home and Santander, Bilbao airport and Spain have become comfortably familiar.




How close, How quick.

How close, How quick


I had heard we would become closer as a family. Many people knew this from experience of living abroad themselves and many simply predicted it, but it was surprising how quickly we felt this way. Both Erik and I felt it in a big way when we left for a couple of days, me to the Los Angeles for the birthday party and he to Mallora for a biking trip. We both had this incredibly deep feeling like we had forgotten something when we were sitting on our respective planes, alone. Seriously. It was so strange. We felt very weird leaving the family. Like we had never felt before, when in reality, just 4 months ago I was constantly leaving home and hopping on airplanes solo. It is wonderful that we have become accustomed to being with each other and really interacting. As a family and as a couple. And, trust me, it isn’t always rosy and perfect, but the closeness is there and it is comforting.





If you have never heard of this store it might be a good thing. But if you have then you probably know exactly what I am going to say about it. For a family who is only going to be in a country for one year and is extremely active and didn’t want to bring their toys all the way over across the Atlantic…this store is a dream! It literally has everything for every sport. From sailing and ballet to surging and rock climbing. EVERYTHING! The only downside is the quality of the product slightly matches the less expensive price. In other words, I am not sure I would feel comfortable buying Skye’s horse helmet there but all of our padel, soccorista and skateboarding stuff was born at Decathlon!




And I am walking on the beach…barefoot!

Surf y el mar


Entonces, our reason for choosing Santander was in part due to the awesome surf, albeit cold water, but great surf. We have taken advantage of the awesome weather and surfed probably 5 days a week for the first 3 months. The surprising part of this is that I have come to need the water. I know what you are thinking….”Summer, you are a fish and have been since birth.”  But the ocean, or the sea, is different for me. I have never lived near the ocean. And we are 50 meters from the beach. I see it every moment of every day that I am in my house. I have always loved the ocean but I have always felt a true connection to the ocean and sunsets by the beach but have never known the need to be in the ocean. I love the salt both in the water and when it dries on my skin afterwards. And even when the water is freezing and I am covered with a wetsuit from my head to my fingers and toes, I will be in the water, appreciating every minute of it.




Rotundas and Manuel choches.

Coche Manuel


My first car was a Datsun 510 wagon that was the perfect shade of worn-out green. And it just happened to be a stick-shift. The clutch and the gas were just like a balance board. That car and I were in total sync and it took a lot of getting used to before I could say that. Every morning in high school, would have to start the car a good 15 minutes before I wanted to leave and it would die at least 3 times during this process. Once she was running, I was in good shape to leave. My second car was a stick-shift also, a Nissan Pathfinder. I loved that car. I took it with me to Stanford. But then my third car was the first HUGE purchase I made after the Olympics, a Chevy Suburban that was an automatic. From that point I never looked back and it was an automatic-only future, that is, until I arrived in Spain. And I was super, nervous about that. I drove that car so carefully and was sweating the entire time from the airport in Bilbao but it was super surprising how quickly it all came back to me. Yes, the reality is that it’s difficult to drink a cup of coffee while driving the kids to school, so that doesn’t happen. But I am never tempted to look at my phone as my only concern is getting from point A to point B safely with some up and down shifting and a bit of conversation.