Living Abroad: Living life on purpose


My husband and I met on a blind date. It was my first and only blind date and I was ridiculously nervous. People always ask me if it was love at first sight and I say no. But it was love in the first 15 minutes. The reason why, is we were laughing so hard our stomachs hurt and I felt at home with him that quickly.


We are very different. He is from Western New York and I am from Northern California. He loves dangerous things…going fast on just about anything, mountain bikes, skis, cars or road bikes.  I am known as one-speed and cautious is my middle name. I can’t sprint but I can hold a slightly fast pace forever. People love to ask me, “How long could you survive in a body of water?” And my response is, “Until I faint or just can’t stay awake any longer.” And, "be careful" is shouted from my mouth about 15 times a day.


But, one of the main things we had in common was our love of travel and our need to see the world. We were both on our respective National Teams at a very young age. We were quite lucky to get to travel all over the world and we knew that was not something we wanted to give up when we had a family. I used to meet him in Austria over a four-day weekend when he was on the World Cup circuit and I was living in NY. Our honeymoon was in a camper van in the south island of New Zealand. On that trip, we set out with an idea of covering a ridiculous number of miles everyday but very quickly realized we were idiot planners and slowed our pace down about 2 hours into or first day. We literally pulled over and camped next to a random and gorgeous lake just outside of Queenstown, all by ourselves. It was just us and the gentle roll of the water. It was a different time then, it was their winter so we were not competing for camp spots but it was really before the iPhone so I don’t have a single picture from our honeymoon. It’s all stored in my brain, however, and I am okay with that.


New Zealand is where I found out I was pregnant. And so the dream of raising a family became reality. As a female athlete that trained at a crazy intense level, I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to get pregnant. I was nervous. So when the test came back positive, I drove to the store and bought 4 more.


I am telling you that because when we first dreamed of living abroad it was very clear to us. The kids need to experience New Zealand. We love everything about it; the people, the culture, the pace, the way of life and their love of their culture and the outdoors. Our favorite south island spots are Wanaka, Queenstown and Arrowtown. So, that was the beginning of the dream.


Skye was born on April 21st, 2006. We talked of living abroad quite often I traveled with her a ton. She didn’t make the trip to New Zealand that August but in our hearts we knew it would happen some day. Twenty-one months later, Spider was born and then my life became beautiful chaos. I really did love every silly, crazy second with them. My friends and I created the term, “Working in the cracks!” Amazing how I could handle a conference call and mom duties without anyone catching on…or so I thought.


I won’t go through my years as a new mom but I will say that at one point I thought the book title of, “Knee Deep in Poop with a Glass of Chardonnay”, would best sum it up. And, I was so exhausted all the time that it is a bit of a blur. It was huge moment in mom-life when each were enrolled in school. Our kids go to public school and are in a program/curriculum called Dual Immersion. Which means, since kindergarten they have been taught half of their daily content in English and half of their content in Spanish. Starting in first grade, half of their day, they can ONLY speak Spanish. Skye is going into 7th grade and Spider, into 5th.


We didn’t seek out this system of education but I loved the idea of it. I always wished I could speak another language and I wanted that, so badly, for my kids. I always joke that I can barely speak English. My husband, on the other hand, has a gift with language. He learned German while he was skiing on the World Cup. He believed that if they were to ski like the Austrians, they needed to live and speak like the Austrians. 


It was probably when our kids were in 4th and 2nd grades when we realized that New Zealand was not going to be our location for living abroad.  It was a sad realization on one hand as I love New Zealand so very much but it also became quite exciting. We then thought that four, 3 month visits would be perfect. We could choose four locations and see the world. I then met a friend who had done this exact thing and was inspired by her stories. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt unsettled. I didn’t know how school would work and would we just cart our belongings with us every three months. No, it didn’t feel right. I knew this was not our plan. It then occurred to me that we needed to be rooted in a community. We needed to feel like we are a part of the culture and I didn’t believe that three months would allow for that. So, one year, in one place, became our plan.


The question then became, “Where?” We quickly realized that our priorities were formal Spanish and surfing. For us, there was only one area that would also allow us to see other parts of the world, and that is Spain. We went over to San Sebastian for spring break last year to really understand what the influence of the Basque language would be like for the kids in school. Although we loved it so very much, the weather, the food, the vibe, the surf and the people, we couldn’t compete with the language. It would be hard enough for the kids to be in a Spanish speaking school. But, to be taught Basque as well would be too much. So, we headed south and west.


In November of 2017, I took a trip with my girlfriend to scout out a few other possible places where we could call home. One was Valencia and the other was Santander. Two totally different areas and that was on purpose. Now, many of you may be wondering why we didn’t choose southern Spain as that would meet our surfing and Spanish needs.  The one thing the kids said to me is, “Please don’t pick a place that is too hot.” I also felt like it would be irresponsible for me to be surfing in the blazing sun after 4 melanomas. No doctor can tell me why or how I got them but my gut tells me that my time in the sun didn’t help.


Valencia was amazing. It is a big city with so many different areas and bits to explore but I knew very quickly that this was not our spot to live for the year. I just felt it. But when we set foot in Santander, I felt like I was in the Bay Area. It was a cross between Half Moon Bay and Ireland but with mountains. Yes, it rained a bit but the beach, Sardinero, would be our playground for the year and that warmed my heart. In the north, I will have to wear a wetsuit which solves my sun exposure problem.  As luck would have it, I met a friend before leaving Park City that knew a person in Santander and so we met up with her when we arrived. She toured us all around Santander and it’s neighborhoods. We even got to walk her kids to school. We stayed at this cute little hotel, right on the water called Hotel Chiqui for 79 euro a night!


I came home from the trip feeling a true sense of accomplishment. We had our city, we had boots on the ground to help us get all our logistics taken care of and we had a direction for schools and studies. But, I am not going to lie, I was nervous. Nervous because this dream, of living abroad, was becoming a reality. We were going to do it. I had said to people for years…and I am sure they thought the same thing that was in the back of my own mind, “Yeah, right. That’ll never happen.” Not in a mean way, but in a realistic way. It's not easy to do. There are many moments during the process when any sane person would say, "Maybe this isn't worth it." But we aren't those people, I guess.


So now, we have our apartment. Our kid’s are enrolled in school. Erik and I took one more trip over to Spain this past April to make sure my decision was good for the family and that locked in the deal! We found our favorite breakfast shop, surf shop, café by the Ocean, Japanese restaurant, inexpensive pizza and pasta joint and grocery store. We have rented our house in Park City, our wonderful friends are going to love on our dogs for the year (probably the hardest part about leaving for the year) and Skye’s horse, George Costanza, will be leased by another horse lover. And, as you will know from our next blog, our Visa appointment is in the clear. (Fingers crossed) We have our plane ticket and are letting our cousin’s drive our car for the year. We will be letting go of Sirius Radio, DirecTV, and many other hidden expenses that have just piled onto our monthly bills. (although we will figure out how to watch our beloved Buffalo Bills) We are resetting our lives for a moment and trusting a different process.


The most often asked question I get when I tell people about our year abroad is, “What will you do?” And, I assume they mean work. Yes, most of my jobs require travel and if I am needed, I can hop on a much longer flight to get back to the states or find an international story to tell. I hope to be creative in Spain. (I am traveling with my podcasting equipment.) My goal is to learn Spanish and soak up this year with my family like never before. I would never change my structured schedule as a competitive swimmer but I am very aware of the need for life experience that is unscheduled.  I want that for my kids and with my kids. Which leads me to the kids.


The kids have known this plan for years. Skye has been on board from the beginning. She is thrilled. She will live her 7th grade year and turn 13 years old in Spain. Spider, however, has had a harder time with it. He, quite simply, will miss his friends. I think he is worried about the Spanish in school as well. I continue to validate his feelings but gently remind him that we are pushing through and it will all be imperfect and wonderful. I also remind him how much I will struggle with the language and that we will be in the same boat. He finds humor in that.


I will be documenting my journey. I am trying to figure out how and to what level but I just feel like it will be something that other’s can learn from or live through and, most importantly, something that I will want to look back on and watch or read! You know, we think we can remember ever wonderful detail of life and family, but we aren’t that good at holding onto those memories accurately.


So, for one year, starting August 16th, tomorrow, we will be on the adventure of a lifetime. We will board our plane to Spain with as many bags as they will allow. Once on the ground in Bilbao, we will pick up our leased car, buy some bikes, surfboards, school uniforms and anything else we need. But the greatest part of this journey is that we really only need each other….and we WILL need each other! #SummerinSpain

Summer Schlopy32 Comments