Finding Our New Community: Advice From an Expat

It has now been a month since our move to Madrid, Spain. We’ve moved into our home, started our jobs, and our girls have started school.

Let me start by saying that as much as I post all of the “happy” and “exciting” moments on social media, there have been equally frustrating moments.

If it wasn’t for the help of our current employer and the long list of our friends and Spanish neighbors, I don’t think this move and the transition of becoming a resident (of Spain) would’ve been possible.

Finding Our Community: Advice From an Expat

There have been so many life lessons in this short month already, but if there’s one thing that I could share to a fellow expat, it would be to put yourself out there and get over any fear of meeting new people. When you’re living in a country other than your own and in a place where you don’t know the language, it’s important to go out and get to know those around you.

If you sit inside all day, avoid speaking the language, or refuse to meet others because of lack of understanding, then you’re going to miss out on incredible opportunities, and more than likely become homesick.

In Madrid the common meeting place is in the garden. Where our flat is located, the garden is the area surrounding the pool. Here, families and friends get together for conversation, playdates with kids, lunch, dinner, and drinks. For awhile we would sit and witness this across the garden. We would watch others get together while we sat alone with each other and spy/eavesdrop. During this time I would find myself missing my friends.

Something as simple as girl-talk with my close girl friends had turned into watching others do it from across the pool. I also noticed it on our oldest daughter’s face as she would watch the other children play. I wondered if she too was remembering and missing the times with her friends.

Of course it took some time and we were definitely a bit intimidated. We were the “Americans” that had just moved in and, although we are social butterflies, this was new territory to us. Because we don’t speak Spanish very well and aren’t from the city (let alone the country), we were very hesitant to approach anyone. But we had to be brave for our girls and set an example. We needed to establish a community for ourselves.

We could no longer stay in our bubble and needed to take that first step out of our comfort zones. 

Finding Our Community: Advice From an Expat

And I’m so glad that we did. We were nervous this whole time, and all it took was a simple hello/hola. What we have gained in these short few weeks has been life changing. Because we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there, we have not only made friends but built a small community for ourselves. There’s no sense of feeling alone or lost. And for that I am grateful.


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


  1. OMG! I truly enjoyed your posts about moving to Spain. Originally I am from Poland but I have lived in US for a long, long time. I have been “obsessing” about studying Spanish for past 2 years. We have a 12 year old daughter whom I would love to expose to life in the other country at least for 1 year or so. That is why have such a strong desire to move to Spain, especially Madrid. My daughter tears up each time when I mention the idea. I work as nutritionist so I don’t think finding a job in Spain for me would be easy even if I have EU passport. My husband as does not have a skill set easily transferable to working in a foreign county. So now I am trying to figure out how to do it on budget, most likely without employment. My friend had moved to Madrid with her 3 kids and stayed there for over 3 years. She is a teacher here and also got a job teaching in the American School in Madrid. Well; I will keep an eye on your new posts and live through them vicariously. In mean time I will look for ways to go there. And who knows maybe you or your husband can be my daughter’s teacher in the future and our paths will cross. 🙂


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