A Totally Impractical Expat Interview #4: Michelle Lara of I Heart Mondegreens

Welcome to part 4 in my as yet infinite series on the varied and multi faceted expat experience.  Today I bring you Michelle Lara of I Heart Mondegreens.

Michelle is in Spain for now, working and studying for a Masters degree in translation. She’s married to a Spaniard. She grew up speaking Spanish and continues to do so now, albeit with Andalucian touches.  To all intents and purposes she looks to be settled there– except, she isn’t. She is there, but with restless feet and an insatiably curious mind still dogging her.

I related quite strongly to her statement that she loves having the world open to her, with a future made up of possibilities and many potential new places to call home.  That is what has kept me going for the past decade and a half.

As much as I wanted a place to call home, I wasn’t satisfied to call any one place Home. I’ve been temporarily at home in Ireland, England, South Africa, Turkey and China.  I’ve craved a home in a dozen other places.

I still want to know what it’d be like to be at home in Mexico, Uruguay, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Indonesia and Colombia.  I have craved a sense of stability for years, while at the same time fighting back base impulses to pack up and leave with great regularity. After all, there is a lot of out there out there.

Michelle is a decade younger than me and I certainly feel a lot of myself in what she has written (except for the husband part- I’m not there yet). I too want to keep going until I find the right place.  I do worry sometimes though, that I’ll never find that right place and that I’ll be bouncing around until I’m 85, frustrated that I haven’t quite found that hypothetical perfect fit. Maybe I’m too fickle.

I hope Michelle and David find it.

But enough about me. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Michelle Lara. *cue applause*

This is Michelle and her husband David


I had always dreamed of living abroad.

Travelling to the jungles of Guatemala

So during my senior year of college I decided to plan ahead and look into work-abroad options. Then, just a few months shy of graduation, I was given the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of living abroad – I was to move to Spain on a 9-month teaching contract that Fall.

Though I had travelled a handful within the U.S. and had been to Central America a few times, I had never had the actual experience of LIVING abroad – and I yearned for more than just a vacation.

I wanted the experience of being COMPLETELY IMMERSED in another culture and language.

Having an advanced knowledge of the Spanish language was a requirement for the job. Since I grew up bilingual, I didn’t think I’d have a problem. That is, until I arrived to my assigned town and realized that I barely understood a word anyone was saying!

Spain’s Andalusian Spanish can be one of the most difficult accents to decipher, especially in small towns, where eating the ends of your words and phrases is normal. So something simple like, “Hola, ¿como estas?” is morphed into, “¿Co eta?”

Nonetheless, by getting to know other teachers and making several friends within the province, I was able to establish a wonderful home base for my Spanish learning and cultural experience.

It was during one of my local town excursions that I met David. He was originally from town, but had left several years earlier to pursue his university studies, which then led to work in Lisbon, Portugal. When I met him, he had just moved back into town again.

The first thing I noticed was that I understood his Spanish without much effort. I also noticed that he was making a huge effort to speak with me in English. So I let him practice his English, though he was nervous enough that beads of sweat had begun to form on his forehead in the dead of winter. Eventually, he heard me speak in my fluent Spanish. David probably wanted to kill me after hours of trying to woo me with what he could remember from high school English, but didn’t because he had already fallen in lurve.

HOWEVER, ladies and gentlemen, I was on a MAN CLEANSE. HAPPILY SINGLE. BASKING in the JOY AND COMFORT of being ALONE. I didn’t need some man screwing up my future plans. (Whatever those plans were).  So when a fellow-teacher friend invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with her and her family in Belgium, I sighed a huge “Yes!” And I’m glad I did.

In Brugge

I was able to take a breather from this enticing Spanish suitor, and was treated wonderfully by my friend’s family.  They taught me a variety of new cultural facts, and took me on day trips around Belgium and to nearby Germany, Holland, and France. It was during this holiday trip that I realized I had fallen in love with TRAVELLING. There was no way I could ever stop.

Back in Spain, I continued to independently take off and travel to other nearby cities and countries whenever I could. In the meantime, (as much as I fought against it) I had also fallen head over heels in love with David. But as the end of my work-contract neared, I knew I had to be practical – leave my Spanish fantasy behind, move back home to California, pay up those school loans, and begin my black-pump-wearing “successful” career.

Without blinking, I went ahead and renewed my teaching contract along with my Spanish visa.


In Andalucia

Year two in Spain was just as amazing. I loved my job, I continued to travel whenever and wherever I could (I eventually made it to thirteen European countries), and my relationship with David continued to grow.

But by the end of my second-year, I realized that I really did have to consider the reality of what I was doing with my life. I had to return to California.

And return I did.

I got two jobs and began paying off my school loans while trying to figure out what my reality was supposed to be. I was torn, and didn’t know in which direction to go – I felt like I could only trudge ahead blindly. However, at one point I travelled to Guatemala, and while sitting in the dewy mist at the top of one of the tallest pyramids in Tikal, I remember feeling like this was EXACTLY where I was supposed to be, at this exact moment in time, and that everything was going to work out exactly the way it should.

We had been apart half a year by the time David was able to come see me in California, and our twelve days together flew by almost as if they had never happened. Before I knew it, David was back halfway across the world again.

Our emotions must have gotten the better of us…because a couple of months later I suddenly I had a bunch of Spaniards buying airplane tickets to Los Angeles and a seven-week countdown to plan a small wedding. So I responsibly put all of my money into paying off my school loans, put the rest into my savings, applied for Graduate schools in Spain, and began packing for my future return!

Maintaining Stability

This is now my third non-consecutive year in Spain and I love what this beautiful country has to offer. But at 26, I don’t feel that I am ready to settle down, and would love to live abroad in another country again. I thrive on adventure and the spectrum of unknown opportunities that may lie ahead. I am a citizen of the world, and love having several “homes” I feel I can go to. I’m very close with my friends and family, and as much as I miss them, I don’t have a single regret when it comes to my life abroad. I have LEARNED so much about the world and its people, and I yearn to learn and see more.

The Future

And the road continues

We are currently looking into opportunities in Southeast Asia, as we believe it will be a humbling and wonderful experience for the both of us, especially living in a country and culture neither of us is familiar with. David and I have a similar life dream: neither of us wants a pretty house, or pretty things – we want to have just what we need and be able to travel until we find the country and culture we can finally call home. There’s no rush. There’s no pressure. Because, after all, it’s the journey that counts.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.