Shon left his hometown of San Diego for Spain. He chose this country because of its warm climate and the sense of security. Shon believes that the gun laws in the United States are far from perfect and do not guarantee protection against the spontaneous anger of others. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and graphic arts. After a 25-year career, Shon decided to change his life completely. Shortly before moving to Spain, Shon's brother passed away, his grandmother had a stroke, and he lost all his savings in cryptocurrency. Shon had to leave his beloved cat behind in the USA. Despite all this, he decided not to postpone his move to another country and start his life anew as an English teacher in a Spanish secondary school on the outskirts of Madrid.
Hello, Shon! It’s nice to meet you almost in person. How is Madrid? You're on the outskirts of Madrid, right?
Yeah, I'm on the outskirts. I'm to the west. I'm still in the region, but to get to the city center takes about 40-45 minutes by bus. But that's okay. That's kind of what I was going for. I wanted to be part of the community of the school and not necessarily part of, like, downtown nightlife. I'm a little bit older than most auxiliary, so that could be the reason.
Okay. And when did you move to Madrid?
On 2022 September 4, I came up with an organization for the Auxiliary Art Program. I spent the first week in a hotel. And then it was a huge struggle to find housing — much bigger than I anticipated and that we were led to believe. So, I think this year was a big change from previous years. And it kind of makes sense because of the pandemic letting up and worldwide, like inflation and things like that.
Yeah. Economic situation in Europe now is worse than a couple of years ago due to various reasons.
Even though I had money saved and I could demonstrate savings, nobody would touch me. They all have insurance for rent, and the requirements for the insurance can't be met by any foreigner. They want you to have a Spanish guarantor, someone who will co-sign. They want you to have at least a one-year contract to work and to have proof from the government that you have not received Spanish assistance within the last six months. And, of course, I haven't even been here six months. I'm not eligible to receive any of that. They still follow the letter of the requirements of the insurance.
So, you were kind of locked out?
Yeah, I was totally locked out. And with being unable to really walk much, I really depended on someone to help me out. So luckily, my coworker had a chance to do that. She just put the word around, and I found an informal rental.
What made you leave the US? How do you think, what makes people leave America more frequently now?
So, I kept trying to move different jobs, and different locations, just trying to get stable housing, and stable employment, and it's really difficult to maintain that. And when people are under a lot of social pressure and financial pressure. They cut off ties and hunker down because they're under so much pressure. And this was happening to a lot of my friends. They just weren't really available to hang out. They would still do things, but it was very much just their immediate family, and I just felt kind of excluded. And then with work, I found that I kept starting over.
So, the pattern was I would find a job and work there for like, a year or two and things would be good and then there'd be like a big change in management or something. And the pressure would just intensify, like the work requirements and things would just suddenly intensify under a new manager her and just become abusive. I wouldn't tolerate it and I would quickly reach the point and I would just move on. And so, I was constantly restarting in these entry-level positions and finding myself back at square one over and over and again with no social ties.
I didn't have a lot to lose by leaving. And I'm glad I finally did that because I was so stuck. If I was married, if I had a good career, in a way that would be a negative thing, I'd be trapped but I was free.
Is your positive outlook proved to be right? Do you feel better after moving to Spain?
I made the right decision. I have to make a very strong, positive effort to make this work. It's not guaranteed. It's not automatic. So that's where I'm at right now.
What was the most difficult part of the moving process for you?
The most difficult things = are making the appointments. So, the Spanish consulate in the United States is extremely competitive and difficult to land an appointment. They're done online, and they're released at a certain time in the morning, and all these people are on their devices, refreshing. And they will also just grab up all the appointments they can get. So, this is a strategy people all come to like you're forced to so they'll grab up all the appointments. They're going about their daily lives, but they're connected to the website. And I had times when I was coming home from work or whatever, I would have to pull over and try to make an appointment. And I was really close to missing the deadline to come here to get an appointment for the visa in time. It seems that Spanish bureaucracy right now is overwhelmed, and they've switched to this online system, and there's no empathy built in. I don't know if anyone's testing it. And it's barely workable. A reasonable person would not consider it acceptable. It's very much a lottery to try to get an appointment. It's difficult.
Yeah, that's why in some embassies you have to pay to book an appointment. Okay, so it's bureaucracy. So, in general you have to do a lot of paperwork before anything is done?
Spain is notoriously bureaucratic. It's almost comical, and I was aware of that ahead of time. It's an ongoing thing. But now I think that with the events in the world, they've just exacerbated it and it's not cut up. I think it's made a bad situation worse, but I think that I don't want to pass judgment. I'm not an expert here, but I have a feeling, which can change with more experience. But I feel like there's a tradition here of people who are in these administrative positions become these gatekeepers to kind of like justify their existence because they have a focus on following the letter of the rule. Not the intent of the rule and looking to disqualify you and send you away and make you come back.
Is there any major difference between what you expected in Europe and your experience when you came?
I was made aware of some differences, and a lot of those aren't really as bad as people make them out to be. The bureaucracy one definitely is very true, and very accurate. Some things that never occurred to me, and I think it's kind of a cultural difference, is that in the United States, professionals are very polite. Nobody would ever just scream at you. And here they just let it rip. So, I've had a bus driver just scream at me for opening the door too early. And I think the intent really, to an American, it's very threatening as if you want to physically start an altercation. I think in Spanish it's not as threatening, it's just more direct.
Okay, can you please share what helped you adapt the most when you moved?
The thing that helped was knowing some Spanish. At the same time, not knowing enough Spanish has been a major limitation. And even when I know the words, I'm not recognizing them because I'm used to hearing, like, a Latino or a North American accent, and here it's more different than I expected, just the little sounds. And if I hear it slow enough, I recognize the word. I'm like, oh, my gosh, I know what you're saying. So, what adaptations if you come here, if you want to be an American, bring what you are and just transplant it. I think that's a huge mistake, and that's going to be difficult. And you hear about people who are here for maybe a year or two and then leave, and I think that's what the problem is. They're just trying to replicate their life here. You need to be more open to change. So, I can't find all of my favorite products, my food, my clothing, my housing, things that I'm used to, and you just got to let it go. You got to do things differently and be more flexible.
It seems to me that helped you the most is your open mindset that you were willing to change something about your life. Is this something that you can develop?
I think it takes an ongoing effort. I consider myself an open person, but I still have found that I need to remind myself to be adaptable, to be open, and to accept things. There are so many things that because you come from a completely different place, you have a different experience. You can see how things here could be better, like the bureaucracy and things like that, but you can't let it frustrate you. It's not obvious to everyone else. And you didn't come here to change Spain into America or even to save Spain.
What do you do now? Tell more about your work, please.
I’m an assistant teacher. They recruit people in the auxiliary program, the Spanish government. They want native speakers or people who qualify for C1 in English to come teach Spaniards, because Spain is uniquely behind other European nations with English in particular. And they especially want people from North America to come to work in primary schools to teach. And a lot of the local teachers do know English now, but any assistant English teacher quickly finds out, that they say a and teach things incorrectly as teachers sometimes.
Spanish teacher, one of my main teachers and my favorite person here so far. She has a degree. She went away to the UK for four years to study English. And her English is really good, but still makes a lot of mistakes. And so, I agree with the government that there definitely is a benefit to them bringing us here. Even though we're not professionals, we're not trained to teach. They just require we have a bachelor's degree and we're native speakers, but that's enough because things really just jump out.
Right. But when you started teaching, was like not knowing perfect Spanish a difficult thing for you or you went easily with that?
When they recruit us, they tell us that we're not to speak any Spanish at any point in the classroom, which is a strict immersion. I understand the parts where it's beneficial for students to have to but there are plenty of instances where I can draw out a clue in Spanish and it speeds things up a lot. I'll throw some Spanish in. So, I'm breaking the rules. But to me, the rules aren't the most important. The learning is. That's where my loyalty is. And like I said, the Spanish teachers are doing it too.
Yeah, but when you speak about school, you look very happy. Do you love it?
Oh, yeah. So, I was doing something similar in the United States before I came here. It was a part time job and just completely fell in love with it. And in fact, in San Diego, where I'm from, we have a lot of immigrants from Mexico. And I had a lot of students who would show up to 6th grade and have no English at all. So, I was doing something similar. It's the overwhelming thing, defining who and what they are. Everything you need to know is they are children. I'm just really good at relating to students and they teach me as well, and it brightens my day.
It recharges you because kids have so much energy and it's mostly positive. I understand that.
Yeah. It lifts your mood in a way. One of the most important things for any human being is that we replicate this knowledge from one generation to the next and it's really overlooked. It's taken for granted that a child born today just comes into the world and knows everything that you know. But it's not unless you teach them, they don't and things get dropped and lost and then you have these huge gaps between generations. But we're right there, helping them learn. English is one thing I teach, but so often I'm teaching like, social behaviors and coping, emotional things like that.
Absolutely. What do you like the most about your work with children?
I like when they surprise you. They learn more than just what you've dictated to them. They'll make that leap of critical thinking and extend. A lot of times it appears in a question, or they'll challenge you like, you said this, or you meant this. And when I have to take a breath and think, like, the reaction is you just want to defend yourself. And I'm like, no, they have a point.
What’s your favorite thing about Spain?
Very favorite thing is the safety. And in the US, it depends on where you live. In dense urban areas you have to be on your guard, and you have to keep your head on a swivel and know, like, looking behind you, is anyone following you? And here I very much had to de-escalate myself and let all that defensiveness go. It's very relaxing and very nice to be able to let that go. My colleagues have had phones stolen and things like that, but there isn't this threat of just, like, random violence, like this confrontational kind of crime and assault. Here, I feel like the danger is more of just petty theft and non-confrontational.
And when you came to Spain, after what time did you realize it was safe?
When you come here, you can see graffiti, trash on the ground, very dense, populated urban areas, and you think, like, I'm in danger. I need to be on guard. But then I see there's children playing and laughing. Seniors everywhere, just walking openly. People are not guarded at night time. You just kind of start to feel it, and then you start to see it at the same time. And it's like, okay, I need to match this vibe and let this go because I can't be walking around like this.
Okay, so your least favorite thing is probably bureaucracy, and the most favorite is safety.
Yeah. Oh, the other the very positive thing has been the healthcare. I've had a broken ankle since I've been here. I fell while hiking and chipped my tooth. So, I've been to the dentist and received prompt and very high-quality care. I have the insurance that I purchased. It's recorded and it's extremely affordable and also is very easy to use.
I have a question about health. I’ve seen videos where some Americans say that when they moved out from the US to Europe, they experienced losing weight and their health getting better. Is this because the food and water are cleaner? Did you feel it on yourself?
I think there's a lot of truth to it. I also think that there's more to it than one thing. One thing is if you're moving to another place for several months, it disrupts what you're used to eating and your activity level. Those are the two huge and quickest changes. So, if you live in somewhere in the US, that's like a food desert where there's not a lot of fresh vegetables available and you're eating a lot of fast food and not getting out very much because the city is not very walkable. Now you find yourself in this completely different environment where you're walking everywhere and you're trying all the cuisines and you're eating fresh vegetables that are available to you. Now, the market's right down in front of your apartment and it's really cheap. So that will have a very immediate, very quick effect. I think a lot of people's perception or experience can be attributed to that. Secondly, and more long term is what you're saying is European regulations on dairy, maybe they don't allow antibiotics and medicines that are added in the US. A lot of people don't realize they're having an allergic reaction to dairy. And the reason I know that is because I became vegan years ago. About the products: olive oil is the best. Coffee is huge. I think avocados might be better in California, but it could be seasonal.
If you could give any piece of advice for people who are considering moving to a different country for a long period of time, what would you say?
Firstly, choose a place that matches the climate you’re used to. People from a cold climate where it snows, want to move to somewhere like San Diego or Spain that's known for its sunshine. But then when they get here and the summer hits, or even before the summer hits, you have all these people complaining about the heat. But are you sure? Because the heat is part of it and maybe you should choose a region that matches climate that you're used to better. Ultimately, you'll be happier. You can always go visit warmer places.
Secondly, be ready to change and keep in mind that it can be uncomfortable. I don't want to lose my identity and the things that I found over my lifetime that I enjoy, that I prefer. But I got to also be open and take things in. If everyone here loves it, there's probably something good to it.
Shaun, thank you very much for the interview and best of luck on your new place!
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