Koren Helbig is an Australian journalist and blogger now freelancing from her new home beside Spain’s Mediterranean coastline.
In a way, I moved to Spain on a whim. I came here for just five days in 2012, while I was on an European holiday with two girlfriends, and mused that I loved the place so much that I’d like to live here. This light bulb kind of went off and I realised I could actually live here. Nothing was stopping me. I pretty much decided then and there that I’d move to Spain.
Bureaucracy and… not much Spanish
When I returned home to Brisbane, on Australia’s eastern coast, I discovered there was a small roadblock in my way: Spain’s rather complicated visa system.
It actually took me about a year to wrangle the self-employed residency visa application, from the first moment I contacted the consulate in Sydney to the day an email lobbed into my inbox informing me it had all been approved.
Then there was another, separate layer of bureaucracy to navigate once I arrived in Spain to have the residency authenticated, which was complicated by my woeful lack of Spanish. I had great intentions to learn before leaving home, but time just got away from me and next thing it was mid-2013 and I was holed up in various government offices here, Spanish coming at me rapid-fire and with little clue what was actually been said. It was a baptism of fire.
All those extra little things
I had already clocked up eight years as a salaried journalist within country and metropolitan newspapers in Australia, so I felt competent and confident as a reporter. But I quickly learned there’s a lot to freelancing that staff reporters just don’t have to worry about – like cold pitching stories to harried and disinterested editors who don’t know you from a bar of soap, invoicing and chasing up payments, logging expenses and just the sheer isolation of writing alone in a room every day.
Yo no hablo mucho español
And the whole not speaking much Spanish thing? That didn’t really help in a job that relies solely on communication! In hindsight, I think if I’d been less naïve and had realised the difficulties I’d face, I never would have made the jump overseas. So I’m actually very grateful for my lack of foresight.
What I love about it all
It did take me some months to settle in but now, most days, I feel completely enchanted with my life here in Spain. I love the crazy street fiestas that stretch on for days, the 10pm dinners, the 10am nips of vermouth. I love my grubby little city of Alicante, which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and the glittering Mediterranean Sea. I love the open and gregarious nature of many Spaniards, who are so happy to share their country’s stories and culture when they learn I’m a working journalist.
I love setting my own hours and flitting off for weekends away here and there. After living in Australia, so far from everywhere, I still haven’t gotten over the novelty that almost any European country is just a couple hours’ flight and a few hundred euros away.
Most of all, I love the constant challenge of speaking Spanish, the way my head throbs after a day conversing in my second language, evidence that my mind is literally being stretched, expanded and taught to think in a completely different way – or so I like to think.
I now have a growing base of publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom for whom I write regularly, mostly focusing on Spanish culture and lifestyle. I also continue to write a sustainable living blog, The Little Green House, with my sister, Alana. Working together on the blog has helped to keep us incredibly close and connected despite living on opposite sides of the planet.
Small things which have made a big difference
A few small things have made my working life much happier here. I hooked up with a co-working space here in Alicante, which gets me out of the house and has connected me with other bright young minds. I subscribed to the Freelance Writers Den, a fabulous online wealth of knowledge, resources and tips for newish freelancers. I go to regular language exchange nights organised via the Couchsurfing website and, after bumping into another freelance journalist there, we’ve made a regular habit of catching up one-on-one for coffee. It’s nice talking shop occasionally.
My top tip
My main tip for Entrepreneurial Expats is actually borrowed from a kindly editor, who once advised that if you find yourself far from home and feeling gloomy about work and income and all that, just look up, out and away from yourself… and be where you are.
Because living abroad truly is the experience of a lifetime.
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