What to Know Before Falling in Love with Someone as an Expat

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

Falling in love is often a life-changing event, especially if the love is reciprocated. But to fall for someone from another country, with a different background, customs and language—well, that’s just mind-blowing. If you are on the brink of giving your heart to someone from a foreign country, there are a few things to be aware of.

Falling in Love with my Wife

First, a little tale of how I fell in love with my wife. After a two-year trip teaching English and traveling the world, I went back to England and gave Seville in Spain a go. I got settled quickly and found a job teaching adults in an English academy.

So there I was, waiting for my new students to turn up, when she walked in. On her t-shirt was written “Looking for Paradise” but, let’s be honest, it was me who found it. (I was 25, and she was 21, by the way.)

At the end of the first week, I invited the class out for drinks, secretly hoping she would come; it was only her and one other lady who did.

So we got to chatting, me in my terrible Spanish, and her in her average English. Luckily, there were other students from different classes who helped translate. As we chatted with each other that night, deep down, we both knew something magical was about to happen.

The class used to meet up every Thursday night. It was the highlight of my week to see her out of class. One evening, she came along before class and said she may have got a job, had to do a course, and couldn’t attend the class for a couple of weeks. I was gutted but pretended I wasn’t bothered.

She gave me her email and number, and soon we met up on weekends. At first, I didn’t know whether it was love. I sure wasn’t looking for a relationship, or to be captured by someone’s heart, but, as is often the case, I just fell in love.

When I was traveling the world, an inner part of me was probably looking for that special one. After all, someone had to stop me traveling at one point, or I’d probably still be on the road. That was 12 years ago. Now we are happily married with two lovely kids.

Falling in Love – A Rocky Beginning

It wasn’t an easy ride at the start, and we both had to work on our relationship. We felt something but were both scared of getting attached. I was unsure I wanted to stay in Seville, especially after traveling so much. She was worried I’d leave and didn’t want to get a broken heart. Plus the fact she wasn’t keen on going to England, and neither was her family.

For about two years, we battled through the obstacles that life threw in the way. We had rows, fights; you name it. I began to miss England and my family and couldn’t adapt to Seville; I felt like a foreigner and it was tricky to integrate into society. I’d make friends, but they’d leave the next year.

Our wedding day by Barry O'Leary
Our wedding day by Barry O’Leary

I was curious about what life might be like back in England, so I started applying for teaching jobs. I got a job offer as a primary school teacher in my hometown. I foolishly ended our relationship, saying I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. But from the moment we split up, I knew I’d made a mistake.

I called my dad, saying I wasn’t sure, and that I didn’t know if I would find anyone like her again. So he said, “Well, there’s your answer.” We made up and became stronger. We knew there was something special, something pure.


What made it easier?

Looking back, there were certainly a few things we both had to change to make it work. Any couple needs to work on their relationship, but because we were from different countries, there were extra issues. Here are a few tips which could help.

Falling in Love – Study the Language

This goes for both sides. We had a lot of problems at the start because of misunderstandings, not only between ourselves but also between friends and families. It’s so easy to get the wrong end of the stick sometimes, and often situations can get complicated.

Personally, I love learning Spanish, so it was quite easy at the start, but it got trickier as my level increased. I had to keep improving though, especially so I could speak with her family, and also the parents of my students. Now, I have my own kids, and I need to speak to teachers, plus we have a decent group of Spanish friends, too now.

Getting a high level of Spanish has really helped me integrate into society. I know expats who have been here for years and still have a very low level, but I just don’t get it. I think it’s partly ability, but also willingness. There’s no reason you can’t get to a high level of the language while you’re living in the country.

I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but not far off. I still learn a lot, even after over a decade here. My level could be better though. My wife is pretty good at English now and we’ve got to a level where we can understand each other (I mean the actual words, not the logic, but we’re still working on that).

Falling in Love – Adapt to Local Customs

At the start, my biggest problem was the meal times. In Spain, they tend to eat a large lunch, and a lighter dinner, and a lot later than back home.

An expat dad by Barry O'Leary
An expat dad by Barry O’Leary

During my first year here, I couldn’t comprehend eating at 10 P.M., I thought I’d get fat.

In the first year, I was so stubborn that I ate breakfast at about 7 a.m., lunch at 12 p.m. and then dinner at 4 p.m. My last class finished at 10 p.m., then I’d eat a piece of fruit, or have a couple of beers with colleagues.

My housemates thought I was nuts. I’ve got used to eating later now. I don’t eat my dinner until 11 p.m., but that’s because I finish work late. I do like it when we go to England and have an early dinner, though.

Learn About the Religion

Religion is a huge part of the culture here in Sevilla, and I became a huge fan of their religious festival, Semana Santa. At first, I thought it was crazy, all those people dressing up in huge pointy hats and covering their faces while doing eight hours in penitence. But my wife and her family taught me the meaning of their important event. Each year they would try to persuade me to join in, but I felt I couldn’t as I wasn’t Catholic.

As time went on, I became more interested in religion. I was never christened, but my father is Catholic. I wanted to make an extra commitment to my wife, so soon after proposing, I started a catechism course to become Catholic. It was a bit daunting to begin with, but I understand so much more now. She appreciated this, as did her family, especially when I took part with them in the procession in Semana Santa.

I thoroughly believe it’s all about making that commitment and going the extra mile. Adapting to your surroundings isn’t always easy, but it’s essential if you want that relationship to grow.

Make Time for the Relationship

Keeping the love fresh and alive is not a straightforward task, especially when you have kids and they take so much time and energy. We had two kids within 18 months of each other and bought a house just after the second was born.

It was an intense first couple of years, and our relationship suffered. But now, we have got through those tricky moments, we can sit back and appreciate what we have built.

I’m quite a romantic at heart. I try to write cute messages when I can and we make sure we have a meal together once a week. We can’t go out so much at the moment as babysitting is tricky. But when my parents come over, or we go to England, we get time to be with each other.

I published a novel recently which shows the difficulties of falling in love with someone from another country. It’s set in Seville, with a flamenco theme, but the key message is there. It shows how difficult falling for someone from another country can be. I believe in fate and destiny and know that our paths met for a reason.

If you’re falling in love with someone, all I can say is, get to know them, communicate, make a commitment and enjoy the moments you have together. It’s an exciting phase, just go with the flow and follow your heart.

Want to share your own love story? Let us know your tips on falling in love and making it work with someone from a different country.

by: Barry O’Leary