Author Karen McCann preaches the gospel of living abroad successfully

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on August 16, 2012

Author Karen McCann
    Author Karen McCann, who grew up in Menlo Park and Atherton and graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School before heading off to Cal, remembers telling her husband-to-be that she’d follow him “anywhere.” As she recalls, on their first date they also talked about living abroad.

    “Anywhere” initially translated into 20 years in Cleveland, not exactly a city that came to mind when she made her pledge. “We had great friends, and it was good for us both professionally,” she said, during a return visit to Menlo that included stops at Cafe Borrone and her alma mater. “Then my husband retired at 53, and we started doing the same things year after year, but less and less.”

    One thing led to another, and they found themselves living more of each year in Seville, Spain keeping “a tiny cottage in Marin” to escape to during the hot Spanish summer. They plan to continue living in Seville for the foreseeable future. “We both like a little adventure in our lives,” she said.

    How they do it is the topic of her book published this month, Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. We asked her about misconceptions people have about living abroad. Her responses follow:

    1. The most common misconception is that you need to be fabulously wealthy. Even with maintaining a home base here, our expenses in Seville are about what they were in Cleveland. We don’t have a car, housing is less expensive, and eating out is a fraction of what it costs here.

    2. You don’t have to wait until you retire to move abroad. We know a lot of people who’ve found jobs in Seville or work remotely, thanks to the Internet.

    3. You don’t have to speak the language before you go. We did an immersion course when we got there. Admittedly, learning a new language doesn’t get easier as you age, but it is doable. We found that the immersion class was a great way to get a gulp of the language, but we both really benefited from private instruction after that. She taught us street Spanish, which we were able to practice in real life situations.

    4. Thanks to the popularity of books like Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence, people assume the way to live abroad is to buy a crumbling house and spend money and time fixing it up. Living out in the countryside can be very isolating. We enjoy living in the center of town in an already restored building, which we rent.

    5. Before we relocated, we were told that we’d never set foot inside a Spanish home, that the locals entertain out in the community because most residences are tiny. That’s not been our experience at all. We got lucky in having a gregarious landlord who has introduced us to many other locals who we socialize with. You just need to be open to new experiences and meeting new people.

    Photo by Irene Searles

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