Why this Expat moved to Seville to start a new life
I call this our “Eat Pray Love” interview.
Tania was divorced and her kids getting older. She needed a life change and ended up moving to Spain where, among other things, she found an artistic passion that she’s turned into a business.
A very inspiring story.
Name: Tania Gruenberg
Country of Origin: USA (dual citizenship-Germany)
Number of years living in Spain: 2 ½ years
Hi Tania! You have an interesting story about how you ended up in Seville. Could you please tell our readers?
I moved to Seville on March 16, 2020, crossing the land border from Portugal just one hour before it closed and began my new life as the pandemic lockdown went into effect. I’ve never second-guessed my choice.
Most of my adult life consisted of taking care of others. I was a full-time single mother after my divorce at age 41. I returned to the workforce to support my family and dedicated myself to my employer and to my children. My daily routine revolved around the well being of others. Being a mother was rewarding and continues to be. I never imagined I needed more than that in my life and I didn’t pay attention to my own needs as their needs came first. Even after I went back to work, I didn’t pay attention to them. But as my kids needed me less, I found myself feeling unfulfilled.
When they had become adults and were off on their own I started to do things for myself. I began to travel. I dated. But nothing lead to anything serious. One evening I decided to look at flights to Spain and without asking anyone to join me, I booked my first international solo trip.
Before leaving on the trip, friends and family questioned me “Don’t you want someone to go with you? Aren’t you scared?” But the answers were simply – no. When I arrived in Seville, a strong sense of comfort and belonging overwhelmed me. I enjoyed every day of my trip and stayed in touch with loved ones by posting daily on Facebook. It became a diary and a testament to my ability to travel and explore on my own. I met so many wonderful people on that journey. Many are still my friends and we communicate often.
The truth is, I was scared. But it is ok to be scared. I overcame the fear of the unknown and discovered my strength and my independence- and found my joy.
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In the process of moving and living in Seville, you’ve ended up being an artist. Can you tell us all about that?
After the lockdown partially lifted and we were able to go out and finally begin doing things I signed up for art classes in Triana. I chose a ceramics class which provided instruction in some of the typical styles of tile work we see in Sevilla. Once I began working on the technique called Cuerda Seca, I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t very good at first but I kept going back and I started buying supplies and began working on tiles from home every day and it just became my passion. Since then I have created a studio in my home, purchased a kiln, and now sell custom tiles and sell worldwide as well as locally. It brings me such joy and happiness and I am able to work on my own schedule and at my own pace. Some of my work can be seen on my Instagram account. Everything I do is handmade and unique.
That’s been the surprising part of this journey—discovering what I’m good at. I had studied sculpture in college and taken drawing classes, but my love for art got lost among the daily routines of life; I didn’t know it could become my passion and career.
Please tell us about Seville and what you find so inspiring in this city.
Seville is truly a magical, colourful city. I have traveled to so many places around the world and yet when I arrived in this beautiful city, something happened to me. I felt a sense of calm. The city itself is extremely walkable so as you get joyfully lost while walking around you find little corners and picturesque no-name streets along the way. Every 5 minutes you enter another area with another feel. You’re always safe, and the people are kind and friendly. The rich history, the preserved buildings, the artistic beauty, the music, the tapas, the orange trees, the daily culture…it’s never ending and most days unexpected.
Prior to coming to Spain in 2020, had you ever visited the country? Have you ever felt culture shock?
My first time traveling to Spain was a trip I took to Barcelona in 2013 with my daughter. I remember loving it and knew I wanted to see more of Spain. I wanted to return on several occasions but always ended up traveling to other places with friends. It wasn’t until April 2019 that I decided to take a two week solo trip to Spain. I decided to visit Andalucia and Madrid and when I was in Sevilla I simply did not want to leave. I returned home and decided I was going to make a drastic change. I was going to move to Spain. I returned to Sevilla and Madrid in September of 2019 and again in January 2020. And finally in a mad rush and with a lot of fear and doubt from friends and family, moved on the first day of the lockdown in Spain by way of Portugal. While I was nervous because of the unknown, I never doubted my decision.
What (if anything) do you feel you most had to adjust to when coming to live in Spain?
Adjusting to the language, the culture, customer service, stores being closed on Sundays, the heat in the summer, hanging up all my clothes to dry, getting used to the metric system, adjusting to the medical system.
How is your Spanish? Did you learn Spanish before coming to Spain?
I speak Spanish fluently with no accent. However, I learned Spanish at home when I was a young child because my family is from Argentina. So my vocabulary and my accent is different.
What’s your daily life like in Seville?
I walk my dog, go to the gym and come home and begin my day. That usually consists of planning tiles, painting tiles. or organising my studio. I may meet friends for lunch, take a long walk, shop, or go to meet with a student. Sometimes I stay home and cook or read. I’m a foodie and love trying restaurants or bars and have no problem heading out on my own to sit at the bar to try a tapa. On cooler weather days I take my dog to the river and walk. I’ve enjoyed listening to live music in the city and going to landmarks and museums. I get a lot of inspiration from my walks and from the city itself. I find joy in the simple moments. For instance, I love seeing the stages of the oranges growing on the thousands of trees that line the streets.
Do you take part in an Expat community? Do you feel you’ve been able to integrate in Seville?
I don’t really participate in an Expat community. I have a couple of friends from the US and other countries. I have been able to make good friends from Sevilla and they have taught me so much. I feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people.
Do you have any tips (do’s and don’ts) for foreigners looking to settle in Seville?
Be sure you understand and respect the culture. Learn the language. Make friends with locals and not just with expats. Try the foods and eat where the locals eat.
In my university years my mother moved to Africa. One of the benefits was that I was able to take Christmas vacations there, it’s something I’ll never forget (in a good way). I mention this because I know you have children and that leaving them behind in the US was a dilemma. How has that worked out for you and the kids?
My daughter just got married in May and my son lives with his girlfriend. They are both adults and live their lives in the United States. I try to make it back to the US twice a year and they try to make it to Spain as well. I miss them terribly, but I am setting an example that we are meant to live our lives fully and to enjoy!
Cost of living. Do you own a home or do you rent?
I rent my home. I pay less in rent than I did in the US. My cost of living is more than half of what it was in the US. It was one of the reasons I chose to move here.
Since moving to Seville, have there been surprises you never expected? What have you discovered (good and bad)?
I didn’t realize how hot it would be. It is so very hot in the summer. I also didn’t realize how inexpensive things would be. Life is so affordable. I am surprised at how much more active I am. How much more I walk and how independent I have become. I am still in awe of the magnificence of the city each time I step out of my home. I am surprised how easy it is to see the rest of Spain by train/bus/car/plane.
Looking back, is there anything at all you would change?
There really is not much I would change. I feel very fortunate to have the life I have.
Thank you for doing this interview Tania!
Related: What’s it like living in the city of Málaga?
Related: What’s it like living in Antequera?
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Can you put me in touch with Tania, in reference to her tiles.
You can give her my contact info.
I will email you.
Thank you Norah. I’ve let her know you’ll be contacting her and she looks forward to hearing from you 🙂
I enjoyed Tania’s story. I have wanted to move to Spain and Seville is one of the cities I had in mind. Thank you.
Thank you for the comment Agatha! We spent 2 months there – beautiful city, very cultural.
Thank you Tania for sharing your inspiring story. It is comforting to read that is possible to find that place where you feel you belong surrounded by a sense of calm. Frank – thanks for continuing to post expat stories
Thank you Levente for always taking the time to leave nice comments. It is always appreciated 🙂