Ali Meehan is a vibrant, creative and supportive woman. She's the perfect person to connect with if you are considering a relocation to Spain. She is the founder of Costa Women, the largest, free, social and business networking community for women living in Spain and women who are looking to relocate.
A serial expat...
Ali Meehan confesses to being a serial expat. She has lived and worked in Australia, Spain, the Middle East, Asia and now she is back in Spain! Her partner (now husband) introduced her to Spain and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ali originally set up Costa Women, as a way for her to find other expats and make friendships and connections with them. Costa Women has gone from strength to strength, and it was awarded the Best of British Social Club by The Telegraph in 2012 and Expat Stars from MyCurrencyTransfer.
How does Spain compare to all the other countries that you've lived in Ali?
Ah Spain! It brings together all the best of the other countries and avoids the worst! It’s near enough to the UK to keep in touch with friends, family, children and grandchildren and in my opinion is the best place in Europe to live. And all done with a sunny smile - the Costa del Sol, where I am now based, has 320 days of sunshine.
What are your top 5 (or more) favourite things about life in Spain?
The lifestyle weather and relaxed way of life are a big plus and flamenco, fiestas, ferias and rioja are at the accessible heart of Andalusian society. Spain is a great country for agriculture and fish so we eat food in season and living on the coast the seafood is plentiful and tasty. Eating your main meal at lunchtime is so much healthier and then we have 100s of different types of tapas - what’s not to like!
Has living in Spain brought out aspects of yourself, that you believe otherwise may have stayed dormant?
Mindfulness - I wrote in a recent blog that if you told me a Spanish person (maybe Saint Teresa of Ávila) had first written about mindfulness in the 16th century, I would not have been surprised.
Having come from an incredibly busy business background to a way of thinking – where you ‘work to live, not live to work’ that is prevalent here in Spain - I learnt about being mindful. It has helped a move from the ‘Busy, busy, work, work’ way of life and I'm embracing a belief system that prevails here. Spanish people seem to live for and in the moment, not what might happen in the next hour, tomorrow or next month.
What is your favourite quote that has a synergy with who you are now that you have been living in Spain since 2002?
“Someday is not a day of the week!” - Janet Dailey
We live so much in the future and have things we want to do “someday”. However, as they say - if you save for rainy day… it rains! Live your somedays TOday!
Can you describe a typical day in your life in Spain?
Wow - well busy! My day job is as a social media marketeer for international small and start up businesses. My passion is to help Clients “get found” on social media and to support their online marketing objectives.
Then we have Costa Women, which is a community I created at the end of 2010. This now has almost 6000 members and a very active website and online social media presence. We have 23 groups across Spain and the Islands and lovely voluntary hosts who keep our members connected and busy with events and local get togethers. Our International Women’s Day Conference (which we host with 1230 The Women’s Company) has become a bit of a legend! This years was on 10th March under our #MakeitHappen theme - I am always very excited about this event.
As a serial expat, you may have found integration easier than others, but typically what do you believe are the biggest challenges when relocating to Spain?
People don’t do enough research. They may have come here on holiday over the years and don’t always see and live through the changing seasons. When asked, my recommendation is that they come and rent first in the area where they are thinking about moving and live at least six months to a year here.
Somewhere which is thriving in the summer can be positively dead during the winter, or living up the mountain may have seemed a good idea for a few weeks, but can be very isolating and cold in the winter.
Forewarned is forearmed – what tips and tools would you highly recommend to those wishing to relocate here?
Learn Spanish.Use Social Media to connect before you arrive. Many of the local town halls have pages and groups on Facebook so you can connect with fellow foreigners to ask questions and advice.
Ask! We were all new once and are happy to share our experiences and knowledge. In fact Costa Women members have created a book of their stories and advice for Women looking at moving here. The book is available as a free download http://www.costawomen.com/pages/spainandme
What is a guiri & do you feel like one?
LOL! In essence, the Spanish word for a foreigner who moves to Spain. I would like to think they are a lover of Spain too. In Thailand we are called Farangs and in Australia of course Winjin' Poms so it’s just a nickname.
No - I like to think I am more integrated. Spanish people are so welcoming and make you feel like a neighbour. I love the word INPAT - someone who is a foreigner but is IN-tegrating!
What tips do you have for other guiris to achieve a deeper level of integration?
Make friends with the locals - they don’t bite! Get a good one to one Spanish teacher, they can give you great advice and give you a more in-depth understanding of the culture. One of my favourite places is the local gym - the classes are normally in Spanish and it really helps with your language learning.
What are the negatives about living in Spain?
Bureaucracy - whether becoming resident, or wanting to start your business this can be a challenge! Patience is something you will need to learn from day one. Its also important to note that there is a greater cost to both creating a business, or being self employed in Spain than you might be used to.
What is the most notable cultural difference between life in Spain & the UK?
People arrive in Spain believing it will be same as the UK, or their own country. It isn’t but that doesn’t make it wrong, it’s just different. Cultural differences are prevalent in any society (and even in different parts of the same country).
One of the joys of living overseas is learning a new culture and embracing it. Spain is very multicultural and accepts other cultures. I believe it’s good to read about the history of the country for anywhere you move to, as it helps you to understand why people react, behave, or celebrate their cultures as they do.
Why did you set up CostaWomen, how does it work & how can people join?
Because I wanted friends LOL! When I lived here for 2 years from 2002 to 2004 I was working from home for a company based in the Middle East. It was before the days of social media and I found it difficult to meet people and make friends.
So when we decided to move back to Spain, I created something to meet a need I had and from the reaction and amount of members we now have, I think finding ways to make friends and connections is something women generally want.
When we make a decision to move overseas, finding friends can be far down the list until we arrive here. That’s where costawomen.com comes in. As well as being able to make friends with other members who share your interests or hobbies, we have a space for you to add your own blogs, post classified adverts, look for and share jobs as well as attend offline events in 23 different locations across Spain and the Islands.