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Foreign, female and fabulous: How I found my tribe in Madrid

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Foreign, female and fabulous: How I found my tribe in Madrid
Cepee Tabibia 'hit refresh' on her life and hasn't looked back. Photo: Cepee Tabibian
12:00 CEST+02:00
Giving up old friends, family and a secure job to move to a foreign city when you are fast approaching 40 can be daunting, to say the least. Cepee Tabibian shares the challenges and rewards of making such a move.

My love affair with Madrid started with a summer abroad in 2001, an experience that played a pivotal role in the trajectory of my life. As an American trying to create a life in Spain, I spent many years bouncing back and forth to Texas. I first arrived in Spain as a student learning Spanish, then later taught English, earned my masters, worked for a Spanish start-up, and finally found a way to make it work on my own terms through remote work.

READ ALSO: The Ultimate A to Z Guide to Teaching English in Spain

The road to get here hasn’t always been easy. Just three years ago I was living the good life in Austin, Texas. But the comfort and predictability of each year was slowly smothering my adventurous spirit. At age 35 I knew it was time to feed my soul and rediscover myself by shedding my house, car, job, routine, security, and 401k for the thrill of the unknown.

Moving to another country as a carefree 20-something is one thing, but starting over as a woman in your 30s requires a bit more strategy. Society understands if you spend your 20s exploring because you have “time,” but pressures us to believe that your 30s are a time when you should have life figured out and be ready to settle down. Well, I was halfway to 40 and nowhere near clarity. All I knew was that I needed to step out of the monotony of my life and gain a fresh perspective. I knew that moving back to Spain, and specifically Madrid, could help, but I had no idea that it would be the perfect place for reinvention for a woman abroad.

Moving to Madrid on my own

So why Madrid? What captivated me from the start was the city’s energy. I’ve traveled to cities around the world and have never encountered one as vibrant as Madrid. It’s a warm, social city that always felt like my place in the world. Experiencing it again as a “seasoned” woman, I appreciate that it’s a social city for all ages. Take a walk in the city center, bar hop, or indulge in the nightlife and you’ll see that people in Madrid really know how to live. This is a city where young, old, and everyone in between revel in what the city has to offer; it’s a place where making friends later in life is relatively easy.


Photo: Deposit Photos

Another alluring factor is that Madrid is affordable. While housing prices have risen dramatically over the past few years, compared to other western European capital cities it’s ranked as one of the least expensive—and one of the sunniest. In Texas I grew up with two seasons: hot and hotter than hell. Madrid is different; it has four seasons. Even though the Texan in me suffers through the winter, the sun still shines on most days.

Moving here as a single woman, I was happy to escape the college scene in Austin for a city whose demographics were more in my favour. With an average marrying age of 33 in Spain and one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, you’re surrounded by single people of all ages in Madrid. I’m rarely asked about my marital status here, unlike back home where my existence as a single, childless female was a constant curiosity.

No city is perfect, and transitioning from your comfort zone to Madrid comes with its challenges. If you had a career back home, brace yourself for a limited job market. Most positions require a working level of Spanish, so if you don’t speak the language you will miss out on many opportunities. Given my experience, among the opportunities that do exist, the salaries are low, the workdays are long, and the workplace is rigid. Many native English speakers leverage their language skills and teach English; the jobs are plentiful and pay well compared to the average Spanish salary. However, for most it’s a means to an end with little mobility.

For newcomers to Madrid, I suggest building a network of like-minded people from the start. Finding my community enhanced my experience here and led to numerous collaborations and opportunities. It can be difficult to break into Spanish friend groups when you’re over 30 if you’re not pursuing a degree or arriving with a job. However, rediscovering the city at a different stage in life taught me that Madrid has a large community of inspiring and entrepreneurial women.

Madrid’s empowering community of women

The limited work opportunities here contribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of the international community. There is a thriving community of women in Madrid, and a variety of groups, that meet regularly and empower each other to pave their own paths in the city. These female pioneers leverage their expertise and work experience to create better opportunities for themselves in Madrid.

READ MORE: Freelancing in Madrid: A survivor's guide


Photo: Deposit Photos

Madrid is a social city, which means there are events and meetups every day of the week. When I first arrived I bounced around from group to group until I discovered a few female-run and -oriented meetups for professionals that gave me what I didn’t even know I needed: a model of what was possible in Madrid. This tribe of like-minded women inspired me through their actions and empowered me with their resources. Limited options in Madrid can lead to a limited mindset; however, this community of women encouraged me to aim high and to think big.

Many of the women who move to Madrid later in life are at a crossroads. We’ve come to Madrid for a “refresh,” leaving the security of our previous lives to pursue a life more fulfilling but without a clear plan of what’s next. Madrid’s low cost of living gives us the opportunity to escape the rat race and reflect, to explore our interests, or to create or dabble in a side project. Madrid allows the ambitious to find their space and fill in gaps in the market. Instead of being one of many in an oversaturated market, you have the chance to really stand out. The female-run communities where I found the most inspiration, and formed lasting friendships, are International Women in Business, Intercom Spain, and La Piscine.

The power of community inspired me to create my own spaces where I can indulge in my interests and meet like-minded people. I run the Madrid Blogger Network, the city’s largest community for bloggers and content creators, and She Hit Refresh, a community for women over 30 who want to break free from routine and start a life of travel—and for those who already have, like me.

Moving to Madrid may be the single best decision I’ve made in my 30s. Not only did the city provide the fresh perspective and sense of adventure I was in search of, it gave me something more. It led me to my tribe.

Join Cepee Tabibian at She Hit Refresh or in the Madrid Blogger Network

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