Today we meet Monica Rooney Riestra, a Spanish expat who moved to the USA after marrying a foreign exchange student from California. Here she describes how the USA really did represent the land of opportunity for her and how it inspired her to start her own successful expat business that exploits her passion for her homeland.
Can you please tell us a little about your background and what initially made you move to the United States?
I was born and raised in Pontevedra (northwest of Spain.) While studying in Madrid I met a foreign exchange student from California. We started dating and were able to maintain a long-distance relationship for four years. During one of his visits to Spain he proposed to me the day before his return to the States. I said “yes.” After celebrating our marriage with friends and family from both countries in my hometown, we decided to settle down in Madrid. A year later, I requested a leave of absence from my company in Spain and moved to California with my husband.
What were your first impressions of life in the USA? Did you suffer from culture shock? How did you deal with your initial emotions?
Even though I had studied for months in England and France and I had visited the USA several times while dating my now husband I was not prepared to create a “home” so far away from home. I decided to go back to school and get a degree from an American University. This wise decision not only allowed me to improve my written and oral English skills but it also helped me feel that I belonged to something good and exciting. I was not just a foreigner living overseas, I was a student who happened to come from a different country. It helped me embrace my own culture and uniqueness while at the same time learning “the American way.”
What are your favorite things about living in the U.S.?
From the moment I landed in the USA I have always been taken by the openness and caring demeanor of the American people. I love it!
Since I was a little girl I would read and hear about living “The American dream.” One of my favorite things about living in the U.S is that my life has become the reality of that dream. The U.S has proven to be the land of opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard, including myself.
What things do you least enjoy?
The fact that I live so far away from my family has been the hardest thing while living in the U.S. Over the years I was fortunate to visit them very frequently, but now that both my parents are deceased I wished I had the chance to spend more time with them. I still have many loved ones in Spain so I continue to make it a priority to visit them and refuse to let long hours in planes and airports deviate me from visiting them once a year.
While living in the United States you set up your own business. Please tell us what you do and describe how that came about?
I always wanted to open a business that would connect both countries, Spain and the USA. With degrees in both Tourism Administration and International Business I felt prepared to create a business that was an honest representation of my passion for traveling and the love I feel for my native land.
In July 2012, in the company of friends and family, I walked the last 100 miles of the Walk of St. James or Camino de Santiago, which is located in the northwest of Spain. After making this journey, I knew I had to help others experience the magic and enlightenment I felt during this special walk. Adiante Travel was created with the intention of promoting, sharing and facilitating this once-in-a-lifetime experience with people from the U.S.
What key challenges did you face when trying to start your business?
I live in California and I organize walking tours in Spain so one of my biggest challenges had to do with the difficulties that comes in dealing with different currencies, time zones and travel regulations. In order to arrange the tours, visits and reserve hotel rooms and hire tour guides, I had to travel to Spain in numerous occasions and personally take care of these important components of my new business, which was expensive and time consuming.
What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who are considering starting their own business?
- As an expatriate you may have different types of experiences, skills or costumes that will set you apart from your competition when starting your business. Don´t be afraid to be different, use your uniqueness in your favor.
- Make sure you follow the regulations of the country and state where you are setting up your business (they may be very different to the ones from your native country.) The internet is full of helpful resources that will assist you from the beginning.
- If you business involves the trade of items of services from your native land, make sure you have partners, associates or just trustworthy individuals who can assist you with anything you need from there at any given time.
What experiences from your time as an expatriate have been most helpful in assisting you with your venture?
My business involves selling walking tours in Spain from the U.S so the fact that I have lived in both countries and I speak English and Spanish has been very helpful in assisting with my venture. I feel comfortable when doing business from both sides, allowing me to be authentic but original at the same time.
What’s next for your business?
My business is my passion and my customers can feel the excitement from the moment they make a reservation. I´m grateful to see my walking tours getting filled up and I look forward to making great memories and experiences to many for years to come.
Monica Rooney Riestra
Founder and owner of Adiante Travel LLC