It’s hard to believe a full year has passed since Jay and I were saying surreal goodbyes to my parents, finishing a last minute, fast-food breakfast, and boarding our flight. I remember my stomach churning so badly that I couldn’t sleep at all on the 12 hour flight. When will I be back here? What did I forget? How will I get in touch with everyone when we arrive? Was this the right choice?
Once we landed in Madrid, someone stopped me in baggage claim to ask a simple question. I couldn’t understand a word. Blame it on complete exhaustion or my Spanish language level, I was in over my head. It’s actually pretty funny to me to read back on my expectations I wrote in my journal before arriving. Then again, it’s entertaining to look back on any of my entries because I just seem like a different person. I was a different person.
The truth is that our first few months in Spain were really hard. After the initial elation of arriving and seeing our new city, we had to begin figuring out practical things such as a phone company, a bank account, and our foreign paperwork all in Spanish. It was also our first time living together, so those of you who have lived with a significant other can understand what I’m implying there.
There was one time I remember in particular where I was trying to withdraw lots of money from my Chase account for our apartment deposit and first month’s rent. First, the ATM ate my card and said I needed to call Chase. I had already told them I would be living in Spain! I struggled to get someone to retrieve my card while onlookers stared and tried to talk to me, then went straight to my phone company to fill my saldo (phone credit).
I put 10€ on my account and tried to call Chase. While I was on hold right after giving the attendant my information, my saldo ran out. End of phone call. I stomped back to the phone company, and put 20€ on my account. I called back, told them the issue, and they “took care of it,” so I went to a different ATM to withdraw the money.
Surprise, it didn’t work again. As I found out later, there is a daily withdrawal limit. I had to call Chase back again, my saldo ran up again before I could resolve the issue, so after all this in a two-hour time span I had spent 50€ trying to call Chase and still didn’t have our deposit money. I’m pretty sure Jay found me sobbing in public on a random bench near Gran Via. Those were dark times, ha.
One year later, we have a Skype account for unlimited calls to the U.S. in case something comes up. We have wifi set up in our apartment so we aren’t sitting on the floor of the bus station with the lap top and all mobile devices (*face palm*). We don’t struggle with our oven settings or trips to the grocery store… where is milk if not in the refrigerated section? I have to ask to buy a plastic bag? Nor do we have to think too much about converting from Celsius. Okay, or maybe I just have an app for that.
Dare I say it, I actually feel comfortable in Spain now. I love our home here. There were so many more positives over negatives that we gladly jumped into our second year in Logroño. The little things that make me hate Spaniards for half the time, are kind of adorable for the other half of the time. Kind of.
Since I’m not constantly confused over unclear instructions or deciphering what someone has said anymore, I have time to revel in this culture we get to experience. We have a community of friends who go through the same struggles, and have even met people who tell us they admire us for facing the challenges of moving abroad. While talking about our move to Spain, the last guest we hosted told me, “You’re talking about this so naturally that I don’t think you realize what a big deal it is to do this.” That was nice to hear. Although I did many things wrong last year, there were a lot of things I did right.
- Improved my Spanish ten fold (do people say ten fold these days?). However, it bothers me when someone I meet says, “Oh, you’ve lived here for a year?! You must be fluent.” It doesn’t work that way. Nevertheless, it motivates me to learn more.
- Traveled somewhere far out of my comfort zone. Traveling to Morocco last year was so much fun. As much as I love picturesque Europe, I feel like there’s a large percentage of people who don’t acknowledge that there’s a world to be seen apart from the Western side. People live differently everywhere and it’s worth discomfort to have those experiences. We have some really fun travel ideas for the upcoming year!
- Started networking through Couchsurfing. We’ve met many open-minded, different people and new friends through this organization. I was terrified to try it the first time, but now we meet up and host people whenever we can, and always look to surf when we travel. It’s just another example how a bit of temporary discomfort can lead to some excellent benefits. In the same sense, we’ve uncovered a lot of great resources for budget travel.
This past year was full of personal growth more than anything. I learned to be uncomfortable by not always fitting in. I learned that life at home didn’t stop without me when I left. I learned problem-solving while traveling. I learned to loosen up while constantly surrounded by a culture of no pasa nada. I learned to question what’s worth getting offended over and what isn’t. I learned that it’s important to respect everyone’s different values.
Last year I was much too focused on what people thought of my choices. I worried too much about how I would appear to Spaniards if I committed whatever social faux pas. Also too often, I let my homebody side take a hold of me in the winter weather and stayed in when I should have been going out. So, a goal this year is to not fall back into those same patterns. After almost a month of down time to myself, I’m ready to put some plans into action. Wish me luck!
I’m so grateful that I chose to step away from American cultural norms and what was expected of me so that I could look inside myself and alter what I wanted. I found multiple ways that I could change. We live with a lot less here, and I feel more and more confident as time goes by that it’s how I want my life to be: less “stuff” and more adventure.