When I was eleven-years-old, I told my mom that I would move to Spain one day.
Why? she would ask.
I dont know Mom, I said as I mounted my Razor scooter (anybody who was anybody had a Razor scooter back then).
I just know that one day Ill move there and marry a Spanish woman.
I couldnt explain why, and I still cant. I just had to go to Spain. The fact that I couldnt explain why was precisely why I felt the calling was real. All of the seemingly practical things in my life the things I ought to do were easily explainable. I had just graduated from university. It was logical that I should find a stable job with good benefits and a 401k.
But this calling had no explanation for existing, it simply was. It also had a touch of danger and adventure to it. I couldnt resist. I was working for my dad at the time as an electricians apprentice and I was struggling. I only stayed because I needed the money and because I love my dad. He was the greatest boss in the world, but I was tortured by the thought of doing this for the rest of my life. He was completely understanding when I told him I had to quit.
I wrestled with the idea of not going, but then I realized that this was a chance to do something different with my life.
If I stayed in the United States, life would have been, well, predictable. I would get a job in sales, move to Boston, climb the corporate ladder, and eventually start a family. It felt like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It wasnt going to be enough for me.
Mustering as much courage and naivety as I could, I decided to move to Spain to become an English teacher.
My parents came with me to the airport to see me off. When we got to the security check, my mom had tears in her eyes. It was time to say goodbye. Honey, have the time of your life she told me. I was her only child, but she has always been my number one fan, cheerleader, and trusted advisor. As much as it may have hurt, she never would have allowed me to not go.
When I first arrived in Spain in late August, it was a shock. Not a culture shock, but a I just threw up in a trashcan because I am so stressed because I cant find a place to live and I am five days removed from being homeless shock.
We were led to believe finding a place to live in Madrid would be easy; but it was, for lack of a better word, hard.
It was also hot. I mean, hot. One hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit and no breeze hot. So hot that you cant sleep hot. So hot that you need to peel the fabric of your clothes off of your salt-drenched and sticky body like a bandaid at the end of the day hot. Spaniards have a saying hace un calor de cojones which directly translates to its hot as balls but Im not sure that does it justice.
Once I did finally find a place to live and the weather got cooler, things began to settle down.
I began teaching at a bilingual high school in Madrid. I was one of the lucky ones. My teachers gave me a fair amount of responsibility; allowing me to lesson plan for entire History, English, and Geography classes. Most of the time, I felt like a real teacher. Contrast that with the horror stories of some auxiliars whose teachers made them count crayons at the back of the classroom until class was over. I started to form relationships with my teachers and students; they went out of their way to make me feel like family.
Some people in my teaching program came to Spain mostly to travel. They would use it as a springboard to Ryan Air jet set to a new European city every weekend. That looked like fun, but I was determined to be in, travel around, and explore Spain.
I didnt just want it on my Instagram, I wanted to feel it in the marrow of my bones.
The traveling I have done has been mostly within Spain. I realized that, for me, to travel well is to have the darkened, unexplored corners of your being illuminated. Its a spiritual experience if nothing else. As Id walk down a certain street or into a certain church, I would think to myself, Maybe Ive been here before in another life.
Learning the Spanish language proved more difficult than I assumed it would be. Much more difficult. Spaniards, especially those from Madrid, speak at an incredible rate. The sheer quantity of words fit into one single sentence is mind-boggling. Whatever this beautifully unintelligible conglomeration of noises and throaty sounds is, I thought, it isnt Spanish. Ive stuck with it, though. Ive made a point to speak the language at every available opportunity. Its still a frustrating process, but I never thought I would have made it as far I have in nine months.
Ive also been taking Salsa dance classes every week. At first, it was just a fun way to take part in one of Spains many cultural traditions. But little by little, it began to take on a life of its own. If learning the Spanish language makes the culture come alive in your mind, then Salsa makes the culture come alive in your body. The sensation of your and your partners body moving in rhythm is electric. When danced well, its sensuality, intimacy, and grace in motion.
I can honestly say Ive never felt more comfortable in my skin before. In part because of how Ive grown as a person here; the insecurities, fears, and anxieties Ive let go of. But also because of this country. Spain has a way of giving people permission to relax and be themselves. The contentment is palpable here. Back home it often felt like a death race to the finish line, and I was not cut out for that lifestyle. While Im constantly challenged in Spain, these are the challenges I want: living on my own, learning more about myself, discovering what its like to stand on my own. I can feel myself blossoming and thats the most fulfilling part.
Ive made some great friendships, and a handful Im certain will be for life. Some will be staying here with me next year, others will be leaving and moving on with their lives. But life is a revolving door, people will always be coming and going. I try to cherish the limited time I have with the people Im with now, knowing that everyone has their own path to follow. I have to accept that some people in my life will be marathoners, others will be sprinters.
I did however manage to convince my best Spanish friend to be my girlfriend, which is my favorite part of this story. I was basically forced to ask her out after I accidentally sent her a text (which was intended for my friend back home) explaining how much I liked her. Thats another embarrassing story for another day, though. For now, Ill just say that shes one of the best things to ever happen to me.
These are a few snapshots of my journey here so far. Its gone nothing like how I expected it would. Its only been nine months, and as this year comes to a close, it feels more like a beginning than an end Ive already decided to return to Spain for the coming year.
I still struggle with the idea of moving back home. I think there will always be a pull to return to where things are familiar. But then there are always those moments which remind you why you came in the first place. Like when we caught a taxi in Barcelona and the driver was driving us to the fountain in Montjuic. The driver and I started speaking in Spanish, but my attention was drifting outside looking at the buildings we were driving by. Before I knew it, I realized we had been having a whole conversation in Spanish. It flowed effortlessly. The language came pouring out of me in a way I never imagined possible. I couldnt recognize myself as the person who used to be afraid to order a coffee.
In that moment, I didnt feel like a tourist anymore. I didnt feel American, but I didnt feel Spanish either.
I felt home.
When I came here I spoke almost no Spanish. I was an outsider. I didnt know why this longing brought me here and I still dont. But the deeper I fall in love with this place, but the more I think, Yes, this could be home too.
Thats the hardest part. This would all be so much easier if I didnt like it here, if I didnt meet my girlfriend and if I didnt fall in love. Then I could just go back to the United States and tell the story about that one time I moved to Spain for ten months and ate tapas, drank Spanish wine, and met a beautiful woman. Then I could just get on with my life.
But love makes us do crazy things. Instead I have to come to terms with the fact that this may be much more than a ten-month vacation. This might be the start of a brand new life.
Its funny, Spain is a beautiful place, but in hindsight, it wasnt the beautiful, picturesque landscapes I fell in love with. It wasnt the food and it wasnt the women though there is one particular beautiful Spanish woman and I did fall in love with her.
It was the people I fell in love with.
It was their warmth, their touch, which crept into my being like a thief in the night, and stole my heart forever.
They say that wherever you travel, provided youve done it right, you leave a part of your heart there.
Well, I left the whole damn thing here.
And if She offered it back to me, I wouldn’t take it back.
Not for one second.