Well, here we are yet again. Where is here? Here is actually when. Today marks the one year anniversary of my return to American life from Spain. I wish I could say that in these past 365 days, I've profoundly capitalized on my international experience, and moved my life forward in leaps and bounds...or that I feel super awesome and tingly about what's to come next in my life. Again...I wish I could say these things, but I also wish that I was baking under the Iberian sun on a secluded beach in Andalucía right now, rather than sitting at than my sister's dining room table in Baltimore. I've previously addressed the ups and downs that come with repatriation, and more recently I've begun to recognize and accept that the process is ongoing and cyclical. But fortunately for you, the state of my present is entirely irrelevant.
You see, this is it. I'm back. Back to blogging. I spent two years in Spain. TWO. YEARS. And I've spent this last year unpacking and processing what moving abroad meant for me and what moving abroad did for me. So after much time, obsessive thought, and countless hours creating this new blog space, I'm ready to share it all with you. Are you ready?
One of the most frustrating questions I find myself answering whenever the topic of my former expatriation finds its way into conversation is, "Well, how was it?!". Sigh. As if I could really summarize how, exactly it was, in a sentence or two. The first thing I really want to tell people when they ask, is that living in Spain was EVERYTHING. Depending on the audience, they'll either get an abridged version of that answer, complete with eyes gone wide and musings of mischief and adventure. Or they'll get my standard-issue, "it was amazing and life changing", response as I segue the conversation onto something else. What I've told fewer than 10 people , however, is that due to my critical nature, I view my international experience as a stark illustration of my failures. You see, the year before I left, I created a list of the things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go, and experiences I wanted to mark my life. And honestly, I accomplished very little on that list. You may be thinking, omg (Ber)Nadette, get your fucking life! You moved to Spain, and had awesome times. And I did, but I can't help but look at all the awesomeness I planned for that never came to pass, and feel badly about it.
I didn't become fluent in Spanish. Learning a second language to fluency as an adult takes so much more time, energy, and money than I invested/was able to invest while in Murcia and Madrid. It's not that I can't carry my own in Spanish. The difference between my first weeks in Murcia and now, even with a year's worth of rust on my Castellano, is significant. And my accent is damn near flawless. But I didn't surpass that intermediate level where I could fully comprehend the language, and not have to smile and nod my way through a third of a long conversation, because I literally had no fucking clue what was actually said. More importantly, I didn't achieve that level of Spanish where I could smoothly tell a certain someone to "fuck off, stop insinuating that I'm stupid, and stop looking at the security guard as if I'm going to attack you, because in the event that I do decide to slap the racism out of your mouth, he won't be able to help you!" rather than stammering through a tearfully frustrated response as I shook with rage in the office of the extranjería in Madrid. Because being able to cuss people out in your second language is crucial when you're having a no good, very bad day in December of 2013. I'm so serious.
I didn't make any significant friendships with Spaniards. I had these visions of grandeur, complete with tapas parties and super Spanish cultural immersion experiences with new amigos. But the language barrier was a real damn barrier, and the cultural differences coupled with my "temporary" resident status made it difficult to form real lasting friendships with the locals.
Oh the places I didn't go. There were many, and I am sad. Money, energy, poodle care, money, and a crappy work schedule for my first 6 months in Madrid were what held me back. My first year in Murcia, I didn't see my first paycheck for 3+ months, which created a domino effect of financial constraints. In Madrid, though I was fortunately paid on time, the ripple that started the year before continued, and I worked close to 50 hours a week to keep up with my American and Spanish financial obligations. Life's a bitch, y luego se muere.
And overall, I just didn't change as much I thought I would. Or so...I think.? I thought? I have thought? I dunno! On second thought, I have changed. I was an English teacher for two years. How could I not have changed after working with children for that amount of time? I miss my kids, like actually miss them, and thanks to crafty social media stalking, a handful of my high school students keep tabs on me (and vice versa) via Instagram. More importantly, there definitely exists this space for compassion, and dare I say it, patience that didn't exist before. There was a shift. There were aftershocks. There is a space. The change, no matter how subtle, is there.
And here's where I stop my whining, replay those two years in my head, and look at them for what they were, rather than what they weren't. So I'm not fluent, but I learned Spanish well enough to date men who spoke little to no English for several months at a time before the language barrier became problematic. I would tell you about them had any of these flings turned into romances, but that's clearly not my life. The friendships I made weren't with Spaniards, but they were significant and those friends continue to be important in my life. From Los Angeles, Portland, Little Rock, and Tallahassee to Murcia, Madrid, and Brussels, my heart is invested in the friendships I made while adventuring abroad. As expats themselves, these friends get all of what this is, and that is priceless. And let's be clear, I did travel. Damn well I might add. Six countries outside of Spain, and dozens upon dozens of cities is nothing to snub my nose at. Besides, traveling is not about how many places you've been. It's about the adventure in and of itself, the experience that leaves a mark upon your life, and the memories you'll cherish till the day you leave this earth.
I could tell you more about those adventures. In fact, I very much plan to tell you about them. But after three long years of near silence, why I don't show you first?