It has been almost a year since I decided to drop everything and move to Spain, knowing beginner level Spanish. I thought of teaching abroad on a whim one day when I realized I was running out of ways to get paid while traveling through Europe. When I found out about the teaching program in Spain I applied with full intentions of being denied acceptance, because you know my Spanish was awful. After getting my application in on the day it was due I was offered acceptance a little over a month later. It was almost June and I would leave in August so I had to make a quick decision of if I was going to spend a year in a foreign country, where I can barely speak the language. I thought, I’ve done this before, it can't be that hard. And with that I accepted the offer and was off to Spain a mere two months later. Looking back on my expectations of this experience, it couldn’t have been more different from what I thought. Traveling to another country and actually living there are two completely different things, and I was lucky enough to have had some traveling experience before I left.
I had traveled and lived in different countries before, but never this long. One thing I clearly remember about my time living in Ireland was that it was too short. A Summer is too short to really experience what life is like in that country, by month two you are still in the "honeymoon" phase with your new home and by the time you are leaving it is all fond memories. Along with traveling somewhere every weekend it felt like I had really only lived there for a few short weeks. It took me about 3 months in Spain for it to really settle in, for me to realize that I am living here not traveling here. All the things I didn’t like about the experience came at me full force. I still had a solid 8 months to go and I hated squeezing onto a crowded train for 1.5 hours, twice a day, every morning. I hated not being allowed to speak English to my coworkers. I hated not being able to walk outside and see trees… or even grass. I decided to shed some light on how different traveling a country is from living in a country, because once the “honeymoon” phase of your travels wears off all thats left is you and your country of choice. You either adapt and accept or be miserable, the choice is yours.
Didn’t see this one coming… it seems cliche but it is true, traveling tests your patience, but living in another country is kind of like taking it to the next level. When traveling, your time in that place is temporary and it can be easier to find patience when you know its only for a little while. When you are stuck in a place long term it hits you, you are forced to accept this cultures way of life because you don’t have any other choice. Slow walking, shoving in the streets, and the absence of please and thank you’s were all things I reluctantly had to accept as “cultural differences.” It always seems to be the little things that happen every day that test your patience, it has to be a conscious choice to let it go and see that sometimes people just do things differently.
The true mark of understanding for me was when I actually accepted that just because they are doing something different does not mean they are mean or bad people. I always considered myself very “understanding” and “empathetic” but I clearly hadn't experienced many situations different from mine. The more exposure to different ways of life you get, the more understanding you will become.
Whether it is conversing with the clerk at the grocery store or traveling to another country alone, you are constantly being put out of your comfort zone. Every single day, when you leave your apartment and expose yourself to a foreign way of life you force yourself to grow and become stronger because there is no other option. If you love your new life in a different country, you grow and if you hate your life in that new country you grow even more. Everything that happens give you a choice on how you are going to let it affect you.
When living in a foreign country you have to be flexible. You have to be able to make it work or you wont be happy. It is so important to find things that make you comfortable, but there will be many things that just wont be like home. You learn to adapt and accept as you go.
You will gain confidence in every sense of the word. When I first arrived in Spain I was to afraid to even attempt Spanish, so I never spoke it. It simply got to the point where I had to force myself and at least make an attempt. I am not going to sit here and say “you’ll realize that people are nice if you just try” because sometimes people aren't nice and they are angry that you are in their country butchering their language. But those experiences are what makes you better and more confident. If one persons rude comment about your ability to do something can bring you down, it may be time to rethink things.
Doing anything out of your comfort zone is hard and takes time to get used to, but it is always worth it. Whether you love it or hate it I can promise it will be an essential life experience. So if you are thinking about making the trip, your biggest concern should be where to go.