Sunday, October 31, 2010

Learning From the Spanish

I've been in Spain for two weeks and if I ever had any doubt about my ability to adapt here and make friends, it is gone.  Every day I am more impressed with how warm and friendly everyone is, even if they don't speak English.  I'm committed to make Spanish friends while I'm here, beyond reasons of wanting to blend in here better and feel more comfortable.  The people have also taught me how to overcome certain frustrating tendencies that come from my culture and my previous situation.  They probably don't even realize how laid back they are.  There is something extremely refreshing about not needing to rush and taking your time.  My tendency is to be, admittedly, a bit up tight, in a rush, anxious.  But the environment here has taught me to just let go, relax, and stop worrying.  The world won't end if I am five minutes late or I get lost or I say the wrong thing.. whatever.  I find myself strolling now, as apposed to walking with a purpose and I don't seem to multitask quite as much anymore.  I am doing everything slower and it's made a world of difference for my stress levels.  I feel liberated from my anxious mind and at last it can be still.  Everyday I am more surprised by this place, this situation, the people, the lifestyle... It makes me that much more motivated to plug away at the language and make learning Spanish my top priority.  Ah, Spain... Thank you

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Need for Excitement

The need for adventure is creeping up inside again... Looking for jobs to teach online, I stumbled upon a website devoted to travel and adventures on the road from a backpacker's perspective (ironically enough, it is a site created by a friend and colleague of someone I am very close to!)  I can't deny my overwhelming draw to an adventure, the more out there these days, the better.  I've only been here for two weeks and I'm already ready to explore a new, very different location!  It's definitely my last experience in Europe that is driving the urge.  After moving around to 20-something different cities for three months makes two weeks seem like ages to stay in one place!  Now, the idea of getting settled into a job anywhere seems so dull even if it is teaching in Spain!  Will I ever be able to sit still?  The next adventure is already brewing in my mind before I've even had time to properly unpack!

On the flip side, I am quite motivated to see what the current adventure has in store.  It is so easy to live a pretty predictable, safe life in a city like Madrid, but it is also possible to stir it up a bit.  Today, like many other days since I've arrived, I decided to take advantage of free time and perfect weather to wonder the streets and get lost.  I found myself in a small neighborhood tapas bar, sipping my vino tinto, and writing up a storm.  While I've been getting adjusted, I've had a more challenging time get the words out right, but today the pen just seemed to move itself as the atmosphere inspired my literary senses.  As I finished up, I headed to the bar to, not so eloquently, ask for my bill.  The other young people sitting near me, heard the awkward fumbling of my terrible Spanish and some how it struck a cord.  They all spoke English (at last!) and were eager to make introductions.  Two beers later I had new Madridian friends eager to show me the town, teach me Spanish, and trade conversation to improve their own English.  As easy as that to have an adventure and only blocks away from my flat?  I can get used to this.  I've learned a valuable lesson and that is take risks, lots of risks, for the sake of inviting in all kinds of great new people and experiences.  It would be so easy to live here and play it safe, hanging out with people in my logical circles and avoiding places where I won't be understood.  But I think I'll do just the opposite because, what the hell, I only live once, and I really only live once in Madrid!

The Search for Balance

There are many hidden challenges to making a dramatic move.  One thing I didn't consider was the adjustment period of taking a step like this one.  My world has been completely changed as of two weeks ago.  It seems like ages ago that I was back at home in North Carolina where every single thing was predictable and familiar.  Now that the feeling of being totally aw struck is beginning to fade, I am facing the reality that this is home and I must carry on normal life here.  Taking things one step at a time was helping, but yesterday, when all of my email and facebook were taken over and ultimately shut down by an intruder, I had a rude awakening of how far away from that cozy life I truly am now.  It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized that I have no way to communicate with almost everyone from home and they cannot reach me either.  I also realized I have unknowingly created a crutch out of this computer.  It ties me to home to cope with living in a big city in a new country with a different language, people, lifestyle, values, routine.. you name it. 

So how do I find a balance?  It is so important to maintain it in order to feel confident about what I am doing here.  One striking challenge is socially, how do avoid clumping with other expats, specifically Americans, in order to absorb the culture and lifestyle of Spain, while still having a social outlet with people that speak my language and come from a more familiar environment.  The truth is, no matter how much I try, blending in with the Spanish people is virtually impossible.  I have only been speaking Spanish for a few months, but besides that, I don't want to be playing a part.  So I have to accept that fitting in is not an option, nor should it be something I want, even if it would help make the transition a bit easier.  So what am I?  An English teacher, an American living in Spain, a 25 year old girl, an expat... I don't want to be put in a box but in order to make this home I almost feel like I need to pick one.  Being free is liberating, but starting over is quite tricky.

All of these things will likely work themselves out with time.  Its tough to accept that on this quest for understanding and adventure, there will be times when I need to adjust and get comfortable before moving on to the next step.  The discomfort of the situation, the uncertainty of the future, and the possibilities that are around each corner are what make this exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. In this moment I feel hazy and confused, trying to latch on to what is known and clear.  But since I've been here, every day there is a feeling of being high that I cannot get at home; a feeling of freedom and appreciation for the course life is taking.  I just need to find a way to balance having a normal day to day life and it being part of a mysterious, exhilarating adventure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflecting on a Past Life

I just had a rousing discussion with my roommate right in the nick of time.  After an exhausting day of navigating through Madrid, forcing myself to do everything in Spanish and finding my way around this large city, my mind was on nothing but how challenging life seems.  I continued telling myself all day, as I again looked foolish using my weak spanish skills to perform simple tasks, "you are here for a reason.  It will get easier and you are growing from this!".  I was telling myself this, but that reason for being here was fading in my mind.  Deep down I was longing for some familiarity and comfort; that is until I came back to my apartment and got wrapped up in yet another fascinating conversation with each of my roommates to remind me why I am taking a stab at living abroad.  I preface by saying that I am not anti-American and I do acknowledge that there are problems with society all around the world.  But my life has been molded by the culture of the United States, and my first stab at a career was the apitomy of what many people would describe as part of the problem America's capitalistic culture. 

Corporate America.  IBM software sales was my experience with it.  It seems hard to believe that less than a year ago I was still plugging away at my deals, trying to sell my products to my various customers.  My whole life was dictated by my company once I committed to the role.  My day involved sitting at a desk in my home or in a hotel somewhere in MS or AL, trying helplessly to find purpose in the many tasks I was performing.  I had barely any human contact, with the exception of occational team meetings in the office or the akward customer calls I drove hours to hold a meeting.  I sat at a desk, at a computer, all alone, all day.  Part of my discussion today with my roommate was about this issue and he showed me a clip online of a system IBM is looking to impliment that would further thrust it's employees into a virtual working environment.  This is yet another example of an efficient way to do business now, saving money at the sacrifice of humans physically being in the same location.  Our world is shifting towards this rapidly as technology becomes an essential tool to save large corporations a great deal of money.  But what about the people?  What about the individuals who are already being morphed into isolated robots?  They are becoming more chained to their companies, having no division between work and home, with more tools to understand and the same expectations for results.  People outside the US see Americans on a macrolevel as these programed robots who work, shop, eat, and work some more.  Sure this phenominon is spreading, but as I live here in the third largest city in Europe, known for being the business hub of Europe, there is still so much culture, appreciation for life, human interaction.  If for a moment I was begining to foget why I am here, why I am taking such a risk and trying something so profoundly different than what I was trained to do, I now remember, quite clearly that I am doing this to live my life independent from that kind of control and "virtual reality". 

These converations are reminicent to the ones I had months ago while traveling around.  We would sit in hostels, over beers, and I would both defend my country and commiserate about it.  We all want to be proud of our roots and Americans get a whole lot of heat for how we do things and how we are effecting the world as a result.  It isn't the individuals who have done all this.  We are merely adapted to living our lives a certain way.  That way was not for me, but I cannot criticize those who enjoy the life style and the fruits of thier labor.  I love my friends and my family and many elements of our culture that I grew up with that bring me a warm, nostalgic feeling.  But I am not there for a reason.  I feel so divided.  My mind often reverts back to feeling guilty for not being "productive" or using my training in the "proper way".  But then I think of this new appreciation I have for the simplicity of living umungst a rich culture such as this one, taking care in preparing a meal and looking up at the people and the architecture as I stroll through the streets.  I'm focused on living, not producing.  One day I will have to commit to a vocation in order to afford a life for myself and a future family, but I will not do it in the capacity I did before.  A corporation will not eat up the beauty of my life ever again for the sake satisfying consumeristic desires.  That was a past life, and I now usher in the new, as akward and uncomfortable it may seem right now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making the Adjustment

After the exciting premier weekend in Madrid, I was rapidly brought down to earth by an unsettling Monday.  Nothing in particular went wrong, but a combination of late nights, jetlag, boozing, and the darkness of our apartment had me feeling completely thrown off.  Thankfully today I am back to having the skip in my step and feel like me again.

The process of adjusting to a new culture, language, lifestyle, and atmosphere can be quite exciting, but at times daunting, as well.  The hussel and bussel of the busy city had me craving fresh air and quiet time.  Combine that with our dungen of an apartment that gets not one ray of sun, it is easy to remain in a state of lethargia all day.  I attempted to get out and run errands dispite the daze I was in, but dealing with a new language takes patience and effort which I had absolutely no energy for.  Zapped, I gave in, came home, and slept the rest of my day away.  I must have needed the catch-up rest because that long nap didn't detract from my wake less sleep  I achieved last night.  Now I am energized and ready to face the city.  I am eager to try my hand at Spanish today, opening a bank account, getting a phone, and meeting a new Spanish friend.  Suddenly things are great again, a vast contrast to my day of dread yesterday that had my mind spinning about whether I chose the right place to start a new life. 

Even though there are several parts of this process that are quite unnatural and new, I already am seeing that this is home and feel pretty well adjusted.  My roommates are warm and open, so coming home is a delight.  We live in an excellent neighborhood near everything including a park and pretty much everything we need.  Not driving to run errands and instead using my legs is actually kind of fun. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune once the weather starts to turn, but by then I assume the full adjustment will be made.  While I already miss my family and friends, I am content and just need to keep my eyes forward and my mind open. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's the Catch?

The feeling of making a huge, life changine decision, the biggest thus far, and it being the best experience imaginable, is incredible.  What's the catch? I love Spain. I love the people, my roommates from around the world, my spanish friends, the store clerks and taxi drivers and our doorman... I love the atmosphere and the free spirit and the night life and day life. I love the city of Madrid because it just feels right. I moved here on a total whim. I can say all of this after only two days of being here that going with my instincts served me well. My advice to any person who is seeking an answer or a path or trying to make a decision is advice that has been given for ages: follow your heart. Follow that hunch you feel deep inside of you, even if it doesn't completely conform to preconceived ideas because ultimately, that is where your happiness lies. I believe it because I am living proof.  Now I am following the natural course that is in my heart, that I can feel;  not because of what I have learned or pressure from the outside.  Life is so beautiful when you follow that gut feeling. That is what love is, what happiness is, what so many people refer to when they feel light and joyful. I know I am an emotional, sensitive person and that I take things in a different way than many. But this feeling is very pure and even those people who are a bit more pragmatic and less idealistic can capture a feeling simular. Everyone deserves it. Every person deserves laughter and peace and love and happiness. It is fascinating how simple it is once you find it but how hard it seems to capture.

I knew I needed to be here, in Europe, for a reason I could not explain to people at home asking. It is an indescribable sensation that has very little to do with concrete reasoning. There are some specific aspects of life here that make it incredible, like learning a new language and living the European way, but in total its something much more powerful that can only be felt. I say all of this for anyone to read, fully aware of how honest and candid it is. I hope people who are free from judgement and seek that same inner happiness read this and find/ have found their own version of this awesome sensation. It is quite new to me so I am still taken back by it, much like the feeling of living in this new, amazing city. I'm awe struck right now. I feel so different that I can barely remember how I felt three days ago before I arrived. This is real and this is great. Really, what's the catch? 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm on my way

My departure could not have been more perfect as I was able to say my final goodbye to dad at the airport terminal.  Some how he too was booked for a morning flight out of Raleigh this morning so we got to share one more special moment before I head out.  Once we took off in the tiny jet, cutting through thick clouds into a clearing, high about the ground, I got an amazing feeling of euphoria and freedom as the reality of this endeavor hit me all at once.  Upon arrival in New York, as the flight attendant listed off connections, my ears perked up and when Madrid was announced an amazing surge of joy and excitement rushed over me. I feel as I did when I was hopping from train to train in Europe last spring.  Life was exciting yet simple and completely my own.  Any doubts I had about taking a risk and being so far from home has vanished.  It all feels so right that there is no room in my mind to question.  Sitting here in the airport lounge at JFK with an eight hour lay over, it is impossible to remain in that state of joy.  Of course I'm antsy and board and mindlessly sitting here watching day time television and playing sudoku, but once I board that plane and at last reach Spain, this lag time will seem like a distant memory.  Here we go!  Life is about to get real interesting...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farewell For Now

As I spend my final day for an indefinite amount of time here at my home in the states, I reflect on the past month or so, filled with goodbyes, and new memories with old friends, while looking forward to a mysterious future.  One thing is certain: I am leaving here on an extremely high note, filled with nostalgic stories, hilarious moments, laughs and hugs, best wishes and goodbyes.

I've learned a lot from the back to back events that jam packed my last few weeks before I depart.  Every day I say farewell to another friend or enjoy one more celebration with groups of friends in various places.  With geographic distance an accepted part of most relationships I hold now, it's easy to forgot how much love remains no matter how many miles are between us or how much time passes.  Even when that is not the case, when distance is not an issue and we see each other every day, it's easy to take loved ones for granted and forget the underlying bond that's always there.  But when separated and brought back together, or saying farewell for a long stretch of time, the connection with these important people are tested and reinforced.  While it's exhilarating to begin a new life abroad, being reminded that my friends are with me every step of the way gives me a warm, comforting feeling and the confidence to keep trekking forward down an uncertain road.

I love that every Fall there will be a Homecoming game in Boone and we will all reunite.  I love that Valentines Day now marks an epic girls' weekend and we will always be recreating this tradition.  I love that we come together for the Fourth of July in Charleston year after year.  Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl are not going away just because I may miss it for a year or two. We will make new memories with big trips, weddings, and any other excuse to come back together from wherever in the world we are planting roots.  I may be missing some of these reoccurring good times for now, but in it's place will be memories with new people in my life from around the world that is taking me to places I would have never foreseen.  Amazing travel companions from Spain have convinced me this is the next place to explore and live, and I will surely be revisiting places like Israel, the UK, and the Netherlands this year for the soul purpose of seeing people I met that I must see again. 

What I've learned from all the goodbyes I've said in the past month and the hellos I anticipate in the near future, is that the people truly do make the memories special.  Being a bit of a loner that cherishes solo moments, this is a concept I don't appreciate enough, but I feel truly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.  The relationships don't fade with time, they grow stronger and become much more precious as we continue down our various paths and add new people to the repertoire. Thank you guys for your amazing support and love!  See you again soon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Living Outside of the Box

There is a well known analogy that I've really embraced lately as I try to explain to my friends what the underlying reason is for taking such a bold step and changing my life all around.  The "Box" analogy basically comes down to acknowledging that for my entire life, just like everyone else, I absorbed messages, ideas, and standards that created strict guidelines for how I am "supposed" to live my life and who I am "supposed" to be.  I got these perimeters from my parents, peers, pop culture, and other influences that shaped my own perception and created my reality.  (In a book I once read it was called "domestication")  Over time they became a part of me and shaped everything in my life- career pursuit, relationships, image, you name it.  I thought I knew exactly what I wanted out of life and who I wanted to be, but never took the time to figure out why I seemed to want that.  The walls of the box started closing in more and more over time, when I was achieving these hard and fast goals, being who I thought I was "supposed" to be, yet not finding much satisfaction from any of it.  Seeing that there were walls was tough enough.  Breaking through the walls is even harder because it meant changing certain elements of who I have worked hard to be in return for an unknown world that lies beyond the walls of my box. 

Well I did it anyway, and what I learned was that there is still plenty of ground under my feet outside of the box to walk on.  The air is cleaner, not polluted by mental and emotional toxins.  I can see things much clearer now and possibilities for how to live life seem endless as opposed to before.  I'm no longer restricted by rules I created for myself and I can chase any dream I desire.  Of course, it's nice to go back to the box once and a while, experience the comfort of it, reminisce about the good elements of the past, take advantage of lessons I learned and skills I developed.  But the box is now open and aired out and I'll never build up walls around myself again.  Breaking the walls brought in too much light and I'm way to happy living outside of the box to ever close off to it again.

It's massively liberating to know that you control your own reality and no matter what the situation, everyone can afford to at least poke some holes in the walls of their box and let in a little sunshine with hopes that one day you will have the courage to step out of those rules and see that there are so many more possibilities and endless happiness that living inside the box could ever provide.