Updated: Aug 11
While all my friends were looking for jobs and internships my senior year of college, I decided to take a gap year. I was not entirely sure what I wanted to do for a living, but I knew I wanted to travel. When I found out about the Auxiliary program in Madrid, it looked like a great use of my time. Not only did it provide me with a job, but allowed me to improve myself. I looked forward to learning Spanish, joining new organizations and teaching ESL.
During orientation they told us that a lot of participants would want to stay another year. I thought “No way that is going to be me.” Applying for my visa was stressful, and I thought that I knew that the last thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life was teach and be away from my family.
Covid-19 made me reevaluate all of that. Once the opportunity was gone, I wanted it back. I realized that I loved my students, and ESL actually helped them in the long run. It was also good that teaching was not my dream job at first- it took away all the pressure of impressing my co-workers and proving myself.
Why I love Spain/Madrid
Unlike other times I had lived abroad, Madrid opened itself up to me. People enjoyed socializing and letting others into their groups. I constantly found that total strangers would start conversations with me and even invite me places. Madrid was innovative, I became presented with once in a lifetime opportunities: festivals, meeting other residents from all over the world, unique entertainment concepts. It felt that whatever niche one had you could find it. linguaphiles, writers, book lovers, musicians from all genres, sports teams, teachers, hikers, food fanatics… Not only that, but the city looked the way it felt. Everywhere you looked there were apartments with balconies, crumbling but colorful architecture, brick alleyways. It is beautiful, warm and old. I almost never felt lonely. Frustrated, yes. Tired and confused, yes. Angry, yes. But it seemed like there was always some one I could find to reach out to.
The urge to leave the country was also not that strong. Every city and town had its own personality. The culture of Seville or Barcelona was entirely different from any other Spanish cities. Even though it is not a very big country, it felt expansive. I wish I had the opportunity to explore it more.
That is not to say it was easy. I was criticized for how I spoke Spanish, even other native Spanish speakers told me it was difficult for them too. Bureaucracy is slow and at times tedious. Spaniards can be quick to judge at times. In a culture that puts such importance on family, it was hard to not miss my own. The daily schedule is completely different then in the US, and sometimes that made me tired and required some adjusting. Working at a Spanish school, I had to explain myself a lot because I did not understand something or did something culturally differently.
The last two days in Spain were some of the hardest in my life. The embassy recommended that we had to leave, the middleman organization I had used to get my job told us they could not offer answers or support if we stayed. I had to decide within a couple hours if I would leave my job, apartment, my friends and my belongings. I was scared for my safety, getting on an airplane that may be a breeding ground for Covid. I was scared for my parent’s safety, if I brought the disease home to them or anyone else in my family. If I stayed, could I trust the people I had only known for a few months to take care of me? Would I leave to late and be locked out of the US? Could I return to Spain if I left?
I do want to document what moving (and then suddenly leaving was like for me). That is why I am writing this, for posterity. I love Spain, and really appreciated my time to grow there. I definitely want to go back. This was probably one of the worst endings I could have. One of the things that is getting me through this is that even though I left Madrid, Madrid didn’t leave me. People in Madrid are still helping me and contacting me. I can cook Spanish food, continue learning Spanish. No one can take my memories and skills away from me.
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