A Spanish Transformation
*Originally published as "In My Life" on Mi Corazón Gitano En España blog*
It’s remarkable how much of an impact a place can have on your life. One year ago, I was sitting on the balcony of my 6th-floor piso in the neighborhood of Chamberí, watching the sunrise over the red bricked buildings on my street. I was contemplating many things that morning, but mostly, I was trying to ignore what I had worked so hard to acknowledge all year. In Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist, the king tells the boy to listen to the omens that the universe sends out. I had my own omen that morning, as I had all that year. It was the feeling that I shouldn’t leave. It was a feeling that I had felt for about a month before I left. It was a bolting, searing pain in the pit of my stomach. My gut was telling me to stay, but my head disagreed.
All year, I had listened to the omens. I had allowed them to guide me through the journey at hand. They served me well. Yet on this morning, I found myself swatting at the omen like a pesky fly. Part of it was that I knew that this particular leg of my journey was over. My Fulbright contract had ended. The community I had been so blessed to be a part of for the last ten months was quickly dissipating before my eyes. We had many goodbyes. People left, one by one, to pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, academics, and activists. I was the second oldest out of the English teaching assistants. Already feeling like I had pushed my luck to be there. Therefore, I too felt that it was time to say goodbye.
That thought was contradicted as I sat out on that balcony that morning, coffee in hand, heart on my sleeve. My roommate, Maria, soon joined me. We sat together, reminiscing about the cosmic coincidences this year had brought us. The universe had conspired to bring me here, at this time, with these people. As I said goodbye to everything and everyone, the one thing I didn’t realize was that there were some important things I would be leaving behind.
I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge those things I left behind. I never grieved for the woman I left out on that balcony during that early morning sunrise over one year ago. I didn’t even realize that I had left her there until I searched for her in a panic, in the pockets of my carry-on, and at the bottom of my suitcase. I worked hard to become the woman I became. I woman full of confidence, poise, and joyful disposition. When I was back in California, I struggled to find her.
People have a lot of misconceptions about traveling and living abroad. One of the biggest is that the homesickness is greatest after your first few months living abroad. I would say that if you’ve had a profoundly life-altering experience such as mine, the homesickness begins when you return “home” and carries on for a long, long time. That is why coming back was so important to me, even if it was just for a visit.
There were many reasons that supported my decision to return to the grandmother land. For one, I wanted and needed to reconnect with those who were still around from my Fulbright group. On my first night, I got my wish, re-establishing connections with those who I hadn’t seen in over a year.
We drank cañas, did a rapid-fire catch up, y bailamos hasta la diez. The strangest thing was the overwhelming feeling that we hadn’t been gone a year. It felt as though we had all gone on a really long vacation and came home just in time to celebrate the end of a great year. The perfect start to a three-week trip.
My second reason for coming back was that I had promised a special group of students that I would be back for their graduation; I kept it. The look on their faces as I walked into the grandiose foyer of our enormous Catholic school was enough to have me come back. I watched as they walked to Pomp and Circumstance to get their American high school diplomas.
At the reception, I chatted with them about their future goals and pursuits. Their parents were elated that I had flown across the globe to support them on this special day. We chatted over red wine and bonded over our mutual love of the kids and Mexico (random, I know). The evening ended with a much-needed heart to heart with one of my favorite human beings on this planet. Life was good, but not really.
Over the course of one year, I had contemplated many things. I felt that I had become a much more open-minded individual during my year abroad, but that isn’t necessarily true. My insistence on returning to the States stemmed from this archaic thought that I could never build a life abroad. I couldn’t fathom falling in love, finding a job that I could be passionate about, and adjusting to my new culture de por vida. A year or two, fine, but a lifetime? No. As I walked into my old apartment, I felt how wrong I was.
The significance of this trip is hard to put into words. As I walked through my old piso, greeted by my wonderful roommates, I realized that there were many things that remained the same. I scanned the living room and looked out towards the balcony. As I walked out and sat down to look over the red-stoned balconies, I was reunited with that girl I had left behind one year ago. I felt at peace, sitting there, looking over the rooftops and balconies of the buildings surrounding mine. I channeled that peace when I had downtime and headed out to rediscover my city. I sat alone reading in cafés, began frequenting my old haunts, watched some Eurocup games, and took myself out to a movie like old times.
Looking back on the last few years, it was the omens that led me back to Spain. Our lives are like a “choose your own adventure” book. We can pinpoint moments where decisions we made could have changed the trajectory of our story. Trust me, there are plenty for me. Despite my longing for my adoptive country, I know that I was meant to come back. I have been immensely influenced by the wonderful people and opportunities I have had this year. 30 is not what I expected, but it is my present and it is up to me how to use it for my future.