Madrid, Te Adoro

*Originally published on Mi Corazón Gitano en España blog*

Fulbright Family

As I look back on my time in Madrid, it's obvious that it was more than my teaching experience that made this past year so wonderful. First are the Fulbrighters. From that first moment in the lobby of our hotel exchanging glances and hellos up until the last toast, these guys were the foundation of my experience there. When I was feeling homesick, they became my home. When I didn't have anyone to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with, we came together to make those days a little less lonely.  

It was kismet. Every single person I encountered this past year showed me something that I won't soon forget. They reconstructed this girl, who at the beginning of this experience, was just a shell of her former self. At orientation, they told us we'd experience a dip at the end, much like the dip we experienced after our first month there, also known as "the honeymoon phase". They were right. The last few weeks were almost unbearable, but I came to realize that it always hurts saying goodbye to family. However, I'm more than confident that we will see each other again soon. I'm sure of it.

My Spanish Fulbright Year

It's a bittersweet ending to a transformative year. It is not a coincidence that led me there, but fate. From that powerpoint printout of a Fulbright presentation, I found in a box from my undergraduate years, to cheering with that last glass of Rioja wine with my fellow Fulbright grantees; this has been an awe-inspiring journey. This trip marks the end of a decade filled with nomadic adventures, wild dreams, and a powerful ambition to explore, discover, and dream. It also ushers in my 30s, a decade I have yet to know, but already feels familiar.

I went into the experience a broken woman, looking to rebuild myself in uncharted territory. While I did not feel the silence of solitude like Cheryl Strayed did during her hike on the PCT or balance of the mental, physical, and spiritual like Elizabeth Gilbert did on her journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia, like them, my experience led me to a calming inner peace. This endeavor brought me more than just something to put on my resume; it left me with a newfound sense of self.

What I'll Miss The Most

It's the simple things I'll miss about Madrid.

I'll miss the way interaction with others is prioritized. You're never too busy to get together for a beer or a glass of wine. Your lunches and dinners run hours long because when you're having a great time, why end it so soon?

I'm going to miss walking out on Sunday mornings and seeing Fuencarral (the street I live next to) closed down for strolling and playing. I'm going to miss the accordion player right next to my favorite ice cream shop, who is always smiling and providing us with a soundtrack to which to eat our heavenly cups of red velvet ice cream. I'm going to miss Madrid's beautiful balconies, providing character and elegance to every building.

Walking down Calle Sandoval, Madrid

Walking down Calle Sandoval, Madrid

I'm really going to miss all of the elderly people walking around, socializing, and taking care of each other. In the states, we have such a culture of sticking our elderly people in homes, ridding them of interaction and eventually, their state of mind. In Spain, they go out dressed in their best clothes, stroll at a glacier's pace, but eventually, they get to where they need to go. They have more of a social life than I do! They certainly dress better than I do.

These are the moments I'll envision when I daydream about my life in Madrid. But, when I want to summon feelings of happiness, I'll think back to the people that made this past year worthwhile.

I'll start with a few people who truly made school enjoyable. On my very first day, I was introduced to Antonio, Isabel, and Noelle. Day in and day out, these three people provided the much-needed support and sanity I needed to make it through those first few months at school. Isabel, consistently cheerful, always greeted me with a warm hug and a smile. When I was homesick, she was kind enough to make me a part of her family for a day. Antonio is a man of silent strength. He patiently listened when I'd go on and on about anything, really. Kind-hearted and warm, this man offered his support daily to me and those around him. For that, I am eternally grateful.                 

Antonio and I at the Dual Graduation

Antonio and I at the Dual Graduation

Last but not least, the yin to my yang, Noelle. Two California peas in a pod. Una rubia y una morena; we were each other's support system. Together we faced it all. We could not have accomplished as much as we did without each other. I know when she goes on to teach without me this year, the kids will see her as a source of strength, and for that, I am grateful.

Noelle and I :)

Noelle and I :)

On the home front, I had three strong, encouraging women to keep me in line. Leire, Maria, and Nerea complemented my life in different ways; too many to name here. What I can say, is that there were countless moments of laughter, venting sessions, and surprising moments. From the beginning, we got together to make special moments even more special. On my 29th birthday, the girls got together with my Fulbright friends and organized a surprise birthday dinner for me. It was much more than that though that made them family.

For me, the smaller moments are the ones that truly matter. Leire comforted me in the aftermath of my breakup, despite only knowing me for a few days. Maria kept me calm in those last few weeks when anxiety was suffocating me to the point of despair. Nerea provided much needed comedic moments and a logical perspective on things. Together, we made each other's first year in Madrid enjoyable and memorable. It was them I spent my last evening with in Madrid. They were the ones I cried to when I was feeling homesick and it's them that make me miss home now.

It's impossible to condense everything I felt and experienced into one post, but that's not my intention. I'm writing this to express my gratitude for the people and moments that shaped me this past year. This opportunity was challenging but empowering. Fulbright granted me more than a year abroad; it provided me with a chance to see myself the way others could. They saw my potential to be a leader and to guide others to see the potential in themselves.

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Thank you, Madrid. Thank you for buffing out the rough edges of my soul and making me shine once more. I'd like to give a special shout out to Elena, Lauren, Rachel, and Mckenna for being the most kick-ass support group a girl could ask for. To Neelay, Danny, Dan, Keith, and Karsten, thank you for keeping it real and treating me like one of the bros. And to all of my friends, thank you for the tears, laughter, and the countless meetings over café con leche and vino tinto. Let's do this again soon.