10 Ways I Changed My Life After Living in Spain
There’s something magical that happens every time I return to Spain. From the moment I get off the plane, I don’t skip a beat. I grab my suitcase, head down to the metro station, and head straight into the center of the city. I don’t know where the sense of urgency comes from. Maybe it’s because Madrid was the first city that made me fall in love with the beautiful country that would later be my home or because it’s where I spent the year that I began the self-transformation process that led me to know my worth, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Four years ago, I reflected on my year of living in Madrid. I looked back with gratitude at the people and experiences that had made that year so beautiful and transformational for me. Though it’s been four years since I left my life in Madrid to return to LA, it always feels like coming home for me. Fortunate enough to have lived in the capital city of Madrid and in the wine region of La Rioja, there are many things that the American in me had to adjust to. Being back in Spain always serves as a reminder of the ways I changed during my two years of living there.
10 Ways I Changed My Life After Living in Spain
I Slowed Down
Nothing forces you to slow down like everything shutting down in the middle of the day. In Spain, the siesta is sacred; it’s a national pastime. As a napper, I fully embraced the break in the middle of the day so I could recharge after work and start my personal time refreshed. With most businesses closed on Sundays, running errands on the weekends just wasn’t an option, which meant Sundays were spent on getting together with friends and doing some self-care. When you only have a year in a place, you tend to relish in the moment.
Became More Open & Spontaneous
Living abroad immediately puts you in a situation where you’re forced to sink or swim. When I moved to Logroño in 2011, I had never set foot in that city before. I didn’t have a smartphone then either, so much of what I learned and experienced was a direct reflection of how much I put myself out there. Eight years later, I’m still visiting my friends in that region and keeping in touch with my American friends I met while I was there. In Madrid a few years later, I challenged myself to say yes to as many invitations as possible. Local trips, late nights dancing, poetry slams, weekend getaways, and lifetime friendships made that year the most incredible.
Become a Neighborhood Expert
Like most cities, Madrid had neighborhoods with distinct personalities. That year, my friends and I all lived in different neighborhoods, which allowed us to become experts in our own little hood. Each month, I hopped on the metro or walked the 15-20 minutes to their neighborhood for drinks or a bite to eat. My roommate Maria and I made it our goal to find the cafés with the best desserts in our neighborhood. By the time I left Madrid, I felt a real sense of ownership of my home that year.
Learned to Travel at Home
Many of my Spanish friends joke about how I’ve seen more of Spain than they have. This is true. I have! The great thing about Spain is that it is similar to California in size, so traveling within it is fairly easy and inexpensive. When I lived in Logroño, traveling in the often overlooked regions of Northern Spain became my default travel option, as funds were limited. When I moved to Madrid, the transportation hub of Spain, traveling around the country became way easier. Trains, planes, and buses took me to 13 out of the 17 regions. I hope to check off a few more over the coming years.
Began Enjoying the Simple Things
Nothing makes me more happy than that first cup of café con leche right after landing in Spain. There’s a beauty to the way the sun feels as it sets late in the day on those summer evenings. Walking home at 2am and always feeling safe is a girl’s dream. Hearing the door to my apartment open and saying, “Hola?” and hearing, “Hola Miriam!” from my roommate. I realized that life is made up of all of these simple little moments. It’s the simple things that make life so worthwhile.
I’ve journaled on and off since I graduated from 8th grade, but it wasn’t until I moved to Spain that I began journaling daily. Not only has it allowed me to look back on those experiences, but it has also made me realize that much of the wisdom I seek is within myself. A few months back when things were tough, I would flip to a random page in the journal I kept in 2014-2015 and I would often give myself the advice I needed to hear.
A random sampling from September 28th, 2014:
“This is what I propose to myself: be fearless. When these random little desires start surfacing, instead of dismissing them, entertain them. If they linger, make a plan.”
This little nugget of wisdom here led me to learn how to play the ukulele, take a solo trip around Europe, and learn more about spirituality.
Teaching English abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It pays you enough to live comfortably, but generally if you want to be a jet-setter, you need to hustle a bit. That was when I first started side hustling. My friends and I taught private lessons on the side for extra money. I learned how to find the best deals in town. Traveling, you learn to be flexible and take advantage of those Ryanair specials for flights under 20 euros roundtrip. By just focusing on, “how can I make this happen?” you go into problem-solving mode, which has been the greatest gift of living abroad.
Prioritized Relationships & Experiences
There is nothing I miss more about Spain than the culture of prioritizing relationships. In Spain, you’d be out at night and see whole families at a bar, kids would be eating or running around, while the adults enjoyed some conversation and a glass of wine. I’d spend a Sunday afternoon talking to a friend for three hours. I remember telling my colleague how homesick I felt during my second month in Madrid and her and her family took me out to a Mexican restaurant. There’s something beautiful about the care and compassion that people showed one another there.
Put Myself First
There is a moment in life when you realize who it is that you are really doing everything for. Spain was the start of that. When you’re immersed in a new environment where you are the person you’ve known the longest, then you tend to listen to yourself first. I remember thinking to myself, “I’d like to celebrate the end of my 28th year by treating myself to an experience”. The Jazz festival in Madrid was taking place and it just so happened that on the night before my birthday, this old timey band was going to be playing. I bought a ticket, took myself out to dinner, and headed to the show. It was my message to the Universe, “Thank you for another full year of marvelous life”. It’s still one of my favorite memories.
Approach Life From a Broader Perspective
There are many things that don’t directly affect us that we choose to give our attention to everyday. When I lived abroad, most topics that felt emotionally charged were often approached from a broader perspective. When your new community of foreign friends asks you about controversial or taboo topics, you immediately realize several things.
First, that whether you want to or not, you have become a cultural ambassador for your country. They will ask many questions, some might be triggering, but you always have to keep in mind that much of it comes from a curiosity of your life being so different from theirs. Second, the answer you give says as much about you as it does about your country. I knew of several people who went through a difficult time because they were not able to have those conversations initially. They became so enraged talking about things that their potential new friends became weary of even saying hello. Third, you are reminded that at the end of the day, we are all human beings, each with our own struggles and stories, hopes and fears. When that idea settles in your mind, your perspective shifts. Those same people that had a challenging time at the beginning went through the most transformation in the end.
Focusing on what’s important
When I moved back to the U.S., loneliness welcomed me with open arms. The biggest culture shock was coming back to the U.S. and how much people prioritize the things that don’t really matter and allow their friendships to fall apart. It hasn’t been easy to keep these up back home in California. In fact, there have been periods of time when I haven’t focused on them at all only to find myself feeling burnt out. I hit a point a few months ago when I realized something needed to change. I looked back in my journals and being back in Spain has been a reminder of how prioritizing what truly matters brings back those little moments of joy throughout your day.
Fortunately for me, this didn’t last long. I sat down and asked myself, “How can I be relentless in the pursuit of the life I truly want to live?”. I made a plan and every day, I do a bit more to go towards that life. As I get ready to head out once more, I can’t help but look back on the last nine years of my life and how much has changed. I’m so grateful to Spain for the woman it’s brought out in me.