Life has a funny way of taking unexpected twists and turns that will eventually lead you to a new adventure, whether it be in your own city or town or a completely new one.
Up until about a month and a half ago, I was preparing myself for yet another overseas jaunt in South Korea. I was to begin teaching in a small city, Cheonan, in November in a well-known Korean language academy. I had already begun researching Cheonan, known as the “peace city,” and I was also looking into housing options with a host family.
In late August, I finished up my summer camp job (more on this later) in Istanbul, and headed back to Spain for what I originally anticipated would only be a few months. My plan was to see people in Madrid at some point, journey to Andalucía to see my brother who is currently working on the military base in Rota, and then find a hostel somewhere on the coast to volunteer at in exchange for room and board.
I got to Madrid around 8pm on a Sunday and one of my lovely friends, C, picked me up at the airport. Despite being extremely exhausted, I decided to go with her and a few of her friends to get some drinks in the famous La Latina neighborhood. Sitting in a retro bar, chatting about our summers and drinking cañas, I felt right at home.
“Ah, I’m going to miss this so much when I go to Korea,” I said, but in Spanish of course.
The next day, my plan was to go to Sevilla with a guy I found on BlaBlaCar, find a hostel and just relax for a few days before heading to Cádiz to meet up with my brother. Unfortunately, Madrid has a way of making me want to stay and, after a heart-to-heart with my friend, C, she decided that I could stay in her spare bedroom for a few extra nights and then head South.
One thing lead to another and I eventually found myself handing out my CV to hostels in Madrid, instead of Andalucía which was my original plan. I decided that I could weigh out my options and see who gave me a more attractive offer. Besides, being in Madrid would be so much easier in terms of the visa application procedure for Korea, and it would also allow me ample time to see most of my friends before I had to leave.
The next afternoon, I decided that I needed to get out of Madrid for a little to clear my mind, so I bought a one-way bus ticket to Sevilla.
I really enjoyed exploring Sevilla for the 2nd time. The first time I went, I was with a school group, so we saw all of the tourist attractions and learned about the city´s history. This time, I was able to walk around at my own leisure, see some of the city´s hidden gems and even experience the nightlife a little.
The hostel I stayed at, La Flamenka, was probably one of the best I have been to in a while. It was small and cozy, like an apartment, and it had an amazing rooftop terrace and bar. Many of the people there were solo-travelers like me, so it was easy to find people to do things with.
On my second night, I decided to check out a free flamenco show that our hostel recommended with a few people from Belgium and France in the Barrio de Santa Cruz. Although the drinks were a bit pricey, the show was great!
We ended up running into other people from the hostel, including a girl, A, from Brazil. “A” came to Spain to participate in a conference. “A” could understand English, but she didn´t speak a lot. However, her Spanish was quite good, so she and I communicated in Spanish while the rest spoke English, French and Dutch. She told me she learned Spanish because she felt obligated to learn so she would be able to communicate with Brazil’s neighbor countries. (Why isn’t this idea more present in the U.S.?) It was one of the first times I can remember that I used my Spanish to communicate with another non-native (besides awkward classroom activities and when I traveled in Portugal).
“A” was around the next day, too, so we ended up spending the day together, wandering around the city and sampling delicious Andalusian food. In the evening, we checked out the nightlife on calle Betis. We encountered lots of drinks and more free flamenco.
It was hard to say good-bye, both to the people I met at the hostel and to Sevilla. I told “A” I´d visit her in Brazil, but, sadly, I have no idea how many years it will be until I can save up the money. I was sad to leave, but, I was about to see my older brother, Jason-who I hadn´t seen in 5 years-so I was really excited for the next part of my journey!
I had a really great time in Cádiz with my brother. At first, it was a bit strange because it had been five years since we had seen each other and we had both changed significantly. After the first few hours, though, it felt as if we had picked right up where we left off.
We spent our time in Cádiz sampling Andalusian food, enjoying Spanish beer and wine, walking around the island, exploring the tourist attractions and hanging out on the beach. I had been to Cádiz once before, with my mom and little brother, Alex, but it was really nice to go back and experience it with my older brother. We got to see a lot of things that I had missed my first time, such as the museum and cathedral. Also, we didn´t have a crazy busy schedule like the last time I went (Sorry Mom!), which gave us more time to relax and catch up.
Our weekend together in Cádiz flew by and, before I knew it, it was already time for me to head back to Madrid where I had been accepted to volunteer at a hostel in exchange for a bed (more on this later, too). Due to the differences in the bus and ferry schedules, Jason left first for Rota and I took a night bus back to Madrid. We said our good-byes and promised not to let five years go by again before the next time we saw each other.
A few hours later, I got on my bus back to Madrid. I knew I should have been excited for the next adventure and to go back to my second home, but I started to feel upset. I felt like I was just bopping from one thing to the next, that I was leaving all of my beloved family and friends behind as I ventured on to new things. As much as I have always dreamed of traveling the world, I wanted nothing more than to stay in one place where I felt at home. I craved familiarity.
I thought about the past five years of life: the time that had passed since the last time I saw Jason. I have lived in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Philadelphia, Washington,D.C., Madrid (twice), and Istanbul. I haven´t really been in any of those places for a long enough time to feel truly integrated into the local culture (besides Wilkes-Barre/Scranton which I desperately wanted to leave). I had always imagined myself living abroad for years-possibly permanently- and experiencing new places and cultures. I once dreamed of a career in foreign service. However, I realized in that moment, on the bus heading back to Madrid, that I needed to plant my roots somewhere for a little while before contemplating my next move.
I got back to Madrid and starting volunteering at the hostel. My plan was to stay for a few months in my second home, and then head to Korea to start working. I figured that would be enough time for me to prepare myself for the big move.
However, there was still something that was stopping me.
It was a combination of things really: the fact that the recruiter (from a reputable company that had been recommended to me personally) kept offering me hourly positions instead of the monthly positions that I had said I wanted.
My financial situation was another thing that made me worry. How could I possibly go to Korea and start working as a teacher when I could barely afford the plane ticket?
And, the number one thing that made me worry: the fact that I was feeling overwhelmed by the idea of yet another big move. Starting over again from zero is never easy!
To forget about my stressors a bit, I went out with a few friends to a summer party at one girl´s apartment complex. It was the end of my first week at the hostel, and I was in the mood to hang out and relax. There was a DJ who was playing really great music and, after a few drinks, we found ourselves on the dance floor. I was having such a great time and, suddenly, I broke down.
“I really don´t want to go to Korea! I´m not ready! I felt pressured into applying to work there! I feel happy and comfortable here! Why can´t I just stay?” I cried to my friend, C.
“There has to be some way for you to stay.” She reassured me.
And that is how I found myself on the phone with a coordinator of the program that is associated with the one I did last year in Madrid, explaining in rapid-fire Spanish that I didn´t know I had in me, how much I wanted to stay here and renew my scholarship. I told her that I didn´t have things clear last year and that I was incredibly stupid for not renewing back in March when things would have been easier and more guaranteed.
After at least 30 minutes of scolding me for doing things at the last minute and threatening to report me to the police if I was just using them to extend my temporary residency card so I could travel Spain, it seemed that the woman sympathized with me, at least to some extent.
“There is a vacancy in a school in Torrelodones,” she said. “You´ll have to start the renewal process for your temporary residency card as soon as possible, though, because the window to renew will expire next week.”
The next week consisted of a crazy race around Madrid to hand in the majority of my renewal paperwork on the day before my window to renew expired. I had to make a ton of photocopies, print out forms, and even make an unexpected trip to my old high school in Getafe (about 30 minutes south of Madrid) to collect more paperwork. In the end, I was able to hand in (most) of the paperwork. Luckily, the important thing is that I “started” the process before the expiration date. Thus, I could still hand in things late if I had to.
Two weeks later, I ended up finding myself a great, economical apartment with amazing roommates. I moved in shortly after, left the hostel and have since begun work at my new high school.
The new school is excellent so far! It´s in a small village that is about a 40 minute commute from my apartment. The village is in the mountains and has beautiful scenery nearby. The center of the village has a lot of cute shops and restaurants. It almost reminds me of small New England towns. As for the school itself, the teachers are all great people who value hard work and feedback and are open to new ideas and teaching methodologies. So far, the students seem very polite and well-behaved. I had a great time last year, overall, but this year seems like it will be even better! I couldn´t be more excited!
As I said before, life can take many unexpected twists and turns. Our plans do not always work out, and we must have a plan B or at least figure one out quickly. Also, you are in control of your life. Don´t do something because you think you “have to” or you “should.” You are the one that has to live it. If you like where you are and you feel comfortable, you are paying your bills, and you are not doing anything harmful, then by all means stay and keep enjoying the experience. Life is too short not to enjoy what you´re doing at least to some extent.
It is very important to leave your comfort zone in order to grow. However, don´t feel pressured to make a big change in order to do this. I figured out that going to Korea at this point in my life would be too much for me to handle. I´m glad I recognized that before I actually went there. This time, if I do end up going to Korea, it will be on my terms when I feel 100% ready to take on the new adventure. In the mean time, I will be here in Madrid again this year, working in a new school, and looking for small ways to go outside of my comfort zone in a place that feels like home.