I have been wracking my mind for days trying to decide how I can possibly write a succinct review of the past eight months. On my last day in Spain I was in a state of detached shock and felt incapable of being able to summarizing my time here.
I was asked if I regret any experiences while I’ve been here and I can honestly say that I would not change a thing about this trip. While there have been several terrible days and weeks, and a few instances where I wanted to pack up and leave, ultimately I can say without hesitation that while I have been here I have felt more alive than ever before. Whereas during my trip to France last year I felt that it was a metamorphic experience it was extremely static; I spent the majority of my time alone, whether it was running, reading, or working, I was isolated without realizing how detrimental it was to my happiness. Within Spain I allowed myself to open up to the world and as such I have had the luxury of witnessing the best and worst life has to offer. In Spain I created a slapdash life and while it was messy, chaotic and at times completely ill-advised, it was entirely my creation and therefore I have cherished each moment.
At my core, and it is perhaps one of my most reprehensible traits, I find I am a selfish person. I fiercely guard my independence to the point that I often shut others out without the intention of being malicious – I simply feel I am better off accomplishing my goals on my own. While in Spain I spent my working hours constantly interacting with people of all ages, nationalities and from multiple walks of life. I left several ill-advised love affairs in the past and focused my time and energy on including another person in my dreams and my life. Most importantly, I have been making the conscious decision to do so. In making these choices, I am learning to accept full responsibility for my fuck-ups (there have been many) and my small mistakes. Self-awareness has taken chunks out of my ego, however I think acknowledging our shortcomings keeps us grounded and perhaps more likely to exude caution in the future. I feel as though each month here has brought me a new lesson, sometimes in the form of a curse and other times as a blessing.
In April, I feel that I tackled my irrational fear of children. When I told people that I was going to be teaching English to a four year old, many looked at me with thinly veiled surprise and some expressed the general sentiment of, “Don’t take this the wrong way but… I can’t see you being good with kids.” Fair point all around, I don’t think I’ve spent time around kids since I’ve been one myself, and even then I found it painful. It took all of April and most of May before the child began to understand me, and after that we fell into a happy balance of him testing his boundaries and me being easy-going enough to let him get away with most of his insane antics. I doubt I will ever fill an au pair role again, but while I was teaching him English, he in turn was teaching me to be more patient, more nurturing and more playful.
In May, I learned the value of trust and honesty. I often view life as a highly idealistic and romanticized version of reality, and in my second month of Spain I realized the error of my ways. Upon departing for a six month sojourn, I expected to stay involved and connected with someone back in Canada. Upon discovering the perceived monogamy was (and had been) extremely one-sided, I immediately severed contact and realized that by harboring feelings for someone in Canada I had eliminated the possibility of meeting someone in Spain. In the beginning of May I applied online for several language exchange boards and was inundated with people willing to help me practice Spanish and probably several other skills. After weeding through the weirdos I came away with a few people who improved my Spanish and filled my social calendar. By mid-month I had gone for two job interviews and by week three I was training at a restaurant in the neighbouring town. I was lucky to finish my second month in the country with a visit from my best friend so I was able to show her what little I had gleaned of Spanish nightlife and the major tourist stops in Barcelona.
In June, I would like to say I learned about love but really I learned about lust and the mistakes we make in the pursuit of companionship and self-serving happiness. In attempting to forge connections I embarked on several haphazard and shallow endeavours. After realizing that European men are even more indifferent to fidelity within relationships than their North American counterparts, I decided to forego Spaniards and try my luck with Frenchmen (hey, it worked for my mom!). Gross miscalculation on my part, as I had a Frenchman declaring love and proposing marriage within weeks of meeting. I prefer to avoid confrontation when possible however I was forced to inform him I did not see us raising les enfants in the north of France. He did not take it well, and I learned a valuable lesson about ensuring your partner is emotionally and mentally stable before inviting them to stay with you. The more you try and push yourself towards someone the less likely a relationship is to flourish; the best connections seem to happen when you least expect it and are barely paying attention. Such is life.
By the time July rolled around I was learning a valuable lesson about time management. As my young charge finished school in the end of June, in July he spent his mornings at summer camp but I had him for an extra two and a half hours every day. The decrease in free time left me biking to work at the café in the morning from and then biking back to Sant Pol to ensure I was ready to pick him up on time. In the evenings I tentatively began to devote my time to visiting a British native in the next town over, which meant hopping back on my chariot of choice (yes, a mountain bike) and spending nights and mornings at his place. As a result of this wildly irregular schedule July passed in the blink of an eye and I was extremely burnt out by the end of the month. I spent several days in Paris and the change of scenery gave me a bit of a second wind vis-à-vis the traveler’s life.
In August I learned the importance of moderation. The month started with a drunken late-night dip in the ocean and a man choosing to abscond with my belongings (namely my keys, cash and brand new cell phone). I can chalk that lesson up to numerous factors – never spend $600 on something that can be taken that easily, never leave your clothes out of reach when you’re in the sea at 5AM and probably don’t drink to the point that you can’t chase down the dude who stole your shit. I had three weeks off from work with the child, so I filled my time with several beach days, more shifts at the bar and trips to Lisbon and Madrid. After nine-hour bar shifts I would typically bike home to nap for a couple of hours, then bike back to party with coworkers until six in the morning and then repeat the following day. In Lisbon I met up with a group of fellow traveler’s and once again drank to excess, which resulted in several afternoons in a haze of tequila sweat and hugging porcelain. Self-control has never been one of my strong suits, and August was yet another wake-up call that the emphasis on alcohol on nights out will never bode well for me. As such, this month was my “party month” and it passed me by quickly, greased as it was on its alcohol wheels.
As the summer months ended and life as normal resumed, I found myself being taught a lesson in levelheadedness. I was thankful to be able to resume a fixed schedule with the child in September as he started school the second week of the month. After realizing how quickly the summer passed I decided to quit the bar mid-month in order to have free time on the weekend again. After several unexpected events unrolled, I noticed my penchant to completely fly off the handle at the slightest inconvenience or unexpected occurrence. I was lucky to have my Brit throughout it all who was able to keep me as rationally calm as possible, and in overcoming obstacles I discovered the importance of inner strength. I don’t believe there are any insurmountable problems, it is simply necessary to maintain calm amidst the chaos.
By October I was being lulled into the steady rhythm of a rigid work schedule during the week and ample free time on weekends. Just in case life got too boring, I taught myself a valuable lesson in stepping outside my comfort zone. By the second week of October I had booked flights to take me and my Brit to Asia. The rest of the month resulted in me over-googling travel alerts for Southeast Asia and him reminding me to simmer down. As such, we both took a huge leap of faith and are hoping to continue our adventures together on the other side of the globe. I was initially torn between the safer option (relocating to Spain permanently and finding a job, apartment and all the other adult necessities) and this wild card draw. As it is, I’m glad to have someone who is encouraging me to feed my travel addiction and I can’t wait to finally cross that off my bucket list.
It seems fitting that my last month abroad resulted in a culmination of all the previous month’s lessons along with a few final twists to keep me on my toes. I walked away from my eight months abroad realizing that the most important thing you can do to overcome life’s little obstacles is to roll with the punches. In November I truly recognized how important it is to surround yourself with people who genuinely and unconditionally support your choices. The quality of the relationships you bring into your life have a huge impact on your quantity of happiness. While it is crucial that your close family and friends have a positive impact on your life, entering a romantic relationship with someone who constantly inspires you to be the best version of yourself is a huge factor in determining the direction your life will take. More than ever I realize that I am surrounded and supported by amazing people who will stand by my every inane endeavour. I am slowly, albeit reluctantly, accepting that for all my over-planning I cannot control everything that life will throw at me; at times I simply have to accept that I will be dragged through good and bad scenarios, but it is up to me to glean the lesson and move on.
I started writing this post on my train from Barcelona to Paris; I edited it during my flight from Paris to Toronto and now, safely ensconced in my cozy house in the suburbs of Mississauga, it seems insane to me that only a few days have passed since I left Europe. I feel like pieces of my soul have been perpetually scattered this summer and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet such amazing people in such a beautiful country.
I will never forget the past few months spent in Spain. My character and the very fibre of my being remains forever changed as a result of my trip. As I resume life in Canada for the winter, I am already dreaming of Bali beaches…