*as originally featured on LAS MORENAS DE ESPAÑA*
It’s the time of year when all the expats, well at least all the English teachers, are deciding if they plan to stay another year in Spain or if their hearts and/or their pockets are calling them stateside.
While most people don’t plan to live abroad forever, veteran expats will tell you, one year easily turns to two and three and before you know it you’re calling a country that is not your own, “home”. Well, that’s obviously not the case for everyone and it’s not the case for me.
When I tell people in my expat community that I’ll be heading back to California by the end of the summer, their immediate reaction is shock: What’s wrong? What happened? You don’t like Madrid? And to that I answer: Nothing is wrong. Nothing happened. And I love Madrid. I just don’t think expat life is for me, at least not for the long term.
Amazingly, some of the very same things that drew me to life abroad (and that make it a great experience) are also the things that make it not for me. Everyday is an adventure, even if it’s just a little one. Coming across a new word you don’t understand or a new nuance of Spanish culture or just trying to figure out how to adapt a recipe from Pinterest to make with ingredients you can find locally.
Everyday has small challenges and while it makes each day that much more interesting, it’s also kind of exhausting. And if for a second you forget you are a foreigner, something will always put you right back in you place, on the outside looking in. It’s tough because us expats of color wear our foreignness on the outside, my brown skin and kinky natural hair. You might feel like everyone else on the metro at 8 a.m., but if you look around everyone might be looking at you. The old woman across from you is staring blankly with a confused look on her face at the English book in your hand and the man next to you looks like he is fighting the urge to touch your hair.
The travel never ends. When you’re living abroad some place new and exciting is only a bus, train or RyanAir flight away. My love for travel is what brought me to Spain in the first place, but you learn quite quickly that there is a big difference between traveling and living abroad and traveling while living abroad. There’s quote about traveling, something about the best part being coming home to rest your head on an old familiar pillow. I guess I never understood how important that part of travel really is. And while my pillow in Madrid is very comfortable (courtesy of Ikea), it’s still not home. When I return to Madrid from whatever weekend getaway, I don’t get that rush of relief and, in a way, it feels like the traveling never ends.
And then there are the opportunity costs. The opportunity costs of being away — of living abroad, and trust me, every expat has weighed them. Even though we love our lives in Spain, we can’t deny that there is a life back home that we are giving up or putting off for this. Like many fellow expats, I have no intention on teaching English for the rest of my life (no shade to those of you who do) and every year that I spend away is time that I’m not pursuing the career of my dream (whatever that is).
In all realness though, I’m having the time of my life here in Spain. I’m meeting the most amazing people in the world. I’m trying new things and acquiring a new language and, as corny as it sounds, I’m learning so much about myself (for real, for real). I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else right now, but as much as I feel like the odd duck saying it, I don’t want to stay forever. I want to enjoy every moment of it while I can and then I want to pack my things a head home because expat life is not my cup of tea… and that’s okay.