What to expect when you are becoming an expatriate
I am not one for relationships. I am horrible at maintaining friendships and I rarely have romantic partners,and barely use social media . In fact, I don’t even accept friend requests from distant relatives. For a long time, I thought that I avoided connecting with others in the hopes that I could avoid being tethered to any one person or place. I believed that I avoided relationships so that I could be free.
I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. And I always knew that I wanted to live abroad. I imagined a life with a pen in one hand and my passport in another, circling the globe collecting stories and creating memories on my terms alone. But experience had taught me that this type of lifestyle was not well understood by my friends and family. So, asI grew older, I became more and more reclusive to protect myself from all the questions that I knew were sure to come: Where are you going? Where’s that? How can you just leave us? So, how long do you plan on doing this? When are you coming back? And a personal favorite: When do you plan or settling down and getting a real job?
It was all too much, trying to constantly justify something I knew to be innately true for me. So I kept to myself. I did so, in the hopes that the life that I imagined would manifest. And I could live without being tethered to anyone else’s expectations.
In all my dreaming, one thing I never considered, however, was that I would have to cultivate a relationship with the new places where I would come to live. I never considered that there would be expectations waiting for me as soon as I stepped off the plane. While I was vaguely understood that I would have to adapt to cultural norms, learn local languages, become acclimated to the weather and accustomed to different foods, I didn’t fully comprehend exactly what that would entail. So, on September 1, 2015, I found myself in the Madrid airport hopeful yet, wholly ill-equipped to handle what was in store for me.
It was a rocky start from the beginning. The airline lost my luggage. Two weeks later, I found a great apartment and two seemingly great roommates to live with. But days before I was set to move in, the girls changed their minds and decided that they didn’t want to live with me. This left me effectively homeless for nearly a month. When I finally did move into my an apartment, which was still being constructed on the day that I moved in, my roommates and I had to endure an electric stove that wasn’t turned on, a washing machine with no water and electricity that liked to shut off at random intervals. Coupled with floors that buckled, mold on the bathroom and bedroom ceilings and shady business practices from the agency we rented from. Notwithstanding, that the principal in the Spanish school that I was assigned to, was a narcissistic control freak with no concept of personal or professional boundaries. And to top it off, I found myself often ill—fighting off the same sore throat and fever for nearly 8 months Suffice it to say, the last 11 months have been more than a little challenging for me.
What’s more, I no way to gauge how I should feel about the challenges I faced. I didn’t know if was I was facing was commonplace. I am not one to expend a lot of energy without necessity. Therefore, I didn’t know how angry I should allow myself to become when the bus I was waiting for never arrived or when a co-worker made a rude remark. In this new space, I had no idea what was normal and what was not; what was acceptable and what was not. Should I exercise patience, or apply pressure to get what I want?
Unlike many who move to abroad in the hopes of great love or adventure, I didn’t believe that I was making any demands on my new home. In my mind, I didn’t want Spain to be anything or than a different piece of Earth. And therein lies the issue.
I wanted a place that was free of my psychological drama without realizing that a country with 2200 years of history, may have accumulated some baggage of its own. Baggage that I as an American girl, had no point of reference to navigate around. What’s more, I failed to realize that in order to live here in this space, I could no longer exist as a recluse. The reality of life in a new country means that you were a person effectively without a past. Floating in a sea of strangers without a history to anchor you or any means to measure your achievements or compare your currents sorrows. There is no one who understands exactly how much you struggle to just get through the day as a new arrival.
In the States, I could be superwoman. I could survive on my own because I knew the cultural terrain. But in Spain I was reminded of my fragility, my humanity. That I too am a social being who needs someone to vent to, cry with, and laugh alongside. And lastly, I’ve finally com realize that I have moved into a space that existed long before me, and will continue long afterwards. That I have to make a greater effort to connect with it,to create a relationship that is personal and mutually beneficial. And I order to do so, I realize that I must learn to adjust my own boundaries and set my expectations accordingly.