Saturday, March 28, 2015

10 Times When Foreign Languages Felt Impossible

I think most of us who have ever tried it can attest that learning to speak a foreign language well is no easy task. Even just making mistakes in front of our peers in school is pretty embarrassing for most language learners, let alone us few brave (crazy?) souls who have moved to a foreign country and look foolish speaking another language every single day of our lives. 

So innocent, if only I'd known what was in store for me...

Of course, it gets easier with time and a great deal of practice, but unfortunately foreign language learning is a lifelong process. Even after years of practice, when you think you know what you're doing, little things can surprise you. You still make mistakes. Silly ones, yes. Things that you thought you should have down by now. Things that will forever give you away as a non-native speaker. 

 Even more annoyingly, there are certain moments when speaking a foreign language is SO MUCH HARDER than it is at others. It's these moments when you feel like everything you've learned has been a waste, when you're completely lost for words. The times you trip up seem to always be at the EXACT moment when you need to sound your best. 

What I've learned is that strong emotions and making sense in a foreign language do not mix. 

I've had a LOT of these uncomfortable instances, some worse than others. To give you an example of the types of moments that make my ability to speak a foreign language go right out the window, here is my list of the top 10 moments when speaking a foreign language felt utterly impossible.

At First:


1. I'd just arrived in Spain for the first time, ready for 9 months of studying abroad in Bilbao. I was reasonably confident in my Spanish skills, having taken a few semesters of it before leaving. So the very first day in town, I'd been told by my study abroad program that I needed to make my way to my new apartment on my own and sign the paperwork with my new landlord. I was a little annoyed at not being given more help (even the address indicated on a map would have been nice!), but I thought I knew enough Spanish to figure it out. So I hailed a cab to take me to the little town of Getxo. Except the cabbie didn't know the address I'd told him, and couldn't find it on his GPS. He ended up dropping me near Getxo's main square, telling me to try calling someone to help me. Yes, great idea, if I had a phone OR the landlord's phone number! So, dragging my heavy suitcases behind me, I started walking until I found someone to ask about the street. One terribly annoying thing about Getxo at this time was that all the names for everything had recently been changed into Basque on the street signs, but none of the people in town actually used those names when referring to said places, they still used the old Spanish names. So, almost no one knew what street I wanted. But finally, one little old lady knew where I needed to go, and was happy to give me directions. One problem though. I had no idea how to say the words left or right. So...her directions made absolutely no sense to me. Pretending I'd understood (being too embarrassed to say I hadn't caught a single word), I went off in the direction she'd pointed, hoping for the best. After dragging my suitcases around what felt like half the town, and following several more pointing fingers, I did eventually make it there. And later that night, I looked up "a la izquierda" and "a la derecha" and committed them firmly to memory!

The double RR in Calle Gobelaurre didn't help my cause, I'm sure!

2. A few days later, my new roommates and I were trying to order a pizza over the phone. In general, speaking a foreign language on the phone is utter torture, although I didn't yet know this at the time. But I was about to learn how the absence of body language and hand signals makes a HUGE difference in comprehension. I started ordering the pizza, thinking everything was fine, but the girl on the other end had no idea what I was saying and was getting increasingly agitated. My Spanish was so bad that the worker at Telepizza thought I was a prank caller and hung up on me! 

3. I had lots of problems eating at first! Another day not long after that, I was starving and wanted a chicken kebab. However, I couldn't remember if the word chicken was masculine or feminine in Spanish, so I just took a chance and said one to the worker at the kebab shop. But of course, I picked the wrong one. Pollo means chicken, but change that last O to an A, and suddenly you have a slang word for penis. So yes, I asked for a roasted penis kebab, and the look on the man's face was priceless!


4. My second semester in Bilbao, after many situations like these and realizing that my Spanish needed some serious help, I decided to change from living in an apartment with other Americans to a homestay with a Spanish family. I imagined them taking me in like one of their own, teaching me about the Spanish language and their culture at the same time, like my own parents had done when we had exchange students when I was little. However, that was not to be. I was soon introduced to the world of people who host foreign exchange students mostly for the money said students pay them. I barely saw my host parents in the first few months I was living with them, and we rarely talked. 

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I wanted to try to rectify the situation and get closer with them, so I asked them if I could try to cook them some traditional American Thanksgiving foods so we could have a little celebration, and they seemed excited about the idea. I'd never cooked Thanksgiving dinner before, so I decided to give myself plenty of time and start in the morning. I was making my way pretty blindly, following directions my mom was giving me on Skype. Around 2pm I'd just taken a squash out of the oven, and my host mom came home, upset. "What are you still doing in the kitchen? My husband will be home any minute wanting his lunch, and you can't still be in here! He's going to be really angry! Finish this up, fast! What do you still have left to do?" 

Surprised, I tried to explain that I was going to pick the seeds out of the squash, then leave it to cool while I made the pie crust, then put that in the pie pan, then I needed to mix the rest of the ingredients together with the squash, and put them in the crust, then cook it all. O sea, not a quick task. I offered to take a break while her husband had his lunch and continue later. But she wasn't having any of that. I'm pretty certain than my explanation of what I had left to do had left something to be desired, since she picked up the bowl of squash, seeds and all, and dumped it into the pie pan. "Finished! Now move it!" Frustrated, I tried once again to explain just how many steps I had left to complete, that there couldn't be seeds in the squash. But now she was angry. "Your Spanish is awful. You don't make any sense. You're not improving at all, and no wonder, you're always on Skype with your American boyfriend and your parents," she yelled. "And what is this nonsense, 'cups, tablespoons?' This is Spain, and if you want to be here, you need to use the metric system!" She went on and on. 

Holding back tears, I continued trying to work and explain to her what I needed to do, but it soon became impossible. I'll never forget the helplessness I felt in that moment, when I just wanted to explain myself, defend myself against my host mom's attacks, and the words simply weren't there. Even if I HAD known the cooking vocabulary I needed, the strong emotions brought up by all the yelling made thinking about verb conjugations and the gender of nouns seriously impossible. All I could think about was not letting her see the tears in my eyes, and how the lump in my throat made it feel like I was choking with even the smallest attempts to talk. Eventually, I had to tell her I was going to stop for awhile. Then I went to my bedroom so I could cry about the whole situation on the phone to my mom. This remains, to date, the hardest time I've ever had speaking Spanish, and that awful feeling will probably never fade from memory completely. 

Yes, the pie did eventually get made, thank god, and I gave most of it to my friends instead of my awful host family!

At Work:

5. A few years later, I was getting off the bus from the airport in Vigo, ready to start working as an auxiliar de conversación. My new boss came to pick me up from the bus station and take me to A Cañiza, where I was going to be working. I'd seen on the internet that the place was remote, but as we headed off into the mountains, I began to realize just how far from everything it really was. He got me all checked into a hotel and told me he'd see me the next day, at the school, which was just next door. "Just walk in and ask for me with the secretary, she'll know where to find me," he said. Jet-lagged out of my mind, I agreed without thinking and made my way up to my room and collapsed into bed. 

A Cañiza

What felt like moments later, I heard a knocking on the door. Confused, I saw the cleaning lady poke her head in. "Son las 12, tienes que irte." It was already noon the next day! I quickly got dressed and checked out, leaving my things at the front desk, and headed over to the school. The secretary did indeed lead me to the director, who quickly introduced me to my new colleagues. So many new people! My head was spinning with all the names. I was quickly led off by the head of the English department, who wanted to know what types of lessons I had planned for the high school students I'd be working with. Huh?? I thought I was just an assistant?? When it became clear that I had never taught before and had no idea what I was doing, she led me back to the staff room, where people suddenly started asking me where I was going to live. "Uhhhh....I don't know," I said, completely overwhelmed. I had thought about it, of course, but I didn't really know what I should do, and I'd been hoping there would be people there to advise me. Soon enough, there was a group of teachers gathered around me, arguing about whether Ourense or Vigo was better, while I tried desperately to follow the conversation through my jetlagged fog, unsure whether I was actually going to get any say in where I'd be living or not. I couldn't figure out how to break into the conversation to give my opinion since they were speaking so fast (not that I was really sure what my opinion was anyway). Finally, it was decided that I would get a ride from one of the English teachers back to Vigo. So that was where I ended up living! 

As we drove 45 minutes back towards Vigo, I indexed my mind for topics to chat about. It had been years since I'd had to make small talk in Spanish, and I had forgotten a lot. I felt super rusty, in addition to still being so jetlagged. We covered the basics in about 10 minutes, where I came from and why I wanted to be in Spain, etc. And then? Wanting to make a good impression on my new coworker, not wanting to be known from the very beginning as the "Awkward American," and not able to remember enough vocabulary to talk about more complicated topics, I started rambling about the only Spanish words I could think of at the time--family. So I talked at length about my nephews and niece...for a full 30 minutes. 

Eventually, as we drove an hour and a half together per day several times a week over the next two years, my skills in making small talk in Spanish got better...a little. And my poor coworker learned a LOT of random things about my nephews and niece! 

One of the best views of Vigo

6. When I was working in A Cañiza, one of my coworkers was always trying to convince me to have lunch with everybody in the comedor. I did sometimes, when I was too lazy to pack myself a lunch, but most days I didn't feel like paying to eat school cafeteria food. However, I also had another reason not to eat with them, which was that it was SO AWKWARD. Most of the time at school, the teachers who didn't speak English would talk to me in Spanish, which was fine. I understood them well enough one-on-one, and my Spanish was improving enormously. However, at lunchtime, when talking to each other, many of them would revert back to their native galego, the beautiful cousin to both Spanish and Portuguese spoken in Galicia. I have no problem with galego, I think it's a very pretty language, but back then, especially at first, I couldn't understand a word they were saying. And this was exacerbated at lunchtime, when the cries of the children were mixed with forks clanking on plates, when there was a group of 15 Spaniards all excited to talk to one another and constantly interrupting in increasingly louder voices. I would sit there, trying with all my might to follow along for about the first 10 minutes, until I got too tired and gave up, staring off into space. This isn't the only time I've felt bewildered during a mealtime conversation surrounded by foreigners, but I've rarely felt as lost as I did when surrounded by people shouting and interrupting each other in galego.


7. One morning earlier this school year in Alcalá, I woke up to a terrible text message from my mom. "Grandma fell. Not expected to live." Distraught, and knowing that they would be flying out to Arizona in the morning and I couldn't call until they arrived, I was distracted all morning at school. Finally, at lunch time it was late enough that I could go outside and try to call. Cursing Skype for not connecting me immediately when I felt like I was going to go crazy if I didn't hear something soon, I eventually got some more details via Whatsapp until I had to go back to eat some lunch before my next class. Unable to stop thinking about it all, unable to cover the distress on my face, the second I walked into the lunchroom everyone knew something was wrong. A group of teachers gathered around me as I sat down, wanting to know if I was all right. Although I appreciated their concern so much, trying to explain the situation in Spanish seemed impossible, when I needed technical medical vocabulary that I've never learned. The second the first words left my lips, tears started running down my face. A hug from someone helped more than she probably knew, but I was incredibly grateful when they let me stop talking and eat my green beans in silence, dabbing at my eyes as I chewed. It was so embarrassing to have cried like that in front of everyone, especially when Spanish culture is so much about showing a proper face to the world, but in that moment I was a sad emotional American, and I didn't care. But once again, I learned that speaking another language when you're crying feels almost impossible.

In Love:

8. I wish I could say this has only happened to me once, but it's a recurring incident. I'm single, so most of the years I've been in Europe I've been dating, or flirting with, or had a crush on different guys. Dating is hard enough in your own culture, but add different body language and a foreign tongue on top of that, and you have a guaranteed recipe for looking stupid. Something you have to know about Spaniards is that they touch each other WAY more than Americans do. Most of the time, this overly touchiness just makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable, but there have been several occasions where I got confused and thought that the fact that some guy kept touching me meant he was into me. So, I thought, I would try to flirt back. Except, oh my god is flirting about a million times harder in another language. You have no idea what the typical expressions for flirting are, you want desperately to sound smooth, except that with every word that leaves your mouth, you cringe, knowing you sound like Tarzan. "You boy. Me girl. We date?"And then, it turns out, he was just touching you because he's Spanish and that's what they do. Uffda! 

9. Last year in France, I actually did go out with a guy for awhile. Long enough for him to introduce me to first his grandparents and then his parents. His grandparents were adorable and hilarious, particularly the grandpa, who kept telling me funny stories about fighting in World War II and his American penpal who may or may not have been dead, since he hadn't heard from her in awhile. He immediately put me at ease with his humor and his incessant conversation, which didn't require me to talk very much. Meeting the Frenchie's parents, however, made me infinitely more nervous. Was I supposed to use vous with them or not? Would my French hold up to extended conversation? I was lucky, because I ended up using tu and they weren't offended, and they were very nice. However, sounding good in French with them wasn't easy, especially when they fed me tiny sea snails while we were doing so, which I was supposed to pull out of their shell with a safety pin, put on bread, and eat. Goodbye, any hopes of not sounding OR looking foolish! 

10. A couple of times here in Europe, I've gone out with a guy long enough that we felt ready to say the L word to each other. Except, in a foreign language, it's not the L word. And that's really hard. If expressing your emotions in general in another language is bizarre, because the act of using that other language turns off your emotions and makes you more rational, then trying to express this particular emotion is SUPER difficult. In my experience, having someone tell you te quiero or je t'aime just doesn't, can't, mean as much as if it were in your native language. To me, those words will never have the same impact as saying, in English, I love you. It is what it is, but that doesn't make speaking another language in this situation any easier!

In the end, this is the only solution to sounding like an idiot in a foreign language, whether the situation is happy or sad. Laugh it off, there's nothing else you can do about it!

Please, god, tell me I'm not the only one to have had these ridiculously hard moments speaking a foreign language. Am I???

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How I Accidentally Realized My Childhood Dream of Being an Expat Writer

When the soul of a man is born...there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.
-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I've always liked the word expatriate. It sang to me when I was a teenager, when I was moody and idealistic and very annoyed by the war in Iraq. I don't think I actually knew how to spell the word at the time, and so I thought of it as someone who used to be a patriot, and no longer was. Ex-patriot. They sound exactly the same, after all. I felt that this word described me perfectly, as someone who felt overwhelmed and saddened by the overly patriotic belief in America's supremacy that the country was full of at that time, in backlash to the September 11th attacks.

I was quite the romantic kid, as well as being probably the biggest bookworm you've ever seen. I could never be found without a book stashed away somewhere, including when I was out in public. I brought books to restaurants, to parties, even sometimes to the movies. Never let it be said that I'm not a nerd! So it's probably not surprising that by the time I was a teenager I'd devoured many works by the members of the Lost Generation (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, etc.), many of whom were expatriates in Paris during the 1920s. I highly romanticized these writers and their lifestyle, imagining them sitting in cafés along the banks of the Seine, drinking coffee and discussing important ideas.

I longed to be a writer back then, to move to France and share my ideas with others who were like me. To be able to call myself an expatriate, that magical word that seemed to encompass everything that I was and wished to be.

Little punk...

Ever since I've actually become an expatriate, however, that word has lost something of its charm, as I've struggled through language difficulties, loneliness, and strange foreign customs. I'd long ago given up those romantic dreams of being an expat writer, preferring a more practical route, even as I do travel the world.

And yet, something has kept me writing for all these years. I have more handwritten journals detailing my adventures than I care to admit, in addition to several online places (including this one) where I let my thoughts spill out.

Some song I was listening to the other day enticed my thoughts to time travel back to my teen years, and I had a sudden realization. I thought I'd given up my dreams of being an expat writer like Hemingway. But somehow, without even trying to, I've been following bits of his path throughout Europe, from the running of the bulls in Pamplona to the beaches of Normandy to studying about the Spanish Civil War here in Alcalá. And all the time, I've been writing about it. Maybe not publicly, maybe not well, but I have been.

The Running of the Bulls, 2009

American Cemetery in Normandy, 2014

So what exactly makes me NOT an expatriate writer? What about my life, about me being an expatriate and writing all the time about it, means that that dream is dead?

Absolutely nothing, I've realized.

I started writing on a regular schedule in Alisabroad this year just to see if I could. It was more an exercise of my willpower and commitment, a way to get myself out of the rut I've been stuck in for about a year, than any out of actual dedication to bettering the blog. I thought that my writing might get better as I practiced it more, and that sounded great, but I never really cared about if the blog got more views, if people liked it or not.

It's been a wonderful side product of writing consistently that my family and friends know more about what's going on in my life these past few months, that I feel just a little more connected with them through posting more often. But as I said last week, that doesn't keep me from feeling lonely, or like most people just don't get the difficulties I'm going through.

So, if I've decided I'm in fact an expat writer just like I always dreamed of (even if it's not my day job and probably never will be), why not do it really well? Why not find that group of fellow writers to discuss my ideas and drink coffee with?

Coffee for one IS a little lonely sometimes...

So, even though I'm still mostly writing in here for myself, rather than to please my demanding public readers, I've decided to make a real commitment to Alisabroad this year. And part of that commitment is going to involve me networking and making new friends with my fellow bloggers.

So that's why I'm pleased to announce that this May, I'm going to my first-ever blogging conference! I will be an official attendee of TBEX (Travel Blog EXchange) Europe 2015 in Costa Brava, Spain. This conference was recommended to me by a friend who works at my school, and it's super convenient, since she and her husband are also going, it's a short train ride away, and it falls on a long weekend from school. There is literally no reason for me NOT to go and learn about this whole new world of people who blog for a living, so I am!

I'm super excited that I'm going to be learning new things, meeting new people, and probably seeing lots of high-quality photos of pretty places. Even if I don't think I ever want to turn this blog into a full-time job, it will be a fascinating new world to dive into, and I can't wait!

Will any bloggers I know be there??

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Today I'm mulling on the complications of friendship and travel. There are certain moments in my life when I feel like I have the best friends in the world. There are others when I feel utterly alone. I'm learning this year about the importance of having a shared culture and language, how much easier that makes friendship. Most of my good friends this year are English speakers. And in some ways, it's easy, because we always understand each other. Even when our perspectives are different, our language and our culture are pretty much the same. It's easier to see where the other person is coming from. And we're going through a difficult experience studying and working together, which usually serves to either unite or divide people quite clearly. And that unification seems more natural when you have something in common in your background.

Of course, on the other hand, I've had some of the strongest friendships of my life with people whose culture and language had nothing to do with mine. Some of my best friends in the world are Spanish, German, Mexican...and I don't feel like those friendships are less worthy or valid just because there are occasionally moments of misunderstanding or culture shock. I've gone through different difficult moments with those friends, and felt similarly united with them. The problem, of course, is our geographical location.

Actually, that's the theme of my life so far, location making everything more difficult. Particularly friendships, or relationships in general. I was talking to a friend here the other day about how I have a difficult time keeping in contact with my old friends. How the only people in the world I skype with regularly are my parents, how with others I only write sporadically. And I could sense their shock. I guess I'm different, I suppose other people keep in better contact with their old friends. I don't know how, or to what extent, but I sense that I'm different.

In all honesty, I have a hard time believing that I'm such a bad friend. Maybe it's true, and if that's the case I would love it if my old friends would say something! But I really have to blame geography on this one, I think. The thing is, my friends never even know where I am! In the past 8 years, I've moved 6 times, not counting going back to my parents' house in the summers. I've lived in 6 different cities in 3 different countries, not including my hometown. I have never, as an adult, lived in one location for longer than 18 months at a time.

Considering all that, it's not surprising that I don't keep in great contact with a lot of my old friends. The ones I grew up with, I do try to see when I go back to Illinois in the summers, but some of them I haven't seen in years and years, and the ones I do see...well, they've moved on. I think that's normal, as our lives have taken very different directions and we simply don't have as much in common anymore. And when I'm not there...we don't have that much to talk about, I guess. It's been a long time since those days when we saw each other every single day. We've all changed a lot.

And all my newer friends, I never really had the time to get to know properly. I mean, generally we spent a lot of time together in the year or couple of years that we were in the same place. But a few years isn't that much, in a whole lifetime. And after that? We're worlds away from each other, in different countries and many hours apart, also living very different lives. Most of them have gone back to the lives they left behind when they were abroad with me.

A lot of the time it feels like I'm the only one who continues on wandering, still searching for that place to settle down and call home. I've had many temporary homes in the meantime, and I've loved them all in their different ways, but changing between them has given me a different life than nearly all my friends. It has made it more challenging to keep in contact with those friends, as well.

I guess I've been floating along these past few years, not really seeing the patterns and connections between these two things, moving constantly and relationships. But this has been a year of introspection for me. After a really difficult summer where I felt utterly alone and friendless a lot of the time, and now having new friends and wondering if it will be the exact same story with them a  year from now as it with my BFFs from last year, just seeing them on Facebook and commenting on their posts sometimes, I'm not sure what to do. I guess I can see that the only solution to my friend problems (actually a lot of my problems) is to stop moving and settle down. But ah, the eternal questions... Where? How? I'm still waiting to see, I guess is the only answer I have for the moment. I can only hope things will work themselves out, and do what I can to make that happen.

Am I the only expat out there with troubles keeping up to date with old friends? Do others lament the constant flow of people in and out of their life? Or is that just how life is and I need to get over it? 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Changing Feelings About Spain

I think my feelings about Spain have run the gamut. I've hated it, I've loved it, I've wanted to leave tomorrow and I've wanted to stay forever.

When I first got here, more than anything else I was bewildered. I had no idea what this strange country was that I knew basically nothing about, where I all of a sudden found myself living, out of the weirdness of circumstances. 

Over the course of that first year, I learned more and more about the country, and more than anything else, I compared it with America and found it lacking. The service was slow, the prices were high, and I hated jamón. I was often miserable, homesick and feeling trapped with the host family from hell, who screamed at each other in front of me and criticised my Spanish until I cried.

I was so happy to leave at the end of my two semesters in Bilbao, and having my flight cancelled due to inclement weather and being stuck in airport limbo in Madrid for four days was the cherry on the cake. When I arrived home, I was thrilled to no longer be stuck in Spain.

However, following that was one of the most stressful years of my life thus far, as I was tirelessly writing my thesis, working towards graduating from university, and slowly ending things with my (then) boyfriend of four years. And during all of that, I often found myself daydreaming of Spain.

I saw Spain as the solution to all my problems, the escape to which I could get away when I graduated. I yearned for another opportunity to do a year in Europe (which I'd been dreaming of since I was a preteen) the right way. I craved another chance to realize those childhood dreams, and so I decided to go back when I graduated.

The second year, I was still culture shocked by many of the same things as before, plus being thrown into teaching in the Spanish system with no training whatsoever. I debated for the first half of the year whether I would just go home like I wanted, or whether I would be optimistic and renew for another year and hope things would improve. In short, I was once again pretty unhappy, and felt like it was all Spain's fault.

But the last half of that second year and all of the third one, improve things did. Those were probably the happiest 18 months of my life so far. I felt settled in Vigo, I had stable friends that I cared about, I was speaking Spanish almost all the time, and I had plenty to keep me busy. I was learning to understand my work, I was earning plenty of money, and I was traveling somewhere new almost every weekend. I fell in love with Spain in that time, deeply and unexpectedly. By the end, I had even decided that I could see myself living in Spain forever. I laughed at those small things that had once annoyed me (like Spain's notorious inefficiency), and decided to see them as the price of admission for being in a country where people work to live, where relaxation and being social are celebrated parts of daily life, where wine comes with a tapa, and where I had come to feel at home.

At the end of the third year in Spain, I wanted to stay and keep living that happy stable life, but I also felt like if I didn't take the opportunity being offered to me to realize my preteen dream of living in France, I would forever regret it.

As is common, however, upon finally realizing my 13-year-old wish, I realized that it wasn't going to be all croissants in chic cafés, living the life of Amélie. France wasn't the same in reality as it had been in my dreams, and it took me a long time to adjust to the reality of the country. And during all of those first few difficult months, I clung to Spain like a security blanket. I talked of almost nothing else, to the extent that several people thought for awhile that I was actually Spanish. I fell even deeper in love with Spain, or my rose-colored memories of it, anyway.

I did eventually begin to assimilate to life in France, just in time to have to leave, but I had a plan: get back to Spain, through hell or high water. Spain was where I belonged, I figured, and things would work themselves out if I could make it back. So I accepted a spot in my current Master's program in Alcalá de Henares, and came back.

At first this year, I felt justified in my choice to move back to Spain, what I had been told was "the love of my life thus far." I was once again enjoying all those things that made living here worth it, like tapas and siestas. But as the year has gone on, my feelings have begun to evolve once again, towards negativity. Part of it is probably living in the province of Madrid, which I've never liked as well as Galicia, but I think there are two other factors that play a much larger role.

The first one is spending more time with other English speakers than I have since my study abroad days in Bilbao. This time around, it's not because I don't understand Spanish, but because we work together and we study together, and I haven't had a lot of free time to find quality Spanish friends in Madrid (other than an old Galician one who lives here now). Being around other Anglophones means having people to complain with about those little annoying parts of Spanish life. Every time we're given a random task to complete that seems utterly pointless and yet is required of us in order to stay legal here, every time something seems to have been organized bass ackwards, and every time we disagree with Spanish teaching methods, we have each other to turn to. That is wonderful, and it's a great stress reliever, but it's forcing those small annoyances to the forefront of my mind. Things that I learned to ignore during my 18 happy months in Galicia have begun to bother me again. I've remembered that there IS another way, one that makes logical sense and is efficient. This irritation is compounded by the fact that I'm so busy this year that I don't have the time to take advantage of the best parts of Spain--the food, the people, the sunshine, the cheap flights to interesting European destinations.

That brings me to the second factor in my current negative feelings toward Spain. This year, I'm working full-time as an assistant in a Spanish school. I'm there as much as the regular teachers are, and I share many of their responsibilities. But yes, I am STILL an assistant. This is the fourth year I've worked as an assistant, and some of the realities of the job are starting to make me crazy. I think to myself, if only I had my own classroom, if only I could run things the way I want to, if only I could plan my own classes. I could handle those realities when they came in exchange for a life full of free time, friends, and travel. But now? I work all the time, I get paid half of what a Spanish teacher does, and I have no life, no freedom to enjoy all those things I once loved about Spain. And that's fine for right now, but someday soon I'm going to want something more.

And the problem with Spain is, it can't offer me that. I can probably find a way to stay here indefinitely, yes. As an assistant. Moving regions every year or two. But can I ever have stability, a decent salary, and enjoyable working conditions? No, no and no.

Spain for me is starting to become like that boyfriend you have when you're young, who you love so much and you think you'll be with forever, until you realize he can't offer you any stability.

And so what happens? You break up. I'm starting to wonder if a breakup between me and Spain is in the near future. I've had so many ups and downs with Spain and still stuck with it that I really did think it was true love...but I'm starting to grow up now. I'm starting to want to put my things away and not have to worry about packing them into a suitcase again 9 months later, and that's how things will always be for me in Spain, I think.

My emotional journey with Spain isn't quite over yet, but this is the direction it's headed in for now, and although that makes me sort of nostalgic and sad for days gone by, I think it's what's right.

So I'm probably going to be in the market for a new country to fall in love with soon, and hopefully it will be THE ONE, and not just another ex-love writing sweet nothings in my passport. Any ideas?