Monday, June 15, 2015

The Ghosts of Junes Past

Sometimes, in order to see where we're going, it helps to see where we've been. At least, that's what I believe. In my daily handwritten journal, I quite often take a moment to look back and see what exactly I was doing on this day a year ago, to observe what I was thinking about, to read about my worries and laugh at how much things have changed. 

Although I'm not going to share any of those exact journal entries with the whole wide internet (far too embarrassing), I thought I'd take a moment today to take you on a trip down my memory lane to where I was on this date years and years ago. 

I first left home at the ripe old age of 18, so that's where we'll start. 

In mid-June 2007, I had just finished high school and was taking a trip out to Maine for orientation at my new university. I was the perfect picture of teenage angst, having just broken up with my high school boyfriend and feeling like I would never love again. I couldn't wait to be an adult, to kick the dust of the Midwest off my feet, and start all over in a new exciting place, but I was still incredibly annoyed that my mom wanted to take pictures of me in Acadia National Park.

Struggles: Not having a summer job, missing my ex-boyfriend

Fears: That I wouldn't like my new roommate, that my new classes would be too difficult, that I would feel homesick in a new place all alone

Hopes for the next year: That Maine would fill all my lofty expectations, that I would find amazing new friends, that I would finally feel grown-up and independent when I left home

By the time June 2008 had rolled around, I had settled quite nicely into life in much so that I almost considered not coming home for the summer! I thought I had made those amazing lifelong friends I'd always dreamed about, my classes the previous year had gone well, and my homesickness had mostly dissipated after the first few months there. Going back to the Midwest for the summer was a slight culture shock, but I made up for it by exploring places in my hometown that I'd never been before, seeing everything with new eyes.

Struggles: Readjusting to a summer of Midwestern life after being away for a year, trying to become close again with my high school friends, starting to learn Spanish

Fears: That my Mainer boyfriend would find someone else while I was away, that my friends in Maine would forget about me over the summer

Hopes for the next year: That I would continue to grow closer to my friends in Maine, that I would find a cool yet cheap place to study abroad in

Summer 2009 found me living in Spain for the first time, glad to escape Maine for awhile after a huge blowout between my boyfriend and my best friend there. After much deliberation, I'd chosen to study in Bilbao. This was because it was close to France, which I thought meant that they would be similar culturally. I was very, very wrong. I was trying to get better at Spanish but having a really hard time. I wasn't alone in my struggles, however, as I learned to do new (also super difficult) things like surfing with my fellow American study abroad students.

Struggles: Not being able to express myself in Spanish AT ALL and constantly mixing it up with French, not immediately loving Spain and regretting not studying abroad in France like I'd wanted to

Fears: That I'd made a mistake in coming to Spain and that studying abroad wouldn't be the experience of a lifetime like I'd always dreamed

Hopes for the next year: To become fluent in Spanish and travel all around Europe

In June 2010, I had been back in the States a few months. Even though I had mixed feelings towards Spain at the end of my time studying there, once I was back in Maine I missed being in Europe and traveling so badly it hurt. I was spending the summer working a retail job that I hated, which really brought me down since I wanted something more for myself. There were only a few bright spots in that otherwise depressing summer, which were watching Spain win the World Cup and finally exploring Portland, Maine. I even went to a cool gay pride festival! 

Struggles: Feeling inadequate because I was the only person I knew who didn't have a cool summer job in their chosen field of study, missing Europe and my life there

Fears: That I wouldn't be able to find a professor to advise the thesis I wanted to write on the translation of poetry, that I would get stuck working retail forever, that the majors I had chosen would make me unemployable

Hopes for the next year: To find a graduate program that would lead me towards a job that I would find more fulfilling than working in sales

In summer 2011, I had just defended my thesis, graduated from university, and left Maine for good. I had forgotten all about going to graduate school. In the end, my desire to go back to Spain won out, and I had been accepted as an auxiliar de conversación in A Cañiza, Galicia. So I went back to Illinois and spent the summer with my family and old friends, waiting to leave. That was a little dull at times, but I did take a couple of cool trips, like one to the rolling hills of West Virginia! There, my sister, her husband, my nephew and I went ziplining with Ace Adventure Resort, which was--in a word--awesome. I loved swinging through the trees like George of the Jungle!

Struggles: Being single again for the first time in nearly four years, leaving behind all my friends in Maine, trying to gather together ridiculous amounts of paperwork for a Spanish visa

Fears: That I would hate Spain again, that I had forgotten all my Spanish, that teaching would be a nightmare

Hopes for the next year: To travel a lot more around Europe, to finally have Spanish friends

After my second year in Spain, by June 2012 I was feeling very comfortable there. I had no desire to go home for the summer when I had the legal right to stay, so I took a position as an au pair in a suburb of Madrid. Before I left Galicia everyone told me I was going to asar (fry) in the capital, but I had no idea how much! The heat was unbearable. That coupled with being stuck in the suburbs was a bit difficult, but I was able to spend some time exploring Madrid and learning more about day-to-day Spanish family life. My Spanish also improved quite a bit!

Struggles: Feeling lonely because I knew no one my own age in Las Rozas, getting broken up with in Spanish via text message, dealing with the summer heat of Madrid

Fears: That I would never make close Spanish friends in Vigo, that my living situation would be as miserable as the year before

Hopes for the next year: To join a weekly Couchsurfing meeting and make friends there, to live with Spaniards, to become more integrated at my work in A Cañiza

The summer of 2013 found me leaving Spain again, this time with a very heavy heart. I didn't want to leave behind the amazing life that I'd built for myself in Vigo, with fun activities, great friends, and some incredible Spanish and German roommates. But I also realized that opportunities to realize your life goals (like living in France) don't come around every day. I knew that if I didn't go to France, I would always regret it. So I reluctantly said my goodbyes and faced my destiny. But before heading back to sweet home Chicago to get my French visa, I got to go on an awesome Eurotrip with my parents to gorgeous places like Lake Bled, Slovenia! That made the pain of leaving Spain lessen ever so slightly, and I was glad.

Struggles: Saying goodbye to my wonderful friends and life in my favorite city in Spain (Vigo), packing two years' worth of possessions into one suitcase

Fears: That I would hate living in France and regret leaving Galicia, that my French was awful and no one would understand me

Hopes for the next year: To become fluent in French and have a year in France that would fulfill the fantasies I'd been having since I was 14

At this time last year, I was doing some final little trips around Brittany (like to Brest) before leaving France. I had incredibly mixed feelings about leaving, as I'd had a real rollercoaster of a year. I didn't feel quite finished with France. It seemed like there was still more to learn, and definitely room for improvement with my French. But at the same time, Spain (like the jealous ex-boyfriend it is) wouldn't let go of its firm grasp on my heart. So I was going to be heading back to the States soon, a pitstop on the way to my fourth year in Spain. I was starting to feel super nervous about being a graduate student and was a bit uncertain whether teaching was actually for me. I'd just finished a year working at a really difficult school, and wasn't sure whether my struggles were a reflection of my inadequacies as a teacher or just the result of a hard situation. 

Struggles: Feeling sad over a relationship that was about to end, already missing the friends I had just said goodbye to, getting tired of changing countries just as I was beginning to feel comfortable

Fears: That it would be really difficult to get a Master's degree, that everyone else would know more about teaching than me, that I would hate living in Madrid

Hopes for the next year: To feel integrated and fulfilled in my new teaching job, that my Master's classes would be interesting and informative, that a graduate degree would make me more employable

2015 (The Present Day)
So here we are in mid-June 2015. I'm spending my time saying goodbye to all my favorite people and places in and around Madrid, because as far as I'm aware, I'm leaving Spain for good this time. Of course, I thought that two years ago, and six years ago as well, so one never knows. But that's the plan. I'm working on finding a big-girl teaching job without the title of "assistant" attached to it, in a place I can legally live for more than one year at a time. I've just finished my very last Master's class and I'm getting ready to graduate next week. Then I'll be off on (perhaps my final) big European Vacation with my parents! Getting ready to (I think) end my years in Spain is a big step for me, but my heart isn't quite so heavy at the thought of leaving this time. It feels like the right decision in order to further my teaching career and accomplish my life goals, so I'm going more or less without regrets. 

Struggles: Trying to plan a big vacation while also doing 2-3 interviews a week, saying goodbye to all my beloved little students

Fears: That my Master's degree will be very difficult to validate in the USA, that I'll never find a job because of my lack of American teaching certificate, that I'll really miss living in Spain and struggle a lot with culture shock wherever I end up

Hopes for the next year: To have a more permanent job working with the age group I prefer in a place I could see myself living happily for several years, to feel more stable in life, love, friendship, and everything else

So what have we learned from this exercise?
One, I should be incredibly wary of romantic relationships in summer. I have literally never broken up with anyone significant at any other time of year. Weird, huh?

But more importantly, the real value of seeing the things that haunted me in Junes past is noticing how insignificant they seem now. We humans sometimes get lost in the all-consuming concerns of the present. We forget that our worries of today are our silly anecdotes of tomorrow. 

It's hard to remember that the things I'm so worried about now will eventually resolve themselves. It seems impossible to imagine a world in which I have other things to think about. But looking at my past problems and knowing that everything worked out just fine makes it easier to know that the fears gnawing at my soul today will seem funny on this date in one year, five years, ten years. 

Does that mean I can forget about them now? No, of course not.

But maybe it will help me to feel just a little bit less scared of the unknown. And every time I feel a little less worried and afraid, it makes it easier to move forward. 

In the end, that's my biggest hope for all future years: to know that qué será será and to learn to embrace that with open arms. 

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