“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
― Anaïs Nin
It’s been five weeks since I left St Pete. It’s been a month in my new temporary town in a lovely and probably not haunted (the walls are just thin) flat with Wi-Fi. Well, I sort of have Wi-Fi. I have Internet access at home but in the most annoying way possible. The first technician, who put in the phone line, placed the jack three meters from an electrical socket. Of course, I wouldn’t have known this until the second technician, the router man, came by and shook his head at the poor phone job before him. He told me to buy an extension cord until the first technician returns within 24 hours. A week later and the original jack is still in the wrong place. I now have two IKEA extension cords across my kitchen floor and Wi-Fi, sort of.
My immigration paperwork is almost done. It took two days, several trips all over town, and my most unflattering official identification photograph to date, although now, I have the three important papers that prove my residency until my ID card arrives within 35-45 days. Of course, I have to pick it up. It won’t be mailed or anything that convenient. Throughout this process I have learned a great deal about red tape and the many layers that one must slowly cut through to reach simple bureaucratic goals. (I could list them here but that seems like a TL;DR situation.) I just have to visit the health department, turn in my doctor’s note of good health, and I am no longer in immigration purgatory. I have a Spanish back account and will receive my stipend by the first week of November.
I still have not registered for postgraduate classes or Spanish lessons. Evidently, I am to wait until all the English teachers arrive in November. In the meantime, my ability to speak Spanish remains terrible but I can understand questions asked of me. I can pick out words I hear on the street or on the bus easier. I have had two English/Spanish conversation partners with mild success. Yet I remain disjointed, in that, my brain and my mouth do not play well with each other. I stumble, stutter, and swear, which is not the picture of a confident teacher, but I muddle through and make it home each day with a pounding headache. The words painfully swimming in my head: bits of nursery rhymes and awkward conversations with my fellow teachers poke and prod at my temples. Or it’s a tumor. Either way, I end each day exhausted with an ice pack on my head since I regularly forget to go to the pharmacy.
I say all this not for pity.
Believe me, I’ve been sulking and submerged in thick self-pity these past few weeks. Essentially, abusing myself for being so horrible in the classroom and in life. Recalling all the miscommunications over and over. Feeling alone but too scared to admit it. I say all of this to let my friends and family know that while I am struggling and exhausted, I am also, extremely grateful to be here.
There is this notion that if you make big changes then a big reward is soon to follow. The risks will be worth it in the end. The beginning is hard work and blind ambition, “no rest for the weary” and all that “never quit, never give up” stuff. No one ever mentions the middle. No one ever mentions the growing pains assigned to a massive lifestyle adjustment. Perhaps in terms of dieting and changing bad personal habits, but never in regard to the real emotional, mental, and physical changes that accompanies expat life – or just life in general, really.
From my month living abroad, I figured out that moving to another country does not instantly make your life better, living in a beautiful country does not make you any happier, and most importantly, there is no siesta. No matter where you physically go in this world you cannot escape the one constant: yourself. Happiness begins and ends in you but who wants to be happy all the time. That would be boring. I’ve come to see that doing all of this by myself has changed me. I am more capable, sure. But beyond that is this reserve of strength that isn’t foolish or brave, more than that, it’s this strange brew of survival. I really can live abroad and turn on the washing machine without consulting Google. Not all the time, and not even most of the time, yet there is a shift. A tangible shift where frustration is not my default mode and these moods are temporary and it can/will get better some days and worse on others. The ebbs and flows like the Atlantic that rushes and recedes on the beaches in the city center or crashing on the cliffs on the northern coast. I get to witness this in myself and in nature. This city is a magical place and I am really beginning to love it.
My friend count is still low but I remain optimistic. I’ve joined various social media platforms and have met some cool people so far. I don’t need to know everyone like back home. That is not what this next chapter is all about. Its about meeting new people without fear. Or feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I can be myself and not ashamed of my otherness. My otherness is me: there is no escaping who I am even though I am somewhere else. I am not local but I want to meet some. Spend some time picking the brains of interesting and hopefully, bilingual people. Surely there is a small community of nerds in this small city in Spain. I hope to find them before the school year is up.