By Dani Jauregui (Granada, Spain)
As someone who studied abroad in Alicante, Spain during my sophomore year of college, by the time senior year rolled around, I was itching to get back! There is just something incredibly wonderful about Spain and its no pasa nada attitude (I have no doubt Caroline and Lexa would back me up) and I felt like there was something pulling me back. Most everyone who studies abroad romanticizes about returning to those carefree, indescribable days, but I was determined to be someone who actually did it. In realizing that dream, I’ve learned that I’m at my best and thriving now that I’ve let my dream transition into ‘real life.’
Now that I’m doing it on my own, I find myself surrounded by different types of people: Some are Americans; some are Spaniards. Some work; some study. Some are older than me; some younger and we’re all in different stages of our lives. But that variety is what makes my experience unique and beautiful and ‘real.’
Of course, the reality of coming on your own means that there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders. You have to find your own apartment, set up your own bank account, and figure out more complicated paperwork. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who simply wants a year or two in Spain, but for someone genuinely thinking in the long-term. The truth is, there’s a lot of support online these days. You can find Facebook groups and other forums with a lot of searchable information, as well as individuals willing to answer questions based on your situation. I’ve found this incredibly helpful over the years.
The first time I went through this process, I was at an advantage since I was confident enough to speak Spanish with the banker. I also went to a smaller bank where they had time to be patient, explain things to me in simple terms, and start the process so I had the right paperwork to get my foreigner’s number. By the time I returned to Granada for my second year, my smaller bank had been bought out by one of the major banks. Luckily, my banker was still working there, so I was greeted with dos besos and helped along on my process without any difficulties.
I’ve found that forming connections and seeking out people that you feel comfortable with is crucial. While I understand why someone with weaker Spanish skills would want to take along a friend or get an interpreter for many of these situations, I find that doing it on my own actually helps facilitate a bond. I’m at a point where I may not know the right vocabulary for something, but I can ‘talk my way around it’ well enough to be understood.
In most cases, bankers, doctors, etc. seem to appreciate this and be happy to help (and, importantly, when I find myself with someone who doesn’t seem happy to help me, I don’t hesitate in changing doctors, etc). Do I prepare for important appointments by looking up vocabulary, asking friends, and role-playing the situation before I go? Of course! Still, I find myself needing to do that less and less with every upcoming appointment and it makes my Spanish life feel more and more ‘real.’
If you’re someone thinking of moving abroad long-term, I feel that the most important thing that you should know is that starting your ‘real life’ abroad is so bittersweet. You get the beautiful moments that come with living out your dream, but life can also feel like a rollercoaster. Your mind is running through a continuous loop of feeling super proud of yourself and super worried that you’re not being practical.
I LOVE that I’ve taken this leap and created a life for myself here in Spain. I LOVE that I’ve learned how to do all of these ‘adult things’ and overcome needing to do them in a foreign language. I feel a sense of pride when others are inspired by the life I lead.
On the other hand, I live in constant fear of those who aren’t vocal about their opinions of my lifestyle who probably think I’m an idiot...and what if they’re right?! We grow up with a limited definition of what ‘real life’ should be and, for some reason, think enjoying ourselves along the way shouldn’t be a priority. Choosing to live in a country that has a much lower cost of living means that I spend far less than I would in the U.S. But I also make much less and have essentially no savings. Overall, it feels worth it to me, but sometimes I don’t know how to justify it to others or even myself.
It’s hard to reconcile your choices when you don’t have a lot of relevant cases to compare yourself to. On the other hand, being aware of how futile and silly comparing would be is the precise reason why I think I’m doing quite well for myself here in Spain! I’m constantly aware that my path has been different and so it’s easier to remind myself to ‘just do me.’ At this point in my life, I don’t know if I have the skills to thrive in my home country, but I am learning and owning those skills here in Spain every day and for that reason, I can’t imagine a better way nor place to live my real life.