Going from expat to immigrant is a big step. I know a few different people who have applied for Spanish citizenship (or are going to). Some of them have received it. A fellow blogger, Zach from Not Hemingway’s Spain, detailed this process on his blog. This post, along with learning about other long-term expats’ desires to apply for Spanish citizenship, got me thinking—what is the difference between what I’m doing and what they’re doing?
Last days of study abroad in Toledo. 2008.
The plan has never been to stay. The first time I was in Spain, studying abroad in Toledo in 2008, I suffered extreme bouts of homesickness. I counted down the days until I could go home. This was due, in part, to my introverted personality and the fact that I stayed with a bunch of college students to whom partying was the best way to make friends. Eventually, near the end of my trip, I did come to love Toledo and even the fact that there was no supermarket within its city walls. I loved the twisty, winding streets and the smell of marzipan that wafted through its calles. But still, even then I was ready to go home.
Some expats experience this shift in the idea of home. They are more than willing to call the place they live home. I admire this, but I admire it from afar, as an outsider to this world of shifting, ever-changing identity. My identity seems much more concrete, set in stone, established when I was born in a small town in Indiana back in the ’80s. That is home, and for me it will never change. I call our house here home from time to time: when we’ve gone on a weekend trip and we’re on our way back. “I can’t wait to get home,” I tell Mario. Though he understands my meaning, he too knows that my home is not here, that it never will be.
More often than not, people back in the U.S. don’t quite understand what living in Spain means. They ask if I’m a Spanish citizen yet, not understanding what that would mean. They ask if I’ve got my “green card,” not knowing that my green card is a shade of red and has Mario’s name on the back of it—my ticket to legal residence in the E.U. These questions are often followed by others inquiring about if I want to move back from my glamorous life in Spain’s capital. They see pictures on Facebook or Instagram, and they read into them a fabulous, jet-setting lifestyle, one in which I only drink artfully-poured cappuccinos in quaint coffee shops all around Madrid.
The closest we come to spending lots of money—our €50 per person anniversary dinner at Madrid’s Teatro Real restaurant
When I say maturity, I mean the point at which you stop comparing home and home, when you stop thinking of your new place in terms of the old. To be a “mature” expat, I think, means you accept each country for what it is, and I’ve done that. Spain is Spain, faults and all, and I love it (some cities more than others). The U.S. is the U.S., faults and all, and I love it.
So does the U.S. win then? Do I choose it over Spain? Yes and no. I don’t think I want to live in Spain—or any foreign country—forever. A lot of people I interact with have great dreams of living here as long as possible, stretching one year into two into ten. They love it, plain and simple. And that is great, good for them. But it isn’t me, and for the last time, it’s okay to want to live where you were born.
So as far as whether I’ll soon be applying for citizenship or becoming an immigrant rather than an expat, the answer is no. Nope. Uh-uh. I won’t. Still, I’d like to think that I’ve reached my own version of “expat maturity.” Even there will always be things I don’t understand about either place.