study abroad

Reaching Expat Maturity

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?

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Last days of study abroad in Toledo. 2008.

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Spain or the US? The Ever-Present Question.

I prefer here. I don’t want to admit it, especially on the Internet (what with its permanence and omnipresence), but it’s true. For most of the year, I live in Spain, in Europe. And I prefer it here.

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But I want to say something, and I want it to be crystal clear: I think that my preference is okay.

I think that what I want doesn’t insult Spain or people who love it or even Spaniards themselves. My cousin(-in-law?) told me she understood me, that she would find it hard to live so far from everyone she has ever known, especially as she grew older.

I think that sometimes we get our priorities confused, we start believing that certain desires are truer than others, that no one could possibly prefer this to that, here to there, and if they do—they’re “wrong.” But I believe that no person is right in their desires, because desires are just that—desires. There’s no wrong or right when it comes to one’s preferences. But sometimes we start thinking that preferring a life in the States is just too simple—and perhaps therefore “wrong”—and that we shouldn’t. Maybe others would judge us for hoping to live out our years in Indiana or Chicago or South Carolina rather than Madrid or Paris or Rome. I’m sure some do, but it’s time to step forward and tell the world my true feelings: I want to live in the US. And so does Mario.

I grew up in Indiana. Indiana is, quite often, boring. There are a lot of cornfields; there aren’t a lot of art houses. Kids who grow up in my town can’t wait to get out, and a lot of them only find out in college what they always took for granted. This happened to me.

Going to college changed me. I left my hometown and found myself at Indiana University in Bloomington, a liberal oasis in a decidedly conservative state. There I found art and culture, delicious ethnic food, international friends, and myself. It was there I realized I wanted to step outside of the box and live in another country. I knew then that following the “typical life plan” wasn’t for me—at least not so soon. And so I went to Spain. It was there, ironically, that I realized I wouldn’t mind being a Hoosier forever, that I was patriotic, and that what I wanted didn’t always line up with my fellow Americans in Spain.

Of course, meeting and subsequently marrying Mario, a Spaniard, complicated things. We don’t choose who we love. That certainly was the case for me. I was sent off to Spain with strict warnings not to meet anyone, and I had no plans to do so. But Mario and I found each other anyway, and we stayed together because we were meant to be together. He was the one for me, and I the one for him—that much has always been clear.

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Where we would end up, will end up, has not.

Right now, Mario is lucky enough not to be one of the 25% of Spaniards who are unemployed. He found a job during a devastating economic crisis—in Madrid. And thus the decision was almost made for us: Spain for now, but who knows about later? We have our hopes and plans, but reality is often bigger and better and messier than our dreams.

Kaley Mario Cordoba

Why Are You in Spain?

Ah, the question. The question. I ask it a lot of others; they in turn ask it of me. I love and hate this question, because I love knowing other people’s stories, but I have no idea how to answer it without starting off on some ten-minute-long storytelling session, leaving my questioner with his/her mouth agape and mind reeling by it all.

So, let me just ask you, readers:

Why are you here?

Now that I’ve asked that, I can tell you why I’m here. As it says on my about page, I came to learn Spanish. I stayed for a boy. Mainly.

Would it shock you to know I kinda sorta hated study abroad? I was old enough not to get homesick, but I still did. I did not like living in a teeny-tiny room in an old nunnery with walls so thin you could hear your roommate typing late at night. I didn’t like having to wash my clothes in the shower because the laundry room charged upwards of $10 a load. (This was back when the one euro equaled something like $1.50.) I didn’t like feeling as if it were impossible to make friends except for drinking buddies and intercambios who weren’t really interested in hanging out with me after hours. I didn’t like seeing my bank account drain slowly down to almost nothing.

But I did like learning Spanish. I did like that, and so I dove in headfirst, as much as I could. I got another intercambio because one just wasn’t enough. I spoke to all the waiters in Spanish, even if they insisted on speaking to me in English (the bastards). I studied vigorously, even when all of my classmates were basically taking a semester off. I traveled as much as my budget would allow. I learned to love red wine, olives, and tortilla de patata.

But there was so much I didn’t know at the end of my stay! I didn’t know how to tapear, I hadn’t mastered the subjunctive, I had never had a real Spanish friend that I could text and ask to hang out with. This bothered me. I went back for my senior year unsure of the future and what would happen after May 2009.

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As senior year wore on, I had a decision to make—find a job or go back to Spain? I chose Spain, specifically Salamanca. I was excited to experience a new side of Spain, to live in my own apartment, and meet Spaniards. Oh yeah, and improve my Spanish.

I got back to Spain in September 2009, a year and three months after I’d left Toledo. A few days later, I met Mario. He came to the door of the place I was interning, and I was unintentionally rude to his friend and him, but he still went out to dinner with us. The next day, I pretty much asked him out, and the rest was history. My mother waited patiently by the computer to hear updates about this guy I talked about all the time, even though she’d warned me not to fall in love with any Spaniard (only because that could keep me far away from her). Oops! I was head over heels after a few weeks. After a month, I met the family. After three, I was ready to stay indefinitely, if it meant we could be together.

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Staying in Spain is not an easy task for many reasons. There’s bureaucracy. There’s homesickness. There’s cultural differences that drive me crazy at times. There’s times when I get so sick of Spanish, of struggling to find the word that I just want to scream, pack my suitcase, and get on the next plane to Chicago. Get me outta here! Mario knows this more than anyone. Luckily, although he wouldn’t feel the same way, he sympathizes as best he can.

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There are some expats that love Spain much more than I do (although, don’t get me wrong, I do love it), and they’d stay forever if it were up to them, boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife / lover or not. I wouldn’t, though. If not for this husband of mine, I’d be in the States, where my family is, where my friends are, where my history is. Living in another country wears on me, and I’d love to be able to just hop in my car and drive to my parents’, but right now it’s just not possible.

Right now we’re here; right now this is our home. It may not be for forever. That’s okay. When I married a Spaniard, I gave up that right to certainty about where home is. Home is here. Home is there. Home is Zamora, it’s Crawfordsville, it’s Bloomington, it’s Salamanca. It’s Spain and it’s the US. That’s why I’m here.

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What about you?

Learning to Live in Spain

Have you all read my interview over on Expats Blog? If not, head on over to read my interview and leave a comment on my profile page if you’re so inclined.

Other people to visit: Erik, Erin, Hamatha, Lauren, Cat, and Christine.

One of the questions I was asked in my interview was “If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?” It’s a difficult question for me, because I’m not one to give advice, at least not without advising you to take whatever I say with a large grain of salt. You see, everyone is different, and I don’t think my experience is the only one, or that you’re like me, or anything of the sort.

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Maybe you don’t like garlic. But why would you come to Spain then?

But when I first came to Spain, to study abroad in Toledo in 2008, I was very unprepared for what was ahead of me. I was excited to travel and to see Europe, but I had no idea how it would be to live in a culture that is like your own but unlike it in so many subtle ways. Perhaps it’s silly for me to say that it might be less shocking to go somewhere in Asia or Africa, because at least then you’d be expecting big culture shocks.

I had to learn to live in another culture, a culture that feels more and more familiar every day, but that will never be truly my own. I had to learn to embrace it for what it is—and not what I wish it could be. I had to learn to stop blaming Spain or Spaniards in general when something went wrong.

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They’re not so bad, Spaniards

Right now I’m tetchy about the numerous and unending strikes—huelgas—in Spain. So far we’ve had three transportation strikes, a general strike, a health-care workers’ strike, and now we’re set for an Iberia (the airline company) strike for Christmastime. I understand that things are tough in Spain right now, but messing with my Christmas plans? Understandably, I’m irked. Everyone needs to be home for Christmas (if they want to), am I right?

Before this year, I would have readily and easily placed the blame on Spain or Spaniards in general, forgetting that many Spaniards don’t agree with the strikes and dislike them as much as I do. In the past, I would have let that negativity overwhelm me and color my view of Spain for a good long time. But this year, this year I’m trying something new and difficult: not placing the big bad blame on Spain. Someone’s to blame, sure. But nothing bad has even happened yet!

Learning to live in another country is easy for some, not so easy for others (me). It has taken me four years, but I’m finally getting the message: you’re in Spain, Spain’s not home, and that’s just fine. Take it as it is. After all, we all know: Spain is different.