It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since I said goodbye to the classic brick pathways, ornery squirrels, and undeniable sense of community that made the tiny town of Athens, Ohio my home.
The lens of social media allows me to watch from a distance (a 4,220-mile/6,790-km distance – what a time to be alive) as the friends I left behind go through the motions of the last few weeks of senior year. Final projects and capstone presentations. End-of-year banquets. Court Street bar shuffles and one last hurrah at that one special spot. Stealing bricks and doing everything humanly possible to make these final days last.
That was supposed to be me this year. The current crop of college almost-grads was in the same grade with me all through elementary, middle, and high school. The last time most of us walked across a graduation stage was in 2012, feeling like we were on top of the world only to take our first few steps onto college campuses a few months later with no idea what lay ahead.
When I took said first steps onto the main campus of Ohio University in August 2012, I had dreams of sitting behind an anchor desk, looking into a camera, and telling millions of unseen viewers the story of what was going on in the world.
I had no idea that less than a year later, I would catch the travel bug as I boarded my very first international flight en route to study abroad in Leipzig, Germany. I had no idea that the long nights in the newsroom and the heavy weight of the one-(wo)man-band camera equipment would take their toll, causing my broadcast journalism dreams to fade into visions of PR campaigns dancing through my head. And I certainly had no idea that in April 2016, instead of preparing to graduate with the rest of my lifelong classmates, I’d be sitting in the teachers’ lounge at a high school in southern Spain, writing about all of this during my free period of a day spent teaching Spanish teens how to speak English.
I originally applied for the auxiliares program and moved to Spain because I ended up finishing college a year earlier, graduating with my bachelor’s in three years instead of four, and I wasn’t ready to join the 9-5 grind just yet. This was originally only going to be my “fourth year of college” before I moved back to the US and got a full-time job in public relations. But that was before I knew what Spain had in store for me.
Somewhere between learning to navigate the “real world,” explaining weird American things to my Spanish friends and coworkers, and falling in love, I decided I wasn’t done here yet. I renewed my auxiliares contract for another year and now it’s just a matter of waiting to find out where in Andalucía I’ll be living and working come fall.
A few months ago, I ran into another auxiliar while on a trip to Munich. Over pints of Paulaner, she told me she had also graduated from college a year early and was currently missing the standard fourth year.
“I had fun in college, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything right now,” she said. “I felt like I was ready to take that next step, and Spain is where I’m meant to be right now.”
I had never thought about it that way, but in that moment I realized she was right.
Do I miss Athens? Oh God yes. I miss blueberry pancakes at Union Street Diner and Shively’s famous mac and cheese. I miss sitting on the courthouse steps at 3 a.m. eating chipotle ranch burritos from Big Mamma’s with my friends as we watched the revelers stumble home. I miss sweet treats at Fluff Bakery and my go-to Tegan Lee bagelwich oozing with veggie cream cheese at Bagel Street Deli. I miss day drinking house-brewed Razz Wheat on the patio at Jackie O’s on a warm spring day (why do these all have to do with food?).
I miss the supportive professors and the Monday night PRSSA meetings with classmates who turned into family. I miss spending warm afternoons reading at Emeriti Park. I miss watching the new and exciting Marching 110 routines every week at football games. I even miss the daily Hunger Games that is struggling to find a parking spot in one of the two semi-convenient lots I was allowed to use.
But that was then, and this is where I’m meant to be now. Although it hasn’t always been easy, I love my life in Spain and can’t imagine having spent the past seven months since moving here in the fall any other way.
Westerville, Ohio is home. Ohio University and Athens are home. Cleveland is home. Andalucía, Spain is home. I can’t wait to see what this corner of sunshine in southwestern Europe has in store for me next.