1 year in Spain: (other people’s) expectations vs. reality

With my one-year Spaniversary coming up next month, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the past year has brought me. I had no idea what to expect when I stepped on the plane at Port Columbus John Glenn Columbus International Airport in September of 2015, and (understandably) neither did a lot of people in my life. For months leading up to the big move, I heard a lot of the same things: some of which have turned out exactly as people expected, and others that couldn’t be further than the truth. Here are just a few of the things I heard before boarding my one-way transatlantic flight last year (as well as since then) and the truth about whether or not they’ve come to pass.

Expectation: “You’re just trying to get out of joining the ‘real world.’”

Reality: Maybe it has to do with the fact that very few of us even own a passport, but Americans tend to have a very narrow view of what adulthood looks like. It goes like this: you finish college in four years, get a 9-5 in your field, get married, have kids, retire comfortably to Florida. Anything that deviates from that tends to make us uncomfortable. Needless to say, I found myself constantly attempting to justify my post-college move to Spain to people who couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just do the “normal” thing.

As it turns out, I’ve done a lot of growing up in my eleven months here, and so far the “real world” looks a lot like it would in America. I’ve opened a bank account, moved into three apartments, contracted internet, learned to navigate my free private health insurance policy (okay, so that’s not very American), and made friends outside the comforting confines of a college classroom – all in Spanish. I work hard at my job, but I also take time to enjoy what this opportunity has brought me – and part of that has to do with the culture, too: Spaniards work to live, rather than living to work (as is often the case in America). What’s wrong with enjoying an improved work-life balance while adulting en español?

In my case, the "real world" just happens to come with this view from my bedroom window.
In my case, the “real world” just happens to come with this view from my bedroom window.

Expectation: “You’re going to run with the bulls and dance flamenco!”

Reality: Aside from the fact that the (in)famous Running of the Bulls is an event that takes place annually in one city and therefore is not something that 99.9 percent of Spanish people regularly do, I have would have no interest in doing so anyway. I still haven’t been to a bullfight and, again, have no interest in going. Flamenco, on the other hand, is a huge part of Andalusian culture and a beautiful art form that I’m glad I’ve gotten to experience while living in southern Spain. I even took a few classes myself this past school year!

Expectation: “You’re going to live in a city I’ve heard of.”

Reality: LOL, Albox.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.42.37 PM

Expectation: “You’re going to find yourself a Latin lover and come home married and/or pregnant!”

Reality: Okay, so the first part of this did happen. But first, a little ethnicity lesson: “Hispanic” and “Latino” aren’t mutually exclusive. “Hispanic” refers to people or things from a predominantly Spanish-speaking country. “Latino” refers to people or things from Latin America, or pretty much anything south of the US border. Brazil is Latino but not Hispanic. Spain is Hispanic but not Latino. Most other Hispanic/Latino countries are both.

I met my boyfriend three weeks after I got to Spain, friendless and alone on a solo trip to Cordoba that resulted from a date mix-up with the friend I was supposed to travel with. Even with nearly three years as the Perpetually Single Friend under my belt, I wasn’t even expecting to meet anyone that night – I just wanted to relax after a long day of sightseeing at a place with good vibes, good beer, and good people. A semi-desperate Google search of “cool bars in Cordoba” led me to La Trapperia, a literal hole-in-the-wall down a tiny alley (I literally walked past it about four times and was about to give up before I finally spotted it) that promised great craft beer from all over the world…and, as a result, to my now-novio as well.

If you’re a single pringle like I was, don’t come across the pond with any wild expectations of meeting a European amante and being sweet-talked with a sexy foreign accent. If you meet someone, wonderful. If you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your experience overseas just as much.

And nope, as of now we have no plans for babies and/or weddings.

Expectation: “You’ll be jetsetting all over Europe on the weekends!”

Reality: I had a three-day work week my first year – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday with Mondays and Fridays off – and I still didn’t take my first trip out of Spain until the first weekend of December, when I headed to Germany with a friend. After that (with the exception of a trip home to the US for Christmas), I didn’t leave Spain again until spring break, when I hit up a few different countries I’ve always wanted to see (and revisited my favorite city in the world, Berlin). One more long-weekend trip to London at the beginning of May meant that I’d only technically left Spain four times during the school year.

Munich, Germany, December 2015.
Munich, Germany, December 2015.
Bratislava, Slovakia, March 2016.
Bratislava, Slovakia, March 2016.
Vienna, Austria, March 2016.
Vienna, Austria, March 2016.

Meanwhile, other auxiliares were crossing international borders several times a month – and in the case of one girl I used to follow on Instagram before her captions about “living her dream life” became a bit too much, every single weekend. I might not have racked up nearly as many miles on Ryanair, but I got to meet some incredible friends in my town, strengthened my relationship with my boyfriend (who is now my preferred travel buddy), explore amazing hidden gems of Andalucia that other auxiliares never get to see (miss you, Mojácar), and even managed to start paying off my student loans using my auxiliar salary (I have a manageable amount of debt with relatively low monthly payments that I’d really just like to get rid of as soon as possible).

That doesn’t mean I don’t love a good trip, but rather that my priorities were different, and that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong way to spend your year-plus abroad. As long as you’re having a good time, that’s all that matters.

Expectation: “You’ll be back in the US at this time next year working a job in your field.”

Reality: Well…here I am in Cordoba, ready for round 2.

You can regularly find me eating ice cream near this fountain (which just so happens to be between my gym and my house).
You can usually find me eating ice cream near this fountain (which just so happens to be between my gym and my house).
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