Let’s get real for second. When I first decided to start my expat adventure I was a naive little 21 year old, fresh out of university, with no life or work experience. I was feeling defeated and like I was running out of options, regretting all of my life choices that had led me to that moment.
To avoid spending another minute wasting away in my teenage bedroom whilst all my friends went on to bigger and better things, I thought maybe I’d move abroad and teach English. I wish I could remember my thought process for deciding this, but I imagine a lot of it had to do with just wanting to prove that I could do something other than receive job rejection emails. Thus, I set myself a task to work towards (so my days could be spent doing something more worthwhile than watching Catfish marathons) and for the first time since education, my life had purpose again.
I chose my destination (Madrid), worked out my plan (to begin with a four week TEFL course and then wing it), bought my plane tickets, and off I went. Soon I was a qualified English as a second language teacher living in a capital city and hanging out with a crazy diverse group of friends. And my initial plan to teach English for a year and then head home then turned into two years with no plans to leave yet. But yet, that expat dilemma remains: when is it time to go home?
By moving to Madrid, I definitely accomplished what I wanted to do. Before I left I was crippled by intense social anxiety and could barely function in situations I hadn’t rehearsed in my head before hand. I couldn’t talk to strangers or look people in the eye or make small talk in shops. But moving to a place where you don’t understand a single thing anyone says, or have your mum to do things for you, really forces you out of your comfort zone. And whilst I still don’t revel in talking to others, I no longer feel like my throat is closing up. I can navigate through life without that omnipresent sense of dread following me around – and let me tell ya, it feels super refreshing. I recently spent a few weeks in the UK and had multiple people comment on how different I was so. So life experience? Check.
Another thing I wanted was work experience. And whilst teaching is in no way what I want to do with my life, it pays the bills whilst I embark on multiple unpaid internships – something that definitely wasn’t available for me in a place like Hull. I’ve managed social media accounts, learnt CMS, written articles about things I knew nothing about before I started – aka I’ve basically become a digital media wizard. So whilst teaching isn’t exactly where I imagined I’d be at 24, I’m getting that much needed experience all those “entry level” jobs somehow expect you to have already. It just took me a little longer to get there and I’m talking about verbs whilst doing it. Work experience? Working on it but let me give it a preemptive check.
So after doing everything I set out to do (and spending double the expected time here), why am I still in Spain? The simple, gross, and horribly cliché version is that I fell in love. With the city, with a dude, with my entire existence here. And why ruin a good thing? I’ll stick with the cheap wine and sunny weather and good Mexican food, thanks.
But another major factor in my decision to stay in Madrid is that I don’t know what would happen otherwise. Here I know I can keep getting teaching gigs, keep living cheaply, keep enjoying this big city life I’ve grown accustomed to. Before I moved here my life was so uncertain – whether I’d get a job, be able to move out, the sensitive state of my mental health, etc etc. Shit was scary, but here I don’t have to worry. As I keep saying over and over again, this definitely isn’t where I expected to be, but as long as I’m paying the bills, having fun, and improving myself as a person, I don’t see what the problem is. I may not be as far along on the career ladder as my classmates but look at all that sexy life experience I’m racking up. And I’ve learnt more Spanish talking to supermarket cashiers here than I did in in four years of German in high school, so there’s that.
So although expat life has its flaws; friends leaving every year, language barriers, and cultural mishaps – and even though Spain is definitely not the utopia all those retired Brits make it out to be, it looks like for the moment I’m here to stay.
A misleading title? Mayhaps. ‘Cause I have no freaking idea what I’m doing with my life other than enjoying it. But at 24, I think maybe that’s okay.