This September marks one year that I’ve lived abroad. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve changed a fair amount through my experiences. I wouldn’t say it’s been a hallmark year but I wouldn’t change much since I’ve learned from so many parts of my experience. What are some of the more grand things I’ve learned?
- I am more capable at taking care of myself than I knew. This year has been really difficult. I lost a friend, Will, who brought me so much joy. His death was extremely difficult for me. I spoke to him in the days before his death from the ICU. It was torture. I also lost my cat after 16 years of having him through the deaths of my parents and many other coming of age milestones. I didn’t make many great connections in Zaragoza. There was more than one day where I thought to myself: what am I doing here?Moving abroad is something I’ve always wanted to do. Life is always going to be getting in the way of your normalcy. The only difference between going through these extremely difficult events here in Spain or in Buffalo is my support system. While my friends are awesome, they couldn’t physically be there to have a game night or bring me some macaroni and cheese (or whatever). It took some adjusting to, but I can pick myself up. I can handle the difficulties. I can figure out how to make myself safe and healthy and happy.
- I can cultivate talents that I never thought I had. Now – I’m not some fabulous painter. I don’t think I’m writing the next great American novel. That being said, I am really proud of the steps I’ve taken in this year to become more artistic. Whether it was in doodling to photography to writing to painting, I spent a lot of time working on skills I never totally thought I would have. I have to give credit where it’s due to instagram, Pinterest and YouTube for making it so easy to find tutorials or advice on how to get started. I feel really satisfied creatively now in a way I don’t think I have been in a long time.
- It absolutely sucks to be far away from my friends and family for major milestones. This one is something I’m touchy on even now. My friends are having babies. My friends are getting married. My friends are buying houses. And I’m not there to be a part of it. I still stand by the fact that this is absolutely the most difficult thing about being here. While being far away during times of loss is terrible – I think it’s worse to miss the times of joy. That’s where memories are made.
- Real friendships can handle distance. As I’ve mentioned before and I will mention again and again – I have incredible friends. I have friends from primary school. I have friends from grad school. I have friends from my first job. I have friends that have come from me being their teacher. The real friendships that I have, which are the absolute majority, have handled the distance. It’s so easy now to keep in touch. While I wish I could be there for the milestones, at least I’m able to see the pictures and have a phone call.
- There is never enough time when returning home. I think it wouldn’t matter whether I went home for a week or a day – there wouldn’t be enough time for me to do everything I want to do and see everyone I want to see. I tried to be really proactive about seeing as many friends as possible – even publicly posting for a drop in day on my birthday for my friends to come for as long as they wanted. That being said, I still missed a few people. I missed a few restaurants. I missed a few experiences. And honestly, I think I could have been there for a month and it would have been the same.
- I need to pull my professional confidence from myself rather than anyone else. Like any person, I have good days at work and bad days at work. However, one thing that I think we all need to be better at is getting our professional confidence from our own achievements and growth. I love being a teacher. I think I’m good at being a teacher most days and it’s become relatively clear to me over the years that I really just need to get that feeling from within. While I have worked with people who have mentioned that I’m a great teacher, I really can’t expect it from anyone. I have to just be proud of myself.
- I always land on my feet. I want to credit this to the person who said it: a dear friend and Bayern Munich fan, Paul. I had a drink with him on my birthday and I was bemoaning having to move in Spain. He had mentioned that I seem like the type of person who has always been able to figure things out. I had never really thought about it before if I’m being honest, but I think he’s totally right.There have been many times that I have just been dealt a shitty hand in life. Losing both parents at age 20. Having to leave Colombia for my own mental health. Somehow managing to always have the biggest pain in the ass supervisor or coworker (except for the management at the Mansion – you guys are my family). Despite all of this, I figure shit out every time. It’s something that I think I want to give myself a little more credit for.So while I do want to give myself credit – it’s really important for me to acknowledge how lucky I am to have an amazing group of humans in my life. From my family to my work wives to my (sort of pretend) brothers to my football fandom to my travel buddies to my current and former students to my oldest and dearest friends – I am seriously so lucky. I wouldn’t be able to do it without everyone’s support. One of the things that I’ve reflected the most on in the last year is how I left Buffalo at the wrong time. I finally really felt like a part of the community completely. I had several warm, inviting and comfortable circles that I felt a part of. While I do sometimes have the little voice telling me that maybe it was the wrong time, visiting home and seeing my community just made me feel so lucky.
So here’s to everyone who I love at home and abroad – you guys are the reason I can be brave. You guys are the reason I can have a level head. You guys are what keeps a smile on my face day in and out no matter what else is going on.