Today marks my 30th blog post!
Thirty times over the past year, I have clicked ‘publish’ and shared one of my stories. And if you have been following my musings, you will know that the theme of my writing so far has been about languages and my own personal experience of learning Spanish. The reason for this is because it has reflected so much more of my journey since moving to Madrid, and I’ve never been short of material! Documenting the ups and downs of language learning has allowed me to draw parallels with other aspects of life here and made it possible to express myself as I have adapted.
Moving abroad to start the next chapter of life, and fulfilling a life-long dream in the process brought on a cascade of emotions. And they were mostly overwhelmingly positive ones, like when I first arrived and would get up every morning, open the shutters, have a coffee and feel the sun on my face. The small lifestyle changes have often had the biggest impact, and I still have to pinch myself most days.
But, as new and exciting as it all was, there was an initial period of adjustment, as I tried to get my bearings, make friends, find work and generally get “set up” (whilst trying to fathom the popularity of ‘shelf milk’ in the supermercado). Naturally, there was a feeling of vulnerability, which I now realise was not solely due to my inability to communicate with little more than a few basic words of the lingo.
Wondering if I would ever shake this feeling, I once read that when you live in another country “you will always feel a little uncomfortable”, but that this should be viewed as a good thing, because this is what you thrive off. The adrenaline not only keeps on your toes, but it keeps you excited, and striving!
The flustering, floundering, little-lost-sheep moments which I have described just became part of my normal daily life and while I still have them, they are fewer as I become more “established”. Because two years on, I do have my bearings, I have made friends AND found work. I have explored endlessly and learned deeply and whilst language has been the common thread weaving through all aspects of life here, it hasn’t been the only thing tying it all together.
This became apparent recently when the first symptoms of coronavirus started being spluttered around our apartment. With no outdoor space and the air-con circulating the germs on high power mode, I accepted my fate, “in sickness and in health” and all that! Even two doses of trusty AstraZeneca couldn’t protect me from the fifth wave which is sweeping across Spain as fiercely as the July heatwave.
We didn’t have a COVID “action plan” and suddenly faced with the reality of the situation, we started scouring the notoriously hard to navigate government websites for information on what to do next.
Times like these are when the familiarity of ‘how things work back home’ is sorely missed – you know where you stand with the NHS, for example. On more than occasion, I have woken in the night panicking that once again, I had forgotten the emergency number here in Spain (which is 112 for reference), and before drifting back into a deep and peaceful sleep, I have already imagined a range of scenarios where I might need to call. Is there is an option in English when you connect? Afortunadamente, I have never had to find out, but I am curious.
Anyway, the initial phone appointment from the doctor didn’t have me as flustered as expected. She was patient and calm and I didn’t feel feeble for not understanding one or two of her questions. Going for tests, receiving results, following quarantine instructions – the process was surprisingly slick and simple.
It was only later when I relayed the whole experience to my mum that she asked “…and that was all in Spanish”? Pues, sí. And that’s when it hit me that the last week of “survival” has not been about which language I have spoken.
Yes, the anticipated daily check-in calls from the medical centre have involved a bit of prep – like learning the vocab for all the síntomas experienced that day, and between cough, headache, fever, chills, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, there has been quite a lot to learn! Of course, I wasn’t able to fully express how I really felt, which would be like waking up after drinking a full barrel of Rioja Gran Reserva, which you couldn’t smell, or taste (what a waste) but which you thought might help to ease the heaviest head-cold you were already suffering from, since not even the ridiculously large and hard to swallow paracetamol was helping. Instead I told the doctor: “Tengo tos” (I have a cough), which was also true.
So, as you can see, I am not trying to claim to have become suddenly fluent! But, I have accepted that this way of communicating has just become a part of life. And with that realisation, I view these situations differently, like exciting challenges spicing up daily interactions instead of as an obstruction that slows the process of anything I try to do.
And with this important attitude shift, along with a little bit of isolation-reflection, I realised that this is no longer just the beginning; this is the 2-year checkpoint, the “look how far I have come”. My sense of achievement and personal growth has been worth every moment of sweaty-palmed discomfort, but with so much of this amazing city and country still to enjoy, maybe it is time to stop overthinking verb tables and pronunciation techniques.
So, what will I write about instead? It is possible that this might be some sort of mad, rambling epiphany brought about by the virus or the heat (it is very hot), so I don’t feel best placed to make any commitments right now, but rest assured that any funny moments, flounders and fails won’t go unreported.
I hope it has been entertaining. It has been for me! Not only have I made myself laugh with some of my antics, but I have provided myself with some cracking writing material, whilst discovering a passion for language that was right under my nose the whole time. Behind the scenes, I will still be working hard on my progress because I still have goals. In the short-term, our first Spanish wedding of some wonderful friends, and the much-anticipated arrival of visitors for the first time since 2019, and in the long term, well, there are countless important linguistic milestones still to hit. But all with one key difference – sin pressure. From here, it will be one podcast, one language class, one Netflix show, one Penelope Cruz film, and one chapter of the grammar textbook at a time.
Furthermore, I hope you will try it. I encourage you to download the Duolingo app or listen to a Coffee Break languages podcast or watch a film with subtitles or tune into someone’s conversation the next time you are travelling. I hope you will embrace the dialects of your own country or learn more about the structure of English. Listen to the national anthems of other countries being sung with as much gusto as the Italians at the Euros or read aloud the Gaelic on road signs as you staycation in Scotland, or spot how many ridiculous metaphors Boris can use in one speech. Because it is captivating (not the Boris bit). And above all, be sympathetic and encouraging towards English language learners.
Mil gracias for coming on my journey so far, a journey which is faaar from over. And I hope you will come with me as I skip off down a different path through the lemon grove, in search of fresh content. And with inspiration in plentiful supply, I will continue to thrive and grow, embracing this dream come true as though mi vida depends on it!