Having been in Madrid for a year now and feeling pretty established (at times), I have been looking back and reflecting on all the things I have learnt from living abroad. And also to a time when this whole experience was just a big unknown, when I didn’t know what to expect…
I remember friends, family, and colleagues parting some really valuable advice onto us before we left, and looking back, I wonder whether I took it on board amidst the emotional goodbyes. It was an overwhelming time, with tears and hugs and when-will-we-see-you-agains, and only now do I realise the value of the wise words they passed on.
There were messages of encouragement; everyone eagerly telling us to enjoy the good life – the sunshine, the siestas and the sangria. This, we have certainly done!
But there were a few nuggets that really stuck with me…
- “You have no idea how much your horizons will broaden” – I vividly remember this conversation just days before leaving. Someone told me that by moving abroad, I would be exposed to a world I didn’t even know existed; culturally, socially, career-wise. And whilst the latter is still up for debate, I still replay this conversation and realise just how true it is. “I’m only going to Spain” I thought at the time but when I think about the past year and all the things I have seen, heard, felt, achieved, and learnt (including Spanish), I am struck by how I would have had none of these experiences if we hadn’t taken the plunge. Every single day has been an adventure, and these words will stick with me forever.
- “Never turn down an invitation” – was an invaluable piece of advice which has turned into a motto that I repeat to myself anytime I am lucky enough to receive one. It made me view every occasion as an opportunity because, you never know just who you might meet. Not only is it confidence-boosting to say “yes” and turn up, but you will always come away richer for it (sometimes with a phone number, a new friend, a job offer, a language exchange or at the very least, a good night out!)
- “Without bread, it’s not worth it” – I now appreciate that this could only have been a warning to prepare me for the bread bloat I was sure to experience. I dismissed it at the time, confident of my carb control! But I was wrong, I have never eaten so much pan! It appears on the table with every meal, with every tapa and tempts you from every bakery window in the barrio. And while I have no desire for the disappointing and weirdly sweet shelf loaf, (which is certainly no Warburtons), the freshly baked baton is not only a temptation, but part of daily life. Plus, it feels continental, mopping up all manner of salsas with your bread from the basket, which is starting to harden a little in the heat – only adding to the delight of relaxed Mediterranean dining.
- “El tiempo es oro” – Time is Gold. In other words, time is the most precious thing we will ever have, so spend it well. Spaniards generally have some strong priorities, which include la familia, spending time outdoors, taking gentle strolls in the evening, good food, good wine, and sunshine. The slower pace of life has made me realise that it isn’t necessary to “fill” my time but to appreciate more the simple things in life. (Funnily enough, these wise words came from the same individual who passed on the previous gem, and I do wonder how much of his precious time is spent eating pan)!
- “Assume life will be different” – that way you will be pleasantly surprised when you find things that remind you of home. I remember the first time I heard a Scottish accent in a crowd and felt instantly connected to the stranger, or when I spied Dairy Milk chocolate in a swanky supermercado and stocked up on the over-priced bars! These overwhelming feelings of comfort and “home” don’t come along often but when they do, I savour the moments. And then there are the times when I wake up with enough mosquito bites to ‘join the dots’ or am confronted by a cucaracha, and I am starkly reminded that some things are just…different!
- “Love life” – waking up to the sunshine, exploring new places and experiencing new things every day makes it very hard not to!
- “If you love it, don’t leave” – simple.
It was all great advice. But there was one crucial thing missing and that was of course, any advice for learning Spanish! There was plenty of assurance; “It will come”, “Don’t worry about it” and “Give it time”, people said. (Some even tried to trick me into believing that English would be widely spoken! HA!)
It’s exactly the advice I would have passed on to others in my situation too. In reflection, the reassurance that everything would be ok was probably more valuable than hints and tips for memorising verbs, which I would likely forget when distracted by paella and piscinas.
Anyway, it turns out any advice on the subject of learning a language is generally quite consistent, and simple. Any internet search or textbook preaches the same golden rules: Practise lots, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and SPEAK! (Note: this doesn’t make it “easy”, just less daunting)!
Moving abroad to start a new life is an experience that is guaranteed to be confidence-building in the long-term. Being forced out of your comfort zone can only be a good thing!
And while I am yet to benefit from a glittering career opportunity (or meet someone who is going to offer me one), we have made friends, we spend our time doing things we enjoy, and we do love life!
The phrase “you learn something new every day” has never been more accurate, and whenever I am exposed to fresh challenges, I can hear the voices of the well-wishers in the back of my mind, and I thank them silently for their words of wisdom.
But there was one slice of advice I was given, and it is perhaps the greatest of all – write it down! I don’t want to forget anything so it is important to capture the memories. And when I will look back again, to relive the moments, or to pass on peculiar proverbs, I will be so glad I followed this advice.
It also gives me the opportunity to share with you my experiences and I hope that one day, you might spend some of your own precious tiempo de oro enjoying this country.
I guarantee there will be bread. Because without bread…
It’s not worth it!