Reflections of what I gained from my first year in Spain

Palm Trees in Roquetas (always in groups of 4-8)

Palm Trees in Roquetas (always in groups of 4-8)

Flashbacks of my first year seem to pervade my mind right before I give away to sleep. I’m not sure if it’s the fond memories of being lulled to sleep to mini waves crashing to shore every night or the fact that now that I’m in another moment of transition (seems to be constant new states of transitions), I wonder just how I coped. How I endured 9 months in a rather isolated pueblo hugged between desert terrain, football size green houses growing food to be exported to the rest of Europe and the sea. Certainly, an interesting place. 

Roquetas de Mar a common Spaniards vacation getaway in July and August where photos prove the beach is covered in brightly colored towels and umbrellas and people sun tanning practically on top of each other. From September to May during my stay, the beach was typically deserted and the main street was often dead, too. I knew people lived there from going to work everyday, tapas bars open (most nights) and the busy nearby mall and movie theater but the vibe was interesting. To say, the least. 

Sunset in Roquetas

Sunset in Roquetas

Recently, I met a man born in Barcelona and raised in Los Angeles and upon hearing I lived in Spain with the typical inquiries as to “where were you based, in Barcelona or Madrid?” his eyes widened when I said, “you know Roquetas.” “Yeah, how you’d end of there, that’s like a Spaniard ending up in the prairie.”

Pues, que sí. Exactly.

 A dream granted; to live in Spain but if I had imagined my life living la vida española it wouldn’t have been Roquetas de Mar or Almeria, the neighboring city, for that matter. But truth be told, I hadn’t thought how my life would be in Spain. I just knew I wanted to live in Spain. Anywhere.

Except, well maybe a few places. 

But there I was. An opportunity I jumped on. Only to find myself wondering, what am I doing here?

Tapas tapas- Grateful for my tastebuds

When in doubt… Just eat the Tapas!  Grateful for my taste buds

 In many respects, I couldn’t complain with a ¼ of the work load I’d have in the States, delicious and inexpensive tapas, plenty of time to socialize and time to travel. That’s what I really wanted, after all. Travel.

Thank good ness for a friend I met upon arriving at a hostel in Madrid and two days later finally meeting a friend I had corresponded with over FB (the occasional benefit of social media). We hit it off instantly and throughout the year, we’d share how grateful we were to have our friendship unsure of how else we’d survive.

With every challenging situation, I like to take the time to reflect on the positive.

So what did Roquetas teach me and/or what did I come away with?


Living on my own:

Cozy common room Roquetas de Mar

Cozy common room Roquetas de Mar

I had no intention of living alone and every intention of living with Spaniards to practice Spanish. It all had fallen into place within a week of arriving only for him to tell me 3 months later, he’d prefer to live on his own. So be it. My search for a room mate and only finding ‘strange folk” who thought cheap rent was expensive left me wondering, “maybe this is a sign to live on my own” and it turned out to be exactly that.

As it turns out, I love living alone. Having a place to myself is lovely and freeing. I love keeping the place as clean as I wish or being able to leave dishes in the sink overnight without concern if I’ll bother a room mate. I get to live on my terms. It’s awesome!


Perspective from new friends and Outsiders:

Packing up your bags and starting a new gives you an opportunity to recreate yourself or just be yourself without anyone knowing you, or your background or history. A chance to begin again. My move wasn’t to break free and re-invent myself but I was fascinated to hear observations and perceptions from new friends about myself.

You’re so out-going. You can talk to anyone. You’re a social butterfly; I wish I could do what you do.  You’re so curious. You just go and do it.

 “I am? Me. I do? Don’t you?” I wondered.

 I had an opportunity to see apart of myself through new eyes and have perspective that not everyone is like me. It’s often hard to see our selves and how we shine when we don’t have a reflection to look at.  I’ve always considered myself a social person but maybe hadn’t really thought much of it. It was refreshing to learn a bit more about myself in ways that may have seemed obvious but weren’t or rather I hadn’t valued these qualities about myself. These qualities were allowed to come out and shine when I was in a new country, new town and eager to make new friends and my life there, even if only for 9 months. 


Student's work. You may be surprised with the stories you're students invent. Student's work.

Student’s work. You may be surprised with the stories you’re students invent. Student’s work.

After two years of working with K-12 student’s in garden education without prior training, I wasn’t sure how I’d like teaching a different subject or rather creating activities to encourage conversational English classes. As it turns out, I learned just how much two years in an unconventional classroom had taught me about teaching and classroom management and that maybe, I had a knack for teaching. I like it. Sometimes it takes getting out of your own backyard and comforts to have an experience that shows you just how much you know. I love when that happens. Perspective, oh how I love you. Plus, that high school kids were a big pain in the butt in the US but in Spain I appreciated working with that age group. You can treat them and talk to them like adults. Maybe one day, I’ll find myself teaching high school in California.


Let’s just say I rocked up on the Iberian Peninsula assuming (never assume!) that my Spanish was decent, never mind that my last grammar class or any Spanish class was 10 years prior. Oh and those two vacations to Mexico where I had brief conversations with a taxi driver or a guy at a bar and they told me how great my Spanish was.  Clearly, my Spanish was better than the typical Spring breaker and I was also willing to chat with them.

Little did I know,  I was arriving to Andalucia where they basically speak a whole other dialect of Spanish. That’s what it feels like if, your basics are shaky.

 Interestingly enough, now when I strike up conversations with Spanish speakers in California, I find before a full sentence comes out of my mouth, they say, “wow you speak really well.” Hmmm. How do you know, I’ve barely said anything, making me realize just what had happened during my time in Mexico. Oh and that time I was in Mozambique where they speak Portuguese but I’d communicate in Spanish and be understood, except by kids and elders.

 Great for the confidence booster but not so great in real life when I tried desperately to recall the various verb tenses to communicate. But 9  months later, my Spanish improved and I learned just how helpful immersion is, always jotting down new words and phraes in a pocket sized notebook ready to slip new vocabulary into conversations.  I certainly learned a lot… and yet there is always more to learn!


Is the best medicine.

I remember the day when I came home expecting the Internet to finally be working, the Internet guy was finally come to install it. Or so I was told.  I’d gone with out it for 6 weeks already, dependent on my room mate to order it since my residency card would take over 2 months to arrive and I couldn’t get a contract without residency. You know,  the chicken or the egg deal. He could care less about internet (who is he?). The Internet guy had come to install everything. Hurray. Only when I came home, he had only installed a device that would allow me to connect to the Internet when the modem would arrive by mail in several days.

I was livid. Upset. Frustrated. Annoyed. Just done.

 I wanted to connect with loved ones and just have that comfort of home. Something so familiar.

 It was 4pm. After my roommate heard my frustration I decided to deal with it all by taking a nap. My nap turned into 18 hours later, with a peek at the clock at 11pm. Sometimes when you’re dealing with a lot and unsure how to cope, sleep is the best remedy. I usually feel better when I wake up.


Staying in Roquetas to create community:

Friends night out for tapas!

Friends night out for tapas!

There was a month where every weekend I was traveling taking full advantage of my three-day weekends! A teacher at school whom I had befriended would invite me to events and I started getting the reputation, I was “Little Miss Traveler” or friends would tell me of a party or dinner that I had missed out on.

 I soon realized, something so obvious, you have to stay in town to make and grow your friendships, meet new people and be open to the possibilities of unexpected plans. Being away visiting family or seeing a new town was great but I needed to make time to be in my own space to create connections and the community I longed for.

And when I did stay home, I learned patience and not always creating a plan is key. Things come up and not being too busy or overly planned means I can drop things at a moment’s notice and venture with friends for tapas or plan a bit and go for a hike…

Couchsurfing hike in Las Alpujarras

Couchsurfing hike in Las Alpujarras- community found!


And thank goodness for reflective posts because this is what I had to say about Roquetas before leaving, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember just difficult and lots of growing and learning about myself…


Have you noticed things about you that changed within you or perspective you gained whether simple or big while being away from home?

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