Home seems like an inconceivable concept to me now as I face the end of this incredible journey in Spain. I can’t quite wrap my head around the prospect of home and all that it entails. One one hand, I am so, so excited to get back to everything and everyone that I love and miss–I feel like I could cry at once again owning my own car and having the independence to go anywhere I please. I can’t wait to be able to get back to my city of Philadelphia and explore how it’s changed and how it’s exactly the same. I’m eagerly looking forward to being able to eat Indian one night, sushi the next, and perhaps Ethiopian the night after if we so choose. I am ecstatic to get back to a place where I can communicate and express myself effectively.
But of course, while I am very excited to get back to familiarity, I am so, so sad to be leaving this slightly more exotic and interesting life behind. Telling people that I live in Spain has been something to be proud of–it says that I have challenged myself, I have stepped outside of the expected norms and I am learning new things and new ways of life every day. Living in Spain also had the benefit of a mind-boggling amount of opportunities to travel and experience even more in the past 10 months than I have for the first 25 years of life.
I am not the same person as I was 10 months ago. I feel like everything inside of me has been woken up and shaken to the core.
The life that I thought I wanted and the path I was sure I would follow has changed completely. I now question everything that I have ever wanted–was I conditioned to want these things because of my environment, upbringing and peers, or do I really want something based upon the people my husband and I now are? Do I really need the things that American Marketing says I need? Sometimes, the answer is “yes, absolutely” while other times, I am repulsed at the compulsive, needy creature that I can be and instead crave the simplicity I’ve experienced abroad.
Living in Spain meant that I was free to explore myself–who I am and who I want to become. Living within another culture and in another place forced me to do some serious self-reflective thinking about my life personally, professionally and emotionally. I was pushed to dissect very dark spaces in my mind as I struggled to adjust to a new life.
As I was alone without friends and frustrated with people and a language I didn’t understand, I couldn’t help but be either constantly angry at myself for not appreciating everything, being too stupid to learn a language, or being too stubborn and hating certain aspects of living abroad. And if I wasn’t angry at myself, I was angry at others for simply being different and unfamiliar or just plain unaccommodating. I learned that the anger was mostly just fear–fear of making the wrong choice, fear of being lonely, fear of change and fear of the real person I was without the comfortable bubble I was so used to. Looking at the world I lived in as an outsider helped me hold a mirror up to my own life and ask myself some very difficult, philosophical questions about who I am.
Asking those questions and getting over my fear and anger was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It took about three months to get over the bewildering shock of it all. And when I realized that I was actually just fine (imagine that), my worldview shifted entirely.
I saw people outside of myself. Of course, I always understood that there are people outside of myself, but I started to really see what people in the rest of the world were experiencing. I realized that life is more meaningful when you seek to understand and appreciate those outside of yourself and others like you. I realized that life is more satisfying when you accept diversity and differences instead of push back at them with fear and anger. This worldview tells me that while my personal experiences in life are important (i.e. I want to live my life in a way that is exciting and fulfilling to me), understanding and empathizing with people who are not like me is essential to living a good life.
As soon as that clicked, I was fascinated rather than frustrated by the differences I saw in others around me. The opportunities to travel and see more excited me and made me utterly ecstatic to be experiencing life in Spain. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine living my life any other way. I couldn’t imagine living without cultural enrichment in my life.
Now, I return home as a slightly different version of myself. I am more mature, more patient, and more understanding of the world, though I know I still have a long way to go. I am going home with a fire lit in my heart to experience everything I can in this world with a passion to never stop learning.
I know that home will be difficult for me, and perhaps just as much of a culture shock as I experienced as I first entered Spain. Everything and everyone will be loud because suddenly, I will understand what they are saying–the good, the bad and the annoying. I will be thrust back into the commercial America that made me eager to leave in the first place. I will be back in the homeland of t-shirts and sweatsuits and the Jersey Shore cast. I shudder at the thought.
I will also have so many more choices than I’ve learned to live with during my time abroad, which can be a good but overwhelming prospect. I will be amazed or completely bewildered by television since I’ve missed almost a year of it. I will be surprised to realize that my once-favorite snacks are either as amazing as I remember or just not as great as I’ve hyped them up to be over 10 months of missing them. I will be more firm in my decision to be organic as the choices are much more available. I will go back to my beloved farmer’s market in Philadelphia, which I have missed desperately. I’ll be back on the job market and back in a much smaller house with much much closer neighbors and no ocean view to speak of.
There is definitely another transition ahead. As much as I’ve learned about myself while abroad, my journey is far from over as I reenter the life I left behind and reevaluate the values and possessions I held dear just 10 months ago.
I am sad to see Spain go. I am sad that this incredible, wild, amazing, wonderful, life-changing moment in my life has come to an end. I leave Spain with a hunger for more of the world and to go, do, see everything, but there is a new reality to contend with and now I must learn more about balance.
There is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person due to my travels. I am happier, more fulfilled and more ready than ever to tackle the next phase of my life. I am so excited to get back into the workforce and make new strides in that part of my life. I am also excited to rediscover everything I love about Philadelphia and what I missed so much about it. Most of all, I’m excited to see where the next chapter in my marriage goes as Mike and I have grown so much as a couple in the last year.
Home. It’s going to be another adventure, another adjustment, another opportunity to learn even more about myself and what lies ahead.