Behind all the “grammable” moments, the gorgeous album of photos uploaded to Facebook, the amazing snaps and instastories blasted out for the world to see, the reality of traveling is a sobering one.
First, let me start by stating that I recognize how lucky I am to have earned opportunities to travel and to live abroad in different countries. I know a lot of people look at that with a mixture of incredulity, awe, and probably a bit of envy. A lot of people want me to share photos and videos so they can live vicariously through me. I get that. I do that. However, it’s a slippery slope when you’re not in the right frame of mind.
Even as I’m here, settling into a bustling, beautiful city in Colombia, I see my friends and my family and people I knew at some point having meals together, going to parks, playing games, getting engaged, married, having babies… all together. I feel envious. I feel sad. And I feel utterly alone.
From an objective standpoint, I know I’m not alone. I also understand that these 2D experiences I’m seeing are teeming with loads of challenging nuances that I cannot detect. And currently, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the first stages of culture shock.
I’ve settled in to a beautiful house with nice people and two cats. I have a space to call my own, a place to store my food, a neighborhood to frequent. I have a launching pad from which I can go discover this city, this country, and this part of the world. It is wonderful relief.
With that relief, the ability to relax, a number of things fade: my survival instincts, the excitement of walking around a new city, re-navigating a language I love, discovering the subtleties of this culture, learning of things to try, places to see, etc. As this “honeymoon” stage melts away, room develops for homesickness, exhaustion, frustration, feelings of isolation and being stuck, even scared, and sadness.
I wouldn’t change this decision if I had to make it 50 more times. But like all things in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes just going to the store is the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a blanket with some mac and cheese and watch your favorite show. Sometimes things are going to suck, even if you’re in paradise.
So I guess, what I’m trying to communicate is that, while I post pretty photos and share nice stories about my experience, keep in mind that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Sure, revel in those moments with me, but please don’t lose sight of the magic of your own experience while you do. I’m going to remind myself of the same thing, especially in tougher moments like these.
You see the picture at the top of this page? My feet resting on a window sill that overlooks a gorgeous patio, lush with tropicalish flowers, blue skies in the background, reeking of tranquility. Well, shortly before taking that, as I ambled my gawky way into the hammock, I fell straight backwards, smashed my head into the bed so hard one of the wooden slats went crashing to the floor, scaring the cat so bad that it flew from its resting spot on my suitcase with her nails out, tearing up the fabric as she dashed away.
When I first arrived to Spain, I wasn’t sure what to eat or how to eat or how to shop for myself. It was if entering into a new society suddenly wiped my mind clear of all the things I had learned after living by myself for five years. I’m already indecisive enough as it is, so add in a warehouse store like Carrefour (a European version of a target market more or less) filled with brands, fruits, cheeses, meat hanging from the ceiling and beer I had never encountered before, I was más perdida que un pedo en un jacuzzi— aka, I was completely lost. (If you understand Spanish or looked that phrase up haha excellent). My roommate accompanied me and was exasperated at the fact that I had no idea what to buy. She kept asking me with increasing insistence, “Pues, ¿Qué comes?” and I kept saying “No sé!” Had I had the capacity to express myself more fully I would have said something like “Tia, dejáme aquí… no me puedes meter prisa que ya estoy agobiada” which basically means, “Dude- leave me here- I’m overwhelmed AF.” But instead she watched me flail in the aisles as I went around and picked up a loaf of bread, a half kilo of turkey and ham without knowing what the heck a kilo equated to, some tortilla chips, ketchup, mayonnaise, two types of mustard, barbecue sauce, a jar of salsa, and a 12 pack of Estrella Damm because it was on sale. Her eyes turned to plates when she saw the number of condiments in my basket– “¿En serio?” she laughed at me, “Eres muy americana.”
My bread molded before I could even use a quarter of it, the turkey and ham went bad because I got sick of eating it and I finished the beers after about two days. Over the next few weeks I observed what my Spanish roommates ate. Being students, they all had mothers back in their pueblos that prepared them a freezer full of tappers which contained pasta with meat sauce, rice with rabbit and veggies, an assortment of different types of soups and stews and seafood paella to name a few. Nearly every meal was accompanied by picos, little tiny pieces of hard bread that we’d probably find in some sort of chex mix. Soon I, too, became a pico feign. For breakfast they’d drink Colacao, which is like Nesquik, or powdered instant coffee with cookies or little muffins. Dinner was always late and light: a salad or some tuna with onions and tomatoes.
I was in a serious phase of adjustment, so adding cooking then dishes and balancing my roommates’ schedules in order to do so was not on the top of my priority list. So, I ate out… A LOT. And that is how I became very well acquainted with some of my favorite Spanish dishes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was totally spoiled in that I was growing my Spanish palate in arguably one of the best gastronomic strongholds of Spain. In just a few short months, my reliance on condiments and hot sauce completely vanished. Spain’s salty, savory, FRESH, simplistic yet full-bodied cuisine redefined my definition of satisfied.
1. Bacaloa Dorado
Golden Cod in English, this dish is eaten quite often in Extremadura. It’s traditionally a Portuguese dish, and is made of eggs, onion, cod, and fried potatoes (not french fries). For me, it was comfort food. I found out pretty soon that it’s super easy to make, too.
2. Jamón, Lomo, Chorizo
Although I don’t eat much meat here, I can’t get over the Spanish cured meats. Give me a bandeja of any of these and I’m one happy camper. Chorizo is chorizo. It’s less spicy than the Mexican chorizo we’re accustomed to and has a smokier flavor because it’s made with Pimentón or paprika. Pimentón de La Vera isa specialty from the province of Cáceres, located in the north of Extremadura. Lomo is cured tenderloin. SO GOOD. Jamón is cured ham leg and the best ham comes from Extremadura because they’re raised in open fields and feed on the bellotas or acorns from the Holm oak trees strewn across the region. My Spanish mom sent me some lomo and jamón for my birthday and I cried. These are no joke, folks.
3. Huevos Rotos
My mouth became a geyser each time I saw a plate of huevos rotos go by. It literally translates to Broken Eggs– even the name is awesome, right? This is another comfort selection as it consists of a bed of fries, topped with Jamón and two over easy eggs. That’s it. Simply delicious. Another version I often enjoyed swapped Jamón for gulas, which are little sea worms. Before you get totally grossed out, if you’re in Spain– try them! They’re also amazing sauteed in garlic and olive oil (Gulas al ajillo)–YUM.
4. Tortilla de Patata con Salmorejo
Ah yes, the famous Tortilla de Patata or Spanish Omelette. Spain converted me into an egg lover. I love all the eggs in all the different shapes and forms they come in. One of my favorites for sure is the classic Tortilla de Patatas–but for me it has to be on the runnier side and it’s even better when it can be plopped into a cold, shallow bowl of Salmorejo. This is another version of ‘cold tomato soup’ that’s similar to Gazpacho (which I also love). While Gazpacho contains pepino (cucumber), pimientos (peppers), Salmorejo does not. It’s slightly thicker because it uses more bread followed by fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt.
I realize “Tapas” is the broadest thing I could list here and it sort of seems like cheating. But for me, it’s the epitome of why I LOVE Spanish food.
Tapas which literally means lid, became a cultural staple after it was mandatory to serve food with alcoholic beverages (why isn’t this a thing everywhere still behooves me). The principle behind Tapas consists of two of my favorite things: snacking and sharing. Here I described how Tapas is a way of life–it’s representative of the family-style, communal approach to eating. It stirs up conversation and it brings you closer together as you truly bond over a shared meal.
This list could go on for days but that would be somewhat masochistic. It’s a good thing I have all of the recipes to my favorite Spanish foods AND I just started working part time at Milwaukee’s only authentic Spanish Tapa restaurant, MOVIDA, so I can satiate my cravings until I move back.
If you behave nice and tell me what your favorite Spanish food is in the comments, maybe in the future I’ll treat you to Part II: My Favorite Spanish Foods. I’ll be sure to include cheeses and even some recipes!
So, dime (tell me)– have you lived in or traveled to Spain? If so, ¿cuál es tu comida favorita? If you haven’t, which one of my favorite Spanish foods sounds most appealing to you? Share in the comments!
When I landed on U.S. soil again in June of 2016, I began to weep subconsciously. I had no real thought in my head and didn’t quite understand intellectually why I became overcome with sobs as I stared out at the Logan Airport Tarmac. I didn’t question it though– I didn’t ask, why am I crying? Because I knew in my bones I’d be here for awhile…My time in Spain had come to an end, for now. The tears, though, were equal parts happy and sad. At this point, I didn’t fully understand the process that I was about to go through for the next year plus. But I did know this much,
“This is going to hurt later.”
I reveled being back in the U.S. with my sister and family in Massachusetts, then with family and friend back in Wisconsin. I was in the honey moon phase of transition and had yet to confront any of the impending consequences of my decision: complete change of lifestyle, a breakup, a change of career.
Those are massive things to tackle all at once, and would subsequently explain why I kept myself completely numb to all of it for a solid three months. I don’t recommend this coping mechanism because it all caught up to me fast and hard. I am no expert, but after suffering for months, I’m going to try to explain the do’s and don’ts of coping with massive life changes.
(Note: Each experience is unique and everyone copes in their own way. Maybe these will apply to you, maybe not. Either way, I sincerely hope it helps you or someone in your life.)
1. DON’T: Say you’re fine.
You’re not. You’re not fine. And that’s OK! Saying your fine is a way of condemning yourself from being wounded– don’t judge yourself so harshly. It’s OK to hurt. In fact, it’s wonderful. I truly believe suffering is an opportunity for growth. So, breathe, feel it, learn from it and grow.
DO: Talk to Someone
I can’t stress this one enough. Talking to someone to sort out all of the mess that is accruing inside of you is paramount to finding peace. I like to imagine that as we go we get poked and we try to cope and compensate for that– then what ends up happening over time is that portion gets curled up really really tight. Eventually this coil becomes detrimental to us– talking through things helps us unravel these coils and untangle the mess, providing clarity and a real, constructive path forward.
2. DON’T: Try Dating
This, of course, depends on you and your last relationship but even anything over six months merits a break from dating after a breakup. How long that break depends on a ton of different factors. But overall, it’s important to process the loss and just focus on you for awhile. Feel. Process. Dating is just a distraction from dealing with things.
DO: Spend Quality Time with Friends, Family, and By Yourself
Find out more about yourself, reflect on things you could improve about yourself so that you can be the partner you want to be in the future, learn to love yourself fully. How though? Treat yo’self! Regardless of what happened, you must be kind to yourself— reconnect with the things you truly love doing. One of my favorite moments from this portion of my recovery was going out for tacos with a book then catching a flick at the Milwaukee Film Festival. Despite my mistakes, I loved myself that night. I did things I loved doing, for me and no one else. After continuing to practice this over the next year, instead of “despite my mistakes” it became in spite of my mistakes, I love myself. And the more I loved myself, the more I was able to feel the love and support my friends and family give to me. Focus on this rather than the love lost. Hold on to this rather than humans that no longer can or wish to be in your life. There are so many beautiful souls around (including your own)– relish those, soak up the time with them.
3. DON’T: Compare
This, I believe, independent of big life changes, is a principal source of suffering in our world. The grass is ALWAYS greener. We tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses… memorializing the good moments, choosing to ignore the bad… those of which that actually propelled the change. I do this often. I struggle with it immensely and always have. I think of my life in Spain: the flexibility of schedule I had, never needing a car, engaging with students all the time, etc.. and I get envious I don’t have that anymore. But then I have to stop myself and think– but I desired some sort of rigidity that would help me become more disciplined. I hated being dependent on others in order to go explore other parts of Spain for which a car was necessary. I ached for moments alone, to work in silence and in solitude. These are things I wanted to change and informed my decision to take a step along a different path. So, it’s quite silly, isn’t it? It’s human, though.
DO: Practice Gratitude
So what I do when I find myself comparing, whatever it may be, I focus on three things I’m grateful for but then I also recognize one “bad” thing in my current situation. The three help the angst that bubbles up in my chest calm, then I try to see the “bad” thing as something that is providing me with the opportunity to improve on myself. Some days I have to do this more often than others, but overall it seems to be helping. I feel joyful more often and more consistently than I have since I was a little curly headed tornado child.
If anything I hope this serves as a reminder to be mindful, grateful, and to forgive and love yourself. You’re doing alright.
Have you experienced a big life change recently? What are some things you do to cope with it? Share in the comments below!
It’s that time of year, and I’m prepping for the inevitable dose of reverse culture shock. To prepare myself I’ve made a short list of some of the things I’ll say goodbye to and miss dearly about life in Spain. In no particular order they are as follows:
1. Breakfast Break and the Siesta
Bye, Bye breakfast break. No more going to one of the million bars on the street and eating a “Media tomate” or some “Migas” and a cafe con leche for 1.50. But, hello, large iced coffees to go! No more casual sit-down lunch at an outdoor table with beer followed by an hour or so to digest horizontally. But, hello, power bars and power naps!
2. Walking everywhere
If you´re from anywhere besides the center of city, you know walking is an extra effort not just because of the physical exertion but because it´s nearly impossible to get anywhere without being scared for your life more than a few times. And if not, you may offer the suggestion and be berated by a chorus of your friends, ¨”Walk? It´s like a mile away? Are you crazy? It´ll take us like an hour to get there.” This year I will resist and succumb, surely, once again. But hey, I still have my bicycle!
3. Meeting with friends after 8pm during the week
Nope. Way too much effort. I suppose this is pretty relative, it totally depends on if you’re fortunate to live close to your friends, perhaps this isn’t an issue, but for many of us walking out of our homes and going for a cheap beer down the block is a slim possibility. You have to get in the car. You have to drive 10-15 minutes in traffic. You have to decide on a place. Blah. Blah. Friends are a weekend activity. This summer, I hope this isn’t the case, but it’s another one of those cultural tides that sucks you under.
There’s nothing like going to a bar, ordering a caña (a small beer) for a euro and receiving a small snack. If you’re lucky and there’s a bar near you in the U.S., maybe you get some peanuts or can treat yourself to popcorn, but never is it a delicious bowl of olives, a plate of potato salad, or a handful of fries and some slow cooked pork. Tapas are also a way to go out and socialize with friends and family. They’re an adventure, an exciting risk you can afford to take. Tapas is a way of life, really.
5. Pedestrian Rights
As you try to maintain some of the healthier habits you’ve gained living in Spain, like walking everywhere, please, remember that although it is the law of the land, pedestrians, in many cases, do not receive the right of way in the United States. People will not slam on their breaks for you like they do in Spain if you’re standing at the edge of the cross walk. Prepare to wait or to run.
I know this is an odd thing to miss, but…Texting? SMS? What? It feels so foreign and strangely outdated to send text messages via the standard phone application and not the famed and widely used texting application Whatsapp. Many of my friends back home have Whatsapp in order to communicate with me while I’m here in Spain. but once back in the states with free texting plans, it’ll inevitably return to the standard.
7. Cheap Fruit and Veg
Oh, how I will miss the Fruterías found on every other corner; their windows brimming with lush fruits and vegetables, enticing me to come in for a bundle of bananas for less than a euro. It’s cheap to eat healthy here, and that’s how it should be.
8. The people
From Madrid to Badajoz, San Sebastián to Málaga, I have encountered nothing but warmth and welcoming from these wonderful, latin-blooded people. I’m eternally grateful to those who have gone the extra mile in making me feel at home in Spain. Between their warmth, their dirty sense of humor, their image-rich language, and their exaggerated gestures, I will miss them immensely. But I shall return!
Going back to the U.S. isn’t so bad. We get to see old friends and family. Re-familiarize ourselves with the familiar, etc… What other things will you miss about Spain?