I’ve always wanted my life to be noteworthy. As a child I can remember being told, “you’re going to do great things” and “great things” being the guiding factor of all of my decisions. As I grew older and with the advent of social media, I can remember looking through other people’s pictures and wanting my life to be as exciting, if not more exciting than theirs. In college, looking at the posts of high school friends inspired a silent competition to see who could have the coolest life, at least as far as pictures are concerned. I had to do “great things,” and that was an unexpected and underlying pressure from everyone that ever uttered that phrase to me.
Although I am not free of these tiny voices that have begun to sound very much like my own, I have finally begun to devise my life plan upon what makes me truly and deeply happy rather than what is considered “great” in the eyes of others. I’ve made several life maps in my lifetime as well as a few vision boards and 5-year plans, but what grabbed me this time was a bucket list I found from high school that had little empty check boxes next to “travel to Europe” and “really learn Spanish.”
So, 8 months ago when I was at a crossroads in life trying to decide if to keep working at my school, find another job, or go back to school for a second master’s degree, I decided on none of the above and decided to move to Spain for a year—simply because I wanted to. I didn’t hate my job, although it left quite a bit to be desired in terms of personal satisfaction. I actually, quite honestly, was really enjoying my life. I had an apartment that I loved that was close to a community that was promising, I had a prospering relationship, true friends that inspired and supported me daily, I was close enough to home to celebrate holidays with my family, and was meeting all of my needs financially without too much stress. But still, at 25, I felt myself settling in when I really wanted to shake it up.
I saved money for 8 months and combined that with my savings from teaching. I made myself rethink eating out multiple days a week and limited my expenditures to things I absolutely needed or that would be able to make the trip to Spain (which isn’t much when you think about the 50lb. weight limit on a suitcase). I searched for programs on the Internet and came across several reputable names that did everything from help students find classes to placing teachers in schools. Knowing my comfort zone, I decided to stick with teaching and become a language and cultural classroom assistant. Then I started practicing the statement, “I am moving to Spain” to use whenever asked.
At first, it was a bit shaky and when I finally paid my deposit for my program, I think I actually started to believe it myself. I bought my flight with a mixture of credit card points and cash and started figuring out the necessities: money conversion rate, housing, health insurance, and of course places I wanted to travel. I was lucky to find a program with a strong orientation and therefore did not flounder too much in the logistics process. Once I really set my mind on the reality and the gravity of the situation, and after I told my mother and let her cry and ask why, the next part was just getting to Spain and experiencing life unfold.
It’s easy to dismiss our authentic voices for ones that tell us to achieve, pursue, obtain, attain—but clarity of heart and of purpose tend to get buried deep within us and only are heard after intensive excavation.
I am in the process of figuring out and acknowledging that my life does not have to be this series of events that leads to a lifelong career or one grandiose accomplishment. Instead, it need only be pleasing to me and give me the opportunity to make the lives of those around me better. That is easy to say before thinking paying the rent and a car note and whatever else life throws my way, but I have been fortunate enough to plan sufficiently financially and take a chance on something new. I live in Spain. I live in Spain. I have a life in the United States, but for the next 12 months I live in Spain and I am completely satisfied with that decision. I do get homesick and I often miss my life in the States, but when I do, I light a vanilla candle, take a shower, and watch Matilda until the feeling passes.
Living abroad is a unique opportunity to try to understand others, to feel adventurous and push yourself to experience things unknown, to be a foreigner and everything that entails, and it is about self discovery and growth. It is definitely difficult to leave an established life in one place for a place unknown. I dare not say I am brave for doing so, but I would say that I needed to take this risk more than I need to stack my resume or obtain experience. Moving abroad is bold and sometimes we just need to feel bold and challenged to appreciate the life we live. I often get sucked into caring what others think about the way I live my life, but today I remember that I am in control of my life and it is mine and no one else’s.