Six months later: Checking in from Madrid

Last year while on a trek through the Colombian jungle, Cody and I met another expat couple. As we sweltered, I told my new Romanian gal pal that we were soon leaving Bogotá for our second move abroad. The second time is the worst, she told me, because you know what’s coming.

I completely understand what she was telling me. Remembering my struggles in Bogotá left me with serious shivers of dread. And in the U.S. over the holidays, another part of me worried because I wasn’t chomping at the bit to return to Madrid (you can read about my feelings here and here).

But here I am, six months into my sophomore stint of expat life and feeling great. Was it supposed to be this easy? I’m kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Don’t get me wrong, I suffered a few disorienting moments in that weird, quiet time when the to-dos were done and I was finding the groove of my new routine. However, I have to give myself a big ole pat on the back for not staying there and falling into my Bogotá routine of hiding at home with cheddar cheese and The Sopranos.

Landing in Madrid this past December I had three main preoccupations: making friends,  finding my “value”, and adjusting to the distance between us and friends and family in U.S.

First thing’s first: building community. A lot of the ease in this transition has come from practice. In Bogotá, I had no idea how to put myself out there. It was as if I forgot how to be social. But this time, before I even settled in Madrid, I was cruising expat groups on Facebook for ladies in my life stage. And even though I’m still very much an introvert, I’m getting better at slipping into my extrovert alter ego. Now I have no problem giving my number to some gal I meet on the street. Literally. I just went to a museum with a woman I met while walking my dog at 11:30 pm (we bonded over Boston Terriers). I don’t exactly have a tribe, but what I do have is enough to check that box.

The identity aspect has been a bit more difficult. I still have flashes of feeling adrift and am experiencing challenges I wasn’t anticipating. The biggest surprise in Madrid has been work. It wasn’t an option in Colombia because I didn’t have a work visa. I’m allowed to work in Spain but instead, I’ve decided to continue writing and volunteering. It’s a whole new aspect of identity shift because this time I’m choosing to not work. In Bogotá, most ladies were in my no-work-visa shoes whereas most of my friends in Madrid are working women. So, I’m still figuring out how to talk about what I choose to do without cringing and feeling like a total louse.

And unfortunately, distance is continuing to be the thorn in my side. It’s a trek for our U.S. people to get to Europe. Bogotá was so accessible and cheap that people could pop over for a long weekend. That isn’t really possible with the 18 hours of travel and $1500 needed to get to Madrid. The time difference is a bummer as well, though our families are so good about making Skype work. Thankfully, my best friend in Oregon is getting used to seeing me with a glass of wine while she’s still sipping her first cup of coffee.

So, not perfect but a major improvement from the first time around. I feel like I’ve changed so much since I left the U.S. three years ago. But I also know myself better than ever. And let’s be real—even though the bumps are getting easier to manage, I’m still thankful I have a couple years of regular life before I have to uproot again.

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I would love to hear your stories about moving, even if it’s within the borders of your home country. Does it ever become second nature? Which parts do you struggle with each time? Share your thoughts with the rest of us in the comments below!

 

4 thoughts on “Six months later: Checking in from Madrid

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful reflections about transitioning and finding your “place.” I’ve discovered it can be a never-ending cycle no matter the length of time, particularly if we allow ourselves to continue to grow and evolve. Even after seven years in Bogota, I still vacillate: one month is Netflix escapism and the other is chatty-Cathy socializing. Next year, I’ll move back to the US, and the prospect of living and working again in my native country is as anxiety-prone as moving to a foreign country. Your thoughts are a guidepost in the opposite direction, as well.

    1. Oh my goodness, yes! I’m glad to hear that I’m normal too in that respect because I go through periods like that still, too (especially if we have a lot of visitors).

      I hope you hang in there during your transition back to the U.S.! I just read in an expat FB group that some people find it helpful to seek out other expats when they repatriate, even though they have local friends and family. When you think about how we and our former homes change while we’re away, it makes sense that other expats would understand and be sympathetic friends to have.

  2. A lot depends on the person. Before I moved to Mexico I lived with my dogs in the New Mexico mountains at the end of a dirt road outside of a town of 300 people. My back yard was 400,000 acres of BLM and Picuris Pueblo wilderness. Sometimes a couple of weeks would pass without seeing another person and when I spoke my own voice sounded strange to me.

    I rarely socialize with other expatriots. Mostly, I speak with my Mexican neighbors. I’ll always be a gringa but I live here now and I feel no need to cling to the culture that I left behind. Heck, I don’t even read US news online any more. Basically, wherever I am is home.

    1. Hello, Eleanor! You make a great point that a lot depends on the person. But, a person’s situation also plays a big part. For a someone living abroad permanently, completely leaving their home culture behind makes sense. But what about a person who is still moving between multiple worlds or not permanently settling in one place? I think keeping yourself in the “in-between” can be very difficult. Thank you for reading and keeping the discussion going!

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