Notes on Moving to Spain from 19-Year-Old Olivia

Journal Photo Blog

Sorry for my long absence, everyone. I honestly haven’t had much to write about, and I’m not convinced the world needs another “10 Things I’m Excited to Do in Spain” list. Not that there’s anything wrong with them — rest assured I’ve read every single “goals for Spain” post I can find. Also, my list would have a lot to do with eating jamón and manchego for every meal, so it wouldn’t be anything new. (Joke.)

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve mostly been preparing for my move to Madrid. I’ve practiced packing, and I bought a new RyanAir-friendly backpack. I’ve also been cleaning my room. One of the many struggles of moving back home is trying to fit all your “grown-up life” stuff into your old space. I’m a neat person by nature, so I can’t live (at least, not happily) in a messy space for long. I’ve been trying to downsize by donating old clothes and cleaning out drawers, but it seems like a never-ending task I have to do every. single. time. I come home.

On the bright side, I sometimes stumble across really funny things from middle school and high school. A box of notes from old friends (remember when we used to pass notes?), a short story I wrote in 9th grade, awards and trophies that once meant something. It’s all there — fragments of my painfully awkward child- and teenage-hood, buried in the forgotten corners of my room.

It was on one of my cleaning sprees that I unearthed my Alicante journal. And I’m going to share it with you.

Children at Las Fallas in Valencia

Children at Las Fallas 2011 in Valencia.

There is literally one journal entry. This is no surprise to me. I used to journal a lot when I was in middle school, but as I got older I realized that everything I wrote at 13 was embarrassing and probably deserves to be burned. This has been consistently true any time I find an old journal, so I’m not exactly the most avid journal-er. (Isn’t that silly? I’m a journalism major. I can write about almost anything. But I’m apprehensive of my future self’s opinion.)

I was almost too afraid to read my Alicante journal, but curiosity got the better of me. I was relieved to find that most of what I wrote was thoughtful/not embarrassing, and it actually gives decent insight on the acclimation process involved with living abroad.

So, I’ve decided to post it here. I’ve left it mostly unedited, save for fixing a few phrasing and punctuation errors. It’s a good reminder for me — lately I’ve been romanticizing my upcoming move to Madrid as much as Joseph Gordon-Levitt romanticizes Summer in (500) Days of Summer. I keep remembering all the good things about Spain and ignoring the differences that, often, frustrated and confused me while I was there.

But I think that’s the point of living abroad. You experience everything, not just the tourist destinations or the “typical” food. Assimilation only happens when you accept the good and the bad as different, small parts of your new culture.

Spoiler alert: There’s nothing about the Spanish boys I was totally crushing on or the deep, dark secrets of my 19-year-old life. Apologies in advance to any voyeurs out there.

Notes on Moving to Spain

Written on an alicantino bench in late April 2011, three months after I arrived.

“I feel like I’ve aged years since I arrived in Europe. Living here is — at the same time — everything I imagined and nothing I expected.  It’s a lot like normal life, being here. I don’t wake up every morning thrilled because I’m in Spain. I simply get out of bed, put on my obligatory slippers (here, cold feet still = illness and probable death), and eat my habitual madilena y yogur for breakfast. Then, I go on with my day: shower, homework, eat again, study. I feel so assimilated here that I consider the bed I sleep in to be “my bed.”

Me, Maricarmen, and Pepe after a day at Benidorm’s beautiful beach. (Excuse my scruffy/sunburned/post-beach appearance.)

Actually, I’ve come to think of everything in possessives. Avenida de Jijona is “my street.” Pepe and Maricarmen’s house is “my house.” Every day I see beautiful European buildings, many of which have been standing since before my ancestors made it to North America; this, too, is normal. I see them, give them a moment’s appreciation, take a photo if they’re really special, then move on.

I often wonder if there’s such thing as “over-assimilation.” I feel selfish for not feeling wonder and excitement on every single morning I wake up in Spain. My time here is limited, and I know I should appreciate it. At the same time, though, I suppose over-assimilation is infinitely better than the alternative. It shows I’ve started living here, not just visiting; it marks my transition from tourist to alicantina. After all, tourists can’t fend off catcalls, flag down a bus, or order a cup of coffee like I can. I’m happy about how much I’ve grown and changed since I arrived here.

I’ve mastered our public transportation. Give me a city bus, pack it full of Spaniards, and I don’t even blink. Give me the Metro in Madrid, a tram in Prague, or the U-Bahn in Berlin, and I can figure it out. I’m an aficionado of hailing waiters and taxis alike. I can read the Spanish newspaper, I can understand the news. I even have a favorite telenovela, el 14 de Abril: La República, and I watch it with Pepe and Maricarmen every Sunday night.  (Note from 2013 Olivia: I still love La República. Everyone should watch it. It’s a Downton Abbey-style drama set in pre-Guerra Civil Spain, and you can watch all the episodes on the TVE website. Plus, Fernando and Jesús can get it.) I even understand and read a little Valenciano.

I’m proud of myself. For all of this. When I came to Spain, I couldn’t do any of these things. I was willing to learn, but I knew so little. I realize I’ve made a home for myself here; life is life no matter where you are.”

If you’ve lived abroad, did you have a similar experience? When does a new place finally feel like “home” to you?


3 thoughts on “Notes on Moving to Spain from 19-Year-Old Olivia

  1. I totally get what you’re saying about re-reading old journal entries. Sometimes it’s a bit painful haha! But my journals from Spain are some of my favorites and actually refreshing to read!

  2. Two things I loved about this: madilena for magdalena and that your hosts parents were named Pepe and Maricarmen. I swear my husband’s parents have friends (who are a married couple) named exactly that!

    • Magdalena! I completely didn’t catch that when I was editing. I’m glad you did. 🙂 Hah I think Pepe and Maricarmen might be the most quintessential name possible for a pair of maridos. I loved mine!

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