Sometimes You Should Just Skip the Small Talk

Learning a new language? Living abroad? You will make mistakes in your new language. Even if you are a walking, talking grammar book, your new flat mates might tease you about your accent, con cariño, of course. Or even if you have spent the last four years studying the language at the university level, you will have misunderstandings. The best part is, that after a few months of total emersion, you will hopefully be able to look back on those super embarrassing moments and laugh.     
I am neither a walking, talking grammar book, nor did I spend four years studying Spanish at the university level. I moved to Spain with only intermediate knowledge of the language. Although my ability has improved dramatically over the past couple of months, there have been moments where I have not been able to articulately express what I am thinking or feeling. In fact, there have been many, many embarrassing instances that have been the result of my inferior level of Spanish.
One such miscommunication happened at work. I’m here teaching English at a public high school and one afternoon, two of the gentlemen in administrative positions at the school invited me for drinks. While one of them was in the restroom, I was making conversation with the other.  Because I had been introduced to many people all at once, I was not entirely sure of his position at the school, but for whatever reason, I thought that he was the guy in charge of making sure I got paid. Not really having much to say to this man, I told him that I had an appointment to receive my temporary residence number and that I would bring him the number the following day, so that I wouldn’t have a problem getting paid. I couldn’t understand why he seemed so confused by this, until I later found out that his position at the school is actually head of the maintenance department. I am pretty sure that the number he though I was bringing him was my phone number, so that I could get paid. Long story short, I’m almost certain that he thought that I was soliciting sex. The scary part is that he seemed very interested. Months later, I still go through great lengths to avoid this man at work.
         One thing that I have learned is sometimes it’s just better to skip the small talk, especially if you’re gut is telling you that they are a creep.

Fake it 'til You Make It

I remember the first time that I did coke in Spain. That was the night that the love affair began. I was with Andres, a handsome Spanish lawyer. Andres was kind of a shit-head, and a liar, but he sure was fun. I had my suspicions that he liked the white stuff and without ever asking directly, I would imply that I knew what he was doing, and that it was fine--especially if he shared. We had plans for lunch. Spanish lunch isn’t exactly like American lunch. If you want to go to a restaurant, you have to go between two and four o’clock. Four o’clock came and four o’clock went.  He called to tell me that a last minute meeting came up. Fine. We made plans for dinner, but Spanish dinner-time came and went. We made plans for after dinner drinks. It was getting late. He called to tell me that maybe he should just come over. That worked for me. I was home drinking wine and writing poetry. A late night visit sounded nice. He arrived, kissed me hello, and wasted little time before offering me what he described as some excellent coke. I thought about it as he crushed the white power on his leather wallet. Nervously, I rolled up a 20 Euro note, pretending that I did stuff like this all the time. I inhaled the small line that he offered me, sat back, and decided I liked it. 

Tapped Out

Life abroad changes you. Away from your family, your friends, and your past, living in another country allows you the freedom to tap into another part of yourself—for better or for worse. During the year that I spent teaching English in Spain, I chose to tap into the promiscuous, drug using, adventure loving side of myself.  I am hoping that writing about it will be a way to process and reflect on my time there, relive some of those crazy nights, and hopefully entertain a few people along the way. 

Two Thousand- Thirteen New Years Resolutions

I resolve to

Treat my body with respect. I am a twenty-five year old woman and I like to party. I like to drink, smoke, take drugs, and eat food that is bad for me. In 2013, I still plan to do all of these things but not to the extreme that I did in 2012. I am overweight. I plan to change that by eating better and making the gym part of my daily routine.

Write more. I want to rekindle my love affair with language. I want to find my voice.

Finish my Master’s degree. No more excuses. Completing my Master’s degree would give me the satisfaction of finishing something that I started, open up opportunities to teach at the college level, and move me up the pay scale. $$

Use my free time more productively.  I don’t need to work more, just work smarter.

Put more (any) money is savings. I’m not really sure where all my money goes. This year I will stick to a budget and put some money away for a rainy day.

Continue to travel.  In 2013, I would like to make it back to Europe, South America, and travel with-in the US.

Keeping the Adventure Going

            “I can’t tell you what happens next, this is not your real life; this is not your home,” he said to me in the heat of a late night, drug fueled argument. What the fuck did he mean; it wasn’t my real life? I was an American living in Spain, teaching English. Perhaps it wasn’t a permanent situation, but didn’t I wake up every morning and live, my real life? We had been talking about what would become of our casual, fun relationship when I returned for my second year. I planned to go home to visit my family and friends and then return to Spain less than two short months later. This was the first time that we had spoken of my return. He asked me what day I would be returning, and when I told him I hadn’t booked my flight yet, he simply said, “you’re not coming back.”
            He was right. Although I had left a suitcase filled with all of my winter clothes in Madrid and eventually bought my plane ticket to return in mid-September, I never went back to live and work for a second year. Life is filled with the amazing twists and turns.
            Two weeks before my scheduled return date, I attended a seminar for English teachers returning from Spain. It was optional, but I was convinced by the promise that there would be talk of job opportunities. I let my imagination run away with me. I imagined networking with someone from the Ministerio de Educación. I imagined being offered a great paying, fulfilling job that allowed me to spend half the year in Madrid and the other half in New York. I went, and just to be safe, I printed out three copies of my resume.
            The seminar was, in fact, a complete waste of time. But later that night at one of New York City’s many great bars, while I was eating a giant, blue jello-shot (with a lot less grace than I would like to admit), I met a young man who would end up being the connection I needed to land a lucrative teaching job in Brooklyn. He was handsome, amicable, and looking to make conversation. I indulged him a bit. Although I was bordering on mean/flirtatious drunk territory, he was friendly. I spoke quite a bit about my experience teaching in Spain. I confided in him that I was excited to return in a little over two weeks, but I was still keeping my eyes open for teaching jobs in New York. He was a high school teacher and his school was hiring. No fucking way. I handed him one of the three copies of my resume in my bag and told him to get me a job.
            With the school year already in session, I interviewed two days later and was offered the teaching position the following day. I was faced with two amazing options: return to Spain or take a full-time teaching position in Brooklyn, New York. Although I was sad to unexpectedly give-up my life abroad, I took the job in Brooklyn. Back to reality.
I knew that returning to life in the US meant a lot more responsibility—responsibility to my new job, to my friends, to my family. Before signing the yearlong contract, I promised myself that I would do my best to keep the adventure going. What exactly does this mean for me?

1.    Move to a new neighborhood. I had only planned on being in the US for six weeks. During those six weeks I was alternating between staying at my mom’s house or with friends. It was time to look for a more permanent situation. I am lucky because my new job is located in one of the most up and coming areas of New York City and is super easy to get to by subway. There were so many wonderful neighborhoods that would have been convenient for me to set-up my new life. I am currently in the process of moving into a new apartment in a diverse, largely residential neighborhood, located on the Brooklyn/Queens border. There are large Puerto Rican, Caribbean, South American, and Eastern European populations and amazing restaurants and shops to reflect them! I’m a 20-minute subway ride from the heart of Williamsburg (hipster central) and a half an hour from downtown Manhattan. I am looking forward to seeing exactly what my new neighborhood has to offer.

2.     Visit new places/partake in cultural activities. When I lived in Madrid, I chose to live in the absolute center of the city. I knew that this would have it’s ups and downs. My number one complaint was that the few weekends before and after Christmas, the streets were amazingly crowded with shoppers and sight-seers, that normal errands and activities slowed to a snails pace. On the other hand, the wonderful thing about living in the city center was that I could walk out my front door to some of the city’s best bars, restaurants, cafes, parks, museums, and shops. Often, I would go out for a short walk and return home hours later having passed the time at one of my “spots” or having discovered some new interesting place. Going out for a café con leche or a cana could easily turn into a adventure if I was in the right state of mind. This state of

3.    Continue studying Spanish. Among the many amazing things about living in Spain, immersing myself in the language was one of the most valuable. When I moved to Madrid, my level of Spanish was enough to order food, go shopping, and maybe flirt, but nothing more profound. After eleven months of living in Spain, I am not fluent (and maybe I will never be) but I feel comfortable in every rhetorical situation. I realize that although I can effectively communicate, there is always so much more to learn. I might not be living in a Spanish speaking country, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t continue learning. A great thing about living and working in New York City is that it is very easy to encounter people who speak a variety of languages either out of love of necessity. I do not work in a bilingual school, but I have a handful of co-workers and students that I see in the hallways that I speak to exclusively in Spanish. I’m currently looking into fun and affordable Spanish lessons in NYC; suggestions are welcomed.

4.     Don’t stop traveling. As much as I was enamored with the city of Madrid. I traveled a lot. I traveled a lot throughout Spain. I fell in love with Cordoba and Seville and took an amazing beach vacation in Mallorca.  I visited other countries, Portugal, Italy, and France. Travel was easy (for the most part, I’ll save the stories of when it wasn’t for another time). Buses and flights were cheap. Buses and flights are cheap in the US too. There are in fact, places that I want to see! I have friends and family to visit in Maryland, Boston, Florida, Texas, California, and Washington. I’ve always wanted to go to New Mexico. I’ve been lucky enough to explore Europe, but what about South America, maybe I can focus a little more energy on my dream of visiting Machu Picchu? That being said I’m not done with Spain. I was able to change my return flight to Madrid from mid-September to mid-December. I will be spending my two-week Christmas break in Spain, visiting with friends, and traveling a bit. Although it was on the top of my to-do list, I never made it to Morocco last year. Lets hope I’ll get there in December.

5.    Do something everyday that is blog worthy. Everyone has their own motivations for travel. I travel for the “wow moments.” I love traveling because it is an opportunity for me to be both an authority on my own culture and way of life, as well as an excited student. A “wow moment,” for me, could be seeing a site of natural beauty or an example or ancient architecture, eating a food that I never knew existed, hearing a type of music for the first time, having a thought provoking conversation, having a meaningful interaction with someone, discovering an artist, or just seeing something lovely. I think it is possible to have a “wow moment” every day, but some days, you have to create those moments for yourself or for someone else.