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Living abroad for a year can change a lot, and if you’re thinking of going away for a year, perhaps to teach English or commit to a year-long program, read this first.
Technically, on June 15th, 2016 I came back to the States after living a year in Madrid, Spain.
Since then, I have gone through a year of even more change, growth, struggles, and adjustments to say the least.
I want to share a little bit about all of that because I want this to be a reflecting point for anyone who may be going through the same thing.
I’ll be as honest as I can, and share most of all the shifts that occur after you spend a year outside of not only just your home country but your previous life and who you were before.
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So as many of you know, I spent a year teaching English abroad in Madrid, Spain.
Previous to that I had studied abroad in Greece for a few months and I would say that the reverse culture shock was way worse when I came back from Greece than from Spain.
The reason why?
Greece was a lot of firsts including my first time traveling on my own and my first time traveling to Europe, and I loved every single moment of it.
With the experience of feeling reverse culture shock as I did when I came back from Greece, I tried to brace myself for the same if not worse impact when I would come back from Spain.
Before the departure…
When the last few months, weeks, and days in Madrid started rolling, I had started to mentally prepare myself to say goodbye to a city I came so quickly to love and envision myself living for longer than a year.
I remember going out a lot more frequently, spending more time with friends and coworkers, and traveling because I was leaving that luxury as soon as I left Europe.
I indulged in cafe con leche (the best coffee evaaa) and baked goods (those napolitanas) and every other Spanish antojito.
The weather was perfect throughout the last few months even though I was dealing with bad spring allergies, that didn’t stop me from spending a lot more time outside.
I walked everywhere, took public transportation when necessary, and I relished every moment I could use my abono card (transportation card) to take me to pueblitos (small towns) around Madrid.
Honestly, the sheer enjoyment of knowing where the heck I was going without having to consult google maps in a foreign country was what I took pleasure in within the last few months.
I enjoyed my last few moments of feeling like a local and knowing my way around a city and a pueblo that was my home.
Arriving back to the States after living abroad…
So every time I come back from a trip, I leave feeling sad but somewhat happy to be able to enjoy my bed, my space, and my family again.
I always told my parents that they, my friends, and my bed were the only things I missed about the States.
After meeting up with my parents at the airport, the realization that Spain was a whole ocean away started to sink in.
Everything seemed to be different with a tinge of familiarity.
The roads seemed so much bigger, the people seemed so much quieter and to themselves, and even the smells were different, and I don’t know how to describe it.
It was just a change in the air I guess, and I don’t think it really fully hit me until the next day when I woke up.
I woke up the next day, and everyone had left for work and school.
I was left alone.
I played some flamenco (traditional music from southern Spain) as I tried mimicking a cafe con leche with the American coffee we had…fail.
Although, I do have to say I am still working on a recipe that will hold me over until the next time I go back to the real thing.
Being alone for the first time since I got back home gave me the time to be with myself and collect my thoughts as a bunch of memories from abroad and emotions started to well up inside.
I didn’t cry, but I was pretty close to it. Not gonna lie.
I felt helpless, almost trapped not in my home, but in this country and the way of life in the States.
Now, before we go any further, I am going to say that I am grateful for the privilege I get just to have been born in the States, and I am very thankful for that.
Without turning this post into an “I don’t like America because…” rant I will say that having that opportunity to have lived under different social norms, cultures, and expectations I felt a lot more free and happy in Madrid than I have here.
At that moment, that was my emotion, and even though I felt like I was hardcore missing out by not being in Madrid (or abroad and traveling for that matter), I tried to help myself adjust back not into my old life, but into something different.
What I had realized too was that though I miss Madrid and traveling, I mainly missed having new experiences, always learning something new.
I had realized that in order to make my readjustment process not as hard as post-Greece, I had to move forward, and not stay in the same spot or go backward.
I needed to change something physically to keep that sense of change consistent.
I started by redesigning my room.
That summer after coming back from Madrid, I wanted to change my space into something that reflected the changes I had experienced.
I wanted to start with my room because it was my space and I wanted to feel that every time I went in there, it would reflect me.
I went as minimalist as I could, lightened up the color of the walls, I got rid of my alarm clock (because I realized that I don’t need extra machinery if I had gone a year using my phone to wake me up), and I decluttered EVERYTHING.
I got rid of things that I didn’t need anymore, and things that I thought I needed, but I realized that I really don’t because I never use/wear them.
I credit my somewhat minimalist inspiration to one of the lessons I learned abroad, which was that I can really live with a lot less than what I think I need.
It felt great back in Spain to only have my essential things to call my own, and it felt great now to do the same with my room.
Other things I did to help me readjust was that I helped my parents with the remodeling of parts of our house, I rode my bike outdoors a lot more often, I stopped using the clothes dryer and instead hung my clothes dry (which I still do a year later).
I cooked, I listened to international music, and I watched international movies and TV shows.
I read books on travel and blog posts from people experiencing other cultures, and I spent time with my family.
These things and people made me happy and kept me sane.
I started a blog.
This blog was created for many reasons that I have talked about in the past, but also because it was therapeutic for me.
This was and continues to not only be an outlet for my wanderlust, but also a collection of images, stories, suggestions, and memories online that I get to share with you all.
Travel Notes and Things was an idea in the making for a while, but I never did feel that final push because it was a personal struggle of infinite excuses as to why I wasn’t good enough.
However, here we are lol!
It’s safe to say that after Madrid and my travels, I thought fuck it let’s finally do something I love.
The following months to the year after living abroad
After summer, everyone starts to go back into this set routine of school and work.
This was my first time feeling like I wasn’t a student anymore (because I had already graduated) and I was on the serious hunt for jobs because in my mind, the quicker I earned money, the quicker I could get on a plane off to somewhere.
I applied to different jobs, played the waiting game, applied for more until I got a job that I had been eyeing for a while (even before going to Spain).
I got the job, but I didn’t have any expectations other than this is my job, and I don’t know anything else other than my work, and I hope I can go on another adventure soon.
At the time, my friends were also moving far away – to other states and countries and my sister was starting off college in a different state as well.
So here I was, still dealing with readjustment and feeling the loneliest I had felt in a really long time.
It was a rough end of the summer (right before starting my new job) because if you’re not occupied with something, or if you don’t have some kind of commitment to attend to and distract you, you are literally left with your thoughts and feelings and that can sometimes be really detrimental to your readjustment.
In my case, I felt lonely because my friends were leaving, and though I was really happy for them, I still couldn’t help but miss them a lot.
Read More: What Happens When Travel Becomes Escapism?
Good company makes a difference…
I started my new job, I met 2 incredible people that started as my co-workers, but slowly and surely morphed into some of my best friends – at this job where I had no expectations from.
I met these 2 amazing friends at a time where I needed friends the most.
I am in a job that fulfills a part of me that wants to give back to my Latino community, and overall, I am very happy!
Making friends after living an unforgettable experience has made all the difference in my readjustment.
The last few months have been filled with endless laughter, joy, and quality company.
I think that bottom line, surrounding yourself with people (new or not) makes not only your readjustment better, but your life happier.
Where I am now a year after living abroad
Though I still rather be traveling the world, I am very happy with how things are now.
I find myself looking back to my life in Spain as one of the greatest years of my life.
Honestly, when I came back (this will sound really bad but it’s really honest of me) I didn’t really think far enough to imagine an equally great year back home.
I had imagined I would have a life of work and the usual bland routine, and little to no opportunity to travel.
Basically, I felt like everything would be dull compared to my year abroad.
But that is where las cosas van mal (things go south).
I learned now that I have to be happy because something like Spain happened, and not be sad because it’s over.
I learned that life is what you make of it, so if there are components of your life abroad that you enjoy and miss, try to emulate them wherever you are.
It’s also not healthy to compare what was once your current situation, to your actual current situation.
If things aren’t great, change them but if they are great, keep them that way.
Honestly, to this day there are songs that I listen to that give me serious throwbacks to Madrid and my year in Europe in general and though they were hard to listen to them immediately coming back, today I listen to them to travel back to that time.
So if you’re going through something similar, or are about to come back from studying/traveling/volunteering abroad keep in mind that you have to be happy that you got that experience, start saving for the next trip, and also don’t put your life back home on the back burner.
Make your life amazing here as it felt abroad.
Concluding thoughts on a year after living abroad
I hope that this helped anyone who is feeling reverse culture shock or maybe doing so in the next few months.
I truly enjoy sharing my experiences and I hope you have found something worth keeping from all of this.
If you feel like you have no one in your immediate circle to talk about the struggle to readjust, get in contact with me through my blog or any of my social media accounts.
Me encantaria conectarme contigo 🙂
To more transformative travel moments like these ✨