Thursday, March 20, 2014

Confessions of a Texan in Spain

Alright, guys, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses that too often get put on when I talk about traveling or how amazing Spanish food is, and time for some #RealTalk. As an American living in Spain, trying to speak Spanish, and living to tell the tale about it on this blog, I’ve got some thoughts and reflections that I’d like to share in a confessional-style post, touching on the subjects of life, travel, language, and blogging.

Life

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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Almost two years since graduating college, I’m still not sure what comes next in terms of a career or job. This point is a major source of anxiety for me: do I sell out for the ever-elusive 9-5 desk job, attempt to make ends meet by pursuing writing full-time, or attempt to teach high-schoolers some combination of Spanish and history? Don’t get me wrong—I’ve really enjoyed teaching English but I can’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life, which is one reason that…

I can’t see myself living in Spain long-term, making the transition from temporary expatriate to permanent immigrant. I love this country: it has some of the most fascinating history and architecture, tastiest food, most beautiful languages, and most gorgeous countryside I’ve experienced in the world. But literally one of every two Spaniards my age is unemployed, job prospects for English-speaking foreigners are mostly relegated to ESL, and American teachers are often sidelined in favor of EU residents like Brits or Irish. I’m also not dating a Spaniard, either, which is often the most common stepping stone to gaining residency.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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It’s really pathetic how much the weather here in Santiago affects my mood; these past weeks have been full of glorious sun, warmth, and blooming flowers…yay! But the wintry months of January and February were long, dark, cold, and extremely rainy: it literally rained every single day for over fifty days straight! While the sun has banished any lingering Seasonal Affective Disorder I may have caught, this year has made me wonder if it’s really worth enduring the terrible months of winter.

Although praised by some of the most popular writers in the travel world, the idea of long-term travel, of being a “digital nomad” and having a “location-independent” job or career does not appeal to me at all. I get cranky and exhausted after ten days on the road, and as a major homebody I enjoy having a bed to call my own, a dresser for my clothes, and a stovetop I know how to operate. Although I’m almost never homesick, more and more I’ve been feeling this strange urge to settle down and put down roots, making local friends and giving back to the community, and I like I said above, I don’t want to do that in Spain. America is on my horizon.

Travel

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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I’m starting to wonder if how I go about seeing cities has become kind of formulaic or simply a hitlist to check off, usually involving some combination of cathedral/main church, castle/palace/fortress, archaeological museum, and maybe some historical ruins, lookout point, or public park. I tend to have an all-inclusive three-course menú del día for lunch and then nibble here and there for dinner. I almost exclusively take the train (since I hate buses) and stay at cheap hostels. You could say I’ve just found my groove, but I kind of feel like I need to spice things up—maybe I should plan to explore a city looking for the coolest street art, the crunchiest churros, or the loudest church bell towers?

I am incredibly blessed and privileged to have seen so many places I’ve always dreamed of over the past two years, from exploring the biggies like Paris, Barcelona, and Rome to hiking the Camino de Santiago or emerging on a cold, windy afternoon in the hillside village of Albarracín. But not everyone is given the same circumstances as us globetrotter types, and not everyone who travels to Europe can blend in as easily as a white guy can, for example. I’ve definitely got a post about privilege and how it relates to travel in the works, as it’s an important topic few travel bloggers who push people to get out the door rarely touch on.

Language

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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When I first came to Spain last year, I strongly resisted adapting to the Castilian accent of Spanish—I pronounced my Cs, Ss, and Zs all like the letter S, I conjugated “y’all” as ustedes rather than vosotros, and tried to say bueno or O.K. instead of vale in agreement. One by one, the dominoes fell, and here I am sounding like I learned Spanish somewhere between Andalucía and Galicia. But I’m concerned I’m not practicing speaking Spanish enough as I mainly hang out with Americans here in town, live with a (great!) American housemate, and hear Galician 24/7 in school. It’s one of my goals to take the B2 or C1 DELE exam in Spanish before my time is up here…but I’m worried I might not pass!

On a related note, I’m not sure what to do with this other language I’ve picked up on over the past couple months. As far as listening goes, I can understand Galician just as well as I can Spanish, but I can hardly express myself in the language outside of mumbling eu falo un pouquiño da lingua galega—“I speak a little bit of Galician.” Should I pursue formal classes next year and attempt to speak it with my coworkers at school or would it be more worth my time to study a language that’s perhaps a little more useful, like French or Portuguese?

Blogging

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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I get major blogging envy every so often; I feel like I should have more views, more comments, more subscribers after churning out (what I believe are quality) posts twice a week for almost two years now. My practical language assistant posts bring in the lion’s share of traffic here, but I wish more folks came for my love notes to Úbeda, Jaén, or Galicia. Still, I can’t complain about all the positive support I’ve received so far from my parents, my friends, and the readers that I do have; you guys rock!

Although I enjoy writing, Im really disillusioned with the whole travel blogging industry. I’m all for writers making a living doing what they love: traveling and sharing their stories and experiences with their audiences. But I don’t think I could jump all the way in to that world because so much of it involves sneaking sponsored links to cheap holidays in Spain, travel insurance, or cheap flights into your blog posts as well as hustling to get your food and lodging paid for on press trips in return for talking about them on your blog. To me personally it would feel inauthentic, or like “selling out”—but I guess you gotta pay the rent somehow.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
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Writer’s block never attacks me, but procrastination does. I have over thirty posts in my idea file floating around right now (and more in my drafts folder); my problem isn’t getting the Muses to speak, it’s shutting out the Siren song of the Internet!

This blog focuses far too much on the traveler hat I wear and not on the expat-living-in-Santiago de Compostela one, and while I don’t think that puts up a false image of my life here, it’s definitely a skewed one, the highlight reels, and not a representation of everyday life. Part of the problem is that I have more than 300 pictures from around town I need to edit and upload…eventually. Hopefully once I get some usable pictures online I’ll be able to talk about this beautiful city more frequently.

If you’ve lived in Spain before and/or like to blog, can you identify with anything I talked about? What do you think? Talk to me in the comments below!
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