The coming of the new year is a time for reflection. After being home for about a month, I decided that I wanted to write one last post, looking back at my life in Spain now that it is all behind me.

Leaving everything in Spain behind brought a lot of emotions upon me. Ask any of the people that there were there to drop me off at Barcelona Sants. Or ask the last person that I saw from the other side of the passport control. Or ask the person sitting beside me on either one of the planes, who never actually saw my face. They would all know how red and puffy my eyes were. I would talk about the tears, but the truth is that by the time I got on the plane to Las Vegas, I didn’t have any tears left to cry. I tried so hard to convince myself that I was happy to return home, sweet home, to once again be in the arms of my family who I so missed dearly. But the reality is that in Spain I found another family, and it wasn’t necessarily the people that I lived with; it was all the people that opened their hearts to me, whether they knew me for years or not at all. I’m afraid to mention people in particular for fear of forgetting someone. The way I see it, I had the fortune, the PRIVILEGE to run out of tears. Even now as I write this, it makes me sad to relive all the goodbyes, and all of the amazing memories are laced with a tinge of melancholy. Like I said before, leaving everything behind brought forth a lot of emotions, but the truth is that what I feel the most is gratitude. Gratitude that I had the opportunity to have the experiences that I had. Gratitude that I made the relationships that I made. Gratitude that I was able to give two Americans a life they could never have in a place outside their home. And most of all, gratitude for the love that I was able to give and receive.

I think the most important lesson that I learned in my time abroad has to do with people. Making friends and building relationships is probably the most important thing that a person needs to learn in their life. And making those friends and building those relationships is not so easy when there are cultural or linguistic differences. What I learned is that there are three things that transcend any differences in culture, worldview, language, you name it:

  1. Human kindness - You don’t have to speak the same language or be from the same country to do something to help someone else. I always did my best to try and help people, and never expected or asked for anything in return. For example, one time I spent about 15 minutes helping a random delivery guy move some heavy items up some stairs. Afterwards, he asked me how much he owed me, to which I responded “a handshake”, and went on with my day.
  2. Passion - It really is no wonder people always want to see passion when choosing someone for some sort of position. Passion really speaks volumes about a person, and it always shines through whatever you do. Sure, you might need the same language to communicate your passion about a hobby, but my passion was and will continue to be living. I could tell that my passion for waking up every day and just living really helped me in my journey.
  3. Genuineness - Being genuine. Anyone that knows me well knows that I have a very strong character, for better or for worse. This is one of few character traits that I got from my dad. I am not hard-headed (necessarily), but I am very me. Every time that I met someone new, I wanted them to like me or not for who I really was. I lived every day being 100% me, never trying to be someone that I wasn’t. People see that and gravitate towards it. Plus, I had much more than my fair share of experiences with fake people in Spain, and every single time it made me feel terrible, and continues to make me feel terrible whether it was three years ago or three months ago.

I believe that these three things unite people, because people gravitate towards kindness, passion, and being genuine. What also went a long way with me was when people treated me life family. That is something that I always took for granted, because the people that raised me have always treated strangers like family. Normal people don’t do that, so I learned to really appreciate it.

Also, with respect to people I learned the importance of keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances. I spent 4 years away from Barcelona, and if it weren’t for the people that I kept in touch with over the years, I wouldn’t have found an apartment, a team to play soccer with, or a large part of my family. The beautiful part of long distance friendships is that you can go a long time without seeing each other and talking, but you both know that when you get to see each other again, it will be just the same as the last time. It also is true that in the last four years, my friends and I managed to go from graduating high school to finishing up college and getting jobs. I say that because it wasn’t necessarily the same, but it was really cool re-getting-to-know everybody and seeing how although things had changed, the friendship still remained the same.

When it comes to renting, I had only ever known landlord problems from my parents. The search for an apartment for me and then for Radek taught me a lot about the process of renting a place, and then later about being a tenant. While you might try you very hardest to be a good tenant, you will never be able to please a landlord 100%. Nobody knows this better than Radek, who had to have me bail him out with his landlady on a number of occasions. I also had my fair share of experiences, although I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have it go on behind the scenes. The most important thing in a relationship in communication, and the tenant-landlord relationship is no different. Whenever there is any sort of issue, it is important to communicate it to the other so there is no tension in the house or resentment behind the scenes. Also, as a tenant you need to know when you save face and when to put your foot down and defend the things you don’t think are right. I had to do this for Radek a couple of times in the face of a very angry landlady.

I had to accept the fact that not everyone would accept me. Sure, it seems pretty obvious, but for me, this was a really hard pill to swallow. I have always been (and will always be) a person that believes “the more the merrier”. Whenever I go somewhere, I invite ten people who I think might be down to go. I love having people around me and I love connecting people. Plus, ever since I did my exchange at age 15, I have understood how hard it is to make friends somewhere new, whether you speak the language or not. It can get frustrating and it can get lonely, which is much worse in my opinion. Culturally, the Spanish people are very clique-ish. They all have their groups, and they are in general reluctant to let someone new in. Now I will say that I am generalizing, because I found people who took me in as one of their own. I even found that if I met the nicest guy of the group to let me in, the rest of the people wouldn’t accept me and ultimately force the guy to cut me loose. I learned that not everyone was going to welcome me and take me in the way that I would do for someone else. And on top of that, I had to learn that that is okay.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what I was looking for in my sudden move to Spain. I thinking I was searching for sort of sign that I was indeed ready to “get it together” and get a big boy job. Pretty much every older person that I spoke to about my plans supported me, telling me to go out and do it while I am still young and have nothing to tie me down. But whether or not I owned it, I couldn’t feel like I was being a bum while watching everyone around me graduate, get big jobs, move out, or start lives with their serious girlfriends. All of a sudden I felt like I went from being years ahead of everyone to being years behind. This was another hard pill to swallow for me. I learned that I don’t always have to be the trailblazer, that there are times to just live in the moment and be happy. I’m not sure if I ever found what I was looking for in Barcelona, because I still don’t feel ready to “grow up” and I still feel as lost as ever in life. BUT, what I did learn about myself is that I can go out and create opportunities for myself; I don’t have to wait around for an opportunity to fall onto my lap. If I wanted to be in a book club, I could create one. If I wanted to play soccer a few times a week, I could find ways to do it. If I wanted to make living arrangements for myself and Radek, I could do it. And if I wanted to find a family, I could find one.

Another thing that I learned is how lucky I am to be an American. Although I loved my life in Spain and would consider moving to Spain under certain, special circumstances, many things about my life abroad made me grateful for what I have in the United States. While the whole visa situation was really frustrating, I came to the realization that I hit the genetic lottery being born in the United States. I met SO many people that wanted to move to or visit the United States. As a US citizen it is easy to move around most of the world, even if there are anti-American sentiments within some communities. It is also “cool” to be an American, because while we as a people are relatively ignorant to other cultures, everyone in the world knows about ours. That annoyed me and made me happy at the same time. Pop culture was always a great talking point, but news about politics and current events was often delivered to the people through their own government, who keep in mind needs to continue to sell socialism to its people. In fact, when it came to politics, I constantly found myself frustrated when I went out, because as soon as someone found out that I was American the first thing out of my new acquaintance’s mouth was “and Trump?”. People found it hard to leave the politics at home and just have a good time. Of course, at the beginning I engaged it because of how much I love to stir the pot, but after a while I just found it unproductive. Plus, my goal was to build relationships, not cut them off at the start.

I guess I want to end this by saying how grateful I am for the experiences that I had and for all the people who I crossed paths with.