Having been in Madrid for approximately 7 weeks now, you would think I know the ins-and-outs of the city. Or, at the very least, I would have visited all of the major landmarks and areas. Truth is, I would have thought so too, but here I am, still unsure of where the Royal Palace and Templo de Debod are. I have yet to visit the major museums – including the Prado and Reina Sofia – and still feel like I haven’t exhausted my “tourist” card yet.
Since moving here, I’ve made the biggest adjustments I’ve ever had to make in my life. I’ve had to get used to a culture that, at first, seemed so much like that of my parents and family; for that reason, I didn’t think it would be an issue. However, as time went on, I conveniently remembered that I don’t even feel fully comfortable with my ancestral cultures, and that at the end of the day, I’m a North American. I eat like a North American, talk like one, and I only really ever feel comfortable giving the two-kisses-on-the-cheek with people I’ve been doing it with since I was a kid. I also act like one, which means that upon first meeting someone, I just can’t seem to tell them my whole life story – a trait I clearly didn’t inherit from my mother. Here in Spain, if you aren’t willing to do just that to a complete stranger, you’re seen as unnecessarily cold. The worst part? People from here tend to think I’m from here until I start speaking. Sometimes, the looks I get when I say I don’t speak much Spanish or that I’m not Spanish say more than anything that could ever actually be verbally said by these people. Well, that might just be because they couldn’t say it in English, or I wouldn’t understand it in Spanish!
Now, it’s not just the culture shock that’s taken me some time to get used to. Other things, including living arrangements, language issues, work, and simply finding a balance between the things I like have all taken some getting used to. Before I came to Madrid, I had no idea just how sheltered I was – and I really was sheltered. I resented being told that I was, and that I was spoiled, but it was completely true. I got so used to my big house with my big bed and my lots-of-space that moving to a small flat in the middle of Madrid with two other people I had never met before made me realize I definitely had been in my own little bubble before. As for the second point I mentioned – well, never did I ever think Spanish would be difficult for me. I had always picked up languages easily growing up, and Spanish was one of those languages I thought was extremely easy. Then, I moved to Spain, where the accent is different, people talk quickly (and I mean seriously fast), and I can’t seem to follow anyone unless they have an exceptionally clear speaking voice. I’ve thought about taking language classes, or even doing a language exchange, but it seems to be consistently pushed lower and lower on my list of priorities. That can’t be good, can it, given that one of the major reasons I came was to be proficient in Spanish?
As for the last two – my job in itself took weeks to adjust to. The first few weeks felt like torture, and it definitely made me push myself in ways I hadn’t been pushed before. As someone with a love for film direction, and with my (relatively minimal) experience in direction in different things, the part where I was responsible for commanding a huge group of people on a consistent basis hasn’t been so difficult. Still, making sure they remain interested, don’t misbehave, and actually listen has been tough. However, I remind myself on a daily basis that my job could be much worse, I could be paid less, and my hours could be longer. Furthermore, my students (all teenagers) are mostly easier to deal with as the weeks go by – as they get to know me, they know where my limits are, that I can laugh off most things but can’t deal with others, and that I’m there to help them.
This is the part where I get to the most important struggle I’ve had in coming here (besides missing my friends and family) – the issue of finding a balance in life here in Madrid. The first couple of weeks were a worldwind – from getting to know the people in closest proximity to me to trying to find out where the important things around my area were, those first two weeks were surreal. After that, it was a matter of finding people, and then getting to know what was expected out of me for my job, and the expectations just kept progressing. I’ve been told – by people who have lived here longer than a year – that it often takes months to get really adjusted and to find your niche here. The problem was, I put so much pressure on myself to find that niche right away. This has been so extreme that it’s put a halt on the things I actually came here to do. I didn’t come to Madrid to do what I’ve been trying to do – I came here to write, to film, to explore the city, to understand what it’s like to actually be Spanish, to become more proficient in the language, and to understand what I find important. One of the biggest reasons I came here was to travel – not just Madrid or Spain, but Europe in general – and to make sure that I saved up for that, and that my days of working mornings, afternoons, then even evenings were for that very reason. I came here to be myself, and it’s been hard to remember that sometimes.
The exploration has been halted, and my priorities have been reshuffled, but I’ve decided to set them straight. It’s time I let go of some of my fears and forget about my adjustment issues – I’m in Spain, I better start acting like it.