I recently realized one incredible fact: I am no longer a child. This “fact” may seem silly to some, but to me, it’s a reflection of something I’ve struggled with for a few years now. I’ve always thought of myself as one of the kids, one of those people who’s too young to understand certain things. It might be because I was often one of the younger ones in my extended family, but there’s no excuse for that now. Before I left for Spain in 2012, I most definitely still had this mindset. I was 22 years old, a recent graduate, and had never lived anywhere away from home besides for a couple of months in California (with my sister). I was inexperienced in life, yet I had no idea just how inexperienced I was.
That year, I traveled quite a bit. I went back and fourth from my hometown to locations in the United States (including California and Washington D.C.), and generally led a fairly busy life. I was also working full-time when I was in my hometown, which was my main means of being able to take off to Spain at all. I saw myself as independent, to a certain extent, but I needed to leave my parents’ house to finally get a sense of who I was in the “real world”.
Now, though it sounds as if I was a little girl, it’s because in some ways, I still was. I never went off to a different city to study my undergraduate education, and most of my travels had been done with my family. I had, of course, my own life with my own crowd of friends, but I was still very much involved in family life.
When I took off to Spain, however, my life changed completely. As cliché as that sounds, it’s difficult to deny that my travels forced me to grow up in some ways that I doubt would have been possible – within the same amount of time – in my hometown. I dealt with difficult situations – some of which I still haven’t discussed here on the blog – and had to navigate the city without much, if any, help from anyone else.
If you’ve ever lived in Madrid, I know what you’re thinking. There’s a big support system in Madrid, especially for English-speaking expats. That’s true. However, when I landed in Madrid, I didn’t know anyone in the city. Some people do decide to teach English in the city with a friend or two from home. While I often think that’s not the greatest way to challenge one’s self on a journey like this, it comes in handy in a lot of situations. You automatically have someone there to be with you whilst merely walking around the city. You have a support system of some kind. In short, things become instantly easier.
Instead, I was alone. Not only alone, either. I was stuck in a roommate situation that was less than ideal for me. I felt completely lost for a while, which luckily for me, pushed me to meet new friends every single night. For a while, the days started to pass by at a ridiculous rate. Suddenly, it was December, meaning my time in my unfavourable first apartment was over.
That’s the thing about traveling – time goes by so quickly that it becomes your mission to remember that there is a life beyond your travels. In my case, it meant that I had to devote a day of my week to responding to emails, calling my family, and generally keeping up with news stories. I had never been this out of touch before, but it was for a good reason – I was enjoying my life.
While I was in Madrid, I traveled to a lot of new places. I managed to do this by working very hard, meaning that I would be at work – in some form – from morning until 8 or 9pm every night. I never let an opportunity to gain more travel funds pass me by, which definitely says quite a bit about my slight tendency towards being a workaholic. However, as much as I worked a lot, I also had a lot of fun. After work, it was in my best interest to try to meet friends, if only for an hour or two before bedtime.
This type of lifestyle is fairly normal in a lot of cities, but not where I’m from. My hometown isn’t exactly a lively city despite its weekend events. It isn’t the kind of place you live in if you want to be able to meet your friends at 9pm on a Wednesday night. Most people are in their pyjamas by that point, and those who aren’t are usually at a family dinner or work meeting. Madrid, on the other hand, is the social butterfly’s haven. I liken my time in Madrid to an experience in a time warp; you don’t realize that time’s going by so quickly simply because you’ve been immersed in such an enjoyable environment. It can become a little dangerous at times, but it’s a good kind of dangerous.
That’s why, two years later, I find myself amazed at how I’m already at this point in my life. Those two years in Madrid zoomed by, and it still leaves me in awe. I sometimes have to remind myself of all of the amazing things I’ve been able to do, simply because it’s all seemed too good to be true. The selfish part of me wonders why that time had to end, and why I’ve had to come back to a type of reality I’m not so sure about. Since reuniting with my family, including younger members who were newborn babies when I left for Spain, I realize that time is a tricky thing. While I was in another country learning to navigate my own life, a lot of things have changed. I’ve changed, and now I can no longer claim to be as naive as I once might have been. Although I have a long way to go before I reach satisfiable levels of wisdom, I’m nearly 25 years old. This is an uncertain period of life for most people, and while I’m still figuring out what my next step is, I know I can be happy with the achievements I’ve made since that rainy day I first took off for a life abroad. Still, I can’t help but wonder – why does time seem to speed up when you’re at a happy place in life?
Have you ever felt as though time’s passed you by too quickly?
I’ve now been in Madrid for exactly one year, and in some ways it has zoomed by so fast! I’m looking forward to the year ahead in Madrid, because last year this time I was like you and without a support system and still didn’t know anyone. I’m still making new friends and settling down, but I’m definitely ahead on where I was last year…
also, I don’t think being uncertain and figuring out your next step is only applicable up to about 25…I think I’ll always feel this way…but I kind of see it as an exciting thing.
The first year’s always an adjustment period, but it’s exciting. The second year, for me, was much more settled and easy to deal with, which opens up different kinds of opportunities. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
As for the age issue, I agree. Life’s a mystery regardless of how old you are, but I suppose I’m going through that normal pre-25 phase of questioning everything. I have a feeling I’ll be less stressed out about age after I deal with this upcoming year!