Blogging in 2018: A Beginner’s Guide on How to Get Started

Welcome to this beginner’s guide of blogging!

I’m still trying to get the hang of creating a professional looking blog and have been working behind the scenes on the ins-and-outs for months. So, this post is a result of months of research, in-person group meetings (more info below!) and my own personal experience in the blogging world.

Every so often, when I’m out networking or chatting with friends, I get asked how to start a blog or what I blog about specifically. I haven’t started earning any money from my website yet but I have big plans to do so and I plan to reinvest a good portion of the earnings back into my blog and my freelance business (which I hope to combine the two one day!)

So, let’s get started on my top 10 tips on starting a blog!

 

Cheers to the success of your future blog!

 

Scroll on down to get started creating your own blog or learning some tips on how to tweak your current one.

This post contains affiliate links to products and services. Sarah la Viajera will receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. It will contribute to keeping the costs of running this site down and allow me to provide more valuable content for you in the future.

 

1. Pick a Great name

Your name (or your brand) is everything these days. A name -good or bad- is something that sticks in someone’s mind long after the conversation is over or it floats out of it before you even finish a conversation.

The last thing anyone wants is to be forgotten or have a name that’s so overused that no one remembers it, right?

I was looking for a new name to use for my own blog domain for a couple years and it was right in front of me. My Instagram handle existed before this website since I was so well-known for being a travelaholic among my friends, they started calling me, “Sarah la viajera” every time I went on or planned a trip. By looking at the name, you wouldn’t guess that I’m all about travel but the name is memorable. It’s fun to say (because of the rhyme) if you speak Spanish or even if you don’t. The long story short is that I accidentally found the name for my brand/personality but it has since worked out.

However, if your niche is going to be travel, there are some names you’ll want to avoid these names in your brand or URL:

  • Nomad
  • Backpacker
  • Wanderer/Wanders
  • Adventurous/Adventures
  • Travel/Traveler/Travels, etc
  • Journey

The bad news is all of these names are already taken and the bloggers who have them made them popular and famous. If you’re starting a blog in 2018 -compared to 2010 or earlier, when travel blogging was a brand new concept- you’re going to have to work harder to stand out. The good news is that each blogger’s voice, writing style, and personality are all unique and you can stand out in this noisy online world.

Let your personality shine through in your name. And take advantage of working on it from wherever you want! (Cute cat mug sold separately)

However, if you one day want to go from budget travel to luxury travel, don’t put the words “budget” or “backpacker” anywhere near your name. Don’t trap yourself in a niche you don’t see yourself staying in for a long time.

Give yourself room to grow.

Secondly, while you’re figuring out your ideal niche and audience, keep this in mind too: don’t be country specific.

If you’re currently an ex-pat in one country but have plans to travel the world one day, don’t let your sole focus be on that one country. For example, I could say that I’m an expert on living, working and traveling in Spain but I’m also an expert on living in my home country, the United States. But I also want to travel to many, many more countries while I maintain this blog.

The way to get around this is to add drop-down menus or pages filled with all your expert content and tips on living in such and such country.

Lastly, make sure your URL looks good! Or rather, make sure your name looks readable, no repeating letters! -and not laughable- in an address bar.

Imagine if I had chosen this name instead:

myjourneysassarah

or

sarahsgoingglobal

(I’m cringing, too)

I think you get my point. A name is everything so choose wisely!

2. Self-host your website

The last thing you will want to worry about when you’re at the beach is your website crashing, right?

Confession: when I first started blogging I created this blog on Blogspot way back in 2010, previously called Life in Transition, as a way to document the direction my life took post-college years. In hindsight, I should’ve started off on WordPress dot com so that my content transfer to a real domain would’ve been a lot less painful. (I’m still editing old articles to this day).

So, I trudged on and stuck with my Blogspot domain (and analyzing the cool-to-me stats on my readers) for nearly 7 years! I’ve been enjoying having my own corner of the Internet for nearly 1.5 years now and I couldn’t be happier. It was a great decision professionally.

Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that no one will take your blog seriously unless it’s self-hosted. Personally, I have gotten more freelance work simply because I was able to showcase my writing samples on a dot com website compared to a dot Blogspot or dot WordPress linked one. When you upgrade to your own domain and a dot com (if that’s the best choice for you) site, companies, brands, clients and your peers will take you more seriously.

Remember, anyone can set up a blog but creating a blog that could later become a full-fledged business will cost money and lots of time and effort. I haven’t started earning any type of income from my blog yet but I do know that the $270 (~232€) I’ve spent so far to help create and design my little corner on the Internet will pay off soon.

There are a lot of hosting sites out there and you’ll see a lot of other bloggers promote BlueHost. It’s not a bad hosting service to use but I’ve heard of a number of complaints about their services and a few customers who are unhappy with them. So, I decided to skip the stress and pay a little bit more for higher quality service and support from SiteGround.

A few pros:

  • Fast loading times and the site never crashes
  • Excellent customer and IT support
  • Continual improvements to their services and site security

Here are 4 easy steps on how to sign up for hosting services through SiteGround:

STEP 1

Click on the orange “Learn More” button below to take a look at plans.

Web Hosting

STEP 2

Compare the plans and pick the best one for you!

If you’re a hobby blogger but want your own little space on the Internet, I would suggest getting the StartUp plan. It’s a very affordable price with plenty of storage, room for thousands of views, and extras. (This is the one that I have but I will be upgrading soon.)

However, if you’ve had a popular blog for a while and envision it growing past a few thousand views per month, get the GrowBig plan. You can even manage multiple websites on it and get a few more bonuses the StartUp plan doesn’t offer.

Now the big one: GoGeek. It’s ideally for someone who has an existing blog that’s wildly popular (send me tips on how you got there!) and getting thousands of visitors per day. Or it can be for a person who plans to be the next big fashion, travel or lifestyle blogger (or vlogger) and wants as much space as possible to grow their audience into an active and engaged community.

Not saying you can’t be a mix of these types of people in the blogging world but the most important thing is to give yourself room to grow.

STEP 3

Got your ideal plan all figured out? Great!

Now it’s time to choose that domain name you were supposed to come up with in Tip #1 (see above).

Check to see if your awesome domain name is available and then proceed with the next step. If it’s not, you’ll have to brainstorm another one! Remember to make it really memorable and something that will help you stand out in the years to come, both on and offline (ie: your audience).

If you’re switching over an existing domain, just choose “I already have a Domain” and type it into the box.

Easy, right?

STEP 4

Purchase Information

A screenshot of sample checkout page for hosting with Siteground. Your own cost will vary based on which plan you choose.

Now that you’ve chosen your own plan, created a new domain or added your existing one, it’s time to decide how long you want your blog to stick around.

Naturally, if you plan to go pro one day, you’ll want your website to be around forever. If that’s the case, choose the maximum amount of hosting time offered, 36 months (3 years). This will give your blog plenty of time to grow and develop through the years without having to worry about your monthly hosting rate going up any time soon.

It lists extra services and the ones that I would recommend are Domain Registration (one-time fee) and Domain Privacy. Spammers and hackers are out there and it’s Siteground‘s job to protect you. I’ve never had slow page loading times, a crashed website or hackers on my site.

Once you choose your hosting plan rate and extra services, enter your payment information and you’re done.

Your blog has been created! (And your card will be charged but remember, it’s an investment.)

I can’t say enough good things about this hosting site and that’s why I added them into my tips. It’s hard to keep quiet about a good thing, isn’t it?

**Pro tip: One mistake I made in May 2017 was not buying hosting services for a long enough time period. I only bought one year’s worth and guess what happened? The initial discount price went up to the full price! That’s right. It’s because Siteground (and other hosting sites) only gives you the discounted monthly rate on your first invoice. Translation: if you only buy hosting for one year -yet knowing you want to keep your blog up for as long as possible-, then once your renewal date rolls around, you will be charged the full price!

Buy the maximum amount of hosting (up to 3 years) at the cheapest price possible. You want your blog up forever, right? Of course! The money you invest in quality hosting services will pay off big time.**

3. Get WordPress

I can’t stress enough how important it is to start your blogging career off with WordPress. Whether it’s for professional or personal reasons, learning WordPress is key to your blogging success. And it’s just more user-friendly, too!

Not tech savvy at all? Don’t worry! The tech gurus at Siteground installed WordPress on my site for me within a matter of hours so I didn’t have to do anything myself. It was one of the best things about choosing them as my hosting provider.

What I did have to do myself was migrate and transfer content from my existing blog on Blogspot but that was pretty painless, too.

The painful part was starting all over in terms of traffic to all my posts. Sad day but I’ve since recovered (thankfully).

The final post I made on my old blog. Look at how simple that theme was!

4. Decide on your theme and install some plug-ins

Themes, what? I am working on getting a better theme for my own website here but currently using a free theme from WordPress – there are tons of them out there!

I’m using Sela and I really like it, though I would prefer one that has drop-down menus and better-organized categories. Still playing around with what I like and focusing on creating high-quality content (keep scrolling to read more about that!).

I will eventually have to pay for some website upgrades as my audience and traffic grow but I’m saving that for a bit later (preferably when my savings increases).

Now, onto Plug-ins.

Adding a few of these will get your blogging career off to a great start!

This is one of the first topics that was discussed at the local Blogger Meet-Up that I attend monthly. (More information below) I was actually able to gather quite the list and add them to my own blog over time but here are the most basic, must-haves that you can add today:

  • Yoast SEO (the best one out there giving detailed analysis)
  • Akismet (to automatically block spam comments)
  • JetPack (for more in-depth stats and more)
  • SumoMe (to link all your social handles to each post and provide easier sharing)
  • Keysearch (I’m currently trying this one out for SEO enhancement and like it!)
  • Blogger 301 Redirect (only if you’re migrating an existing Blogspot account over to WordPress)

Pro-bloggers that I follow (from Make Traffic Happen) seem to almost unanimously recommend paying for an annual subscription with Keysearch and then only using the free version of Yoast SEO. I love the free version and that’s all I’ve stuck with for nearly a year and a half but I will update this with my thoughts on Keysearch once I subscribe to the full version.

For now, those plug-ins should get you started!

5. Set up Google Analytics

My overall stats from the past 2 months of using Google Analytics. Can’t wait to see it grow!

Not good at math or don’t like numbers?

Well, I can’t sympathize with you as, while I’m very much a creative with a huge imagination, I’m also a lover of numbers and statistics. I have a very analytical mind and ever since I heard about Google Analytics, I have been anxious to download it. (I even have the app version of it so I can check stats while I’m out! haha)

Don’t worry about trying to figure out all of the stats that Google Analytics before you begin, setting up an account and linking it to your domain is easy. Follow the steps on their website.

You will need to have an Analytics account in order to make a name for yourself in your industry, whether it’s in travel, fashion, lifestyle or fitness. It’s long since been the industry standard for measuring metrics such as country, language, pageviews, and referral links. Besides, aren’t you curious to find out who your audience is, what they’re searching for and if you’re targeting the right demographics (age, gender, etc)?

You can go on to track weekly, monthly and yearly stats and send those numbers (by taking a screenshot as I did above) to pitch your account/website to tourism boards or other brands with whom you want to work.

6. Grab your social media handles

Making your blog looking all nice and polished is just the first step of blogging. The second is publishing your content via WordPress. The third -and most important- is getting the word out about it. Everyone who’s anyone is on at least one social media channel, even if it’s just a placeholder or profile they don’t use often.

But, no one will know about your awesome blog if you don’t start talking and sharing about it! Personally, my Instagram account became popular among my friends and then among other language assistants around Spain. It was mainly because I was liking and commenting on other people’s accounts or using the group hashtag. (Social media marketing is a whole nother topic so I’ll stop there.) The point is I started sharing personal content, photos, and thoughts, which led to more sharing. I guess that’s how a person becomes popular?

Where I got my start as Sarah la viajera. Where will you get yours?

These are the main social media channels you should create soon after putting your brand new (or revamped) blog out into the world:

  • Facebook (business) Page (then later on a Facebook Group)
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • Google +
  • YouTube or Vimeo

Play around with these and learn which ones work best for you. If you’re more focused on producing written content and not videos, focus on Facebook and Instagram. But maybe snag a YouTube channel for yourself in case you ever want to branch out. You never know how or when your interests will change!

However, the best channels to focus on now are Facebook Groups, Instagram and Pinterest. It now costs money to post from a Facebook Business Page and have your posts show up in someone’s newsfeed. Groups are the loophole and can help you create a more engaged community! Marketing and social posts are extremely visual these days so Instagram is pretty much what most people are on. Pinterest (statistically proven to be used by women more than men) is like a visual search engine. That means it’s the perfect tool for anyone who’s blogging about lifestyle tips, travel, baking, homemade recipes, interior design or decorating, fitness and so much more.

Figure out which ones are best for you and stay active! Or load a bunch of posts and content into an automated scheduler like Hootsuite, Buffer or Tailwind (that’s what I’m about to do).

Don’t forget to live your life off social media and go on adventures with your family and friends!

**Pro-tip: In today’s world, anyone can contact you at any time of the day or night on a number of apps. As someone who already works remotely and has started to receive a number of comments, emails, and messages about the posts I’ve written, my biggest piece of advice for new bloggers (or social media stars-to-be) would be to set limits. One of the ways you can protect your time in this “glued to my phone 24 hours a day” world, is to create a schedule for yourself. Only want to be available from 9am-5pm (not including weekends)? Not a problem. Don’t click on a message at 8 am or on any given Friday night at 9 pm. You will get messages or comments (hopefully not phone calls!) at midnight or 5:11 am in the morning (time zone problems) but DON’T answer them. 

Blogging is fun but your time is precious so protect it and make time for other people and things in your life.**

7. Join Nomadic Matt’s Super Star Blogging Course

This is my first post about the topic of blogging itself but it’s a hobby I’ve been taking seriously since 2017. And for those who are more serious about professional blogging, I would recommend you take a course in order to not make all the mistakes pro-bloggers did before courses like these existed.

One course in particular that I’m still going through is called Super Start Blogging by Nomadic Matt. In early 2018, it merged with Travel Blog Success, which was a popular travel community for bloggers of all levels. I had initially bought the course through a yearly project collaboration of digital products called The Paradise Pack (becomes available every May) so I lucked out on getting a whole host of useful blogging products at one time!

In this course, Matt reveals all the tips, tricks, and secrets to getting started as a travel blogger, seeing your blog as a business or how to become an expert travel writer or photographer.  He’s very transparent with both his successes and failures and his modules are very easy to follow.

Super Star Blogging

He even offers tech support and a private Facebook group for members. In it, you can ask questions and get amazing advice you won’t find anywhere else.  You can go at your own pace with the course and go as fast or slow as you want. I would recommend giving yourself about a month for the travel writing course and doing at least one or two modules a day to see progress.

While I’m still going through his courses, I’m learning a ton and can safely say that I’ve never seen better courses that will help you learn both the basics and advanced blogging techniques to help transform your blog into a business.

The best thing about it is you can get all access to the course(s) for 30 days and get a refund if you didn’t find the information helpful or useful to you.  (I highly doubt that you won’t!)

Supertar Blogging Logo

8.  Give Your Blog a human touch

https://sarahlaviajera.com/

Behind each blog lies a person and your audience wants to see and get to know who you are! This is why I added a nice (nearly) full body photo on my home page so you can really see who I am.

Some bloggers miss this point entirely and make their websites the most informative as they can, cramming each page with tons of information but….they forget to add a human touch. Facts, figures, costs of living and stats are cool and all (at least to me, haha) but what your readers will really want to know is your best stories. Or personal reviews of products you’ve purchased and tried on your own. Or maybe they need advice and were once in your shoes, meaning that you will be the perfect person for them to listen to.

The best things you can do for your blog is to find your voice (and stick with it), let your personality shine through and remind your readers that you’re a normal human being just like them.

One of the most relatable travel bloggers I follow is Adventurous Kate. I found her blog nearly 6 years ago when I was in the contemplating and researching state of living abroad and I’ve been a loyal reader ever since. I may not agree with every issue or belief that she has but I can definitely relate to her on many levels with solo female travel, life abroad, sustainable tourism, and women’s rights in the workforce. She used to be active on Snapchat and I loved her updates on there but now I follow her Instagram stories. If you have ever watched any of her videos (or stories), she seems totally relatable and there’s no question that she’s a real person. Her personality shines through and it just naturally encourages her readers to stay up-to-date with her.

Blogging goals, right there.

9. Become a part of a blogging community and collaborate

You know the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”?

Well, it takes a whole lotta work to create and maintain a successful blog and you won’t get anywhere without a little help!

And maybe some wine? (Photo of a glass of Legaris, my favorite Ribera del Duero wine, and La Tita’s famous tortilla tapa in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

One of the best things that could’ve crossed my path was a feisty, passionate and self-starting woman named Cepee, who had a New Year’s Resolution down on paper and a burning desire to turn it into reality way back in January 2017.

Fast forward to September 2018 and we’ve got a thriving community of over 900 bloggers (connected through the Facebook Group) and about 60-70 people who come to the monthly meetings in person, here in Madrid. (Most people are based in and around Spain as we all tend to have a love for the country in common but it’s not to say that you can’t join, too.)

I have learned so much about blogging, copywriting, content creation, website maintenance, photography, SEO, pitching, branding and more in the past year and a half! And I’ve met pro bloggers such as the infamous Mr. Chorizo, Sally from Passports & Plates, and one of the founders of Las Morenas de España to name a few.

Can’t find a Meet Up or collaboration group in your city? Start one yourself!

Exchange services, collaborate on projects, learn from other bloggers with different niches and never stop growing. Also, don’t do anything for free. This is your dream -or your baby as some would say- so say no to projects, sponsored posts or trips that don’t fit well with your audience.

The more selective you are in the beginning, the more quality content and products you can present to your readers.

Madrid Blogger Network

Madrid, ES
211 Members

This group is for bloggers of all interests and all levels. Whether you’re new to blogging, experienced or have been thinking of starting a blog and don’t know where to start …

Next Meetup

Content Planning Success with Editorial Calendars

Thursday, Sep 20, 2018, 7:30 PM
3 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

10.  Share and create amazing content!

This last one will be short and sweet.

Passion is what will drive you and keep you going for a long, long time in the blogging world. Motivation will come and go but passion will keep you posting, shooting photos and recording videos.

Experiment with the mediums you might want to showcase on your blog.

And don’t forget to eat! 😉

If you’re a writer, set a minimum word count goal for the day or week to help get more content out there. Share your stories and personal advice. You never know who might need it to hear them.

A budding photographer or videographer? Share your best and most unique photos. Create how to edit or how to take better photos articles. Give us your best (but not all!) tips on how to shoot better photos.

The most important thing is to find your voice and share it with the world. And share it regularly. Consistency is key but content is king. It may take a while before your new venture pays off but when it does, you’ll be so proud of all the hard work you’ve put into it.

Blogging is quite a popular hobby and full-time job these days but many newbies don’t stick with it, leaving a lot of room for those who do to grow and be successful.

That’s the encouragement that I’m holding onto.

And in the wise words of Daniel aka Mr. Chorizo, “you’re not gonna make money off the blog you’re gonna create.”

Get started sharing your content and voice now!

Web Hosting

 

Any questions or tips that you would add? Are you a blogger? Join the discussion below and tell me about your blog!

 

Surgery Abroad: How I Got My Ear Reconstructed for Free in Spain

I wasn’t nervous about my impending reconstructive surgery until the nurse walked into my room and swiftly attached a pole to the back of the hospital bed where I lay and it sprung and rolled to life. Next stop: the operating room.

Suddenly my world was gliding at a slow but steady speed backwards and the friend who was casually perched on the edge of the sofa next to my bed, began to fade from my sight. It helped slightly that I could only see a blurred outline of her silhouette in front of the window in my private room. I had long since taken off my glasses in order to mentally and physically prepare myself the rest of the way for this surgery. The fact that my surroundings were now fuzzy and out of focus didn’t impede my mind from entertaining anxious thoughts and letting them dance around inside my head. The day I had waited nearly 15 years for had finally come.

 

My room at Hospital La Luz. Can you just imagine how much this would cost per night in a US hospital?…

 

But how exactly did I end up here?

 

Background Info

Let’s back up a few years, shall we?

When I was 13 years old, my parents allowed me to get my ears pierced for the very first time. It was all I could think about when I was 12. The closer it got to my next birthday, the more I began to count down the days. It seemed like all of the other girls at school had already gotten theirs done years ago. Some even as babies. Nevertheless, my parents wanted me to wait until I got older as I needed longer to mature in some aspects of life than others. In hindsight, they were right. Yet even still, I should’ve waited a few more years before I had the piercing done. Why, do you ask? It’s an interesting yet cringe worthy story.

Several months after I got my ears pierced, I began to experiment with earrings, like any normal teenage girl would. I started trying out all sorts of earrings–all shapes, sizes and colors–though my modest allowance didn’t provide me with a lot of cash to spend on them. Besides, those multi-pack, inexpensive earrings from Claire’s at the mall would suffice.

Earrings or no earrings, I’m glad I don’t look like an awkward teenager anymore!

At the same time, I began to get a little lazy with the overall care of my ears and that extended to whether or not I took my earrings out at night.

I was old enough to know better to not sleep with them in but young enough to not comprehend the consequences if I did.

And now here comes one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life.

That summer my mom, brother and I were spending two weeks with my grandparents at their home in rural Nebraska. I was enjoying my time there and showed off my earrings with glee to all of the family members present. However, after five days of sleeping in dangly earrings in a row, I felt that something wasn’t right with my ear the morning of that muggy, mid-August day. I woke up and felt around my ear and quickly shot out of my bed and darted off to the bathroom across the hall. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and gasped in shock at the image before me. My eyes were fixated on the now droopy right ear. I was in disbelief that that was happening. With the state of my ear as it was and how it clearly was unable to support regular earrings after what I had done to it, I did the only thing I could think to do next: I pulled it out with a slight pop and let the earlobe rip.

What I didn’t realize at the time was simultaneously, a little tear also began to appear in my self-image and self-esteem that day. It was tiny and unnoticeable at first but over the years, I let it grow into something much bigger than the small tear in my ear. And that was just the start of what would become a long journey to restoration, both physically and emotionally speaking.

Nebraska: surprisingly diverse geographically but also the perfect place to spend my summers during childhood.

The sensation I felt at that moment in time over 16 years ago, and later on, the desire to repair that ear never went away.

My journey to restoring a part of me I hid for over a decade was an exhausting and frustrating one at times. I hadn’t had health insurance for the majority of my life. Just for a few years when I was a child and my dad was in the military and then later on in college when I was a student and having some coverage was mandatory to attend. And coming from the United States where almost all healthcare services are privatized, it wasn’t likely that I would be able to receive full coverage for a procedure that seemed to fall under the category of plastic surgery.

However, it wasn’t until many years later, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where I was teaching English in a primary school, that I became aware of how to repair my ear. After speaking with a receptionist at a local health clinic, just to inquire about the cost of plastic surgery for an ear, the friendly and informative lady told me that it didn’t qualify for that type of surgery. She went on to say that an ear nose and throat doctor would be the best person to see about it and proceeded to schedule an appointment for me.

 

I walked away from the clinic in disbelief and with a million thoughts swirling around in my head.

I would later have to miss a day of work in order to get the surgery done but that was a small sacrifice to make. (Photo: 3rd grade classroom at CEIP Padre Coloma in Madrid)

My private insurance plan provided for me by the Spanish government while I taught English as a language assistant in the public school system covered everything: from doctor’s visits to tests, x-rays…You name it, it was covered.

 

Could it possibly cover this entire surgical procedure?

 

I would soon find out that the answer was yes.

 

Yes, it would.

As much as I wanted to get the procedure done in Galicia, it was not meant to be. (Photo: a beautiful view of Playa de Riazor in A Coruña)

But, in the end, I wasn’t able to have the procedure performed in the north of Spain. The reason being that my insurance for that school year had already expired by the time my appointment rolled around.

Nevertheless, I had to wait a few months after my move to the capital city and revisit the idea of this surgery again. In Madrid, I found an excellent ear, nose and throat doctor at a private hospital just a short walk from my apartment in the north of the city. After a few weeks of consultations, a blood analysis and an EKG test, the surgery date was set for early April 2017.

 

That was just the first step in my journey to restoration but it was the most important one.

 

The night before my surgery, as my nerves began to gnaw at me, I indulged in a bit of earring shopping. It was something I hadn’t done enough of in my life. I wouldn’t need them until a few weeks later once my ear had time to heal and was ready for the earring to be inserted. I went to sleep that night with a sense of peace and knew that within 12 hours from that moment, physically speaking, I would never be the same again.

 

A part of me would be restored and my life would forever be better for it.

 

If you work hard enough, all your dreams can come true. Even in a big city 4,000 miles away from home.

 

The Procedure

 

Let me go back to the day of the surgery that I started to recount in the beginning of this post. I woke up early the next day on April 6th, 2017. It was a Thursday and normally a day I would have to work but I was able to get the day cleared by my very strict school principal at the time. I was within a 15 minute walk of the hospital, Hospital La Luz, but I caught the metro to get there a bit quicker.

 

The surgery wouldn’t be performed at the time in which I was scheduled (9 a.m.) due to some paperwork delays.

 

*Shakes head*

 

A couple weeks prior to the surgery, my doctor instructed me to call my insurance company, MAPFRE, so that they could authorize the procedure and select the correct code for it in the system. As far as I understood, I did this correctly when I called and spoke with an agent.

 

I did not. Oops.

I almost wanted to go watch a sunrise somewhere instead of being at the hospital so early and on an empty stomach… (Photo: Puerta de Alcala)


However, when I arrived at the hospital that morning and went to the section of the first floor lobby labeled, “Registrar” (Registration), the employees told me that I didn’t have the green light for the surgery. I sort of panicked at that time (as this particular doctor only did surgeries on Thursdays) but it was mainly hunger speaking as I had to fast for this procedure and the local anesthesia they would administer.

After a couple of attempts on my own dime (and a few euros later), I went back up to the registration desk and asked if the lady could help me with the authorization. The main issue I was having was that I didn’t know what type of surgery I was having medically speaking. The doctor had something recorded in his reports on file on his computer but he was in a different surgery at the time I was trying to call and the insurance agent was trying to find the correct code.

A frustrating situation to deal with on an empty stomach if you ask me.

I was really grateful for the company of a new friend who wanted to be with me during the time of my surgery. She was actually the only person I knew who had mornings free and that was a blessing to us both. We found we had a few more things in common than we thought and got to know each other better. All the while distracting my tired mind and growling stomach from the many tempting foods I could be snacking on.

After what seemed like an eternity, the lady at registration came over to our side of the large waiting room with good news and a smile on her lips. She told us she was able to reach the doctor and got the correct medical code for the surgery. Which meant the surgery was now authorized and I was all set! She did the rest of the paperwork for me and told me to go up to the second floor and its reception desk to receive more instructions.

We gathered up my stuff and paperwork and made our way over to the set of six elevators there on the main floor.

I later learned that there were a couple of elevators to the left of the front desk that would take us straight up to the second floor and its reception desk but it didn’t matter. (That shows that I had been inside that hospital one too many times but oh, well, haha. I used that tip for the follow-up appointment.)

Once we reached the correct floor and I checked in there (and was given an ID bracelet), they directed me to the room I was assigned for the surgery, that my insurance paid for. The fact that I was having surgery in just under an hour still didn’t officially hit me.

 

Not even after I had changed into the hospital gown in the adjoining bathroom. Or when my friend asked me if I was feeling nervous.

Though I only had the room for a few hours, I wished I could’ve used this shower! Pretty nice for a private hospital, huh?

Nope, I was still mostly focusing on how hungry I still was. (Distracted much? haha)

It wasn’t until the nurse who I was assigned latched a pole onto the back of my bed and said we needed to head up to the 11th floor. I looked at him quizzically and asked,

 

–Por qué tenemos que ir al piso once? (Why do we need to go to the 11th floor?)

 

He smiled.

 

–Allí está la sala de operación y donde le veremos al médico.

(The operating room is there and that’s where we’ll see the doctor.)

 

OK, then it got real! I was going to the operating room?! But why?

 

The doctor actually came into my room a couple moments later. He instructed the nurse to bring me up, after lightly scolding me that I should’ve planned ahead in order to get the surgery authorized on a day that wasn’t the day of the surgery. Oops. Well, other than that he was glad to see me and was ready to get the procedure on its way.

 

So, going back to the beginning of the story, the nurse then latched a pole onto the back of my bed, turned it and then rolled it across the room, down the hall and into the next available elevator.

At least I got to admire this view in Northern Madrid later on that day.

Another nurse or technician was already in the elevator and started to make small talk with us. Meanwhile, I tried to hold back a nervous smile during the elevator ride but it backfired. The nurse who was with me looked down at me at just that moment and inquired,

 

– Estás bien? Estás triste? (Are you OK? Are you sad?)

 

– No, solo es que estoy un poco nerviosa… (No, I’m just a little nervous is all.)

 

The real thoughts running through my mind: Why on earth am I going up to the operating room? This is practically one of the smallest surgeries in the world! Why do I need to go there?

 

Well, it was so I could be in a more sterile environment, I learned afterwards.

 

And once we got off the elevator at our stop, he took me and my bed on another trip, down another hall and whoosh..through the doors of said operating room in one full sweep.

 

The ride was over for now.

 

But the main event of the day was just about to begin.

 

A close-up of my torn right earlobe. It was soon going to be a thing of the past and something I no longer had to hide.

While a couple of nurses began to get things set up, the anesthesiologist asked me a couple of questions and prepped my arm for the administration of the local anesthesia and an antibiotic to help me with the pain. Carlos, my doctor, also asked me a couple of questions, calmed my anxious mind and said the procedure would be over quite quickly. All I had to do was relax. But he also urged me to tell him if I needed anything or if I was uncomfortable during the surgery.

Then, after covering my face with a sheet of polyester fabric and cutting out an ear sized hole in it, the surgery got underway.

I was so thankful for the numbing power of the anesthesia as I didn’t feel anything during the time he was stitching me up. However, I felt a bit of the needle towards the end (as I didn’t realize I could ask for more anesthesia, oops!) but I survived.

And then I had to keep my ear and its stitches wrapped up for a whole 24 hours. Funny thing was trying to keep it on for a couple days later as I was flying to Switzerland the very next morning. The only cost I incurred from the surgery was an antiseptic cream I bought in Italy and the cost per minute to call my insurance company.

 

The post-surgery stitches I had to keep in until April 27th, 2017. (Otherwise known as the first day I got to wear an earring in that ear as an adult!)

 

(Plus, the doctor said weeks before I would be okay if I traveled sooo….)

That was it. A surgery that lasted less than an hour but changed the rest of the course of my life. And freed me to tap back into a part of me I had pushed down for too many years.

I had quite a few years of earring shopping to make up for (and a whole collection to pick up from back home whenever I could make it there).

I bought the middle pair of earrings but the other two pairs were gifted to me by two special people in my life. 🙂

Reflections

It’s now been a full year since I finished the healing and recovery process from that surgery. I would have to go back and look at which day in particular I took the earring out and finally got to stop sleeping with them every night. I was so relieved that day.

But the most ironic thing about my whole experience from torn earlobe to restorative surgery later was that the very thing that hurt me, healed me. If I hadn’t slept in the dangly earrings in the first place, I wouldn’t have needed the surgery.

But, if I hadn’t slept in the earrings like the doctor instructed me to do (and spent four months without sleeping on either of my sides), it wouldn’t have healed and the hole wouldn’t have formed correctly.

Isn’t life funny sometimes?

All that I have left from that experience is a scar. That scar will be visible whenever I take an earring out of that ear and it’s a mark on my body that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m still learning to accept and embrace. The good news is that the emotional scars have begun to fade ever since the first stitch was sewn that beautiful spring day. It’s amazing how much change and healing even the smallest surgeries can manifest. Even when you’re the only one who knows the aftereffects.

The most important lesson I learned from this whole experience was that you should embrace yourself, imperfections and all, as you never know if someone else around you is struggling to accept themselves. Your story might be the one that has enough impact to motivate them to overcome their insecurity. And that is what I hope my story can do for you.

 

After all the years of pain, self-shaming and hiding, a part of me was restored. And it took traveling all the way to Spain and building a life for myself here to finally get to that point. (Photo: Plaza de España, Sevilla – my favorite place in the whole world)

 

Have you ever gotten a surgery done abroad? Where were you (or where did you go) and how was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

5 Things I Never Thought I’d Do in My Twenties

“Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m in my twenties and I’m from the United States…”

This has usually been the first few words I rattle off to someone when I meet them for the first time.

When I was 20, saying the number out loud instead of some other number with “-teen” added to the end was very strange to me for a couple months.

I quickly got used to it.

And now I don’t exactly want to stop saying it.

But sadly, a decade doesn’t last forever…

Seasons come and go but we must remind ourselves to enjoy each one to their fullest.

Towards the end of this year I will be saying adiós to the best decade of my life (thus far) and for a while I haven’t been sure how I really felt about it. Last month I created this list and started reminiscing about all the adventures, mishaps, lessons, milestones, achievements, disappointments and losses I’ve experienced up until now in my life.

I’m now just shy of five months before I have to say goodbye to my twenties.

The decade where everyone says you learn, grow, change and live the most than any other time period in your life. It’s also a decade where you will never have as much freedom as you will at any other point in your life.

It’ll seem like you have all the time in the world to live, experience the world, find your passions, build a career, educate yourself and travel. The list of things we want to do while we’re young is endless but the unfortunate reality is that time is not. Time is limited and our energy and drive to accomplish our dreams goes one of two ways: up or down.

Our twenties are the years where we can go hard and fast after our dreams. In the last few years, more people between the ages of 20 to 29 travel the world, live overseas, get advanced professional degrees, start businesses and create new technologies. They are achieving these things more so now than at any other point in the history of mankind.

But it’s also the decade where you can meet the person you’ll marry, start a family and build a life together. As a young American woman who grew up in the Midwest and then later went to a university in the South, these three milestones in particular were hammered into me from a young age.

Nevertheless, what many people in my community lost sight of was this: it’s a possibility but it’s not a guarantee.

For a long time, I caught flights. Not feelings.  (Photo taken just before landing in Dublin, Ireland)

 

What I can guarantee is that you will learn a whole lot about yourself during this time period.

And the learning won’t stop as long as you keep embracing it. Craving it. Seeking it out.

If you know me (but as you will also see in this post), you know that my life took a different route during my twenties. It wasn’t a journey I ever expected to go on but I’m eternally grateful for it. And though I’m struggling a little bit with mixed feelings as I enjoy the final months of this exciting, once-in-a-lifetime time period, I’m happy my life has turned out this way.

But overall, I hope you find my story encouraging and inspiring, whether you’re a twenty-something on paper or at heart.

Each of these experiences have had a major impact on me so it was extremely hard to create the order for this list.

So, without further ado, I’ll get right to it.

 

5. Be able to discover who I am, what I’m passionate about and who God sees me As without distractions

 

Just like I told myself during my first few weeks living in Madrid…[On the weekends] I can go anywhere I want.

This one is exactly like the header describes. I’ve been blessed with the huge opportunity to get to learn who I really am and what I really love to do. I switched majors in college towards the middle of my time at Jacksonville University.

I tried nearly everything I could get my hands on. I joined the JU Rowing team, chatted with Spanish speakers at the weekly conversation table, signed up for a graded swimming class (and it took me until I was 12 to overcome my fear of water! haha), tried spinning classes at the crack of dawn, swam with manatees, met people from all around the country and world. And that was just college.

A couple of semesters in row, the study abroad coordinators urged me to consider studying abroad in Spanish speaking country for a whole semester instead of just a summer term. They saw my passion for the Spanish language as it was what many people noticed about me way back then. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a short 6-week immersion experience. I needed to go for a whole semester.

They were right. But after spending a couple of months in Sevilla, my long standing favorite Spanish city even to this day, I felt that they were wrong. A semester wasn’t enough time. I should’ve studied and lived there for a whole year!

I eventually did go back to Spain to live for that *long* amount of time but time flies when you’re having the time of your life and learning so much. A year of living there has now turned into almost four. It’s a part of the world that’s come to hold a special place in my heart.

 

Over the course of the past decade, I did always seem to find my way back to Spain and Sevilla in particular. I would learn the purpose behind all my trips a few years later, however…

 

I’ve still continued to enjoy this past decade doing and trying everything I possibly could. What I’ve kept in the forefront of my mind is that it’s better to experience something by yourself than miss out entirely. Lots of my friends had already found a life partner earlier in their lives and were starting their families. Naturally, I was happy for them but there were many times I felt lonely and left out. But very few times did I feel so sorry for myself that I skipped going somewhere or trying something new because someone couldn’t go with me. My mid-to-late twenties were full of these types of experiences.

It wasn’t until I hit my late twenties that I embraced several of my strengths and weaknesses. One major turning point for me (and my career) was when I identified as a writer. For a long while it was a hobby but it’s more than that. It’s a part of who I am and how I view the world. And by embracing this side of me, I found my purpose and what I believe the calling God has placed on my life. It’s also the underlining purpose of this blog: to inspire young Christian women to travel and discover the world.  Even if the media says differently or if you have to travel alone.

I don’t think I would’ve been able to cultivate many hidden talents and interests in my life if I hadn’t have had this time to do so.

 

4. Not spend most of this decade dating someone

Having a cappuccino in Milan on a Saturday morning in April 2017. I look like the perfect coffee date, don’t I?

This one is also a little bit self-explanatory.

I’ve kept my dating life quite private. But, if you’ve ever sat down and talked to me, you would know that meeting someone was at the top of my list. Alongside pursuing a career and personal interests. I’ve always been extremely ambitious and self motivated. It’s very rare for me to sit on the sidelines and not be actively making plans or searching for a solution.

However, I was quite shy when it came to meeting guys and being romantic with them. I had virtually no experience of my own and my parents weren’t exactly affectionate at home too often. I didn’t necessarily put this area of my life on the back burner. Instead, I focused on developing my social and domestic skills and my personality as a whole. Not to mention my faith in God deepened with each passing year.

I made a conscious decision to pour my heart and my dreams out to God instead of pouring myself into a handful of superficial dating relationships. I think a combination of this habit and developing my own personality were the main components of my success in both friendships and relationships.

During my early and mid-twenties, I met lots of people from all walks of life. Young guys who grew up in the same country I did but plenty of guys who did not. I didn’t officially start going on what I would consider dates until about age 26. And the learning just increased from there on. I do feel like when I was 27, I experienced a short-term period of exponential growth in terms of relationships. I was a bit impatient when it came to meeting that perfect guy. In reality, I only put pressure and a time limit on myself which meant that that could only end badly.

It did.

But, God redeemed my wasted time and I found a silver lining to the experience. I learned exactly what I wasn’t looking for in a man. And in the long run, I could’ve wasted more time than I did so I was fortunate enough to only waste the time that I did on that experience.

I did, however, write one of my most favorite pieces on my blog. Though I wrote it while dealing with a profound bout of sadness, it was still a beautiful post that I created. A girl I met in my hostel that weekend encouraged me to keep writing even if I felt sad. So I did.

The main reason why this topic made the list was to point out that I didn’t meet anyone worth my time and introducing to my family until much later in this decade. I also didn’t spend most of my twenties dating the same person and not being able to figure out who I was apart from the relationship.

I was blessed with the opportunity to develop my personality, character and passions on my own. And because I focused on developing a strong foundation of who I am and who God sees me , I could present a more complete person to a man, when the time came for our paths to cross.

 

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. A place where I would later realize how much of an impact it really had on me and my future.

 

3. Move abroad by myself and obtain a work visa

 

One of two letters that completely changed my life in late 2017.

 

In the past year, I have talked quite a bit about this particular achievement if you’ve seen my Instagram account or my contributing posts and comments on English teacher or Spain immigration groups on Facebook.

I’m spending some time at home right now while I finish this post and just yesterday I came across a slip of paper I tucked away inside the Bible I received after my high school graduation (I use a bilingual one in Spain). It said, “List 3 dreams you have for your life.”

One of them was “live in a Spanish speaking country,” and I can excitedly say that I’ve done that (and currently doing that!). I always did see myself living abroad but I figured it would be somewhere in South America. Well, God directed my steps to Spain and now Madrid in particular. I had no idea the difficulties of obtaining a work visa in another country but teaching abroad through the Auxiliar de Conversación program helped me get a peek at visa applications. And with each renewal of my visa-and personal interest- I built up my knowledge on the topic. Then, I put all that knowledge into practice and applied to modify my existing student visa to a work/freelancer visa. In fact, I spent the whole month of July last year working on it and gave up my chance to travel home for part of the summer.

It really pays to be extra detailed and to do your homework with anything you do. Whether it’s applying for that dream job of yours. Getting a promotion or applying for a grant or scholarship. The thing you always have to prove to someone is why they should choose you and not someone else.

If I have learned anything through my very unconventional career path, it’s to go above and beyond someone’s expectations for you (and your services) and to never give up on yourself. All of my failures have been turned into major life lessons and help catapult me to success. I may not see the reason or end result in the midst of the failure but I figure it out eventually.

And you will, too, when it comes to finding your passion and forging a career path for yourself.

 

2. Travel to two of the most romantic cities in the world as a single girl

 

I heard Paris was romantic, international and exotic. It sounded like the perfect city to fall in love with…so why not go?

Your twenties truly are for travel. Slow, fast, group tours, solo travel…However you travel, just do it.

I am a huge advocate for travel. I’ve been traveling to other states my whole life. But, after I got my first taste of it way back in 2006, I got hooked on international travel. Technically I only border hopped down to Mexico. But in reality, my high school mission team and I went all the way down to the most southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. A 50+ hour drive from the border of Tijuana and San Diego, California.

As a teenager, I experienced a number of emotions and new sights in just the span of a couple of weeks. I even came into contact with poverty for the first time in my life. Long before I was a twenty-something, I went on a life-changing trip.

My reason for adding this one to the list is simple. Don’t put off travel for later. Or for when you want to go with that special someone. Go anyway.

What if you will never have the chance to go to Paris with your significant other? Or what if you meet someone that can’t really stand long international flights?

Go while you have the time.

And, you know what?

Go back.

Go back to cities over and over again and rewrite your experiences there.

Did you have an awful time in a popular European city because it rained or you lost your phone? Go back and strive to have a better experience.

I didn’t ever plan on going to Paris, the city of love, by myself but I did. I read the year before that you could ice skate on top of the Eiffel Tower during Christmastime (which was also conveniently around the time of my birthday) so I researched it, bought my flight and accommodation, planned my trip and went solo. Despite being very surprised at the high cost of living and an awkward moment on top of the Eiffel Tower itself, I had a wonderful time. I even saw a friend from study abroad and got to hear him speak his native language (French) and get a personal tour of his favorite part of the city.

But, before my experience even began, on the train into the city, I met a couple of girls who were headed to London via the Gare du Nord train station. One of them said it was their third time in Paris. I confessed that it was my first visit and that I was alone.  The friendly, blonde haired lady smiled and said, “Paris isn’t meant to only be experienced once. You can go back again and again and have completely different experiences.”

I was very much encouraged after that short conversation. I did vow that I would go back  there with someone special one day but I focused on how this would be *my experience.*

And it was the most incredible first solo trip I did in another country. I even had a working understanding of French by the time I left – after only 5 days! (Thanks, Spanish, haha)

 

Venice, Italy. It was everything I had heard about and more. Rain or shine: day or night; I let this city romance me, too.

That conversation I had on that gray December day outside of Paris back in 2014 has stuck with me ever since. It was also what encouraged me to add Venice to my list when I was planning my first ever trip to Italy last April. A couple of my friends really wanted to go to Venice as well but when it didn’t work out, I still kept the city on my list.

I knew Venice was quite a bit more romantic than Paris -and more expensive too!- that I limited myself to only spending 24 hours there. I again vowed, a little more seriously this time, that I would return but only with a special someone in tow.

The best thing I could’ve ever done that trip was to let myself go and experience Venice.

From the train ride into the city to walking the streets underneath the glow of the moon, it completely romanced me. And it encouraged me during a time in my life when I was doubting the chance of ever meeting a guy who could fall in love with me. Being romanced and being enchanted by Venice was an amazing experience. I met a family from Greece who was lost and needed help getting back to the main drag (The Gran Canal). I bought a beautiful scarf from a street trader who was from the town and had a conversation with the owner of my B&B about Venetians and tourism.

Because I was open to conversations and traveling alone, I was able to have some one-of-a-kind conversations with other travelers and locals.

So, if you do happen to be single and the next time a trip to an incredibly romantic city presents itself.

Go.

These cities are romantic for a reason, mainly because their language, history or architecture heavily influences it. Let yourself be romanced by them and don’t wait for someone to go with you or take you there.

Go by yourself and then go back. Rewrite your experiences with romantic cities as many times as you can.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to you on what those cities are like with my special someone. 😉

 

  1.  Not get married or start having kids

This is the big one. It’s one I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and come to terms with as my 30th birthday approaches.

While I am happy to say that I’m now in a very loving and long-term relationship, getting married and having at least one child during my twenties was not in the cards for me.

I don’t know about you but I have been a planner for most of my life. I do indulge in last-minute travel planning quite a bit, however, long-term plans are always well-thought out and carefully planned. I even planned the free time my brother and I had on a trip to one of my parents’ conferences.  I listed the times we would do different activities and for how long.

I was about 8.

I had places to go and things to do, obviously…

And God listened to my plans.

He heard all of my prayers even though He didn’t answer them when I wanted Him to with the answers I wanted. He also forced me to wait. And learn how to use my time wisely during that wait.

He was working on the bigger picture and orchestrating each step I took. Each person I met. Each placed I ever set foot in. Even the languages I fell in love with or different English speakers I met.

Every experience was a signpost in the journey I was on to the person God had in mind for me. They were  stepping stones to new and bigger blessings He wanted to give me.

Now, at 29 years old, I think it’s safe to say I’m glad I didn’t get my wish of getting married by 25. I didn’t know exactly who I was then and I was still very immature when it came to love. I’m glad I was able to learn and stumble my way through each experience gracefully and become the person I am today.

The past couple years have been full of growth in all areas of my life. I’m glad to have worked on my own weaknesses, personal struggles and heartache on my own before God saw it fit for his and my path to come together.

I’ve worked hard to become Sarah. And you better believe I’ll keep working on becoming an even better version of her at 30 and beyond.

One step at a time.

Cheers to the decade to come. Things can only get better and brighter from here on out! (Photo taken atop the Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid)

 

 

Auxiliar de Conversación Program: How to Apply and Teach in Spain

Thinking of trying something new, taking a gap year or changing career paths? You’ve come to the right place. The Auxiliar de conversación program in Spain can help you achieve whatever goal you’ve set for yourself this year, even if you don’t exactly see yourself starting a teaching career.

If you’re lucky, you might even get to live in a coastal town like I did my first year! (La Coruña, Galicia)

 

First, go to the Ministerio de Educación’s website and take a look at all the materials they provide.  Also, check and see if you meet all the requirements to apply. (There’s a high chance that you do!)

Useful resources:

Profex Manual (Registering online) (2017-2018)
Application guidelines (2017-2018)
Frequently Asked Questions (2017-2018)
Checklist to print off (2018-2019)
Before Submitting Your Application (2018)

What’s required of you?

 

 

  • Be a native speaker of English and a passport holder of one of these nationalities: American, Canadian, UK or Australian or New Zealand

 

  • Be over the age of 21 and either a college graduate  or in your last year of studying

 

  • Be able to pass a health exam to prove that you are well enough to teach all 8-9 months of the school year in Spain.

 

*Speak Spanish at an intermediate level (recommended but you will not be checked for it).

 

Personal note: I don’t recommend applying for the program if you only know a few words of Spanish as you’ll mostly likely find that Spanish government offices and your future coordinators and co-workers will likely not be able to communicate everything you’ll need to know about your role (and answer your questions) in English. Knowing Spanish at least at an intermediate level gives you a little more solid ground to stand on and express yourself fully.

 

Anyway, the next step is to submit your application on a platform called Profex. The application opened on January 9th, 2018 and closed on April 18th, 2018. (This post was published after the deadline but I will update it each year with the new dates. If you still want to teach in Spain this next school year (2018-2019), try applying with BEDA, another highly recommended program, that opened their applications again.

Normally when the application period opens on the first day at 12:01am CET (6:01pm EST), the system gets overloaded and malfunctions a lot. It can even shut down and stop working for a short while. It’s because the application number you’re given matters a great deal as to which region of Spain you will be assigned. Ultimately, the number matters more if you are looking to receive a placement in the capital, Madrid, as the Comunidad de Madrid employs the most auxiliares here than any other region of Spain. Generally speaking, the lower your number, the more likely you will be to get your preferred region and get a placement (and ultimately your school placement) way sooner. 

STEP ONE: Inscrita

To get to this stage, you need to create an account with Profex and fill out general information such as your full name, passport number, basic contact info, education, work history and an optional photo. You will also need to choose city population and age group preferences (primary/elementary, teens, adults). Age preferences are divided up by levels such as: primary, secondary, bachillerato (last two years of high school), trade or formación or EOI (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas).

Next, you will select your regional preferences, one from each of the 3 groups (grupos). Give each group a number from 1-3. 1 being your top choice and 3 your least preferred (but a region you would still like to live in.)

 

Grupo A: Asturias, Ceuta y Melilla, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarra, País Vasco
Grupo B: Aragón, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluña, Galicia, Islas Canarias
Grupo C: Andalucía, Castilla y León, Islas Baleares, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia

Personal note: Since 2016, a few regions have regained funding and started up their auxilar programs again. The Comunitat de Valéncia, Cataluña and las Islas Canarias (since 2017) now have an auxiliar de conversación program up and running again. Check the links above for more info on the region’s programs and to learn more.

 

 

Keep in mind that you are choosing a region in this step, not a city. If you want to be in a big city (Madrid proper is around 4 million people) such as Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia or Bilbao, research the population of your preferred city and then check off the corresponding box in the city and age group section. I was fortunate enough to receive all three of my places in the cities where I lived and didn’t have to commute more than 45 minutes (the longest commute being in Madrid). Other auxiliares have been placed in the outskirts of a city or in a small town, with a commute lasting up to 2 hours one way. Be aware of this but also be open to whatever type of placement you receive, whether it’s in a city or in a small town. Both have their advantages and disadvantages!

**Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish territories in Morocco) don’t have a history of participating in the program and isn’t a valid option for the 2018-2019 school year, so don’t select them.**

Learn more about life and the cost of living in each region in Spain and check out former auxiliar Liz Carlson’s helpful guide.

To be assigned a number, you need to upload the following documents to Profex (in the same page you see them listed or later -after you submit your application-in Documentos Anexos, the section for any missing documents you need to upload.)

* A scan of the ID pages of your passport (the first two pages in an American passport)
* A scan or photo of your college diploma(s)
* A carta de motivación, a short letter of around 200 words explaining why you want to do the program
* A signed carta de recomendación on letterhead from a professor or employer (if you’ve been out of college for more than 5 years, the government requests you have an employer write you a recommendation).

Personal note: My first year, my inscrita  was #2309. I applied in early February about a month after the application opened. If you want to get placed in the region of Madrid, APPLY EARLY and aim for a number under 1000. My second time renewing (and the year I requested Madrid) my number was 971 and I received a placement within the city of Madrid.

STEP TWO: Registrada/Admitida

When I first applied for the program in February 2014, I had to mail a completed and signed checklist to the branch of the Ministry of Education in my jurisdiction. (I lived in Florida at the time so I had to mail it to Miami.) Find yours here. It includes Canada, too!

You had until the last day of the application period to mail it off and as long as it arrived within two weeks of the postmark, your application would be accepted. This year in 2018, on the main application page, the program no longer requires you to mail anything to a specific office. They now only accept documents if they’re uploaded online – which makes things easier on both sides!

To give you a general idea of how long it takes to get to this step, I’ll share my timeline. I applied on February 9th, got my inscrita number and then they changed it to registrada, then admitida on February 24th. Going from registrada to admitida was simultaneous so hopefully it’ll be the same way for you.

STEP THREE: Adjudicada

The email I received with my very first regional placement in Galicia (May 2014)

So, after waiting patiently -or not so much!- for your regional placement, an email like the screen shot of the above will arrive to your Inbox with the long awaited for answer: where you will live in Spain!

Since 2016, the government only gives you 3 BUSINESS DAYS (días naturales) to accept your placement so ignore what’s in my email from 2014. As you can see, my first year, I received my regional placement on May 16th, 2014. Two to three months is about the normal wait time to receive a placement in regions other than Madrid. It could take more or less time, depending upon your inscrita number.

 

Your status will go from admitida to plaza aceptada on your Profex application.

If you decide to reject the placement or miss the acceptance period, your application online will say rejected or rechazada. If you wanted to accept your placement but didn’t get the chance to, I’ve known people who email the Ministry and are able to convince them to give them a second chance to accept their placement. So, if you find yourself in that sticky situation, email them!

As a rule of thumb: add the Profex email address to your contacts to avoid finding an important email in your Spam folder. (Or just check your email frantically every few hours every day like I did back in the day, haha.)

STEP FOUR: Carta de Nombramiento

Now, the fourth and final step of this whole anxiety inducing, nerve wracking process! The letter of appointment indicating which school you’ll be at for the next 8 months. For most regions in Spain, it arrives just 2-3 (long) weeks after you get your regional placement. In Galicia, I received my carta on the morning of May 30th. I literally woke up that morning, rolled over, grabbed my phone and checked my email first thing and saw the letter of appointment email from the Xunta de Galicia. It was one of the best days ever.

However, if you chose Madrid as your number one preferred region,  expect to wait to receive your carta until school ends for teachers in the Comunidad de Madrid, which is around June 30th every year. While I was waiting for a placement my third year -and switching from Galicia to Madrid-, I didn’t receive my regional placement until mid-May and then my carta until July 12th.  It was a bit of an aggravating situation as I had been visiting Madrid for about 5 days to take a short vacation but also try to do some paperwork. The last part didn’t happen as the carta email arrived a few hours before my flight departed that evening.

Sigh.

Such is life sometimes.

Anyway, now that you’ve gotten to the fourth and final step, you now have everything you need to apply for the visa at your respective Consulate and can get started on preparing for your big move to teach English in Spain!

I hope you found this guide to the application process helpful and easy to follow. I applied for my visa at the Spanish Consulate in downtown Chicago (detailed how-to guide to come!) so unfortunately I can only answered questions specific to that Consulate’s process.

Now you’re just a few months away from entering your first classroom in Spain and making an impact on young students who will most certainly change your life. Are you ready?

 

For everything else, ask away! Do you have any remaining questions about the application process? Any veteran auxiliar want to add any tips? Join the discussion below. 🙂

Student Visa Modification Timeline: How to become a freelancer in Spain

El Parque Del Buen Retiro in Madrid

If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that you’re on a student visa and have been participating in the Spanish government’s language assistant program for a few years or have completed a Master’s degree and internships but are now looking for a change. If you’ve answered yes, then this post is for you!

My story:

I’m an American who fell in love with Spain a good long while ago back in my junior year of college when I came to study abroad in Seville. I knew I had to come back one day and I succeeded in doing so in late 2014 when I moved to Galicia to teach English and lived there for two years. However, those gray, rainy days sent me packing and in late 2016, I moved to Madrid to expand my horizons, make more connections and slowly try to escape the world of teaching.

After being told I was not able to renew at my school in Madrid for a second year -long story-, I was forced to consider other options in order to continue to live in Spain. So, last February, I began networking, making connections and getting my name out there like never before. I also researched a couple different types of work visa applications in Spain since I was nearing the 3-year anniversary mark in the country. After 3 years here on a student visa, you have the chance to modify your visa to a work visa with a company (cuenta ajena) or present a business plan and pre-signed contracts and start your own business (cuenta propia). Seeing as the latter required fewer fees and startup costs (as a freelance translator and copywriter) and not to mention lower visa fees, I chose the latter.

The auxiliar gig had been good to me and afforded me the chance to work in Spain and travel around Europe but I was ready for something new.

From start to finish, this entire process took a little over 6 months to complete. I knew that my end goal to start working in Spain as a freelancer and earning full years towards long-term residency (student years only count as half) would pay off so I started this crazy paperwork trail journey.

During this entire period where I was gathering information, documents, trying to find clients and write my business plan, I never found a comprehensive list of all the steps I needed to do in order to turn in a complete application.

So…that’s why I’ve decided to compile my own list in hopes of helping someone else who finds themselves ready to exchange their student visa for a work visa and become autónomo.

Before we begin…

Ask yourself these questions first:

  • Have I completed at least 3 cumulative years in Spain with no more than 90 days outside of the country each year?
  • Can I prove that I have completed my studies during these 3 years (received 3 letters of completion by the schools where you’ve worked)? 
  • Can I declare that I have not received scholarship money from the AECID (a Spanish organization) nor from any organization in my home country during my time in Spain?
  • Do I have a valid student TIE? (Absolutely necessary in order to complete this application.)
  • Do I really have a desire to stay in Spain long-term and why? And how will your skills help improve the Spanish economy?

If you’ve answered yes to the first 4 and deep down really do want to stay in Spain long-term, you’re ready to start the modification process.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer nor can I provide any professional legal advice. I’m merely recounting my own personal experience with this visa application and the timeline I had in order to complete it. All advice I give is merely based on my own experience and opinion.

Pro-tip: It took me about a month and a half to gather and request all of the documents I needed for this application. I would suggest giving yourself about 2-3 months time total in case one of these steps happens to take longer for you.

 

Anyway, let’s get started!

 

STUDENT VISA MODIFICATION TIMELINE

 

May 17th, 2017

I met with Patricia from the law office of Sterna Abogados to discuss my student visa modification options.  I had done a lot of research at that point so I  didn’t have a lot of questions about the process but I created several hypothetical situations to ask. The most important piece of information was that I learned I could legally apply to modify my status 90 days before the anniversary of my 3rd year in Spain. (For me, it would be after late June). The meeting lasted one hour and I was able to ask all of my questions, which mostly consisted of steps to take after getting the visa and then longer-term residency card, and I felt confident after I left. I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the steps I had to do but I still felt confident. I had no idea the amount of paperwork that would lie before me. Keep scrolling to find out just how much…

Why Sterna Abogados? I chose to make an appointment with this law office as they are connected to a very informative website called Spain Guru The consultation only cost me 50 euros (subject to price increases depending on what year you’re reading this) and I found it very well-worth my time. Due to budget constraints, I chose not to hire the lawyer but the estimated cost for them to help me do the modification was around 600 euros.

June 12th, 2017

In the morning on this day, I applied for and received a background check from Spain on the spot at the Atención del Ciudadano office located on Calle de la Bolsa,8 (metro Sol). The law actually indicated that I didn’t need to resubmit my fingerprints for an FBI Background Check from the United States (my home country). And in the end, I wasn’t asked for the background check from Spain but I got it just in case. It also only cost 3,40 euros so it wasn’t a very large expense.

An official background check from Spain. One of the least painful bureaucratic task I’ve ever done!

 

In the meantime, I got some clarification on a few  of the requirements found on this specific  hoja informativa (about the FBI background check) and continued my search for companies that may want to contract my copy writing or translation services.

June 21st, 2017

Sent contact info to the AECID email to request the letter that states I have not received a scholarship from their organization during my 3 years in Spain (does not indicate you have received a scholarship at all, it just can’t be from them).

I had to send an email to becasmae@aecid.es with the following script and information:

Quisiera pedir Certificado de la Dirección General de Asuntos y Asistencia Consulares, sobre si la estudiante con nombre, (insert your full name here), acreditó disponer de medios de vida propios o beca en el momento de presentar la solicitud de visado.

• Organismo que le requiere el documento solicitado: La Secretaría de Estado de Administraciones Públicas (Delegación del Gobierno en la Comunidad de Madrid> Extranjería)

•Copia de la tarjeta de identidad de extranjero, está juntado a este email
(Note: Take a picture of or scan your current, valid student TIE and attach it to the email)

  • Nombre y Apellidos
    •Nacionalidad
    •Nº de Pasaporte
    •Nº de Tarjeta NIE
    •Una Dirección postal donde remitir el certificado (this would be your current address or if you are moving, put down a friend’s address where you know it will be received and not lost)

On this day, I also made an appointment (around this date) to go to the US Embassy here in Madrid and it gave me an appointment for July 27th, which meant I couldn’t set my appointment for the Extranjeria until the 28th at the earliest. I selected “notarial services” as my request didn’t fit under any of the other categories provided while I was going through the steps to book the appointment.

 

Pro tip: **Book this appointment early if you are applying to modify in the summer as the Embassy is usually very busy around this season.**

 

June 28th, 2017

Received a digital copy of the letter from the AECID (but for the second time as they spelled my legal name incorrectly)

Hard copy version of the non-scholarship recipient letter from the AECID I received a few days after the digital copy.

 

June 30th, 2017

I finished my last and final-hopefully- day as an auxiliar at my school in Madrid and received both my letter of completion from my school in Canillejas and my first school in Coruña. I hadn’t received one from them during my first year but I kept in contact with my coordinator and she was happy to write up the letter. I received it by email and I printed off a copy of it.

 

Final letter of completion from (and most important of the 3) from the school in Madrid. Your should look similar but each school is different. Make sure you get it stamped with the school seal!

 

July 3rd, 2017

 

On the morning of this day, I went to my bank here in Madrid to request a certified copy of one of my bank statements (with only 2 months worth of transactions, though I would recommend showing 3-4 months) but received a stamped copy of a regular statement instead. I also received both copies of the AECID letter this day.

 

July 13th, 2017

All of my networking from the previous months paid off as a contact informed me on this day that I would be contacted about a big summer project for one of their clients. I learned about the project the next day via an email from the project manager and agreed to join the team. Really glad to have gotten this step over with after months of searching and contacting companies.

 

July 14th-17th, 2017

During time frame, I was in contact with UPTA, an organization with locations all around Spain that offers support for autónomos. I was in the process of creating my business plan and so on this day I inquired about the requirements and application form for the approval process. It typically takes 7-10 days for UPTA (in Madrid) to evaluate the viability (success rate) of your business plan. The cost has remained an affordable cost of 15€ but from doing research on this, it seems to be the cost of the approval letter for the Comunidad de Madrid. For other regions, the cost varies.

 

However, It’s not the organization in Spain that approves business plans. Here’s a short list of the four other organizations that you can contact:

 

  • Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Empresarios y Trabajadores Autónomos (ATA)
  • Confederación Intersectorial de Autónomos del Estado Español (CIAE)
  • Organización de Profesionales y Autónomos (OPA)
  • Unión de Asociaciones de Trabajadores Autónomos y Emprendedores (UATAE)

 

**Note: I didn’t receive the service agreement from the client in time to be able to go through with getting my business plan approved by UPTA so I unfortunately skipped this step. And on the hoja informativa, it says this step is optional but highly recommended. Looking back on the process, I recommend getting your business plan approved and to give yourself plenty of time to get this step completed.**

July 18th-19th, 2017

While you’re running around and doing all of these errands and office visits, remember to stop (and literally) smell the roses. Find a stress reliever and stick with it. Mine was taking long walks around Madrid. 🙂

I was in contact with a sworn translator who was recommended in previous posts on the Spain Immigration Group) and asked him for a quote on the cost of two sworn translations of my Bachelor degree diplomas. He quoted me an affordable price of 40€ with next day turnaround. All he required of me were PDF or JPEG copies of my diplomas in order to perform the translation. (If you’re in Madrid and want to hire the same traductor jurado that I hired, please contact me and I’ll gladly refer him.)

 

**Important note: It’s not necessary to give a sworn translator original copies of your university diplomas. He used the PDF copies I had sent him and printed out a copy of each one to staple to the translated and stamped copies. I didn’t know this was the standard procedure so the week before, I told my parents to send my university diplomas to my apartment in Madrid via DHL (a company which I highly recommend) which cost me an extra 40€.**

 

July 22nd, 2017

 

I received the service agreement I had mentioned above, signed it and got it signed by the client. I worked more on my business plan and used a template for one that I found on Spain Guru via this post To see an example of a service agreement, go here.

**Pro-tip: Along with my business plan, I included a copy of my CV (resumé) and listed the URL for my blog (this website) as support for my online portfolio and as another avenue I’d use to look for new clients during my first year as an autónoma. I can’t say for sure if someone at the Extranjería really did take a look at it but I strongly believe that it helped my case. If you’ve got some time and have always wanted to create a blog or a website of your very own, follow the steps on how to do it in my brand new comprehensive beginner’s blogging guide.**

 

July 27th, 2017

Went to the US Embassy on Calle Serrano in Madrid bright and early at 8:45am. I was able to skip the line and go in through the citizens side but I still had to wait a considerable amount of time before I was seen as well as take a number on two different occasions. Every notarized form you request at the Embassy costs 50€ a page so that’s what I paid for. They had emailed me that week saying their card machine was temporarily down and told me to bring cash. On the contrary, the machine was up and running again that morning but I came with cash anyway. And I would recommend anyone else do the same. It’s likely you’ll find it difficult and inconvenient to make a new appointment quickly, especially if your appointment is in the summer. 

This form will be given to you at the US Embassy on the day of your appointment. Copy one of the lines from the bottom paragraph and then sign it and swear its validity in front of the notary and youre all set!

Once it was my turn to be seen, I wrote the following statement on the official form I was given:

Declaro que no poseo bienes o he sido becado o subvencionado por organismos públicos o privados dentro de programas estadounidenses de cooperación o desarollo.

 

Next, I signed it and took a number again. After a short wait, I went to the correct window and swore its validity in front of a notary who was behind it and she signed the form and applied the seal. I left here around 10:30am.

The next and final task I had lined up for that day was to then go to the MAEC Office near Metro Banco de España to legalize the affidavit (US Embassy letter) so that it was valid in Spain. I had to make an appointment online (and appointment times were organized by 4-minute time slots) so I chose to go around 12:20 to give myself enough time to arrive in case the appointment at the Embassy lasted longer. It was quick, painless and not to mention free! The whole process took only about 6 minutes and then I was officially done with all the running around. You can make an appointment with their office here but you can only make it up to two weeks ahead of time, just as an FYI.

Now, the only thing left was to make my appointment at the Extranjeria on Calle de Silva and I did that on this very same day. (I would recommend setting it a little more in advance but I didn’t have that luxury.)

 

July 30th, 2017

I did the last minute preparation for the appointment which included making copies (not entirely needed, by the way), organizing and categorizing all my documents in my trusty file folder and printed out the copy of my appointment form. All that was left was to try to get some sleep that hot summer night and not be too nervous!

I would definitely recommend getting a good night sleep and eating breakfast before your appointment in order to feel rested and ready to go in case you get assigned to a less than cheerful funcionario (civil servant) the next day.

 

July 31st, 2017

 

The day to turn in all my paperwork had arrived and ironically this was also the last day my student TIE card was valid. I later on tried to apply to a TEFL program in order to extend my student visa but I was not successful. The important thing was that I turned in my application while the card was still valid, though I realized that I did take a big risk. Anyway, I went to my appointment at 10 a.m. at Calle de Silva and I successfully turned in my full packet of paperwork. The only tasa I had to pay was the cost of the card for 10,86 euros. It didn’t match what was listed underneath the tasas for this visa and I was never asked to pay the larger fee at any other point during the process so I didn’t. (This could be subject to change, but it seems like some nationalities are exempt from paying the more expensive tasa and others are not. As a precaution, I would plan to have enough money in your budget to pay for it either way.)

Then, I had to wait.

And wait and wait and wait.

 

Did I mention that during those two months I waited, I stayed in Madrid in August? As see you can see in this photo, I almost melted in the process but good thing I didn’t!!

 

Until one day, 68 days later…

October 9th, 2017

After some doubts about getting my application approved at all, the Spanish government decided to approve my visa modification! Woohoo! I, however, didn’t check online to see the status of my application due to my doubts and potential missing documents (a missing translation) so I had no idea it had gotten approved at this point.

 

October 19th, 2017

I received a certified letter in the mail around 12 p.m. that day from the Oficina de Extranjeria, Calle de Silva and opened it with bated breath. It was delivered straight to my door (after the Correos worker couldn’t find my door and was confused by my name) so make sure you list is the one where you actually live and not a friend’s, as you have to be there to sign and receive the letter. Luckily, it said favorable (approved/favorable) and I knew that my application had been approved. I was about to pay a deposit on a TEFL course in order to renew my student visa the very next but now I didn’t have to! I was no longer a student! Besides celebrating and calling everyone I could about the news, I made an appointment for my fingerprints at the immigration center at metro Aluche. It was one of those high volume times of year as I was given an appointment then for November 28th.

The letter also stated that I had to register myself into the Social Security system within a time frame of 30 days. At this point and taking away bank holidays, I only had 13 business days to do so. Talk about pressure!

Celebratory tintos de verano were in order after learning I had gotten my visa approved! (Breathes huge sigh of relief)

(In the meantime and for the entire month of November I was also searching for a new apartment, new private classes and new freelance projects I could work on as a US person (for the time being). You can imagine my stress levels were through the roof some days as I managed all of these things at once. And you’re familiar with searching for an apartment in Madrid, it can take forever to find a good one.)

October 30th, 2017


I made my first visit to the correct Social Security Office for freelancers in my zip code (see photo below for the full list of offices). I requested my SS number by simply filling out a short form and presenting my approval letter. This was the easiest of my visits there.

 

November 6th, 2017

I went to both Hacienda, the Tax Office (locations are all over Madrid and require an appointment, cita previa, but I went to the one located near metro Guzmán El Bueno) and returned to the same Social Security Office. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and listed my start (work) date as past November 9th (the last possible day for me to register) and it was a holiday only in Madrid. A nice man at the Social Security office told me to go back to Hacienda and ask them to change it.  Didn’t seem like too much of a hassle but remember…this is Spain.

 

November 7th, 2017

 

I had gotten another appointment to see someone at Hacienda in order to change my start date but this time for the afternoon. I don’t recommend ever making an appointment at a Spanish government office in the afternoon. Case in point was that I had my appointment around 1:45 p.m. and around 2:20 p.m., the funcionario I was assigned to informed me that I was not able to change the date until that date had passed. I turned to the Spain Immigration Group and asked about it. And found out the next day, it was NOT TRUE! After crying a bit out of frustration and then calming down, I made yet another appointment at the Hacienda but I chose to go to a location near Avenida de América.

 

November 8th, 2017


Around 11:30 a.m. the next day, I went to a different Hacienda where a very helpful man changed my start date in the system (after I had given him an abridged version of my life story in Spain) with ease. I then hurried on over to the Social Security Office in the opposite direction and got into the Social Security system. I had finally crossed these hurdles and breathed a sigh of relief.

 

November 28th, 2017

 

I was all set for this appointment -or so I thought- at Aluche around 1:30 p.m. until I realized with a gasp, as I started at a sign that said passporte, that I had left my passport on a shelf in my room. Major facepalm moment but I was able to recover. I made another appointment at Aluche and was given a date in 2018. Great…

 

January 15th, 2018

I had my second and final fingerprint appointment around 1:30 p.m. (don’t ask me why I kept getting assigned this time) and I came prepared with everything I needed. I finished the appointment in under 15 minutes and I can pick up my fancy new card in 30 days, as well as apply for my Cl@ve PIN to pay quarterly taxes online.

 

The final product: a brand new residency card!

And that’s it! The whole process from start to finish.

I hope you found this post helpful and useful as you pursue your own application and continue living and enjoying Spain.  Any questions or comments, please add them below and join the discussion!

 


**If you’re also living in Madrid and want to chat or receive coaching/mentoring in person for a small fee during the process, please reach out and contact me. (For things such as enhancing your CV, writing a business plan or general advice). I would be happy to help you achieve your own goal of working and living in Spain legally.**

Find me on Instagram or email me. Let’s get in touch!


Una carta de amor a mi querida España / A love letter to my dear Spain

Querida bella España,

 

La semana pasada cumplí 3 años en seguidos en tu tierra. Esta puesta del sol era una de las primeras vistas que disfruté de mi primer paseo por el paseo marítimo, en A Coruña. Era mi nueva casa en aquel tiempo y estaba descubriéndola, pasito a pasito. En esa época no conocí a nadie en Galicia, unha nova terra para mim, pero el amor y pasión que he tenido por tu país y tu gente es más fuerte que nunca y tres años de vivir aquí no lo ha apagado en mí sino ha crecido aún más fuerte. Que cansancio tenía aquel día que llegué en Coruña pero yo estaba lleno de sueños y nuevos planes para los años que vendrían.

3 años. Es casi mil (1.000) días en tu país tan bello y tan diverso. Amo a tu gente, tu idioma, tu comida, tus costumbres, tus paisajes y tus playas. Claro que hay y habrá problemas pero este país me dejado soñar y ser yo misma como nunca he podido hacer antes.

España me atreve ser creativa, aventurera, valiente, generosa, una luchadora, una soñadora, una verdadera amante de la vida.

Torre de Hércules October 2014

 

La Alhambra (February 2016)

 

Templo de Debod (June 2017)

Gracias por darme una bienvenida tan grande cuando pisé en su tierra por primera vez cuando tenía 21 años. Tengo tantos recuerdos inolvidables aquí

¿Y ahora? Nunca me imaginé que viviría en la capital, una ciudad tan grande y diversa como el país tí mismo. Diría que soy una persona completamente diferente a la que volvió aquí pero la verdad es que soy como siempre he querido ser. Y me da mucha alegría. No hay precio con el tiempo que he tendido aquí para crecer y floricer como una mujer y amante del idioma español.

Es asombroso lo que puede pasar en poco tiempo y dónde podemos estar.  No puedo esperar ver ni puedo imaginar los rincones que voy a descubrir en el año que viene. 

Sigue soprendiéndome, España. Esoty preparada para la próxima aventura.

Un besazo!

Saludos,

 Sarah la Viajera

This post originally appeared on Instagram //este artículo originalmente aparceció en Instagram. Echálo un vistazo aquí.

Alguna vez has vivido o actualmente vives en España como extranjero/a? Cuéntame tu historia abajo en español o inglés! Tengo muchas ganas de leerlo 🙂

 

Living Abroad: The First 24 Hours (Part 2)

In case you missed part 1 of this story, click here.

Soon enough, it was time to land and then disembark from the plane. Since I was on an international flight, we had to go through customs and put our luggage through another set of scanners and then go on our way.  I did just that but needed to exchange some of my remaining dollar bills first.

I had two things working against me at that point: 1) extremely sore feet from walking a few blocks in Manhattan and 2) a really tired and jet lagged body that just wanted to curl up somewhere and sleep.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to do the latter and I tried to connect my little netbook to the WiFi at the airport and send an email back home before I caught the metro. No such luck. I couldn’t figure out which website to go to once I had connected to the network.

So, I braced myself for the real test. The one I had been studying for…

The metro.

I had to navigate the Madrid metro with no one by my side to guide me and no cell phone service. And my first obstacle right off the bat, after I found the entrance to the metro, was buying a metro ticket. I had never used a subway system in my life, though I had just come from NYC.

After a couple of trials and errors, and even a nice madrileño who offered to help me -but spoke too fast-I managed to buy the ticket to the Atocha train station. My main obstacle was figuring out where to put the coins in! So silly but so frustrating at the time. Once  I would arrive at Atocha, I would catch a high speed train (the AVE) to Sevilla, my final destination.

And as much as you can study something on paper, especially a map, the real test of knowledge comes when you have to put it into practice. This is where you see what you’re made of in tricky situations like those.

Again, I had never used a metro or subway system before. I hadn’t even used a city bus! I had spent most of my life up until that point being driven to a place, walking or riding my bike somewhere or borrowing someone else’s car to get there (sending out thank yous again to several friends in Jacksonville who helped me get around for all those years!).

These modes of transportation are all normal for city dwellers but when you come from a gigantic country like I do with an underdeveloped infrastructure, driving everywhere in a car is the norm.

Now, who can tell me how to get to the Atocha Renfe metro station? (Photo taken in January 2017)

Boy, did I have a lot to learn in such a short time. And unbeknownst to me, back in Ohio during my study sessions, I had somehow chosen the longest route possible to take on my very first morning in Spain.

I lugged my suitcase and bag down the escalators and followed a small crowd of other travelers down to the platform to wait. I hadn’t ever seen any of the things I was looking at before: an overhead digital board that announced in how many minutes the train would arrive and what direction it was headed. Signage for the stops it would make on that line from the starting point at that station.

Let’s back up, though. Direction? “As in North or South, East or West?” I asked myself. It didn’t make sense.

Once I rode the pink line (8) of the end of the line, I got off with many other people but had my heavy suitcase to deal with and keep track of. Plus, I was really wanting to take my black wool coat off as I was starting to burn up on the train. But…I didn’t want another thing to carry in my hands so I kept it on and suffered.

However, the bigger issue at hand was just trying to figure out where the next line (the Circular, line 6) was in the huge station I had presently found myself in. I was able to find the platforms for that line but I foolishly thought choosing a platform was going to be as easy as it was at the airport.  I was very wrong.

So, I asked a friendly-looking older lady nearby for help.

Sometimes the only word between you and getting some help is: “hola.” (in Spain)

I mentioned something to her about needing to go to the Atocha train station and that I didn’t know much about the Madrid Metro. She could tell I had just arrived from some foreign land but she helped me make sense of the map I had in my hand.

And then she dropped some knowledge on me. Something I couldn’t have learned back home (cause I didn’t Google transportation tips – shame on me!) as no one there used metro systems or knew how to read metro maps.

It was at that moment that she explained to me that if I wanted to figure out which direction I needed to go, I needed to look at the very last station on that metro line to get it. The light bulb clicked and suddenly I had felt I had had some pretty powerful information in my head now.

Or at the very least, I wouldn’t look as puzzled as I did at the ticket machine earlier. I’ll take that.

So, once I had figured that out, things were a little bit smoother sailing from then on. Except I was getting ever so tired and more annoyed at how heavy my suitcase was (but would realize later on that I had packed much lighter compared to other students). Luckily I met some good Samaritans along the way.  Gentleman who offered to help me carry my suitcase down a wide staircase with very narrow steps for me.

Spanish guys were pretty nice. Maybe I could get used to this kind of chivalry.

Then, I got lost again once I had made it through all those stops on the Circular from Nuevos Ministerios. (Which in hindsight I now pity my younger self for choosing such a long and tortuous route.)

I knew I didn’t have a working cell phone at the time but all of a sudden I had this burning desire to call my mom and ask for her help. Nothing could quench that desire at that moment. But let’s face it, there’s nothing my mom could do to help me, even I had been able to call her.

She and the rest of my family were fast asleep at home, as it was 5 a.m. for them. I wished I could be asleep in a warm bed, too.

This was the bed that was waiting for me at the end of a very, very long day.

But no, I was off on my international adventure in the middle of a metro system some 4,000 miles away from home. And at the time the only thing that was getting me confused was to find the last line where I needed to get off, which was the line 1 at Pacífico.

Asking more questions and seeing that my questions were answered with more helpful replies and tips, I made it to the last line and then, eventually made it to Atocha. I was a  bit tired and thirsty but I was all in one piece, with luggage in tow.

If I remember correctly, I believe that first metro journey lasted just under 2 hours. Now I know how to get from the airport to the train station much faster and in a more efficient way but back then I didn’t.

I was also jet lagged, frustrated and a little bit shy to ask for help. These are all normal things you experience in your first 24 hours.

It wasn’t until I arrived at the train station all in one piece that I started to notice more details around me. I had observed different fashion styles I had seen on the metro earlier but I didn’t pay too much attention to the way things around me looked. I mean, after all, most of the metro stations started to look the same, minus the different colors to match each metro line.

The train station was enormous and I felt like its size was swallowing me up as I slowly walked towards the main entrance to the long distance trains, my head swiveling around on my neck, trying to take it all in.

And then I noticed the view outside one of the gigantic windows.

As if I were being drawn towards it by a magnet, I walked a little bit faster to get a peek at what was outside.

Madrid.

Not the underground view of it, either. Finally, I was able to catch a glimpse of what a real, major European city looked like. I saw parts of brick structures that made up the train station, a whole line of taxis parked out front (and thought to myself, how many taxis does one city need?!) and then farther off in the distance I saw this tall, historic looking buildings. I tried not to noticed that it was also a pretty gray and dismal January day, but I would soon be enjoying the sunny skies of the South of Spain.

My first ever glimpse and photo of Madrid, la capital.

I had a feeling I was going to enjoy living in Europe these next four months.

After taking a couple of pictures, one of the view outside and one of me after over 24 hours of travel and sightseeing – which today, hat particular photo is called a selfie-, I remembered I was thirsty and lugged my stuff to a nearby vending machine. A juice box, which I hadn’t ever seen in a vending machine back in the US, for just over a euro, caught my eye. (I actually got ripped off at that price as I would later learn that you could get 4-6 of them in pack for the same price but it was good at the time.) It satisfied my thirst for a little bit but after that, I decided it was time for me to go on ahead to my train platform and wait for the train. And maybe take a short cat nap if I was lucky.

Final destination: Seville (photo taken later on in 2016)

So I made my way on over to the main entrance that was next to a huge digital board that listed all of the departing train for the next few hours. I saw “Sevilla – Santa Justa” and took note of the platform number. Where said platform was actually located beyond the buzz of activity past the line for security was beyond me.

As I went through the line with my ticket and passport in hand, I was told to load my ginormous suitcase on to the conveyor belt along with my other bag. That was a lot of fun. *Groan.*

I also walked through the typical security gate with things in my pockets, I’m sure, but that was it.

In the back of my mind I thought Spanish airports and stations didn’t put as much focus on security procedures as the US did. Oh, well. I still felt safe but I was minutes away from sitting down and maybe taking a nap.

Finding a place to sleep and boarding the train in a couple hours were the most exciting things on my mind, haha.

As soon as I found the seating area near my gate, I sat down and inched my suitcase closer to me. Maybe I could turn it on its side and prop my feet up on it.

None of that happened because that’s when the exhaustion set in big time. I ended up falling asleep in my chair, holding my handbag and my carry-on luggage close to me.  I didn’t want to have any of my important things swiped from my hands, after all.

I’m not sure how long I ended up sleeping in that chair but it was long enough for passersby to stop and stare at me. I was probably quite the sight and in hindsight, I probably would’ve stared at me, too, haha.

After what felt like a short nap, but hours of waiting for my train, it was time for me to board. I was finally on my way to my new home in Spain: Sevilla!

I ended up finding my correct seat based on what it said on my ticket, after asking for help, of course, as I was clueless. Once I found the seat, and  the appropriate racks to store my luggage, I sat down and took in the surroundings. I don’t remember too much about what I saw but I do remember being impressed that the train took off on time.

The monitor said 15:00 but my body kept arguing with me that it was really 9 a.m EST and it was trying hard to persuade me to take another snooze. I was sitting in a fairly nicer chair now.

I wouldn’t listen. I was stubborn and decided to pull a book out of my handbag. I don’t remember what it was but I do remember not reading more than a line of it and looking out the window for a few seconds at some very green pastures…I didn’t think Spain had green…I thought.

Then, my eyes shut and my head slowly tilted towards the window.

Bam. I was out like a light.

It wasn’t until many years later that I actually saw what few sights there were on the AVE train line between Madrid and Sevilla because I slept through the entire ride my first time! I was excited to experience my first high speed train but I was at the point of my travels where I couldn’t stay awake.

And the nap was supposed to be refreshing but I think because I didn’t pull the shade down and slept in broad daylight. My poor body clock was so confused.

What I was supposed to admire and enjoy outside my window on the high speed train.

So, that high speed train experience went a lot faster than I should have and by the time I knew it, I was finally in Sevilla! The man next to me was kind enough to retrieve my carry-on luggage for me and as he handed it to me, he said, “Very heavy,” and started to walk down the aisle. Huh?

How did he know I spoke English? (He had plenty of time to read the front cover of whatever book I had in my hand, which was in English, that’s how he knew, haha).

I was able to snap myself out of my slumber and get ready to meet the coordinator for my study abroad program.  I was finally going to be able to talk to someone and start to make a connection with someone who lives in this country.  I was starting to feel excited again and less tired.

But, I forgot one little thing: my actual suitcase. I have no idea what I was thinking but maybe I thought that the train attendants would load the luggage off the train for us?

Again, I was thinking train stations worked like airports. Silly me.

Not too long after I found my coordinator, she told me where my luggage would be (in the Renfe office) and we went to collect it. I was glad to finally get into her car and chat about my journey up until that point. I was feeling a bit more energized but not too much. I was looking forward to the couple whose house I’d be living in for the next month.

And I was looking forward to climbing into a bed and sleeping about 12 hours. Give or take, haha.

The drive to Triana, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, was a blur. The only thing that stood out to me was this huge, sort of odd-looking tower towards the river and I kept remarking to myself how big everything looked.

We made it to my host mom, Manoli, and her apartment building fairly quickly. Mary Alice, the coordinator, helped me take my things up not one, not two but five flights of stairs! Bless her. And after Manoli opened the door and greeted us with two kisses on each cheek – that was odd-, and we did our introductions. Mary Alice also went back down to her car and got the 5L jug of olive oil she brought from a family member’s farm (I think?) and gave it to Manoli. I tried not to let my jaw drop as I didn’t know olive oil could be bottled in jugs that big! Wow.

After a short visit, Mary Alice reminded me when and where orientation would be (with her and 3 other girls from  the program in a bar, like no joke) and we said goodbye. Manoli showed me my room and I started to get settled. I desperately wanted to shower and go straight to sleep but I was only able to shower as she wanted to serve me dinner.

Tortellini con mantequilla y queso. Not the meal I had that night but it was one of my favorites later in the semester. (Insert heart eyes.)

The shower felt great and the only thing I remember about dinner was I ate pasta, Manoli’s husband Antonio came home and the two of them chatted with me and told me that “How do you do?” was the only thing the knew how to say in English. They didn’t exactly know what it meant and I was honestly too tired to tell them.

So, once I finished dinner, I thanked Manoli for the meal and wished her buenas noches. To which, she replied, “hasta mañana.

As I shuffled down the hall, the exhaustion had begun to set in again. Why didn’t she just say buenas noches back? I wondered. That’s strange.

At that point, I didn’t have the energy to contemplate anything else. Not in English nor in Spanish.

And with that final thought, I climbed into my bed that first night and fell fast and blissfully asleep.

I had survived day one. Can’t wait to see what the days to come would hold.

Have you moved abroad before? Was your first day anything like mine was? Share your thoughts in the comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Stay tuned for next week’s addition.

Living Abroad: The First 24 Hours (Part 1)

This post is the first of a 6-week series I’m doing this summer since I’ve have had a lot of experience with living away from home, especially now with living abroad. The timeline of these posts will lead up to the end of next month, which will mark 2 years since I have been in my home country, the United States of America. Being away for such a long time wasn’t something I set out to accomplish when I last left in September 2015 or was it something I was sure I could even handle.

However, through different types of circumstances, I haven’t been able to go home these past two years. In these posts, I hope my experiences will paint a real picture of what you might feel, experience and realize about living outside of your home country once you do it. Your personal experience might be different in many ways but I hope to share the lessons, tips and cultural understanding that I have gained in these past two years.

**Side note:  I split this story into two parts as I realized I was recounting 32 hours of a journey and not 24. So consider those extra 8 hours of action and tips a bonus!**

Are you ready? The clock starts now.

The first 24 hours outside of your home country by yourself will be some of the roughest hours of your life. Depending on where you go, the most likely things we all might experience during that first day are sleep-deprivation, confusion, doing things in a different way and being forced to make lots of quick decisions on our own.

I’m going to share my experience by recounting my first day after I landed in Spain to start my semester abroad. I felt like I experienced all of the things I mentioned above so it seems like the perfect place to begin this journey.

See ya later, USA!

The year was 2010 and I was a 21-year old junior in college out of state in Florida. I had a longer  than normal Christmas break in my hometown back in Ohio as I wasn’t going back to my university that semester. In late January, I flew from Dayton to Madrid, Spain with an 8-hour layover near NYC squished in between those two flights.

This little detail is part of what makes my experience a bit more unique. With my brand-new passport and freshly pressed student visa inside, I had searched different airlines to see if they had had any layovers in a city I hadn’t yet visited.

After doing some Internet research, I finally decided on a flight from Continental Airlines (which later merged with United) that left Dayton in the morning and had an 8-hour layover in their major hub, Newark, NJ. After a short search on Google Maps, I saw that NYC was only about  10 miles away. I had only wanted to go there for at least a decade so obviously that was the perfect flight choice for me! I booked it about a little over a month in advance and began packing my one -and only- suitcase.

Why only one? More on that decision later.

Looking back on this part of my journey, I did love the fun stopover in one of the most amazing cities in the world (can you tell I’m biased?) but if I had needed to stick to a tighter budget -which later on in the semester I did-I would’ve skipped it.

As much fun as long layovers and stopover tours can be, if you have even the slightest doubt that you might miss your connecting – and main- flight, choose a flight with a more practical layover time and don’t leave the airport. Especially if you have to arrive somewhere that particular day for an important conference or for an orientation. As tempting as a little jaunt into a new city is, in that case, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Thanks to doing research ahead of time, I planned a quick little taste of NYC trip for that cold late-January morning.

 

Next stop: New York City!

After I landed at the airport, I took the AirTrain into the city, arrived at Penn Station, walked around Midtown Manhattan with my briefcase-looking carry-on luggage and explored the area around me. I had only feasibly planned to spend 5 hours in Manhattan so I didn’t visit any museums, galleries or famous sights that required you to wait in line. Maybe you wouldn’t have enjoyed a such a fast visit like this but I did.

I managed to do a handful of new things that day, all within the span of a few hours.

I hadn’t ever ridden a train before, let alone visited a train station nor had I been to a major metropolitan city by myself. I took my time with things.

I knew that the mere fact and realization that I was in New York City and could walk its streets with real New Yorkers and many other people from all over the world would be enough for me. A bigger and longer trip could wait. And I’m glad I did wait cause my subsequent visits to NYC have been unforgettable. But that first visit was just for me.

And I think that is something you have to keep at the forefront of your mind when you travel internationally for the first time by yourself. Don’t focus on what other people might think of your trip or where exactly you go. If that city is where you want to go, for whatever reason, and you have the means to go, do it.

The only major advantage I had in NYC, though I had never visited before, was that everything was in my native language, English. Things got tricky later on once I landed in Madrid but I’ll explain why shortly.

I managed to buy my train ticket back to the Newark International Airport around 5:30 or 6 p.m. that afternoon and made it to the train’s gate during rush hour.  I had never before been in such a busy hub nor had I seen so many people rushing around like mice scurrying around for scraps of food. Everyone was trying to catch a train before it was too late.

I needed to get back to the airport in a New York minute – but definitely not in a taxi!

Once I arrived back to the airport, I made a couple last phone calls to friends and family back home before I called my phone provider, Verizon at the time, to suspend my line. This was when things got real and I sobered up. My excursion to the city was fun but I had to get ready for what was next.

The longest flight of my life at the time was leaving in about an hour and a half and I was about to completely disconnect from my world. Since I didn’t have a smartphone then, I didn’t know when the next time I would be able to use the Internet and contact anyone was.

And that’s sort of when my nerves tried to take over and a little bit of fear of the unknown begun to sink in.

Had I studied the Metro de Madrid‘s map enough? Could I really understand spoken Spanish that wasn’t from Latin America? Will anyone help me if I get lost? Will everyone look at me strangely and speak to me in English all the time?

These thoughts plagued my mind while I waited at the gate to board my flight.

Actually, scratch that. While I waited in the wrong area near my gate and didn’t realize that the flight to Madrid was almost boarding until I heard the gate attendant say last call on the overhead speaker.

I had not done that spontaneous (ahem, planned) visit to NYC and made it back to the airport on time to only miss my flight due to a silly mistake like that! So, I grabbed my bag and coat, while fishing my passport out of my small backpack and hurried over to the correct gate. Once my boarding pass was scanned, I started to walk down the gate pathway and with each step I took, my heart raced.

It was about to begin.

I was really about to get on a enormous plane that would fly me across the ocean to a country where I knew no one.

At this point, I accepted that I was now completely on my own. My ticket was scanned, I had called my family to say, “see you on the other side, ” and I suspended my cell phone service once I had gotten comfortable in my assigned middle seat. *Groan.*

It’s not like I had never flown before or done any traveling on my own. I had. I had done a lot up until that point in time but I had never gone as far away from home as I was about to go at that moment.

That’s what made me the most nervous and fearful although in a way, it was slightly comforting to know that I was heading to a modern and well-developed country. I think these feelings are normal and we all experience them.

I was so excited to go to Spain and study there that,  in the midst of my exuberance, I forgot to wrap my head around the issue of distance until two weeks before. I had gone through the same thought process when I moved away from home to go study in Florida. This seems to be a habit of mine, haha.

This NYC tourist was about to turn study abroad student in Spain in the morning. Behind me is the Flat Iron Building, my favorite building!

The flight took off around 9 p.m. EST (3 a.m. in Spain) and there I was. I was on my way but trying to get a glimpse of beautiful NYC below (another reason why I chose that layover). I don’t really remember seeing much to be honest.

Just that I was quite uncomfortably seated between another girl who was also going to study abroad and an older man who kept sending the dinner back or asking the stewardesses for things. And he later took his shoes off before going to sleep. Lovely.

Soon after we were served dinner, my first in-flight meal in many moons, and I watched a little bit of a show or movie on the screen in front of me, I became more relaxed. The people to my right and left still irritated me a little bit but not as much as before. I was focusing on the fact that soon I would be in the country I’d dreamed of seeing since my journey with the Spanish language had begun a few years before.

Eventually I got to sleep, albeit late, and I managed to sleep for maybe a few hours. And then the daily routine disruptions began. The stewardesses turned on some of the overhead lights and begun serving breakfast.

I went to check my watch. It’s 2:30 a.m. What are they doing? It’s not breakfast time! I wiped the excessive amount of dust from my heavy, sleep-laden eyes to get a better look.

I then look at the in-flight monitor that’s facing me (which I swore I had turned off) and the local time said 8:30 a.m.

Oh.

And that’s when it dawned on me that it was in fact breakfast time in some parts of Europe.  You know, that continent I was currently flying over at the time? So I put my folding tray down accepted the breakfast tray the lady handed me and considered it a late night snack, haha.

Sleep deprivation would kick in once we landed but I was experiencing a myriad of emotions at that time as we were fast approaching our destination: Madrid, the capital city.

The city wasn’t my first real peek of Spain, but rather the mountains in the northwestern part of the country were (and area I would call home a few years later). I had seen mountains before but they were always ones located in my own country. Something about seeing mountains overhead in a plane, halfway across the world, was very moving to me. And it was my first image of the country I had waited so long to finally experience. Tears welled up in my eyes and I let them gather there for a moment and blur my vision.

That was a particularly moving moment.

Meanwhile, I focused back on breakfast and try as I might to catch a little bit more sleep, it was to no avail. I decided to pull out my guide book and study the metro map one last time.

To be continued

 

5 Things to Do in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

This verdant northwestern corner of Spain is not to be missed. While Santiago is the final destination on the Way of St. James, there is so much more to discover. Whether your visit is long or short, you’ll find dozens of things you can do in this enchanting city. Here are five of my favorites!

    1. Take a rooftop tour of the Cathedral

Do this in the late spring or summer to get the clearest views.  For one hour, a guide will show you around the rooftops, explain its history and allow ample time for photos.

2. Eat Galician octopus at O Bogedon Os Concheiros

Santiago is packed with great places to eat from bars to family-style restaurants that serve the freshest seafood.  Wander away from crowded Rúa do Franco and your taste buds will be rewarded with some of the most succulent octopus you’ve ever tried.

 

3.  Visit the Museo do Pobo Galego

A great way to get a deeper look at the rich culture of this unique region is to visit the museum about the Galician people and their way of life. Don’t forget to snap a photo of the famed spiral staircase inside!

4. Take a hike

Get to know Galicia. Pico Sacro is just a short 30 minute bus ride and then a short hike up to the peak. Your efforts will be rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding area.

5. Shop at the Mercado de Abastos

Head to where the locals shop. Go early to find deals on fresh seafood and produce.  It’s a busy place but you’ll definitely walk way with your arms full.

Regardless of how much time you have, you’ll leave the city with wonderful memories. Don’t forget to plan a return trip as there are more hidden treasures waiting to be found!

An Open Letter to My 18 Year Old Self: Life, 10 Years After Graduation

The world is at your feet. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, Sarah.

You heard these phrases from anyone and everyone often leading up until the day of your high school graduation. However, the white cap and gown you will wear on that day and the words that will be spoken on that stage will soon be but a distant memory. This moment was all you could think about at the time, even though finishing this stage of your academic career practically drained you of almost every ounce of willpower you had left. And you even went to sleep after midnight, something you had managed not to do during most of your high school years (and still earning good grades).

Nevertheless, you did it. You achieved one of the many milestones you will go on to accomplish in your life. This day was just the beginning of your brand new life as an adult, though you didn’t fully grasp it at the time. It was going to be exciting and full of adventures. You were going far away to college after all and literally starting a brand new life. Where no one had ever heard your name before or new your parents or any other detail about you. I can’t promise you that life after your high school graduation will be easy or that you will always be happy but you will go on to create an amazing and enriching life for yourself. Just you wait and see. (But get to working on this life you want. It won’t just magically come to you!)

Sadly, I also can’t promise you that, and it’s with great sadness I write these words, everyone who sat with you and walked across this very stage with you will still be walking on this Earth 10 years later. I wish I could save you from the disappointment and grief you will experience, but I can’t. It’s the heartbreaking and stark reality of life. It’s so short.

Gorgeous tulips in Lugano, Switerland

Take heart. Though not everyone who was with you at age 18 will be by your side at age 28, you will learn how to live your days to the absolute fullest. You won’t always be flying off to a new city for a weekend or exploring a castle or working on an exciting new project. There will be times when you won’t want to do anything more than curl up underneath your covers and lay in our bed -somewhere in the world- and watch a TV show series on your laptop or read a book in another language (spoiler alert from the future: yes, you will know how to speak more than two languages by this time in your life -and yes, it’s pretty freaking sweet.) But, you know what? It’s okay to do these things, too. You are human after all and everyone needs to recharge their batteries once in a while.

A lot of things in your life are unknown at this point but trust in the process. Everything is working together for your good and for your benefit. It takes time and you will be pruned and molded into becoming an amazing, caring and empathetic person. You will blossom into more of who you saw yourself becoming all of your teen years and I think you would not only be proud of her, but you would be in awe of her as well. Do you know what you do on a regular basis a decade from now? I’ll tell you.

The young woman you have become speaks up in group discussions. She talks to cute guys and even sits down next to them on public transportation without batting (too much) an eye!  She’s not afraid to speak her mind or add her thoughts and ideas to a discussion because she knows her opinion adds value. She travels solo. SOLO. A concept I know is completely foreign to you as you haven’t quite left home for the first time yet (which will feel like you’re being abandoned just FYI but you’ll be over it in two weeks, so don’t have a meltdown just yet). I could go on and on about the woman you’ve become but I’ll sum it up in one sentence: she’s beautiful inside and out and she’s a dearly loved child of God. You have fought for everything you have and are at this moment in time but don’t think for a second that you will stop fighting because you have a long road ahead of you. It will all be worth it, though.

These last 10 years of your life zipped by like a high speed train and the next 10 unfortunately won’t be slowing down any time soon. Don’t let that scare you but rather let it motivate you to make the most of it.

Here’s to another beautiful decade of your life. Make every moment count and make a difference in someone else’s life. You won’t regret it…trust me on this one. 😉