How to Apply for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

So, you want to go teach English in Spain next year? You’re going to need a student visa for that!

You’ve filled out the application on Profex. You’ve gotten your regional placement (hopefully the one you really wanted!) and now you’ve gotten your city placement and school assignment.  You’re now at the stage where you will need to apply for your student visa to enter Spain and carry out the duties of your contract for the next 8-9 months.

Or maybe you’ve just begun the program application(s) and want to read up on the visa process.

Either way, you’ve come to the right place!

application for student visa form

Ready to begin your paperwork trail? The bureaucratic fun has only just begun!

 

**Disclaimer: I did apply for my student visa at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago back in August 2014 some details regarding my experience may not be relevant to how the Consulate handles student visa applications today. While much of the process is still the same, I still want to warn you in advance to use this post as a guideline and always confirm the exact information on the Consulate’s website (linked below).  And to clarify, I only applied for the student visa once and then renewed my student stay card (Tarjeta de Identificación del Extranjero or TIE) every other year I was participating in the Auxiliares de Conversacion program. (Which I urge you to do if you want to one day be eligible for residency in Spain through a process called student visa modification)

 

What you’ll need:

  • National Visa application form
  • Original passport (and copy) and second ID (driver’s license, State ID, current student ID card or voter’s registration card (Note: make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the program’s end date. If it’s not, get more information on how to renew your passport first.)
  • One recent passport sized photo (2″x2″)
  • Copy (and original) of the Acceptance Letter (Carta de Nombramiento)
  • Police Background Check from either
          • State Department of Justice
          • FBI Records
  • Medical Certificate
  • Self-addressed Express Mail envelope from USPS (if you don’t live in or near the Chicago metropolitan area)

For more detailed information direct from the Chicago Consulate, read their informational sheet.

 

Step 1: Filling out the National Visa Application form

If you, too, are wondering why the form says “application form is free,” I wish I could tell you why they printed that on the form.

This is just the beginning of the confusing world that is Spanish bureaucracy but I’m here to be your guide through it. 🙂 

 

applying for student visa at Chicago Consulate (lobby)

Before you can set one foot in the Spanish Consulate in Chicago, you’ve got some documents to gather and forms to fill out.

Anyway, first, you will need to save and print off from the Consulate’s website. Print two copies and fill them both out so that you will have a completed copy of your own just in case there are any problems or confusion with your form. The default language for the student visa form is in (British) English so just bear with the Consulate and their translation or use of different terminology.

Here are some tips on filling out certain boxes you might be unsure of: 

Box 12: Check Ordinary Passport since your passport most likely doesn’t match any of the other types listed.

Box 13: It’s a little bit unnecessary to ask this but for “number of travel documents,” put 1.
Box 17: List both your mailing address and email address. It’s a small space but try and write neatly. (Could they give you a little more space, though?!)

Box 18: Unless you have residency in another country other than the USA (for example, Canada or Mexico), list the ID number for it and when it expires. It’s highly likely that you won’t need to do this, but this is just extra information.

Box 19: For “current profession,” I would suggest listing student or recent graduate if you’ve just graduated from college. Remember: this is not to say that someone with a particular profession will get approved for the visa and another will not. The program accepts anyone who meets the requirements and has a Bachelor’s degree for any type of major. I personally wrote self-employed because that was the most accurate profession for me at the time. 

filling out the student visa form

Box 20: Principle Purpose of Journey – Select Studies, as the auxiliar de conversacion program is viewed by the Spanish government as a continuing education program.

Box 21: I was told by the Consulate in 2014 that I could enter Spain up to 2-4 weeks before my visa kicked in. If I did, I would have to go to the nearest police station and get a stamp the day I arrive (especially if I connected through another European country) to mark the start date of my stay. Try to put an estimated 7-10 days before the latest date you’d like to arrive in Spain before the program starts. (Ex: my visa began September 1st and expired in mid-December. Though I believe I had initially put September 15th as the start date). 

Box 22: Number of entries requested  –  Check more than two.  Your printed visa will show “MULTI” in the box listed Number of Entries. The main reason you will request this type of visa is because your TIE (Foreigner’s Identity Card) won’t be ready by the time your first round of vacations come up. You will be covered on each entry and exit from Spain while your student stay card is being made and your visa form is still valid. (Normally up to December or January of the following year).

apartment renting in Spain: always best to rent while you're there, not before!

Featured here: one of the smallest apartments I’ve ever lived in. (Santiago de Compostela)

Box 23: Postal Address of Applicant in Spain – A lot of first-time student visa applicants are super confused by this line on the application form. Keep in mind that never, under any circumstances, is it OK (or recommended) to say yes to, wire a deposit for or sign a contract for an apartment when you have never looked at it or visited that city before! The simpler way to fill out this box is to put the address of your school. The Consulate won’t be contacting them directly to see if you can actually live there so don’t worry. Another thing other applicants have done is put the address of the AirBnb where they’re staying temporarily. I put the address of my elementary school and I had no issues, so I recommend doing this.

Skip Boxes 24-27. You won’t be issued a Foreign National Identity Number (NIE) until you have been granted the visa, so don’t worry about this box. In my experience, the NIE (as it shall now be known for you) is listed on the visa the Consulate affixes to your passport. So, just file this information away for the future.

Box 28: Data (Contact info) of educational establishment – Put the name and address of your school. It should start with CEIP (Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria), IES (Instituto de Educación Superior) or EOI (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas). I’ve listed the acronyms out just for your own information as I know these might look strange to you being a first-time applicant. For the Intended Start and Intended Finish dates, list the exact dates that are on your letter of appointment (carta de nombramiento). If you’re in Madrid and working for the Comunidad or Ministry, the start date should be the first Monday in October and the finish date, approximately June 30th. All other regions end on May 31st, unless otherwise specified on your letter. (Skip the remaining boxes that ask for more information if applying as a minor.)

Remember, this form is free, but you will have to print it out. 

Your paperwork stack is just going to get bigger after this…

**Personal note: For general reference, once you start filling out the National Visa form, go ahead and make your visa appointment at the Consulate about a month out. I started the student visa process in mid-July 2014 and secured an appointment in the morning in mid-August. I was placed in the region of Galicia so I received my placement in mid-May and my school placement in late May. If you are applying to work in Madrid your first year, I would recommend you schedule a visa appointment immediately after receiving your school placement (early-to-mid July) so that you can give yourself enough time to prepare the necessary documents for this visa.

Step 2: Make necessary copies of your passport, driver’s license or voter’s registration card and get your passport photos taken

making photocopies for your student visa application

Hopefully, your experience won’t be like this. (Side note, this is a stock photo, not me.)

This may have changed since I last did this process but I was able to make color copies of my passport and driver’s license in color. Over the past couple of years, I’ve done a couple of paperwork processes here in Spain and most copy shops aren’t allowing you to make color copies of your IDs. This may also be the case in the US but good news: black and white copies will save you a little extra money!

As I stated above in the initial list, you will need to take and submit two 2-inch by 2-inch passport sized photos for the Spanish student visa. These can be taken at any drug store or supermarket and it’s a pretty straightforward process.

I went just up the street from where I lived in Dayton, Ohio at the time to the nearest CVS Pharmacy and got my photos taken. I paid about $12 at the time but the price has since gone up to $14.99. Take a look at your options here on their website.

Cost: $14.99

Step 3: Apply for a State or Federal Background Check

applying for a background check for a student visa

This will be the document you’ll need to plan ahead for the most (besides the visa) so get started early!

A little bit of a back story on my situation: I am from Ohio but I moved to Florida to go to college and later to live there for a couple of years as a post-graduate. The Consulate webpage states that if you’ve lived in any other state in the last 5 years you must complete an FBI Background Check. In addition to this, if you’ve lived in another country besides the US (study abroad semesters don’t count – I checked), you will need to request a background check from the respective country. 

Since I haven’t done this process in quite a while, I retraced my steps in my Inbox (I save everything!) and found the email with the shipping information from my FBI Background check. Sometime between 2014 and now, the FBI Channeler I used changed their name but in this section, I will be providing an updated and accurate description of how to submit the application for an FBI Background check.

First of all, if you have a ton of time on your hands at this point, you can request it directly through the FBI website and pay considerably less for the report. In 2014, the estimated time to receive your criminal history report from the FBI was 12 weeks. In 2019, the website estimates it will take 14 to 16 weeks!

I would honestly skip doing the process through the FBI and use an FBI Channeler. 

missing information for student visas

The last thing you want is to have your report get lost in the mail, right?

I only had about a month before my visa appointment at the Consulate so I had to get this step checked off the list relatively fast. I chose to go with an FBI Channeler in California called My FBI Report (now known as National Background Information. They were very fast and efficient and I was able to download their forms and enter my debit card information on the form and send it off. 

I chose the 2 Day Priority Shipping option from the USPS and was notified by their customer service when my payment had been processed and then received a separate email with a tracking link for my package. I would’ve had a 100% stress-free experience with this Channeler had I not had a slight issue with the payment. The reason? I had closed my bank account in Florida (the branch wasn’t located in Ohio) but hadn’t switched over to a new bank yet so I put my pre-paid PayPal debit card on my form since I received my earnings via PayPal anyway. I didn’t double check to make sure I had enough money loaded onto the card in order to pay for the report processing fees and shipping. Nevertheless, they called me just after I sent it off in mid-July and we worked out the issue together.

All in all, the cost for this was as follows: 

FBI Criminal Report: $39.95

2-Day USPS Priority Shipping: $14.00

Cost: $43.95

If you’re really pressed for time, you can use FedEx overnight shipping for $40 and receive it the next day. 

I still had about 3 weeks before I had to go to my visa appointment at the Consulate so I didn’t need rush shipping. I will explain why I chose Priority shipping, however, in the next step.

Step 4: Request the Apostille of the Hague for your background check

Apostille of the Hague for student visa applications

Wouldn’t it be cool if official seals came back like this sweet Medieval style one?

Spoiler alert: This document was the main reason why I purchased Priority shipping for the FBI criminal record. I didn’t find the expediting services for apostilles affordable nor was I in THAT much of a rush so I opted for the regular shipping services for it. I only needed a specific number of days to complete, mail and receive the Apostille of the Hague in my hands before I traveled to Chicago for my appointment.

You may want to request an additional copy of your FBI Background check but keep in mind that the Chicago Consulate will most likely scan your original documents and hand them back to you. At least, this was my experience.

The Apostille of The Hague is a document which authenticates the signatures and seals on public documents (birth certificates, court orders, background checks, etc) and is recognized by the countries who are a part of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty. 

It’s like a cover letter that’s fastened to the front of the public document you will submit. Once the apostille is attached to the document, you won’t be able to separate the two. So, make a photocopy of your background check (just in case) before you send it off.

usps location for mailing applications

You’ll want to get this document mailed off ASAP.

At the time I applied for this in late July 2014, there were hardly any step-by-step guides on the Internet on how to apply for the apostille.

So how did I get this done? 

I went to the U.S. Department of State website to get more information. I learned that FBI Background checks cannot be apostilled by a state government office but need to be sent to the Office of Authentications in Washington D.C.

The website has a couple of twists and turns but detailed information about requesting apostilles can be found under Apostille Requirements (click on U.S. Department of State Apostille Requirements) and then the exact steps, fees and mailing address for the authentication office can be found in this side tab.

It was a fairly straightforward process for me and I had just enough time to complete this before my trip to Chicago and visa appointment.

But, as the website states, it can take up to 12 business days to process your request so plan wisely!

All I needed was to do was fill out the application form, get a money order from the USPS closest to my house and pay $8 as well as purchase a USPS pre-paid Priority envelope, which together cost about $15.

I sent the completed application form, money order, pre-paid and self-addressed USPS (Print both your address and the Office of Authentication’s Physical Address very clearly) off to the address below:

Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
CA/PPT/S/TO/AUT
44132 Mercure Circle
P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, VA  20166-1206

And I received it just a couple of days before I left for Chicago, which was early August.

Cost: $15

Step 5: Visit your general physician or health clinic to receive a medical certificate

doctor's check-up for visa requirements

Of all the steps on this list, this one was the trickiest for me. Maybe you can relate…

If you’re like me, chances are you don’t have (good) health insurance in the US and may not have easy access to a family practitioner.

By a small miracle, I was able to find a shortcut (and free option) for this step. I’ve read on the Facebook groups that other English teachers from the US have gone to CVS Minute Clinics or something similar in order to fulfill this requirement.

It was nearing my last available week to do last minute things for my visa appointment at the beginning of August (immediately after I was going on vacation within the US) and I was having a difficult time trying to find a clinic or an inexpensive doctor’s office who would sign the required form from the Spanish Consulate’s website. 

Why was it so complicated?

It’s because the Spanish Consulate in Chicago requires its applicants to submit a clean medical certificate with the following wording: 

“The applicant, First and Last Name, has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health
Regulation 2005.”

(Don’t bother clicking on the link to the PDF they have listed on the instructions sheet because the link is broken.)

Does anyone really enjoy going to the hospital?

Well, the main issue most doctors have with this statement is the part where it mentions free of contagious diseases. After calling a couple of health clinics where they charged upwards of $300 to test for all necessary contagious diseases, I didn’t let the fear of completing this step paralyze me and took to the Internet to search for alternatives.

I didn’t earn a very high full-time income as a freelancer that year so I thought I could perhaps use my low-income status to my advantage.

I searched for free medical clinics in the Dayton area and surrounding counties.

While I didn’t succeed in making an appointment in Greene County (the county where I resided at the time), I found available schedules and services at the clinic in the neighboring Montgomery County, Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County

Since this part of the process was so foreign and difficult for me, I ended up going to this clinic the afternoon before I left on a bus to Chicago! 

I don’t recommend doing this because the clinic could turn you away especially if they have a high volume of patients and a shortage of staff but I took the risk anyway.

My brother accompanied me to this appointment and we both got to experience the services of a free county clinic. I explained to them how I missed the only day the Greene County clinic was open (Tuesday) and that I needed a physical and general blood work for a visa appointment I was going to out-of-state. 

Overall, I didn’t have to wait too long to be seen and had a very positive experience with the doctor. He understood that I wasn’t going to a third world country to live and teach and that they have updated medical facilities and modern medicine to treat me with, on the off chance I did get severely sick during my stay (which thankfully I did not).

I was fully checked out, did a blood analysis and received the following signed medical certificate on the clinic’s letterhead:

 

Cost: $0

Step 6: Get all your documents organized for your appointment!

You’re almost finished – keeping moving along!

Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel for this process?

So, you’ve gathered all of your documents and you have them in hand, almost ready to take off for Chicago.

This is the shortest section of all the steps because it’s just a matter of double checking your stuff.

Make sure you have a copy of every document you will turn in. Don’t staple any of your documents and copies together but do get a reliable file folder to store all of them in. Some people have merely arranged in order of what needs to be turned in at the Consulate (as per their list) and others have added Post-it notes on the side to easily shuffle through the stack of papers.

Whatever you do, take extra odds and ends like:

  • Tape
  • Mini-stapler
  • Paperclips
  • A back-up folder in case yours rips or falls apart
  • Extra blue or black pens

Also, print out a sample itinerary of your travel plans (show you plan to purchase a round trip ticket, but it’s not necessary) but DO NOT buy a flight until you have your visa in hand.

There is one last thing you will need to purchase before you leave for Chicago. It’s especially crucial you do this beforehand so you’re not standing in a gigantic line at some USPS location inside the mega-metropolis. It’s your pre-paid self-addressed USPS Express Envelope. 

I got this on my last day in Ohio for a couple of weeks at the local post office and it only cost $19.95 in 2014.

Cost (for 2019): $25.50

Step 7: Travel to Chicago and be early for your appointment

Spanish consulate in Chicago, IL

Consulate General of Spain Chicago’s location. Your big day has arrived!

At the time I left to submit this visa application, I lived in Dayton, Ohio (after having moved back there temporarily from Jacksonville, Florida, my college town), which is about a 7-hour drive away from downtown Chicago.

I moved back home for about 6 months to save up the money I needed to move abroad to Spain for a school year (which ended up turning into a much longer stay) and to pay for this visa application.

The easiest and most inexpensive way for me to travel to Chicago the weekend before my visa appointment was to use Megabus. Since Dayton wasn’t a city Megabus left from (and there was no way I was trying Greyhound again), I had to travel down to near downtown Cincinnati. 

Again, my faithful brother drove me to Cincy and took advantage of visiting one of his friends who lives down there permanently, so it turned into a fun mini-road trip. Cincinnati is about an hour’s drive from our house in Dayton so it was easy enough to manage.

The price I paid for my one-way bus ticket (since I was going to a different state after my appointment) was only $5! (plus, a service charge to use my debit card to pay). 

(Today it normally costs about $25 to book a one-way ticket from Cincinnati-Chicago.) 

I found cheap accommodation for just a couple of nights, used my Ventra transportation card again, explored the city and treated myself to a nice meal after my appointment.

It’s almost time for your appointment!

After exploring the city for a couple of days, it was finally Monday morning and time to get ready for my visa appointment at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago at 11 a.m CST.

I had one last thing to do that morning after I left my accommodation and that was to pay for the fee for the student visa!

I left this step towards the very end because I didn’t want to risk dropping or misplacing the last and expensive money order I had to submit. The student visa (visado de estudiante) fee was $160 in 2014 and surprisingly it’s stayed the same up until 2019. If you are seeing this much later after this post has been published, check the updated list of fees.

So, early Monday morning I went to make one extra copy of my ID at the Chicago Public Library and then went to the nearest USPS office to buy the money order.

I made it to my appointment about a half hour early and waited for my turn, after taking a number.

The appointment is referred to as an interview but it only consists of you turning in your documents to a consulate officer and verifying you have everything you ask.

While I was a bit nervous for my appointment and wanting to just get it over with, my experience overall was uneventful. Minus the fact that the consulate worker I submitted my paperwork to nearly forgot to ask me for my medical certificate! But, just maintain a clear head and don’t lose track of the order in which you’re submitting the documents.

At this Consulate, you can speak to the staff in either Spanish or English. I started in Spanish but the lady switched to English perhaps because she was used to using and hearing it in their office (this is not the case in Miami, I’ve heard!)

I also met and chatted with one other auxiliar-to-be and she was simply requesting a new student visa for the upcoming school year. At this point, I was reassured about my acceptance into the program because she stated, “anyone with a heartbeat can get into this program.”

After a short appointment and taking a couple of photos in the main hallway before I left, I was finished.

It’s over!

Step 8: You’re finished – do something to celebrate and wait for your visa to arrive!

cheers to the finished product!

Congratulations! You’re going to teach English in Spain next school year. 🙂

You’ve finished all of the steps and now all you have to do is wait for your passport to be sent back to you!

Do something to celebrate your accomplishment however you see fit. 

I went to a Spanish restaurant in downtown Chicago and ordered a really delicious paella and drink. I got a sign (in my mind) my visa would get approved because the total for my meal was $23.09, which was ironically my application number for the Auxiliar de Conversacion program. Go figure! haha

The wait time?

Though the consulate officer will tell you that it could take 4-6 weeks for your visa to arrive, the Chicago Consulate was on the ball that year in 2014 and they processed, approved and sent visas back in record time.

Date of visa appointment (and submission): August 11th, 2014.

Date of returned passport: August 28th, 2014.

It only took 17 days for my visa to be approved and sent back to me! I could’ve checked the tracking link attached to my Express mailing envelope but I basically forgot about it and was just pleasantly surprised that afternoon I went to check the mail. 🙂

Don’t bank on the fact that this Consulate tends to process things quickly so be sure to give yourself up to 6 weeks for them to return it and before you need to leave for Spain.

Summer is the busiest time for foreign consulates as tens of thousands of study or teaching abroad students are applying for the same types of visas you are. But, if you would like to check the status of your visa, you can go to this website and stay up-to-date on it.

Your year abroad (or more) in Spain awaits you!

All that’s left is to prepare for your year abroad teaching English in Spain! 

Did I miss anything in these steps? Do you have any extra questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments!

 

8 Stories of International Love & Dating From My Travels

I’ve been a long time reader of the solo female travel blog Adventurous Kate who always strives to give you her real and honest opinion about a place or bring up a controversial topic that’s been floating around the travel or political spheres and confront it head-on. She’s also quite brave and passionate and when I re-read her post on international love stories about a year ago, I knew I wanted to one day write a similar type of post.

But in my case, this post has a different purpose.

You see, I’m getting married soon.

The main reason I want to get this type of post out into the world is to metaphorically close the door firmly shut on my past experiences in love and dating. I will still remember these moments for the rest of my life but the effect they’ve had on my heart has faded. And will continue to fade with time until they’re but a distant memory.

For a while love took its sweet time to walk into my life but I still clung to the hope it would finally arrive.

However, about two years ago, at age 28, I was nearly at the brink of giving up on the idea I would ever find someone with whom I could share my love and affection. All sorts of crazy thoughts ran through my mind constantly in the early part of 2017 but I still clung to the hope that one day it would happen. One day, I would meet the man God had saved just for me.

And I did, though I had no clue where this particular man fit into my life at the time. I had my nose pressed far too close to the big picture back then. (I reflect on the things I never thought I’d do in my twenties in this short piece.)

It was a seemingly endless and winding road to get to where I am today: engaged to the love of my life.

But I made it.

Before I ever dated anyone, I learned how to enjoy meals alone, take myself out and savor great wine! (Featured: a glass of Bordeaux)

It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey and I spent most of it single, not reaching the point where I went on my first official date until the age of 26 but it’s all been worth it. And each experience served a greater purpose.

Because if any one of those experiences hadn’t taken place, not only would I not be the person I am today, but I have reason to believe that I would not be with the man who I’m with today.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff (and perhaps the real reason why you clicked on this post in the first place).

If you would like to play along and go on my travel scavenger hunt, here’s how it works. This type of logic is called Adriadne’s Thread. The idea is for you to give someone a list of about 10 places within one city you’ve lived or spent a lot of time in and a story for each. The catch is that you don’t tell the traveler which place matches each story, but simply let them figure it out. Since I’ve followed suit and decided to share short love or dating stories and they all didn’t happen in the same city, I’m going to expand the scavenger hunt to all over the world…sort of. 😛

(Spoiler alert: none of these began in North America or anywhere else but all took place in quite a few different parts of Europe).

We had only known each other for a month in person but had been in contact virtually for a few years before we saw each other again.

It was by accident that I had even met you because we had no friends in common. We came from different countries and backgrounds. We weren’t even doing a semester exchange at the same university or living in the same part of the city.

It was purely coincidental that you met the traveling ex-Italian army officer turned musician who had heard and met my friends and I playing music and singing on the lawn of your university one afternoon.

But I suppose that’s destiny: you can’t truly comprehend it.

And then after exchanging long messages, handwritten letters and photos all in Spanish – which wasn’t even our native language – I visited your hometown and we met up for dinner.

You were a gentleman in every aspect of the word, even down to paying the bill at the restaurant for both of us. I found it odd that earlier in the night, you didn’t want to help me find an ATM before we went into the Indian restaurant we chose to dine in.

I never did care for your native language nor found it intriguing until I heard you speak it flawlessly in front of me in the restaurant and placed our orders. I guess that changes when you know and care about someone who has spent their whole life speaking it.

The conversation flowed naturally and we reminisced about our study abroad home, your recent visit there and my upcoming visit in the spring. We thought back to the people we were then and who was sitting before us. A lot had changed since then but our common interests and friendship hadn’t.

I had told someone in my shared hostel dorm that my dinner with you was a date but we never spoke about what it was. I don’t consider it a date, even though you graciously waved away my polite plea to pay for my half of the meal.

We both were no longer students and you had a good job at last. I was really proud and happy for you.

It was so good to see you but as we gave each other the traditional “dos besos” we knew so well, something deep within told me that I wouldn’t see you again.

We would message and stay in touch sporadically for a couple more years until our communication gently faded into silence. I didn’t foresee this happening immediately after I left your city but a lingering thought as I made my way to my next destination was the confirmation I needed.

With the last postcard I would ever send to you in hand, something deep inside of me told me that it was okay to let you go. We weren’t meant to be anything more than friends even though I had dreamed of so many different scenarios, so many different endings to our story. Distance, language barriers, cultural differences and fear of the unknown were too much for us.

The funny thing about our story is that I had to meet a Galician guy who was studying in my hometown in order to have been able to meet you.

But since the amount of evangelical Christians in our region was small, I probably would’ve met you one way or another.

Or perhaps not at all because you were and still are a med student.

The type of person my roommate warned me never to get involved in.

If I ever developed feelings for someone who was a med student or even worse a doctor, I should rip them out of me and stomp on them.

Or something like that. (She was in love with and dated a med student turned doctor for nearly decade and let’s just say it didn’t work out.)

You were so kind to me and helped me get settled into my new city. I still remember when we met for the first time in my friend’s church in a smaller, overlooked town and you told me the two of you grew up together.

Of all the people I met that Sunday with my travel buddy of a friend, I can’t explain why you and I had a stronger connection than anyone else.

It was from that first meeting and over the summer that we stayed in touch by message or email and you asked me all sorts of questions about the English language and culture while you spent part of a summer immersed in what’s now known as Robin Hood’s old stomping grounds.

As much as I enjoyed meeting up with you, going to church with you the times you didn’t go home to your village and our cultural and linguistic discussions, there were obvious things that wouldn’t work out and kept us as friends.

The biggest thing was age. I was four years older and I was farther into my career and working years. You wouldn’t jump into the working world until much, much later.

I had bigger and passionate dreams to chase then. Now.

I couldn’t put my life on hold.

And I can’t simply brush off the fact that someone tells me they would never live in either North or South America. I want to fully explore the latter continent but the former is my home. It may not be somewhere I will live again but I don’t want someone to close the door permanently on that idea without having ever experienced life there.

You were handsome, funny and quirky – just like me, but I realized later that year that you needed to have your own life experiences and follow the path set before you. I couldn’t wait for you to mature, become more experienced or to change.

I still wish you the best and thank you for being a Christian friend who encouraged me in my walk. I especially needed that encouragement and those prayers when I started to lose faith and hope in my journey the following months and year later.

This isn’t going to be a very long story but it’s memorable nonetheless.

You’re now nothing but a stranger and someone I once had breakfast with in a major city. If I were to see you in a crowd or bump shoulders with you, I wouldn’t recognize you.

However, your act of kindness will stick with me for a while longer.

You were the first person I met from a popular online dating site.

You were a native of the city where I was visiting and passed through multiple times before…but this visit was different.

I had never just happened to be in a city I didn’t live in and decided to go on a date with someone.

It was just the beginning of the number I would find myself brave enough to do and ever so slowly crack my introverted shell wide open.

Our conversation flowed quite nicely and you complimented me on my choice of breakfast that morning: pan con tomate y aceite de oliva. As a passing, yet flirty comment, you said I might be more Spanish than American after a couple years of living here.

Though I had a lovely time and it added to the good experiences I had in your city that week, there were obvious things and beliefs that wouldn’t between us.

If I remember correctly, you identified as an atheist. (So that’s a deal breaker for a second date.) We had a few main things in common (travel, languages, cultural fascinations, etc) but not enough to form even a casual relationship.

But, it was the reason you gave for wanting to pay for my breakfast was what I’ll always remember. It could’ve very well have been a flirty response but I felt it was sincere.

“Eres unainvitada en mi ciudad y sería un placer invitarte.”
[English: You’re a guest in my city and it would be a pleasure to treat you for breakfast.]

Thank you for your kindness. (And for being old school and suggesting we call each other to chat when I returned back to my old city, though we never spoke again.)


I’ll be honest, I couldn’t stop staring at you the entire (and only) night we met and went out for drinks and tapas.

I know he’s not young-looking anymore but you looked like the Spanish Mel Gibson.

You spoke an interesting mix of languages: French, German and Spanish (and another regional one). You had lived in Switzerland and traveled all over. You most oftentimes traveled to a location to race and cycle professionally.

I even remember you showing and explaining to me what the cross-country cycling competition in the US was like and how you wanted to enter. And happily pay $3,000 to do so.

I didn’t quite understand that but I admired your passion for your sport. I also, for the life of me, could not understand just a few moments later why I had to express what I was vehemently explaining to you with such wide hand movements.

If I had realized that our table at the first bar was so small and my glass of Albariño was so close to me, I would’ve controlled myself.

But I didn’t.

And, to my horror, my hand bumped the wine glass and it toppled over the side of the table near the wall, splashing my purse and tarnishing my “I’ve never broken dishware while on a date before” reputation.

It was that night that I learned how to laugh off embarrassment while on a date and embrace the silly moments.

You taught me an expression that went something like, “eres tan bueno que ni has roto un plato (you’re such a goody two shoes that you’ve never broken a plate) and I’ll never forget that moment.

Though age, location and similar interests (plus, you showed me photos of your new kitten!) were correctly aligned, you didn’t share my faith nor were things ever perfectly natural between us. I forced things too much.

But even still, I hope you always remember me as that one American girl who broke her wine glass while on a date.

Of all my travel love stories, this one by far was my saddest. And it was the most definitive of them all. This one pseudo relationship taught me so much in such a short period of time that it still blows my mind to this day.

How much I could learn about myself and seeing the true colors of someone else in just a six month time period was astounding.

But this guy, you as he will only be referred to in this post, was probably my biggest mistake and lesson of them all.

How you dropped into my life and how I was ultimately plucked from yours, I’ll never be able to explain.

But, knowing what I know now, I should’ve dropped you the first day you became unresponsive to one of my messages and chickened out on meeting me in person, going on the trip we had planned nearly a month before.

You always said all the right things but your follow through on anything besides a Skype call here and there sucked.

What sucked more was how I let myself give you chance after chance when I should’ve said enough. This guy doesn’t care about me.

I had such little experience in dating then that I let myself be used and emotionally abused by you.

But being hurt by you just made me stronger.

Though my anger has faded greatly with time, I’ll never forget the blaring warning bell that went off in my head the first moment I saw you standing by a familiar statue in a large, central square.

In the city I was set to move to for you in a couple of months.

I looked around to see if anyone else heard it but I was the only one. The weekend didn’t get off to a good start to say the least.

And what was worse was the following day, in 35°C+ (97°F basically) weather, you left me stranded in the biggest park in the city. Because I was a few minutes late.

You clearly had better things to do.

But the heartbreak and eventual blocking on WhatsApp that followed hurt. And so was the realization of how stupid I was to open myself up to the idea of love with the wrong person.

My friends consoled me upon my return to a much more refreshing part of the country. “Being in love makes us do silly things,” they said. “He didn’t deserve you. You’re better off without him.”

And I was.

More so, I was extremely glad I didn’t buy a dress for a stupid guy in order to look the way he wanted me to look.

We had met a few months before but we just happened to be visiting the same city at the same time. How often does that happen?

My friend and I met you at a traditional restaurant I suggested we all try. It was near the harbor and the main square but it was dark so we couldn’t go out to see the surrounding area.

I don’t know what we enjoyed most that night: swapping observations about the city or the burning smoked sausage tapa we tried. And what I remembered ordering my first time in that restaurant a few years prior.

It wasn’t my first time experiencing that city but it was my first time being there and understanding the language. It was unforgettable.

The only thing I would change about that night was how much time we spent with you. Part of us arriving late was my fault – but then again, when isn’t it my fault? haha

The thing you don’t know is that I was messaging the guy I was interested in at the time in my third language and I couldn’t get over how cool that was.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have even wasted my breath or third language knowledge on that immature adolescent “man.” I should’ve spent more time chatting with you and getting to know you better.

My travel buddy -and friend today- tried to dangle you in front of me as someone I should be consider being with. But then again, I don’t know what her true motive was. Maybe she was just giving a friendly suggestion.

Who knows.

If I could go back in time and passed by us in the street, I would’ve yelled at the top of my lungs, “Hey, your friend is right! Don’t waste your time on that stupid, immature English guy you’ve been texting for months.”

I will say that my over feeling and level of comfort with you never changed from the moment I met you. You were cool and laid back and you loved to travel.

Why couldn’t that be enough for me to want to get to know you better?

Well, I would have to let time run its course and hope our paths would cross again one day.

You were also one of the coincidental meetings in my travels that I can’t explain.

And you were almost a mistake I would’ve severely regretted but…I’m getting ahead of myself.

I can’t ever forget an important tip I learned from having met you and visiting your hometown, several hundred miles away from where I live now.

It’s funny to think how if I had changed my location on my online dating profile right after I had moved to my new city, you probably wouldn’t have ever found me and messaged me.

I suppose everyone crosses your path for a reason.

There were things about your character that I admired and respected at the time. You also showed me that not every British guy is a jerk and most are gentlemanly, provided they have matured first.

I’ll always be grateful for the high amount of respect you showed me during my visit and your hospitality. You were very kind and sweet but something was missing in our interactions.

Something I couldn’t put my finger on at the time because I had nothing to compare a kiss to back then.

Passion. That’s what was missing.

Though kissing you for the very first time next to a lighthouse and the seashore was amazing at the time (and helped me get over my shyness towards physical affection) our kisses lacked passion. Feeling.

I remember chuckling after our lips parted and you said, “See? Kissing doesn’t have to lead to anything else.”

Your eyes communicated something different but I didn’t confront it at the time.

Later on in the weekend, I did come to the realization of just how different our standards for a relationship weren’t equal. You didn’t share the same values that I upheld myself to.

You were perfect on paper but you weren’t right for me. We weren’t right for each other.

And most importantly, nothing in my life connected me to where you lived.

But I just want to thank you for indirectly showing me how important the setting of a first kiss is. That truly made a difference in my first (and last) serious relationship and how beautifully it began.

And still continues today.

Think you can guess the cities these love stories took place?

The full list coming on March 1st. Stay tuned…

1,000 Days Away From Home: A Complete Guide to Surviving Life Abroad [E-book Announcement]

Hola!

I’m Sarah, the owner of this website and a young, travel-loving American expat who lives abroad in Spain. I aspire to have more stamps in my passport than years on this Earth. I’m multi-lingual, curious about the world and currently have made my home base Madrid, the capital city of Spain. My main desire when I travel is to show my audience how other people in the world live through my experiences And my main goal when I travel is to encourage other Christian women to explore the world, even going to countries the media threatens to convince us are dangerous. As long as you do plenty of research and use common sense when you travel, no place in the world should be off-limits. 

That’s my background and travel philosophy but let’s get to the real reason why you’re here. 

The E-book!

I’ve compiled and answered a list of questions you might have as you decide whether or not you would like to support this new endeavor of mine and purchase this book. Let’s take a look:

  •  What will the book be about? 

This comprehensive guide will elaborate on what it’s like to live abroad on your own from the very first days and weeks to staying away for months and then years without returning home.

September 21st, 2015: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning before my flight but had no idea I wouldn't return to any US city until 2018!
September 21st, 2015: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning before my flight but had no idea I wouldn’t return to any US city until 2018!

How the idea was born: 

I initially planned to be away from home for 1 year (after a previous stint of 9 months abroad straight) but due to travel and work opportunities as well as travel restrictions when my visa was in renewal, until June 30th, 2018 I hadn’t been home for a total of 2 years and 10 months. I saw a few friends during that time period but I wasn’t able to see my parents, brother, family friends or college friends at all. After a year and a half of living abroad in Spain, I started writing down my thoughts and tips on what it’s like to stay abroad for long-term and how to survive key moments in the passing months and years you’ll be in your new country. 

Now, I would like to compile all of the information and research I’ve gathered and put it into an easy-to-read guide for anyone else who finds themselves living abroad for months or years at a time. It can also be useful for anyone who is considering living abroad for a long period of time but isn’t sure if it is something they would be able to handle. It’s for both experienced and inexperienced travelers who have spent or plan to spend a long time abroad without returning home for months to years at a time. Additionally, this book would be a good resource for missionaries or missionary trainees who desire to volunteer overseas but are unsure if they could thrive during an extended period of time abroad.

Living abroad isn't always filled with grand adventures and spectacular views but it is an experience worth having. In my book, I'll keep it real by highlighting both the positive and negative aspects to living abroad long-term.
Living abroad isn’t always filled with grand adventures and spectacular views but it is an experience worth having. In my book, I’ll keep it real by highlighting both the positive and negative aspects to living abroad long-term.
  • How long will it be and what topics will it cover?

The desired word count goal is around 20,000 words in a digital E-book format. It will be written from a female, American perspective living in a developed country that has a significantly lower salary and lower cost of living than the US. It will cover living abroad long-term in narrative form and broken down into stages (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, etc). 

It will cover initial culture shock and tips on how to overcome it by making conscious decisions to assimilate to the new culture in the first few weeks. It will also focus on routines and holidays traditions you should strive to maintain in order to remain connected to your home country. The content and tips can be applicable to people from multiple English speaking countries.

One of my home away from homes, plus, quite possibly my favorite place on Earth: the Plaza de España in Sevilla.
One of my home away from homes, plus, quite possibly my favorite place on Earth: the Plaza de España in Sevilla.
  • What needs to be done in order to complete it?

I need to organize my initial research, edit and condense existing blog posts on sarahlaviajera.com and take a short break from my regular freelance work in order to finish this project fully on its own. I would also like to take my time with it (3 month deadline) in order to go at my own pace by diligently and accurately compiling all of the research. 

  • How will I reinvest the profits I earn back into my website?

What I receive from this campaign will cover the cost of writing and publishing the Ebook (in terms of my time) as well as the time it will take to finish researching the topic, editing and organizing existing material that will be used in the final product. It will also enable me to dedicate my time in perfecting and tweaking this collection of life experiences and advice to help my existing audience and reach others I’ve yet to help.

Inspiration can strike even in the most ordinary of places... (Photo: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain)
Inspiration can strike even in the most ordinary of places… (Photo: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain)

A portion of the proceeds will also go towards maintenance of my website and the ability to invest in resources that will further help my audience of Christian travel loving women.

Here’s a short list of products and services I plan to invest in:

 1. High quality, digital microphone for recording and developing a future podcast series (featuring Christian women who are traveling or residing in another part of the world) ($100)

2. A paid theme for my website to add e-commerce features in order to sell the e-Book directly from my page ($45-$70)

3. E-book writing and editing software (Scrivener) ($40)

4. Sell book via Gumroad ($10/month for the subscription; $120 for the first year)

There's whole world waiting out there for you to explore...what's stopping you? (Casa Lis in Salamanca, Spain)
There’s whole world waiting out there for you to explore…what’s stopping you? (Casa Lis in Salamanca, Spain)
  • Why should you support and purchase this book?

In the past 10 years, a considerable amount of young adults (ages 18-35) have been choosing a life of travel or living abroad instead of financial stability. An estimated 9 million non-military American citizens live abroad and in a survey just over 2,000 respondents, half of “millennials” currently residing in the US would prefer to live overseas. (See source: http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/americans-move-abroad/)

In an era where travel is easier today than it ever has been before and globalization and bilingualism are the norms, it’s imperative to provide more digital resources and books for expats who choose to live abroad for long periods of time.

I feel that there is a lack of resources in this particular genre (assimilating to a new culture for a long time period) written from firsthand experience. Not only would the sales of this book provide monetary support for me and allow me to be paid to write it, it would provide immense value and insight for my readers, both present and future, who may want to stay abroad for longer but aren’t sure what awaits them on the other side of their decision.

With this first project, I would like to use it as a stepping stone to becoming a leader in making the transition to living abroad, coping with initial homesickness, culture shock, and then later reverse culture shock (when you finally do go home after being away) and offering advice to those who wish to create a permanent home away from home, wherever they choose. 

I'll make sure you get from Point A to Point B - just follow the map! [Photo: Carnival in Lalín (Ourense), Spain]
I’ll make sure you get from Point A to Point B – just follow the map! [Photo: Carnival in Lalín (Ourense), Spain]
  • What benefits will readers like you receive receive from this book?

Experienced travelers/expats will benefit from:

  • Seeing what it’s like to stay away from home for varying periods of time and see if their experience was similar (and/or better or worse)
  • Learning valuable advice and insight on how to overcome culture shock, homesickness and reverse culture shock at various stages (what 6 months abroad looks like compared to 1-2 years or more looks like)

Inexperienced travelers and expats will benefit from:

  • Reading a firsthand account from someone from a developed country who didn’t go home at all for over 2 and half years and see what staying away from their culture for so long was really like.
  • Getting a “try before you buy” deal by reading what it’s like to live abroad for a long period of time before actually doing it themselves.

These are just a handful of the many benefits you will receive from investing in the creation of this book. The experiences and rewards I am offering will also offer immense help and insight, Whether it’s needing mentoring, making a decision to move abroad or getting to know a Spanish city I’ve spent a considerable amount of time by having a personalized chat with me, there is something for everyone.

I sincerely thank you for your time in reading about my passion project and any financial support you are able to give. Each dollar you give will be an investment into my career and in turn, an investment in men and women across the globe who wish to make a life for themselves in a country that is not their own.

Muchas gracias / Thank you so much / Muito obrigado / Grazie mille! 

Whatever you do, rain or shine, don't stop traveling! The world awaits you... (Photo: London, England)
Whatever you do, rain or shine, don’t stop traveling! The world awaits you… (Photo: London, England, 2017)

Winter in Spain: 12 Survival Tips

It’s January in Madrid and that means extremely chilly nights, shorter days and freezing temperatures. The past 6 weeks have been full of brilliant sunshine (like every single day, I’m not kidding) but today has been the first official, bitterly cold day of the year. So, it’s official, real winter in Spain has arrived and I’m here to tell you that it’s only going to get colder as we head into February in a couple of weeks.

At the first mention of “Spain”, you are probably imagining sun-soaked streets, sizzling golden sand beaches and endless tinto de veranos or sangria drank by lightly clothed sun seekers on an outdoor terrace.

Well, that only describes one part of Spain and only in the summer.

Winter in Spain is real.

Real cold.

And it can get bitterly cold (Madrid) or wet (Galicia or Pais Vasco) or blustery (Castilla y León).

If you live in or visit Andalucía, you’ll quickly realize that your apartment building may not be properly insulated for winter (read: it isn’t) and if you aren’t one of the lucky ones who has central heating, you may freeze. And the outside temperature will most likely be warmer than the iciness inside your own apartment.

You’re in luck, though. I’m on my sixth winter here in Spain (1 in Andalucía, 2 in Galicia and now my 3rd in Madrid) and I want to share with you all my tips and tricks to beating the cold.

So grab a blanket, warm up that cup of tea nearby that you forgot about and let’s talk about how you can stay warm(er) this winter in Spain.

1. Take a walk and soak up the sun!

Parque de Retiro (January 1, 2019)

Unless you live in the rainy North, most of Spain will be nice and sunny during the day. The only bad thing about it is that there are fewer hours of daylight. Only a little more than nine hours most days.

So, take advantage of the time you have, be it on a lunch break or before you go back to work or classes in the afternoon.

Get out there!

Go to the park. Go for a run. Lay on a park bench.  Do anything to force yourself outside to go absorb some of that liquid gold Spain is known for.

Not only will your body thank you but your mind will as well. Beat the winter blues and doldrums that might creep into your mind by giving yourself a necessary Vitamin D or endorphin boost.

The best hours of the day to be in the sun would be between 3-5 p.m here.

If it’s sunny right now while you’re reading this, bookmark this post and catch those rays.

2. Dress very warmly when you go outside.

Maybe you’re reading this and it’s your first time living in a European country. Or maybe it’s not. The main piece of advice I can give you here is to bundle up! I know there are tons of cute dresses and stylish coats or scarves on rebajas (winter sales) right now but don’t give in!

Save those for the summer.

Choose jeans or dress pants over a stylish dress or skirt with nylons. Wear boots instead of cute flats that show off your feet (save the skin showing for the summer!). Heed this warning: the less bundled up you are, the quicker you’ll get sick!

So, wrap up with the thickest scarf, a hat or cute headband (see photo) and wear your heaviest coat! And if you’re walking back from a fun night out, don’t let your hands go bare.

Wear gloves!

You’ll not only save them from further winter damage but you’ll stay toasty warm, too. 🙂

2. Add layers – especially underneath!

We women have the amazing ability to layer and color code an outfit with ease. So why would wearing an extra (usually thin) layer of leggings or tights be such a task?

Back to the choosing fashion over warmth dilemma: is the fashion worth it?

In the summer, I would argue yes…but in the winter?

No chance.

If you live somewhere quite flat like in Castilla y León or near Alicante and Valencia, the cold will chap your face and hands and the wind will cut through you like that sword you should’ve bought down in Toledo.

In Madrid here, the presence of the mountains alone-especially in the northern part of the city- affects the weather drastically.

To the northwest in beautiful yet rainy Galicia, the damp cold will sink into your bones and stay there until…well, June if the winter’s nice and long. (Sadly, I’m not joking here but speaking from experience.)

If you live in la capital or have quite a long commute to work or school, the downside to this is that wearing an extra warm layer will most likely make you sweat or overheat a bit.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the small sacrifices you’ll have to make to stay warm once you go back out into the frigid cold.

And that’s when you’ll think back and thank me for this tip. 😛

3. Wear high-quality thermal leggings, socks or shirts.

As you just saw in the previous tip, layering in the winter in Spain is essential.

However, it’s important to note that the fabrics of the clothes you buy also play a huge role in keeping warm.

Though they’re not exactly breathable fabrics, thermal fabrics are the best things you can invest in.

Leggings, socks, spandex, breathable athletic shirts…

Whatever you like best, stock up on them and make sure you keep those at least until March (but please wash them, haha).

Thick wool socks are perfect to wear with boots or at night. If you mix and match between wearing thermal and wool items of clothing, you’ll definitely be able to stay a lot warmer this winter.

4. Layer up inside your home, too!

Whether you live in an apartment or an actual house, it’s always best to dress warmly inside, too.

You may be able to get away with walking out of the bathroom post-shower barefoot for a few seconds, but don’t risk spending any more time barefoot. Save that for the scorching hot summer which will be coming sooner than you can imagine.

Make sure you get a nice pair of thick, warm slippers, a nice wool sweater and a blanket or two just for afternoons you might spend on the sofa with Netflix or the odd variety of old movies on some of the Spanish channels.

I spend the majority of my time working for home so I want to not only feel warm but maintain a dress business casual look. (Not everyone is like me, I know, but I am totally against working in my pajamas *shudder*)

By wearing a wool blazer, I can accomplish both things and that makes me happy.

Wear whatever makes you happy inside but definitely pile on the layers, especially when it takes forever for the central heating system in your apartment building takes eons to turn on.

Pro-tip: Find an apartment in Spain with a central heating system and where the cost of heating is included in the price of your rent. **It took me 9 moves all around the country to find this so it’s not an easy feat – but totally worth it in the end!**

6. Drink copious amounts of warm beverages and cook lots of hot meals.

drinks of tea during winter in Spain

Cute kitty mugs sold separately.

For an American, I have a pretty ginormous tea collection. I have two reasons for this:

a) My dad’s grandparents were English

b) My Northern Irish fiancé practically spoon feeds me tea, haha

But, seriously.

I have a whole shelf worth’s of tea in a storage cabinet in my room. With nearly 60 different types of tea.

Yes, you read that right: 60!

So…needless to say, I drink a lot of tea pretty much year round but especially in the winter.

This is the time to drink all the coffee, hot chocolate or tea that you want. And cook up your mom’s traditional soup or chili recipes if you have any on hand.

Take advantage of the time you have to thoroughly enjoy these beverages and delicious meals while you can. Come summer all you’ll want to do is slurp down refreshingly cool gazpacho and lay on the floor to get cool.

That is you live or dare to spend the summer in Madrid….(more to come on that.)

7. Keep your blinds down at night or whenever you’re not at home.

The Spanish sun is a magical thing, as I mentioned earlier in this post. It has its pros and cons but one thing I think anyone who’s visited or lived here before can all agree on is that it’s strong.

However, Spanish homes and apartments are fully equipped to block it out when necessary. They do that through these thick, blackout blinds called persianas. This particular type of blind is located outside of the window (or between two sets of windows). And you roll it up or down via a wide strand of fabric attached to a pully system to block the sun’s harmful rays or trap the heat from your radiators or portable heater inside.

In the summer, these blinds are good for blocking out the sun and heating up the rooms in your home. In the winter, it can keep the blistering cold temperatures from getting inside.

What these blinds do all year round is can trick you into thinking it’s still dark outside but it’s not! Remember if you do pull these down overnight, don’t forget to set an alarm so you don’t sleep the morning (and your responsibilities) away!

8. Find an apartment with a double set of windows or good insulation

I definitely recommend you try to find an apartment that comes with double sets of windows to keep extreme temperatures out.

Only one apartment where I lived in Galicia (Santiago) and my current apartment in Madrid had these heat and cold blocking windows.

They’re perfect for keeping your home better insulated, especially in areas like Galicia, Madrid, and Andalucía (or even the flatter parts of Castilla y León).

9. Use a hot water bottle during the day or before bed.

A few years ago, a friend of mine gifted me the hot water bottle she bought when she visited Dublin, Ireland. She didn’t have a use for it back in her home state and she knew I was staying in Spain at least for another year (funny how that works) and I’ve found them to be quite useful.

A rule of thumb – and common sense – is to not fill them with boiling water. The bottles are usually made of rubber with a plastic lid cover and boiling water would definitely melt the plastic part. You can fill one about halfway with room temperature or cold water and then heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.

Use an insulated cover like the cute one I saw in a store (pictured above) to help the bottle maintain its warmth. I wouldn’t recommend applying it directly to your skin but at least under one layer of clothes is fine. Hug it to yourself or put it on your back to keep winter’s chill away.

10. Put up a dark-colored blackout curtain (also works for summer, too.)

Similar to the blackout blinds tip, a blackout curtain is also something you can use in both the winter and summer months.

The bottom line is the more heat you can trap inside and more cold you can block on the outside, the better off you and your roommates will be.

One of the most beautiful things about having opaque or blackout curtains during winter in Spain is that they absorb heat on both sides. I brought mine over from the US this past summer and with each season, I can notice a significant change in the temperature in my room.

So, if you’re currently living here or plan to move here in the next year and have one of these lying around – put it up! It doesn’t matter if it will go with the color of your walls – it probably won’t – but you will thank yourself later on.

The dark purple curtain you see above was actually purchased when I was a junior in college (nearly 10 years ago!) and I thought I’d never get any more use out of it…well, I was happily proven wrong. 🙂

11. Sleep underneath a mountain of blankets!

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it should be on this list regardless.

Don’t skimp on blankets especially if you’re spending the winter in Madrid or Castilla y León. There are several small mountain regions nearby these areas making the temperatures more prone to drop suddenly during the winter. If you’re living in a coastal area, you’ll be pleased to know that the sea will act as a natural regulator and do its best to keep frigid temperatures away, thankfully.

Pile on the blankets! Make sure you sleep with a mix of fabrics (mostly cotton is recommended) so you can still be comfortable at night. On my bed, I’ve got cotton sheets, a light blanket a wool-like blanket, a comforter (duvet) and a slightly heavier blanket that I also use for picnics in the park.

12. Cuddle with someone special

This is a just-for-fun tip but it’s still highly effective if you happen to be in a relationship during a Spanish winter. Save some euros on your electric bill by cuddling up with said special someone or have a personal hand warmer for the walk back from your metro or bus stop.

But while wintertime is the perfect time to have someone special nearby to cuddle with, I wouldn’t pair yourself up with just anyone.

The best types of relationships are the ones that aren’t forced and where you can be yourself. If you don’t believe me, read my unedited thoughts about dating relationships.

And that’s a wrap! Hope these tips help you stay roasty, toasty warm this year. 🙂

Is there anything I missed in regards to surviving and staying warm during the winter in Spain? Comment below and join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you!

Confessions of a Late 20 Something: Body Image and Self-Esteem

Welcome to a new yet short series I wanted to do as a way to close out my twenties and pass on some valuable advice. I’ll talk about dating, body image and self-esteem and the working world from a female perspective.

This will be a 3-part series lasting only until the end of 2018. Why you might ask? Well,  in just a few short weeks, I will cross over into a new decade: my 30s.

Working-that-body-image

If I can end my 20 something years with a few more hand-painted tile discoveries, I will be one happy girl!

It’s a little bit scary to type that out on paper so to speak but they are literally just around the corner for me. My twenties have personally been hands down my best decade and they have largely been full of things I’ve wanted to do or places I’ve wanted to go. It’s truly the decade where I not only found my voice but my home abroad, my purpose and passion in life.

But, before I embark on a new decade, I wanted to pass on some advice I’ve learned through my own life experiences to those who will still be going through the trenches and navigating these very formative years.

So, without further ado…these are my unedited thoughts on body image and self-esteem.

Basing self-esteem on how you feel vs. what you’ve had to do in order to get to where you are

A lot of people who interact with me have told me that I seem very comfortable in my own skin. I seem to be totally accepting of who I am (female), what I look like (skinny) and that I’m always encouraging and optimistic (indicating a high level of self-esteem).

I am very accepting of what I look like and I am very encouraging but…I’m also human. And we are our biggest critics, aren’t we?

I’ll let you in on a secret: though I’m mostly happy with my size…I haven’t (and still struggle with) always liked myself. I used to always get defensive after I received a compliment from someone or would swirl the comment around in my head wondering if I really was…cute, beautiful, intelligent, just to name a few.

You may be reading this and can relate to me.

Did you also have:

Acne?

Crooked or discolored teeth?

Unwanted facial or body hair?

Scars?

I’ve had (and still have) all of those.

Physically speaking, I’m far from perfect.

And I let that single thought stunt my emotional and personal growth for many years. During those ever so sensitive and fragile teenage years and up until my mid-twenties.

That was a big mistake I made but at the time my physical flaws and imperfections were hard to look past. After all, when you’re 15, looking the most fashionable or stylish may be one of your main concerns. Or getting straight A’s might be your only focus. I couldn’t control or compete with the first thing so I focused on the latter. If I couldn’t look like the most beautiful person in school or my city (though it was never my goal to be this), I could focus on having the most beautiful mind.

Whatever your talents or passions are…whatever it is you’re good at, do that. And don’t stop until you’re the best. Plain and simple.

From a physical standpoint here’s how all those things on that list above held me back:

Acne held me back from seeing my true beauty. It held me back from talking to a guy my age and dating in my teens or early 20-something years. (I wasn’t emotionally ready to date at those times in my life so I don’t regret letting some of those opportunities pass me by.) It made me self-conscious at interviews or when speaking in public or presenting a project for a class. It wasn’t until I started eating fresher foods and focused on truly nourishing my body that I started to see it disappear and my self-esteem go way up. (But as I write this at 29, I’m still struggling with it but in the form of hormonal imbalances.)

My less than straight and genetically discolored teeth have usually held me back from speaking up and letting my voice be heard. Which is why I began to love writing so much from my late teens until now. It let me use my voice without ever needing to open my mouth.  I still have never been able to afford braces or have consistent health insurance (until I moved to Spain) so I struggle with this one on a daily basis. But it’s not such a painful way as I did before. More on that later.

Unwanted facial (and body) hair has been something I’ve struggled with off and on for a number of years but it wasn’t until 2014 that I was able to find an almost permanent solution. It’s bad enough when women have hair in a place they don’t want but when your complexion is pale and your hair ranges from dark brown to jet black? Yeah…that’s a problem! This also held me back from realizing my true beauty and was the reason why I almost always refused to be seen in public in a bikini. Or go to a spa with my friends because that would require a lot of careful personal maintenance to even be able to go and enjoy it. To some, I have the perfect body and can wear or eat practically anything but that one minute (yet enormous) detail used to ruin the experience for me.

Behind a couple of physical scars are stories about two of the most painful times in my life. One was just physically painful but the other hurt me down to my soul. By having private health insurance and waiting until it was the right time, I had surgery to repair my torn earlobe and you can learn more about the procedure I underwent.

The lingering response I would always have for someone was (and still is at times)…if only you saw what I saw in the mirror.

But you know what? They don’t.

The majority of people that I know are real people. With acne scars, love handles, imperfect teeth or complexions…they’re a normal person.

However, their personality or sense of humor or passion for whatever it is they dedicate themselves to in life makes them the most perfect person in the world.

And the same goes for me.

The people who really love and care about me see the whole package: my personality, sense of humor, voice, passion, values, character and lastly, looks. 

If you focus only on looks you’re missing out big time. I wish I had learned this years ago but I’m glad the lesson finally stuck. And it will for you, too.

Think about the people closest to you and write down what it is you like or love about them.

Your whole perspective will change.

Hide only to heal your wounds, not to hide your beautiful self from others

I did this for a while and probably longer than I should have but I did it. 

I wouldn’t recommend it. 

But from the years 2013-2016 I stayed in on nights I should’ve gone out. Hid myself behind glasses, heavy fleeces, giving myself a curfew or blaming the public transportation or the weather as to why I couldn’t stay out later. 

Something you may not know about me is that I’ve never owned a car. And I’m from the biggest car dependent country in the world. 

Cause my country is ginormous. 

What’s more is that I decided to go study in the largest city by area in the country: Jacksonville, Florida. And I never owned a car during the 6 years I lived there.

But in early 2014, I moved out of there and made my way over to Spain once again. As much as I wanted to start over in a new region and ultimately meet someone special, I spent the first two years in Spain mostly hiding from the world.

Trying to heal from the damage having excess facial hair and the painful experiences I had with waxing it off.

But that was when I discovered laser hair removal and that made all the difference for me. The problems didn’t go away overnight but I was able to get back to feeling comfortable in my own skin. I describe this phase as like being in a cocoon and then when I finally left Galicia, I emerged as a butterfly, ready to spread her wings and fly once again.

Accepting your flaws and scars

This will probably be the shortest section of the entire post as there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You simply must accept the things you can’t change about yourself. And love who you are. Period.

I do love myself but there have been many times in my life -even still today- that I don’t care for myself. I treat myself really poorly and carelessly.

Nevertheless, there was a moment in my life a couple of years ago when I realized that I love who I am. And I didn’t feel that way because someone told me to reflect on all the things I love about myself or to try and treat myself better. It was the moment in which I really felt comfortable in my own skin. 

I was sitting alone in the Praza do Obradoiro 

Loving someone who has flaws and imperfections and healing yourself in the process

Love your body

Love heals all wounds. In whichever language you say it, it still rings true.

Confessions of a Late 20-Something: Dating in the 21st Century

Welcome to a new yet short series I wanted to do as a way to close out my twenties and pass on some valuable advice. I’ll talk about dating, body image and self-esteem and the working world from a female perspective.

This will be a 3-part series and will last only to the end of 2018. Why you might ask? Well,  in just 2 months, I will cross over into a new decade: my 30s.

Who says you really have to grow up?

It’s a little bit scary to type that out on paper so to speak but they are literally just around the corner for me. My twenties have been hands down my best decade and they have largely been full of things I’ve wanted to do or places I’ve wanted to go. It’s truly the decade where I not only found my voice but my home abroad, my purpose and passion in life.

But, before I embark on a new decade, I wanted to pass on some advice I’ve learned through my own life experiences to those who will still be going through the trenches and navigating these very formative years.

So, without further ado…these are my unedited thoughts on love and dating in the 21st century – after years of trial and error and now one long-term relationship later.

Intro

The dress that helped me land a second date with the man of my dreams.

I’m a straight, white female, of average height and with average looks. In today’s world of plastic surgery, Photoshopping, liposuction, breast augmentations and perfectly polished social media feed, it’s almost impossible to stand out and hold a guy’s attention in the world we live in today.

That is if you are under the impression that beauty is merely skin deep.

Millions have bought into the lie that appearance and sexual attraction are the two major factors when looking for a significant other. If you don’t feel that spark or there’s no initial attraction from the moment you meet them, then the short answer is that person isn’t the one for you.

Simple as that.

Or is it?

I won’t deny that yes, you need to be attracted to a person before you start dating or get into a relationship. However, I will say that how someone looks isn’t everything. A lot of times an intellectual mind or a vibrant personality can transform that person into the most attractive man or woman on the planet.

Go against the grain and look for that person who has outstanding character. Someone who can make you smile even when everything in your life is falling apart. Someone who you can go from being silly on a Sunday afternoon to sharing a tender, romantic embrace to discussing current events in the world.

Looks won’t last more than a couple of decades but a personality lasts a lifetime.

This type of person is going to be harder to find, yes, but it will be worth it. Trust me.

(If you’re losing hope in your own journey, keep believing. It can be rough at times but it’s worth it.)

How to get a guy’s attention in the 21st century

The funny thing is that when you’re single, a guy is most likely not going to pay as much attention to you as you will be to them. You’ll be out there walking down the street, looking at every eligible guy who passes by, sizing them up, analyzing their looks or their style. But from the guy’s perspective? It’s highly likely he’s looking at his phone, talking to someone else, listening to music or staring off into space, thinking about whatever he’s going to do next.

You might have to send a few dozen selfies before you meet the right guy.

I can safely say from the other side of the spectrum that when you’re in a relationship, you will receive a lot of attention and looks from the opposite gender. Maybe it’s because people in happy, healthy relationships are…happy? I’ve been told that nowadays I seem to glow which naturally attracts people. And who wouldn’t want to be around a happy, positive person?

It wasn’t actually until I broke the habit of trying to envision a future with every guy I passed on the street that I freed my mind from a prison I didn’t even know it was stuck in.

I set myself up for disappointment and rejection literally hundreds of times. And it was all totally unnecessary, now that I look back on my single -and slightly desperate- years.

What you don’t want is attention from a guy who doesn’t fit well into your life or has drastically different standards than you do.

The best advice I can give you here is to not be so focused on finding the most attractive person out there but to make sure you don’t miss out on an incredible person who may be wrapped up in a nationality that you weren’t expecting.

Meeting in person vs meeting online

In 2018, there are so many ways you can meet someone. Distance is no longer an obstacle when it comes to staying in touch with them or showing them how you live your daily life. And the number of ways you can contact someone has increased to nearly a dozen (or more)!

If you’ve ever seen the movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) you may remember Jennifer Aniston’s character saying,

“I had this guy leave me a voicemail at work so I called him at home and then he e-mailed me to my Blackberry and so I texted to his cell and then he e-mailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control. And I miss the days when you had one phone number and one answering machine and that one answering machine has one cassette tape and that one cassette tape either had a message from a guy or it didn’t. And now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.” Quote from IMDB. Click for more.

Celebrities discussing dating and relationships

Dating relationships in movies and dating relationships in real life are not the same in the slightest a lot of times. (Photo taken from here)

The funny thing about that movie now is that almost all of those technologies aren’t even used to contact someone post-date. And that was only 9 years ago! (I do feel slightly old saying that but oh, well, haha).

Instead of listing out all the ways you can contact someone now, I’m just going to say that while it’s perfectly okay to meet someone online (and then later on in person), you should ideally strive to spend the least amount of time getting to know them online.

If you’re an introvert like me, you may not mind texting or messaging a guy you like first before you meet them in person. This mostly described the way I would go about things the first year and a half I spent casually dating or meeting guys from different parts of Spain (and the UK). My friends, who were in real, long-term relationships told me that nothing can quite replicate the way you feel or interact with someone in person.

Communication is key in dating

Seeing them with your own eyes (and not by way of a webcam). Listening to their accent or the way their voice changes when they talk about their life or tell you about their favorite things. Watching their face morph into dozens of expressions instead of just settling for an emoji to tell you how they feel. Brushing your hand against theirs either accidentally or on purpose. Locking eyes with them or catching them stare at you with a dazed look in their eyes while you’re unaware.

All of these things are key things that you must experience with someone in person before you can really know for sure if you’d like to go on a second or third date. Or to help you decide whether or not you like them.

And though I had gone on several in-person dates about 2-3 years ago in Northwestern Spain, I let myself get caught up with guys who knew how to write the right things but I let months go by (and distance was an issue) before I ever met them in person.

I didn’t know what I was missing out on.

But, after having the experiences I had, I hope you will take the advice I should’ve taken at that time in my life:

If you meet someone online, try to move as quickly as you possibly can to meeting them in person. Spend the least amount of time talking to them virtually and more time one on one.

Though I don’t highly recommend Tinder, I have used it and surprisingly met a good amount of interesting guys (even two PhD candidates) mostly in Santiago de Compostela in 2015-2016.

The funny thing about life is that sometimes it will throw you a curveball or put someone in your path whom you never saw coming.

What I mean by that is how I met my now boyfriend (who, after a few days of publishing this put a ring on it). We met in person through a mutual friend at a local café in the city where we both lived. For anyone that loves a sweet, wholesome story, the first time we ever met was at the Bible study he was asked (by said mutual friend) to lead. I wasn’t interested in native English speakers (let alone ones who spoke differently than I did) at the time so I first got to know him as a friend. I thought he was really cool but he soon moved away from Santiago de Compostela and I didn’t know if I would see him again but I became friends with him on Facebook to stay in touch.

It all started with a cup of tea…and the rest is (a rather long) history. [Lusco y Fusco Café/Bakery in Santiago makes amazing tea and baked goods by the way!]

And now three years later -and a wee bit more than one year together-, we are very much in love and live in the same city again but this time la capital – Madrid!

It’s funny how life can change so quickly in just a few short years.

But remember that the time will pass no matter if you say “yes” to a date with this guy or that guy. So do yourself a favor and disconnect from this technology-obsessed culture and have a cup of coffee (tea) with someone, face to face.

You’ll thank yourself later. 😉

Should a girl ever ask a guy out, even for an “informal date” (coffee, a walking tour, a drink, etc)?

Unlike the teachers at my Christian high school and most of my American Christian friends, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with men and women being friends. I grew up with an older brother and had lots of friends who were guys. I was friends with a few girls my age (and later made friends with more girls in college) but they were few and far between.

The main thing you need to keep in mind here is to set boundaries. Don’t open yourself up right away to every guy you meet, even if he seems like the nicest and kindest guy in the world. Just like you would with friends, don’t spurt out your whole life story to someone you’ve just met. Let the stories and experiences come out naturally and organically. Let it run its course and don’t feel like you need to rush to tell them this life story or that tragic experience.

Tea and latte dates with friends

A cup of tea is really the best way to start to get to know someone.

On the contrary, if you live abroad, it’s highly likely you’ll move past the more superficial getting to know you questions with someone a lot quicker. The depth of your conversations could be escalated due to a number of different factors: you’re both from the same country, you both actually speak the same language, you both went to the same college but different years, you both lived somewhere else in the world and loved it. The list of possible similarities could be up to a mile or two long!

Regardless of what commonality draws you and another person together, you also can’t forget to factor in culture. The culture and subculture you grew up in will affect you for the rest of your life. And where you currently live will affect how you interact with people daily and live your life. While you may have been able to wait for a guy to ask for your number or ask your friend to ask one of his friends if he likes you (side note: don’t ever do this, it’s childish) back home, you may not be able to do those things where you live now.

Find someone who will send you a greeting card just because. Those people are the best! 🙂

Let me give you some examples.

In Spain, men aren’t as proactive as American or British guys are. I’ve gone out with Spanish guys and while most of them were very nice and we held good conversations -or even met up another time-, they tended to be very passive when it came to taking the initiative to make plans or ask me personal questions in person. I had one guy text me after we had a drink and a tapa if I liked him. I ended up saying no -and still would’ve said no because our lifestyles were actually quite different- but I would’ve liked it if he had asked me that question in person.

One of the major things that turned me off from dating a Spanish guy was the lack of initiative and passivity towards relationships. Maybe I’ve only met shy, more introverted Spanish guys? I don’t know… I did learn from those dates that, while I’m a very headstrong and independent woman, I want a man to ask me out. I want to see that he will follow through on his word.

But in my relationship now, sometimes I plan or give a suggestion as to what we do on a date for that given day or weekend. It’s not called compromise, in this case, it’s called teamwork.

ice cream dates

Helado, xeado, gelato, ice cream…whatever word you use for it, this can be a simple yet fun date, too!

In North America, where I’m from, guys tend to put pressure on girls to be more physical with them early on in the dating phase. There are some British guys who are like this as well -I’ve met at least one- but it depends on what part of the British Isles they’re from. Even other regions of England are quite different from one another! (Things you don’t learn about at school in the US, haha).

In my experiences with crushing on American guys-I’ve never dated one-, I found a lot of them to be focused on staying one place. Graduating from college, getting a good job, moving up in the company or relocating to a new department and then….just living their life in the same place. I’ve met a few in different European countries who like to travel but most never really seem to want to stay living abroad. Or in Florida, I found that the guys I liked preferred to stay in Florida. The fact that I was from a different state (and the North) seemed to be an unspoken deal breaker. My mom has always told me, “the best things are the farthest away,” so I could never understand why distance could be a deal breaker for someone.

That is until I met three British guys who would all alter the course of my life to some degree or another. Looking back on those meetings,  I realize that I met them in three distinct years and at three distinct points in my life. And at three different ages, too. British (read: English) men are a lot more formal when you first meet them. They also don’t share intimate details of their lives with just anyone. You have to get to know them quite well before they will. And it may take several dates and endless amounts of chatting later to really move into the title of “close friend” or “girlfriend” for that matter. If you’re willing to invest the time into getting to know them and the feeling is mutual, it will be worth it.

What’s my point after all those twists and turns we just took navigating through other cultures?

Well, the answer to the question I asked earlier is that it depends on you. I have asked guys out before and it hasn’t always gone well. But, over the years, I found that while I don’t see a problem with a girl asking a guy out, I prefer a man takes more initiative with me. I was let down immensely by someone else a couple of years ago and got emotionally invested in him way too soon and that taught me a big lesson. If a man liked me and wanted to date me, I needed to see that he was not only serious but that he would keep his word. That he wouldn’t let distance or time or work stop him from seeing me.

Churros con chocolate date

And if you’re a bit shy, you can go on a date with another couple. Having other people around might lighten the mood for you. 🙂

It was a hard lesson to learn at the time but if you learn to wait for this type of man, you’ll save yourself a lot of inner turmoil and heartache.

Learning to be patient with communication 

Why you shouldn't be dating any other type

It literally took me years to develop the patience I have now when it comes to waiting for a response from someone (even just from family members or friends), especially text messages. Don’t start thinking I’m an expert on patience because I haven’t had a huge amount of it for more than two years now. And it took a couple of decades to get to that point.

Here’s an example of my thought patterns not too long after I started dating regularly when a guy I liked didn’t reply back quickly (read: in 5 minutes or less):

Message sent.

A few seconds later…

Thought #1:

“I’m sure he’ll like the funny way I explained x, he’s surely bound to reply back pretty soon now.”

A minute or two goes by…

Thought #2:

“Or maybe I was *too* funny or not funny enough?”

Another minute later.

Thought #3:

“Or what if his phone is on low battery, meaning he can’t check his messages/WhatsApp yet?”

A couple more minutes go by…

Thought #4

“Wait…is he avoiding me? Or ignoring my messages but clicking on someone else’s? Could he be interested in someone else?”

Here’s what I would say to myself back then if I could:

No, Sarah. If a guy is ignoring you, he’ll take a week to respond to your message and then make it seem like he was so overwhelmed and preoccupied that you should feel sorry for him. So if it’s been 5 mins or heaven forbid, 10 minutes, and he hasn’t replied, just chill.

Go do something else.

Get on with the rest of your day.

(Unfortunately, this advice is based on a personal experience I had a couple of years ago).

The most important thing I’ve learned about communication is to be patient and let people respond to you, in their own way and in their own time. 

Bustling Plaza Mayor in Salamanca at Night

Just like in the Plaza Mayor de Salamanca (or any square in the world), everyone’s got places to go and people to see. That’s life.

Now, whenever someone takes more time than I would like to respond to me, I remind myself that people have their own lives.

A guy or anyone else who’s taking his time to respond to you is living their own life. Working, commuting, driving, exercising, sleeping, etc. Heck, the guy you like could be calling his parents or grandma for a weekly check-in for all you know.

Just chill. The right (and mature) person will write you back and won’t ignore you. He’ll make time for you and make you a priority in his life. He’ll even spend (and maybe even enjoy spending) money on you or money to see you if you don’t live in the same city.

And if the person you’re currently interested in can’t (or won’t) do that, move on. Don’t settle for someone who only has you around as an option and hasn’t either committed to getting to know you better or committed to being in a monogamous relationship with you.

Because you’re worth it.

Date the girl who reads

Focus on being the person you were created to be. If this photo describes you, great. If not, be that girl. Just don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not.

Changing yourself to be who they want you to be or dressing up for a man

The above photo leads right into what my remaining thoughts on this are.

Don’t try to change your personality or physical appearance into something that’s not naturally you. If someone isn’t completely head-over-heels for who you are, then they’re not for you.

Remember earlier in the post when I mentioned the dress I wore that landed me a second date with the man of my dreams?

Well, I didn’t necessarily wear it because the guy I was going out on a date with loves the color blue. And I didn’t buy a new dress just for him.

I found it in a cute shop while I had a short layover in Sevilla after my train arrived (and before I caught a bus to where he lived) and I knew I would feel amazing in it. I also didn’t have a dress packed in my bag…so I had to find something. Luckily Spain is full of inexpensive clothing stores (and I wasn’t shopping in Madrid) which reassured me that I would find something before that Friday night.

Advertisements who like someone you used to date

An ad that would later haunt me for most of my first year in Madrid because I was trying to forget a similar looking guy I shouldn’t have been trying to impress in the first place.

The difference between that experience and another first date weekend I had was this:

I didn’t need to buy the dress in order to make the guy like me.

He already did and I liked him, too.

I bought that blue dress in 2017 because I wanted to put my best foot forward if/when our date weekend turned into something more serious.

So, my advice for you, if you’re a young, inexperienced woman who wants to date and

meet

guys is to always be the best version of yourself. Keep these things in mind when going on a date with a guy:

  • Arrive on time
  • Maintain good hygiene and dress sharply
  • Be attentive towards the other person (if it’s getting late or if they need to drive a long ways in bad weather, let them leave)
  • Relax, keep a good conversation going – and enjoy yourself!

Dating and being in a relationship mean sacrifice

There’s no other way to describe this section other than to be blunt.

Relationships aren’t easy but the amount of effort you have to exert may not seem like such a task once you’ve found the right person. How can you tell? It will come naturally to you.

After all the dozens (or hundreds) of times telling your life’s narrative, what you’re looking for in a mate, your hobbies, what languages you speak, places you want to visit, dates and outings, splitting the check or not splitting the check, deciding whether or not to kiss their cheek or their lips, writing hundreds upon thousands of texts, waiting for phone calls/messages/FaceTimes, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice if the person you’re pursuing is pursuing you at the same time and at the same speed.

flowers on a Valentine's weekend date

Even if it means you have to wait until you’re 29 to receive your first bouquet of flowers.

Above all, I would urge you to not look for someone who gives you the most excitement or the most thrill but someone who gives you the most peace. Someone who helps you. Someone who calms your fears and worries and most of all, someone who pours gasoline on the passions in your life and sets them ablaze.

If the person you like or the person you’re dating right now, only

brings

more trouble into your life and you constantly have to beg them to remember to do things…cut them out of your life.

If I’ve learned anything in the eleven years I’ve spent living away from home it’s this: don’t keep someone around if all you are to them is an option.

A guy who is committed to and devoted having a healthy relationship with you will have you as his highest priority and he will still be able to balance everything else in life.

The verdict: is it worth it?

Find your forever taco date

It definitely is once you find the person who looks at you the way you look at tacos or (insert favorite food here).

Is there anything I missed? Anything you’d like to add? Join the discussion below. I’d love to hear your experiences of dating someone from your own country or any foreign ones.

Stay tuned for part two of the Confessions of a Late 20-Something series next month!

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!

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