In college, I never had the opportunity to study abroad without getting too far behind in my coursework. So I decided that I would have my study abroad experience after graduation! I researched many locations but something was pulling me towards Malaga, Spain. I enrolled in a Spanish language school there and, the day after I received my diploma, hopped on a flight to Spain with hopes to expand my horizons. For me, it was very important to be able to have that foreign immersion experience. At the same time, I knew that learning Spanish would be a good resume builder. But what I didn’t know is that I would find something else.
I met Alfonso at Odonnell’s Irish Pub in Malaga, thanks to some mutual friends. He was a bartender there and a total sweetheart. Everyone always tried to get us together, but I lied and said I wasn’t interested. He asked me multiple times to go on a date and I always said, “No” – something we joke about a lot now! I did not move to Spain expecting to fall in love, but my mom called it from the very beginning, as she warned me that this would happen!
When my Spanish course was over and I had to go back home, I cried all the way to the airport because I was not ready to leave Spain. But, I promised myself in that taxi ride that I would go back someday. I returned home to Alabama and started working as an aviation analyst. I was doing well. I had a stable job and great coworkers. I was successful for being only 23 years old.
However, I did not forget that special man that I found in sunny, southern Spain. Alfonso and I kept in touch, talking almost every day. The following summer, a bunch of my classmates from my language school planned a reunion in Malaga, so I flew over and met with them. Of course, I accepted Alfonso’s offer for a date this time. At this point, I had a Spanish novio and we discussed all of our options for trying this thing out. As our love blossomed, we needed more time together to see if this was the real love that you dream about.
We were dating long distance for 13 months before I finally moved back to Spain and started working through CIEE Teach Abroad. This time, my days in Spain were not numbered. I didn’t know how long I would stay, and I had no desire to figure that out for a while. But there I was, the young chemical engineer taking a chance on love and a teaching career in Spain!
It was a big change. Living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is completely different than visiting for a few weeks. Every simple task becomes a challenge. Apartment hunting and reading contracts in Spanish made my head pound. A quick trip to the grocery store lasted an hour because I didn’t know the Spanish word for “soap”. Obtaining my residency card required standing in multiple lines, just to finally get to the front and be told that I’d been given incorrect information and had to go elsewhere!
I ran all around Malaga trying to get settled and, after multiple failed attempts, broke down. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “am I really supposed to be here?” Everything at home was so easy, so comfortable. My only saving grace was my Spanish beau who was always there to pick up the pieces and help me try again.
Finally, I succeeded in finding an apartment, opening a bank account, obtaining residency, and getting a cell phone contract. It took lots of work and tears, but I was finally settled in my new home and anxious to start teaching.
CIEE placed me into a vocational school, where I taught English in tourism and information technology classes. My second year, I split time between vocational school and elementary school. During that time, I had students ranging from 3 to 65 years old! Difficult to say the least. However, those two years taught me more about life than I had ever dreamed they could. One of those lessons is to embrace the unknown.
If you are reading this and wondering if you should take a chance on love, a new job, or a new adventure, take it! You won’t regret it. I am so thankful to CIEE for giving me that chance.
Oh, and that Spanish boyfriend? He’s now my husband.
Where are they now?
Julee and her husband, Alfonso, relocated to the United States to pursue their professional careers. They are now living in Atlanta, Georgia. As they miss Spain more every day, they hope to find careers and eventually retire there. For now, they return to Spain as often as possible to see their Spanish family.