Everyone warns you about the phases of moving to a new place: Honeymoon, Culture Shock, Adjustment, Acceptance. I moved to Madrid knowing full-well that I would face each of these in my own time, and vowed to ride them out as they came.
It's been a minute since I've last blogged, which is exactly what I want to address. The rose-colored glasses have fallen off and I am just now starting to find a balance to living and working in Madrid. It's difficult to settle into a routine when I want to establish a solid social network, see the sights of my new home, and still wake up at 6am every day to commute to work. Adjusting to the culture has been less of a shock, and more like a slow uphill climb.
Now, I like to think I'm adaptable. I've learned how to create a life for myself in more than one new place, often far from home. But it's true that nothing compares to dropping yourself in an entirely new country. Even though I managed to say "no" to many social outings or excursions, I still could have paced myself more. Adaptation requires an intense amount of patience - and often I spend it all in the classroom throughout the week.
Don't get me wrong - life here is not so drastically different from that in the United States; it's a first-world, Western country that loves American culture. Yet I get anxious going to the grocery store, praying I won't have to ask where to find something, or that the cashier won't have any follow-up questions for me besides, "Do you want a bag?" When I walk around, I worry I have a stamp across my forehead that screams "American!" without opening my mouth. And I luckily found many different groups of friends, but don't have the time or energy to keep up with them consistently. I've taken a few weekend trips already - to Almería, Toledo, and Tarragona - and keep going back and forth between wanting to take full advantage of my time abroad to see as much as possible, and wanting to stay in alone at night and rest. (Side note: the siesta is REAL. It's a myth that everyone goes home to nap, but most stores do close and I often find myself dozing off when I get home from school.)
In all honesty, I actually started writing this draft three weeks ago. I suppose even then I didn't have the words or emotional bandwith to describe how I was feeling. Now, I'm finally sitting in the café by my apartment that I've walked by so many times. I kept telling myself I would find "my coffee shop" or "my bar," and all those other neighborhood places that make a pin on a map feel like a home. It's taken almost two months, but here I am. FOMO still creeps in with every new Instagram story of someone else's adventure, but I'm more at peace now with pacing myself than I was. That's practically España 101: "There's No Rush!" I also spent my 25th birthday with a sinus infection and, now that I've recovered, I'm beginning to feel like myself again. I have a theory that a cold/infection/sickness of some sort has been lurking around me (and the entire city of Madrid) for the past month, and it contributed to my overall malaise during an otherwise magical new chapter in my life!
As far as establishing a routine, I've got a few weekly events to look forward to, including Shabbat dinners at the Madrid Jewish Student Center, Bilingual Trivia at a bar in Chueca, and Taco Tuesdays, where friends from my CIEE orientation group and I try a new Mexican restaurant every Tuesday. Tonight, I am taking a Bachata class, and I plan to start going to the gym again soon to restore some of the mental health that accompanies the physical. It sounds pretty packed now that it's written out in front of me - but I promise these are all things that bring me joy and a sense of stability. I've developed rapport with my students and the other teachers, so there's more comfort at school, too!
I probably won't feel fully integrated for a long time, and that's ok. I'm reminding myself on a daily basis to be ok with the discomfort, and to allow myself to be proud of my small accomplishments (like successfully going to the doctor, or remembering directions without Google Maps). In Spain they say, "paso a paso" or, how we would say in English, "step by step." I think I'm going to start saying it to myself before I start my day, like a mantra. "Paso a paso, Alyssa. You're in Spain. You made it happen. Just breathe. You got this."