“As I round out my third month of teaching English in Spain – although I write this four thousand miles away in the United States – I can finally say that I’ve begun to assimilate into Spanish cultural norms. I write that tentatively, as I am painfully aware that spending three months in a new place does not encompass an entire culture or personal histories that make each new city so enthralling. I nevertheless feel that I have started to ingrain myself into Cartagena’s lifestyle in small ways.”
This was the draft I started to write for this blog while in Virginia, spending time with my family over my two-week winter break. I wanted my third article in this series to focus on assimilation into Spanish culture. Evidently, I thought I was finally getting accustomed to life in Murcia. Maybe I actually was. It was easy to feel that way, considering the warm send-off that teachers and students at my school gave me.
A class of 2nd graders gave me a group hug as I said goodbye on my last day before temporarily returning home. A few 4th graders excitedly asked if they could come with me to the United States after showing them pictures from the life I was eagerly on my way to visit. Teachers, to whom I rarely spoke, gave me the two-cheek kiss and wished me a merry Christmas and a safe flight. The day before returning home, I felt like a rock star at my school. And that feeling of importance, of belonging, stayed with me throughout most of my time home.
Almost every family member and friend who I saw while in the United States asked me how much I like living in Spain. I almost always responded, “Well, it got off to a rocky start, but I really like it now that I’m settled in. I’m excited to go back.” And this wasn’t a lie – it still isn’t a lie. But it was infinitely easier to say while I was home.
After about three months of living in Spain, I had finally established myself, somewhat, in my new city. I have joined a soccer team, I spend time with other auxiliaries – I have a routine. It’s not a bad life, but I find myself complaining of boredom even though I’ve started filling my schedule with fun activities.
“I’m excited to go back.” This phrase slipped easily from my lips during the first ten days of my time at home, but as the final few days of my trip approached, I cut the phrase from my spiel. The flutter in my stomach, I realized, was no longer excitement but nerves. I was about to spend six continuous months in a country that is over four thousand miles and an ocean away from my family and friends. And this realization put me in a terrible mood.
I have been back in Murcia for a little over a week, and the sadness has dulled but not disappeared. My time with my family completely disrupted the comfort I had fallen into in Murcia. And while I am incredibly happy that I went home, and would do it again if given the chance (or money), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that potential auxiliaries go home during winter break as I did.
Going home for such a significant period of time – about sixteen days – allowed me to fall into my old rhythm of being at home (albeit without a job). It felt so natural being at home, which was jarring after three months of new, of unfamiliarity, and of, at times, discomfort. I felt as though the progress I had made in Cartagena dissipated, especially after twenty hours of travel, which is, in itself, a reason to consider staying in Europe during winter break. (Murcia, and Cartagena more specifically, is not accessible and makes for turbulent, seemingly never-ending travel days).
Putting the long travel time aside, I still feel that going back to the United States just after I started to feel more comfortable was problematic. Moreover, most of my friends who traveled home for the holidays have expressed a similar lack of excitement upon returning to Cartagena. Even after about a week of their usual routines, three out of four friends who I’ve spoken to have seemed despondent and unexcited about being back in Murcia. Leaving their families and friends was not easy for them either.
Despite my grievances that I have attempted to tackle, I need to address the immense privilege that I had in taking a trip to the United States in the midst of an extended stay in a foreign country. I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to teach abroad and to have been able to briefly return home. I wish not to seem ungrateful, or unaware that I am in a position of privilege. But I also feel that I should provide truthful accounts of my experiences in Murcia as I encounter obstacles that other auxiliaries might face, which is my goal in writing these posts.
One month after writing this blog post, I can say I have a similar outlook about spending the next five months in Murcia. I have come to terms with my homesickness, but it is still there. After returning home for what seems like enough time to tease me into feeling "right back at home," being back in Spain seems more like a chore than I realized it could. I know this is ironic, because I am actively choosing to stay here, but that is because of my students and the fact that I have friends and family who have already purchased tickets to come visit me. I've spent enough time in this city to realize that I don't really enjoy it here, aside from when I'm spending time with my very few friends, playing soccer, or traveling to other cities. I am hoping that this is a slump, and I am still riding the wave of being home only a month ago. Hopefully in a month or so I'll feel a greater sense of belonging. At the moment, however, that is not the case for the majority of the time.