Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Anxiety and Moving Abroad

I postponed this post a couple of days.  How do I write something so personal, something that I haven't even talked about with many of my friends?  Well after tonight (ugh dealing with airlines and extra-extra baggage fees) I realized that there are many people who may be dealing with the same issue and wanting to know they aren't alone.

I previously mentioned in my post What I'm Looking Forward To that sometimes I can push myself too hard when trying to practice my Spanish with my friends.  The truth of the matter is that it's much more than pushing myself 'too hard' and feeling upset.  Or getting anxious about things that seem relatively minor to most people.  To make a long story short: I have anxiety.  And not just "I'm-worried-about-moving-to-Spain anxiety," I mean the actual disorder, something I have lived with for years.
Even as a child I dealt with anxiety: incessant worrying, insomnia, fainting spells, and hyperventilation.  As I grew up we just thought it was stress, mood swings, social pressure, etc.  I was so embarrassed: What if my friends found out?  What if I had an attack at school?  What would people think of me?  I struggled to hide it, doing my best to keep it together in public settings (far easier said than done), and it seemed to work...until I went to college.

I had far less privacy away at college and had less room to hide my anxiety.  It was then that my symptoms were finally diagnosed.  It was also in this time that I was lucky enough to meet people dealing with the same issues.  These amazing people helped me realize that having an anxiety disorder didn't mean something was wrong with me, and it didn't mean that it would control my life forever.  I could learn how to control my anxiety and I could live happily.  Through a healthy diet, regular exercise, a great support system, and training to think more positively I have over the past few years been able to help keep my symptoms at bay and turn my panic attacks into rare occurrences.
So how does this affect my move to Spain?  Well funny you should ask, but one of my biggest anxiety triggers is change.  Even the smallest changes can set if off sometimes, e.g. driving to a place that's new to me.  Clearly the normal thing then to help my anxiety is to move 3,000+ miles to a country I've never lived in for more than a few months, and am not fluent in the native language?  <--Yeah right, who's this crazy chick.

Yes, I do have a great group of friends and my boyfriend in Spain, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about this choice.  I'm terrified.  This is the biggest change I've ever made in my entire life and I am putting myself right into a situation that is potentially the going to trigger my anxiety.  What if it does get out of control?  What if I can't handle it?
But that fear is exactly why I want, no have to, make this move.  I want to push myself.  I do love Spain very much, but mainly I want this move to prove to myself that I can do this.  To prove to myself that I control my anxiety, my life, and my happiness.  And with this move to Spain in less than a week I know that this is the right choice, even if I know I will face many moments where I will be anxious, confused, and scared.  But anxiety aside, I'm sure many others making a similar change or move are feeling or worried about feeling these same emotions.  And that's okay.

There's nothing wrong with being anxious, confused, or scared.  We are young and allowed to make big changes and be unsure of ourselves.  It's okay to take a step out into the world and not be sure if it's the right choice.  This is the time of your life to make big changes and question who you are and what you're doing.
And most importantly it's okay to be different.  I used to be ashamed of being different, embarrassed of how people would look at me, and apologetic when they witnessed me in moments of panic I struggled to control.  Now I realize that anxiety is just part of my life and that by making this move abroad, I can show others also suffering through similar anxiety that you can push yourself and succeed.  You can take a giant leap into the unknown and feel scared, and things will turn out just fine.  Don't let your fears, or anxiety, keep you from facing your living your life.

What are your feelings on the big changes in your life?  How do you feel about these next steps?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Goals For my Time in Madrid

In less than two weeks I will be moving to Spain to teach English at a bilingual elementary school in Madrid with the government program: Auxiliares de Conversación.  Over the past months I've been thinking of the many things I would like to experience and accomplish in my year abroad.  Here is a working list of some the main goals I hope to meet there:


*Travel to at least three new countries.

*Learn how to cook Spanish foods for myself. So far I've managed pisto, salmorejo, crema de calabacín, natillas and more!

*Improve my Spanish enough to have a full conversation with my boyfriend's family.

*Read a full chapter book in Spanish for the first time since high school. (Apr. 2014)

*Find a way to exercise and stay in shape in Madrid, without hurting my hip again. (Sep. 2013-Buying a step at decathalon, best purchase ever)

*Go a whole day without speaking English.

*Try something I normally wouldn't. (Do barnacles count?)

*Be more independent.

*Bonus Goal: Visit all the Autonomous Communities in Spain, here are the ten I have yet to visit:
  1. Andalucía (Nov. 13)
  2. Aragón
  3. Islas Baleares (Oct. 14)
  4. Gran Canarias
  5. Cataluña (Mar. 14)
  6. Comunidad Valenciana
  7. Extremadura (May 2014)
  8. Galicia (Aug. 2014)
  9. La Rioja (Feb. 2015)
  10. Murcia

What goals do you have for this coming year?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cantabria in Pictures

This week I'm taking a little mini-vacation to visit one of my childhood friends from Maine.  Our families have known each other for the longest time and we used to spend our summers together when my grandparents owned a family cabin in gorgeous rural Maine.  While I'm away I'm not sure about the reliability of the internet I'll have there, so I planned out a couple of posts to keep you all occupied (you're welcome).

My boyfriend is from Santander and it's an absolutely gorgeous, and often forgotten, province in Spain.  I've been lucky enough to spend my past two summers living with his family and experiencing all Cantabria has to offer, hello Altamira-one of the most important cave for caves in all prehistoric history!  Without further ado, here is personally my favorite place in Spain: the beautiful northern province of Cantabria.  Enjoy!
San Vicente de la Barquera
Parque de la Magdalena
Playa de Mataleñas
Romanesque Church of Santa María de Retortillo 
Roman city of Julióbriga
Valderredible, Cantabria
Rock Church of Arroyuelos
Near the Astronomic Observitory of Cantabria, Valderredible

Palacio de la Magdalena
Cabárceno Natural Park
Isla de Mouro lighthouse
Cabo Mayor
Picos de Europa
Cliffs of Portio
Cliffs of Portio
Universidad Pontificia de Comillas

Have you ever visited Cantabria?  What did you enjoy the most?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What I'm Looking Forward To

Earlier this week I wrote a post about the things I would miss the most about my home when I move abroad this Fall.  As much as this small town girl always wanted to leave said small town, I've realized over the years that there is really so much I do love about New England.  That being said, there is also so much I'm looking forward to this coming year in Madrid (check the Auxiliares tab for more information on that!) because there are many things I miss about Spain.
Toledo, Spain
I've been to Spain a couple of times before, but at the longest for a few months, and mainly in the north.  Even though I'm moving to Madrid I've only spent a little over a week visiting the city.  Clearly I'm not an expert on the region but I'm very excited to familiarize myself with my new home (in just a few short weeks)!.  Along with getting to know the city I'll be living for the year, here are some of the many things that I'm looking forward to during my adventures in Spain this year.

Friends and Boyfriend

Moving to Spain means I'll be much closer to my boyfriend and all of our great friends.  While my boyfriend and his friends are all from the north, many of them study in Madrid so, from what we've been talking about, I already have a busy social life!  

Since I first met all of these wonderful people over two years ago, this has been the longest I've gone without seeing them (seriously having withdrawals) so I'm counting down the days until we're reunited.  It's definitely making the 3,000+ mile move easier knowing that while I may be leaving one great group of friends, I'm going to another.

And with this move, I'm also finally closer to my boyfriend specifically.  It will be the first year in the past two of our relationship that we've even lived within the same continent, hopefully even in the same apartment.  

Unfortunately we're still not sure whether or not he'll be able to find work and live in Madrid with me (*fingers crossed on different prospective jobs*) or be at home in Santander and study something.  Either way I'll be content because at least we're closer than we would be in our respective countries.

I'm really looking forward to a year of getting more quality time with my boyfriend and spending more times with our friends.  I'm very lucky going into this experience knowing so many people; I have a lot to look forward to in Madrid!

Living in a City

In my previous post about what I'll miss about home I wrote that I'll miss the landscape of the New England countryside I grew up in.  While this is true, I am beyond excited to live in a major city for the first time (other than the couple of months I lived with my boyfriend's family).  

I never thought I would like living in the city but after visiting I realized how much I liked the accessibility of everything.  Everything was open later, public transportation was more reliable, and it was possible to walk nearly everywhere.

The public transportation is big part of living in the city that I'm very excited about.  It's so nice to just hop on the metro or bus and just go where you want without having to worry about traffic, parking, or gas prices.  Not to mention in Spain it runs more often and runs later compared to at home.  Public transportation in Spain is so accessible, that many of my friends don't have a car or driver's license.  

Where I live it's a 15 minute drive to even get to public transportation and it only goes to limited locations.  Even though I do like the freedom of my car, I really hate don't like driving.  I'm looking forward to a year without having to bother with my car or expensive gas prices.  I definitely prefer walking or a ride on the bus, metro, or train over driving any day!


Ahh!  Can you tell this is my favorite topic, when am I not talk about food?  Spanish food is so different than what most people think it is (aka. it's not Mexican food) and I love all the fresh vegetables and fruits that are so easy to come by.  

My BF's Christmas Dinner
Personally my favorite Spanish foods are tortilla (Spanish omelette), the cured jamón, the fresh bread, strong cheeses, and patatas bravas.  My past trips to Spain I have been spoiled by my boyfriend's mom or housekeeper and their amazing cooking, but now I have to learn how to cook Spanish food myself (or mooch off my friends' cooking skills...)

So delicious looking!
One of my favorite things about about Spanish food is that it can be so different depending on the region of the country you're in.  Being the capital and in a central location of Spain, Madrid will have many options from the various regions.  I really want to learn more about other Spanish foods than what I'm used to eating in the north, hopefully living in Madrid will give me that opportunity.

If all else fails I'd be plenty happy to live off of my staple Spanish foods for the year...though I'm sure my friends will stage a jamón and cheese intervention if I keep it up for too long...
Wine is clearly a Spanish staple


This is definitely something I'm preparing myself for.  The relaxed Spanish is such a change from the fast-paced seven-day work week I've gotten used to.  There are more vacation days and far less worrying about time schedules; I don't think I've ever seen my boyfriend or his friends concerned about being on time for anything.  

Though I think this stress/worry-free lifestyle is a more enjoyable way to live, I'm sure it will take a lot of patience getting used to it for an extended period of time (as well the situations this lifestyle creates with official paperwork and the service industry there).

I think it will be nice having only 16 hours of regularly scheduled work, leaving plenty of time to tutor, spend with my friends, and enjoy my youth (you know, instead of passing out falling asleep at 10:00 pm because I'm so exhausted).  This year will be a great experience to gain more time in my career field, to enjoy the Spanish lifestyle, and to enjoy crazy experiences with my friends while it's still socially acceptable (6 am kebabs?  I think so!)
Day drinking?  No big deal.


Having this relaxed lifestyle, and the multiple holidays off that come with it, is quite conducive to the next thing I'm looking forward to while abroad: travel.  Whether around Spain itself or other countries, being in Europe, especially a large capital city like Madrid, gives me a gateway to so many new countries and cities to visit.  

As a dual history major I focused my studies on Europe so I have a pretty extensive list of dream travel locations I would finally like to see in person.  It's such a mind blowing thing that I'll be living in a place that I've previously studied, a place with so much history, and that many of the other countries and cities I've also studied are just at my fingertips.  

I'm very excited to to start my travel plans for the year abroad with my boyfriend and our friends.  I've already started talking about a couple of potential trips with some of them, with my boyfriend and I particular to Ireland where his sister will be working the next couple of months (coincidentally in the same area part of my family originated from, yay for multi-cultural heritage!).

Even if I only hit a couple of new countries or cities during my stay I'll be happy.  It will definitely be a year of new adventures and new cultures to experience, even if just around the different regions of Spain!

Improving my Spanish

A major part of me wanting to move to Spain is my desire to improve my Spanish.  I already have a pretty decent grasp of Spanish, better than I think according to my friends, but I definitely want to work my way up to being fluent (or near fluent) one day in the future.

I studied for Spanish for around 7 seven years between middle school and high school, not to mention my grandma was fluent and I grew up with her speaking and writing to me in it.  Unfortunately when she died, my love of Spanish died too.  It wasn't until I met my boyfriend years later that I had to try to remember all the Spanish I had forced myself to forget (my family jokes that this was all somehow her plan to keep me with Spanish, very funny abuelita).

At times with my friends though it can be still be challenging to keep up.  There's so many of them and they all talk so loudly and all at once that it can often be hard to pick one voice out from another.  Luckily they're awesome and realize how tiring and frustrating it is when I'm that lost and will break into smaller side conversations so my head doesn't explode (that's love right there).

The point being, that even spending a few months in Spain the past couple of summers has helped my Spanish improve vastly.  Each visit I push myself harder (sometimes too hard if you ask my boyfriend, but more on that later) and my years of Spanish start to come back poco a poco (little by little), according to the BF's papá.  

In fact, my speaking and listening comprehension are far better than they ever have been and I know living abroad in Spain for a whole year will definitely help kick my Spanish up a notch.  It will be such a great learning experience and I'm so excited to start and keep improving my language skills.

Also, still looking forward to not having two feet of snow in the Winter.  Thanks but no thanks New England, you can keep all that...

Are you moving somewhere new?  What are you looking forward to in your new adventures?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Things I'll Miss the Most...

So as of today it's officially three weeks before I make the move 'across the pond' to Madrid.  Being so close to my departure date I'm feeling so many mixed emotions.  As excited as I am to go on this adventure and see all my friends (and my boyfriend) over in Spain, I know that there will be plenty of things I will miss about the US and my home state.
Beautiful RI beaches, even in the winter.
While I know this move is the right choice for me, it's still bittersweet as I say goodbye to everything I know.  Even when I went to an out of state school my freshman year I came home once a month and was home for all important holidays and events.  This time though I won't even be home for Christmas and may not see my loved ones until next summer (Though I'm very lucky to have such a great support system waiting for me in Spain!)

It's a giant leap into the 'adult' world and is full of scary unknowns and 'what-ifs': What if I don't like it there?  What if I don't like teaching there?  What if my boyfriend actually can't live with me? What if, what if, what if.  Instead of focusing on my worries I thought I would keep my mind on the positive.  I love Spain a lot, but I also love where I am from, and there are plenty of things I love about home that I'll miss.  I mean, it's a pretty awesome place to live if I do say so myself...

My Friends And Family

We didn't make matching t-shirts or anything...
This is a give-in usually, I think it's pretty common when you pack up and leave a place you've lived (in my case for my whole life) that you miss the people you've met along the way.  I have a great group of friends, some from high school and some from college, that have been there for me over the years and have been a really great support group.

It's taken a few years to get a solid group of real friends that I know I can depend on and will support me through anything, even if it's something like wanting to eat all day at Friendly's...or moving to Madrid.  

Best friend piggy back rides
It's definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to these who have been constants in my life, but it's even harder with most of us graduated and going our separate ways this year.  With myself and another friend to Spain, one to China, one staying in New Jersey, one maybe going to Idaho, and the others on the 'adult' job search, we're all going in different directions.

It's like we're the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants, but without the traveling pants...or all being girls...

And likewise with my friends comes missing my family while I'll be abroad this year. We may be small, but we're very close. My parents are divorced, but my mom and I are close and always do girl things together. I see my Dad every week and we've always been incredibly close too. He's my go to for logical advice on anything, especially handy now with my packing underway...

Not to mention my brother, my cousins (even though they might as well be my siblings!), my grandpa, and my aunt. All amazing!
As for my grandpa, he's probably the hardest to say goodbye to.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's earlier this year and it's hard knowing he doesn't always remember me anymore.  I often feel guilty leaving him behind this September as I head out on this adventure, but I know that if he was in a better state he would be the one pushing me to Spain.  So as much as this move is for myself, it's for doing what my grandpa would want for me. <3
Can't forget my baby!  I'll miss him too!


Yum, wings with sauce!
This is my favorite topic in the entire world, food.  I love food.  And even though I do love Spanish food, I love saucy, spicy, sweet American food too.  I'm trying to hit all of my favorite local spots before I leave because I know food is something I missed a lot while in Spain the past two summers.

It's funny how things you don't really think about, like specific foods, can make a world of difference in homesickness.  Last summer when I was missing American food my boyfriend took me to Foster's Hollywood so I could get my American food fix and that little taste of home made me so happy.
Delicious, delicious Bismarks.

After visiting Spain a couple of times before I know what American foods I miss the most: good BBQ sauce, Buffalo sauce, any sauce, spicy food, good burgers, blue cheese dressing, peanut butter, dessert, maple syrup, and ice cream that's not plain. I'm trying to fit all of those in within the next three weeks...probably not the healthiest choice, but hey that's why I go to the gym so much!

Thanks to my food-loving friends I've definitely been making a dent in my list of must-have foods.  Not to mention so many people have already started stocking me up on food supplies to bring to Spain this year!  I already have BBQ sauce, Buffalo sauce, vanilla extract, and whole sauce recipe book my cousin put together for my birthday (I know it will be a lifesaver!).

But even with all this preparation I know there is one thing I will miss most of all.  Good beer, and a wide selection of good beer.  It's a hard thing to say "good-bye" to 69 beers on tap and "hello" to only one.  And that 'one' might as well be water.  Oh well, I guess you can't have everything.
I shall miss you dear beer with actual flavor!

New England Landscape

Rhode Island is a little known state.  Really.  Ask anyone outside of New England and they don't know it exists (sometimes even in NE!!), but I think it's one of the most beautiful.  We have a beautiful, rugged coastline, large forests, and hidden ponds and rivers.

It's full of New England charm and its landscape is something I will sorely miss while in Madrid.  I've always grown up near the ocean, my house is fifteen minutes and my dad's is only five.  My whole life I've never lived more than fifteen minutes away the ocean.  The beach was always my escape; a place I would go to study, read a book, or take a walk when I just needed a break from everything.  To not have that this year will be one of the hardest things to get used to.

Another part of Rhode Island, and New England in general, that I miss when I visit Spain is the woods.  How else could you have beautiful New England foliage in the fall if there weren't so many trees!  I live on a dead-end, seriously surrounded by trees, and have only one neighbor.

Along with not having the ocean, I won't have the solitude that comes from living in the wooded country.  I'm definitely moving out of my element going to Madrid, the third largest city in Europe, where I'm sure it will be much harder to find the solitude I'm used to.

While I'm excited for a new experience in the 'big city' I'll definitely miss my country roots and the landscape I grew up with.  I'm trying to take in as much of the woods, ocean, and rivers as I can before the trees I'll find will be in a park and I'll be serenaded by noises other than crickets at night.

Growing up my friends and I were all so excited to leave our small town one day and start out somewhere new in the big world.  Now that the day is coming up fast I find that I have much more appreciation for the beautiful area I was so lucky to grow up in, but so little time left to appreciate it!
I'm king of the world!  Or something like that...

Holidays and Traditions

Just my pumpkin patch donkey friend.
This really goes hand and hand with my missing my family, as most of these traditions are things we've done together since I was a little kid.  Being so far away, this is the first year I won't be able to celebrate birthdays, do any of these traditions, or celebrate any major holidays with my family.  

In the fall we always go pumpkin picking at one of the local farms.  Usually we also go in the corn maze and on the hayride, then go home and decorate our pumpkins.  I doubt I'll even be able to find a whole pumpkin in Spain, and celebrating Halloween there is very different (if even celebrated).  

Along with Thanksgiving, which obviously isn't traditionally celebrated in Spain, is cutting down our Christmas tree.  We always get it the Friday after Thanksgiving and it will be hard not being there to help pick it, cut it down, then decorate it at home.

While I know the Spanish Christmas celebration is not as different as Halloween, at least in my boyfriend's family, there will be certain traditions I'll miss doing with my family.  
Making all of our Christmas cookies for example, sometimes I think we end up with more cookies than dinner food...  Or our annual arts and craft project, reading the "Night Before Christmas," watching our holiday movies, and celebrating Christmas with specific traditions from our mixed cultural heritage.

1000x yum!
My family is a mix of the British Isles, Sweden, Germany, and French Canadian and a lot of that is incorporated in how we celebrate the holiday.  Our Christmas Eve food is normally a mix of traditional food from the British Isles, our Christmas Day breakfast is always Swedish (Swedish pancakes and coffee bread), and we of course have the German Christmas pickle...yes that's a real thing.

I know I'll miss spending the important days with my family but I know I'll get to experience a whole new set of cultures and traditions, as well as share some of my own as well.  Some of my friends have already mentioned having a Madrid Thanksgiving, and who knows, maybe I'll bring my own German pickle!

Free Gym Membership

This may sound like a strange thing to most people.  What normal person would miss a gym membership so much?  Well maybe I'm not that 'normal' but I honestly just really love working out, is that weird...  I seriously do like having my routine of three hours a week, I like doing cardio and strength, I like feeling stronger, having more stamina, and I like that I can go for free.  I'm sure most of you stopped right there, free?  As in no money?  But yes, you read that correctly.  For the past two years I've worked at the local YMCA and as a part-time employee I get a free membership, saving me hundreds of dollars a year!!

Now with moving to Madrid I'm worried about how I will be able to workout there.  I don't think I'll have enough money to spend on a monthly membership, as most seem to be at least €30+.  I've really been dependent on my membership while at home because every time I try to run outside I have intense hip pain (thank you scoliosis for my uneven hips).  I definitely will miss the free membership, and thus far have not come up with any way to soothe this loss in the move abroad...

My Car

Told you I was surrounded by woods!
As much as I do love the reliable transportation in Spain and don't really like driving that much, I will still miss my car.  

Or at least the freedom having my own car gives me.  I don't have to wait for the public transportation schedule, I don't have to worry about how late or early the transportation runs, and I don't have to know where I need to meet it either.  When I want to go somewhere, or need to get away, I can just hop in my car and I'm off.  

Having my own car is again something else I often took for granted living here.  Yes, driving is not my favorite, but I had the freedom to come and go as I please.  While I really am looking forward to public transportation this coming year I know I will miss not having the independence to rely on myself when I want to get somewhere.

Definitely won't miss this:

9 inches of snow...and only the middle of the storm

Sorry if this is a little "down," but now you can read about all the great things I'm looking forward to abroad!

For those of you moving, or doing a similar program, what will you miss about home?  Do you think you'll miss any of the same things?