Guest Post: Everything I Need To Know, I Learned in Spain
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of Spain over four years ago. You can find her soaking up the sunshine in Sevilla, where she teaches English and blogs for her own Sunshine and Siestas. You can also follow her on Twitter.
I was in a copper-pot adorned flamenco cave in Granada when a blond girl turned to me.
“Is this your first time in Spain?” she asked, obviously clued into the fact that I had on gym shoes and was chattering with my grandmother in English.
“No, but tomorrow I start a job as an English teacher in Seville.”
“Thought so.” She proceeded to write down ESL websites before adding her email.
“I did the same, and that year changed my life. I’m actually getting married this coming weekend to a Spaniard I met walking the Camino de Santiago. Your life is going to change like you wouldn’t imagine.”
Erin was right. In the last four years, I’ve changed from hyper-type A to what my couchsurfing profile calls a “reformed perfectionist.” Learning to take my time, to enjoy the moment and to be patient has all come from my living in Southern Spain, where mañana means never and no pasa nada means that there’s no use crying over spilt milk.
But, really, if I knew then what I knew now….you know how the rest goes.
Have feet, will travel
The first news I received from my parents after landing in Spain was the successful sale of the car my sister and I once shared, the Red Dragon. Though heartbroken, I soon found walking was the best mode of transport around a small European city – craning my neck brought unexpected views, aromas and sounds. Flamenco guitars strummed on my streets during twilight, azulejo ceramic tiles became forever etched in my memory. Apart from that, it made me skinnier. Even when my boyfriend bought me a bike, which I affectionately called Juan Bosco, I preferred my own two patas, legs, to planes, trains or automobiles. Since then, I’ve done my best exploring on foot.
Bikes rest on a busy Amsterdam street
Patience is a virtue
During my week-long trip over Easter to Romania, my boyfriend called to tell me that our electric water heater had broken. I asked when. “Well, several days ago, actually,” he replied. “The insurance company said they’d come later in the week.” When I returned Saturday night, they hadn’t even called to make an appointment. The Spaniards sure like the phrase, “Mañana, mañana,” or the opposite of “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” From long lines to reduced bank hours to taming small children in the name of ESL education, I’ve certainly had my patience tested. My response? Why put off drinking a beer until the weekend when you can enjoy the sunshine and Cruzcampo right now? Spain has made me calmer and more appreciative of the moment.
Spanish teenagers waiting in line, a constant in Southern Spain
The best things in life are free
For the greater part of my life, I saved and saved, thinking that it would eventually lead me to taking extravagant vacations and having money to burn. Always a sucker for a good bargain, I’ve joined more mailing lists than I can count. But because of Southern Spain’s cost of living being so low, I’ve learned to enjoy the things that cost little to no money, like smaller beers, smaller portions and cheaper entrance fees. Nevertheless, my favorite parts of my life here don’t cost anything: couchsurfing, speaking Spanish, sunshine and the smell of orange blossoms. I’ve got beautiful sunsets, beautiful friends and a beautiful Spanish accent to go along with it.
Enjoying beers and sunshine in central Seville
Good things come in small packages
Of all the things I love in Spain, the food is one of my favorite. I happily zampar through anything put in front of me and ask for more. Salmorejo, jamón, and solomillo end up on my plate nightly, and sometimes a combination of several. Tapas, the quintessential Spanish portions, come with the perfect amount of food so you can build your own menu. When I’m in Iberia, I don’t miss American cuisine, but one month in America without Spanish food is, well, as might as well just not eat.
Spanish Ibérico ham and cheese, fresh from the Ham Festival in Aracena (Huelva), Spain
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Faced with no job and no visa for the following school year, I had to take action. I spent days indoors writing cover letters and perusing job websites, telling myself that spending one sunny day indoors to have an entire year of them. Even when things looked desperate, dismal, impossible…My friend Tonya would check up on me and give me encouragement. “If anyone can do it, Cat, it’s you.”
The day before the school term started, I was offered two jobs.
Some of the documentation necessary for my work permit
A leopard can’t change its spots
Running into familiar faces in a small city like Seville is something I relish in. Being stereotyped as an American study abroad student is something I hate. After bumping into my sharp-tongued friend Christene on the street, we decided to have a beer and share a tapa along Seville’s most famous street, Calle Betis. She popped into the bathroom while I ordered for us, which provoked the waiter to imitate my accent and sneer. Several obscenities crossed my mind in Spanish, but I bit my tongue. I’m what Spaniards call a guiri, a general term for a North American. Although I’ve never resented it, I don’t especially love the term. Still, I can’t fake to anyone that I’m European or, really, anyone other than myself.
My Spanish boyfriend and I celebrating my favorite holiday, July 4th
A clock will run without watching it
When I came to Spain, my grandmother embraced me in my driveway and gave me two warnings: Don’t start smoking, and don’t come back with a boyfriend. Nearly four years later, I’ve got a job, work permits, a partner and a life built for myself. It’s amazing to think back on what I’ve seen and accomplished in these four years.
Sunset over the Guadalquivir River in Seville
I’m treating Spain, whether it’s five years or a lifetime, as a living classroom. Good plan, says my very patient mother, just as long as curiosity doesn’t kill this Cat.
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