Another New Start in Barcelona

So what’s going on in Catalonia? Well to begin, I had a month there where I wasn’t writing because I was going through some major transitions. Apart from my visa renewal being denied, I had to move out of my flat, five of my friends here had to leave Barcelona within a week of each other, and then I had to take on everything else in life: work, finding a new flat, massive amounts of graduate school work, and still being able to go out and see my friends (the ones that remain here that is). Continue reading

“Catalanisms” in Spanish

I’ve been here for a good period of time now, at least long enough to notice major differences in the spoken Spanish between the Catalans and the Spanish (or at least the Madrileños). Since Catalonia is a bilingual region, they often mix the two languages. Someone like me might speak Spanglish since I’m a native English-speaker and a learned Spanish-speaker, whereas the Catalan people speak both Spanish and Catalan natively, arguably “catañol.” Another term you may hear is “charnego,” which is an offensive term for someone who has grown up here but has Spanish parents and speaks a very “castizo” (thick) version of Spanish.  As in all countries, Spain has many distinct accents. Particularly here in Catalonia, one who speaks Spanish will immediately notice not just the accent, but the array of words. Continue reading

Holidays in Alicante

Christmas and Reyes are now over.  The weather here is still quite nice (haven’t worn a jacket during the day since ‘Nam).  It’s almost always sunny and no one can complain about that. One could complain, however, about the amounts of studying I need to be doing and the paper writing that needs to be completed in the next few weeks.  But after finals in two weeks, I’ll be heading off to Belgium for a week to desconectarme and to just relax.

Christmas this year was probably the most Spanish I could have ever imagined. Continue reading

A new definition of home

This weekend I took a long-needed trip to Madrid, back “home.” Madrid was decorated in its finest holiday clothes: Enormous lighted Christmas trees, streets with strings of fantastic lights in the shapes of cubes, snowflakes, and other random squiggles and swirls, the people bundled in large jackets and warm black scarves, the faces of stores painted in “Feliz Navidad” and lines after lines behind the stores selling either lottery tickets or roasted chestnuts. Just how Madrid is supposed to be at Christmas time. Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Life in Barcelona

It has been a very long time since I’ve written. This is probably the longest break I’ve taken from this blog. I have legitimate reasons for my long absence in the blogosphere. It’s this awful thing called Graduate School.

I came to Barcelona to pursue my career and to take off with an international career. So that’s what I’ve been doing. My studies have been very overwhelming and much more intense than I expected (having worked in the Spanish education realm for two years, I was expecting this to be a cake-walk…boy was I wrong!) But apart from the normal life of studying and taking exams and all of that stuff we hate, there are other elements of my life that are being severely impacted. Continue reading

Moving on and moving forward

My last two blog posts were rushed and even a bit forced. I’ve looked back upon them and I’ll leave them as they stand, but they really represent a lack of thought and time. The reason for this is because I had been traveling a lot, the hot summer heat was taking it’s toll, and I was growing anxious about the future that I just couldn’t bring myself to concentrate. However, I’ll leave them there as some sort of testament to what was happening. I’ve also neglected to write about my trip to Barcelona and Italy, and now, it’s been several weeks, and I’ve returned to the United States that I see no point writing about them (at least in depth).

However, something needs to be said. I’ve left my blog inactive for too long.

First, I am all set up in Barcelona. I spent four days energetically searching for the best flat I could find for my new future there.  I stayed with my co-worker Sarah’s friend, Michelle, for the second time and she has been so much help I cannot let it go unmentioned. After seeing about fifteen different apartments, I had narrowed them all down to two (it was easy weeding out the rest, but I was really torn between two great places). But I know I made the right decision in the end: after calling up the guys that I’m going to be living with, I went over to my future home my last morning in Barcelona (10 am mind you) to pick up my contract and pay the rent, etc., I found the guys sitting in the living room already with beers cracked open.

This tells to me two things: 1) that it’s going to be impossible to study in my new house (but that’s alright because I never study at home anyway); and 2) that I have definitely made the right decision.

I’ll be living with three seemingly chill and fun guys from Alicante (Bachelor pad, anyone?!) and that makes me stoked: Barcelona is a very, very international city. And by that, I mean everywhere you go, English is spoken. It’s not like Madrid where even in the tourist areas, people speak to you first in Spanish, and then if they realize you don’t understand, they will hit you up in English. It’s not like that in Barcelona; they just immediately speak to you in English. That makes me nervous that I won’t be using my Spanish there. But now that I’ve got a flat with Spanish guys, I know that I’ll be surrounding myself in a Spanish community away from all the tourists.  Not to mention that I’m going to a Spanish school, so I’m sure to be completely immersed in Spanish and far from the language of the tourists.

I’m also afraid that I’m going to like Barcelona more than Madrid, which is difficult for me to even write because Madrid has been the center of my life since I can even remember. It’s always been Madrid, Madrid, Madrid. And now I’m a traitor. But Barcelona has so much to offer me, other than the school I have chosen because I think it’s the best option for me. The entire city is littered with skateboarders, there are skate-punk bars with old fish-tail skateboards hanging on the walls.  There is a beach. Oh goodness, there is a beach! I’ve never lived with the beach before and I will certainly be taking advantage of that as much as possible. Not to mention that Barcelona is absolutely stunning, especially with the Gaudí architecture that covers the city. To say the least, I can’t wait to get there and take the next step of my Spanish adventure.

Skateboarders in Barcelona

After my quick but productive trip to Barcelona, I flew out to Brescia, Italy for Carlo’s university graduation.

Carlo graduating!

It was my last weekend in Europe before flying home and then making my new move to Barcelona and it was incredible. I spent it with my best friends (even Chloé flew out from Brussels for it!), Carlo, and his friends and family. Again, I owe his family everything for their incredible hospitality. We spent the days eating and relaxing and riding bikes through the Italian countryside; and we spent our nights out on the town.

Chloé, going for a ride in Carlo’s sweet luxury car

I quickly realized that Italian is similar enough to Spanish, and after having lived with Carlo for the past year and a half, I quickly picked up on Italian. It makes me a bit disappointed that I didn’t choose to study that this year instead of French, because I can make out almost every word spoken in Italy (whether I understand the words meaning is another issue), but in French, all I hear is an unintelligible chain of vous-vous’s and je-je’s.  So naturally, I’m now highly inclined to learning Italian since after only four short days, I was picking up verbs and expressions and it felt invigorating communicating in a third language, basing it off of my second. I’m not saying I can really speak Italian, but it’s pretty easy to start to see the differences and similarities between Spanish and Italian.  Anyway, at the end of the trip, we all returned to Madrid for one last night. I said my goodbyes to Julian, Beltran, Carlo, and La Martola, and the following morning, I caught my flight back to the good old US of A.

Being home has certainly been interesting. At first it’s been pretty difficult to manage my world once again in English. Now I’ve got the flow back, but maybe I’m losing my Spanish as my natural English flow returns to me. Nah! I have met several Spaniards here (go figure!) and I definitely still got it. Being at home is really great seeing my friends and of course my family, but I miss Europe already.

Here’s why I have to go back:

The environment, my world: There I speak several languages. I know people from all over the world. I have places to stay in about 10 different countries. The countries themselves are so close and travel is so easy and cheap that I just can’t give it up. I love travelling around and visiting friends. I miss going to see Chloé in Brussels and drinking Belgium’s amazing beers. I miss Italy and Carlo’s mother’s kitchen that seems to always be active making incredible Italian dishes that still make me salivate just thinking about them. I miss all the guys in Madrid and eating Shawarma kebabs from the Lebanese guy’s bar right next to my old flat with Marta. I miss all the botellones (plaza parties), all the Chinese people wandering the streets selling us 1-euro beers, I miss the jamones, I miss the buildings and the streets and the history. I miss being a foreigner; it’s difficult, especially in Spain with their massive amounts of impossible and frustrating red tape, but it’s worth it.

If I go home now, it’s almost as if it was all for nothing. That’s really unfair for me to say because it has certainly not been for nothing, but now I’ve got Europe figured out and I speak two (and a little more) languages and if I go home, that’s all going to be lost. So I am returning. And it’s to make myself a marketable international citizen. I’m going to school to learn all the things I need to know to start my career there or wherever, but it’s going get me somewhere where I can use all these new skills I have acquired living in Madrid for two years. It’s not going to be easy (especially considering I still have no job in Barcelona), but I can’t wait to close my eyes, jump in head first and when I come up, see what it’s like on the other side.

Write more later,

Graham

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End of another school year

(Foreword to the reader: To clarify any confusion that may arise from this post, I am not leaving Spain. I am moving from Madrid to Barcelona in September to pursue a master’s degree in International Relations. Please read on…)

As I’m sitting here in this coffee shop, the one that Chris Kelley and I sat in on our first day back in Madrid after our two-year spans of impatiently waiting to graduate college to finally get to move back to our favorite place, Spain, the sudden realization of my second year coming to an end hit.

It’s almost over.

This life I’ve been living isn’t real. It can’t be real. None of it seems real. Language is faded in the distance, cultures, societies, countries, cities, buildings, food, people; it’s all just an illusion in a painting. These places don’t really exist. These people don’t really exist. Only really talented authors can create such rich characters and places. It just can’t be real. It can’t be.

But it so strongly is.

The past few weeks, I’ve been running around town trying to buy souvenirs, pack up my stuff, throw away all the old clutter and clear out for my next step in life. It’s almost unfathomable for me to imagine actually leaving Madrid. It’s still easily my favorite place in the world, and it’s the place I’ve tried so hard to get to for as long as I can remember. And now, willingly, I’ve decided to leave it all behind.

I’ve had two incredible years here that have forever changed me in thousands of ways: the way I think, the person I am now, and even the way I communicate. Not to mention being bilingual certainly has its rewarding benefits as well.

I began to go through all the things I’ve had stored in crammed drawers, toppled shelves and overcrowded bookcases. I started to uncover all of the things I thought I’d want to save. I opened the lid to my secret souvenir box. Ryanair boarding passes to a handful of places, Spanish train tickets, French metro passes, Italian travel guides, Portuguese city maps, and an endless amount of museum ticket stubs from all over Europe. I held on to each thinking that I’d like to have it in the future. But as I ponder back to whatever the trip or day or place was, it’s no longer about having that as a souvenir. Yes, living in Europe still blows my mind every time I think about being an expatriate in such a wonderful place, but now these things aren’t just paper-waste memories that I’ll be taking back home to show my friends and family. They’re now a part of my life. So instead of bringing them back to Denver to show off what I’ve done, maybe this summer I’ll be saving ticket stubs to museums and bus passes to bring back with me to my new home here in Spain.

I begin to throw more paper-souvenir things away. Each one getting heavier and more difficult to trash. I start to think about the times, the people, the excitement, the adventures. And then I’m almost incapable of throwing out one single more, and I’m at the point of pulling the rest out of the trash and putting them safely back inside the box I’ve left on my bottom shelf where they’ve resided for the past two years.  But I continue to toss them away. As the past goes into the trash, I think about where I’m going to be in the future. Where am I going to end up? Will I just have these ancient memories and plane ticket stubs to remember my European experience by? Or will this become my future?  I want it to, and I’m going to do all I can to make it so.

Aside from cleaning up, I´ve been in search of the last few little token and mementos I can bring back home. It’s impossible to summarize my version of Spain or Madrid in a simple souvenir. I can give shot glasses and Real Madrid t-shirts, but who really cares? It’s difficult to know what to bring back to friends and family who’ve never seen the things I’ve seen. And half the time, I think that many of them don’t even care. Or it’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t have the drive to come out and live these experiences I have everyday for whatever reason. So maybe they would be fine with a tacky tourist t-shirt that says I heart *enter city name here*. But I want to give them something that represents the experiences to me. The next best idea that occurs to me is giving someone something from one of my trips. Maybe a book. Maybe an old postcard that I’ve written a letter to no one on the back. Maybe my backpack. Maybe pictures I’ve taken.

I uncovered several books that I read this past year. Many that I’d like to bring home with me and reread in years to come. But as I picked up one not in particular and thought that I could use it as a souvenir, I thought about whether or not the person would even care to get a book. It’s just a book. And it’s most likely in English. In fact, I probably bought it used off of the UK’s Amazon website. But as I flip through the book’s pages, I remember reading it and where I was in Europe at the time. I always travel with a book, and I think about the destinations we’ve seen together. I pull out a blue pen and write on the first page.

To: Friend

I hope you appreciate this book and take it on as many wonderful adventures as I did.  This book and I went to Poland or Germany or Holland or… together and we saw this and we did that and you didn’t so to show for it, you’re getting this book.  Thought you might like this one since I really enjoyed it.

Love, Graham

But that’s not a gift. That’s just a small piece to the picture. It may be heartfelt and sentimental and true (there are many  books I will be giving to friends this summer because I know they’ll love them), but those books mean the most to me al fondo.  The pages hold unwritten meanings only understood by me. Do my friends care about something that means a lot to me, to my experience out here in Europe? Sometimes I feel as if they’d wish I’d just stop and come home. God knows my mother prays for that day in and day out.

But I can’t go home. Not yet. I’m just getting started.

I’ve begun to think of all the things I’ve accomplished this past year. I know that I’ve felt somewhat restrained with my job this year since I’ve had more responsibility and more working hours. I’ve had a great teaching experience, but not the most amazing experience in terms of living abroad as a young person should have.  At least it wasn’t as exciting as my first year. But maybe that’s because it was just that, my first year.

This year, I had a job for someone settled down. I’d love the job if I were older, already with a family and all that. But for a youngster like me, it was too much. I can already hear my father’s voice in my head saying something like, “Welcome to the real world,” we all have to work. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Why work so much? Since I started working more, as well as my flat mates, we all got stuck in a rut this year. We didn’t meet as many people, we didn’t go to as many parties, we didn’t socialize as much. That’s not to say we didn’t do things. I was able to explore other parts of my life since I now had more money and was pretty comfortable with my life here in Madrid. For example, I’ve been able to study French and for most of the year, I’ve taken it pretty seriously.  Also, I’ve read a lot of books which I think I only read like two last year. This year, I’ve devoured more history books than I think I did when I was studying history as a major back in college.

This year, I also traveled much more and got to see a lot of Europe that was previously unexplored by me. I dedicated much of my first year to only traveling around Spain to learn the language and really discover the culture. So this year, I decided to leave Spain more. I got to see a whole number of great places, and because of already having lived a year in Madrid, I had friends all over so I got to see some places up close and personal with some locals (for example my trips to Brussels with Chloé, or to France with Chloé’s family, or to Ponferrada with Marta, or to Paris with Britt where we met up with friends of mine, or to London with Alejandra.)  But there were also lots of other trips where we knew absolutely nothing and just fully explored and gutted the place making more new friends from all over the world.

So now it’s time for goodbye. Last Friday, I said goodbye to Robert, who is one of the children I’ve been giving private lessons to for about two years. Robert was my oldest pupil (12-years old) and I taught him Friday afternoons which kind of sucked for the both of us, but it’s the only way our schedules worked. But let me say that Robert always made my entire weekend. I always had such a great time teaching him because he was such a cool kid, a good student and he speaks really good English. After leaving his classes, I always felt invincible and energized.  I’ll really miss teaching him. He was the start of my weekends and definitely the best part of them.

That’s Robert!

This week, I’ll be saying goodbye to my other pupils which will be almost impossible. There’s Alvaro and Lucia who are just wonderful. Alvaro is already practically fluent and the kid is only 10. Lucia, who is only 8, has a perfect American English accent. I always had to ask if she was American or Spanish. She’d always turn red in the face and immediately blurt out at me that she definitely wasn’t American (god forbid!) They are some of the best behaved kids I’ve ever seen and I can honestly say that if I were ever to have kids, I’d hope they’d turn out like these two.

Alvaro and Lucía

Then there’s Luis and José Miguel. My two little buddies. These two are the funniest little whippersnappers one could meet. Both very brilliant personalities and completely opposite builds, these two always made me laugh. They have shown so much progress in the past two years that it’s almost unbelievable. I’m going to miss going down to their courtyard to play football (these guys needed a small break from class time to time) and just mess around with these guys (yes, there was English teaching somewhere in with all the games and sports.) It’s going to kill me to say goodbye.

Me and the boys (and Toy their dog)

Today, was my last day at my instituto. And none of the students came. I didn’t really get to say goodbye to any of them. Maybe it’s best that way. But there were several that made such a huge impression on me that I’ll really miss them, whether or not I’ll be able to express that to them.

However, the hardest goodbyes are the last ones to come when I say goodbye to my best friends here in Madrid. Fortunately Barcelona isn’t too far from Madrid and I’m sure I’ll be seeing them frequently.

It’s hard saying goodbye, but honestly, I’m really ready. I’m ready to leave here and start something new. I’m not happy to leave my friends or the lifestyle we’ve created here in Madrid, but I’m ready to start fresh. I’m ready to meet new people, I’m ready to learn even more, and I’m ready to really make myself international. I’ve been living abroad and I speak two languages, but now I’m going to project myself into that professional international working world (scary!) And I couldn’t be more excited to really get out there and explore what opportunities there are.

Alongside my master’s, I’m going to continue studying French. I’m going to do intercambios to meet more people. I’m going to these social events like cocktail and happy hours for all these international companies. I’m going to meet people and I’m going to continue to learn more about the lives of others, their cultures, and their languages.

Just yesterday, Carlo’s parents came over to leave him something.  Carlo had warned me beforehand that they’d be stopping by since I was the only one at home. They came in and we began communicating in a mix of Spanish, English, and Italian. I actually spoke to them in Italian. I don’t even speak Italian! But that shows how much my life has changed living out here. I’ve lived with people from all over Europe and since I’ve spent so much time with all the Italians here, I’ve certainly picked up on a few things I didn’t even know I knew how to say.  Even amongst my English speaking friends here, our lexicons have become so completely messed up that even in our common language, we now throw in many Spanish and Italian expressions that would be incomprehensible for someone outside of our group.

It’s just all of this. All of this combined. This unreal time I’ve lived. I can’t give up and I have to keep going because I love it. I love my international life. So here’s to the end of an amazing year and to the start of the summer and fresh slate in a new city this fall to really start my expatriate life.

Write more later very soon, I’ve got four trips coming up to Brussels, Galicia, Barcelona, and Brescia!,

Graham

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