Once a month, my boyfriend and I go to the same Japanese restaurant in Malaga for an endless sushi special. We have been doing this for 9 months now. At this point, we are “regulars.” The waiters and waitresses know us. They know that we are not Spanish, but we are locals. They know we speak English and have passable Spanish. They know I cannot seem to grasp the concept of eating with chopsticks. 🙂 Even though we see these familiar faces only once a month, it has become comforting to become known to someone, anyone.
Every weekend, usually Sunday afternoons, we go to the local castle bar for some study time and usually some tea and wine too, the latter being my study drink of choice. The barista that works in the castle cafe knows us too. She knows us as the local, yet foreign couple, who comes on weekends to work– at a castle. The view is incredible though! It doesn’t get much better. We also have made friends with the stray cats of the fortress, and we take them food when we can remember. The barista knows us for this, and she rewards us with large servings of tea and wine.
These acquaintances, as simple as they are, are comforting to me. The nod of acknowledgment in the waiter’s face when we walk in; the warm greeting of the cafe barista and the subsequent special treatment we get from her. To me, these are things that make a place a home.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to life in Europe this go-round. It has taken me a long time to become fully happy. Many people would hear that and think, What a brat. Look where she is! And she isn’t happy? FYI I don’t actually know anyone who has vocalized that– everyone has been sympathetic to my struggles.
The concept of “home”
We all know that home is a feeling rather than a place. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tangible aspects to the definition. In my experience this year I’ve learned that family, friends, familiarity, routine, and a sense of belonging are essential to my being. These reasons are exactly why it’s been so difficult to adjust to life here. I may be with L, the love of my life, but I’m not near the rest of my family. I have friends here, but it’s taken me a long time finding my “people.” But now that I have, life has gotten much happier. Happiness is often a matter of trial and error. I’ve tried and failed at many things in order to find what and whom I can really jive with. This includes relationships, studies, jobs, and even friendships.
Making friends in adulthood
L and I discussed that making friends in adulthood is a little more difficult- not because we lack the social skills or even tools. Now, more than ever, we have access to apps, invites, exchanges, meetups, and many opportunities to make new friends. But making friends as a foreigner in adulthood is daunting. I mean, I have my friends at home, right? As much as I love my home-friends, they are not here right now and I crave friendship and personal interaction. Not only do I deserve it, but I need it too. Friendship is part of my necessaries for making a home.
I have a smattering of friends that I’ve made here, but it takes many tries to find your “people.” Making friends is actually a lot like dating! 😀 You have to “date” friends to see if it’s going to work out or not. It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made some Spanish girlfriends, who happen to adore Harry Potter and Disney (!!!) as much as I do. They are sweet with the purest hearts and welcomed me into their friends’ group without hesitation. My life has brightened significantly with them in it. Or as we would say, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” 😉
Sense of belonging and purpose
Before my big European move, I was a full-time employee, volunteer for various organizations, with a social life that had a lot of demands (and rewards!). I was a busy bee, and I always needed to be somewhere. Obviously, when I made the decision to completely shift gears and move to a totally new continent, I knew absolutely no one to begin with, and I had no immediate opportunities for volunteer work or a social life. I didn’t “need” to be anywhere. I had to start from scratch. This has been the biggest adjustment for me. Being a freelancer does not help matters. I often work all day by myself, and during those weeks, I feel like I become a different person. Personal interaction, even from people I don’t prefer (heehee) is hugely important to my daily needs and something I took for granted while working in an office. Even when I was doing work that was less-than-rewarding, I still had somewhere to be every morning. I had a daily sense of belonging. My volunteer work gave me a sense of purpose. I was technically fulfilled in those areas.
I’ve had to work extra hard to seek out that interaction here in Spain. I started taking Spanish class again in October, and my classmates are stellar people. My twice-weekly class gives me a place to be. People are expecting my presence. I’m not changing any lives or doing anything detrimental, but my attendance is appreciated. This is a pleasant change from my LSAT studies- where I study for hours by myself with no end or no reward in sight.
Changing my mindset: Foreigner no more
Have you noticed how many times I’ve said “foreign” in this post? I mean, hello, it’s in the title! I realized that if that’s how I thought of myself, that’s how life was going to be for me. Foreign. Different. Out of place. You cannot think of yourself that way if you want to be successful anywhere. I’m not foreign. I’ve been here for a long time. I have made a valiant effort to learn the language. I have favorite places, people, and food. I have favorite cafes, favorite terraces, and favorite spots on the beach. I still get lost everyday, and there is so much to discover here still. But I am not foreign. I belong.
Revised title: Making a Home in a New Place
Love, hope & peace to you all! Have a splendid week. Happy Thanksgiving, Americanos! ❤