A few weeks after I returned from Southeast Asia, I went to a Travel Massive event in San Francisco. Heading on the train to my favorite city, I was in much need of a travel fix. I had spent the majority of my time after returning to the U.S. at my parents’ house, scouring the internet for teaching jobs. I was thinking about going to South Korea, but my instincts told me that Spain should be my next destination. It was the first country I ever seriously wanted to visit, and twenty-something countries later, I still haven’t set foot on Spaniard soil.
After I got off the train, I walked in the windy chill of San Francisco’s city streets, and finally entered Monroe’s. I was greeted by a cheerful young woman with a palpable enthusiasm. She signed me in, gave me my name tag, and said, “Now, let’s get you a drink!”
As is custom, I met a lot of travelers from around the world that night, but I had an instant connection with Sofia. She had moved back to San Francisco not long before that after having spent a few years in Spain. (Again, the universe was throwing signs at me.) We chatted for awhile, and I asked her about her time in one of my most coveted destinations. After our conversation, it occurred to me that I wanted Sofia to share her story with you, too. So here it is, in her own words:
A Year in Spain: Anything is Possible
Guest Post by Sofia Teplitzky
I read an article last week about how Spain may possibly consider changing its wacky work week schedule to be more in line with the rest of the world and I shed a tear; an un-patriotic, what-the-fuck tear. Having been raised in The US where making to-do lists and 5-year plans are the norm, I used to think everyone in the world did the same.
After graduating from college and without the slightest clue of what I would do with my life, I moved to Spain to teach English. I had a “plan” to move to Spain to perfect my Spanish so I could have a better chance at that dream job. Because you always have a plan. That’s just what you do. Thankfully my plan felt a lot less exhausting than what I was taught: find your career path, settle down, get married. Those voices in your head telling you your internal time clock is ticking. Tick tock.
I had studied in Granada two years prior and without really knowing, fell in love with the lifestyle. No one ever asked me the question, “What are you doing with your life?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” People were content, they worked to live and they didn’t have to formulate a plan to feel like they were on the right path. You can live within the magic of the here-and-now. So my “plan” underneath it all was to live within that magic again.
When I moved to Zaragoza and taught at two different schools, I was thankful to experience that same lifestyle. We had 3-hour lunches during school days, siestas were acceptable (even if they took place in the teachers’ lounge) and at times the teachers would even grab a beer or two between classes. I can hear you gasping on the other side of the screen, but seriously teachers deserve to take the edge off. There were some things I didn’t like about what I saw in the classroom- discipline styles, for example. In Spain, there is such a thing as a dumb question; and if you ask one, you will be shot down immediately or maybe even sent to the principal’s office.
It was rough when I first discovered that grocery stores- and mostly all establishments- are closed on Sundays in Spain. Especially since the first time I learned the hard way, not having purchased my weekly groceries to prepare for the “Sunday Apocalypse.” But you adjust. Sunday then transforms into a day where streets are empty, days are spent relaxing with family or friends and there’s no such thing as a “honey-do list” because you are basically forced to just chill out for the whole day. I found the structure (or lack of structure) to be relaxing, but I always had the angst of needing a plan in the back of my mind.
I lived comfortably off $1000 a month. My rent was dirt cheap at $200 a month and I was able to travel once every few weeks. It seems like a crazy idea to Americans, but you have multiple cities and countries within a reasonable distance. Also, flights within the country are crazy affordable. With companies like RyanAir and EasyJet, I flew to Paris for $10 and The Canary Islands for $25, both round-trips. My friend Anne and I would literally research the cheapest flights and decide our weekend fate based on our findings. So whenever I hear anyone complain that the service is terrible on a RyanAir flight, I ignore them completely. Seriously though, what kind of service do you expect when you pay less than TWENTY DOLLARS for a round trip flight? As long as the plane doesn’t crash along the way, I’ll gladly let crying babies running up and down the aisles sing me to sleep.
And then you can’t forget the nightlife! Since dinnertime typically happens between 10pm-12am, you don’t even head to a bar until around 1am meaning the real partying takes place between 3am-7am. It’s quite liberating to take the bus home on a Friday morning at 8am when the rest of the world is in a business suit starting their workday, while your ears are still ringing loud with music from your night out. I felt alive when I threw my traditional agenda to the wind. Maybe don’t do that on a school night though; although they can’t tell you are slurring your words (perks to the language barrier), the kids can see you swaying back and forth like you’re onboard a boat in rough waters.
Spain has the work-life balance favoring life over work- arguably too much so- but if anything, we should be listening to them as opposed to the other way around. Since leaving Spain and returning to the US, I regrettably left the lifestyle behind thinking there was no other way. I forced myself to make some sort of plan for the next 5 years and at least try to accept the idea of a routine. I’ve been fighting it internally for the last year with every baited breath and only recently have I come to realize that I never needed to leave that piece of me behind in the first place. Every time I travel back to Spain, my general worries about the “future plans” are lifted off my shoulders. Only now, when returning to the Land Of The Over-Worked, I have consciously allowed myself to pick up those pieces I had left behind and bring them with me. And my, how light it feels.
If everyone had a spirit country, mine would be Spain. It was there that I traded in my 5-year plan for a spontaneous weekend trip to the countryside and it allowed me to create the space to a more deliberate and adventurous future. When we allow ourselves to live a little less traditionally, we find that what we really desire can take form in our lives in unexpected ways. And you can’t imagine the forms that manifest during the nights that end at 8 in the morning until you give it a try yourself!
Thank you so much, Sofia, for sharing your story and your love for Spain! It definitely does seem like a magical place. I can’t wait to visit! Have you been to Spain, and what was your experience?