It started at birth
I guess you could say I have been exposed to different cultures since birth. My mom is from Colombia, my dad from Iran, and I was raised in Houston, Texas. Even though I was a multicultural kid, I was never really interested in seeing the world. In my mind, other countries were like the U.S., except they spoke a different language.
Luckily I made friends with some foreign-exchange students in high school which sparked a curiosity to explore beyond my backyard. My wanderlust journey started at the age of 17 when I took my first trip abroad to the Netherlands to visit my best friend who had moved back home. Little did I know that this trip would impact all my decisions moving forward; career, relationships, even family—all would take a backseat to my obsession with travel. I came back from that trip intoxicated with curiosity and 20 years later, at 37, I’m still addicted to the high of exploring the world.
The Spanish love affair begins and ends
I’ve had a long love affair with Spain, first spending a summer here when I was 21, then living here on and off between the ages of 26 and 30. Of all the cities I’ve been to, Madrid always felt like a place my gypsy heart could possibly settle down in, at least for a bit.
When I was 30, I graduated from a masters program in the city and thought I might work in the Middle East for a few years before finding my way back to Europe, but life had other plans. Due to some traumatic events, I had to move to Austin, Texas to help my family and ended up staying there for four years.
Austin is a wonderful city, but it was never part of my life plan, however, I adapted to it quickly by shutting out the greater world around me (for the first time!). I had a very comfortable life there: I had a condo, a job that I enjoyed, a new car, two dogs, and for the first time since college, a routine, structured lifestyle. You could say I was adulting.
I’m a person who enjoys change, embraces it, creates it, purposely disrupts routine, and revels in the discomfort of the unknown. Shaking my life up so that no two years looked the same was my modus operandi. So this placid lifestyle was new to me, but I willingly took to it quite naturally. My life changed very little from year to year in Austin, which was a good thing. Stillness and predictability is exactly what I needed to heal from the trauma I had suffered. My former life of traipsing around the world, obsessing about the next multi-month trip, and fantasy of settling in Madrid had become the memories of someone that wasn’t present in me anymore…or so I thought.
Some flames never die
It wasn’t until I took a trip to Morocco in 2014 with a running group from Austin—which is where I met my She Hit Refresh partner in crime Annette— I unexpectedly awakened the desire of who I had been. The trip took me through Madrid for a few days and I am so fortunate that it did because it acquainted me with my former life, my former self.
Exploring the city again with old friends reminded me of the joy that was lacking in my life in Austin. I had become a hermit and a homebody and now I was reliving life in the big city. Being in Madrid, I felt like my whole self again: electrified, invigorated, alive.
After returning to Austin and digesting the whole experience, I started to realize that an integral part of who I am had been dormant for the past four years. Although I had still traveled abroad and explored new interests in Austin, looking back it felt like I had been sleepwalking through it all. And so returned that ole desire to change and disrupt my life. I let myself toy with the idea of moving back to Madrid and the idea quickly turned into a plan, an exit strategy. Within a year of that trip I quit my job, paid off my debt, looked for a tenant, sold my car, and packed my life into a storage space. At the age of 35 I found myself moving back to Madrid!
How I moved back to Spain at 35
As an American it’s very hard to get a visa to live and work in Europe, so I came to Madrid on a visa to teach English and hoped to hustle and find a better job that would allow me to stay in the country. My first year was all about getting settled back into the city, exploring again (especially the nightlife), traveling, and sending out resumes left and right. Luck was on my side and in less than a year I interviewed with a Spanish start-up who hired me onto their marketing team and agreed to sponsor my work permit. The whole experience of working as a professional in a foreign country, in a foreign language, was thrilling. I was quickly promoted to manager of my team but the long hours, inflexibility, and low pay took its toll. I was miserable and decided to make the difficult decision to leave my job which also meant losing my work permit. I luckily found a better gig and fulfilled my 2017 dream of finding a remote job and now work for an American travel company.
Making Madrid work
It’s now been a little over two years since I left Austin for Madrid and I can say that that it was the best decision of my 30s. I have experienced more change and disruption on this adventure than my entire time in Austin. I’ve found the joy that was once lacking and even when things aren’t going right, I still feel the most grounded I have ever felt.
Two years into this journey I feel like I am starting to hit my stride in Madrid, slowly discovering people who may be my tribe, and feel like I’m finally building a life here. As much fun as it has been to rediscover myself and the city, I don’t want to paint a picture that this has been easy. Transitioning from one world to another comes with daily challenges. I have experienced stress, disappointment, confusion, doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and a multitude of ups and downs and twists and turns. But all that is growth. I did it and I won’t have the regret of “what if.” Let’s see what the future holds.
**** This piece was written November 2017, to see what has happened since then come check out my 2018 Year in Review! So much has changed!****