People always ask me “Why did you move to Madrid?” and I always reply “Short version: I wanted a change of scenery.” While that is true, here is the long version.
I have lived in Florida almost all my life but I never really felt like I fit in. Growing up in Florida shaped my worldview and pushed me to seek out new and exciting places. While I have lived in Illinois and Ireland for my academic career, it wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I felt I had the opportunity to be myself for the first time. I love NYC: the constant movements of the city, the opportunities to challenge yourself, the lessons the city can teach you.
I was recharged to finish my Ph.D. in Archaeology. After finishing my Ph.D., however, I felt drained, damaged and just relieved it was over. It had been a rough ten years, especially the last three. Constantly writing and rewriting. Editing. Worrying. All while trying to hold down a job in archaeology and maintaining something of a personal life. The anxiety attacks that I had experienced almost daily during the writing phase seemed to remain as a constant reminder of the trauma even after receiving my degree. At a time when I should have felt proud and motivated, I felt the opposite. Most of all, I felt a complete loss of control. And I made many mistakes while I was trying to regain some feeling of control again. This among other reasons caused an immense rift in my marriage to my high school sweetheart and biggest supporter.
We were supposed to go to Iceland and end in Ireland for my graduation celebration. Considering the problems we were having, I thought it best if I went alone. So I went to Iceland alone.
This trip was the best decision I could have ever made. It was the first time I traveled for myself by myself. It was intensely frightening but overwhelmingly therapeutic. I rented a car and drove around the whole country, stopping whenever and wherever I wanted. I went to impressive bathhouses, walked volcano craters, touched the black sand of the beaches. The landscape offered a catharsis to the years of anxiety I had been experiencing and (unknown to me) this trip would offer a point of strength for me to rely on for months to come. The first day back to work after the trip I was called into my boss’s office and was told I was being let go due to downsizing. That night I went to a marriage counseling session and both of us expressed our wishes to get a divorce. So, in one day my life changed completely. I had no job, no marriage, no apartment, no money. But I had not lost everything. I still had my amazing friends and family to help pick me up and encourage me.
It was when I moved in with my sister back in Florida where I first heard of the opportunities to teach English in another country. I was applying to jobs anywhere and everywhere I could think of. Flight attendant, waitress on a cruise ship, tour guide in Africa, postdoc positions in India. And then I saw an advertisement for a TEFL course and job opportunity to teach English in Spain. I thought, why not? I had nothing to lose. I had never been to Madrid before but if I didn’t like it, I could just pack up and go somewhere else. It was an adventure, right?
On the night of the presidential election, I booked my flight to Madrid for December 31, 2016 (poetic, right?). On New Year’s Day, I landed in Madrid, with a nervous exhaustion and three pieces of luggage. I had a week before the TEFL course started to get acquainted with my new home. I remember walking into the Retiro Park for the first time and knowing I made the right decision. I fell in love with Madrid almost immediately. I didn’t expect to fall in love so hard. Honestly, I was just looking for a place that wasn’t familiar. A place where I could heal. And that’s what Madrid did and so much more. I walked the streets of Lavapies and La Latina and it felt as if Madrid was holding me, almost whispering, “You are going to be ok” in my ear.
Madrid is that kind of city. The people are very helpful and friendly. So much so that I didn’t realize one very attractive man was flirting with me when he offered to help me order my breakfast when I was at a café one day in February. We talked that whole morning, went to an MC Escher exhibit together and later went to lunch. From that day on, we have been traveling and exploring together.
We have traveled to Ireland, Egypt, Belgium, Portugal and the US not to mention exploring Spain itself.
The more places I visit in Spain, the more in love I become. Sevilla, Barcelona, Asturias, Galicia, Mallorca, La Rioja, Guadalajara, Lanzarote, Cádiz and San Sebastián. And we are looking forward to continue traveling. We are going to Granada in October and New York in December. I am still teaching English and just this year I founded my own teaching company called Ingles con Julie.
Hitting refresh was difficult. I didn’t want to. I loved my life in New York and didn’t want to leave. I am sure I could have hit refresh in New York. I thought, however, this was an opportunity to do something different. Like I said, I had nothing to lose. And I have not looked back since. I am so thankful for the pain, the uncertainty, and the fear that I felt before. If I had never gone through those moments in my life, I don’t know if I would be where I am today. And for that, I wouldn’t change a second.
And our next adventure? Adding a little explorer to our family! We are pregnant and cannot wait for this next chapter in our lives.