It is, at once, hard to believe and completely unsurprising that I'm writing this post. We've been living in Spain for exactly a year! (Well, okay, and a week or so. The official date was this last Sunday...) I read the posts I wrote after we'd been here for two months (here), four months (here), my wild, all-over-the-place thoughts about returning to Spain last summer (here), and after eight months in Spain (here) and while I read each one I had different thoughts. Mostly, though, I thought, "Well, it's no wonder we're still here!"
I read about our highs and lows and really challenging moments and the things we've had trouble finding (many of which I'm happy to say we've now become self-proclaimed experts at finding here in Madrid!) and all that we've fallen in love with about Spain. And now as I sit in our third apartment as a married couple, our second in Spain, on this gloriously sunny and warm day in March, I'm a little speechless (hard to believe as I type away as though I have plenty of words. But I have spent a lot of time just sitting and looking at the screen and lots more time thinking about this milestone of sorts while walking, riding public transit, waiting between classes, and even while teaching).
We've spent 25% of our marriage living in Spain and I am not about to turn this post into "What Living Abroad Has Done to Our Marriage: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" (although I will store that one away for future reference) but I will say that I think the good has outweighed the bad. For sure. Living outside of your country of origin and your comfort zone stretches you pretty much daily and it can bring out the worst in you as an individual (or the best! you choose! but we've seen plenty of both.) and the same can be said for your marriage, I think. Living abroad while married, well, it can be hard. But really, really rewarding. I've gone through every single photo we've taken in the past year while trying to delete some and clear up space on the computer and have been struck by what a fun, fabulous travel companion and partner Danny is. Really. He's a champion.
Since we started this journey in September 2016 (we spent six weeks last spring in Scotland, plus four months last summer in Colorado, which is why our year-mark falls in the beginning of March instead of the end of September), we've been as far west as Porto, as east as Vienna, as south as Rabat, and as far north as the Isle of Skye. We've seen amazing architecture, we've swum in new seas, we've eaten new foods, and we've met kind, generous, and interesting people every step of the way who've changed how we see ourselves and the world around us.
The majority of my hardest cultural and language moments and the like have happened here in Spain, though that's probably since it's where we've spent the bulk of our time. It's where we live and work. This past week or so I've certainly had my share, but I also had some of my sweetest...
The girls that I pick up from school 3-4 days a week come from the greatest family. From the first day we all met each other, I knew I was going to take the job, and I was going to have a hard time quitting. Their mother has made doctor's appointments for me and taken me to them, called my insurance (all because of my limited Spanish!), and when we were having an especially rough time with our apartment, she and her husband translated our lease and walked us through our options to help us get out of it. Last week I was really having a go of it with allergies (or something!) and they are really in tune to how I am doing, even if I never say anything. So, after asking me a bunch of questions, digging through their medicine cabinet and not finding what she was looking for, the girls' mom took me to their local pharmacy, talked to the pharmacist about what medication would be best for me with my symptoms (things work a bit differently here!) and bought me whatever was recommended. A few days later the girls' father asked me how I was feeling, if the medicine was helping, and said if I want to go to the doctor or allergist, please, please, please don't hesitate to tell either one of them and they will make me an appointment or go with me or both or do whatever it takes. I mean...this is above and beyond, am I right?
I know I mentioned it before (in the fall?), but these are not the only people who love us a lot here. We have good friends who we are really thankful for, and moments (milestones? Can we call it a milestone?) like these remind me that we should tell them how much we love them and are grateful for them more often. Our involvement this year at our church, with Madrid for Refugees, and at our schools have all helped us feel more rooted and established in this city as well. We've found a few places to belong in a few corners of Madrid, and just like anywhere, it makes all the difference.
Daily life is humming along. School is pretty good for both of us. Some days I like my classes and sometimes I have a class I want to leave and never to return to. (Okay, I've only really had one or two of those. Kids (people) can be...challenging.) Last Friday I had two students out in the hall practicing for their 1st Certificate English Exam and we stayed out the whole hour talking and laughing (till we cried!) about fashion and food and music and careers (all practice questions for the exam, I promise!) but it made up for the day before when I was blinking back tears of frustration.
Our Spanish level is gradually improving - perhaps Danny's a bit quicker than mine. I feel like I'm picking it up at a much faster rate than I was at any point last year because I'm constantly surrounded by it at school. Last year we were pretty insulated from Spanish aside from when we went to the grocery store or a restaurant and even then we were hardly getting any exposure. But now, I hear kids and teachers speak it all day. Even in English classes, let's be honest: kids are speaking Spanish constantly. And teachers use it pretty frequently, too, depending on the level of the kids, for explanations, clarification, etc. So, while I still don't speak loads of Spanish, and that's really no one's fault but my own (of course), I do know and understand much more than I did six months ago, simply by being surrounded by it every day, and it helps that most of my classes are 2nd and 3rd grade - kids speak at a level I can typically (kind of!) follow along with :)
We ate churros and chocolate together last Sunday night on our Spanish anniversary and talked about our twelve favorite moments in Spain (you know, for the twelve months we've spent here...). Some of the things tossed out were our road trip around Basque country last September, walks around Retiro and the Río, day trips from Madrid, like Toledo and Ávila, spending time with friends, and funny moments with our students. We also ordered a lot less churros than we have in the past...we've learned that we don't need two cups of chocolate and twelve churros to be satisfied ;)
It might seem like the natural way to end this post is "What's next?" Not necessarily. But, since you asked...this upcoming weekend we're taking advantage of a long weekend and going back to Portugal, which was our first trip outside of Spain (see more here! We loved Porto!), and this time we're going to Lisbon. We're nailing down our summer plans, part of which include eagerly anticipating a visit from my parents here in Madrid. Oh and we are planning to return to teaching in the fall! We have lots of details to iron out between now and September, but that's okay. One day at a time...and today's going to be another lovely spring day, so I'm going to enjoy the weather, and the fact that we can leave the windows open during the day again and hang the laundry out to dry on the line.