The Guiri Complex (Or, Why I Can’t Have It All)

The other day, Seville was held hostage by light rain. I did a bit of puddle jumping, nearly taking out morning shoppers and walkers with my umbrella as I ran to catch the bus. The bus, in its normal fashion, stopped down the street and stayed there for five months.

As I tried to catch my breath, a man in his 70s covered me from the light sprinkle. He reeked of cigarettes and anise, just the way I like my Spanish abuelos. “Ofu, what a day,” he hacked, a small chuckle caught in his throat. We smiled at each other for a few moments before he offered a bit more, “Look at that bus, getting caught in traffic. People here don’t know what to do in the rain.”

It was my turn to chuckle. Being from Chicago, we’re used to two seasons in the year (winter and construction on the Dan Ryan) and four in one day. I can withstand heat and bitter cold, have survived three tornadoes and even learned to drive in the snow when I first got my driver’s permit. Upon mentioning this, the old man’s eyes lit up. “But your Spanish is impeccable! You may, in fact, be more sevillano than me!”

Aha, there it is. Whenever I seem to be out doing my normal guiri thing (in this case, picking up some forms for the academy), people stop to talk to me. Most are keen on touting my Spanish or are shocked that I moved away from home so young. Y tus padres? They ask, unable to fathom how a child would leave the comfort of their parents’ home, where laundry is done for them and tupperwares full of food dished out.

When my parents were visiting last year, my habits puzzled them. How could I be hungry at 3pm? What do you mean stores aren’t open on Sundays? You really do take a siesta? I didn’t come to Spain to simply hang out and learn some Spanish. I never set out to be Spanish or change my habits, either. What’s funny is that, the longer I live in Spain, the more American I seem to feel.

Just recently, an American food store opened up right in the center (and, ironically, in the same locale where I bought my flamenco dress). The chatter amongst my guiri friends was electric, with everyone sharing pictures of their goodies from the cell phones. When I announced, “I’m kind of against the store,” I got puzzled and even annoyed responses. How could I not love paying 2,50€ for two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I kid, and I almost did, except for that I already had some at home!).

Here’s the thing: the trips the Novio takes to the US always bring American gifts and the special treats my friends bring me on their visits are treated like contraband. I’ve left an entire box of Do-si-do Girl Scout cookies nearly untouched – I love opening my cupboard for some sugar to see them there. The Novio dutifully recites back what he needs to bring for Thanksgiving on his upcoming trip (and, bless his heart, he bought me new skivvies this summer at VS – it must be love), and my mother knows intuitively that I will always need greeting cards when she sends me a package. Just like in the Hunger Games, American Parcel Day means I won’t go empty-stomached.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, vanilla extract, economy-sixed boxes of Cheeze-its. The Novio would take me, wide-eyed and fistful of dollar bills, to the American part of his base for the contraband, usually in the form of cans of Dr. Pepper and ranch dressing. The anticipation of these trips would build and build until I’d consume the overly sweet soda, usually after hitting the gym (I don’t feel guilty, in case you were just wondering).

What’s more, I’ve finally gotten cooking and baking with limited resources more or less figured out, and having all of those things so readily available would take the fun out of it.

Another case in point: When I visited my cousin for Oktoberfest, I nearly had a heart attack when we went into the grocery store on her Army base. For the first time in a year, I was technically on American soil, but my carry-on restrictions meant I had to pick and choose the most important goodies. Reese’s, Funfetti cake mix and cranberry sauce made the cut, and I almost sighed from relief that I didn’t have much room between Camarón and the dirndl. When I enquired about German beer, Christyn said it was only sold in the nearby gas station. Apparently Bud Light > Paulaner (wtf).

I think there’s a big difference between me and them: They came for work and because the Army required time abroad at one of the overseas bases. I came because moving to Spain sounded like a fun way to skip out of America for a year. I didn’t come for anyone but myself; I came for the adventure and the chance to learn Spanish, and I stayed for the culture, the challenge and the Novio (duh, and the food).

Perhaps it’s the fact that Seville continues to modernize, taking with it some of the old world charm that had me so smitten in the first place. As my friend Mickey pointed out, there were no Starbucks when she came to Seville eight years ago, and now there are three on the same stretch of street (and this was once my homesickness remedy). Souvenir stores have elbowed out century-old hardware stores in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, and there’s English everywhere I turn. My ciudad de alma is starting to seem a lot like any mid-sized American city, and it’s stinging a little bit.

But don’t get me wrong: I relish in the fact that the TDT finally works and I can watch TV in English. Hamburgers, guacamole and roast chicken get made just as often in our home as fabada and tortilla francesa do. I speak just as much English each day as I do Spanish. America is where I lived the first 22 years of my life, and I consider it my home.

There’s much more to it than looking the part with my freckles, blue eyes and reddish hair against the dark Andalusian beauties. The first time the Novio saw me in a flamenco dress, his eyes lit up a bit, and then he just laughed at a beef-loving American stuffed into a traje de gitana. Try as I might, I look the part and even act it. Nevermind that I am a card-carrying resident of the EU, that I belong to a country club and that my partner serves in the Spanish military. I still believe that arriving on time is late, that one can only stay up so long on weeknights (even when she works at 3pm) and that the 4th of July is the best damn date on the calendar because, let’s face it, I love hot dogs and fireworks more than jamón and bullfights.

The Guiri Complex is just that: the inability to really feel like both of your feet are in the same place. My heritage and my native tongue make me a hot commodity in Spain, meaning I’ll always have a means to stay here and work. I’m the lovable friend who makes language blunders and bakes brownies for birthdays, the affable guiri, or foreigner,  in the group.

My friends back home think that living in Spain must be romantic and full of sunshine and trips. It is and it isn’t. If I lived in America, I’d be working, paying bills and contemplating what to make for dinner. I do that in Spain, too. The currency I use for the ingredients for that dinner are bought in euros and sometimes have funny names, but it’s really no different. In fact, I’m often jealous that my friends are all so close to one another, can be at one another’s weddings and make a salary that allows them some luxuries.

I sometimes feel like I live in a strange cross between everything I knew as a kid and the excitement of experiencing a new culture and language from the ground. I still cling to my American traditions and comfort food, but have adopted new holidays and a more adventurous palate. I’m constantly torn between two places where it feels like my heart belongs: Seville and Chicago.

Do you experience the guiri complex? Are your feet in just one bucket, or in both? And how do you cope?

Seville Snapshots: Un Poquiño da Coruña

Galicia, the region resting quietly above Portugal, is one of my favorite parts of Spain. Just this week I turned in my final project for my master’s, said adiós to my mom until Christmas and flew up to La Coruña, where I’ve spent the last four summers eating octopus and drinking yummy Estrella Galicia working at a summer camp (for real, I work my culito off!).

Coruña is a mid-sized town on the coast, sitting on a peninsula that stretches between a cresent beach and a bustling port. It’s often called the Crystal City because of the way the sun hits the large windows and the glimmer it leaves on the cool water of the Cantabric. I love its food, its people, its singsong language, and it feels like a second home to me.

After I spend three weeks at camp as the Big Bad Boss Lady (while eating at La Bombilla, drinking crisp Albariño wine and hanging out on the pebbly Orzán beach), I’ll join my friend Hayley in Asturias and walking 200+ miles along the coast and back to Galicia on the Camino de Santiago. I’m doing it for charity, so if you’re keen, read my reasons for walking or follow along on twitter and instagram at #CaminoFTK.

Have you ever been to Galicia? Check out my related posts on Coruña if you’re interested in all things gallego, and consider visiting this little-known region.

Seville Snapshots: Laid Back at Puerta Jerez

As an adopted Sevillana, I have my haunts: from La Grande’s red awning to the little corner of Las Golondrinas, tucked beneath the squares, within earshot of Pepe who shouts, Niiiiiiñaaaa, tu champiiii!  And despite tracing and retracing my steps all over Sevilla, they’re places I can’t tire of. Puerta Jerez is another, an old city plaza that’s usually my gateway into the city center. Apart from its beauty, it’s lively and romantic.

Alexis of Never Leave Here writes:

Though I was only in Sevilla for a couple of days, I already felt like I got a sense for the lifestyle there. I live in Madrid now and life can be hectic sometimes with people rushing around ready to get down to business. I was impressed by Sevilla’s vibe: laid back and joyful.

I spent over an hour here behind the Fuente de la Puerta de Jerez as the sun went down, just watching families take an ice cream break (even in December!) and street musicians set up, play and leave as the sun started to set. In the last few months of living in Spain, I’ve been to quite a few cities and Sevilla is the only one I really want to get back to. I loved the pace of life there – not to mention the food and music were among the best I’ve experienced yet in the country. I can’t wait to return!

Have photos of Seville or Spain to share? I gladly accept them! Send me an email to sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com, or upload to my Facebook page.

Alexis lives in Madrid where she teaches English to pay the bills and writes about travel, food, photography and her love for all things vintage on her blog, Never Leave Here. 

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Making the Choice to Live Abroad (and Stay)

My first steps in Spain landed in a big wipeout.

Armed with two suitcases, a carry-on and my laptop bag, I tried to hoist my backpack onto my bag, using a round, aluminum can as a platform from which to ease my arms into the padded straps.

Yes, I brought all of that with me. Two free pieces of luggage? Those were the days.

 

And I fell, right on my culo. I roared with laughter, falling over on my side and howling. That’s just kind of been my story in Spain.

After five years of living abroad, I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to live a life abroad in sunny Spain. The reasons that have kept me here are quite simple – ask any of my dozen friends who have been here to visit over the last few years, question my parents, read this blog start to finish in one sitting to really swallow the heartbreak of defeat, the uncertainness of a new relationship, crap work experiences. I have slowly made my life in Spain, from the first few shaky steps and the fall on my butt to establishing my version of happiness in my little burbuja in Seville.

—–

Studying abroad is what made me want to move away from the US in the first place. Perhaps after reading too many of those Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul books, I decided that living abroad was ever going to happen, it needed to be right after graduation.

 

Just days before commencement, the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program offered me  visa and the promise of a job in a high school somewhere in Andalucia. The summer before leaving was full of hurried preparations, tearful goodbyes, and a yo-yo like inner peace with my decision. I kept telling myself it was just eight months, and that no one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home.

My reasons were simple enough: to learn Spanish and travel during a second chance at studying abroad. DJ Yabis, the blogger behind Dream Euro Trip had similar intentions. He writes: I wanted to study and live in Europe so I applied for a prestigious full scholarship (read: tuition, roundtrip flights, insurance and monthly allowance for 2 years) sponsored by the European Commission and GOT IT! Similarly, Mariann Kun-Szabo of tiny girl with a big bag said: I was selected for a scholarship to spend my internship in Spain, with all the costs covered, then I could not stop traveling. Like DJ and Marianne, I had an opportunity fall right in my lap to obtain a visa, work and live in Europe for eight months.

Then suddenly, a week before my plane took off rumbo Madrid, I felt like Spain was where I needed to be. On the plane I went, waving giddily to my parents as I skipped through security at O’Hare and into the International Departures terminal.

My year was not without its ups and downs – I struggled to learn Spanish, had trouble making friends and tried to not think about the life I was putting on hold for a year. Facebook became my enemy, my Skype calls home barely concealed my homesickness. I felt that every label I’d ever used to describe myself had suddenly been stripped away, leaving me fumbling for some sense of self-awareness. But I met the Novio, and he was worth sticking around for. My Spanish Adventure began to take root.

—–

I have started looking at my life in terms of school years, just as I always have. After all, I’m a teacher and a student, and my worklife is measured in school years. My mother said, “Think of Spain as your super senior year of college.” Poor woman didn’t know I’d be on super senior year número six already, but giving myself a few months’ break in between keeps one foot in each bucket – one in España and the other in America. No one is really making my choose just one yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Seville throws me curveballs every other day it seems. If it’s not dropping my clothes out of the window when hanging them to dry (no tumble dryer), it’s the sting of not knowing if I’m always making the right decision. But the feel of the sunshine on my face, the fresh produce and the andalú that has kept me here. If I had to put it down in 25 words or less, I’d write that the folklore, the daily challenges and the blunders have kept me here, not to mention love.

—–

 

When I put the question to my readers, it was clear that moving abroad is a change that many have decided to make. Be it the draw of adventure or to try something new, the promise of fresh love, language learning and running your fingers along walls that have existed far longer than you have. Spain is the romantic realization of sultry Latin dreams and of wild jet-setter nights.

Many of them wrote that they, too, had been lured by Spain’s familiar, yet exotic traditions and the chance to live a new adventure. Jackie’s response that she ended up in her happy place, Shannon remarking “I’d love to live in a place where something centuries old is still considered new. I want the romance of history, culture and new adventures,” and Robin of A Lot of Wind just wanted the adventure: We chose to live abroad because we wanted to reach out and grab a bit of life that wouldn’t have dropped into our laps otherwise! And I just love how Marianne of East of Malaga summed it up: It’s a land of beauty, wine and dance – with always a hint of a little romance ;)

 

And I’m not the only one to follow my heart when it came to sticking around in Seville for more than just the sunshine and siestas. Four readers met their partner while on short-term stays in Spain:

Natalia’s husband danced right into her heart on a week-long trip to la Hispalense: Feria de Sevilla, 2009—I spotted a charismatic Sevillano in a caseta and asked him to dance. Happily married and still dancing sevillanas! while Kaley met hers after a pick-up basketball game in Salamanca while studying abroad: 2009 Salamanca. Basketball win. Hemos quedado. Spilled the wine. Climbed the cathedral. Fell in love. 3 years later: I said yes! And Steph of Discovering Ice uses her boyfriend as the perfect scapegoat for her wanderlust: I was in love with a Colombian who was literally half the world away…we just used travel as an excuse to be together! :)

I sometimes think how different my life in Spain would have been had I not accepted the invitation from Kate to go out the night the Novio and I met. Like Melanie: I met my Spanish husband on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres. One seat away then could have meant a world of difference now.

—–

Travel Bloggers’s responses interested me, too. As I make connection with like-minded travelers, I find that we have much more in common than the T-word. When it comes down to it, an adventurous spirit and the will to do something about it. When I think back on the times when Spain almost didn’t happen because of my own fears or the unwillingness to miss a Hawkeye Football season, I cringe at being so stupid. Alexandra Kovacova of Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler said: I hate boredom and wanted to learn more about this amazing world out there and different cultures. Raymond Walsh of Man on the Lam confessed: I wanted to cover the earth before it covered me.

Some worldly parents, like Talon Windwalker of 1Dad, 1Kid, 1Crazy Adventures said he “wanted my son to see the world and be raised as a global citizen & I wanted to get more living into our life,” whereas Durant Imboden told me that he “didn’t have a choice” because his parents took him along. My parents encouraged my traveling – even if it was just running from one end of the house to the other when I was a kid – and I feel I owe them for instilling an adventurous spirit and apetite for me, and taking me abroad when I was just old enough to have it stick in my head and put me on a direction for life.

Ash of The Most Alive hit the proverbial clavo on the head: Decided to build my life on the principles of adventure, learning and justice – not the social norms of 9-5 mortgage and retirement…
 
…now there’s something to live and travel up to.
 
Lex of Lex Paradise had the mentality for why I came, seizing a pasing opportunity and fulfilling a dream. He wrote: Well, I am now living in Spain as well ;) never thought but it just happened as it suppose to be ;)” which is why I’ve chosen for him to win the $15 Amazon Gift Card. I loved this project and the responses, so don’t forget that Karen’s book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, full of loads of laughs and sage advice, is available on Amazon for purchase (in paperback and Kindle format).

Seville Snapshots: NO8DO and Seville’s Most Popular Urban Legend

Nuzzled beneath the seated San Fernando, San Isidoro, and San Leandro on Seville’s city crest is the cryptic symbol: NO8DO. The city’s motto, No madeja do, commonly said as No me ha dejado, makes an appearance on everything from the city flag to the sides of city buses to the drain covers on busy roads.

The words NO and DO surround what resembles a figure 8. While I assumed it was an infinity sign and have heard it was supposed to represent hay, it’s actually a spool of yarn. The Spanish word for this is madeja, so together, the anagram is NO MADEJA DO, or in English: It [Seville] hasn’t left me.

The story behind the symbol (you can read it on  Inside the Travel Lab), isn’t as important as why it’s important to me.

When I received notice I’d be living in Seville in late June, 2007, I immediately consulted with my Alpha Delta Pi sorority sisters about the city that many had studied in. I got long mantilla-like sighs when they said, that city takes a piece of your heart. Much like leaving one’s heart in San Francisco, Seville quickly won mine with its charm, its mudejar architecture and the haunting saetas and cante hondos I’d fall asleep to each night while living in Triana.

Using Camarón’s long distance lens on baking afternoon, I realized that the five cryptic symbols are also embossed on the city’s light posts. The way the light from the wrought.iron lamps floods the streets next to the lit-up Cathedral, bathing the regal Avenida de la Constitución in a golden color, is magical. Seville will never, ever leave my consciousness or my heart.

Got anything special to share about the city you call home? I love urban legends, ghost stories and the like, so please share!

My Journey Back to Spain…again

My desire to live abroad was coupled only by my worries for how to make it happen. Thankfully, my study abroad office at the University of Iowa gave me the information on a relatively new program to teach English in Spanish public schools. I threw out my plan to follow my friends Matt and Brian to Ireland and began brushing up on my Spanish.

Five years later, part of my morning coffee goes to helping my readers find a way to make their dreams of sunshine and siestas a reality. One such reader, Mike, and I have been in contact for quite some time, and he’s finally decided to quit his job and apply for the Auxiliar de Conversación program that brought me here initially. Here’s his story:

Before I get started on my story, I’d like to thank Cat for being so gracious and allowing me to write a guest post as I’ve been an avid reader for a while now. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy my post as a guest author and find it helpful in whatever capacity they are looking for. I am currently applying for the auxiliar de conversación program in Spain.

However, my story begins long before me just recently pulling together my application materials.

My Story

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my mom had always told me that she was forcing me to study abroad when I was in college. She had studied in Copenhagen, Denmark  and told me it was an experience that everyone needs to have. During my junior year in high school I was afforded the opportunity to go on a week-long trip through Spain with my Spanish class. It was then that I fell in love with the language, people, cuisine, and culture. I knew I would be returning to Spain at some point in my life.

A recent shot of Mike in America

When I was in college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I took a Spanish class during my first semester. It was extremely difficult for me, and I ended up dropping the class. I thought I was done with Spanish and did not enroll in the class again. After a couple different major changes, I found myself with a foreign language requirement that had not been met. Thinking it would be an easy class since I could remember some basic Spanish from high school, I enrolled in an Introduction to Spanish course. After the first class, my professor noticed that I was ahead of the others who had never taken Spanish before and recommended to me that I move up a few levels. I was cautious, but ultimately agreed. The higher level course was naturally more of a struggle, but it was far more rewarding as I rekindled my love of the Spanish language. Following the course, I applied, was accepted, and studied abroad in Granada, Spain for a semester in the spring of 2010.

Studying in Granada, Spain

 

My study abroad experience was undoubtedly the best experience of my life,  and ever since I returned to the US, I have been yearning to return to Spain. After graduation, like many people out there, I applied for a bunch of jobs and eventually was offered and accepted one. It was a desk job, doing something that I thought I may be interested in; however, it was not for me.

Mike and his host family in Granada

Since accepting the job, I have dabbled with the thought of applying to teach in Spain, but have not been fully committed to it, until now. There have been plenty of reasons that kept me from applying, primarily that my job is steady, secure and well-paidl. Essentially, it is a job that many would probably die to have, but that’s not me. It’s a job that most would imagine themselves having when they are 40 years old or mid-career professional, and I do realize that I was lucky to land in it. This has held me back from applying to teach in Spain for over a year, but I had enough. While many may die to have my job, I would die to teach in Spain.

Over the past year, I have consulted with Cat as well as anyone I could find who taught in Spain or even another country about what one needs to know before teaching abroad. It has been a huge help to me in making my decision to take the leap, so thank you for everyone for your advice. The number one piece of advice that nearly every single person echoed was that if you don’t do it, you will always regret not doing it. I truly believe this is the case because I can picture myself always regretting it and wondering “what if” had I not ever tried.

Applying for the Auxiliar Program

Once a current auxiliar directed me to the website for applying and I found it, all I could find was information for the school year 2012 – 2013 program, whereas I would be applying for the 2013-2014 program. I started to panic because I figured I was doing something wrong and simply could not find it. I thought I was missing something obvious and was going to be late in applying. I checked the website just about hourly to see if it changed or if I missed anything. Then, one day, November 5 th to be exact, there was finally an update. It said they were working on the call for applications for 2013-2014, and that the application period would open up on January 8th, 2013. It also noted the manual for the application would be posted soon. I felt an enormous sense of relief.

As for now, I have been using the 2012-2013 manual and application checklist on the website to begin to pull together my materials. I realize that some of the materials may change, but I figure this will give me a jump-start for when the application period opens. If I end up doing something that is no longer required, I’m fine with that because it’s exciting doing it since this all part of me going back to Spain to teach! The two primary pieces I am pulling together are my letter of recommendation and my statement of purpose. An applicant also needs a copy of their passport and their college transcript or diploma.

Mike hiking in Ronda (Málaga)

While waiting for my transcripts and after pulling together my statement of purpose, all I have to do is wait for the application to open and the manual to be posted. I know it’s only the middle of November, and while it said December, I am still getting anxious and still checking back just about hourly.

I hope to keep everyone updated on my journey from America’s dairyland back to Spain. While Cat and I both came from the Midwest, Chicago and Milwaukee respectively, I can imagine that our experiences will be different since a lot has changed in the five years since she first left for Spain, yet I am extremely hopeful that my experience will be just as astounding and inspiring to others as hers was and is to me.

Hasta luego.

Mike.

Mike will be contributing to Sunshine and Siestas regularly until he hears from the program about his (hopeful) return to Spain. Got any questions for either of us about being an auxiliar or about how to apply to the program? Or about doing a TEFL degree? Leave us a message in the comments, or join my Facebook page for more scoop!

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