On Surviving Loneliness and the First Week of School
I keep starting this post and deleting words, feeling like I have nothing to say. I’m trying to start with some cheesy greeting and joke about how I’ve been MIA because “school!” “Spain!”, blah blah blah. I know I don’t have some giant fan base waiting eagerly for posts, but I do have a few people who might want to know what I’m up to. And I’d like to practice writing more honestly. Sure, I’m having fun and doing interesting things some of the time, but this is life, just in a different place. Life here looks similar to life as I knew it before in some ways: bureaucracy, commuting (but a reverse commute!), noisy garbage trucks.
Truth: Last week was hard. Nothing terrible happened, but my lazy vacation days came to an end and I started my first week at school. I’ve been jolted into my new reality which involves staying on top of an ever-changing school schedule, on top of which I had to meet ALL my students and teachers and find my way to school last Tuesday. My previous sleeping and eating schedule has changed once again to hours that I don’t really get to choose. It’s nice to be busy once again, but the transition week has not been easy.
Along with being hungry and sleepy, I also struggled with a LOT of feelings of self-doubt. What exactly am I doing here? Why did I choose this? What if I do a terrible job? What if my students don’t like me? What if I never make actual friends, but have to have the same exact “this is what I’m doing here” conversation every time I go out to meet people? What if I decide not to stay another year, what will I do? And on and on. Because I was so exhausted, I declined three social events, which left me feeling lonely and sad and pathetic. I have to remind myself that the weekend before, I stayed out until 6AM salsa dancing with Spaniards (and Cubans and Cameroonians), so things aren’t so bad. There’s nothing wrong with needing rest. I just keep telling myself that I’m going to get through this little funk because most of it has been in my head anyway.
Also, I had to attend orientation with all the other language assistants last week, which ended up being more intimidating (socially) than I’d imagined. I was tired and not at my best, which made meeting people more exhausting. I struggled with self-doubt there too: I’m supposed to have tons in common with all these people, right? So why do I feel so … lonely? Is it because I’m older? I don’t want to try too hard to fit in, but I don’t want to be callous and brush people off either. I met a couple of really nice people, and I’m more of a small group/one on one person anyway, so maybe everything worked out as it should have.
More truth: School really wasn’t all that bad, despite being a little crazy. Finding my school is a job in itself: it has completely tricked Google Maps, and it’s spread over two campuses that are three kilometers apart. Luckily, I ride with a teacher between buildings. To arrive at school, I have to take the metro and then either walk to one campus or bus to the other. The first two days, I was thrown into classes right away. I had four classes my first day, and four classes my second day, 55 minutes long each. And in each class I presented about myself, where I’m from, what I like to do, what people, activities, and people are like in North Carolina. That’s eight hours of talking about myself and answering a million questions from curious kids: Do you like One Direction? Do you like Spanish food? Do you have a husband/boyfriend? Wasn’t Greensboro where those black men sat in the restaurant during the Civil Rights Movement? (Whoa. Didn’t see that one coming. Good job, kid.)
No, I didn’t talk much about San Francisco, even though it’s where I spent the majority of my adult life. I don’t think I’ve processed it enough for myself yet. But all this talk about my life has made me very nostalgic. One thing I’ve learned in past experience: moving abroad for any length of time is hard because of who you leave behind, no matter how many amazing people you meet. By the time it’s over, things will have always changed back home, and you will have changed even more.
Despite all the stress, loneliness, changes, and nostalgia, the end of the day, I feel content. I live in a wonderful city. I’ve already met a few people that I get along with well. Every day I try to treat myself to something small: a hot baguette to eat with lunch, a cafe con leche, a photo opportunity, a pintxo and crianza, an ice cream and a stroll at sunset. I’m trying to spend my days being full of wonder and curiosity, letting years of built-up cynicism melt away as I realize that this chapter really is off to a good and crazy start. As another blogger put it so well, “I cannot believe I’m here.”