Moving abroad put me in a position I’m not very comfortable with: being dependent.
Since graduating university I’ve been quite independent: I’ve lived alone, travelled alone, and supported myself. I’ve made friends, found jobs, joined networking groups, and been pretty self sufficient, and most of this didn’t change when Dave and I started dating.
Moving abroad put me in the position where I was dependent on Dave for many things, including socializing. At first, I had to rely on him to make friends in his program so we could both hang out with them. While they’re great people, it was hard to not have people of my own, especially given that Dave’s days are often insanely long.
When I started Spanish lessons, I was able to make friends for myself. It was nice, but unfortunately, they were all in Madrid short-term.
Some days I would get down on myself for not having figured it all out: the language, finding a job, making friends, etc. But then I’d have to remind myself, it’s only been two, four, or eight weeks. Settled down, it’ll come.
And it has, but not without effort.
After Christmas, there was one particular day I was feeling blah. It was raining, I hadn’t slept well and I decided to wallow. I stayed in my pjs until 4 PM and was bored out of my mind, which made me feel bad that I wasn’t doing better at life. Or, doing anything at all, for that matter.
After watching my fifth or sixth rerun of Gilmore Girls (great show, no regrets on that choice), I forced myself to snap out of it. Wallowing wasn’t doing me any good, and worse it wasn’t making me feel good.
Instead of letting this consume me I decided to do something about it. Immediately. At 10 hours this funk had overstayed it’s welcome.
I started off with signing up for Spanish lessons again. I wanted to continue with my Spanish lessons but following Christmas I was having trouble finding the right class at the right time at the right price. This led to a couple weeks of relying on Duolingo to learn the language. Not only was I getting very little practice by simply yelling responses at my computer, I was missing out on the social aspects that the class would provide me.
It took a little while, and a lot of research and emails but finally I was able to find a class that fit my needs and budget. Although it’s only two nights a week, it’s better than nothing. It’s not only an opportunity to learn and improve my Spanish (and my confidence speaking the language), but it’s an opportunity to meet others in Madrid and expand my social circle.
The second item on my list was to finally tackle the intercambio.
An intercambio, or language exchange, is a gathering of people who are looking to learn and practice a new language. There are many in Madrid and one of my goals for 2016 was to make attending them a regular part of my routine. But that just hadn’t happened. I was nervous to go alone and the longer I put off going, the more nervous I was.
Having attending many networking events in the past, I knew that I just had to take that leap and start going – the first one would probably be awkward, but after that it would only get easier. But I was still nervous to go; I didn’t know what to expect and I was worried that I would arrive and be the absolute worst one there. So, I decided to put myself out there. I posted a message in the Madrid: Girl Gone International Facebook Group explaining my level, my situation and asking for intercambio recommendations. I figured there had to be someone in Madrid who could point me towards the right one.
I was overwhelmed with the response. Girls were popping out of the woodwork all in the EXACT same situation as me. It was great to know I wasn’t the only one in Madrid feeling nervous about the intercambio. We received a great recommendation from someone who’d been there before, and the following week I met with two others for tea before attending the intercambio at J and J Books and Coffee.
Not only was it great to meet other people in the same position as me, it was so great to attend my first intercambio. As predicted, at first it was a bit awkward, but as the night wore on it got easier and easier. Although I didn’t really speak any Spanish, I had a great time talking to and meeting new people who were so keen to practice their English. It was a great confidence boost – and I’m now looking forward to attending on a regular or semi-regular basis.
Life as a trailing spouse can be hard, it can be lonely, and it can be a lot of work. But, it’s definitely worth it. Yes, my mini-funk was annoying and at the time felt like a million steps back, but without it I wouldn’t have been motivated to jump outside of my comfort zone, and I never would have done some of the things, or met some of the people that I did.
Hard work: yes, and some days it feels harder than others, but overall, being a trailing spouse is totally worth it.
Are you a trailing spouse, an expat, or are living in a different country, city, neighbourhood? What have been some of your experiences in getting out there and making new friends? What tips would you share?
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