In 2006, I left my cushy job to live in Spain, learn Spanish and attempt to make a living as a travel writer. I had never been to Spain, didn’t know anyone there, and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. It was the most petrifying decision of my life, but also the most transformational. The plan was for 6 months, I stayed for 3 years.
These are the most valuable lessons I learnt:
You don’t need much money to live well: I lived in a nice 4-bedroom apartment (shared with 3 other girls), in the centre of Madrid. I ate good food, went to cool bars and restaurants, went to the cinema and went shopping, all on a budget of €800 per month (US$975/month). This was about the exact amount of money I made blogging and teaching English while I was there and I spent every penny of it enjoying myself. I dipped into my savings only when I needed to pay upfront for something like a course (Spanish language or teaching English), or when I wanted to travel outside the city. This helped me maximize my time in Spain without crimping on my quality of life and reassured me how much can be done even by living frugally.
Personal growth is tremendous when you step outside of your comfort zone: You have no idea how much you can grow as a person until you are outside of your comfort zone. When you are put into a situation so unfamiliar to you, that you have no clue how to maneuver. Yet, with common sense, optimism and the desire to succeed, you tide the obstacles and fears that you encounter. When you learn to navigate outside of your comfort zone you understand your real potential as you learn things about yourself you would have never learnt otherwise. This is something you cannot learn from a book or a course. You HAVE to experience it.
Consider yourself in a cozy cocoon when you are in your comfort zone. If you survive outside of it, you turn into a butterfly!
Learning a language expands your mind: My appreciation for the world’s cultural richness was boundless when I started learning Spanish. It made me realize how different people are just from the way they communicate, but also how similar we all are underneath those differences and understanding each other’s language is the only way to see those similarities. It also made me wonder in the beauty of expression through a different language. There are words in Spanish that would need a full sentence to describe in English, here are a few great examples.
You can learn and do anything if you put your mind to it: In three years in Spain, I became fluent in Spanish (C2 level). Never did I imagine I would ever be able to pick up another language with such fluency. It wasn’t easy and a lot of sacrifices were made to get there, but I was determined to not leave Spain without being fluent in Spanish as I knew I would always regret it. Today, 15 years later I’m proud to say I still speak well and all my efforts are easy to retain. I would still be comfortable getting a job where I need to speak Spanish.
My value in the job market increased 3-fold: I quit my career to do something different with no end goal in mind. I dared to follow my dream. With the skills I learnt in the process, I came back to the corporate world with a salary more than 3 times what I was making when I left my job, that too in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis. There is no price you can put on going out there and investing in your personal development. It may not be clear what the return on investment may be from the onset, but I can guarantee you it will be worth it.
These are just a few of my thoughts on what I learned while in Spain. If you are interested to know more about this adventure, I have pieced together all my personal blogging from my time in Spain into a book. It details the all-time highs, the rock-bottom lows, the confusion, the numbness, the joys, the excitement and even the blah days with the goal of giving anyone who wants to do the same, an authentic, non-glorified account of my experience.
If this pandemic has taught us something it is this: Life is too short to not be living the life we want. So, if you are feeling a bit stuck and are looking to shake things up a bit, maybe this book will give you the encouragement to take the leap.
You can find it here!