With sweat pouring off my face I rolled my 49-pound suitcase down the cobblestone street, walking close to the wall in case a crazy taxi driver or speedy motorcyclist whizzed by the narrow street. These were my last moments in Spain, but instead of any heartfelt or deep thoughts and all I could think was goddammit it’s too hot here.
After three long yet quick months in the beautiful country of Spain, it’s time to return to Canada. I spent my last three days alone in Barcelona, which was a perfect way to end off my summer abroad. Being alone allowed me to reflect on everything I’ve gone through since May and really see how I’ve changed.
My first night in Zaragoza I was heavily regretting my decision to be an au pair. I was confused as to how I ended up leaving my lovely friends and boyfriend to live with a random family on the other side of the world. I had never wanted to travel alone yet there I was, in Europe, alone.
My first days in Spain were difficult but they picked up quickly as I soon made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my entire life. They were also au pairs and we all met each other through the Zaragoza au pair Facebook page (yay for internet friends!). We always had a good time together, whether it was getting ice cream and going for a stroll by the river, staying out until seven in the morning and climbing public monuments, or wandering through various tapas bars and sampling all the tortilla de patata.
It’s amazing how well we all got along, but towards the end of July one by one they all started to trickle back to our home countries. I met up with a few other au pairs during that time, and although they were nice, I didn’t click with them as well as my old friends. One of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t make friends in Zaragoza, but that quickly went away after the first weekend. Now I have friends from England, Scotland, Ireland, and America. In fact, all of the North American au pairs are planning a meet up over the Christmas holidays!
Thus, my fears of loneliness had been lifted, but my anxiety over the language barrier still existed. I knew no Spanish whatsoever when I first arrived, but now I can proudly say that I have a basic grip on Spanish. That’s a huge accomplishment for me. I’m best at reading it, but I can communicate on a basic level. On my second last day, I gave a Spanish couple directions AND I communicated with a shopkeeper to ask for help. It may not seem like much but for my self-conscious grasp on Spanish it was a lot! Speaking Spanish with my fellow au pairs was really helpful because they were in the same position as me, all beginners struggling in a foreign country. I wish I could have tried a language exchange (there’s a website to find people in your area) but maybe I will try at home.
I think this trip helped me become more comfortable with myself and less afraid of people. I’m not afraid of what people think anymore if they see me eating alone at a cafe, if I’m dressed in shorts while everyone else wears jeans, or even if I’m a foreigner. They’re all trivial worries in the grand scheme of things!
Au pairing was a new experience. I always tried to avoid exchanges in high school because I thought I’d be too awkward to live with a new family. It was a bit awkward for me at first with my family but eventually I became comfortable with them. I had some good times as well as bad times with the kids, but it’s the good ones that seem to stick out in my mind stronger than the other ones.
I think I’d consider au pairing again, but for a shorter time period. Three months was a bit too long for me, as near the end I was ready to be done with living with screaming children and never having true alone time. I want to au pair in a French-speaking country next time to work on my French skills. I can’t believe I just let my French go after high school. I was at a decent level, which now has suffered, but I can always get it back with some practice!
It’s crazy to think how quickly my time abroad went past me. I remember thinking at the beginning of the trip that I would probably look back and say that, and yet here I am. However, I think my concept of time has changed since being abroad and having to deal with timezones and counting down days until I could see my boyfriend again. I don’t think time is broken down into blocks of minutes; I think time is just one continuous running moment in which events occur. Sometimes they occur quicker than others, depending on how you are enjoying the moment.
That being said, I will spend the next few moments of my time in the lovely city of Toronto. Even though I’ve been to the lovely cities of Zaragoza, Huesca, Granada, Vilanova i la Geltru, Toledo, Madrid, Panticosa, Salou, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Bayonne, and Barcelona, Toronto is still my favourite city. It possesses a certain character that can’t be replicated anywhere; it’s a cosmopolitan city that doesn’t compare to anywhere I’ve been in Spain. Plus it has all the things I’ve missed while abroad, like bagels, city-wide recycling, lots of free wifi, and tons of vegetarian food! I’m thrilled to be able to live out my time in Toronto until my next travel abroad!