I’ve lived outside of Minnesota exactly two times in my life – my senior year in college when I studied in Spain for a semester, and now living in Alabama with my family. The experiences have been oddly similar. Both times there has been a period of adjustment, of getting used to being in a place that is supposed to be home but doesn’t really feel like it. This adjustment has happened in three distinct phases:
When I first arrived in Spain I was just so freaking excited to finally be there that everything was wonderful. It was novel. The buzz of people speaking a foreign language all around me, the street that was filled with rows of fresh fish markets, drinking wine at a sidewalk cafe. I didn’t care that my Spanish was no where near good enough to converse with the locals or that I didn’t know a single soul there. I was in SPAIN for crying out loud.
Alabama was exciting at first too. It was in the 50’s here (in December!) while it was below zero and snowing in Minnesota. We bought an amazing home that we could never have afforded in the Twin Cities. There were so many fun things to do as a family, especially around the holidays. Everyone was so nice and friendly. It felt like a vacation of sorts, like it wasn’t really our life.
After a few weeks in Spain, the glow began to wear off. The thrill of being surrounded with a new language turned into frustration. I was exhausted from trying to translate everything from food packaging to bus schedules. The charming street of fish vendors ended up being part of my daily walk to school, and thus became a daily test of how long I could hold my breath so as to avoid the not-so-charming smell. Drinking wine at a sidewalk cafe wasn’t so appealing as the weather became damp and cold. I had met some great people, but I still felt disconnected and lonely. I started to wonder if I’d made the right decision in going.
It’s been three months since we moved to Alabama and the glow is wearing off here too. Winter is warmer for sure, but it rains a lot. And you can’t build a snow man or go skiing in the rain. We’ve had to find a new doctor/dentist/babysitter/hair stylist/veterinarian/pretty much everything, which is tough. People use different words for things here – pop is “coke”, a car accident is a “wreck”, and a shopping cart is a “buggy”. I’ve met some wonderful people for sure, but all my relationships are still so new. I miss the ease and comfort of my friends who know me so well that we finish each other’s sentences and can make each other laugh until we cry.
It took a little time, but I ended up really settling in to life in Spain. I made some amazing friends and we traveled every weekend. My Spanish got so good it didn’t feel like work anymore – I even started dreaming in Spanish. I loved everything about being there. I loved it so much I considered staying another semester because I couldn’t imagine going home.
I don’t love it here just yet, but I’m getting closer everyday. Spring is just around the corner, our house is finally starting to feel like a home and I find myself saying “ya’ll” a lot these days. The rest will come with time. Who knows, I may end up loving it so much I never want to leave.