Today, I attempted to go to Vigo, which is a nearby city about 40 minutes by bus. I had not attempted this venture yet mostly because of anxiety around public transit and a new city, and then new COVID restrictions essentially squashed a reason for me to go there anyways. I had planned on taking a Spanish A2 course as the Escola de Idiomas (EOI), which is a language school that’s part of the Spanish Ministry of Education. My experience was less than stellar, and I’ll share a Facebook post I wrote about it to save myself from reinventing the wheel here.
I enjoy sharing the positives, culture, beautiful scenery, humorous mistakes, and all the things I’m grateful for in my life. But I’d do a disservice if I didn’t share the other parts too. There are also always challenges, some of them small and some big. This week, I’ve had a lot of those big challenges weighing heavily on me. The breaking point has been around the language barrier.
Here’s a phrase I’ve been using a lot this week to describe what I’m experiencing:
I feel like I’m always one word away from being able to communicate what I need to, and I’m always one word away from understanding what someone is trying to communicate to me.
This week was one of those weeks where over and over I was frustrated not being able to communicate in both social and formal situations. Today, I attempted to go to a nearby city for a course registration. A course registration I missed because I misunderstood the Spanish email about it. I went to the wrong station because I misunderstood the map, I bought the wrong ticket because the agent misunderstood me, I got lost because I misunderstood the person who gave me directions which made me miss the bus, and on and on it went. Every employee I interacted with had some type of negative response to my limited and sometimes broken Spanish.
I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt caught up in what I “should” know and be able to do. I felt alone and judged. I felt lost and helpless.
I noticed what my body felt like, the pressure increasing in my chest, and my breath becoming labored and shaky. I knew what was coming: an ugly cry and an anxiety attack. And there was nothing I could do to fight it back or hold it off. I had to experience it, talk myself through it, reach out to a friend, and let it pass. I was so distraught. I felt hopeless. I felt like a failure. I felt isolated. I felt angry. I felt like there was no point. I felt like adjusting to a new culture was bound to be impossible especially in a pandemic, and I might as well throw in the towel.
I don’t have a big hopeful way to wrap this up. I just feel obligated to share that moving abroad isn’t always beautiful. That people are always facing struggles that they may not be quick to post on social media. What we see is just the tip of the iceberg.
I was dropped in a new land with an upper elementary understanding of the language and have essentially been left to figure it out. Some days I can communicate perfectly and some days every word I need to use or words people use with me are ones I don’t know. This is something that no one can truly describe to you and you really only know what it’s like when you experience it.
At face value, this experience represents a rough go, language challenges, culture shock, and anxiety. Yet, it also gave me a chance to finally break down and have my first major cry while being here. It allowed me to be angry, sad, embarrassed, upset, lonely, lost, scared, and every other emotion in the book about my new life in a new country. It allowed me to admit that being immersed in a new country with a new language is really fucking hard, and it’s not all picturesque scenery, Instagram-worthy exotic food, and grand adventures. It was the nuts-and-bolts of what it can look like outside of all of that. While those exciting and positive things do exist, it’s not the whole picture.
I’m sure you’re curious if I made it to Vigo. I decided to call a friend and ended up making a pros-and-cons list about the EOI. I took an hour to sit with myself and my emotions and then decided I’d take the 12:30 PM bus to Vigo. While I was leaning towards not taking the course at the EOI anymore, I knew I needed to at least try to get there and know for sure if it felt manageable.
I made it to Vigo but due to COVID, everything was shut down so I couldn’t even find a cup of coffee. Making my way to the EOI was a long uphill 30 minute walk, and after looking at the bus timetable and mapping it out in my head, I knew it wasn’t manageable twice a week. Getting to the bus station in Pontevedra, waiting, taking the bus, walking to the class, waiting, the two hour class, walk back to the bus station, waiting, taking the bus, and walk back home from the Pontevedra station added up to around 5-6 hours.
So I made it to Vigo, decided I wasn’t going to take the class, then waited two hours for the next bus. With everything closed, I walked around for 30 minutes but felt too physically and emotionally exhausted to really take in much more. So, I went back to the station, waited, felt that exhaustion, and also felt a small sense of gratitude for the experience.
I hope I get back to Vigo someday soon.