by Heather O.

People always talk about the exotic photos and their envy of the life I lead while living abroad in Spain. And honestly, there is so much to rave about. The trips to Lisbon, Salamanca, Segovia, Madrid, Santander, Granada, Budapest, Istanbul, La Manga, Murcia and more just last year alone with many more adventures planned and unplanned for this year. We talk about the fun, the sun, the beautiful scenery, the privilege of being immersed in a language and culture, the laid back lifestyle of Spain. But we don’t talk about the hard stuff. People always tell me “You’re so lucky!” when they hear about my life and many are envious of the no pasa nada lifestyles of the Spanish life. But people don’t understand the tremendous amount of guts it takes to do what we are doing and that while I am grateful for the vast opportunity my life has held for me, I have also worked hard, been brave, and made my own luck. When I first left Boston to be an Au Pair in Valladolid a year a half ago I honestly did not want to go. Why leave a wonderful city, job, family and friends to jump into the unknown. It was difficult to leave and every time I visit home and have to leave again it makes me sad. Leaving family and friends to be so far away from home yet again is difficult. People don’t understand how hard it can be. But if you want to live life, I mean really live life, it isn’t always going to be easy. You have to go for it and make your own luck. Living abroad teaches you many things. You have to appreciate the good things, the lessons, the culture you are in because usually life abroad is temporary, so you have to appreciate it while it lasts. I tell myself that years from now when I am settled in my home city of Boston, maybe I will long for the adventure of my vagabond life of the past. I have to make the most of my life abroad now. So here’s how I’ve made lemonade while living abroad.

1. By living in the moment and being as present as possible. It is easy to have anxiety when you are abroad about what you may be missing at home, of what your future may hold, but no matter where you are in the world anxiety about the past and future can manifest if you let it. The most important thing you can do is live in the moment. Really taste the tapa you are eating, feel the sun on your skin as you sip a crisp cold beer, be completely there with your friends, laugh as hard as you can etc. Do everything you do to the fullest, and enjoy where you are at the moment the best you can.

2. By having and doing things that make me, me no matter where I am in the world so I can resort to them when I feel lost. For example, activities like cardio kickboxing, biking, walking, writing, traveling, knitting etc always make me feel good. Your interests and hobbies are so vital to your happiness while living abroad and also in life in general. With these things that make you you, no matter where you are or what happens, you have these things to fall back on to make you feel whole and grounded.

3. By taking full responsibility for myself. In some ways, we are alone in this world. You cannot rely on anyone to fill you, make you whole, or to do things for you, and when you are in your hometown maybe you are more inclined to do so. If I am stressed, tired, or too busy to make myself a healthy meal at home, I know that my wonderful mother will feed me something nutritious and delicious. When I am exhausted after a long day in Spain I have to take care of myself.

When I moved out of my Au Pair house due to things not working out part of me and my family and friends were surprised I decided to stay in Spain by myself instead of going home. I had to find my own apartment, work, and life when I could have just cut my losses and gone home. But I was determined to fulfil my dream of living in Spain again and traveling, so I did. People are amazing and I’m lucky to have so many amazing people in my life but you cannot and should not rely on anyone and in the end you are responsible for you, nobody else is. Living alone, jumping into the unknown completely turned my life around and I feel more self-sufficient than ever. I am responsible for and control my own health, happiness, livelihood, and life.

4. By realizing that you can lean on others when you need it. To the contrary, people overall are amazing and I have met so many great people during my journey here. Friends who support me and help me when I need it, a boyfriend who would do anything for me, thoughtful friends who when they hear I won’t have time to have lunch between work and my Master’s classes, bring me a sandwich to class, I have even made special connections with some of my students and they have me over for meals and do me favors when I need them, and of course my amazing family at home who never fails to be there for me regardless of the distance and time between us.

5. By making my own community. It is so important to surround yourself with amazing people wherever you go. The more people you meet, the more you realize what people are best for you, and I’ve learned to build my own communities of happy fun interesting people wherever I go.

6. By realizing who is important. When you have such limited time to see people and talk to people from home, you really realize who really matters. Some visits to Boston have been short, so I really have had to use my time well and it makes you realize who the most important people are in your life. I have realized that the relationships that never change no matter how long you go without seeing each other are the best, and those people who remain a part of my life despite the distance are the most important. I’ve realized that family is everything. Living so far away from home has made me appreciate my family more than ever. The time I do have with my friends and family is special and I cherish it.

7. By not caring what others think. I am doing this 100% for myself! Some people question what I’m doing. Why live this life when I come from a great city and could get a great, stable job where I come from? Also, while many people are very interested in hearing about my travels and adventures, some people are not. Some people don’t even ask, perhaps due to envy or maybe just lack of interest. But I am doing this for myself and no one else and I am confident in what I am doing. My experiences have enriched my own life. Therefore, I do not need the attention of approval of others. While I do love to share my adventures (and hear about other peoples’ adventures) many of my amazing experiences have not been instagrammed or documented, and I don’t care because they are my experiences. Travel isn’t about who got the most likes on Instagram or going somewhere just to be able to brag and say you were there. Living abroad and travel is a deep, enriching experience within yourself that changes you for the better forever. It makes you think outside yourself, changes your perspective on the world, teaches you about this big beautiful world we live in, connects you to many different walks of life, it is fun, it is beautiful, and I am doing it for me!

8. By taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and staying busy. Traveling and living abroad, you will have countless once in a life time experiences. Grab them. Enjoy them. Do things. Don’t waste a minute.

I like to see the glass half full. Things overall are good, and when something isn’t going right I like to see the positive side of things. To me, life isn’t lemons, it is lemonade. There are so many beautiful places to see in the world, so many fun things to do, so many amazing people to meet, so many delicious foods to taste. But you have to go out there and make your own lemonade because no one is going to make it for you.