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experiences / life in spain / life in the usa / study abroad

The Great Escape: How I decided to leave the USA for Spain

A photo of me, wearing a floral shirt and capri pants, spreading my arms out in a T shape. I have a pigeon on my head and my right arm. The ground around me is covered in dozens of pigeons. There's a fountain behind me.

Dramatically, I tell people that I’m desperate to leave the USA because it’s killing me.

The long story begins…

Since returning to the USA from my studies abroad in Spain two summers ago, I haven’t felt at home at all. This was the title of a Reddit vent post I uploaded almost a year ago in hope of finding others who understood, because my family didn’t understand why I wanted to leave the USA. After all, who wouldn’t feel at home in the greatest country on Earth?

My rough arrival to Spain

I was 21 years old when I studied abroad in Sevilla, making it my first time ever traveling outside of the USA and my first time on a plane. It was a big feat; I’m on the autism spectrum and suffer from pretty bad anxiety when it comes to new experiences and drastic changes in routine and environment. I was terrified to leave the USA and be away from home.

A photo of me, a girl with short, curly, blonde hair, wearing a tyedye mask at the Chicago airport with a boarding pass in my hand, looking nervously into the camera but looking ready to leave the USA for the first time
Ready to leave the USA – unprepared for the exhausting flights to come!

I told myself, ‘it’s an extended vacation! You’ll be studying for just a while and then you’ll be on your way home!’ again and again. But, no matter what I said, it was rough those first few days. I didn’t sleep at all during the 19 hours of flying and layovers. I arrived at the Sevilla airport looking like a zombie, only to hear from my program manager (and driver!) Enrique that I was the last to arrive. He said I needed to go straight from the airport and into class orientation, which was a simple Spanish test. Luckily, my appearance seemed to shock Enrique into taking me to my host family’s apartment for a nap first.

After my brief sleep, I managed to be one of the only people placed in B1. I was a bit disappointed in myself, but I quickly found myself becoming fast friends with Ísabel, my professor. The one other student in my class proved himself to be funny and cool to be around. I became monumentally relieved I had been placed into her class. She was the best teacher I’ve ever had!

A life-changing experience

Over the first two weeks, my hair stopped falling out. Whether that’s because of the food quality, or simply my anxiety being much lower, I’m not sure. I stopped spending so much time death-scrolling on my phone and instead spent much of my time just walking and relaxing in a big local park known as Parque María Luisa. I felt myself finally relax and be at peace, even though I missed my family desperately. I dedicated myself to learning the language and immersing myself in the beautiful culture. I loved the city so much and felt immensely happy.

A photo of me with a white pigeon on my head as I pick through pigeon food in my hand to feed the dozens of multicolor pigeons surrounding me at the Maria Luisa park
A photo of me in Parque María Luisa – one of my favorite places in Sevilla! Photo taken by my profesora, Ísabel

I began a new routine of walking a half-hour to and from class every day through Parque María Luisa. Walking made me feel so much happier about my day, in contrast to my previous half-hour drive in the States to class. Not having to drive anywhere was a blessing on my health and my wallet. I didn’t have to check the tire light on my dash every day, or plan a gas stop during my commute. I just put on my shoes and went on my own two feet!

I made friends, I went to a bar for the first time, and spent time socializing much more than I would have ever been comfortable with in the States. I made friends with my professor and she took me all over the city and showed me amazing museums and places away from other tourists. Spain’s relaxed culture made me a new person. I felt genuinely happy to be alive. The USA is always go, go, go, and work, work, work. Everything here just felt so right.

Departing paradise + Troubles at home
A photo of a bedroom only lightened by a small lamp on a desk. The bedroom has two twin beds, a desk with the lamp on it, my 2 packed suitcases upright on the floor, and some wall shelves
The last photo of my host bedroom in Sevilla – the photo taken at 4:28 AM

I woke up crying my last day and double checked my bags, intending to catch my 5:15 AM bus. My host dad was awake and wished me well. I bid him farewell and I walked with my two suitcases twenty minutes to the bus stop across the Guadalquivir. I met my classmates in the airport’s departure area and then said goodbye to them all once we reached Madrid.

I returned home so grateful for my experience and overwhelmingly happy to see my family again. But within a week or so, I found myself falling back into depression. I lost all motivation for my classes, started losing my hair again, and stayed home whenever I could. I longed to return to that Sevilla and stay there. I longed to never have to drive again, and never work full time in a culture I’m not happy in only to break even. I longed to see my favorite park and to call Sevilla home. I still long for these things.

I thought this longing and depression would dissipate within a few months. Those few months turned into two years since my return, the pain is still as strong as ever. I came to the realization that my home isn’t in the USA anymore. I longed to take the next year to save up as much money as I can, find a legal way back, and leave the USA to get myself back to my happy place. There are things so wrong about the USA that I need to escape, and I’ll discuss these more in a future post. The life I want just seemed so far away.

A light in the tunnel: discovering NALCAP!

It seemed far away, that is, until a YouTube video popped up during my frantic research to get back abroad. This video, called “First Day Teaching in Spain – Auxiliar de Conversación in Seville“, is a video made by a lovely girl under the username Van Travels. Thus began the rabbithole through her channel and into other channels. I learned Spain pays a few thousand North Americans a year to share their culture and language through a gig called North American Language and Culture Assistants Program. It’s more commonly known as NALCAP.

A photo of me in a sunhat outside an airport around 2:30 AM crouched and petting a very happy dog
A bonus photo – me and my overjoyed family dog Ollie reuniting around 2:30 AM outside the airport

One thing about me is that when I obsess over something new, I deep-dive. Over the next few months, I learned everything I could about NALCAP through posts over various social media platforms. I binged NALCAP vlogs, scoured for blogs and ebooks, consulted with past participants (“auxes”), and attended several NALCAP webinars. I learned the basics of applying months ahead of applications opening so I could ace it. I got my documents way ahead of the application period, and interrogated more participants over the internet.

It all paid off! I applied to the program, got accepted, picked my city and my desired school, and began my visa process. I’m going to leave the USA and make it back to Spain in September of 2023! All of this I will talk more about in a future dedicated post or two, because it’s too detailed of a process to have in this particular post.

So what do I hope to accomplish with this blog?

At Full Milk aims to educate and entertain past, current, and future NALCAP participants with my journey through navigating life with NALCAP. I also hope to provide educational posts to guide future participants through the application process and get them abroad! I intend to post about my application process, visa processes, and life as an auxiliar. You can read more about the goals of At Full Milk in the Start Here page I’ve dedicated to newcomers. It includes information about how At Full Milk got its name, too!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story; it means so much to me! I hope you guys stick around for the educational and entertaining content that I have promised. I look forward to providing you more in a future post. Nos vemos!

Bek

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