The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

Even the Adventurous Have Their Doubts


Another issue of #tbt blogger style. As I write this, I´m sitting at SeaTac airport, waiting to board my flight back to Madrid . I’ve had the great luck of spending the entire month at home in Seattle, which is something I’ve done every year since I moved to  Madrid back in September 2009, While I love getting to spend quality time with my family and friends, time I probably would never cherish as much if I could see them whenever I wanted, it’s always hard to transition from one home to the other. Tears are inevitible whichever side of the world I´m saying goodbye to. Here’s a glimpse at some of the doubts I felt when I embarked on another adventure back in March 2008.  I had taken a leave of absence from my job at a children’s psychiatric hospital to attend a three-month intensive language course in Alicante and Madrid, Spain and despite months of planning, I suddenly found myself wondering if I hadn’t made a mistake.

On days like today, filled with bittersweet goodbyes, I’m grateful for being able to look back on my writing from the past to remember that “I learn by going where I have to go.” See you soon España!

It’s Easter morning, 2014. I woke up bright and early today, for no apparent reason. And as I lay in bed trying so hard to convince myself to go back to sleep, I started to reflect on past Easters instead of drifting back off into dreamland….

And without a doubt, the best one is Easter 2008 when I also awoke bright and early before my alarm clock sounded and came back to the shocking reality that the night before I had landed in Spain… all by myself. I had spent the two hours leading up to my flight walking around in circles at SeaTac airport  wondering what the heck I was doing heading off to Spain for three months (a thought I hadn’t allowed myself to ponder for the months leading up to my departure). I even went so far as to make a tearful call to my sister from an airport pay phone, confessing to her that I had made a terrible mistake and would they please come pick me back up at the airport. Thankfully, she talked just enough sense into me to get me on the plane upon which I struck up a conversation with a couple who were heading off to Italy for their honeymoon and I found my secret weapon–if I could strike up conversations with strangers, I would never feel alone.

However, a day later on Easter morning, I now found myself in a land where striking up conversations with strangers was much more complicated since my Spanish skills were extremely limited at this point and I once again found myself wondering what in the world I’d been thinking by taking a leave of absence from my job, heading off into the unknown for THREE WHOLE MONTHS.

I didn’t have much time to think about it because I had a train to catch to the coastal town of Alicante where I’d be spending the next month improving my Spanish skills before returning to Madrid for two more months. I lugged my suitcase downstairs, told the taxi driver something that made it clear that I was heading to the train station and on the way I frantically searched my Spanish phrase book to find out how to wish him a happy easter when I got out of the cab. When he’d helped me to unload my suitcase, I handed him the money and proudly said “Feliz Pascua” to which I received a very odd expression in return. I assumed it must mean that Spaniards didn’t really like Easter, but now, six years later I think it might have more to do with the fact that I had given him an excessively generous 5 euro tip.

Sitting at the train station, watching the minutes slowly tick by, I once again found myself filled with that now familiar sense of anxiety towards the unknown that loomed ahead. Thankfully right at that moment fate stepped in and took control of the shuffle mode on my iPod, choosing the oh so appropriate song that would fill me with a sense of calm and conviction that despite not knowing exactly why I was doing what I was doing, I was in exactly the right place:

Well it aint no use to sit and wonder why babe

Given you don’t know by now

And it aint no use to sit and wonder why babe

It’ll never do somehow

Don’t think twice, it’s alright

And during the months that would follow as I navigated life in Spain, meeting new friends, having new experiences and continually improving my language skills, Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” would continue to serve as my anthem of encouragement in the moments when I felt plagued with loneliness and doubt.

In her book “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert quotes a Sufi poem that states that “God drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now.” I didn’t know it at that moment, but as I sat in Chamartin train station the morning of Easter 2008, I had just set in motion a series of events that would lead me to where I am today six years later, Easter morning 2014. In the years between I would meet people who would blow my world view apart, others who would validate and renew my way of seeing things. I would travel to so many different countries and see and taste things that would make me cry in delight for the joy of being alive. I would learn a new language, which would allow me to study in another country and later touch my patient’s lives through my ability to communicate with them in their mother tongue. I would have many many late nights, would redefine what “getting up early” meant for me and would record so much of this in about twenty journals or so.

Heading off towards the east coast of Spain, all I knew was that I was where I was supposed to be at that moment. And sometimes, that’s all we need to know. And knowing you’re in the right place doesn’t mean that you don’t feel afraid. I’ve learned over the past six years that those fears are often the arrows that point me in the right direction. Those jitters that almost kept me from getting on that airplane was confirmation that I was doing what I needed to do. And although it wouldn’t have served me much at the time because I think these words carry much more power six years later, after having learned all this through experience, it’s funny to think that during those travels towards my destiny on Easter weekend 2008, I wore a bracelet gifted to me by a close friend as a departing gift which bore these word:

I learn by going where I have to go-Roethke

I’ve learned so very much by going where I have felt I needed to go. And I have so much more learning ahead of me.

I wrote these words over four months ago and it´s amazing to see how much I have learned, experienced and grown in this relatively short amount of time. I may miss my family, friends, the Puget Sound and the cooler temps of Seattle, but I´ve got plenty of things waiting for me on the other side of the Atlantic that I´m looking forward to being reunited with or discover for the very first time. 

Have you ever been nervous, afraid, or doubtful when embarking on a new adventure? Share with us your tips for how you didn’t let those fears bully you. What did you learn by choosing adventure over fear?



Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

2 thoughts on “Even the Adventurous Have Their Doubts

  1. I’m now entering my third year in Spain and somethings still make me nervous! But once I got back into the city a few days ago I was overwhelmed with excitement rather than nervousness. Madrid has so much to offer and it’s relatively easy as an expat to survive and thrive.. I’m now arranging my life to make this my permanent home 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right! When I wrote this post I was feeling nervous for going back, but as soon as I set foot back in Madrid I felt pretty good about it. Jet lag and all! I agree that Madrid is a good place for expats! Thanks for sharing 🙂


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