A brilliant blue sky, untouched by clouds and rain and instead buffered by a glittering sun bursting with light held me in a trance, a I stood on a balcony in Segovia, Spain, in September of last year.
I saw snow-capped mountains far-off in the distance and the roofs of terra cotta homes. I heard birds chirping a melody, and for once, I wasn’t annoyed at the sound.
Journeying to Spain fell onto my lap, as taking my first trip to Europe was nowhere on my radar, until Sucheta, the founder of Go Eat Give, sent out an email about a free trip to Spain. The “free” trip didn’t mean all I had to do was place my name on a list and be whisked on a private charter jet nearly 5,000 miles away from my hometown of Atlanta.
The catch was a noble one. In exchange for five nights in a fine hotel as well as meals and wine galore, I was asked to volunteer as apart of a program called VaughanTown. VaughanTown, the extension of Spanish telecommunications company VaughanSystems, plucks native English speakers and pairs them with Spanish business executives who are looking to better their English speaking skills.
I was under the impression from the description of how the program works before getting there that I’d be teaching, but in reality, the full extent of my teaching was having multiple conversations with the Spaniards throughout the day. Each conversation was guided by either specific subject matter or colloquiums we had to explain, which almost always were hilarious and rendered spirited conversation.
This experience was so fascinating to me, but as the days wore on, I craved solitude and ample time to reflect to how this country, these experiences and the trip was affecting me. Because of the rigorous, packed schedule, that only left spare moments, such as my balcony time, as the stolen seconds where I was lost in my thoughts.
I came to grips with what was happening, a slow but assured realization the two days I spent frolicking in Madrid before VaughanTown and the sole evening after before I flew back to Atlanta: this wouldn’t be my last go-round in Madrid but the first of many. I’d be back, and sooner than I’d thought and for longer than I’d ever dreamed.
I talked with Sucheta’s dear friend the night before leaving for VaughanTown over grilled vegetables, chicken wings and glasses of vino about her own journey to Madrid and how life had been since she packed up her life and moved to Madrid to teach English for the past two years.
As I listened to her talk, something stirred within me. I prodded and continued asking her questions and listening carefully and closely to her responses. When we went our separate ways that night, she added, an an aside, to look her up on Facebook once I was home to chat more about the program she went through.
I sat on her call to action for a month.
I went back to my old life, pretending that that trip, my first trip to Europe, the first time I’d traveled solo didn’t change me or rattle me or force me to seek a different pace of life.
But now I know why there was a hesitation. I was scared, frightened, terrified. I thought it was crazy that I was even considering picking up my life and relocating to the other side of the world knowing no one and inserting myself in an unfamiliar culture with a language I didn’t speak.
When I finally sent out the email, I was still consumed by fear. And the fear didn’t go away even as I went through a series of interviews and received my welcome letter to teach in the program.
The screams of inferiority, the constant taunting from my spirit and my conscience telling me I was out of my mind to be going through with his, only intensified with each progression, especially as I was stressed to the brim navigating the daunting visa process, with numerous dead-ends, confusion on requirements and hold-ups with delayed documents received in the mail.
On July 7, with almost no money in my bank account, I drove 10 hours for my visa appointment, scheduled for July 8, with the nearest consulate in Miami. I spent a grueling two hours, my body shaking and writhing with stress, as I waited to turn in sheets of paper that represented five months of struggle, stress and trepidation.
Eleven days later, I hurriedly opened the self-addressed priority USPS envelope I’d provided the consulate with, and my passport fell out, with a small piece of paper shoved inside of the pages. I stared in awe at my approved visa, completely stunned that I’d done it, that I’d made this happen and that I was indeed moving to Madrid.
You see, moving to Spain had long been a dream of mine, but I’d pushed it away and traded it in exchange for other more practical ones. For instance, when I graduated from undergrad, my dream was to get a full-time newspaper reporter job.Then my dream became getting a graduate degree to become a better writer and to explore what path writing would take me on in the future.
But these dreams, these goals that once seemed so important and the key to my happiness were no longer fruitful. They were just plain tired and unfulfilling. I had grown to hate my newspaper reporter job over the past few years, a job that was boring, routine, monotonous, consumed with micromanaging bosses, and to top it all off, I was only paid $10 per hour for all my hard work.
I was also tired of not being the woman who stood on her own, as I had never lived on my own after moving back home after college. I lived in the same room I spent cooped up in most of my childhood, getting by with only enough money to pay my car note, exorbitant amounts for gas since I lived so far away from said job and little extra for hair appointments, happy hours with friends and other outings for which money was required.
I was broke, unhappy and felt stuck. I’d tried to apply and search for other jobs, thinking more money was the change I needed, but after many applications and several interviews that never went anywhere, I knew this was much bigger than my bout with financial poverty—but more along the lines of emotional, mental, and spiritual poverty. I was poor in spirit all around.
Deciding to take this leap of faith and follow my heart was much more than traveling to to Spain and falling in love with every aspect of it. It was about taking a brave step in a new direction, standing on my own two feet and living my own separate adult existence, something I’d been needing to do since I finished college.
Along with the fear that has accompanied me along each step of this transition to the next phase of adulthood has been a silent, strong and assured sense that moving to Spain was something I was supposed to do. In each moment, this sense, this knowledge that this was apart of what the universe wanted me to experience, has helped me to override the fear and remove myself from a pattern of dysfunction and not reaching for more. This was made clear by the numerous people that were placed along my journey to help me and the obstacles that at first glance seemed impossible, but once I was closer upon them, they dismantled and disappeared before my eyes with a resolution.
I’ve never been more sure something has been meant for me, more than this move, in my short 27 years of life.
I’m one week away from starting this new chapter and often, quite often, I think back to the many emotions and thoughts that flooded my consciousness while standing out on that balcony, staring at the sky, enamored and in a daze. In a way, an innocent decision to volunteer and give of myself ended up pouring back into me and igniting a light that had long been extinguished.
3 thoughts on “fearful courage.”
This is a powerful piece Nneka. It’s always difficult to step out on faith and take such strident risks, but these experiences are the most rewarding. I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing more of your journey to and through Spain.
I’m not sure how you found my blog, but I’m glad you did so I can find yours. I love this honest and open communication with your readers. I can’t wait for more. Moving long distances and “inserting” ourselves into other realities are exactly the thing people need to do to know the “other” Thank you for sharing this with us.
I am looking forward to following your adventures through this blog! All the best to you! 😀 *fun fun*