I had issues with my name. I realized this after some serious self-reflection. When I decided to move to Madrid, Spain I decided to change my name. I chose: Ben. It has the same letters as my name, just less of them. My original name was Brenden. “Is it Brendan or Brandon?” I was asked when meeting new people. My response, “It’s Brenden. Just like it sounds.”
I became an expat.
Let’s be clear: I did not become an expat to run away from my name, but it was a perk. Now I walk around the streets of Madrid and when I meet someone new, I say, “Hi, I’m Ben.” There are no questions or comments. It’s simple.
I needed to step out of my old life. The life of living at home, of being ashamed of it, of working two part-time jobs and laying around on the couch when I wasn’t working. I was tired of it. I was tired of myself. So I chose to fly 4,500 miles away.
I first learned of the possibility of teaching English abroad in a hostel in Copenhagen. I was 22. I was waiting for food to arrive at my table and I heard a familiar sound: Americans. I asked what they were doing there. They told me, we teach English in Spain. The pay is good and you can live comfortably. You even get time to travel.
My brain lit up like the sky on the 4th of July. You mean to tell me I can live anywhere in the world just because I can speak English fluently? Sign me up.
When I got back home I spent hours researching where to go. I wanted to make enough money and I wanted to travel. I knew I liked Europe, but you can make so much more in Asia. Do I make this decision about how much money I could make? I told myself no.
I chose Spain. I could work on my Spanish (which is starting to improve after 4 months) and I could live in Europe. Who would pass that up?
I enrolled in a school that sponsored my visa and taught an English teacher training course. I met dozens of expats doing the same thing. All trying to forge new lives in a new country.
I have been writing fiction for 5 years and I wanted to try something new. Instead of writing a fictitious narrative based on my inner conflicts, I want to tell true stories. Stories painted with someone else’s palette. My brush, their colors.
As I sit on a stool in my bathroom writing, I just noticed a leak dripping from a crack in the ceiling. In some ways that represents my time in Spain.
I like it here, for the most part. Rent is cheap. Food is so cheap it’s sort of funny. That’s what I say when someone asks me how I like living here. I realize now that those are the answers to different questions.
Things I don’t like: there is shit and urine everywhere. The shit? Dogs of course. The urine? Some sort of split between man and his best friend.
My reflections led me to wonder: What do other expats think? Are they happy? Are they disappointed? What parts of this new life do they share on social media? What parts do they not? And why?
What’s behind the screen? Behind the beautiful picture of a countryside? Behind the snow-covered mountains? Behind the selfie?
I was disillusioned. I thought running away from everything that was familiar was the answer to my problems. Turns out it wasn’t. I don’t feel like I miss home. However, I do think fondly of it. I look forward to meandering down familiar streets. And seeing my closest friends.
I’m curious if other expats have similar feelings. I want to investigate and find out if they do. Along the way I think some truth will reveal itself.
This space will serve to explore the expat life. What is it? What does it mean? What are the consequences? And the rewards?