By: Alexis Sabatino
I’m going to lay it out for you as clearly as I can: I moved to Spain and quickly became unbearably insecure about being American. To be honest I wasn’t all that proud of it before I came either. However, this is my attempt to confess how being American continues to change my life in all sorts of unexpected ways; ways I didn’t understand until recently. These are the confessions of a confused yet determined 23 year-old woman living nearly 4000 miles away from convention.
From a young age I knew I would never lead a “conventional” life. Somehow I always knew I wanted more than the standard line-up of college, nine to five, marriage, kids, and hopefully one-day travel. Aside from happily graduating after 4 challenging years, I much prefer doing the line-up recklessly out of order.
- I didn’t want to live my life saving for a trip I would take when I was 50 years old.
- I didn’t want to sit behind a desk uninspired by my well-paying and horrendously boring job.
- I didn’t want to suppress my natural urge for adventure and exploration.
- I didn’t want to settle for knowing what was going to happen every day, week, and month of my life.
- I was hungry for an exotic platter of ambiguity.
It wasn’t easy moving against the grain, that’s the first thing you should know. Just because I have a wandering soul doesn’t mean I haven’t created secure, meaningful, and lasting relationships back home. The longer I live in Spain the more I miss the people who know, understand, and most importantly ACCEPT all of my flaws, scars, and hideous warts. (We’ve all got em’) I was so excited about meeting new people; it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t accept me for who I am or rather, who I am trying to become. Surely, I thought, everyone will be as open and accepting to cultural differences as I am. No, no, and no! I suppose that was my relentless optimism talking.
The first few weeks of living abroad were full of excitement, cocktails, and new people. Life was good and I felt strongly certain about the decision I made to move abroad. With help from no one, I even found a great apartment and jobs that sustained my lifestyle in Barcelona. But somewhere between cocktails and job-hunting my insecurity seemed to subtlety blossom into a thick weed. I became incredibly sensitive about being American. Friends and strangers alike would make their ignorant comments about stereotypes and generalizations. You name it, and I’ve heard it. “Americans are ugly.” “Americans are stupid.” “Americans are superficial.” “Americans are arrogant.” “Americans have a horrible accent.” “Americans have no culture.”
In my pursuit to become more humble during this trip abroad, I let most of these comments roll off my shoulder with little to no rebuttal. All the while, I couldn’t deny the negative effect these comments were having on my life and my self-esteem. For a lack of better words, I started to feel like a heaping pile of American crap. Who had I become? I wasn’t defending myself and couldn’t even remember how! Friends and family back home would have been shocked by my docile and defenseless nature. I sure as hell was!
Even some of my closest friends in Spain were pigeon holing me into a category. All I wanted was to be looked at as a human being and not a country or a category. Maybe this sounds silly, but I lost complete sight of who I was for a time. The even more discouraging part of all this was that I tried to neutralize the American in me since the moment I stepped off the plane in Barcelona. I was actually trying to hide it! I was questioning everything about who I am, was, and want to be.
Do I want to be American?
Is it really that bad?
Are we really that awful?
Why does everyone gang up on Americans?
I’m not stupid! I’m not superficial! I’m not arrogant! I don’t judge any one else!
I wanted to lose my American, which incidentally is exactly what happened. Ironically, this loss came at even bigger cost! Losing my American meant losing parts of who I am that meant and mean far too much to me. That’s when I reflected deeply on everything I had experienced in the last three months. I realized how easy it is to feel vulnerable and insecure when you find yourself so far from “convention.” It wasn’t until recently that I acknowledged how blessed I am to be American. How proud I am to have been born in a country with endless possibilities. How strong of a woman my country has enabled me to become.
International TEFL Academy is a perfect example of what America represents. Possibilities! Opportunities! Adventure!
ITA is one of the many American organizations that encourages true and meaningful human growth!
Likewise, ITA gives you the resources you need to be successful, without holding your hand and getting you the job. They have faith that their students will create their own opportunities. THAT is what being American is all about! No one can take away your passion and determination to succeed against all odds!
If you are reading this in preparation to move abroad, I assure you that you are already braver than 90% of the world. I am a living example of how bravery can change your life in the most unexpected ways. You must always remember that nothing worth having is easily obtained. Like a true American, I fought long and hard for this opportunity and have reaped the life-changing benefits.
While I am slightly embarrassed to confess that I had to lose my American to find my truth, my hope is that in sharing my experience, you will remain proud of where you come from and take it with you everywhere you go! Foolishly, I felt as though I was the unworthy one, but what I’ve learned is that the unworthiness lies with anyone or anything that discourages your basic human pride. Now I fully identify with my country because I see that I am the result of being born in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Because of this, I am a fearless, boundless, limitless American woman: one that has made a living in a country and culture unlike anything she’s ever known. I have the audacious American inside of me to thank for that!
Going abroad is anything BUT easy. It takes endless courage, patience, and humility. You’ll lose yourself in 50 ways, only to find yourself in 100 more.
If you can accept that as part of the adventure than you’ll always be triumphant. It’s a dynamic process and a magnificent journey; one that trumps even your deepest of fears.
My advice: throw your fears to the wind, stay true to your heart no matter what, and let the journey take you wherever it wants to go; I promise you’ll know what to do when you get there.
You can read more about Lexi in her Spain Q&A article.