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When Carefully Laid Plans Take a Turn

Jaén's cathedral. Pixabay.com CC0


The most important travel skill isn't perseverance; it's flexibility.

On September 25, I arrived in Spain with a suitcase and backpack filled to the brim with my clothes, socks and practiced idealism.

I was sharing an Airbnb in Jaén, the closest city to the pueblo in Spain where I would be working, with three other auxiliaries de conversación. My temporary housemates—bonded by our united front against the bureaucratic assault of moving abroad—quickly became close friends. My plan was to stay in the Airbnb for a week while I got settled, before moving to my pueblo and beginning work.

But I quickly felt the disappointment of leaving Jaén creeping in. Jaén felt like the perfect city. With a population of just under 115,000 people, it's big enough to feel lively but small enough to feel manageable. There is a university here with thousands of students, a number of restaurants and a couple of discotecas. But unlike Madrid or Granada, everyone spoke to us in Spanish; it was the perfect place to learn.

I had prepared for this disappointment though. I rehearsed my speech about how fear and anxiety is an avenue to growth. I tucked away my jealousy as friends discussed living and teaching in the city. It would work out because it had to. After a couple of days in the Airbnb, I went to see my pueblo and tour apartments. On the bus ride there I passed thousands of olive trees planted in neat columns across the horizon. I saw other pueblos nestled amongst these trees; they looked peaceful. I peered over the highway at these towns like looking into a snow globe and tried to envision my life within their walls. Finally, after over an hour on the bus I arrived in my pueblo.

My town was cute with a small downtown area and a large Moorish castle protecting the city from atop its western hill. Everyone was kind to me and I toured two beautiful apartments. But I didn't feel the excitement I had in Jaén. There were no young people or undercurrent of liveliness. The city was quiet and tranquil; perfect for kids and adults but not perfect for me.

I felt my well-groomed plan unravel.

I knew I´d be uncomfortable, but my prior knowledge wasn't abating my current emotional turmoil. I wanted to grow and improve Spanish—but at what cost? I got home and cried.

Moving to Spain there was so much to plan for: what to pack; what documents to make photocopies of; what Spanish slang to study; and what ESL teaching resources to access. But most things you can't plan for: Who you will meet; what restaurants you'll frequent; and how you´ll feel when you visit the place you ́re supposed to live for the first time.

Planning is recommended—but knowing when to abandon a plan is essential.

Planning is helpful and recommended—but knowing when to abandon a plan is essential. Sometimes it feels like quitting or giving up and I've often struggled to know the difference between challenging and worth it and just plain hard. I felt guilty for my feelings; perhaps if I was mentally tougher or spoke better Spanish I could make my placement work.

I decided to call my coordinator, be honest with how I felt and ask again if I could commute from the Jaén. She answered almost immediately that they would make it work for me to live in the city. It was a simple switch, but because it violated my carefully laid plans, it was a difficult change to advocate for.

My plan was more than a logistical framework—it was a narrative. I had prepared to live in my pueblo and centred my experience around this decision. I would pursue a difficult and isolating living situation to force myself to grow. Upon arriving I realized I didn't have to live in my pueblo to have an enriching, unique or fulfilling experience. I wasn't going to prove anything by choosing the harder option.

It's not easy to be flexible and react gracefully when things go awry.

But it's easier if a plan is just an intention and we draw the details of achievement as we go. I wanted to feel self-sufficient, speak Spanish and grow in the face of discomfort. I have been libing in Jaén for two weeks and accomplish all of these things daily.

Sometimes abandoning a plan is more important than making one.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Rachel Gow

Rachel Gow is an aspiring journalist with a passion for travel. She recently completed a five-month backpacking trip across Central America. Continuing her quest to learn Spanish, Rachel is currently teaching English in a small town in Spain with the NALCAP program.

Website: https://www.tiktok.com/@rachelgow1

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