Why I Dropped Everything in Toronto and Moved to Madrid

No more than five months ago, on a delightful September afternoon, I recall frantically stuffing all my essential belongings in a suitcase back in Toronto, energized to jumpstart my new life here in Spain. I left my job, cosy bedroom and comfortable routines all for a chance, a gamble to reinvent myself and start anew.

The idea of moving to a new country can be exhilarating yet intimidating, liberating yet daunting, and rejuvenating yet overwhelming. I remember people always asking me how I was feeling about moving to Spain months, weeks and even days before I was about to board the Sata airplane at Pearson.

The truth is, I didn’t know. I felt that I didn’t know how I felt. I recall juggling a mixture of insidious thoughts dancing around in my brain, namely: ‘how will I survive without my family?’ ‘Will I go insane without my close circle of friends?’ ‘How the hell will I get around without speaking a word of Spanish?’ with a much healthier mix of uplifting notions about how ‘I can’t wait to see how this plays out,’ ‘this will be an experience of a lifetime,’ and the ever-present ‘holy shit, this is really happening!’

So why did I pull the trigger?


1) An Opportunity to Learn a New language

One of our greatest gifts as human beings is consciousness, an evolutionary gift that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The mystery of consciousness allowed human beings to use higher-level reasoning to build empires, develop societies, share ideas, and through this process, gave birth to many rich and beautiful languages, bringing us closer together than ever before as a species by allowing us to communicate.

I enjoy the pursuit of learning a language, none more so than Spanish with its silly verb conjugations, expressions, idioms and plethora of regional variations. It’s incredibly rewarding to go from having everything sound like incomprehensible gibberish to having a basic grasp of just exactly what it is the old man beside you is babbling about.

The truth is I felt myself slowly deteriorating in Toronto on a mental level, stagnant and sluggish, becoming too comfortable and accustomed to the repetitiveness of “responsible” (mind the quotes) adult life. I realize now, that on subconscious level, my mind craved a new challenge or deviation. And believe me, one of the greatest tests you can experience is the colossal task of mastering a new language as an adult.

Learning Spanish is one of the most useful languages a Canadian (or anyone, for that matter) can learn, opening up an entire continent, South America, for travel or work. And should I ever want to relocate south of the border to the land of freedom and apple pie, especially to the highly pop-culture fetishized state of California, with its massive Hispanic population, I can better pitch my case as a Spanish speaker when applying for an American visa.

Most importantly, I want to master at least a conversational grasp of the language, which, quite simply, would imbue me with ability to communicate with more human beings around the world. And I’m not talking about petty small talk and asking for directions in Spanish. I look forward to learning about people’s stories and reciprocate by offering a small, intangible slice of myself in another language.

2) Travel Opportunities

The super expensive price tag for a round trip flight from Toronto is often the most prohibitive thing that prevents people, like you, my beloved reader, from checking out a new city, country or even continent. I missed out on going on exchange during university, and what originally was a benign regret became a malignant virus that was eating away at my core. I knew I couldn’t go on living an insulated suburban life in Toronto, blind to the experience of immersing myself in a foreign country.

Beautifully situated in the SouthWestern part of Europe, the proximity of Spain to other European countries cannot be overlooked. Low cost airlines like RyanAir and affordable coach bus companies all over Europe make country/city hopping a breeze. For example, my recent trip to Germany, Czech Republic and Hungary ran me about 100 euros in flights and maybe another 40 in inter-city coach buses. An incredible bargain to see 3 new countries for the first time, and something I was only able to take advantage of because of my new home base here in Spain.

3) To gain a fresh perspective on life.

Ah, the wonderful novelty of everything being exciting and new. I’m referring to the infant-like sense of awe and wonder we often lose as adults, due to the adapting of our brain to a static environment or routine. Often times here in Spain I catch myself in the midst of a situation, whether day dreaming on a bus or in the peak hours of a party, and a take a second to collect my thoughts and practice gratitude for the present moment (future post on this). Feelings of thankfulness overwhelm me, sometimes yielding me a visceral rush of goose bumps, as I stand. Or sit. Or lie down. And contemplate. And contemplate some more. Contemplate about how fortunate and privileged I am to be where I am.

Moving here means I am in the midst of absorbing a new culture, spoiling my tastebuds with a new cuisine, and getting lost (sometimes on purpose). Living in Spain–or any new country for that matter–has challenged my paradigms about human thought and behaviour, endowed me with new perspectives and transformational clarity about how to live my life and constantly forces me to re-evaluate my definition of meaning and purpose (future post on this as well).

4) Seizing youth and mobility.

I’m exploiting the one time in my life where I’m unburdened with things that conventionally tie you to a fixed location. A spouse, children and mortgage are three common examples of things that people sink immense resources into–and for good reason too, I’m not putting any of these down. Whether it’s affection/time, DNA or money, respectively, all three former examples share a vice-like grip on your ability to sporadically relocate to another place.

Moving to a new country, for me, has been a formative developmental experience, as I feel there’s no better time in my life to drop everything and move abroad than now. I believe the vast majority of people are too timid about making a radical change in their life—constrained by things like ego, family and societal pressure—and don’t spend enough time exploring their likes, dislikes and preferences through genuine introspection and experience.

It’s super cliché, but you learn the most about yourself in difficult and unfamiliar situations, and only realize the worth of something once you lose it. For some people, being abroad serves as a stark reminder of how much they desire to be back home; for others, like me, it’s empowering and potentially solidifies the start of a new lifestyle.

To no surprise, I’ve received polarizing answers from other people in my situation when I ask them about their opinion on life as an English assistant abroad. It usually ranges from a definitive ‘hell yes, I’m doing this another year’ to ‘I’m miserable and can’t wait to go back to the States.’ I belong to the first category, and can’t wait to continue my adventure, but I never would have known unless I took that first crucial step and moved out here.

5) My recent ex girlfriend.

This list would not be complete, and certainly not be as honest, without talking a little bit about her influence in my move abroad. This isn’t ThoughtCatalog or Cosmo, (sorry ladies) so I won’t go into detail about why we’re no longer dating, but she was instrumental in making this happen. I feel obligated to give some important personal context to this post about her role in all this.

After dating for a little over a year in Canada, we were both feeling ‘stuck’ in our individual lives. This had nothing to do with our feelings towards one another, the relationship itself was perfect. I was unhappy with the direction of my life, uninspired and feeling spiritually vacuous. She was incredibly homesick was feeling gradually worse and worse about not completing a secondary education degree in Spain before coming to Canada. Doing it Canada wasn’t an option for her, since you’d have to auction your left kidney on the black market, liquidate your grandmother’s precious silver fork family heirloom and deplete your emergency reserve of cash stashed away in your mattress to study abroad as an international student in Canada. Tuition costs anywhere between 2-5x more for an international for the exact same program.

Inevitably, the topic of moving to Spain started popping up in conversations. I was initially taken aback by the notion of moving abroad, and firmly rejected the idea. However, after a lot of thinking, prioritizing, and entertaining the idea with some serious deliberation, we were able to both find a common ground to justify the move to Spain. Incredibly, went through with it. I recall an overwhelming surge of emotions flowing through my veins the minute the Spanish consulate in Toronto finally handed over my passport with a Spanish visa permanently etched inside.

Within a month of arriving here, my ex successfully enrolled in a local college and I quickly found work in a close by primary school as an English teacher. (future post on this, too). I cannot adequately express how incredibly appreciative I am for the necessary kick in the butt she gave me to jumpstart this whole process, as I probably wouldn’t be typing this post 1000’s of kms away if it wasn’t for her.





Food for thought:

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I challenge you to take a moment, step back, and reflect on your current situation. Are you happy with the way your life is progressing? What are some short and long-term goals you want to accomplish? What’s holding you back? If you ever feel ‘stuck,’ as I did, before my move to Spain, feel free to send me a private message and we can chat about things. It doesn’t matter if we’re close friends, or if I drunkenly added you to Facebook in a bar 5 years ago, I’m here to listen without judgement. Until next time 🙂

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