If you’re newer to this blog, then you may not know that I spent a majority of this past summer living in Europe. I stationed myself in a wonderful southeastern town in Spain, called Alicante, where I had previously studied in 2008. But I also had the opportunity to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland for a week.
During my time away from American culture, allowing myself to be completely immersed in another culture, I learned so much about myself, my worldviews, and people. I experienced life-changing lessons, and as I reflected on the most important, I came up with 10 things to share with my readers.
1. I can live without
Less truly is more, especially when you don’t have to keep track of a lot and/or clean it! For the past 2-3 years, I have committed to simplifying and de-cluttering my life. It hasn’t been an easy task—not because I’m sentimental with my stuff, but because I just had so much, and I really had to ask myself if I could live without something or otherwise. Knowing I was leaving the country for quite some time was like that final push I needed to get rid of more.
I gave away and/or sold about 80% of my stuff this year! Less to worry about, less to clean, less to keep track of. Also, doing so helped me to begin to truly prioritize what was important in my life and my career. I learned that simplicity really is best.
2. American society has some major problems with gender, sex, and sexual identity issues
Well, no duh, but it was disturbing and shocking to come back to after being out of the country for a few months to witness things firsthand. Here’s an example: When I returned to California, I decided to walk to the mall on a warm August day. It’s about a 15-minute walk from my house. In that short time, a few cars honked at me (or guys catcalled me) because I was a woman walking alone outside.
In Spain, and in Scotland, that NEVER happened. Even dolled up on the street and going out at night with my girlfriends—being accosted the way I have been IN MY OWN COUNTRY never happened in Spain. I felt safer being alone in public overseas than in my own neighborhood. How sad, huh?
Also, people in the States are very extreme when it comes to sexuality and sexual identity. I think the climate of talking about sex and sexual preference is slowing improving, but Americans have quite a ways to go. The fact that we’re still arguing about giving women access to contraceptives, etc., is baffling to me. In Europe (or most of it, anyway), I felt that there was a healthier view about sexuality and people’s bodies in general.
There’s so much more to say on the topic, but I’ll leave it at the few examples above.
3. I was able to home in on what really matters to me
As with my “Great Purge” of material goods this year, I also purged a lot of activities in my life. Many of them were really good things, too! Things like volunteering, tutoring, and singing. But those things had become distractions that were taking me away from focusing on my career as a writer and freelancer.
Because I was in a different country, I was able to be awake before my clients in the States, get a lot done, minimize distractions, and stay at home when I needed to rather than worrying about having to run errands or volunteer or tutor somewhere. Until you can walk just about everywhere within minutes, you don’t realize how much time you actually waste driving around town.
4. Sometimes, you need to physically remove yourself from . . .
. . . from where you don’t fit.
. . . from distractions.
. . . from toxic situations.
I have been unhappy for quite some time in my city. I needed a break—needed to get away so I could refocus, meet some new people, and experience a different way to look at the world. I also needed space to heal from some things in my past, and being in a different place really helped me with that.
5. Not having expectations can be the best thing ever
Though I am part Latina, know a fair amount of Spanish, and had been to Alicante before, I just kind of took a giant leap in going across a country and an ocean to live somewhere else for a while. I knew I’d want to stay because I love Spain and the Spanish culture so much, but I also knew that there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to. So, I went with the mindset that anything could happen, and I just had to take one day at a time.
And you know what? I had the BEST TIME of my life. I met so many cool people, learned a lot by myself, figured out a lot of things that were challenging, and re-learned how to live in the moment. Before I flew to Alicante, all I knew was that I had an apartment booked for the time I’d be there, but that’s pretty much it. I knew I wanted to go to Scotland as well, but I actually didn’t book my flight until I was in Spain. Without expectations, I was able to live and let live . . . and be content with my life every day.
6. Self-acceptance is one of the most important things to have
When you are on your own, you are stuck with yourself. You must face the most vulnerable and ugly things that you’ve been pushing down for far too long. I journaled almost every day while in Spain. I went to the beach often and took long walks, working through some really tough things. I had to face all my flaws and things I didn’t like about myself, in order to eventually accept it all and realize that I’m not perfect—or anywhere close to it. I think this is something I will grapple with for the rest of my life, but this year, I can honestly say that I have come to accept so much more of myself than ever before.
7. The best way to learn a language and culture is by complete immersion
As I stated previously, I knew enough Spanish to get by, but I was nowhere near fluent. I had experienced Spanish culture before, but never for longer than a few weeks. This time, I was IN it—all the way. I had roommates who didn’t speak a lot of English, so in order to get things done and communicated, guess who was trying her hardest to learn more Spanish? *raises hand* 🙂
I also met many people who wanted to learn English from me. (I actually have a TESOL certificate from Oxford Seminars and used to teach ESL in California.) Funnily enough, most people I met with ended up speaking more Spanish than English with me. I didn’t mind; I was learning from the natives, after all. My Spanish improved tenfold, and I learned all the things they don’t teach you in high school Spanish—including the most important thing: curse words. Ha!
8. Being present in the moment
In June, my friends took me to a Spanish rock concert. It was there, sipping on a beer and swaying to the music, that I realized I was finally living again. Like . . . really living. I felt free—I felt alive. I wasn’t worried about the next day or even the next hour. I was there with my friends, listening to great music, and enjoying the energy of the crowd. Why was that such a profound moment for me? I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that way, and I didn’t want it to end.
9. People can really be amazing—if you let them
Many of us grew up with the “stranger danger” thing. And that is a very valuable and viable thing to learn. However, especially in the US, many of us look at people weird if they wish us a good morning and we don’t know them. In Spain, people say good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to one another. We greet one another with a kiss on each cheek—even when we meet for the first time. There’s something about the physical contact that breaks the ice, I think.
Because of this connectedness, I met the most amazing people who I am still in contact with. One of my new friends gave me his old printer because I needed to print some documents. My landlady took me out to lunch the second day I was in Alicante, just to make sure I was feeling good about being there. My roommate and I became close, and she painted my nails, and I taught her how to knit. A total stranger in Edinburgh let me shadow him an entire afternoon and we ended up climbing to King Arthur’s Seat together.
I have street smarts. I think I’m pretty good at reading people. I usually know a shady person when I see one. But I had an open heart while traveling and living abroad. I said yes to people more than no. I agreed to meet total strangers who wanted to learn English. Some guy played guitar while I sang two songs in a Scottish bar at an open mic and got a free pint. I went out on dates. I let people amaze me. I never met anyone who wished me ill will. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
10. I am capable of everything I thought I was
Though I had no expectations of the experience itself, I did have expectations of myself. I had specific goals in mind, like finding more clarity and having more time to work on what was important to me. But I also knew that things would be challenging at times—that I would feel lonely. I prepared myself for all of that, even if I didn’t know what the final outcome would be. I wasn’t surprised because I had already told myself I was capable and would find a way—no matter what. I honored my commitment to myself, and I think that’s one of the great achievements I gained from living abroad. And that important commitment told me that I could apply the same tactics to my dreams and goals and plans. That I’m the only one who holds myself back. I have a choice, and I choose to keep moving forward, the way I did in Spain.
Whew! I know this post is long-winded, so thanks for making it this far. I will never forget my amazing experience in Spain and Scotland. I will always remember the wonderful people I met while on my journey, and I can’t wait for what’s ahead in 2015. I have already been making plans, so when I have news to share, it’ll be on this blog.
One more post coming tomorrow to finish out 2014, so stay tuned. xx
(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)
For the next two weeks, I’m creating my own sort of writer’s retreat, up in the boons of Northern California with my grandmother. I’ve got WiFi (which is on a limited GB plan!), but we were on dial-up up here just a few years ago. No joke. On Wednesday, my most exciting event was finding a dead raccoon and a (live) frolicking deer while taking the dog for a walk to the mailbox, which is down the street.
I’ve been here for a week already, however, feeling more relaxed than I have since I got back from Spain a few months ago. The most convenient part about my little retreat is that I have been able to focus on very important projects, including NaNoWriMo2014. I have never written so much in such a short time. Woot!
Having time to ourselves to work on projects and reflect about things in our lives is very important. Therefore, I’d like to touch briefly on the importance of vacation–whether it’s a day of reflection or a week (or more) away from everything.
When I was 21, I had worked for 3 years straight with NO vacation. I thought I could conquer the world while working full-time, and going to school full-time. I worked 7 days a week (for the most part) and nearly collapsed from doing waaaayyyyy too much. Then I had a wake-up call when I finally took a vacation.
One of my best friends was getting married in Hawaii and I didn’t want to miss the wedding. I booked a flight and hotel for both my sister and I, and decided we’d make the trip a full 8-day vacation. It was glorious. I had nearly forgotten how wonderful it was to relax and do next to nothing. I came alive again. And I realized that I hated working so much and needed to make a big change in my life.
A few months after that vacation, I quit my job and pursued other career paths. I was so happy and wondered what had taken me so long to make the change. Then I remembered that my vacation had triggered my desire for change, and that’s when I understood how important vacation is. Had I not taken that trip, who knows how long it would have taken for me to realize that I needed to make a drastic turnaround?
Vacation–or even reflection days–can bring clarity that the day-to-day grind can’t. It brings us to a different place physically (sometimes) and mentally (almost always) because we are removed from the norm. When we fail to take time for ourselves to reflect, get away from “it all,” and evaluate our current work/life situation, we do ourselves a disservice. We are more likely to fall into unhealthy habits all around, and wonder why we feel dissatisfied or stuck.
Vacation doesn’t have to be something expensive or burdensome. It can be a day set aside once a month, or every other month, in order to disconnect from all our devices and e-mail, and become centered. It can be a day where our sole purpose is to journal and project the future of our business or career–or even plan our next novel. It’s a day where we ask ourselves: Am I where I want to be?
And, if the answer is “no,” then we can use the remainder of our away time to come up with a way to answer “yes” in the near future.
I would like to note that an annual getaway does amazing things for our perspective on life. For myself, I come back from vacation with a new vision for my business and writing endeavors, and I just feel rested and ready for the next chapter of my life. I’m a nicer person when I come back from vacation, and that’s always a good thing. Being happier and more relaxed means that I’m a healthier person who can run a healthy business. I’ve made it a rule to travel somewhere at least once a year since that trip to Hawaii nearly a decade ago, and I’ve been blessed enough to keep that rule.
If vacation is not an option for you in the near future, set aside some reflection days–national holidays are a good start. And, if the thought of vacation stresses you out…um…you should probably take a vacation. 🙂 Grab a piña colada and take some time for yourself. Cheers!
(As previously seen on the Writer With A Passport blog.)
It’s 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon, and I’ve finally managed to get out of the house. I walk down a few blocks, past the supermarket, and past the park, and hang a left on Calle San Francisco. My intention is to make good on a two-week-old promise: to go to Canada Cupcake Cafe and interview the owners of the shop. It’ll be a sacrifice to drink good coffee and eat a cupcake, but hey, I’m used to hard work.
Thankfully, Arthur—one of the owners—remembers me when I enter. I order an iced latte and a really yummy chocolate ganache cupcake that I eat (in total) before I can remember to take a picture. When Arthur has a minute, he comes to sit with me and has his own cup of coffee. His partner, Shawn, is sitting close by and helps out any straggling customers before the shop closes for siesta time.
I do a quick recap for Arthur—I’m a writer from California, I’m living in Spain for the summer, and I love interviewing people and making new connections. Then, I get straight to the questions.
“How long have you been doing this?” I ask him.
Arthur tells me that he and Shawn opened CCC last August. They’re just getting ready to celebrate the shop’s one-year anniversary, and are still in the process of putting something together to show appreciation for loyal customers and draw in new clientele.
Like any “new and/or newer” business, there are loyal customers, newbies (like me!), a healthy rotation of students—especially Americans, and tourists. CCC offers a relaxing atmosphere, custom coffee, fresh desserts and bagels, and free WiFi. It sounds like a normal coffee/dessert shop in Northern California, but here in Spain, CCC is somewhat of an anomaly. Arthur and Shawn run a slightly different business model than other shops like them (there are only a handful of cupcake shops in Alicante, by the way), and walk a fine line between offering something culturally new while still providing some cultural comforts.
“Alicante chose us,” Arthur explains.
When he and Shawn decided to create a new adventure for themselves in Spain, they weren’t planning on making it to the south. They initially went to Barcelona, but the cost of living there is very expensive, and most people prefer to speak Catalan—a dialect of the region. Alicante drew in these Canadians with its good climate, lower cost of living, mix of people, and business potential.
At CCC, Arthur and Shawn make everything by hand with high-quality ingredients. They don’t use anything frozen or pre-made. And though this sounds normal to a California girl, it’s not so normal for everyone here. When the guys first began their cupcake endeavors, some people commented that cupcakes are cool, but just a “fashion” or phase in Spain. In other words, they didn’t anticipate the store to be a big hit—especially long-term.
But I think Arthur and Shawn will be seeing said people eating humble pie–or maybe humble cupcake. Canadian Cupcake Cafe seems like it will not only remain a part of Alicante, but also will grow and expand in the near future. Arthur shares with me that the goals of CCC are to make North Americans feel like they’re getting a taste of home, while allowing the Spanish to symbolically travel through their taste buds.
Even purchasing coffee at CCC is a different experience for most of the Spanish people here. For example, when I order a latte at a cafe I frequent here, it’s always in a porcelain cup—one size. But at CCC, you can choose a small, medium, or large size, AND can even have it customized to your preferences. Kinda like that one really popular coffee shop in North America that starts with a S… Plus, you can take your stuff to go (para llevar).
And the cups and utensils are unique as well. Both Arthur and Shawn take decreasing our carbon footprint very seriously. Therefore, they use biodegradable cups and utensils. They even have a sort of recycling center set up. Arthur joked that at times, it has “scared” the Spanish people here to see such a thing in the store. (See image below of the recycling center.) But customers are catching on, and Arthur and Shawn are teaching many people here something good—something that will help the environment and generations to come.
Though things seem to be going pretty well, success doesn’t come without hardship. Arthur tells me of the difficulties of all the paperwork involved in starting a business in Spain.
“Things are constantly changing,” he says. “At times, it feels like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing—and that’s not a knock against the process; it’s just how it is.”
Especially for a foreigner to start a business, it can be a struggle. But Canada Cupcake Cafe made it through the hoops and jumps, and now, Arthur and Shawn can focus on things like defining their products (they have recently added bagels to the menu and offer ice cream in the summer), and defining their market.
To top things off, both guys are community-oriented. They host intercambio (language exchange) groups at their shop, and aim to create a comfortable and relaxing environment for everyone. Shawn also tells me that they are both passionate about animals, and have been developing treats for pets. They’d like to partner with a local animal shelter in the near future, and donate a portion of pet treats sales to the shelter.
It’s safe to say that I’ll be making a return visit to Canada Cupcake Cafe—and soon. I’m glad I discovered this place and had the pleasure of speaking with its owners. If you find yourself in Alicante, be sure to visit them. You can eat your cupcake and drink your coffee in the store, or take them to go if you’re headed to the beach.
Virtually Connect with Canada Cupcake Cafe:
Website (English version)
(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)
I’ve made some good friends while living abroad this summer. But there’s one in particular who stands out. She happens to be the person I’m renting my room from, though she’s become so much more than just that. She’s a kindred spirit, and understands the trials and triumphs that I face while running my own business. After all, she runs two businesses with her parents, and can relate.
Meet my friend, Agostina de Castillo Berladinelli. To me, she is the quintessential young entrepreneur, embracing her penchant to dabble in a little bit of this, and little bit of that. At 28 years old, Agostina is wise beyond her years, and has 6 years of business owner experience. She is originally from Argentina, but her family settled here in Spain 13 years ago.
On a busy Thursday afternoon, Agostina and I went for tapas and cañas—typical Spanish food—and sat down for a more organic-type of interview. I was very interested to learn more about her background and her business endeavors. Plus, it was a good opportunity for me to continue to practice my Spanish. But I digress.
The first business in which Agostina is involved is called Puroaroma Ambientadores. Puroaroma is a line of products that, in the words of Agostina, “gives clients the complete experience by making sure their place of business and/or home has the perfect scent.” There are “aparatos de ambientador,” or what I deem them: aroma machines. This is the main product, but there are other products as well—like small squares that give off a generous amount of good-smelling waves of the scent of your choosing. Sounds like a great product, right? Right. However, it can be hard to sell something like this, especially here in Alicante, Spain.
“In Alicante, it can be hard to sell someone on a new idea. People can be close-minded at times,” Agostina explained to me when I asked her about the difficulty of running such a business. And especially since “La Crisis,” people have become more skeptical and cautious—which is how things can be in the US, more so because of the Recession.
So, like any good marketer and business owner, Agostina finds ways to get people to buy in to her product. She told me, “I tell prospective clients: You can try the product for two days. If you like it, let’s talk.” She further went on to say that people in general don’t always appreciate a good product, and you must be confident so that people believe in YOU first, and then they’ll believe in the product.
“If you believe in the product, it basically sells itself. You must present it with confidence.” –Agostina Berladinelli
She’s done a great job of presenting her product with said confidence, but also uses effective marketing techniques like placing ads in elevators, wearing t-shirts that advertise Puroaroma, and making personal visits to stores to build relationships with clientele.
Agostina also runs a business with her mother: Frida & Co. Through Frida & Co., they sell jewelry and accessories. They distribute their products to stores, at house meetings/parties (similar to a Stella & Dot kind of party), and through the Internet. Like myself, Agostina likes to keep her hands in more than one cookie jar, and likes to be innovative and creative.
So, just what does the future hold for this bright and very talented young woman? For starters, she has her mind set on business expansion, especially in regards to Puroaroma. She and her business partners have plans to keep expanding sales to other regions in Spain, and would like to sell all the way up to Valencia—and beyond. Agostina also plans to grow Frida & Co. She is currently working on bettering the websites for both companies, continuing to network, and increase her clientele. And you know something? I think she’ll do just fine.
To find Agostina’s companies on social media, check out the links below:
Frida & Co.