Next year?

I graduate from UCLA in seven months, and that’s a crazy thought. But while it’s rather scary, it’s also incredibly exciting because I plan to spend some time living abroad before I jump into my career (and possibly grad school before that). My two main ideas are 1) to find a way to work/volunteer and live somewhere in Latin America for a few months or 2) to return to Spain to teach English for a school year.

The first would be fantastic because it would give me a chance to be introduced to a new part of the world while still using and developing my Spanish skills. I’ve yet to find a great program that would allow me to live there, however, as most require you to pay them to work for them. Silly, right? On the other hand, Spain’s government has a program that would be ideal. I’ve mentioned it before, referring to it as the Cultural Ambassadors Program, but the correct name seems to be the North American Language & Culture Assistants Program or auxiliares de conversación. Through this program, you spend 12-16 hours a week as an English teaching assistant for a school year and get paid €700 a month (the equivalent of about $1000, enough to get by on Spain’s cheap living costs, especially if you work as a private tutor on the side). Sweet deal, right?

The application opened last week, and, finally getting a much-needed break from all that has kept me busy this quarter, I submitted the online part of the application last night. I’ve gone back and forth about whether I want to do this program or not, but I talked about it with a few people at a study abroad returnee conference I attended last weekend (the conference itself was unhelpful, but this conversation was not!), and it’s since been back on my radar. The program application is free, and the sooner you submit, the higher your chances of being placed in your desired region are, so I figured I might as well send in my application now.

While doing so, I had a bit of a panic attack. Was this really what I wanted to do? Of course, submitting the preliminary application and choosing to actually go are very different things, and the decision to go won’t come for quite some time, but I had an enormous lump in my throat as I was overwhelmed with stress over the decision. Suddenly, the bad memories from my year abroad came rushing back, and they were all I could think of. See, I’m very happy here in the U.S. Sure, I’m not flying off to a foreign country every weekend, meeting new people constantly, having unforgettable experiences almost daily, but life in one’s native country is easy. You know where to go and how to get things done, and you’re surrounded by friends and family. Being in a foreign country, on the other hand, is fabulous, but it can also be very challenging and lonely. Last year may have been the best year of my life, but I also experienced the lowest lows of my life while abroad. Am I capable of doing another year in Spain? Would it be easier to just stay here? These questions only exacerbated my panic attack, because if I’m not 100% excited to go back to Spain, who am I? Isn’t adoring Spain a huge part of my identity? Sounds silly, but it all felt very dramatic in the moment. We young people are very good at melodrama.

However, apparently it was mostly the stress talking, because as soon as I reread the program manual and realized I didn’t have to submit documents (including a letter of recommendation, academic transcript, personal statement, etc.), immediately, I did a 180, and, suddenly, all I could think about was all the reasons I adore Spain and how much I can’t wait to go back. Yes, it would be easier to stay in the U.S., but I have my entire life to live here. And when else will I have the freedom to get paid to live in Spain for a year? It’s a pretty difficult opportunity to pass up. I’ve been asked the question, “But haven’t you already done Spain?” My answer is no. 10.5 months is not enough time to get to know a place, I’d be living somewhere other than Madrid, and I’d be using this year to immerse myself in Spanish culture far more than I did last year. So I’ve been spending the past 24 hours or continuing to research the program as much as I can and getting very eager to go back.

Perhaps my feelings and circumstances will change and I won’t end up being an auxiliar de conversación, but I love being able to think about this option now. If I don’t do it, I’m sure I’ll find a way to travel in some other capacity (and then probably do a year of grad school, then start working), or if I do it, I could probably even do this roughly August through June, then work/volunteer in Latin America in the fall, and, if all works out, do USC’s one-year master’s program in online community management from January to December while working or interning, which will then lead into my career (I’m currently hoping will be something in the social media industry).

This year may be kind of a terrifying one because being a senior means having to figure out what the heck I do next, but I’m lucky to have some incredibly exciting options. I love it.

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