It’s hard to believe that in 10 days, I will be on my way home to California for the holidays. This first part of the year flew by.

I’m incredibly excited to go home, believe me. But it’s an entirely different kind of excitement from when I came home from Spain for Christmas two years ago. See, back then, I had an intense longing to go home. As much fun as I was having the first few months in Madrid, I carried with me always at least some sense of homesickness. I was loving Spain, but part of my heart remained in California. I needed to go home.

Psyched to see my sister on Christmas Eve in 2009 after four months in Madrid

But this time around? Yes, it’s definitely true I’m overjoyed to be returning to California for the holidays. And, sure, there are things I miss about the U.S., and, of course, I wish I weren’t so far away from so many of the people I love, but I completely feel like I’m meant to be here in Spain right now. I’m so, so glad I’ll be coming back to Spain for 5 more months.

Whereas in Madrid I always felt a bit out of place, I’m just so comfortable here. I noticed it as soon as I landed in the Madrid-Barajas airport in September. Despite having been away from Spain for almost 15 months, the second I arrived, everything was familiar and comforting. Signs in Spanish, prices posted in euros no longer were reminders of how far away from home I was but instead made me feel like I had returned to a dear, old friend. And that hasn’t changed. I’m constantly discovering new, unfamiliar things, from neighborhoods of Sevilla to foods to aspects of Spanish culture I wasn’t previously aware of, and I loved these discoveries last time around too, but I think I appreciate them even more this time.

Part of it has to be that I’m more comfortable with speaking Spanish. My Spanish was at a similar level in 2010, but I’m used to speaking it, I’ve accepted that no one judges me when I make mistakes, and I no longer get nervous about having to carry on a conversation. Another reason for my new sense of comfort is my role here. Whereas in Madrid I was a student in classes full of Spanish people, always struggling to fit in and keep up, the outsider who was trying to work her way into a world in which she didn’t entirely belong, this time my foreignness is an asset. I’m here because Spain wants me, and Spain embraces me for having grown up with a different language and culture. I was brought here and get paid for being an outsider, a guiri.

“Guiris (gringos): breaking the rules of fashion since the beginning of time.” I’d like to think I’m a little less guiri than this, at least.”

Long story short, I love it here. I’m happy here. I fully want to be here. Don’t worry, family, I’m not saying I want to move to Spain permanently, because I could never leave the U.S. forever, but at this point in my life, I know this is where I’m meant to be.

That said, Christmas break is going to be fabulous. I’ve been fantasizing about the ridiculous amounts of exclusively-American food I’m going to eat, planning meet-ups with friends I’ve missed, and can’t wait to be surrounded by American Christmas traditions. As the 23rd gets closer, I’m getting more and more excited. To my readers in California, I am insanely happy I’ll get to see you so soon. Just 6 more work days and 10 more days until I’m there!!!(about a hundred more exclamation marks)

There’s no place like home for the holidays…

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