I was 28 years old when I quit my job and moved my miniature poodle and myself to Spain. So, it’s not hard to imagine how I was easily one of the oldest English Assistants fresh of the plane when I arrived in Murcia. During my first year in Spain, there were more than a few times when I felt like what Jaleesa must have felt while living on Hillman’s campus, surrounded by wisdom deficient college freshmen like Denise Huxtable and Whitley Gilbert. Holy Hell Batman! I just realized, I was Jaleesa…living in A Different World, quite literally. I’m seeing my current Netflix binge with hella new eyes right now and falling in love with this show even harder, but I digress.
Looking back at those two years of the first installment of my Spanish life, I often think of what I would change if I could do it all over again. While there are many things I would like to have done differently, one thing I wouldn’t change, even if you paid me, is deciding to hop the pond at 28. Why, you ask? Allow me to explain…
I had the great pleasure of ringing in my #dirtydamn30 in one of the world's greatest cities—Lisbon. I could honestly argue that entering this glorious new decade while in the foreign country next door to the foreign country that I lived in, was half of why moving abroad at a “late age” was a great idea. But a bombdiggity 30th birthday bash in Portuguese vineyards (that’s right, plural vineyards) and later being serenaded Disney songs by ten French Men in the Bairro Alto (I swear, I’m not making this up) was really just a bonus to moving abroad as a bona fide grown up.
So why should you abandon all that you’ve known for 30 years?
Quit your stable job, sell most of your worldly cheap possessions (put your good furniture in storage, because you’re a damned grown up, so you know good furniture is too hard to come by to be selling on craigslist), subject yourself to the will of foreign bureaucracies, plop yourself into a country where you don’t speak the language, manage your financial ties from across an ocean, and try to make a new life and inevitably a new you after 30 years of only knowing the American version of life? Because why the eff not?! Because if you’re of the belief that only obnoxious, fresh off the graduation stage, 22-year-olds can move abroad and be happy, let me tell you, you have been LIED to. It’s time you decide to live your life on your terms, no age limits!
Why should you move to Spain in your 28s? Your 33s? Your 42s?
Because. You. Want. To. And unlike the vast majority of the 23-year-olds you are bound to encounter, you’ve lived that adult American life, and you know exactly what you’re walking away from. I can tell you I heard many of my younger counterparts in Spain wax conflicted about wanting a real job and all the trappings of adulthood in the states. I can also tell you, that as I heard these things, I would silently sip on my rum & límon, happy to not have those worries. Moving to Spain at 28 meant I knew myself—my strengths, my limitations, and far more of my wants and needs, than I did in my “youth”. I knew with every fiber of my existence that I WANTED to turn my life on its head when I moved to Spain, so I had zero, “What am I missing out on?” sleepless nights. There were the occasional, “OMG, I’ve removed myself from the health promotion job market and any real ability to save money for two years, what was I thinking?!” meltdowns, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT beat yourself up for having missed the “ideal” window to move abroad. “Ideal” is relative, and everyone’s come to Jesús timeline is different. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite easily distracted. I literally have “Squirrel!” moments—far more frequently than I’m willing to admit. Say I had moved to Spain before attending graduate school, or becoming a poodle mom, or having put four long years of grant management for a state health department under my belt? There’s a fair chance I would be using my Bachelor’s Degree in Fitness Management as a Nubian Gypsy Hula Hooper on the streets of Madrid right now. OK, I may be exaggerating…I could never live that gypsy life because I’m far too pragmatic to not know how I’m gonna pay my rent. But it’s not hard to imagine my 22-year-old self, aimlessly wandering from one English gig to another, while being superficially fulfilled by sunshine, guapos, wine and jamón. Remember your 22-year-old self? Your quarter-life crisis? Curse of the 27s? Would you want those versions of yourself to move to a foreign country?? God’s time is always on time. ‘Member dat!
If you go the teach English in Spain route, as I did, you may think you’re going to be the oldest person among your peers. But you probably won’t be. There will very likely be a small cohort of other late in lifers, and unless they majorly suck, you will immediately become best friends. Don’t believe me? Just ask Candace, Molly, and Jackie. These three gals are some of my favorites in life, all with whom I shared an instant connection because, “OMG, you’re old like me too!” Obviously, we connected on far more than our ages, because I have aeroplaned, trained, or automobiled my way to see each of these ladies. Now think on this, when was the last time, after college, you made a brand new friend whom you now consider a lifer? Whom you would hop a bi-coastal flight to see? If you know about grown-up life, then you know that starting these types of friendships gets harder after the degrees have settled. Yet in the span of two years in two cities, I picked up six of those of friendships, three of which were immediately facilitated because of our common age (and Sean gets an honorable shout out because I consistently forget he’s basically a zygote).
And last but not least, here’s where I share some advice that’s supposed to make me look bad, except I’m 31 years old, so I don’t give a kitty. Inevitably, you’re going to make friends with at least a handful of the “obnoxious” twenty-somethings. This is a good thing. Why? 1.) Because you’re not a pretentious old head with a stick up your butt. 2b.) Seriously, don’t be that person. Remember Whitley Gilbert in Season 1? Her shade was epic, but she didn’t have any friends. Don’t be like Whitley, be like Jaleesa. C of all.) Because you get to turn back the clock, and relive your twenties, if you so choose. I so chose, and looking back, there are only two nights that I would’ve done differently while partying like I was not 28, 29, or even 30. Stay out all night until the sun rises, and it not feel like a slow death? YOU WILL DO IT. Dance all night long? EVERY WEEKEND. Go ahead, eat whatever you please, since you’ll be walking significantly more than American life has ever enabled you to. Dance on tables, go insane, throw some glitter, make it rain…surprisingly, I didn’t get around to doing this. I shall be remedying this, quite possibly in the next 10 days when I reunite with this Belgian diva in New York. And if not in NY, then certainly during my 3rd round of Italian escapades this May…I’ll be 32, and whut?!
The bottom line is that it is never too late to move abroad. Because if this is what you really want to do, then Ma’am, Sir, You are the Master of Your Fate! Yes, it may be a little more complicated at this stage of your life. And yes, you may have more at stake than your younger self. But you know what they say about great risks. If you are already glancing toward that ledge, you’ll likely regret not letting yourself fall forward because of something as nominal as your age. So go ahead, let yourself fall forward. If you happen to fall flat on your face, remember, you’re a grown up. You’ll just dust yourself off, learn from it, and keep it moving…forward.
 no really, I was Jaleesa. She was from Camden, NJ, I’m from Camden, NJ…she was a chocolate drop in a sea of light brights… I was the obsidian jewel on a white sand beach …the parallels are undeniable!
 Obviously not every weekend, wtf, you’re not actually 22!
Bernadette is true Jersey girl — impatient, unfiltered, and infamously averse to mayonnaise. Her affinity for the finer things in life include high-end leather boots, jamón ibérico, and all things bourbon. She and her miniature poodle Kona, currently reside on the wrong side of the Atlantic in Baltimore, MD. But Madrid is their spirit city, and they plan of finding their way back in the future, this time for keeps. You can find more of her work here.