My 2014 in (partly foreign) Wor(l)ds

My 2014

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

2014 was an incredible year. More than any other, I feel like this one has made me learn and grow and self-analyze, probably way too much. Introspection, we’ll call it. There were ups, like a solo trip to Poland, or the most fantastic summer at home that almost made me not return to Spain. And there were downs, mostly revolving around typical expat problems like feeling too far removed from family and friends, or wiping babies’ noses too many times in a day. I guess the latter doesn’t technically qualify as typical for everyone–count yourselves lucky.

In 2014 I’ve lived in three cities with four different national languages. I’ve traveled to a handful of new and familiar places, in Europe, North Africa, and my home country. I made some fantastic and hilarious new friends, and when I returned home, I was reminded how much I love my old ones. I grew this blog substantially, and I actually achieved a New Year’s Resolution from last year (no, not the Get Fit one): I dove into freelance writing, and it’s now a significant part of my income. Plus I got business cards. That means I’ve made it, right?

My 2014, summed up in 14 Wor(l)ds (and expressions):

1. Kaas. Language: Dutch. Meaning: Cheese.

Life isn’t predictable, but me starting this yearly roundup with a food word is. In January I reunited with my friend Miles in Amsterdam, and fell in love with the city like everyone else and their mother. Whether it was the endless free cheese samples or the gingerbread buildings that got me, Amsterdam was a fairytale, and I wasn’t even high. I don’t generally love repeating destinations (traveling is all about checking off cities from a list, right?!? ha not) but I would return to Amsterdam in a heartbeat.

Amsterdam sky

2. Xirimiri. Language: Basque. Meaning: The light, gray drizzle that eternally enshrouds Basque Country. 

Xirimiri could be the clinical diagnose for seasonal affect disorder. After a winter break spent jaunting around Europe, I landed back in Bilbao for a rather Blah February. I kept expecting that one day there would be a click, that I would fall in love with the city and want to spend another year there. It just never happened, and for a while I thought it was me–am I just incapable of being happy anywhere?!?–and then I realized. It’s the f**king xirimiri.

3. “This teapot costs 500 dollars, but I’ll cut you a deal for 10.” Language: English in Marrakech. 

In March I flew off to Morocco and nearly died of happiness when I saw clear blue sky for five days straight. Morocco reminded me that I can’t get complacent in Europe–I am desperate to begin exploring other corners. It was a thrill for me to return to more rugged travel, a place where traffic is a question of life or death, and where prices can be bartered down 1000% within a matter of seconds.

Morocco was incredible except for one little thing I ate, and then a 10 hour van-ride through the desert with very limited bathroom access. This is where I tested out the few vocabulary words I learned from reading French for Dummies: “I need a bag. Now.”

Camel ride Sahara Morocco

4. Arbeit Macht Frei. Language: German. Meaning: Work sets you free.

In April I traveled to Berlin, Poland, Girona and Barcelona. Can we pause here to appreciate how much vacation time I have as a teacher in Spain . . .

I didn’t fall in love with Berlin as much as everyone said I would, and I need to give it another shot. But Poland blew me away. It was dirt cheap, had a different feel from your typical Western Europe destinations, and loaded to the brim with history. I visited Auschwitz Death Camp on a frigid day where temperatures dipped to 1 degree Celsius. It was probably one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had while traveling. The iron gate over the entrance to the death camp reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Work Sets You Free.

5. Vin. Language: French. Meaning: Wine.

In May my four best girlfriends and I rented a house in Bordeaux for the weekend and drove to France, where we participated in a 10K race through rolling hills and vineyards. If there’s ever a time and a place to exercise, it’s in French wine country. The promise of a bottle of wine at the end was literally the carrot being held out in front of us. If only I’d been promised free booze during all my cross country races in high school.

The weekend getaway was the perfect way to end the year with these girls. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of chicas in Bilbao.

Worthy of our prize.

6. Agur. Language: Basque. Meaning: Goodbye.

In May I finished work in Bilbao, where I was an English conversation assistant at IES Zorroza high school. Although most of my students there were less than motivated, they were a lot of fun and we got along great. (Ha, I suppose the point is to teach them English, not just get along with them great, but hopefully I made some difference.) Saying agur to the job and Bilbao was bittersweet. It was also one of the only things I learned how to say in Basque all year. That language is insane.

7. WordPress/Back End/SEO/HTML/Analytics. Language: Certainly not English. Meaning: Still don’t really know.

I left Bilbao in early June and headed to Chicago to participate in Bloghouse. This personalized workshop, run by some of the best travel bloggers out there, inspired me to re-envision A Thing For Wor(l)ds and treat it as more than a hobby. Thanks to Bloghouse, I not only understand the technical side of blogging a whole lot more (meaning I get 5% instead of 0), but I’ve also found a stronger writing voice, grown confident in my ability to market myself as a writer, landed several freelance writing jobs, and started an Instagram account. Yes, it took a blogging conference to get me on Instagram, and I’m a Millenial. (Follow me!)

bloghouse Chalkboard

8. Reunited.

After Bloghouse my mom flew out to Chicago for a few days to meet me. It was incredible to have a few mom-daughter days after nine months apart. We explored Chicago’s neighborhoods, ate food I forgot existed, biked along the riverfront, and decided that we should always take luxury mother-daughter getaways together, with her footing my plane tickets. It’s possible that wasn’t a mutual decision. My memory escapes me.


9. Home.

I finally returned to California, where I learned what it was to pay 8 times as much for a glass of the same low-quality spanish wine I’d been drinking all year. San Francisco and I fell in love at first re-sight, which made it very difficult for me to decide whether to head back to Spain.

Reunited with college friends.

10. Pour-Over.

The summer consisted of: Seeing old friends and new; hiking up hills at home in Marin, and mountain tops in Yosemite; waving flags and going wild at San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade; lots of eating and maybe a little drinking; appearing on the radio with a piece I wrote; and writing dates with my blogging twin at bougie San Francisco coffee shops. What is a pour-over, how is it different than regular coffee and why should I be OK paying 5 dollars a cup for it?!?

11. Un petit roadtrip.

All good things must come to an end, so I said goodbye to the perfect summer and headed back to Spain. I was apprehensive but excited. I was back in Spain all of 24 hours before I set off with my old roommate and some of her friends on a roadtrip through France. This is when I realized that actually, all good things DON’T have to come to an end, because here I am eating brie and baguettes on a medieval castle wall overlooking the French countryside from the tiny hilltop village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.


12. M’agrada molt. Language: Catalan. Meaning: I like ___ a lot. (The first thing I learned in Catalan class. Basically all I’m capable of saying.)

I moved to Barcelona, where I instantly fell head over heels for the city. I’d visited three times before, but it’s entirely different being a resident rather than a tourist. I can use the bike-share program! I know the best brunch places! I get to say I live in Barcelona!

If I could import my family and friends, and find a job I love, I would live here forever. The city has it all: beach, mountains, sunshine, an international population, great public transportation, fantastic food, nightlife, cheap flights, and beauty.

The city itself–be it Bilbao, San Francisco, or Barcelona–can’t determine happiness. There’s still things like life to factor in. . . you know, jobs, friends, visa problems, finding a doctor that will accept your crappy insurance. But living in a place as alive as Barcelona makes it easier to see why I left home again.

I traded higher pay for this. Can you really blame me?

13. Seu bé! Language: Catalan. Meaning: “Sit properly!!

My biggest highs and lows in Barcelona revolve around the daycare. I sing “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” like it’s my job. Actually it is literally my job–just sing till they shut up and absorb some English words. I’m learning a lot of Catalan from the other teachers and babies; important things like “Would you like a cookie?” and “Don’t touch the crayons.” Working at a daycare is not my life calling, that much is clear, but there is also something beautiful about it. I’m talking about witnessing a baby’s first steps; not cleaning her shit.

Meddeas daycare

14. Tanti Auguri. Language: Italian. Meaning: Congratulations/Happy Holidays

I capped off the year with 9 days in Italy, visiting Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Viareggio, Naples, and Amalfi. I stayed with family and friends, participated in traditional Italian holiday festivities, ate like a victim of famine, and felt so grateful to have adopted family overseas. Many posts to come on Italy–for now suffice it to say that I couldn’t think of a better way to say goodbye to 2014.

me xmas hat

Happy holidays, Zorionak, Felicidades, Bones Festes, Tanti Auguri.

I hope you all had a wonderful year and gut-bursting, wine and cheese and chocolate-filled holidays. Thank you for reading, and I wish you a fantastic 2015!