How did I get here? That’s a question I asked several weeks ago in my first post. I gave a short answer at the time, indicating where here was (Chicago, IL, USA) and explaining that I’d been living in nine different countries over the past nine years. But, as a few readers have pointed out, I didn’t specify which nine countries I had lived in. So that’s what I’m going to do today. But first, let’s start from the beginning….
Spain: Where it all began
When I was 20, I quit university and decided to leave the US for awhile. I had about a thousand dollars in the bank–enough for a one-way ticket to Madrid, Spain, and (I hoped) enough to survive on until I found a job teaching English.
I got lucky and things worked out pretty well. I found a teaching job within a few days of landing in Madrid, despite not knowing a soul and not having a work permit. I got by at first with the rudimentary Spanish I’d learned in two semesters at the University of Texas, but quickly got up to speed and became fluent within a few months, learning dozens of new words and phrases daily as well as a whole new culture and way of life. (To say nothing of indulging in the incredible 24-hour nightlife of the movida period!) It was a real rush and ended up being one of the best years of my life.
Things certainly could have turned out badly though. Had I not found a job, I would’ve had to borrow some money for a plane ticket and fly back home broke. But it was worth taking that chance. To get out of the rat race. To think outside the box. To try something totally new. To go somewhere where nobody spoke my language. It was the best decision I ever made, and I haven’t looked back since.
That was over 25 years ago. There weren’t any internet travel forums back then. Hell, there wasn’t even any internet. Today’s 20-year-old traveler/digital nomad has an incredible degree of freedom and mobility that was unthinkable just two decades ago.
So, after about a year in Madrid, I traveled around Western Europe a bit, then headed back home to Texas. I thought about Spain EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for the next three years. Like a long lost love, I just couldn’t get her out of my mind! I finally decided to go back and give it another shot in 1993. Unfortunately, this time my timing wasn’t so good. The European Union treaty took effect right about the time I arrived, which meant that English teachers from England, Ireland, and other EU countries could now work legally in Spain (and were happily flooding the country!), whereas everyone was working illegally when I was there in 1989. So this left English speakers from non-EU countries out in the cold. Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc. were all outta luck. No language school was willing to take a chance on hiring somebody without a work permit when they had a huge influx of willing and able legal workers coming in. I had been following the Spanish news as much as possible (remember, this was pre-internet), so I was aware of the changes to the law, but I figured I could overcome them with my previous teaching experience and fluent Spanish skills. But I was wrong. After six weeks of pounding the pavement, I had to return to the US disappointed.
Montreal: Latin culture north of the border!
It would be about six years before I ventured overseas again. In 2000 I struck out into the world once more, spending six weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico, then about six weeks in Bangkok, Thailand. Both places had their appeal: low cost of living, good food, nice weather, etc., but somehow something was missing for me. Some connection. Some undefinable je ne sais quois. Well, I found that certain I don’t know what when I arrived, ironically enough, in French-speaking Montreal, Canada, in early 2002. A Canadian friend from my English-teaching days in Madrid had highly recommended Montreal to me. Knowing how much I loved Madrid, she had been telling me for years that Montreal was the Madrid of North America. And, as far as I’m concerned, she was right. I fell in love with Montreal right from the beginning (No, I didn’t arrive in winter 😉 ). It had great nightlife and cafe culture like Madrid and the same “live and let live” outlook on life. I ended up staying there for five magnifiques années, which is quite a record for somebody who’s been averaging a country per year for the past nine years!
Coming soon: Part 2, featuring Spain 2.0 (The Reconquista!) and a foray into the Slavic countries and beyond!