This post was contributed by Vanessa Fernandez
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (a.k.a. Florida), there was a girl on the verge of an existential crisis due to her upcoming graduation date, with no plans for her future, a mountain of student debt stretching further than the eyes can see, and the haunting fear of never finding a meaningful purpose in life. *phew – takes a deep breath*
No, she didn’t wear a glass slipper or plan to marry her Prince Charming anytime soon. But, like any other princess, she wondered if she was destined to stare at the same four walls of her castle, in this case, a cubicle, every day for the rest of her life. Sound familiar?
Ain’t no fairy godmother ‘round here.
I hate to break it to you, but that girl was no princess. That girl was me… well, she still is. After realizing that I would rather watch paint dry than to dress in business casual and make small talk about the weather every day, I knew that this story needed a new ending. Upon hours and hours of looking at my computer screen, and probably needing a stronger eye prescription afterward, I found InterExchange: a program searching for adventurous souls that seek to have life-changing experiences abroad. In the words of Logic, “WHO CAN RELATE?? WOO!” (me, yes, I can relate).
I applied to be a Conversation Coach, meaning that I would live with a host family in a different country and teach them English through casual conversation every day in exchange for housing and all of my meals (a super good deal). For the three months that I signed up for, I paid a total of (drumroll please) just $800. *clears throat* I REPEAT: HOUSING AND FOOD. FOR THREE MONTHS. IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. FOR ONLY $800. Okay, I’m done screaming at you now, but do you understand how cheap that is?!?
To put that in perspective, $800 is about $200-$400 less than what one would pay for a crappy, 300 square-foot, studio apartment with no AC for a month in any American major city. My father also happens to be an international flight attendant, so I have the privilege of flying for free/very little to almost anywhere. Clearly, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, so I applied. And now, while drinking a sangria in the heart of Madrid, Spain, I am writing to you how I’ve decided my fairytale will end.
In the words of the classic 70s hit, WE ARE FAM-I-LY.
Although, my luck of the draw was a little more forgiving than Cinderella’s. Instead of a horrid step-mother and ugly stepsisters, my host family consists of two loving parents who adore their three beautiful, intelligent children. They also had the most adorable black lab named Cora after the word ‘Corazón’, which means ‘heart’ in Spanish. I know, my corazón melted too.
I may not wake up in a luxurious, stone-walled castle every day, but I do enjoy being on the top floor of a four-story, six-bedroom house, in a suburban neighborhood that’s just a 30-minute bus ride from Madrid’s city center. At first, I was actually kinda bummed that I wasn’t directly in the city, but now I wouldn’t trade being able to admire the sunset over my balcony, in the quiet little neighborhood of Villanueva de la Cañada, for the world.
On top of having the best homestay experience ever, I’ve gotten to taste (figuratively and literally) everything that not only Madrid, but Spain has to offer on my time off. My weekday mornings consist of me getting lost around every corner of Madrid. On weekends, I can strut like I mean it through the streets of Barcelona or dance the night away in Sevilla (CHEETAH GIRLS FOR LIFE). Next month, I’m even planning on taking a train to Portugal and the month after that, France.
On top of everything, I get to embrace my Hispanic heritage even more by speaking Spanish daily, even if I never get used to the Spanish “th” sound for an ‘sss’ sound. (Sidenote; you don’t have to speak the country’s native language in order to do this program – but obviously it always helps to learn the language of your host country).
The opportunities are truly endless, and they’re all at my fingertips. I mean, they always have been; I just didn’t realize it.
Talk about a Never-Ending Story.
Not really, I’m almost done, I swear. Basically, I came here to teach English to total strangers and to live in their home. In addition to that, my life has changed in a way that I never would have thought to be possible. I’ve gained a new family, new memories, new friends from around the world, and a new perspective on how easy and inexpensive traveling really can be.
What comes next for me? I have no idea. But even if this chapter of my life is soon-to-be-over
I’m determined to make the story of my life a book that I can’t put down. And I encourage you to do the same.
Become your own favorite author. Write your own story. Change the ending, and then change it again if you want to. You’ll find your happily EVER after and I promise you, you’ll be a bestseller in no time.
Okay, okay. Enough with cheesy, yet inspiring, metaphors, Vanessa.
Meet Vanessa: Vanessa likes her travel like she takes her coffee – inevitably inconsistent and unpredictable. Even when it’s the same order Every. Single. Time. Her travel pet peeve: not knowing how to say “Do you have a hair tie?” in every language. Keep up with her on IG.