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The Coronavirus in Spain: Why I Chose to Stay

There's not many things that warm me inside and out like a Spanish sunset.

In my last post, I mentioned that my employer, the Community of Madrid, gave us two options that could be boiled down to "Stay and keep your job, or leave and lose your job." In addition to that, the support program that coordinated my placement and acted as a liaison between the Spanish government and myself, without really giving any concrete reasons, decided to suspend all of their operations in Europe. My decision process was emotionally exhausting, and within the span of 12 hours, I had almost booked a flight back home and then backed out about ten times. I would call my mom asking her if she'd be able to pick me up from the airport at 11:50 pm on a Tuesday. Then I would call her back crying, "I'm not ready for this! [gut-wrenching sob] I can't leave!" My poor parents, they've spent the last 31 years dealing with my Disney princess emotions. They're going to have quadruple halos in heaven or something. While my family and friends were heavily advocating for me to come home, I made the difficult decision to stay in Spain.

The first part of my decision was completely logical. I have health insurance in Spain that covers the coronavirus. In the United States, I don't. Since I do not feel like stirring the Great Pot of Controversy at this moment, I will leave it at that. Another consideration was that there was a slight risk that I could get exposed to the virus while in transit between Madrid and Arkansas. The reality is that anytime I leave the house, I put myself at risk to get the virus, and even worse, I could pass it to someone whose immune system is less equipped to handle it. With my mom working at a hospital, the consequences have the potential to be severe.

The second part of my decision was completely emotional. I just couldn't fathom leaving Spain yet. I couldn't stop thinking of all the children I've poured my heart and soul into for the past two years, and the teachers who have loved me and accepted me as one of their own. If I start writing about the Spanish families I've lived with during my time here, I will start crying and never stop. These people have shared their lives with me in depths that cannot be articulated in print: laughter, tears, fear, anxiety, success, and so much more. To leave behind the life I've built in Aranjuez right now... I just couldn't do it. Leaving now would somehow be giving up on the entire reason I chose to come. I came here looking for adventure, and while this may not be the adventure I was looking for, something inside me felt very strongly that if I left now, I would miss the most important lesson that Spain could teach me. I needed to stay and be part of this, whatever "this" is.

I won't be able to go for a run in the Prince's Gardens in Aranjuez for a little while.

My decision was overwhelmingly affirmed on Saturday, March 14 at 10 pm. Everyone had just heard the announcement from the president of Spain that they were suspending all nonessential movement throughout the country for at least the next two weeks. We would now only be permitted to leave the house for necessities like food or medicine. At 10 pm, everyone in the region of Madrid went onto their terraces and windows to applaud the men and women in the health and food industries working nonstop to help those in need. Even in my neighborhood, in the far corner of the city of Aranjuez, cheers could be clearly heard.

The Spanish people are so relational and resilient. They have a deep sense of camaraderie and empathy which is easily seen in all of the creative ways they have found to connect with each other even while confined to their homes: a personal trainer on a rooftop in Seville guiding the rest of the neighborhood in a workout from their windows, entire streets having dance parties to Spanish classics from their terraces, families putting signs in their windows saying, Todo va a salir bien. (It's all going to be okay.) Every night, we go to our windows or out onto our terraces at 8 pm to applaud the service workers.

Special thanks to these wonderful humans for sending me their video clips: Simone (Insta: simone_hall98), Keith (Insta: @kdperrota), Brooke (Insta: @brookekristek), and Cecilia (Insta: @ceciliamalpica).

As I listen to the applause and cheers of "Viva España" every evening, tears fill my eyes. Spain isn't my home country, but it has become my home. For the past two years, these people have embraced me, challenged me, accepted me, and changed my definition of the word "family." How could I leave now? Even with all the uncertainty in the coming days, I feel safe and loved. This is why I chose to stay. #VivaEspaña


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