I lived in Spain for ten years while working in a Civil Aviation Assistance Group of the Federal Aviation Administration – helping Spain improve their air traffic control system. As I look back on that time there were four important things I learned in those ten years.
The first thing I learned is that different doesn’t always have to be better or worse than what you expect or what you are used to. Sometimes it is just different. As an example, one coworker constantly complained that he had to ask for butter for his bread at a restaurant. Another example was the complaining about the different driving habits. My response was, if you want everything to be just like it is back home, why leave home? When a person is willing to adapt, it makes for greater satisfaction and happiness, in life in general – not just living in a foreign country.
The second thing I learned is the importance of being able to speak the language of the place where you live. I never would have been able to understand the people and culture to the extent I did, or be successful in my work, without learning Spanish. Foreign languages come to me with difficulty, but I had the two necessary prerequisites – a desire to learn and the opportunity to speak it every day, all day. Now my hobbies include studying Spanish refranes (proverbs) and Medieval Spanish poetry like the 14th century Book of Good Love.
The third thing that I learned was how different the meaning of the word “history” can be between the United States and Europe. Our country is a little over 200 years old and to go into a house built in the 18th century is impressive. In Spain I was impressed when I went into a church built in the 9th or 11th century, and even more impressed when my 8 year old son found a coin from the 2nd century Before Christ.
The last thing I learned has to do with making dates each weekend with one of my four kids, just the two of us. Each child had a date with dad once a month. I learned much later just how important those dates were to the kids. These times resulted in important “us” memories. At one point my son Matt told his grandmother that his favorite thing about Spain was his dates with dad.
More importantly, as I learned how much these times meant to me I discovered my biggest regret in life as I approach my 60th birthday. Now that all four kids are adults and have left the house, I wish I had spent more time with them as they were growing up, and been more consistent over a longer period with the dates.
My outlook on life and my appreciation of and tolerance of differences were affected by living for ten years in a very different culture. But when I look back on my life, I don’t wish I had spent more time at work, or more time traveling for work and hobbies, or more time with friends. What I wish I had spent more time on are my children. If you have kids, and they’re still at home, value the time you have with them and try to make the most of it. Make more good memories together.
The photo above has a quote from the poet Leon Filipe:
… about your life, the dream,
about your history, the myth,
about the myth, the silence…”