¿Quién soy yo?
I’m McKenna! (And yes, that is actually my first name.) Aries Sun, INFP, coffee addict, wanderluster, daydreamer turns dream-maker, language teacher, and also I love penguins. (That last point is not related to this blog at all, but it’s something you should know.)
And, given the title of the blog, I like to go on trips and live in a different country every few years. I find great fun and amusement in learning the local language, butchering the local language no matter how hard I try (Spanish “rr”s were invented to make people like me suffer), getting used to the local customs kind of (I still cringe inside every time I have to give someone a besito as a greeting), and then going somewhere else and learning it all over again.
So, how did this whole globe-trotting and teaching thing happen? Well . . .
1998: It started in Arizona
I took my first plane trip when I was almost 8 to visit my grandmother in Arizona. I still remember how excited I was when my mother told me we were going. I was going to go on a plane! I didn’t think kids were allowed on planes for some reason. And I was going to go on the other side of the country. It seemed like an eternity away from Michigan.
Since I was only 8, I don’t remember much. But I remember the palm trees, which I thought only existed in cartoons. I remember wearing summer clothes in February. I remember seeing the Spanish-style rooftops. And I’ll never forget that feeling of the plane taking off, and feeling like I was in heaven in the clouds.
It would be many years before I flew on a plane again, but I knew that that was what I wanted to do with my life: fly on planes and see new places.
Fast forward to 2012: Argentina and Chile
Four days after I turned 22, I flew to Rosario, Argentina to study Spanish for a semester. My plan was to stay for three months. I’d never been away from my family for more than a week, and had never left the country (besides Canada, which is an hour away from my hometown). All I knew was my small hometown in metro Detroit.
After culture shock, language barriers far more difficult than I had imagined, going to clubs for the first time, traveling throughout Argentina with friends on the weekends and meeting people in hostels from all over the world, and skydiving in Uruguay, I felt like I was starting to get the hang of being a traveler.
And then a dinner conversation in Mendoza, Argentina, the wine capital of the country, changed everything.
It was our last night in Mendoza. We were having dinner with girls from England on their gap year, and a man from South Africa taking a sabbatical. Blame it on the wine, but listening to them talk about all the places they’d been made me realize, “Hey…I could do this.” Travel had seemed so complicated growing up. Now, I realized it was quite simple. You choose a place to visit, book a place to stay, and find a way to get there. And, to make things more challenging, I decided that I would do it alone.
I’d planned to come back home after my study abroad to take an intensive Spanish class. But, I decided, what better way to learn Spanish than to actually speak Spanish with Spanish-speaking people?! Shocking, I know. Who knows how much practical Spanish I was going to have learned in the 8-week medieval Spanish literature course. I guess I’ll never know.
For the next two months, I traveled over 10,000 kilometers, set foot in two oceans from one end of the continent to the other, climbed mountains, went scuba-diving, stayed with local families, fell in love, and met people from all over the world.
I was always the shy girl growing up. Now, I was showing up in cities alone, with no plans, no friends, and realized that I’d hurt myself more by closing myself to the world, than being open to it. And I realized that only when I put my life into my own hands, would I be happy.
In Chile, I also met several volunteer English teachers who were on vacation. And meeting them changed the course of my career.
2014-2017: Back to the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador
In 2014, I decided to volunteer in Colombia. I taught English to university students in Villavicencio, a small city about 90 kilometers from Bogota, but an entirely different culture and climate.
After my volunteer contract ended, I was offered a job at a local university, where I taught for another 2.5 years. During that time, I worked as a language assistant, and then as a lead teacher.
I also traveled to Ecuador, which I’d wanted to do since I was a teenager. Visiting Ecuador was another turning point in my life . . . I’d never fallen in love so quickly with a country, and many “fated” events also transpired as well.
Colombia was about proving my worth as a professional. I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life, and was shown how strong I could be when being strong was my only option. I met people who took me in like family. I ate the best fruit of my life. I swam in the Caribbean on my 26th birthday, rang in the new year in Medellin, and spent Christmas in the Andes mountains.
But eventually, it was time to go. Something told me that greater things were ahead. I just didn’t know what they were yet.
And that brings us to now, 2019-Present: Madrid, Spain
In August 2019, I had two weeks to quit my job, pack three suitcases, and move my entire life across the ocean. Again. This time, I would be teaching business English in Madrid, Spain.
What was supposed to be a ten-month experience of running all over Madrid to teach English in multinational companies, and hop over to other European countries with friends like Austria, Romania, Germany, and the Czech Republic, ended up turning into only seven months, with the last three months of my contract spent in isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, even the best of things can happen from the darkest situations. I successfully completed my contract in June 2020. In September, I will begin a new adventure. Stay tuned, because it’s gonna get good.
Welcome to the next chapter of my vida madrileña!