OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElla,” my friend said, pointing at me, “Es perfectionista.” Everybody nodded.

My friend was referring to my need to speak Spanish perfectly, but it applies to most aspects of my life. I’ve always been a fan of straight A’s, tasks completed, and beds made.

Which is precisely why my path led to Spain. Life is a process of refinement, and in my case, I am polished by humility. I cannot study or muscle my way into this life. I will not make this place my own through classes or certificates, pedigree or rank.

Another friend, who cuts through my bullshit with surgeon-like accuracy, told me, “You seem to have this arbitrary level of achievement in your mind that having lots of Spanish friends means you’ve earned  an A+ in being an ex-pat.”

Busted. It’s true. I strive to integrate. A positive spin is that I seek adventure, cultural connection, and  friendship. But, it’s possible that I thrive on the challenge, and how it feeds my ego.

Truth hurts. As all good things in life do, a bit.

To develop empathy, to become bigger and better than myself, it means letting go of the armor of perfectionism. Accepting that I will always struggle with the language, and that I will always be an outsider. I must learn that at some point, you put away the gold stars and gradebook.

There is no correct way to be an expat. There is only the correct way to be a person.

Do I try my best? Do I listen? Am I learning? Mindful? Humble?

Do I make this world better?

Yo soy una perfectionista. I strive to be una buena persona.

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