Her childhood love of Spain led Lisse back to the country as a college student in the Erasmus exchange program. With nothing to keep her at home in Belgium, she came to a crossroads and made a decision of a lifetime embracing a new lifestyle, culture, and language.
Lisse has just turned 27 years old today and five years ago she moved to Spain, after having studied in Seville for six months with the Erasmus program. “Remembering the whole experience of coming to Spain has taught me that I am terrible at making decisions, but I think I have been very brave,” says Lisse, unable to contain a laugh. Her friends and her husband, Ricardo, surround her to celebrate her birthday with drinks and cheesecake. She barely has time to cut a piece for herself, running down the street where she works to bring cake to everyone, greeting and giving two kisses to the close friends who form her new family. Very tall and with long blond hair, Lisse does not look like a Spaniard. She was born in Belgium, but has been enamored by Spain since she was 12 years old when she began to spend her holidays here with her family. “I cried for hours until I fell asleep on the way home because I did not want to leave,” she recalls. Lisse knew that one day she had to return. She had that opportunity when, while at the University of Belgium KU Louvain, came to study on Erasmus in Seville at UPO. After six months abroad, she returned to Belgium to finish her degree in Translation and Interpretation. She then found herself at a crossroads and at a difficult time in her life. She continued her studies in Belgium and obtained her doctorate in simultaneous interpretation in Dutch, French, English, and Spanish. Her studies in Translation and Interpretation increased her love for the Spanish language and Spain. “If you ask me where I want to eat, I have no idea, I don’t care, but whenever something matters, just know what I want and, apparently, I make the decision, and that’s what I did … What did I have to lose?”
Erasmus is a European exchange program that offers scholarships to more than 1.6 million students each year to study abroad, according to a system of direct enrollment between universities. Erasmus began in 1987 and has offered many students the opportunity to learn new cultures and to develop their skills in a foreign language. Spain is the most popular place for Erasmus students to travel to, with 45,183 students traveling during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to a report from the European Commission. It is also the one that sends the most students out, with 45,826 students in the same period. In 2011, Lisse began her Translation and Interpretation studies in Seville and also began to build her social network. “After six months here, it was very difficult to return back to Belgium,” says Lisse. “It is very common not to feel comfortable at home, because you have made new friends and you have learned a new culture and different things; you learn to live independently. I had not lived alone before. You are a different person when you come back; you have had all these new experiences and it seems that everything is the same, but in reality, you have changed.” The return home was not ideal, but still, Lisse admits that she was not sure. “I never really expected to do it! When I studied here, I always thought, ‘oh, I would like to live here,’ but I always imagined it as something impossible.” Erasmus had allowed the impossible to be possible.
It was not until finishing her studies in Belgium that Lisse asked the age old question: “What am I doing to do with my life?” Erasmus had opened the door to help understand and experience a culture that she loved. Also, knowing that a study of the employment rate among Erasmus students showed it to be twice as high compared to students with no experience abroad, Lisse had nothing to worry about when she tried to find a job. Her attraction only increased after her time in Spain and continued to do so when she visited her boyfriend in Seville every four or five months. “The person I am and the one I have become is in that other place, no longer at home,”recalls Lisse. “And that’s how I felt after moving back, I did not like being with my parents anymore and I did not like the stress and rain of Belgium.” Lisse already knew that her future was in Spain. “There was nothing holding me back in Belgium, so when a friend asked me if I wanted to go to Spain, I said “yes!” And two months later, I was here.” Reverse culture shock is very common among students who go abroad and can last for many years. Although returning to Belgium was difficult, it was the momentum that Lisse needed to achieve her dream of returning to Spain.
After about a month and a half, she decided that she would have to do something if she wanted to settle permanently in Spain. “I needed to get a job, so I applied to be an English teacher, although technically, I had never studied English,” she admits. Her passion for education had grown from her Erasmus experience and her Translation and Interpretation studies helped her find a job in a private school where she worked for three years before moving to another language center, Forencur. After a formal interview to test her English, they immediately accepted her.” Although I was happy to have a job, it was clear that I was not going to find any friends because I was the only teacher in the school,” recalls Lisse. She worked at Forencur for another three years, teaching English to students of different ages. With the school located in the east of Seville, Lisse was able to keep her personal and professional life separate. When it was time to renew her contract, Lisse had suffered a serious knee injury and was unable to return in time for the new school year. When she was finally ready to return, the school could not offer her any hours that fit her schedule, so she decided to look for another job as a teacher. She found it at the English school YES, where Lisse plans to stay until she can open her own private language institution.
But Lisse wanted something else that would help her adapt to Spanish life with ease. “The first year was complicated,” she admits. “I was always was Ricardo’s girlfriend and I did not have friends of my own, and I was wondering if I had to go back [to Belgium] or if I was doing something wrong.” In search of new friends, Lisse started helping a friend in a bar in Alfalfa street called Blues Bar. “My friend Tony needed help in his bar, so I offered to be a waitress while he was looking for another person. But in the end, he never looked for anyone, so I ended up working at the bar on weekends.” Lisse then began getting closer to many of her clients, as well as other bar owners and waiters on the same street. While making connections, Lisse became the partial owner of Bodega La Espuela, another bar on Alfalfa Street. The move to La Espuela helped Lisse set up a family and find friends in Seville. “The whole Alfalfa street, the waiters, and even the customers are like a big family. That’s where I established a kind of network.”
The time has come for Lisse to blow out the candles on her twenty-seventh birthday. Lisse looks around, smiles, takes a deep breath, and blows out the candles.