Roy Lotz is an English teacher from Sleepy Hollow, New York, who has been living in Madrid, Spain, for the last three years. In college, he studied cultural anthropology, which led him to study abroad in East Africa twice, first in Kenya and then in Tanzania. When he’s not at work he is doing either one of two things: reading or writing.
Roy, what brought you to Spain?
Three years ago, bored with my work in New York—an office job in market research—I hatched the scheme of moving to Germany. I had studied German in college and had a longstanding interest in German culture. This idea was pure Wanderlust: the urge to escape and roam. But after doing some research I found that the process of working legally in Germany is rather complex. Moving to Spain, on the other hand, was relatively easy and straightforward. And in any case, learning Spanish is more “practical” than learning German, since Spanish is so widely spoken. I had some money saved up from work and not much in the way of career plans, so I could see no reason not to go.
Did you have any fears or apprehensions about moving to Spain?
I had a lot of apprehensions. I had never been to Spain and knew close to nothing about the country. I hardly knew a word of Spanish beyond “hola.” I had never even searched for my own apartment, much less in a foreign country and in a language I barely understood. There were so many unknowns. How would I find a job? What did I have to do about my visa? Every simple practical problem—getting a phone, taking a train, ordering in a restaurant—would be a struggle. And I wouldn’t have my family to fall back on. On top of all this, I felt like I was doing something totally irresponsible—like I was throwing away my career prospects for the sake of a joyride.
How did you get over them?
Admittedly, I was coming over here with my then girlfriend, which made it easier. Also, I was in a program that would help me find work and manage my visa. This feeling of support helped to reduce my anxiety somewhat. And to quiet my career apprehensions, I reminded myself that teaching and Spanish are useful skills.
Even so, during the months prior to leaving, as I was dealing with my visa in New York—which meant getting fingerprints, assembling documents, going to the doctor—I was a nonstop nervous wreck. I wish I could say I encountered some philosophical insight or new mentality that made my fears go away, but I didn’t. I was terrified right up the moment I left for the airport. I don’t think I got over my apprehensions completely until several months after moving here. Basically, I just pushed through the anxiety, while driving everyone around me nuts with my endless freaking out.
Tell us about one of your best and worst moments in Spain so far.
As often happens, my worst moment seems very silly in retrospect. I was in the Plaza de Sol, Madrid’s central square, trying to get internet for my apartment. The reason I went to Sol was because I figured that in such a touristy part of the city the salespeople would be bound to speak English. But I figured wrong. So I spent a very tense thirty minutes trying to understand an internet contract while a salesman spoke to me in an unintelligible buzz of words. I felt completely overwhelmed, feeling pressure to make a decision but unable to understand what I was deciding on, and unable to ask any questions. The sickening shock of being an absolute foreigner hit me hard.
Thankfully I have many more good moments to choose from. One of my best memories is my first trip to Toledo. This was my first trip in Spain beyond its capital. Unlike Madrid, which is a modern city, Toledo has a well-preserved medieval city center. I had never seen anything like it. The narrow, twisting, cobblestone streets swallowed me up into a labyrinth. Every time I turned a corner another antique building came into view. The cathedral impressed me most of all. I had never been inside a gothic cathedral, and Toledo’s is one of the finest in the world. The huge dimensions, extending upwards and outwards; the shadows and the smell of incense; the exquisite decorations that covered every surface—it all produced a terrific impression.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about moving to a new country but are scared to take the leap?
Moving to another country is obviously a very individual choice. I would never recommend it indiscriminately. And I think that it is easy to do it for the wrong reasons. As Hemingway said: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” Problems at home will not magically resolve themselves while you’re gone. Personal issues will follow you from Birmingham to Budapest. In short, I would not recommend moving abroad as a form of escape.
But if the only thing holding you back is fear, then I have some advice. Distrust the fear. Other countries are not other planets, with hostile lifeforms and poisonous atmospheres. They are homes to millions of people—people who are, at the bottom, not so different from yourself. Most people love their home and are often quite willing to go out of their way to make you love it too. In any case, trying and failing is infinitely better than not trying. We learn from failures, we grow from overcoming fears. By not doing what we fear, therefore, we deprive ourselves of some of the most rewarding experiences that life can offer.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating recklessness. Plan your move as best you can. Exercise judgment and discretion. Think about your resources and your goals. But don’t let the nebulous fear of the unknown hold you back. It is just this fear that traveling is meant to conquer.
What are your next steps?
Well, that’s a good question! I eventually want to be involved in education, either as a teacher or as an administrator, but exactly how I will go about that has yet to be decided.
How did you end up as Spain’s #6 Goodread’s “Best Reviewer” of all time?
Any success on Goodreads I owe mostly to persistence. I wrote literally hundreds of reviews, getting slightly better with each one. I also spent many hours reading the reviews of other people I admire, trying to imitate what I enjoyed in their writing. Eventually, my own reviewing style emerged from this long process; and enough people seem to find my reviews helpful enough so that I gained the extremely modest celebrity status of a ranked internet book reviewer.
Top 3 books that you would bring with you on a deserted island?
The first two are easy: The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I would choose Montaigne’s essays because, more than in any other book, you get the sense of talking to a real person. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson’s summation of Montaigne’s writing: “Cut these words and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive.” I would choose Shakespeare’s works because contained in his plays is, I think, the greatest depth and variety of human characters ever conceived. I would never lack for good society with these two authors.
If the last book isn’t something obvious like a Desert Island Survival Guide (I would quickly die without one), then it should be something consolatory, to get me through the tough moments of lonely island life. I am not religious, but a Bible wouldn’t be a bad choice since it has both great stories and life advice. Seneca is also a candidate since his writing is extremely personable and he is full of Stoic wisdom. But I think ultimately I would choose the Ethics of Baruch Spinoza, since it presents a grand view of the cosmos, a system of morality, and is infused with a contagious reverence for nature and a sense of profound calm.