Have you ever wanted to just give up? I sure have. Let me tell you about one of the most stressful processes that I’ve ever gone through.
Because I’m a U.S. citizen currently residing in Spain, there is no mutual agreement between the two countries when it comes to driving licenses. While you may think it’s not a big deal to have to obtain a new one here, you might want to reconsider after having read my story:-) I accepted the fact long before having moved here that there was no reciprocal agreement between the two countries, since there wouldn’t be any point in getting upset about something I had no control over.
The challenge really became multi-faceted. One being that I’ve never been that confident of a driver. Two, the duration that this process ended up taking was quite long. Three, the overall cost involved of the entire process ended up being quite high, And, four, the overall stress involved from the emotional abuse and self-acceptance/self-worth/self-confidence issues also ended up becoming challenging, too, especially toward the end.
Initially, I had done some research on where I would take my driving lessons and exam. I found some English speaking auto schools, as my Spanish is still a work in progress. This proved to be more difficult as it’s hard to find this information online. What I did find out, though, is that there were only two locations to take the exams, which meant that I couldn’t find anywhere near my house to take the actual written and practical exams, but I could take the lessons anywhere. I thought it wouldn’t make sense to get familiar with the roads nearby if my practical exam was somewhere else, so I opted for a slightly less residential/busy area about 2 hours away from my house. Yes, I could’ve opted for Malaga which is only about an hour away but the roads, quite frankly, freaked me out even more because the traffic is pretty heavy there and the roundabouts are nerve-racking, to say the least, especially because I wasn’t used to them. Eventually, I opted for the Marbella auto school that’s 2 hours away, hoping the traffic, area and auto school would be the best fit for me.
I then proceeded to meet the instructor/main owner of the auto school shortly after I made that decision, about 2 years ago now, in May of 2017. He seemed rather blunt and pessimistic, but I just thought that was his nature, not necessarily that the process was that difficult. I signed up for the package that included the initial registration fee and 3 practical driving lessons with an instructor from the auto school. I thought, “okay, I can do this. No problem. How hard can it be. I’ve been driving for 30 years and it’s just a matter of procedure.” The instructor looked dubious, but again I thought that was just his nature.
Then, I got my exam book and online exams to prepare for the written exam. That was nerve-wracking enough because the examiner gave the instructions in Spanish and I only understood about a quarter of what he said. I still thought, “I can do this. It will be worth it in the end. I can’t give up.” Well, the first time I took this written test, I would suffice to say that none of the online tests prepared me for it and I got too many wrong, basically. I think I got 5 or 6 wrong, and I could only have 3 total incorrect. The test was in English, by the way, otherwise it would’ve been another challenge to overcome, to say the least. I was demoralized and stressed out a little after that, but again, I thought, “Okay. I can do this. The second time will be better.” And, it was. I had to wait another month, I think to take it, but it was like taking a totally different exam. The questions were mostly straightforward and I got 2 wrong.
Then, the examiner strike hit and that seemed to throw everything up in the air. I say that because it literally put the auto school, and presumably all the other schools and students, equally, into a tailspin because everything fell behind from that point forward. I had to wait about 2-3 months for my first practical exam. But before that, I did my three practical lessons that I had paid for as part of the package with the “pessimistic” instructor. That was also another lesson and reality check because literally every five minutes was a litany of check this, check that, watch your speed, etc., etc. Again, I thought, “I can do this. He’s just being pessimistic. The exam won’t be that bad.” As a result of these lessons, I was so nervous before I even got to the practical exam. Needless to say, my very first practical exam was not a good experience. The examiner let my instructor talk to me in English… yes, the instructor has to be in the car with the examiner the whole time… but, that was one of the few exams that I took where the instructor could actually talk to me, and especially in English. The examiners get super annoyed if you don’t understand the instructions to the point where they are yelling at you, and sometimes, because the exam isn’t standardized at all, they tell you upfront what route you’re expected to do. So, if you don’t understand the instructions right at the outset, it’s a little bit stressful. I first was asked parts of the car under the hood, which are only minor failures, but I didn’t get that question correct, so that wasn’t helpful, and I actually thought I did pretty well for the first time, until we were finished, and then the instructor turns to me and says I didn’t pass, and touches my cheek, like a caress. I didn’t know what just happened. I didn’t know whether to be horrified or impressed that he was being compassionate, but beyond that, then the string of insults and blaming starts… you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. Um, okay. I’m still thinking, “Next time I’ll ace it. I can do this!”
Well, needless to say, it didn’t. The struggle and challenges were real. My confidence continued to plummet, along with my self acceptance and self-worth. I tried different instructors and only had the same examiner once, and boy, that guy is a piece of work. Oh, I forgot to mention how the exam day is set up, too. I’m told I have to be at the exam site for a certain time. It was usually about 10:00 in the morning, but the problem is because of the strike and backlog, they were taking two students at a time. That’s fine, but then all the students, from several auto schools are waiting around at the same time, all bouncing off the ceiling because they’re equally as nervous, if not more, than me. It’s the most crazy and unproductive way of handling an exam I think I’ve ever seen in my life. All the students ask, “Oh, is this the first time you taken your test?” Well, needless to say, after about the third time, I wasn’t answering that question. It just made me feel 10 times worse.
So, back to my original plot about my confidence. Every time, I had to keep giving myself a pep talk well before the exam. I was nervous days, and even weeks before the next exam, especially as the process kept going on and on for months, and I was lucky if I got any sleep the night before. Somehow, I managed to get down there, focus, pretend that I’m confident (otherwise that’s the first reason the instructor will say why you didn’t pass your exam), and to be uber-careful with everything that I’m doing during the exam. And, if anyone knows me well, I’m a perfectionist, so this part shouldn’t be challenging, but believe me, when you’re already focusing on the rules of the road that are way different from what you’re used to, the signs are different, you don’t understand all the instructions from the examiner, you can’t talk to the instructor (for most exams) during the exam, you don’t know the roads or what route you’ll be taking, you feel like you’re in competition with the other students waiting who are also nervous, the instructor and the examiner are rude to you the entire time, and you’re already nervous because the process is taking forever and costs a lot, it’s definitely an additional factor. Also, if anyone knows me, I’m not normally this pessimistic about a process either, so this particular challenge definitely was ticking a lot of boxes from a personal, healing standpoint. Apparently, I must have passed all those internal “tests,” though because I finally passed my exam last Friday. I lost count on how many times I took the exam, but I’m pretty sure it was around 8 total. The point is, however, I was absolutely determined to get my license. This is a fundamental right, and freedom, that we have, especially as women. I kept thinking, “I don’t want to feel like I’m asking for permission any longer if I want to go somewhere. It’s my right to come and go as I please.” As it is for everyone. I felt like it wasn’t just to prove to myself that I could do it, especially for the last few exams when I got so close to passing, but then couldn’t for no apparent reason. It was also to consciously not give up the right to have this freedom to come and go as I please. I kept thinking about all the women in the world that don’t have this fundamental right. I wasn’t going through perceived hell for just myself. I was doing it for all those women out there that don’t have their license, whether they’re too scared to go for it, or they literally don’t even have the option, for one reason or the other. I feel like this achievement is not just mine; but all women around the world. We can’t, and shouldn’t give up our rights, and our freedom. I don’t want to be without this freedom, or option, for the next 30+ years. I don’t need to ask permission. This is my inalienable right! And, I’m proud, and glad that I persevered.
Now, I just need to convince my brain that it’s finally over, and now focus on how to heal the part that is daunted by driving, in general. I’m not going to let this fear stop me either. I will persevere!