Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Confession: Why I Can’t Stay in Spain Forever

This past Thursday, people on the Facebook groups for language assistants in Spain began posting elatedly that they had heard back from the Spanish government about getting placed in a region for the 2015-2016 school year. The placements started rolling in: Andalucía, Madrid, Castilla y León, and even an odd first-year getting placed alongside the priority renewals. I always enjoy the exciting atmosphere in the groups during this time of the year, as everyone is either simply euphoric at the opportunity to work in Spain or thrilled that they finally got assigned in their dream region.

Magnolias in the Parque do Paxonal
This begs the question: are you renewing for another year, Trevor? I know a lot of my followers are wondering if they should expect to continue learning for another year about Spain’s under-appreciated region of Galicia, its language, food, and villages; one more year living vicariously in Santiago de Compostela; yet another year getting to know Spain’s rich history and stunning architecture.

After three years working as an English language assistant in bilingual elementary schools, though, my time in Spain is drawing to a close. Once my contract ends on May 31st, I’ll have one last month to spend in this country before flying back to Dallas at the end of June. I haven’t renewed for the 2015-2016 school year and don’t have plans to transfer to any of the other similar, private English teaching programs.

These past three school years have been the best years of my life: I became fluent in Spanish (and learned Galician along the way); I traveled broadly—across southern and western Europe—and deeply, crossing off 14 of Spain’s 17 regions; I moved out of my parents’ house (if only for nine-month stretches) and learned how to cook for myself, from scratch; I gained practical, real-world experience teaching English, working in another country, and speaking another language; I continued to improve my writing skills by publishing twice weekly on this blog and pitching guest posts on other websites; and I made lifelong friends both Spanish and expat.

But the thing is, I’m ready to go home.

Yellow mimosas
It’s not that I can’t stand living here, it’s just that there’s simply no future for me here. There’s only so many years you can repeat in this program, and for me, working as an auxiliar for four or more years is almost like overstaying your welcome.

Career-wise, this language assistant gig is a dead end, since I’m in the country ostensibly as a “student” and don’t have an EU passport. Lots of people make it work and move here long-term, making the transition from expat to immigrant, but seeing as I don’t have a work permit it’s difficult to get academies to hire me or get an entry-level job at a local business. This on top of the fact that the unemployment rate for Spanish people aged 18-30 is still 50%…the job prospects just look terrible.

Plus, I’m not currently dating anyone here, so I don’t have quite the emotional bonds to Spain that someone else might have (not to mention the five-year residency that you get with a pareja de hecho or civil union).

Coffee at El Romero
More than anything else, though, I’m ready to put down roots; the ephemeral existence that has been my life in Spain has definitely been wearing on me lately. I long to call a place my own longer than nine months at a time…yours truly is a big homebody and the nesting instincts of my feminine side need an outlet as there’s really no point in hanging up posters or paintings when you have to tear them all down again at the end of the year.

Community is something else I need in my life. Granted, I have plenty of friends here in Santiago, but many of them are fellow auxiliares who will be moving somewhere else in the fall or Spaniards who I myself will be leaving this summer. Seeing Spaniards hanging out with the same people they’ve been spending time with for the past decade or two makes me more than a little jealous, and I haven’t had a cuadrilla or close-knit group of friends since graduating from college three years ago. The transient nature of this job precludes such long-term relationships. Whether I’ll find these future friends at a language exchange, a workplace, or a church remains to be seen, but long-distance friendships are hard to keep up.

Praza da Pescadería Vella
It’s also time for me to find a Grown-Up Job back in the States. Currently I’m navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis and all the existential dread that goes along with it, so at the moment I’m not sure what field to look into or position to start applying for. But what I do know is that I’d like a stable, nine-to-five kind of job, in spite of all the hate that gets dumped on them in the travel blogosphere. Traveling is fun, but being a “digital nomad” and living “location independent” does not appeal to me at all.

I’m the kind of person who needs routine in their life, and only working three days a week completely throws a wrench into any kind of schedule I try to make. Plus, it would be nice to make more than 700€ a month…which is now growing dangerously close to $700! Student loans, paltry savings accounts, and that little thing called “retirement” are also knocking at the door.

The Affordable Care Act covers me under my parents’ health insurance for one more year (#ThanksObama), so I’d prefer to undertake a potentially drawn-out, twenty-something job search at home this year without the added anxiety of what might happen if I get in a car accident or the doctor finds a freak disease in my body.

Magnolias in the Parque do Paxonal
I say all this to say…I’m moving back to the U.S. at the end of June, for keeps this time. Spain has been so, so good to me, but I’m looking forward to waking up on July 1st and starting the first day of the rest of my life.

Have you ever come to a crossroads in your life, especially regarding living abroad or moving back home? Tell me about your experience below in the discussion thread!
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