Confession: Why I Won’t Move Back to Spain

Teaching English in Spain, speaking Spanish, and traveling across Spain and Europe made up my day-to-day life for three years after I graduated college in 2012. June 2015 saw me go on a “farewell tour” of Spain before moving back to Texas at the end of the month, and it wasn’t until May of this year—almost two years to the day—that I would return to the country I called home for three school years.

I had the opportunity to co-lead a small group of ten public radio listeners on a cooking tour of Spain, making stops in Barcelona, Sevilla, and Madrid for cooking classes, tapas-themed guided walks, and winery visits. It was a lot of work planning the trip, photographing events, translating questions, and leading these adventurous, inquisitive travelers, but it was so, so worth it to share one of my favorite places in the world with this great group of people.

Reus, Spain
Streets of Reus

A question I was asked quite frequently while chopping potatoes or hurrying to a Metro stop was, “Would you ever move back to Spain?”

It’s hard to say “no” to that question as you sip on a two-euro glass of white Verdejo wine, or make your way on foot—rather than by car—through centuries-old cities, or confidently shift between Castilian Spanish and American English without blinking an eye.

I left the country in the summer of 2015 fairly unhappy with things, and I was so ready to get integrated back into American society. However, being back in Spain once again reminded me why I moved to the country in the first place: the low cost of living, a plethora of travel opportunities, a multitude of ways to practice my Spanish, history around every corner, and a delicious (if bland) cuisine first brought me to a place like Úbeda for Year One and kept me in Santiago de Compostela for two more years.

But it’s been over two years now since my initial re-entry, and today (brushing aside various quarter-life crises and associated drama that have now passed) I couldn’t be happier living in my home country.

I’m close to family

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I’ll tell you what, living over 4,000 miles away from home is tough. First of all, there’s the eight-hour timezone difference, which makes it all-but-impossible to call home without setting up a Skype date on the weekend a week in advance…and then you spend half the conversation saying “what? huh? I think you’re breaking up!” because of crappy Wi-Fi. Living in Arizona, which is only ever one or two hours off from Dallas, makes it possible to just call up my parents, brother, or friends on a whim; I don’t have to worry about bothering them at 3 in the morning!

Then there’s the physical distance of always being an eight-hour flight away from your family (and being $1,500 poorer after the fact). I spent two Christmases in Europe—distracted by Midnight Masses at Notre-Dame de Paris and St. Peter’s Basilica—and it was really hard being so far away from home for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, and July 4th. When my grandmother died halfway through my stay in Spain, I was only able to attend her funeral because my parents paid for me to fly home. Now that I live in Phoenix, whose airport is a hub for both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, I don’t think twice about shelling out $300 for a flight home for the holidays.

I’m rooted in a community

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The problem with living in Spain as a language assistant is that it’s so difficult to put down roots. Part of this is our own damn faults, since us expats tend to flock together and create temporary communities that we turn to for support, communities that inevitably disintegrate the moment the school year’s over and we all go on vacation or move back to the States.

The other part is that it can be really hard to make solid friendships with Spaniards, not only because many already have siblings and cousins and the same friend-group since first grade, but also because there’s a language and cultural barrier. Sometimes you just don’t have anything in common with your Spanish roommates…at all.

It’s taken me a while to start making new friends here in Phoenix, but I recently started attending an Episcopal church downtown where I’ve met a lot of affirming and like-minded people who’ve reintroduced me to what it means to follow Jesus in this world. Between church and friends I’ve made at the office and while hiking, I feel like I’ve got a lot of quality peeps I can count on whose friendships won’t wither away after eight months.

Also, unlike some travel bloggers who advocate giving up and running away from your country the moment the other political party wins an election, I’m committed to staying in America for the long haul and to making my city, state, and country a better place—be that by donating to local non-profits, by volunteering, by spending my money at local businesses, by voting in every election, and by advocating for policy changes at all levels of government.

I feel truly independent

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As a language assistant living on my own in Spain, I had all the trappings of adulthood: I was renting a room in a shared apartment, I had a pay-as-you-go cellphone, I was working a job with health insurance and paid holidays, and I was cooking most of my meals from scratch at home.

But my permanent residence was still my childhood house in Texas, I was still on my parent’s health insurance plan to hold me over when I was back home for the summer, and I had little savings or retirement accounts to speak of. It was this weird hybrid state of being an adult in Spain yet still living in “extended adolescence” in America, which was frustrating—especially after I moved back home to start the job hunt.

Now that I’m living in Phoenix, I’ve got my own car whose loan I’m slowly paying off, a one-bedroom apartment whose lease is in my name, an 8-to-5 job with health insurance and a retirement plan, a cellphone that isn’t on my parent’s plan, and a growing emergency savings account. I do best with a routine and a steady, secure environment, so I’m not ready to give up the safety of the world I’ve created for myself in Arizona for the chaos of trying to survive in Spain again.

I have a career now

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Unless you’re dating a Spaniard and either get married or apply for pareja de hecho (civil union), there aren’t really any options for you in terms of steady employment outside of teaching English—and even that is hard to come by as most academies or schools will hire Irish or (until Brexit goes into effect) British teachers, who have EU passports and thus can work in Spain. And I’ll be completely honest: I was really unsatisfied teaching English. I’m grateful today for the realization that I’m not cut out to be a teacher.

I’m thriving in my current line of work, where I get to use almost all of my skillsets on a daily basis and contribute to a cause I feel passionate about. What more could I ask for? I don’t even know where to begin if I had to look for a non-teaching job in Spain that would actually help me get a work or freelance visa.

I’ve found a new part of the world to explore

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Over the span of three years living in Spain, I managed to visit 26 of the country’s World Heritage Sites, plus almost all of its major cities and many of its charming small towns. Fulfilling long-held dreams of mine, I spent Christmases in Paris and Rome and also visited southern France, Portugal, Morocco, and Germany. This isn’t to brag or anything—I acknowledge how privileged I am to have seen so much of the world at such a young age—it’s just that if I were to never return to the continent, I could die happy without any regrets.

In addition, I would argue that the American Southwest is one of the most interesting places in the world. Phoenix is so strategically located that I’m never more than a day’s drive from stunning natural wonders, challenging hikes, ancient ruins, quirky small towns, or vibrant, diverse cities with good eats and lots of history. There’s simply so much to see just in the Southwest—not to mention the rest of the U.S.—and I’m looking forward to exploring everything from the national parks of Utah, to Arizona mining towns like Ajo and Bisbee, to sand dunes in New Mexico and California.

Moving is expensive and hard



The whole process of moving abroad costs a lot of money: first flying across the Atlantic Ocean just to get to Spain, then staying in a hotel and eating out while you hunt for an apartment, then paying a deposit and your first month’s rent, and finally getting sheets, towels, and blankets and stocking your pantry and fridge. When you add to this the fact that, at least in the language assistant program I was in, you don’t get paid for at least a month after you start, your first month can cost you thousands of dollars.

I did this three times, but fortunately I managed to save a few bucks because I stayed in Santiago de Compostela for two years and stored my bedding and other belongings with friends.

My move from Dallas to Phoenix last year was one of the most draining experience of my life: physically, emotionally, and financially. Moving boxes of all my stuff in 100º F heat and then building IKEA furniture the rest of the week truly exhausted my dad and me. Being thrown into a brand-new city where I didn’t know anybody meant I was a little lonely the first few months. And my savings account took a huge hit between multiple IKEA and Target runs and my first month’s rent.

I really don’t want to do this all over again. Hell, I don’t even want to move to a new apartment across the street right now! Moving back to Spain would involve such emotional labor and such a financial commitment that I’m honestly not willing to put out right now, so I’m staying put in Arizona for the foreseeable future.

***

I’m happy where I am right now, in my job, in my community, and in the region where I live. I’m not looking to move anytime soon, and I’m trying to deepen the roots I’ve put down in Arizona. In short, Phoenix is home.

If you’ve ever lived abroad (or even in a different part of the country) for a spell, have you ever thought about moving back there long-term? Talk about your experiences below in the discussion thread!

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