The Expat Divide: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

The questions are always there, lingering. They are questions you ask yourself. They are questions others ask of you. They are questions that go unanswered.

Are you staying?
When are you going?
Where, indeed, is home?

I am blessed in that, if I so chose, I could stay in Spain forever. I didn’t have any major ordeals to undergo—in the spring of 2012 we planned our wedding, and by July I received my permanent residence card. The process was relatively easy, even if I did spend an absurd amount of money to obtain the “official” versions of documents I already owned. Bureaucracy, at least this time, was only a faint murmur in the background of my life.

Many fellow conversation assistants would be jealous of this. They are always looking for a way to stay, hoping not to have to go home and renew their visas. They want to au pair in July and August, teach at summer camps around Spain, hit the beaches in Valencia. But bureaucracy gets in their way. Can we travel around Europe after our NIE [residency] expires? they ask in the forums, hoping that just one person will say yes, unequivocally yes. They do not want to hear the word no, cannot stomach going home to what they see as drudgery. The renew for another year, putting off the “real world” and reveling in the life that a 16-hour workweek gives them. They write blog posts of their travels; they Instagram stunningly beautiful shots of tiny pueblos; they seem to lead a charmed life. And they do. But they want more! They want to stay for not just two or three years, but five years! Or more, who knows?

And so in their eyes I am lucky. I acknowledge this—I have been incredibly lucky to be able to study in Spain, to have a job here, to perfect my Spanish over five years in the country. I have found love, and if you’re into romanticizing life (which I am), it’s exciting to be with a person from another country, who will always be a little bit different and exotic to you.

But I’m one of the ones who says no to the first question. No, I’m not staying. I am, in a sense, throwing away an opportunity to live and work here in Spain. On the other hand, if I were to stay, I would be “throwing away” an opportunity to live and work in the place I call home. In any case, one of us is going to have to leave home, to say no to the comfort that living in your home country brings. If only everyone were aware of the comforts of living at home. Especially those who have never left or only been on vacations. Those people don’t really know what it’s like to feel as though you don’t quite get it.

When are you going? It’s anyone’s guess. It’s limbo. Much of our life together has been like this: uncertainty, the future cloudy and hard to read. I look forward to the day when I buy something big and expensive, a sofa or a mattress or perhaps even a television. To feel that sense of permanence and like life might just be predictable. Predictable, yes—a dirty word to some, but something I crave. Life and uncertainty create a sense of uneasiness in me, and I am ready to find certainty … someday.

Where is home? Home is here; home is there. Home is Zamora. Home is Indiana. Home is the feeling we have when we are together.

Kaley Mario Duomo FlorenceMario and me in Florence on our honeymoon

41 thoughts on “The Expat Divide: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

  1. Hi Kaley,

    I always enjoy reading your blog and to see what goes on in your mind. I am in the UK and today I just turned down the chance to work permanently in Madrid at a prestigious complany at Plaza de Espana. I feel stupid but a the same time relieved to say no. Pay has been squeezed and rental costs are high in Madrid – the eternal dilemma I guess.

  2. I, too, get this question all the time. I always say I take it a year at a time, but considering we’re looking at houses…I think I’ve answered that question. You’re lucky in the sense that Mario also feels at home in the US. Kike does not, and his job makes it more difficult to leave. What’s more important to me is that he and I make those decisions together, and that we both have a say in what will be best for the two of us and our future family.

    1. Yeah, I often wondered how he feels about that. Mario has always been the more-adaptable of us two, and I am so grateful for that.

      And you seem to be totally into staying in Spain, so if that’s what’s right for you—then more power to you, ya know?

  3. I always enjoy reading your perspective, because the idealization of life in Spain starts to wear thin the 100th time you hear it from yet another auxiliar.
    I hope you and Mario are able to make a lovely, predictable (I say this in the most positive way possible) life somewhere. I definitely understand the wanting to feel a sense of permanence (and a steady, full paycheck would be nice). Best of luck to both of you!!

    1. Thank you! Yes, honestly, the people who have been here less than two years often don’t really have any clue what staying in Spain long term means … and while I like their idealized version of life here, it isn’t really real for me anymore.

  4. There is also a bit of a curse of the expat “willing to go anywhere” life, which is that it’s really, really hard to put down roots when the wind of adventure is whipping overhead. My wife and I have never lived anywhere as long as where we are now, and we can barely bring ourselves to buy a freakin’ lampshade, because “we could be moving any time!!!”

    This post is vague-tastic! It’s like you’re about to announce a major life event and then the post ends. Well done.

    I’m not that familiar with Mario’s career, but it seems like lawyers are less able to hop borders and hit the ground running than other professions. That’s got to be a major concern.

    1. He has three degrees, though! He first did a degree in translation/interpretation, worked for a year in Germany as a translator, and then he went back to get a dual degree in ADE (business) and law. Also, it’s definitely possible to work as a paralegal, but we’ll see. He also speaks four languages: Spanish, English, German, and French. All good things!

      Also, yes, I suppose this was a vague-tastic post hahahaha.

      1. With Mario’s background, he could seriously consider becoming a legal translator. Has a degree in translation, a degree in law and business and experience in the legal field. Sounds like he has exactly the background that agencies are looking for. He could probably just work translating legal documents for law firms instead of working for agencies and he would make more money working for direct clients. Mario is in a good position to become a specialised translator, something the translation industry highly values.

      2. Kaley, there are some U.S. states that permit foreign lawyers who hold an LLM (Masters in Law, a one-year program) to sit for the bar and become licensed to practice. New York is one of them; I think CA is another.

        He could practice in the U.S. – it would take some time and effort, but it is possible!

        1. Yes, I had heard about that! The thing is, he prefers business, and he would like to work in a business and not as a lawyer, but we’ll keep our options open.

  5. In the end one will always live in a foreign country so the best thing is to feel ok with each other, not the place. We’re finally moving this summer to France because he works for a good company and has a great opportunity back in his country whereas I do not have any of the sort in mine. It doesn’t bother me for now, at least our countries share border which is an advantage. And who knows in the future!

    1. It’s nice to be so close! To me, it’s as though you were from two different states almost. Jobs are definitely something we keep in mind, though unemployment is relatively low in the U.S., so that’s good.

  6. Love this post! Full of difficult truths: that life as an expat doesn’t come with easy answers, that you’ll always struggle to feel at home and life is full of compromises. I get it… I also sometimes just want to buy something to make my apartment feel like HOME, but I remind myself I’m leaving in less than eight weeks. After that I’ll be a nomad at my parents’ house for the summer and then doing it all over again in September. It’s no shocker that last week I had a very vivid dream about moving to Chicago. All this is always on my mind!

    1. The nomad feeling is real … Now we have a lot of stuff here, though (wedding presents and the like), so it’s kind of hard to imagine where it will all go! :-/

  7. Your comments under “Where are you going?” remind me of these lines from a poem by Joy Katz: “…the time I wrote about the furniture / the heavier the better, / A butcher-block says live here… Weighted myself / to the heavy legs of tables”. I totally understand that, I felt the same way. And now I feel weighted down by it. Go figure. Your thoughts here are lovely and understandable. And no matter where you decide to live the choice between home and stability, adventure and change, will always be there. It just manifests differently for you. It’s funny, because I frequently wish I spoke fluent Czech so that the choice of either country could open up to us. It’d be nice to live there for awhile more. Right now, the choice seems made for us… the grass is always greener, I guess.

    1. True, and you are right: It is nice to have the option of either. It’s also nice to be able to communicate with his family without any translators. I remember how difficult it was to always be translating when our two families have met.

  8. Between the two of us, I’m the one leaving my country and moving to his (Well, Spain first then his country). As much as it pains me to leave my family and friends behind, the process of going there than him coming here is easier. We can’t stand being apart for so long.

    1. It’s so hard to be apart, so I get you. We had a LDR from June 2011 to May 2012. Not easy, even though he visited for about a month in Fall 2011. I’m so glad we won’t have to do that again!

      1. Yeah, we’ve been in a LDR since July last year with him visiting a couple of weeks or more every 3 months. I can’t wait for summer when we’re living together again.

  9. Ahhh, I know all too well what you mean about waiting on “big” purchases like furniture. I worry about things like phone contracts–is it worthwhile to upgrade and what if I break it? In that sense, as well as in a mental sense, it’s hard to always have the nagging worry of “What’s happening next?” You summed it up best when you said home is the feeling that you create together–no borders here!

    1. Haha phone contracts … yep. I just had them tell me Mario could get a free smartphone, but it’s like, “No thanks,” because we probably won’t be here long enough to pay it off.

  10. I so enjoy reading blogs like this one; honest, whimsical and thought provoking.
    Reading this really made me stop and think; right now for me the traits of stability and predictability are what are weighing me like an anchor. Am I weird? No, everyone has and follows their own path and definition of what grounds them. I’m doing the opposite of most, did the “real world” thing for over 20 years and now am looking forward to the next chapter. I often struggle with the term “real world” and how others view those who decide to try their hand abroad for a year or years. That is the real world just a different form…you work(ok for some not 50 plus hours we are used to in the states)pay bills and have to survive the day to day-that is real.
    I look at you and Mario moving not as throwing away a chance to continue to live and work in Spain as much as a chance to move on to your next chapter. I have no doubt things will come together and you will be picking out that sofa before you know it.

    1. Thank you Christine! I appreciate you always commenting.

      Yeah, the whole “real world” thing is just a myth. I mean, for 2–3 years, you can put off the so-called real world abroad, but then the real world just creeps right back in. I mean, we live in the world here!

  11. I hear ya. I’ve really enjoyed having some distance from the US these past two years, getting to experience another culture, and traveling to places I’ve always dreamed of. But there’s something to be said for stability, predictability, and putting down roots. One man’s “boring” is another man’s “home sweet home.” Although I’m renewing for Year 3, I’m looking forward to coming back to the states permanently in 2015. Maybe our paths will cross in Madrid this fall before y’all head back to Indiana?

  12. Best part of this post? Your ‘where is home’ part. You’ve got it down where its most important. The rest will eventually fall into place (hopefully sooner rather than later….and in Bloomington! haha)

  13. Once again, love your thoughtful posts. Even though my situation is a bit different, the “what’s happening next?” question has been looming large for several months now and won’t be answered for at least several more. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) where we end up will be largely determined by employment. Wherever the wind and Graham’s job send us, I guess! I think part of my issue is that I’ve come to the realization that as much as I love traveling, I equally love a sense of home…wherever that will be!

    1. Yes, I think your situation would be half exciting, half nerve-wracking! But I feel like you guys live a fun life down there in southern Spain. You have a pool?! Totally jealous.

  14. I love this blog post! I feel like even though I haven’t found my husband here, I would LOVE to stay in Spain for awhile, but in the back of my mind, I know I want to end up in the USA. It’s tough to be living somewhere else, being a young twenty-something, and knowing that everything you’re living is only temporary, or like you said, in a state of limbo. I’m excited to see where you guys end up!

    1. You’re just getting started! And who knows what could happen re: the boy front! I was totally opposed to finding anyone here, but I got here to do an internship in September 2009, and I met Mario that very same month! And within a week we were dating. Kismet.

  15. I always love your posts because they are so refreshing and honest and do not glamorize the life of an expat, even if you are married to a foreigner that could let you permanently stay. I don’t see you eventually moving to the States as throwing away an opportunity to live in Spain. You are creating another opportunity for yourselves, one that agrees with your lifestyle and that will make you happy.

    1. Thank you, and I agree … I just feel like other expats might struggle to understand where I’m coming from, and I wanted to put it out there.

  16. You know, I’ve been thinking about this and maybe the way of looking at this situation is not that you are throwing away the opportunity to live in Spain, but that the opportunity to live in the US is being opened to Mario. As far as I know from reading your blog, he has never lived there, right? So you could look at this from his perspective – explain to people that ask that you’ve already lived in his country and you both feel that it is time for him to experience living in yours. By leaving Spain you are effectively “throwing away” your opportunity to live in Spain, but you are opening up the opportunity to live in the US to Mario.

    1. True, true—and I like your perspective! No, he has never lived in the U.S. He’s visited, of course, but not lived. He has lived abroad, though, which makes me hopeful. He knows what it’s like, at least a little bit. :)

  17. Kaley, I admire your honesty. It all comes down to what you feel in your heart. I, sometimes think, man my life in Spain was easier in so many ways but it wasn’t ultimately where I saw myself so I knew I had to leave. It’s been 9 months now that I’ve been home. I’ve had a few part time jobs and am still on the job hunt (which isn’t fun) but I know I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be!

    1. Life in Spain is easy, I guess. Because the auxiliar job is so easy! Ya know …? But for me, it isn’t satisfying. It doesn’t help that Mario’s job isn’t satisfying either, and he works long hours so that I basically only see him on weekends.

      Good luck with the job hunt!

  18. I have just found your blog, very enjoyable! And courtesy of WordPress I am having to write this post for the second time (it didn’t like me trying to post when I have an old account which I haven’t used in years!).

    So I thought my story might help you gain a different perspective on things about deciding whether you are coming or going. I have been living in Andalucia for 4 years, working in Gibraltar. I spent most of that time fretting that I should be in UK focusing on my career and I didn’t take out an internet contract or buy any big items for the house – I completely understand what it is like to be torn between two places!

    But then I met my fiance, who is Latvian. Obviously Spain is special to us because of the romanticism we attach to it, but in reality we are very happy here. The problem is my job; I am a lawyer too & it is true – not a good qualification to have if you want to move around. I would love to qualify in Spain but it is completely unrealistic, my Spanish is only level B2-ish and to be honest, I can’t afford the time, energy or financial hit (both in terms of course fees and reduced salary whilst you study) to actually manage to qualify under the Spanish legal system.

    So here I am, back in the UK, with a new dream job. I have been striving to come back & build my career, pick up old friendships etc and enjoy being closer to family. It’s just that those friendships have changed so much I can’t go back & pick them up easily – priorities and shared interests have shifted. And family will always make the effort to stay in touch with you wherever you are in the world. So then I find myself asking why am I back in UK? Is career in 10 years so much more important than daily happiness now?

    Is it fair that I am dragging my fiance to a country he has never lived in & truly has no interest to live in – dark, miserable, wet and expensive UK! If repatriation is so difficult for me, I can’t imagine relocation will be easy for him. It probably doesn’t help that I am living and working in a part of UK I don’t know well, just adds to it all.

    Makes me recall the reasons I left UK in the first place; the top reason is of course, quality of life. So now, after moving back to UK and expecting my fiance to join me within 6 months, I’m wondering whether to throw in the dream job because it is at such cost to us as a couple; our lifestyle, our little daily routines & humdrum happiness etc that work for us whilst we continue to live in Spain (walking in the orchard and selecting oranges for juicing is not something we can do in UK!).

    Such a tough decision, to stay or go… but if Mario has a good career in Spain & you are happy in Spain perhaps you shouldn’t be too hasty to turn your back on your lives there. It is so easy to look back with rose-tinted spectacles, but you could find the States very challenging after 5 years away.

    The sensible part of me thinks that we will have to stick to our plan of 5 years in UK but I’m constantly asking myself why we need to do even that if we want to come back to Spain afterwards – we should stay in Spain now.

    Being “international” is unique, thrilling, life-affirming… however it is also very hard and takes ‘guts’. Good luck to everyone embarking on internationalism & I hope my tale helps in some way.
    A x

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