The Quarter Life Expat Crisis

Questioning My Decisions as an Expatriate

Life as an expat in Spain isn’t always tapas, siestas, and fun in the sun. Contrary to popular belief, expats don’t usually spend their days shopping, eating out, and traveling. We have to work, cook dinner, do laundry, pay bills and efile taxes… the same day to day things people do all over the world. It isn’t very glamorous.

Lately I’ve been going through a bit of an expat crisis— something I think is quite common among expats of my age group, but definitely difficult all the same. If you’ve noticed, my posts have been a lot less personal. I’ve been telling you about delicious fried foods and crazy Spanish parades but leaving out things like starting a new job and my sister’s big news.

Why? Well, sometimes I think that those of you reading could care less about my personal life. But then I receive an email or facebook message from a reader and it makes me realize that maybe some people are interested in my story. So here goes, a little update on my personal life (after all a blog is a great outlet for venting!) and I promise the next post will be back to the usual– perhaps a restaurant review or recipe!

I Accepted a Job

My old school in Carmona, Seville.

In mid-December a friend contacted me about working for a private organization called BEDA as a language assistant. I was very hesitant about pursuing the offer, but thinking ahead to the summer when teaching English isn’t much of an option I decided to accept. I’m working for a small concertado (semi private) elementary school in Barrio de Pilar.

  • The Pros: I get out of the house, out of Ale’s way (he works from home), and I make some money to save for summer travels. The school has also been very welcoming with nice teachers and cute students (who have a good level of English compared to my last school in Carmona).
  • The Cons: I lose the majority of my free time since I give private lessons each afternoon from around 4:00-8:00. This means less blogging and networking, less probability for finding freelance writing jobs, and no flexibility to cover day time events in Madrid, travel during the week, or continue jogging. It is also a bit boring and I have to commute 45 minutes (by metro) twice a day.

Honestly, I’m not convinced I made the right decision in accepting the position. In a way it feels like I gave up on myself after only four or five months of trying to make some sort of online or freelancing career. Maybe for some people that would be a lot of time to have had success, but one year ago I barely knew anything about social media, travel blogging, photography, html, etc. I’ve learned so much over the past five months and, despite the setback, I am willing to try even harder to keep up with everything I’m interested in pursuing.

Wedding Bells

My little sister is getting married! And she’s decided to have the wedding soon as costs in Massachusetts skyrocket in April. That means that on March 18th Alejandro and I will be in the states again to see her tie the knot. I am very excited for her– although also a bit stressed about finding a maid of honor dress and preparing for the trip in such a short time! I also would have loved to have stayed a little longer– to have been there to help her out– but since I’d just accepted the new job I couldn’t ask for more than five days off… which they already weren’t too thrilled about.

My sister and I at my American wedding.

If anyone has suggestions on where to find a nice dress here in Madrid (it has to be turquoise) please leave me a comment or send me an email! I’d really appreciate the help. I already looked at El Corte Inglés by the way!

The Quarter Life Expat Crisis

In October I turned 25 and while that may sound young to some, it’s definitely old enough to want a career with some sense of purpose. People always ask me if we plan to stay in Spain or to come back to the US and I don’t have an answer for them. For now we are living in Spain and that is unlikely to change for at least a year or two. But that also means that I am living in a country that is currently suffering a painful and destructive economic crisis, a country where having a job– any job– is considered a luxury.

While I wait for my residency documents (which are necessary for working here) I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to teach English. I know that there are people who would give anything for the jobs I have. But despite that fact, I don’t feel fulfilled. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing in Spain.

Over Christmas my father and his partner jokingly tempted me with a lucrative career as a lawyer. And it didn’t sound so bad… 3 years of law school, a few years in the DA’s office, and voila, a position in their acclaimed law firm. I would probably enjoy the career a great deal. But I’m just not ready to make that decision yet, and I’m not sure if any amount of success and money could get me to live in cold Massachusetts for the rest of my life!

Being this age is so complicated as I feel this need to grab hold of the coorporate ladder although at the same time I know I’d probably hate a traditional 9:00-5:00! But since I never tried that life I think I feel I might be missing out.

En Fin…

Thank you all for reading and supporting Spanish Sabores and Recetas Americanas. Have you ever gone through an expat crisis of your own? Please share your stories!

Comments

  1. Hi Lauren,
    thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I are going through the same thing right now. We are both 26, and we left extremely fulfilling jobs in the United States working with refugees, to embark on life as expats. We are auxiliares in Murcia, which is a region struggling more than most. Our pay is often delayed and uncertain. There is always the constant push and pull of what life would be like if we returned to the US. In someways it would of course be much easier, daily communication and interactions would just seem effortless. I find it comforting to know that other people are feeling similar pressures and uncertainties.

    un abrazo fuerte!
    Sarah

    1. Hi Sarah. Thanks for commenting! It must have been difficult for you guys to leave that type of work in the states, but just think of the skills you are gaining from living here for the year. The time will pass before you know it and you’ll be back to your daily life (I’m assuming you plan to go back at the year’s end?) anyway, Murcia sounds like one of the most difficult regions to have been placed in so if you guys ever want to come visit Madrid feel free!!!

      1. Hi Lauren,

        We are still unsure about spending a second year here. It would be a great way to deepen our language skills, especially since we work with so many families from Latin and South America in the United States. We are also looking at Graduate programs abroad, so I think there will at least be a few years of feeling slightly off center and coming to grips with being an extranjero wherever we are. Thank you for your blog, I love reading your recipes and thoughts on Spain. I told my husband that I feel truly integrated into Spain, my tortilla de patata looks just as good as the ones in the restaurants. Hope you are well!

  2. Ánimo, maja! We’re all down from time to time; although that fact doesn’t make the problems go away, it’s nice to know that others nod in agreement when you explain that living abroad is not always a piece of cake. Thank you for sharing your story.

    You’ve got a lot of good things going on here–your sis is getting married! you still have ganas to explore and learn! you DID manage to find a job in crisis-time!–so here’s to hoping these things become the foundation in a string of good news.

    1. Hi Cassandra and thank you for the kind words! I know I have a lot of great things in my life, and I’m very thankful. Hopefully more good things are to come– for all of us here in Spain!

  3. Well what to say? What an honest and interesting post. I totally get how you feel turning 25 and wanting something “more” or “different” in your life. I turned 26 in December and felt, for the first time in my life, that I was finally onto something.

    I think taking the job might surprise you and lead to you answering certain questions. Teaching English has lead me to some very cool places and even cooler opportunities in my life. Although I don’t do it now the door is never closed.

    Very interesting indeed! Feels like I could have written certain parts of it!

    1. Hi Will! I’m glad to hear that 26 has been a good year for you and I definitely agree that teaching English can be a great job and opportunity with the potential to meet a lot of people… we’ll see how it goes!

  4. I’m sorry you’re going through an expat crisis, and for what it’s worth, I really appreciate the honesty you’ve put forth here. Sometimes I worry that other people will think I’m a downer if I get too personal on my blog (and they probably do, since I tend to take it way too far), but it’s reassuring to read someone who’s honest about the fact that “Life as an expat in Spain isn’t always tapas, siestas, and fun in the sun.” Feel better, chica, and keep working the freelance thing on the side. The grass is always greener, too; I was freelancing full-time this summer but started to lose my mind from all the time working alone. I still struggle with that in my second job here: I like the flexibility of essentially being a freelancer, but I start to miss human interaction!

    1. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to share your honest thoughts sometimes– even if they aren’t overwhelmingly positive. I enjoy reading your posts no matter the tone! Human interaction was one of the reasons I decided to take the job, although I don’t really mind working alone as long as I make time to go out throughout the week.

  5. I know what you’re saying! I’m starting to get itchy here-I don’t think I could do another year as an auxiliar, it’s just not fulfilling enough. Not sure what my next step is, but I try not to worry about it too much. Wishing you the best in the new job, and I hope you keep going on the freelancing stuff! I love reading the stuff you’re putting out!

    1. I’m glad you aren’t worrying too much Liz! I know things will fall into place for you. My advice, however, is don’t let the auxiliar program suck you back in if you feel you are finished… it’s so easy to say yes!

  6. I can relate too. I’m tearing my hair out here waiting to here back on jobs for next year in Spain and wondering if at nearly 25 I should have something more permanent by now. My answer to that is always that I’m taking care of myself, I’m happy, and I’m lucky to have what I have.

    1. That is perfectly said Amy– it’s very important to take care of ourselves and value the things we have. That being said, sometimes its still difficult not to dwell on what you don’t have (my problem at times) but overall I feel very lucky as well and am happy to be healthy!

  7. Thanks for sharing… I’m a couple years younger so I don’t feel quite as much pressure to start my career, but I completely know how you feel… working as a language assistant isn’t exactly the most challenging and fulfilling work, but it does give us the opportunity to live over here, which I think I can handle for another year! Also agree that expat life isn’t as glamorous as people sometimes think… sure, we get to live in a foreign country and travel to new places, but it comes along with a whole new set of challenges! I hope you continue to pursue the things you really want to do!

    1. Hi Lindsay! I completely agree the the language assistant program is a great opportunity to live abroad (not to mention one of the only available to Americans in Spain). I hope you enjoy the rest of your time here!

  8. Mijaaaa, you have put into words what I’ve felt for the last three years! I am often faced with these decesions around this time of year, and I think the best is to just keep swimming, swimming! You’re well ahead of your years in maturity, have proved that you CAN do the things that interest you and are open to other ideas, and have a darling husband who loves you (in that sense, you’re a bit ahead of me!!).

    Give your sister my best (is she marrying the one I met at your wedding and may have sang We No Speak Americano with at 5am…!) and Bella, and come visit sooooooon! Miss you tela!

  9. I love the honest, real life posts… we all go through it. As you know I am stateside again… following our plan. I know I am in the right place, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of doubt and wonder… You will know when “enough is enough” – no matter what the situation – when it’s time to make a change. Until then just keep moving in the best direction… sending you a hug from America!

  10. I was just thinking of your post from a few months ago about the freelance vs. “real” job conflict you felt.
    Turning 25 was one of my most difficult years (what comes next? Career? What do I want? etc) and I can only imagine it’s amplified being an expat.

    Some days I enjoy teaching English but like you, I know there is something more fulfilling awaiting me. But remember you’re gaining important skills (improvising, teaching, being flexible, learning a language, understanding/respecting cultural differences) many which you may not even think about that will help you in the future.
    Sometimes as adults we have to take the responsible road first. The grass often appears greener than it is. Ironically, my first “real job (non profit esque)” paid me less than my previous nanny job!
    Wish you lots of strength!

    1. Thanks for the comment Lauren and I agree about sometimes having to take the responsible path first. I definitely agree that at times teaching English has been rewarding but I feel like it’s time to turn the page. As soon as we’re able I’m willing to take a pay cut to do something I enjoy– hopefully that time comes soon! Can’t wait to meet you this weekend!

  11. Hey Lauren! You work in the Barrio de Pilar now? I work and live there. Let me know if you ever want to grab lunch or something (do you also have those ridiculous 12:30 to 2:30 lunch breaks?)!

  12. Lauren, I´m afraid I have something very tough to say to you. Spain is not a place for the talented foreigner. I´m glad for you that you´re facing this difficult time right now when you´re young enough to make a change in your life in the right direction. (I´m not in this position, at 52 it´s too late to move on unless something amazing happens). You are a bright, enterprising, forward-thinking, unique young woman and unless you are very fortunate or settle for something simple, I fear you will continue to feel frustrated in regular cycles. That´s been my experience – although I´ve stuck to my guns about writing which ahs saved me – and though it would be wrong to generalise, I can´t help but advise you to consider your future very carefully. In short, and I´m sorry to say this so brutally, this country is not ready for talent or flexibility or brains or the enterprising spirit for its own people, never mind non-Spaniards. This is not a land of opportunities for the vast majority of people – it´s not a meritocracy. A young and clever woman like you should have offers of challenging employment, promotion and remuneration thrown at her feet, not the “ghetto” and dead end of “teaching English.” Forgive me for being so blunt but in my view you should consider the options opened to you by your father, however complicated this road might be. It´s great you´ve opened up on your blog – it is YOUR blog after all – and as a reader I´m very happy to hear how you´re feeling. I just hope that you will realise that such employment, while offering you all the good things you mention, is not your ultimate goal. You deserve much, much more. Muchos besos, Mo x

    1. Mo, I can’t thank you enough for your honest response. It really helps to have the perspective of someone who has lived through this herself. We’ll see what life has in store for me over the next few years, but I will keep your advice in mind when remembering I shouldn’t settle for less than what I deserve. Thanks so for always reading and commenting. Muchos besos para tí!

      1. Hi Lauren, so glad you didn´t feel I´d stuck my nose in too far! I was worried I´d overstepped the mark. I wouldn´t want to discourage you (though it probably looked like it) since opportunity can also depend on the energy you put in and many other factors. The main thing is exactly what you say – you really should get what you deserve, so good luck and onwards and upwards to a bright future! xxx

  13. I’m kind of having a similar feeling about work. It’s hard to feel fulfilled with your job when you’re working at a job you might NEVER have chosen to do at home. I teach English in Barcelona sometimes, and I know it’s not something I’ll ever be passionate about.

    I had a teaching job here that sounds similar to yours, and quitting it was seriously the best decision ever. I work a way better schedule closer to home, and my job doesn’t have to define me. So even though my job isn’t fulfilling, the free time it gives me definitely is. But sometimes I have to work hard to remember that!

    Suerte! (and also great blog!)

    1. Hi Jessica, thanks so much for reading and for your comments. I’m glad to hear that quitting your old job made you happier, and I totally think that the free time this type of job can give you can be worthwhile on its own. It’s been so nice to hear all of these comments from young women in the similar situations– we should start a club 🙂

  14. Hi Lauren, I enjoy your postings on recipes, and I always come back looking for more! You genuinely help me out with my weekly menu planning! As far as your post goes, I think these feelings are normal. But at 26 and living in the States with my Spanish hubby, we also feel unfulfilled at times (and we have great “career” jobs!). So I suppose what you feel may be normal anywhere you are. You just kind of wonder what you’re missing from the life you’re not living. To generalize, though, I think we just have to make the most of any place we are in, and “enjoy the moment.” I do caution you about law school – it’s not necessarily a road to easy success. Law school is a very hard three years, followed by student loan debt (commonly) plus low job prospects across the US. But if your father is willing to take you under his wing, perhaps it could be in your best interest! Here’s a realistic and insightful article on the current legal job market: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/the_law_school_bubble_how_long_will_it_last_if_law_grads_cant_pay_bills/

    Best of luck to you whatever you decide!!!

    Melanie

    1. Thanks for that link Melanie– if I ever do choose to take that path it will be after a lot of consideration and decisions about my future plans. It is interesting to hear that you guys are living in the states and still not 100% “fulfilled” (but then again is anyone ever?) Anyway, great points about law school and grad school in general. I would definitely like to avoid going into debt at all costs!

  15. Wow! So much advice!! You must be so confused. I also went through what you are going through when I was your age, an expat and a newlywed. What you are feeling is sooo normal, it’s life and it means you are living i! You have so much to be thankful for and look forward to. Take it easy, enjoy this amazing experience it will make you a stronger person in the long run.

  16. So much going on in your life right now. The only advice I can offer you is take deep breaths and just put one foot in front of the other…it WILL work out, you have Ale, you have your family and things have a funny way of sorting themselves out eventually!

  17. Hi Lauren,
    This post really hit home for me as well. And I felt like I wanted to give you a hug and share with you some things so I sent you an email 🙂 Hope you get it and I hope you don’t mind I chose to do that instead of lay it all out here 😉 And thanks for sharing! Cheers. xo

  18. I’m so glad you found me and decided to comment a few minutes ago (9pm is my down time, too!), because I’m reading your posts, going, “Yes! Yes! I can soooo relate! OMG, she’s stealing my thoughts! Ah! Perhaps this sort of quarter-life expat crisis is normal after all!! Do you hear that, D-Man?! Mom?! Dad?! I might actually be quite normal!!”

    This too, will pass (I know, so cliché). But another young expat blogger mentioned that she got her life crisis out of the way during her twenties, and that when she turned 30, she became ever so comfortable in her own skin, at peace with herself and her life choices. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that our own cases may turn out to be similar.

  19. I turn 25 next month and I feel like reading this post was like reading my own thoughts. I recently moved from a smaller town to a bigger city for better job prospects and they really just aren’t here. I flip flop almost every day whether moving was a mistake or not. I really just want to start a career and grow some roots. We were really born at the wrong time and are going to have to accept that things are going to be rough for our generation.

  20. Wow, I can understand where you are coming from, 100%! Unfortunately, my crisis has taken over, and I have decided to go home, after living abroad in several European countries for five years. I even have a serious Spanish relationship, and I am leaving it behind to go work the 9-5.

    For me it was a combination of factors that are sending me home–My mom has dementia, and I realize I have to go home and be the grown up for her now, and I need to make some actual money. If I want my serious Spanish relationship to work, it is better for us to make a decision coming from a stable place than one where I am living on a shoestring.

    Of course I will miss the traveling, the discovery, the culture, and the boyfriend, but things will work out in the end.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Sorry to hear about your mom, that is a tough situation. I think it sounds like you are making the right choice for yourself and for your family, which I really admire. There is certainly something to be said for stability, and don’t forget that within the US there is plenty of travel, culture, and discovery to be had.

      Best of luck!

      Lauren

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