Expat Life Spain Teaching English

Should I stay or should I go? Expat advice needed…

February 27, 2013

indecision, expat lifeIt’s an all too familiar dilemma for me now: should I stay or should I go? As a single, unchained expat in his mid-twenties, my options are rather black and white looking:

If I stay, I’ll live blithely, comfortably and contentedly for another year. If I go, I’ll most likely find myself working more hours for less money, bereft of the doorstep delights I had previously been privileged to, in a place that I probably don’t like very much.

The choice is simple right? Well you’re bang wrong, actually. I pride myself on putting happiness before everything and that is something I have endeavoured to do here in Spain since I arrived two and a half years ago. But sometimes the demons get to you. For me, it’s usually around the end of summer time that this happens. Here is the long and short of it from last year’s encounter:

Demon (in rasping, malevolent voice): “Go home!” Get to London and find a REAL job!”

Me: “Piss off demon! I have an excellent life – why on earth would I want to trade it all in for a miserable and poverty-stricken one in a country that is renowned for bad weather and a job market that is almost impenetrable?”

Demon: “Because if you don’t, you’ll fall behind. You’re bound to go home EVENTUALLY, and when you do, you’ll need to jump on the career ladder, so the sooner the better you ignorant ass!”

Me: “Rubbish! My career’s already started. I just can’t call it a living yet. In fact, I’m probably better off here than there in terms of long-term goals – teaching English abroad is a perfect accompaniment to blogging and piss-poorly paid freelance journalism. And if I moved home I’d have no other skills to cash in on anyhow, unless I actually taught English as a foreign language in England. And where’s the reward in that?”

Demon: “A fair point, but a move back to the UK is more likely to throw up random job opportunities that could prove life-changing. There will be none of that here; just more of the same, and that’s not going to get you anywhere is it?

Me: “Perhaps you’re right. I can’t live like this forever can I?”

Demon: “No! And there’s Starbucks in London. And that means Banana Java frappuccinos. EVERY. DAY.”

Me: “Oh bloody hell alright! This will be my last year, then I’ll go back”.

Demon: “Do you promise?”

Me: “I promise. Now do one. I’ve been doing my Smigel voice for five minutes now and people are beginning to stare”

Demon: “Yes master”

Five months later, and that promise to self is, yet again, looking rather like it’s on the verge of being broken. It’s an interminable cycle of mind-changing, and it’s always about this time of year that my expat-life loving side gives voice.

Co-incidentally, it’s about this time of year that there is a sudden drop in temperature and influx of various ‘puente’ weekends (long weekends lasting up to four days which are plentiful in spring). But if I look at the bigger picture, I really do have an enviable lifestyle here; a job that pays sufficiently; a social life that encompasses both English and Spanish; a ski-resort not one hour away; beaches not one hour the other way; free food with every beer in almost any bar; and a city typified by a unique cosmopolitan ambience and truly remarkable architecture.


Yet the Smigel within still lives, and has an incredibly annoying habit of sneaking to the surface in order to throw my mind into disarray just as I think I’ve made a final decision. By staying here, am I simply delaying the inevitable? Or am I doing the right thing by pursuing, however remote it may currently be, a career in freelance journalism, whilst teaching English as a means to an end?

My Dad wants me to get into ‘proper teaching’ back home.

“It’s a decent, modestly-paid and important job which offers the stability that a lot of other career paths don’t. Plus, you’re already a teacher, so you’ll already have an advantage there, and think of all the time off! PAID time off!”

As a life-long supporter of the Tories, his stance on the matter surprises me if I’m honest. Then again, he is no stranger to the trials and tribulations potentially suffered by those choosing a self-employed career path. Five years ago, his own company went into liquidation and marked the beginning of a brief, troubling spell of uncertainty in our home. Fortunately, he was quickly able to carve himself a new job at a suitable corporate firm, owing to his knowledge and expertise in his line of work.

It’s a chilling thought though. The last thing I want is a career forever endangered by the prospect of sudden unemployment – especially when I am older, with more mouths to feed. So obviously I can see where Dad is coming from – if I choose to teach full time, for my entire career, then all these potential hazards will be significantly reduced (in theory). And he’s right about the time off. That’s certainly a perk not a lot of other jobs have, and one which would allow me to continue travelling during the summer months. Moreover, I do actually enjoy teaching. I love my job, and I love building a rapport with students of all ages: kids, teenagers or adults.

However, I can’t help but think that if I were to devote my career to full-time teaching in the UK, I would forever yearn for something else. Something more exciting and less rigid, where things could go wrong, but at the same time could open up doors that would otherwise remain closed for an entire lifetime. That said, it is in no way my intention to disparage teaching as a profession; the demands of the job are hugely misapprehended, and that old saying ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ can go frig themselves off to an episode of The Apprentice. Try managing a class of 7 year olds – one with ADHD, one that cries over a hidden pencil case, one that terrorizes the others, one with epilepsy (better have that insulin injection at the ready!), one that never stops grassing on the other kids and several that scream everything they say – for an hour and a half, alone, successfully, and then tell me your fucking antediluvian adage.

Anyhow, I digress. The truth is I still don’t know what I’m going to do next year. It’s either stay in Granada, listen to the demon and begrudgingly return home or set up shop somewhere else in Spain simply for a change of scenery. Barcelona is tempting me.

Photo on 27-02-2013 at 13.19

Do any other bloggers out there often find themselves in a similar predicament? Has anyone gone home and later regretted it? Or vice-versa? What should I bloody well do!!??

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  • elizabethcarlson272905746 February 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I think if you aren’t 100% set on returning home, you should probably stay in Spain for another year. How many people have regretted staying abroad longer? Um, NONE. And how many regret leaving early? A LOT. Though I think the fact that you are in this dilemma means maybe you aren’t totally set on Granada either. Why don’t you give another city a chance like Barcelona? Though Barca gives a major love hate relationship. You’re young, only mid twenties, you have your whole life ahead of you to do the career thang. Enjoy the moment. How often do you get such an amazing opportunity?! Take it and hold on as long as you can! I would have never left Spain last year except I faced deportation. Ultimately you have to do what makes you happy, not what your family says ( I face the same fight constantly). It’s your life. And you know mid winter next year in London when it’s been raining for a month straight and it’s effing freezing, and the line at Starbucks is filled with old grumpy British people you’ll think to yourself , damn, I wish I was still in Spain.

    • tobyo February 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      What she said. and Spain’s coffee is so much better than Starbucks anyway 😉

    • Josh February 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      Cheers for such a thorough response Liz! I’m all too aware that if I went home then that would be spain over, and with that probably my life as an expat. I absolutely love Granada– i’ve really begun to feel integrated here over the past few months and have made some great friends. But perhaps you’re right about moving elsewhere in Spain. I’m heading north for semana santa so perhaps that will have some bearing on my decision. A ver…

  • Sue Sharpe February 27, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Stay – Liz says it all!

  • ebostick1212 February 27, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    You have pretty much blogged out my constant thoughts. Especially the fear of falling behind on the career ladder…I’m not even an actual ‘teacher’, just an auxiliar, so I feel like I’m eons behind my friends, or even my younger brother in the whole making money and career choices thing. That being said, if you have the opportunity and desire to stay, you should take advantage of it. Have you thought about doing a masters or something that might improve your chances in climbing the career ladder later?

    • Josh February 27, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      I have thought about a masters. And concluded that if I were to do one, and pass, it wouldn’t necessarily help me with what I intend to pursue. I’ve already learnt through a couple of internships at UK publications that it’s all about your experience as a writer and who you know in the business. I’m considering a fast-track course though. If I can bring myself to yet add another 4k to my already burgeoning student loan!! Cheers for your thoughts 🙂

  • tobyo February 27, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    well, I’m not an expat (yet!!) but I do have some thoughts. btw, I love the way your demon talks to you, much nicer than my own 😉

    It seems to me that the only reason you should go back to the UK is for this “security” of which you speak. Is there really true security? I think not. You say you love what you’re doing now. Excuse me for saying so but do you know how many people out there are doing what they do NOT love? just for this supposed security of which you speak? I can tell you it’s not that many people and believe me when I tell you that many people would kill to be in the spot you’re in right now. What’s this “fall behind” stuff you’re talking about? if it truly your dream to do free lance writing, then keep on pursuing that dream. Again I must say in perhaps a different form: do what you love and the money will follow. you may have guessed that I am not doing what I love though I am nicely paid, I hate where I’m at. been looking for another spot for just over a year, gotten close twice (maybe thrice?) and yet: still no offers dag nab it!!

    The decision seems pretty clear cut to me, alas, I am not you nor do I listen to your demons. Great photo btw 🙂 Best of luck. hey, couldn’t you just stay one more year and then see how you feel? Goodness mid 20s, you’ve got so much time ahead of you. Take it from me who is deep into her later 40s 😀

    • Josh February 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Many thanks for your words toby! I’m determined by nature and I certainly don’t give up easily. It just gets frustrating when I put a sh*t load of work into a pitch for what I know is a great idea and then I don’t even get a polite ‘no thanks’. Makes me doubt myself sometimes. And I hate that!

      Staying another year is clearly the easiest option. I’d be surprised if I actually find myself slurping banana java frapos next year…

  • Jessica of HolaYessica February 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Ooh, that sounds like a tough decision. I always get stressed out when I hear people back home talking about ‘career ladders’ and ‘stability’ and stuff like that…Every time, I end up back on the Spain side of things. There are some interesting jobs to be had here too, though of course that depends a lot on your language skills.

    And hey, I hear Barcelona’s not too bad of a place…;)

    • Josh February 27, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      Cheers for chipping in Jessica. What do you do in Barca if you don’t mind me asking? Are you in TEFL too? Are there many independent English language publications there? And what about all that Catalan? Doesn’t that make you feel as though you aren’t learning as much Castellano as you ought to be?

      • Jessica of HolaYessica February 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm

        Nah, I started in TEFL but had terrible luck with academies. It left me feeling pretty cross about the whole thing, so I started a new job as a translator for a website. I also write for a magazine.

        There are quite a few English language publications because there are so many English speakers here.

        The Catalan…I speak a bit, and I’m trying to improve. It’s easy to understand, because it’s very similar to Castilian. But Barcelona is so international that everyone from Barcelona speaks both. There are also lots of Latinos and ‘proper’ Spaniards who don’t speak the language, but live here. Actually, my problem is the opposite of what you describe – all the Castellano makes me feel I’m not learning as much Catalan as I should!

        • Josh February 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm

          That’s reassuring then! Thanks Jess. I supposed that everybody speaks Castellano but only when they have to. Like a pride thing.

          Do you know of any better academies now that you’ve been there a while?

  • georgemills25 February 27, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I wouldn’t think about it too much in terms of either staying in Granada or going back to the UK. England and Spain are very close, and teaching and writing are both very flexible jobs so there’s no reason you can’t build a life that includes both countries.

    It sounds like you are encountering a very specific expat problem, and that’s that wherever you are, a whole other life is going on elsewhere. So if I have any advice, I’d say just go for what feels right at the moment and don’t lose too much sleep over a year or two here or there. It’s all part of the fun.

    • Josh February 28, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Well when you put it like that I suppose it’s pretty clear-cut! Cheers for your advice George!

  • Marianne February 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    Well, I’ve been an expat in Spain for eight years, and wouldn’t dream of returning to the UK – but then again I’m at a different time in my life than you, Josh.

    I agree with much of what Liz and Toby have said. If you are unsure – stay in Spain for now, but maybe move across to Barcelona for a while.

    Of course, there are always other alternatives. Why not just pack all your worldlies into a backpack and go off to see the world? Some folks just keep travelling, and blogging about it, too.

    As you know, I am usually in Spain for about eight months a year (April to November) and “somewhere else” December to March (ish). Can I do this because I am über-rich? Absolutely not! We do housesitting (free accommodation in return for looking after pets etc), but there are lots of places you can work in return for free accommodation.

    After all, how many people on their death beds say “I wish I had worked more” or “If I could live my life over again I would stay in a stable (boring) job all of my life”. I think they would say the exact opposite.

    Just saying. 😉

    • Josh February 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Globe-trotting full time is also another option not far from my mind! House-swapping would be great if I had my own gaf! Unfortunately I very muc doubt my housemates would be into the idea, considering they have just banned couch surfing!

      Thanks for chipping in 🙂

      • Marianne February 28, 2013 at 2:06 pm

        No – not house-swapping – HOUSESITTING! No house of your own required. You just move into someone else’s house and look after their pets while they are away!

  • David February 28, 2013 at 12:57 am

    What’s the problem?. Go home. If you don’t like it / get bored / miss the food come back. I did!
    btw teaching EFL / ESOL in the UK is much more rewarding, better paid and with better job security than in Spain – provided you work for the state.
    But if you miss the life come back to Spain.
    It’s all experience anyway….

    • Josh February 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Hi David

      Where in the UK do you teach? Do you think it would be possible to sustain a living off a TEFL position in London? I’ve one friend that’s spent a year doing it and although he earned more the considerable cost of living left him pretty much penniless at the end of every month!

      • David March 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm

        Hi Josh. Like I said you need to work for the state. There are many FE colleges that teach EFL or ESOL. You will need to get a CERT ED qualification . You earn a normal state teacher’s wage if you are full time. Starting around 25,000 a year… You can be in a union and you get support and professional developement. However you do have to deal with things like OFSTED.
        Google FE colleges like Manchester City or Chichester to see their EFL or ESOL pages…

  • Anna Kemp (@thedragonchats) February 28, 2013 at 10:12 am

    I have a couple of thoughts about your dilemma:

    All of us who live abroad have essentially stuck a pin in the map in order to decide where to live. This is immensely freeing – and immensely nerve-wracking. It feels like there is more at stake than if you live in your home country (or even town) surrounded by people who all do and think the same as you (the No Pin people). But! This is an illusion. We all – everyone – face the same doubts and cosmic questions in life (am I on the right track? will this make me happy? what does the future hold for me?), they are just easier to ignore if everyone around you is doing the same as you.

    I’ve lived in Spain for 20 years and in my experience, the 2 year mark brings up all this stuff. In career (CV) terms, it’s long enough to have had “an experience” abroad, but any longer and you don’t really add anything new… I went through this. I was teaching English in Madrid but my dream was to work in film or TV. I dilemma-ed a lot about going home to do a Masters and in the end decided to do an evening class on film in Spain. To cut a long story short (and after A LOT of hard work) I got a job as a script supervisor in Spanish TV and later moved into film.

    So, I would say to you…. acknowledge the demons as they will always be there to some extent (after all, if you stick your neck out and swim against the current in life – which is essentially what living abroad long term is – there will always be an un-lived “parallel life” waiting for you in the UK) but go for it. Stick at what you want to do (hard work will pay off eventually) and live where you are happy. If life takes you to the UK, then fine. If not, so be it. Quality of life is very important, in my experience. To live in a place you like, with friends around you and a purpose to your life (not to mention a way to earn money to boot) is What It Is About, in my opinion…

    Good luck!

    PS. My “pueblo” is very close to Granada, in the Alpujarra – don’t move to Barcelona!!!!

    • Josh February 28, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Anna thanks so much for your comment – it really helps to put things into perspective. Quality of life IS what it’s all about, and that’s not something I’m sure I would have if I moved back given my current CV! If I don’t go next year it’ll be four years in Spain. And each one is better than the last.

      Well done for sticking it out and finding your job in TV! Hopefully I’ll have a similar success story to tell one day!

      • Anna Kemp (@thedragonchats) March 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm

        Hi Josh,
        I’ve added a link to this blog on mine. It’s here if you want to check it out: http://bit.ly/WRglmF It’s about a project I’m doing in my village (Laroles – it’s in the Alpujarra) to build an open-air theatre.

        • Josh March 7, 2013 at 9:28 pm

          Ah thanks Anna! I like your site, and your idea! A theatre up there would be magic 🙂

  • tanya March 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    HI Josh interesting reading. we are the other end of the spectrum. at the ages of 54 we are planning an early retirement move to Spain – Extremadura is one of my preferences. We could carry on here for another 10+ years until l state retirement but life is for living. I am interested in doing some teaching while I am there – I have a Nursing qualification at degree level and I am researching TEFL courses. Any advice for an oldy? as for you, travel travel travel no one has ever regretted travel,

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  • Bill October 3, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    You can actually have it both ways: get yourself a UK teaching qualification (such as a PGCE) which you can do in Spain if you like, then go and work as a “proper” teacher in an international school in Spain. You’ll get better pay, more security, and if you don’t like it you can always bugger off to Asia and earn mega-bucks in some international school over there.

    Now, that wasn’t too hard was it?

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  • Doro March 25, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve just returned to Germany after 5 years in Australia. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I knew this before I left Melbourne, and it took me two years to actually do it. You have to follow your gut. It’s not all about career plans and money. And certainly not about what someone else wants you to do. It’s much bigger. You will return home when the indecisiveness becomes too painful. Sometimes I wish I’d taken this step earlier and not contemplated my options for so long. But some of us aren’t so good at taking action.

    • Josh March 28, 2014 at 11:49 am

      5 years is quite the stint! I agree that it isn’t always down to career plans and money, but it is for most people, I think. That or family. As you can see I decided to stay in Spain another year and now I am once again going through the same dilemma! I don’t think I’ll go until I have a good enough reason; if I went now I’d just be back where I started before I moved to Spain. I’m working hard to change that though…

      Cheers for the comment and I hope you are settling back in to German life ok!

  • Patricia April 27, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Josh! I never comment on this kinda stuff but I find myself in the same exact position these days. It’s my 3rd year as an auxiliar (moving cities every time) and now that the year is coming to an end I’m torturing myself. I just happen to be really homesick at the moment too. I’m thinking I might go back home to the US and recharge the batteries and jet off to another country in Asia or South America but I seriously cannot decide. Have you figured it out yet?!

    • Josh April 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Hey Patricia.

      This post does seem to strike chords with lots of other expats out there. I have figured it out though: staying. Going home now would mean starting over completely and I just don’t see any reason for doing that, other than to start earning more money but in a job that I won’t like. Things are changing for me now– in a good way –and it would make no sense to abandon all of that!

  • f. March 10, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    I wonder if you have now resolved your dilemma. I once had that same dilemma too. The fact is that if you are still debating whether to stay or go you are not quite as happy in Spain as you say you are. In 2009 I decided to return to UK after a decade of asking myself the same question. In the end I realised that what was holding me back was a fear of having to start again from scratch. It was the crisis that did it for me and the realisation that I might not have a job, be able to afford the exorbitant rent and realising that actually I had to work so hard for so little that I really didn’t have such a great standard of life. I went back to the UK but not home- I chose an area where I always dreamed of living-a completely new beginning. it was hard at first and in the first few years I nearly went back because I found it hard to make new friends. I visited Spain a lot but It wasn’t difficult gor me to realise that I wasn’t happy there-I just wanted to get back. I haven’t been back to Spain for a few years now and I know now I will never go back. There are a lot of wonderful things here. Seasons for example-The excitement of seeing the first snowdrop or the arrival of the swallows in the spring. The rare beautiful summer days that are so awaited for that they treasured rather than taken for granted. I wouldn’t change that for the world.