And here we are, in June. It’s part of the block-lettered expiration date on my Spanish residency card, yet I somehow never thought it would arrive — it always seemed like some distant, intangible construct of time. In Madrid, its arrival has been quiet and understated, marked by warm breezes and long, sunny days. Madrileños and tourists alike are flocking to the city’s countless terraces and plazas, making each barrio hum with laughter and clinking glasses. Summer is here, and everything is as it should be. Except for my growing feelings of indecision and doubt.
I’ve been keeping my plans quiet because I’m still not sure what they are, but here goes: at the last minute, I decided to renew my position here in Madrid. I adore this city, thanks to its endless supply of museums, restaurants, nightlife, terrazas, and concerts. I love speaking Spanish, and I’ve made some wonderful friends from all over the world.
That said, I don’t think I’m coming back. Why?
For the past seven months, I spent nearly six hours a week repeating 50 basic questions to hordes of second-graders. The goal was to prepare them for the notorious Trinity exam, but most of them only memorized the questions and the proper responses since the teacher never taught them what the questions meant in the first place.
I work with teachers who constantly tell me they haven’t planned anything, and that’s okay because we can just look at the book right now. The other day, one English teacher told me that she doesn’t like English. Nay, it goes further: she wishes everyone in the world spoke one language because it’s “inconvenient to learn other languages.”
And then there are the kids themselves, many of whom are so talkative and disrespectful that I can’t teach them anything. I’m forced to spend half the class period trying to keep them quiet while the teacher sits on the computer or leaves the room entirely.
Don’t get me wrong, some of my classes are good. Fun, even. (Read: Only my classes with teachers who prepare coursework and control the students’ behavior fall into this category.) I adore all of the first-graders, most of the second- and third-graders, and even a few of the fifth-graders. Sometimes we do special projects or help with holidays, which is usually a good time. But the teachers I work most closely with are so frustrating that I’m not sure I could handle another year.
Sure, there’s a chance I could switch teachers, but there’s no guarantee I won’t be doing the same thing I did this year. I was so bored during Trinity prep that I could barely drag myself out of bed for work in the morning. Which isn’t at all normal, if you know me.
“But it’s just a job,” you say.
I really wish I felt that way. There are countless people who work jobs they don’t like so they can do whatever it is they do like, whether that’s living in a particular city, having health insurance, or being near a specific person. My job here isn’t demanding or difficult. The pay is good. I only work 24 hours a week, private lessons included. I don’t take my work home with me. I get to live in Spain and travel around Europe on the weekends. I shouldn’t complain, and I know that. It really isn’t a bad job. I know that, if I go, I’ll deeply miss traveling to new places and living in this beautiful city.
But I think it’s time for me to move on and start figuring out what I really want to do. I don’t feel like I’m contributing or accomplishing anything through my work here. And while I don’t want to fall prey to the Millennial-approved illusion that everyone will immediately find a meaningful and fulfilling job, I want to at least be on my way to something good.
Yet, if I stay, I’m afraid I’ll find myself in this exact same place next June: paralyzed with the fear of failing to find a job or failing to make new friends in a new city or failing to assimilate back into the U.S. in general.
I think that, sometimes, expats get stuck. (I’m not sure if I count as an expat, but let’s suspend reality for a moment.) We inflate the idea of our lives here to such an extent that it’s hard to let go of that ideal, even when we know, deep down, that it’s time to move on. We slowly lose touch with their friends and family, who ultimately continue building their lives without us. Maybe they finally land their ideal job or rent that first apartment. Maybe they get married or have children. It’s hard to watch this happen because we are neither here nor entirely there, and we can’t quite rid ourselves of the nagging feeling that we’re not doing what we’re “supposed to do.”
At least, that’s what I worry would happen to me.
Now that I’m here, now that I can count on one hand the weeks left until my departure, I’m not sure I’m ready to leave. I don’t know where the time went. It feels like yesterday that I boarded that long-anticipated flight to Madrid; that I went apartment-hunting and found what became the perfect piso; that we stayed up late in plazas drinking wine and feeling that same hum of life I feel in the city now. I wanted this for so long — I spent the past year desperately wishing I could come back to Spain and live this life again. Can I leave it? And if I do, what then?
Of course, some days this country drives me crazy. Sometimes I can’t stand how slowly people walk or how inefficient all processes seem to be, whether it’s opening a bank account or returning a t-shirt to Zara. I still get oddly frustrated when people glare at me on the Metro for eating a granola bar. (Meanwhile they’re wearing down coats in summer and two 13-year-olds are engaging in heavy petting in the corner of the train car.)
But 99% of the time I love this city and Spain itself, and there are so many things I still want to do here. There are countries to see, people to meet. There are tapas to try and bars to visit. I regret not traveling more, and I haven’t made nearly as many Spanish friends as I would have liked.
Worst of all, I know that if I leave, I’ll never have the chance to live abroad again. At least not like this.
I know of fellow auxiliares in Madrid who also happen to be European Union citizens. They’ve been able to transition out of the program and find real jobs in the fields of their choice. I’d jump at the chance if I could do the same, but my options are seriously limited as a non-E.U. citizen. I guess I could always marry a Spaniard. Any takers? (Just kidding, parents.)
All that said, I am happy to announce I’m returning to the U.S. in July. I’ve started looking for jobs, and I’ll keep looking after I get home. If I don’t find anything, I still have the chance to return to Madrid.
Spain was always my plan, ever since high school when I started thinking about studying abroad here. Looking back, I realize I spent my first couple months here in sort of a culture-shock-induced cycle of negativity. Now that I’ve adjusted and started to really enjoy life here, I’m certain I’ll never fully let go of this country and what it’s meant to me. No matter what I choose, this won’t be easy.