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03.06.2015
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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Making the Decision to Go Home

Should I stay in Madrid? Or should I go back home?  This has been the question on the minds of…

post by miss.melissa.parks@gmail.com

Should I stay in Madrid? Or should I go back home? 

This has been the question on the minds of many of my clients over the past few weeks. The arrival of the end of the school year signals a time for English teachers and students (who make up the majority of my client base) to decide whether they’re going to stay in Madrid or return home (or head off to some other part of the world).

As I listen to my clients list off the pros and cons of their possible options, the frustrations of life in Spain and the parts of life they’d dread returning home to, I feel a deep sense of empathy towards them. I too spent year after year here debating whether I was making the right decision to stay in Spain. It felt like I’d sacrificed so much to be here, yet I wasn’t happy. Maybe I ought to move back to Seattle? Maybe I was supposed to be in Central America? Or maybe I’d feel more content in a sunnier corner of the USA?

Needless to say, I know first hand that making the decision to go home can be an overwhelming and confusing process.

Like many people who move abroad, I made the decision to do so based on the experience I’d had while studying abroad in college. I’m sure many of you can relate when I say that it was the best time of my life. And who wouldn’t want to recreate those feelings of excitement, freedom and pure bliss that they’d felt during the period of their life when they felt most alive?

But when I moved to Madrid back in fall of 2009 I found that this joy that I’d felt while studying abroad was eluding me. Sure, I filled up my Facebook newsfeed with pictures that made many of my friends drool over the adventures I was having, I met people with fascinating stories, learned Spanish, made friends with the locals and even added a fairy tale-esque component to my story by getting myself an exotic Spanish boyfriend too. For all intents and purposes, I should have been having the time of my life once again, right?

But I wasn’t. I was constantly plagued with the feeling that I was making the wrong decision by staying in Spain. My parents told me that I wasn’t able to recreate my study abroad experience because the delight I’d felt then had obviously come from the fact that I hadn’t been working. Being a grown up meant doing work you didn’t want to do and sucking it up, and if I was so unhappy anyway then why didn’t I just move back home? None of this made sense to me since I’d come abroad to follow my dreams and pursue my bliss. Going home would feel like defeat. They had to be wrong.

As it turns out my parents were wrong (sorry guys…), but it took me several years, sleepless nights, lots of tears, a breakup and plenty of therapy of my own (yes, us therapists need therapy too!) before I realized just what was missing in my life and why my study abroad experience had made me feel so alive. I started working on my relationship with myself to find a sense of “home” in me, which I can take with myself wherever in the world I go.

Moving abroad can be a slippery slope. Often this decision to leave your home comes from a belief that if you search the world long enough, you will stumble upon happiness during your journey. But pain is an inevitable part of life, wherever in the world you are, and if you believe that pain or unhappiness are signs that you have made a mistake about where you’ve chosen to live then you’re setting yourself up for a never-ending quest. I think the secret to truly being content and capable of riding the waves of sadness, loneliness, and pain is to find an anchor in yourself. Not in the city, not in the culture, not in the people around you (although their presence certainly helps to weather the storm!). Really, I believe that you need this wherever in the world you are, but that if you live at home you can mistake the familiarity of day-to-day life and the consistency of the people around you for being enough to anchor you.

A few months ago I read an article about relationships that said many romantic relationships end when we adopt the “the grass is greener on the other side” mentality about our partner. The author concluded by saying that we ought to adopt a “the grass is greener where you water it” philosophy instead. Since reading this, I find myself saying it at least once a week to clients in session, even more right now since these doubts about whether to stay or go are running high. I hear so many of my clients trying to muddle through the mess of deciding what place would be better for them, what place would make them happier and I try to remind them of this–they’re going to have to take their watering can with them wherever they go. This isn’t to say that you should stay where you are if you’re feeling unsatisfied with your work or realize that you want to have face-to-face interactions with your family on a more frequent basis, but I think it’s a healthy way to reframe the decision. Rather than making the decision to move home. Ask yourself:

Where in the world do I want to invest the energy and effort of watering the grass? 

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If you’re currently faced with the dilemma of whether to stay where you´re at or head somewhere else and you’d like to set up an initial consultation with me, please send me a messageI offer online sessions for people around the world to help support them through the decision making process, and I also treat clients for general mental health concerns as well. 

26 comments.

26 thoughts on “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Making the Decision to Go Home

  1. Six months of battling with this question, that solace right there is what had made my decision a lot easier…also, I’m excited to answer all those questions– which place is better for me? in which place do i want to water the grass?– how will we answer if we haven’t experience both fully? Either way, the decision is never final unless you determine it to be. This is the same with the grass; it’s only greener if you paint it that way. Great and necessary post! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Alaina! I’m glad to hear that the post resonated with you. If you have any requests for topics you’d like to see featured in the future on this site please let me know!

    1. Hi Erin, thanks so much for recommending the article to me and I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed my article as well. If you have any recommendations for blog posts that you think might be helpful for expats and travelers I’m always open to suggestions 🙂

  2. I went studied abroad in Costa Rica during University Years, The first time leaving the USA on my own. After that i knew i wouldn’t Live in the USA for long after graduating. I managed to stay about a year and a half before moving to Spain, where i lived for three years. Those were some pretty amazing times, but soon i started to see all of the flaws in my new home, they started to really get at me. I figured it was best to move along and try something new so i headed to South Korea.

    Things here are bonkers! I consider myself someone who can adapt easily but now after 9 months I am questioning if i can stick it out for one more year as I had planned.

    At this point i am in a toss-up between going home and trying to live the american life but with a slight twist or to return to Spain and try to make it work. I think i have realized that all the flaws i saw in Spain are relatively minimal after what i am experiencing here.

    Or maybe i need something totally new… How do we ever really know what is right? sometimes you just get an idea and go for it.

    1. Hi Kenny! It sounds like you’re faced with a difficult dilemma at the moment. Sometimes we get hung up in the decision making process thinking that there is a “right” answer, but decisions are often difficult because there isn’t one option that’s clearly better than the other. I’d recommend watching the following TED Talk on making tough choices! http://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices?language=en

    1. Hi Gabi! Thank you so much for your kind words. If there are any topics you’d like to see featured in future blog posts on this site please do let me know!

  3. Great post! I imagine many of us expats seem similarly. I struggle with these thoughts more often than I’d like to admit. Regardless of how long we all stay here, “developing an anchor” is a must, great advice!

    1. Hi Reve! So glad to hear that you could relate to this post. Please let me know if there are any topics you’d like to see featured in future posts!

  4. I loved this post. I had a similar experience a while ago after leaving my country and looking for a ‘better life’. Now I realize I wasn’t even sure what was I looking and when I didn’t found it was very disappointing, but I decided to start living my life where I was happy and loved and adopted “the grass is greener where you water it” philosophy and it changed my life! I will have to read that book now…

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Gaby! I’m so glad to hear you loved the post and could relate to it. If there are any other blog topics you’d like to see featured in the future please let me know!

  5. Great piece! One essential part of peoples’ decision-making about whether or not to stay in Spain has to do with 1) working papers, and 2) income. I am a US citizen, but also Spanish, after living for many years in Spain that’s what it came down to, the impossibility of making a livable income combined with the student loans I had in the US. I even married a Spaniard and had a child there. I am totally bilingual, a native speaker of both languages, and educated as a teacher. I got very tired of spending inordinate amounts of energy trying to get into an actual school (not academy). I also needed 12 months of income. After you have a family, trying to live on the temporary ESL teaching gigs you get year after year gets very old. I found it demoralizing, the lack of possibility in Spain, the lack of recognition, the lack of future, and I wondered why I had worked so hard to educate myself if I could not use my degrees. Life in the US is a whole other slippery slope, and life seems a bit pale in comparison to Spain, but you can make a living… even if it means working too much. Culturally, it seems rather dead in comparison, but women are very open and friendly here, there is a sort of sisterhood in the US, that I missed in Spain. My own personal opinion is that life is pretty unbalanced here in the northeastern US… but you can get one (or several!) jobs. I am sure we will return to Spain someday when the crisis lets up. For now we are trying to pay off debts to become debt-free (something impossible in Spain) so that we will have more possibilities in the future.

    1. Hi Chlytie! Having worked for many years as an English teacher myself, I can definitely relate to the struggles you faced here in Spain. I’m glad to hear you’ve found some positive aspects about your new home in the NE corner of the states. I think once you live abroad it’s inevitable that you’re going to miss parts of the place you once called home, but as you explained here, sometimes that place isn’t the ideal place to live at the moment. I wish you lots of luck in paying off those debts and waiting out the crisis. If you have any posts you’d like to see featured in the future please let me know!

  6. This article is what I was looking for and I would like to add a couple of more considerations based on my experience. First of all, nothing is set in stone. Unless there are huge impediments, we are free to change and adjust our plans as we want. Making THE decision can be painful if we think that it MUST be the final decision. But how about if we allow ouselves to go and in case come back again when we have made up our minds and we are sure of what we want?

    Second consideration: to move to a new country without a purpose sometimes does not work. We long to move to our dream city or place but the dream alone will not be enough in the long term. So what is the real purpose of our moving? Is there a project related to our moving? Do we move because we are looking for a career advancement, we want to attend a master degreee, we want to learn a language? I understood that if there is a plan it works otherwise moving just because you like it or it is my dream does not pay off in the long term.

    1. Hi Manu! Great things to think about, I hope that readers see your comments! If you have any topics that you’d like to see featured in future posts please let me know! Thanks!

  7. A great post and perfect timing as I’m having exactly this internal debate at the moment. I’ve always trusted my gut to tell me when its time to move on. I originally came for 1 year but at the end of the year knew that I wanted to stay longer so extended my stay. Gradually however, the dream of living in Italy has changed and although I’m still mostly enjoying it, I’ve finally decided that I’ll be heading home in the autumn after 18 wonderful months. Happy travelling!

    1. Hi Liz! I’m glad to hear that the article came at the perfect time for you! Being in limbo before you finally make a decision can be really miserable so I’m glad to hear you were able to tune in to what your gut was telling you! Lots of luck with your move back home. If you have any blog requests please send them my way!

  8. Well done for hitting the nail on the head! Anyone who’s spent more than a year or two here has wrestled with this dilemma, and most bloggers have inevitably written about it, including myself! “The grass is greener where we water it”; great perspective that I couldn’t have put into better words.

    1. Thanks so much Josh, glad to hear it resonated with you! Any requests for future blog posts?

  9. I love this article. I just went over the hill sort of speak and came up with the same conclusion. I had a moment of struggle in my life on both my personal and work front and contemplated for a while going back home because things might just be easier. This was reinforced by my parents who, of course, took the opportunity to hammer me about going back. I postponed the decision and decided to work on fixing the situation here and now. I realized that we live in a world full of opportunities, like a game where by entering doors you are propelled to different levels. These doors are all around you not just in other countries and not just over that fence. 🙂 When I started looking for them, suddenly they were there. Incredible! Thank you for your blog, it helps to know I was not the only one who felt that way.

  10. I love this article. I just went over the hill sort of speak and came up with the same conclusion. I had a moment of struggle in my life on both my personal and work front and contemplated for a while going back home because things might just be easier. This was reinforced by my parents who, of course, took the opportunity to hammer me about going back. I postponed the decision and decided to work on fixing the situation here and now. I realized that we live in a world full of opportunities, like a game where by entering doors you are propelled to different levels. These doors are all around you not just in other countries and not just over that fence. 🙂 When I started looking for them, suddenly they were there. Incredible! Thank you for your blog, it helps to know I was not the only one who felt that way.

    1. Hi Ana! I´m so glad to hear that you found the post to be so helpful. Best of luck with watering the grass where you are 🙂

  11. Hi there! This is such a refreshing perspective! i am happy i have found your article 🙂 Many of us keep following a future happiness, while forgetting about the present and what they do right now. I am also wandering why do i feel better on the road than at home :))

  12. I just want to let you know that this post nearly made me cry (in a good way). Thank you for affirming and validating all of the worries and uncertainty about making this kind of decision, and also for giving me exactly the advice I need right now. I’ve decided to stay in Madrid for a second year, but I keep doubting whether I can actually be happy here—even though I know my happiness doesn’t depend on my surroundings at all. But I know that this is the place where I want to water the grass… so thank you for giving me the words to explain that, and to remember it whenever the doubts creep in.

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