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Expat Update (AKA My Quarter Life Crisis)

Friday, January 30, 2015
Why hello there! I feel like I've been so busy trying to catch up on travel posts (and you know, trying to get my life in order) that I haven't given a real update in a while. So, hi! Here's what's new:


I'm stressing out tough trying to figure out my plans for next year. My brain is telling me to go back home, go to grad school and start my career as a teacher in the good ol' US of A, but my heart is telling me to stay in Spain. While realistically I know I need to man up and face the real world at some point, I'm the happiest I've ever been here in Madrid.


My inner overachieving American is telling me that I should probably start having adult things like a savings account that isn't always drained, a permanent address that isn't my dad's, and a 401K (I don't even know what that is...?)  Of course grad school would have to come first, which would wipe out my finances for God knows how long. Meaning, when would I be able to travel again?

As much as I'm looking forward to someday becoming an elementary school teacher in America, I just don't feel in a rush to become one right now. Besides, all of the best teachers I had as a kid were actually pretty old. Nothing can make up for life experience, right?


If there's a way to stay in Madrid another year, I'm going to try. Unfortunately, the teaching program I currently work for - Auxilares de Conversación - only allows you to stay in the same province for two years. If you want to continue after that, you either have to switch provinces or hasta luego. I wouldn't want to relocate to the north of Spain, because after 20 years of living in Seattle the mere thought of rain repulses me. And I've already lived in the south of Spain, and Lord knows that was a disaster. If I stay in Spain, I'm staying for Madrid. This city has captured my heart and soul, and I wouldn't settle for anything less.

I'm looking into other teaching programs here to cover my bases, but knowing Spain and its unpredictable bureaucracy, I know there's no guarantees. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, sending good vibes into the universe, and praying that I can find a legal, well-paying job that'll allow me to stay.


Sure, going back home wouldn't be absolutely terrible. I'd be closer to my family and friends, drink green smoothies every day, reunite with my two true loves: chardonnay and truffle fries, cuddle with Kitty Purry and Chairman Meow whenever I want, and be able to go to Whole Foods in my yoga pants. (I know, I know, #basic.) However, I know in my heart that I'm just not ready to leave Spain.

I know this because, like most other OCPD over-planners and over-thinkers, I had to make a pro/con list. I tried to compare the things I love most about both countries, along with some other influential factors. The results were pretty clear...

Kale, quinoa and truffle fries | Tortilla, huevos rotos and patatas bravas
Bacon | Jamón
Happy Hour | Tapas crawling
Better international food | Better quality meat and dairy products
American brunch | Affordable lunch Menús del Día
The divine mecca that is Whole Foods | Groceries so cheap it makes your head spin
Oaky, buttery Chardonnays | Rich and comforting Riberas and Riojas
Wider variety of wines available | High quality bottles for unbelievably low prices
Wine tasting in my hometown of Woodinville, WA | Wine tasting trips to Rioja
 Starbucks | Strong cortados
Cozy coffee shops | Outdoor terraces in sunny plazas
Ordering coffee to-go | Sitting and relaxing in a café because no to-go cups are offered
Shopping at J.Crew, Nordstrom and Madewell | Buying plane tickets instead of clothes
Wide open spaces | Crowded streets and lively plazas
Anthropologie candles and my teal KitchenAid | My balcony that looks out into the plaza
Football | Soccer
Customer service and friendly strangers | Not having to tip in restaurants
24 hour grocery stores | Afternoon siestas
The freedom to drive everywhere | Efficient public transportation systems
Having doctors and hairdressers I can trust | Having every errand become an adventure
Guys who don't live at home until they're 30 | Guys who'll help me improve my Spanish
Guys buying you dinner on the 1st date | Guys saying "So, your drink was 2€" on the 1st date
Trying to decode cryptic texts | Trying to decode and translate  cryptic texts
Being kicked out of the bars at 1:45 am | Being pressured to stay out dancing until 6 am
Dive bars and sports bars with happy hour | The most bars per square meter in Europe
Tailgating at football games | Sundays in La Latina
Hipster bars with craft cocktails | A plethora of rooftop bars open all year round
Living close to my parents | Living 5,000 miles away
Cuddling with Kitty Purry and Chairman Meow | Daily hugs from my cute Spanish students
Diving into my career in education | Training as a teaching assistant for one more year
Spending $$ on grad school loans continuing my education | Spending €€ to travel the world
Learning how to really become a better teacher | Continuing to improve my Spanish
Having a respectable, well-paying job | Pinching pennies and living happily in Europe


Some days I feel so confused about what I want, but when I write it all down, I guess it's pretty clear that I want to stay in Madrid. Now the question is, how do I do that??


What do you think?
 Would you follow your brain, or follow your heart?

61 comments on "Expat Update (AKA My Quarter Life Crisis)"
  1. Sounds like there’s more pros on the Spanish side of your list ;) But I can totally identify with how you’re feeling; while I don’t have a clear career path for me to jump into back home (instead, I’ve got existential dread!!!), I’m at that proverbial quarter-life crisis as well. But for me, at least, America is calling me back, as I’m ready to have semi-permanent roots and get started on a Grown-Up Job :P


    That’s too bad that Madrid won’t let you stay there more than two years…are you looking into BEDA despite Jessica’s bad experience with the program?

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  2. If I were living in Spain, I think I'd have a hard time leaving, too. What a beautiful country, and you're so close to so many other countries for exploring. I totally get your dilemma. e have been living in London for almost two years now, and with only one year left on our contract, I'm starting to get nervous. I'm not ready to move back to the States, either!

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  3. Welp, it looks pretty clear to me. Maybe try your hardest to make Madrid happen for one more year? All of those things you highlighted are the "life/fun/enjoyment/party/travel" stuff and the things you mention missing from back home are the "family/dating/responsibility/career" stuff. Maybe it just depends how you feel in terms of ready to keep enjoying the Madrid life or if you're leaning towards the practical stuff, but I'm getting a feeling you would like to continue spending more time there.


    When I mention possibly coming home, my friends actually talk me out of it with a "are you crazy?!?! you worked to hard to get there, etc etc" spiel. Then my mom give me the "I'm so proud of you going to do these things when you're young and unattached to a house/kids/pets/mortgage/debt/etc". And I'm beginning to think they kind of have a point. If your heart tells you you should stay, it's really hard to argue with.

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  4. I forgot to say: "Kitty Purry and Chairman Meow"?!!!!! <3

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  5. Courtney, I'm definitely exactly where you are right now, but from the other side. After returning from France, I firmly believe that I'm happiest abroad. However, I know that nothing I find abroad will be longterm, which means I'll continue having this discussion with myself for a long long time if I choose that path. So right now, I'm leaning towards settling for one or two years in Austin, securing that job title, and then taking off again to do TAPIF, which gives me something to look forward to, I guess? (And save for). Coming from a liberal arts degree, that's probably the more sensible choice because the states are definitely more forgiving with those. But... the heart want what it wants. Sigh. Hopefully we both get through it!


    We can chat anytime haha. I definitely need to talk to like-minded people!

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  6. Stay as long as you can! You're getting valuable experience that will help you in your career in the long run. Besides teaching in the United States is not all it's cracked up to be. Stay abroad while you are young and you can. There's plenty of time for 401k, mortgages and all that stuff later.

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  7. Man, I feel like I'm in the same boat as you are... although perhaps a little less connected to where I am currently. I definitely feel the responsibility vs. exploration pull and the total panic when I have no idea what I'm doing! It really seems like you're yearning for another year in Madrid, so I'd say that you should try and make that happen! If it doesn't work out, then head back to the U.S.? Remember that you're still young and you have the rest of your life to be responsible :)
    Also, these cat names are just hilarious!

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  8. Oh man, I'd love to shout "DON'T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL!" as loud as I can right now. But I can't because unfortunately I'm in my office (looking at travel blogs but also) practicing law... so I can make a paycheck... that hardly pays down the interest on my student loans... that I had to take out for grad school. Okay, that's overly dramatic but I definitely wish I'd taken a few years for jumping down the grad school route. I'd stay in Spain as long as you're happy and still feeling it. For real. Because my current long-term travel plan (commencing this year) involves a lot of saving, budgeting, and um, job-quitting.

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  9. I will also say, it is still totally possible to live in the US and travel :)

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  10. Why not do grad school here? My brother has done two masters programs here and they were great and waaaaay cheaper than the US. You could get a student visa, still work up to 20 hours legally, and do more private classes under the table if you wanted. You could stay in Spain and still be working towards a grown up goal at the same time! Just an idea. I say if your heart is still here then stay here. It's much harder to leave again if you go home and set up an adult life. That stuff isn't going anywhere and 25 is young!!! :)

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  11. I had just about the exact same quarter life crisis (about 10 years ago)! I was living in Sardegna at the time teaching English at a language school. I felt like I should be responsible, get a proper career, etc. Event though I REALLY wanted to stay abroad the decision was easier for me to return because I wasn't loving the city I lived in and the job that I had. I was barely making enough money to travel and teaching at a language school seemed like a dead end path.

    On a whim I applied to Teach For America with the idea that I'd do two years, get certified, and go back abroad with the skills and experience to work in a proper international school with good pay and benefits. I ended up getting accepted and placed in NYC which I loved so much that two years turned into five.

    Five years after returning to get my certification I wen to an international school job fair, got a job in Beirut, and have been teaching abroad ever since. I'm currently in Budapest.

    Anyway, this is that path that worked for me. I love working abroad and can't see myself ever going back to teach in the U.S.

    Have you looked into the Teacher Ready program out of Florida? I don't know the specifics of your situation, but I know that it is an alternative certification program that is possible to do from abroad.

    Good luck!

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  12. Heart, go with it! I think we too often follow the ideas that get planted in our brains. Grad school will never disappear and you can go next year or in 10 years, this moment here in Spain is now.
    I turned down entrance into a 11 month (2nd) degree program that I wanted to go at my uni in Canada to come to Spain and o haven't regretted it once.

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  13. STAY IN SPAIN!! I am from Seattle and was an auxiliar last year in Almeria and LOVED it. I had the opportunity to teach in Pais Vasco this year and decided to stay here to "grow up" and be closer to my family and friends. I am working as an ELL para educator (its the American way of saying you're an auxiliar) in Woodinville and Bothell for the Northshore school district. I work more than I did in Spain and make less... rent is a million times more expensive and the thought of taking out loans for grad school (which is the only way to make money in this profession) keeps me awake at night. STAY, STAY, STAY! I love my job and know that I am on the right path but staying a 2nd year in Spain is something I wish I would have done. There will always be a job here and you have the rest of your life to live in the US. If you reapplied to be an auxiliar in Madrid at the same school, you have a good chance at staying. My boyfriends sister has been an auxiliar for 4 years in Galicia and may apply for a 5th. The system isnt as cut throat as they make it out to be. Sending positive vibes your way and hoping you get to stay in beautiful España!!! :) I miss it everyday!

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  14. That is a good idea! However, from what I've heard, I can't get certified to teach in the States if I do grad school here. What kind of programs did your brother do? Thank you for the sound advice! :)

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  15. It's such a tough call! Life in Europe is just so thrilling and satisfying, isn't it? If only more EU visas were readily available to us Americans. Then we'd have so many more options and so much less pressure!

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  16. I have to confess, those are just their nicknames (you know, to protect their identity on the internet... hahaha) but oh how I miss them so! You bring up some good points though. I guess I really did highlight the fun, party "in the now" enjoyments... but obviously reality is a lot more than that. But then again, with the whole "no kids, loans, house, etc" situation, now is really the time for me to take advantage of life abroad! What to do, what to do.


    Thank you for your wise advice! I really appreciate your words :)

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  17. That is quite a list and I can certainly relate to more than a few of those on the list. Even though we plan to stay for two years then head back I recently had a similar conversation with a friend about staying a third year so that we can travel more (we can travel, but only during our few breaks from teaching). If we stick with our original plan we'll have paid off our student loans and go home with a nice chunk of change saved. If we stay for a third year, we could travel more but we'd go home without savings. What to do, what to do.

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  18. So true! It might be a while until I can do that though, mostly because of grad school loans. And at this point in life, I'd want to stay abroad for the vibrant expat life in Madrid! But you bring up a good point. Staying in the USA wouldn't ground me forever :)

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  19. Thanks Marianne! I'm glad you can relate :) I guess it can't hurt to try to stay another year... but in the end, it'll work out the way it's meant to work out! For the both of us!!

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  20. Existential dread is a good way to describe it! That's great that you feel ready to go back home and develop some roots. I wish I felt that way! At least, if I do a third year hear, I'm hoping to feel that way after year #3. Because as much as I love living in Spain, I know it's not sustainable forever. (And let's be real, when it comes to ESL teaching, I'm going to be totally burnt out!)


    I'm applying to BEDA (despite all of the negative reviews), Meddeas, UCETAM, and the Franklin program. I figure if I apply to as many programs as possible, I'll be more likely to land something... right?!

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  21. It sucks that life abroad makes us so genuinely happy, but in the end, that kind of life really isn't sustainable! It sounds like you've got a solid plan though. One of my good friends did TAPIF last year, and while she really did like it, they don't pay nearly as much as the Spanish teaching assistant program. She was barely scraping by, so saving up to do that is a really wise idea!


    It'll work out the way it's meant to work out! Until then, we can be life crisis pen pals?! Hahaha :)

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  22. Thanks for the wise words, Courtney! That's exactly what I need to remind myself of when I freak out about the future. Such valuable advice!!

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  23. Yes! You're so right: grad school will always be waiting for me, but I'll probably never have the opportunity to live in Spain again. Thank you for the advice Ashley!!

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  24. Yay, advice from a fellow Seattleite!! I'm actually from the Redmond/Woodinville border, so you work really close to where I'd eventually be going back to! That's crazy that your boyfriend's sister has been an auxiliar in Galicia for 4 years. I'm currently in my second year in Madrid, so I've been told that I can't reapply to the Auxiliares program and stay at my school, but I'm trying my luck anyways. I'm also applying to BEDA, UCETAM, Meddeas and the Franklin program... fingers crossed!


    Thank you for your words of wisdom and for sending positive vibes!!! I really appreciate it :)

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  25. It's such a dilemma! I don't like having to choose between fiscal responsibility and travel/adventure/happiness. There's got to be a way to find the best of both worlds!

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  26. Thank you for the advice! I don't think that's overly dramatic... I think it's just the reality of being financially responsible :( But tell me about your long-term travel plan!! I want to hear all about it!

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  27. I always say...stay in Europe (or traveling) as long as possible. You'll eventually get an urging to go back to the USA but don't force it until you feel it! xo

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  28. Oh man it sounds like you’ve really got your bases covered with all those programs! Mucha suerte!!!!!!

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  29. That's definitely advice I can get on board with! Thanks Jordan :)

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  30. I know! It also sucks that obtaining an actual job there is so difficult. I know TAPIF only pays like 800€/month, which is basically poverty, which I am sick of haha. How much does the Spanish teaching assistant program pay?! I've heard that France's CAF helps out with housing though, so maybe it'll work out, depending on where you're situated?


    Um, yes? I need to stop bumming my work friends out. I'm becoming this cloud of doom hahaha.

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  31. Danielle @ Seoul TapperillaJanuary 31, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    I'm totally the same, and make prons/cons list for all those big decisions! If I can say anything from experience, 3 yrs is a PERFECT amount of time in one place abroad. And even then I don't think it's enough. I hope you figure out a way to stay in Madrid, or even find another alternative abroad. I swear, for me nothing on the pros side of a pros/cons list could make me choose America over a life abroad lol. It's just better abroad :) I actually also just started an online licensing course to get licensed to teach (in America, but would be used for Int'l schools abroad). So that's always an option if you want to kill two birds with one stone :)

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  32. Danielle @ Seoul TapperillaJanuary 31, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    The Teacher Ready program that Lindsay mentioned below is the one I'm doing. Look into it!! Affordable, and working abroad counts towards it :)

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  33. Ah I can totally relate to this post. I'm always struggling with the feeling that I should go home and go to grad school, but my heart definitely just wants to travel and explore right now (and in the immediate future, haha). In the end I try to remind myself that grad school will always be there (and that it's not unusual to go to grad school in your 30s) but the opportunity to travel and enjoy my 20s won't be around forever. That being said, it's obviously not such a black and white issue. But I'm sending positive vibes about something working out for you in Madrid for one more year! :)

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  34. I'm currently going through something pretty similar (although I wish I was in a different country). You are not alone my friend! On decision making, I say go with your heart, I believe God puts things in your heart for a reason and one more year of enjoying life won't hurt before grown up land, you have the rest of your life for that. ;)

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  35. Thank you Marisha! I think I can get on board with that logic :)

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  36. The struggle is real! I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling this internal debate. Thanks for sending positive vibes :) I'll be sending them right back atcha!

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  37. I'm so glad you understand! Life really is better abroad... which is GREAT because that makes us so happy, but so NOT great when it comes to planning the future. Oy. But I will totally look into the Teacher Ready program!! That sounds like a really interesting option! And if it gets me certified to teach in the USA, then hellooooo problem solved! :)

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  38. Thank you for your wise words! I'll definitely look into the Teacher Ready program... that sounds like it could be a huge problem solver! :)

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  39. The Spanish government language assistant program pays 1000€/month in Madrid, but ~700€/month in other regions. However, I believe the cost of living is a lot lower in Spain than in France (especially rent!) and private English classes are a lot more in demand. My friend who was working outside of Lille didn't get her government "poverty" aid until the end of the school year though!

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  40. KaleenasKaleidoscopeFebruary 2, 2015 at 5:33 AM

    I've learned that no matter how many lists I make, even if 99% of the list tells me to do one thing, I will do the other if that's what my heart really wants. If you can, stay in Spain for another year! Grad school will always be there waiting for you. Gosh Spain looks amazing, I wouldn't want to leave either. Good luck! :)

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  41. Haha, that's very French of them. One of the most annoying things I encountered in France was a) the paperwork and b) how long it took anyone to get through the paperwork! I don't know anything about COL in Spain, but I do remember everyone having a roommate in France!

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  42. Just found your blog and love it! I have to ask how you add that cute text to your images?
    Definitely a new follower :)


    Nikki
    www.thepinthemapproject.com

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  43. I say follow your heart and stay in Spain. America isn't going anywhere :)

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  44. I love your pro/con list (especially the dating section, lol)!! I can totally relate to your confusion. I just wrote about how I feel so lost in life and that I have no purpose if I'm not working or being a useful member of society. But I also know that I can never go back to America and get a tradition cubicle job either!! At least not happily. I think from your list, it's very clear that your heart belongs in Madrid. I hope that you find a way to physically belong there as well. I'm sorry that i have absolutely no advice for how to stay there. :( I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone in the crises, but I think you'll figure it out and be just fine!

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  45. I was so very conflicted about how long I wanted to stay in Spain (and, of course, ultimately I decided to get out), but my heart was telling me it was time to go, while yours is telling you to stay, and that's what you have to listen to most! The fact that you want to be a teacher is great, since you're getting experience in Spain (even if it's not quite the same as being a full teacher). The biggest thing that eventually took me out of Spain was wanting to pursue my career as a digital marketer. But, yeah, stay as long as you can, and I hope you can find a solution to do so!

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  46. follow your heart :-)

    -jay author of www.flavorverse.com

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  47. Such a tough choice! In the grand scheme of things, what's one more year delaying starting your career? Yet imagine the happiness & unforgettable moments of one more year in Spain. I feel like one year is a blip in your career, but a massive, amazing experience if you're spending it in Madrid. That's just me though - and I'm not an expat, I'm in a full time job, paying bills, bla bla bla, trying to squeeze travel in where I can, so maybe I can't talk!

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  48. Courtney, it sounds like Spain is winning! Stay in Europe as long as you can! I've been in Berlin teaching for 18 months now and have no idea when I'll head home to Australia. Even though there's a lot to be desired at my current school, it enables me to lead a wonderful lifestyle full of travel and adventure which I wouldn't trade for anything. You have plenty of time to fully qualify girl! x

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  49. Your list was pretty spot on ... at any age. Being an expat is not easy and 'every errand being a new adventure' is the truth (especially in Spanish) but somehow the move continues to make sense. The personal growth is tremendous and your very last line about pinching pennies and living happily in Europe? Well, there's something about that that sounds perfect. Not pinching pennies obviously but the happy part. Suerte chica!

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  50. Are you not able to do grad school in Spain with a scholarship?

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  51. Unfortunately, I can't really get certified to teach in Spain if I eventually want to become an elementary school teacher in America!

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  52. I love your pro/con list, it is spot on. However, I think you should follow your heart and STAY (if it is possible), your heart is clearly telling you that you want to stay and delaying grad school one year is not thát much in a whole life. I hope you make the right decision for yourself! This post also made me a little sad, because I just cannot think of leaving Spain anytime soon.

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  53. Follow your heart! In the end what matters is where you would be happier!

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  54. Thanks Eva! I think you're definitely right :)

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  55. Those are some really great points! I think you're right. Delaying my career one more year is definitely not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, especially considering how much I'd grow and learn in Madrid during one more year :) Thanks for the wise advice!

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  56. Thank you for the encouragement! I really appreciate it :) I think I'm going to follow my heart on this one and try to stay in Spain!

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  57. Gracias! I appreciate your wise words! I think I'm going to have to follow my heart on this one, even if that means pinching lots and lots of pennies :)


    Thanks for the encouragement!

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  58. Thanks Linda, I think you're right! I hope we both don't have to leave Spain anytime soon!! :)

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  59. Hi Courtney! I actually just moved to Madrid and am getting certified with TEFL. Have you ever looked into that? It's a little different from the auxiliares assistant program because you will be actually certified as the full-fledged teacher! I'm going through a program called TTMadrid and it's one month long and then if you pass have your license. It's a little trickier as you'd have to interview and secure your own jobs, but they have ties with so many in Madrid and help with the process. And if it's a visa you need there's also a way to obtain a student visa through it as opposed to the teaching assistant version. And you receive a residency card and all that! Maybe could be a good option and also supposedly you make more ( I think around 1500 euro a month part time)? But would also give you the certification that could look good to take back to the states!

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