November and the Dreaded In-Between

Recently I read a blog entry that summed up the general malaise that I was feeling toward Spain and lifeHow to Fight Expat Depression: Just Remember You’re Not Alone from Surviving in Italy. Yes, yes, yes, I found myself nodding along. Often, it can seem like I’m not entitled to feel sad or depressed–you’re living abroad, silly! Isn’t this your dream? Which, in turn, makes me feel even guiltier about feeling down. But the truth is that things aren’t always that easy, and situations are never completely perfect.  As the author points out,

One minute life is a paradise and you find yourself  drinking cheap wine in a vineyard, tasting olive oil in an olive grove, laughing to yourself as old men wave to you in the street. Then five minutes later your world is full of confusion, humiliation…

Yep. that sums it up. The blogger may live in Italy, but this situation applies here, too.

BAM. Well, I didn’t expect that.

I’m afraid I haven’t been the happiest of campers lately. I scribbled, deleted, and revived this entry. Did I really want to share it? Finally, I decided that I did, because living abroad isn’t an endless merry-go-round of sunshine and wine festivals.

Truth be told, I wasn’t excited about starting yet another school year here. I am still–STILL–teaching English. The gig isn’t a bad one, it’s just not what I want to do. In addition, I was reeling from an unfortunate series of events that left me more disillusioned than ever with Spain.

The bitterness over the shall-not-be-named situation brought up a lot of disheartening questions.  Is it worth it to stay? Where would I go? And, make that wewhere would WE go? Andres and I are in this together, and his job is here.  So, for the time being, I’m back to the drawing board. (And it quite literally is a chalk board, that one. In a high school. And it comes with Spanish students.)

And so, for the past few weeks I’ve been feeling extremely stuck. In a broad sense, I’ve been angry at Spain. Frustrated from living from year to year. Fed up with the never-ending paperwork. Irked at the lawyer who advised me that the best way to stay was to become a domestic servant. Infuriated when co-workers suggest, yet again, “Why don’t you get a Spanish boyfriend?” Dismayed when a potential employer responds, “Your work is great, but it’s not worth the hassle of hiring you.”

Peeved at Neighbor #1, a baby who cries incessantly. Livid with Neighbor #2, who yelled at ME when SHE left her keys in the door. Irked at the doorman, who slows his speech down as if explaining the basics to a feeble-minded child. Tired of the school bathroom, which is always missing toilet paper, soap, paper towels, or all three. Ticked at the waiters who slide a dish of olives to everyone except for us. Exhausted by staying up all night fretting over missed opportunities and dead ends. Wondering, constantly, “Isn’t there something better than this?”

As I mentioned in my last post, there are some things about Spain that I won’t ever be able to reconcile. But, more than ever, my life is here. It’s with Andres, and for now Madrid is home.

With some distance, all this frustration seems petty. There are going to be annoyances anywhere you live. PEOPLE are annoying, above all. (Followed closely by city dogs.) On the bright side, I have to admit how miraculous it is that Andres and I–both foreigners–have jobs in Spain at a time when unemployment is rampant. The world isn’t going to end if I (sigh) still haven’t started a career by age 28. Having a job with an income (and more importantly, a year-long visa) works for now, for the in-between.

And now the holidays are upon us, which doesn’t make expat depression any easier. Do you have any tips for when you’re abroad and feeling blue? 


I barely took any pictures in Madrid during the last few months, but here are some shots of Andres and I playing a laser board game. Back story: Andres’ lab was preparing for some workshops and he had to learn this new game. So it wasn’t his first choice, per se. But it made for some silly photos to temper the serious topic.

This is what our weekends look like. Yes, we’re nerds.

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  1. Hey Cassandra, thanks for writing this. Fact is, we’ve all been there. When you’re in Spain and this kind of BS happens you can think it’s Spanish culture or Spanish people. But it could just as easily happen back home. Good luck!

    • Cassandra

      It is hard to remember sometimes, but the truth is that annoying people and situations do happen everywhere. Annoying coworkers, annoying neighbors…they’re everywhere!! (That was a big disappointment when I first moved here, ha.) Thanks for your comment, Daniel.

  2. I know that it is tough to write a blog post like this, but I do think that it has it’s place. Just because we live abroad does not mean that it is permeant vacation! I have been thinking about this a lot myself, being an unemployed immigrant has made me feel less than stellar. The fact that my DH was less than happy with his job means that both of us always have a tendency to see the negative. But s**t could happen anywhere, even back home.
    Often I feel as if I have failed. I am unemployed, 36 and following her husband’s career across the world. I do not speak Spanish fluently after 3.5 years living in Madrid. I am not happy living in Spanish culture.

    The things that I try to remind myself are:

    We are all different, not every culture suits every person.

    Living in a foreign country changes everything.

    Woman’s rights are still not optimal, sometimes there is no other choice but to follow your partner. The important thing is that I have found the love of my life and to try to be happy with him, no matter where we are. I cannot imagine life without him.

    Languages and people’s reaction to multi-lingual people are hard.

    I have gotten to explore Europe!

    I hope I am happier in my next country, and that you are too (of there is a next country).

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for spilling your thoughts here, Kay. I know that you guys have also had quite a few difficult moves–you know ALL about the crazy hoops and compromising that I refer to here.

      I am so happy that you and Javi are getting a blank slate to start over in the very near future. I look forward to following your adventures in Liverpool!

  3. Ugh, your story is so common and begs the question, why can’t it be fixed? I was faced with all of this four years ago, too, before the pareja de hecho laws changed and made me magically able to work here. I was so depressed with the job search, with the uncertainty, with pretty much every Spanish person ever. You’ve got a smart head and you’re resourceful – keep at it! Let me know if you need anything!!

  4. Hi Cassandra – your post couldn’t of come at a better time, as I’ve been feeling a similar way lately – stuck here with a spanish boyfriend who’s well set up, while I’m still an auxiliar and unsure really what I’m doing here…. haha its nice to know I’m not the only one feeling this way. But you’re right – I guess there are much worse situations to be in, and at least Madrid on a good day – is AMAZING (even with the old mouths on the metro, bad coffee and slow walking abuelos on the footpaths…) Keep you head up! 🙂

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for your comment, Liz. It’s nice to know that others can relate!

      Neither my boyfriend nor I are EU citizens so it’s been…interesting…to see how various situations will play out. (Spoiler: they all involve massive amounts of paperwork and fees, woohoo!) Luckily the auxiliar program means that I can stay in Madrid through June. After that, a ver que pasa. We’ll just keep enjoying Madrid ’til then.

  5. You’re spot on with this post. Dealing with bureaucracy and inconsiderate people really takes the charm out of living abroad. Hang in there!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks, Paige. It’s more difficult to deal with everything during the cold months of winter, I think. Things always look better once March and Abril come around…

  6. I’m sorry you’re going through this – but you’re definitely not alone. I have about a million dramatic drafts like this for my blog, too, only I haven’t felt comfortable enough to share them.

    That frustrating, living year-to-year, stuck feeling is so awful and difficult to deal with. It sucks when everybody back home thinks that because you live in SPAIN you can’t have any problems. I think if we were having similar issues in cities just as exciting but less exotic (like San Francisco or New York), people would be able to empathize a lot more.

    Mentioning your relationship is interesting. As somebody who doesn’t have a boyfriend, I often think that if I had one here, it might give me a reason to stay, and that in turn would make the constant “should I stay here or should I leave?” anxiety lessen. Maybe not though!

    • BTW, not saying your post is dramatic – I’m saying my drafts are. 🙂

      • Cassandra

        Ha, I hope I haven’t made this out to be so dramatic! None of these headaches are new, and I know that others deal with the exact same issues. (Well, maybe not the same crazy neighbors, but we’ve allllll got some personajillos here and there). Lately, though, everything’s been piling up to create a mountain of negativity. Not fun, not fun at all. I definitely see your point about how people would empathize more if the situation were happening in a different place.

        As for how being in a relationship can make you want to stay in a place, I imagine it has a lot to do with each individual situation. It could go either way…and both choices have their advantages and disadvantages!

  7. Ohhhhh girl. Ohhhhhh giiiiiiiiirl. I feel you 100% on all of this. There’s nothing more frustrating about feeling like the stupid foreigner – except the even greater frustration at getting frustrated in the first place.

    I really hope you come to some sort of breakthrough, either in attitude or work, that will make your time abroad a little easier. Best of luck!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks, Polly. It’s heartening to know that there are people near and far who can relate!!

  8. It’s such a pain that someone felt the need to say that to you dating a Spaniard, sometimes I wonder where people get such insensitivity…
    Sending positive vibes your way, especially in regard to the job search!

    • Cassandra

      It’s the worst when they see my reaction and then try to add something like….”Just kidding!” Harumph.

      Thanks for the positive vibes Ashley!

  9. I understand the frustration. I found myself miserable at times living in Korea, though I’m sure it’s a lot easier in Korea to settle for the long term. But, reading this does inspire me and give me hope. It’s completely normal to have frustrations, and sometimes I need a reminder that other people feel these things too. I felt like I needed to get to a place where I was putting time into my career, and when I came back home to do it, I realized that the career I’d been focused on wasn’t really even what I wanted. Thinking about the future too much causes more anxiety than it’s worth–these things tend to come together with time.

    When I’ve felt blue abroad, I’ve called home and cried to my mom. Then she’d tell me to come home (she’s dying for me to live a traditional life). Then I’d realize that I’d much rather be where I am than to seriously go home. It’s kind of foolish–but it works!

    • Cassandra

      Marie, thanks so much for sharing your experience. It truly does help to hear that others go through the similar situations.

      That’s interesting how talking to your mom has helped you to focus on long-term goals. There’s nothing wrong with being homesick–or simply frustrated–in the short term, though! Like you mention, it’s more common than we tend to let on…

  10. I’m sure you’ve written an entry similar to the ones many of us would write, if we could or if we dared.

    Right now, I’m unemployed, waiting for the paperwork to come through, while my husband works until 10:30 every night. And I’m not even near our family or friends in Spain, who mostly all live 2 hours away, in Zamora.

    I hate that people always suggest you get a Spanish partner. Um, you arleady have a partner?!

    • Cassandra

      We’ve all got our frustrations, it’s true, it’s true. I’d love to read your take on this too, Kaley!

  11. I think every expat goes through these periods of self-doubt and uncertainty, trying to figure out what the next step is. You and Andres are in a unique position because you both aren’t from the EU so it’s even tougher to figure out the job situation. It is so frustrating to have to take things year by year instead of having a long term plan thanks to visa restrictions.

    I think we’ve all been through this and despite my EU citizenship, I felt like I was stuck in a job I absolutely hated. I suppose I could have tried harder to look for another job but all that seemed to be out there were English teaching jobs. I was so unhappy with my job situation and I dreaded going to work, teaching English for another year was completely out of the question. So I ended up leaving, though it was a decision I agonized over for months.

    Bureaucracy may not get easier, but I hope you have an easier time dealing with it and that things start looking up for you and Andres. Living life abroad may be exciting at times, but you cannot escape the mundane and the sucky times no matter where you live. Just take it a day at a time.

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for sharing some of your experience, Amelie. It’s definitely a shame that you weren’t able to find a job that made you happier in Madrid. You bring up a good point in that situations can be dull and infuriating no matter where you end up :/

      Thanks also for your positive wishes. I appreciate it!

  12. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been so down lately, Cassandra. But if it makes you feel better I’ve been going through a very similar situation (as I think a lot of expats do, at some point). I actually just wrote a couple posts on my blog about the frustrations of my life as an expat in Jakarta. It’s been very challenging for me to follow my boyfriend to Indonesia. He already had a job before we got here, and I’ve been struggling to find a job since we moved here. With complicated visa restrictions and an overall hiring freeze, it appears that the best I can do is get a low-paying job as an English teacher (if all goes well). Teaching English, for me, is not a career and I really don’t love the idea of spending another year not advancing my career. But, on the other hand, there are worse jobs out there! There are so many frustrations that come along with being an expat. I got really overwhelmed and down about things about a month ago. I had to make a conscious effort to take a step back and realize that none of this is the end of the world. I have a feeling that everything will ultimately work out, for me and for you too! Hang in there and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone 🙂

    • Cassandra

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Justine. It does help to hear that others have had, or are even going through, similar struggles.

      I can certainly relate to your job-search frustrations. My boyfriend works in science and it can be so disheartening to compare the very specific niche that he fills at his lab to my oh-so-easily-replaceable position. But, you are exactly right–there are worse jobs out there, by far.

      Do you know when the hiring freeze will be over in Jakarta? Here’s to some good vibes for job searchin’ in Indonesia 😉 Best of luck!!

  13. This is a topic that definitely needs to be talked about more on expat blogs, kudos to you for writing about it.

    When I’m having a good day, I write down what made that day good. (A conversation with a student, an experience with a friend, tasting really good food, etc.) When I feel a little down, I read them over and it helps me get out of the funk.

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for sharing your strategy for staying sane abroad, Estrella! The idea of keeping a positive log appeals to me–I’ll have to try it out 🙂

  14. I’ve struggled so much with similar thoughts lately. I don’t have a boyfriend here to take into consideration, but I completely agree with the English teaching thing—it’s not what I want to be doing, so is it worth it to live abroad? Life abroad is just that—LIFE—so if we’re doing something we don’t enjoy, it makes it pretty dim.
    I was back and forth for a while wondering if I even wanted to stick this year out. Now I’m thinking I’ll (almost) definitely stay till June, but then head back to the states instead of continue jumping through hoops and paperwork and a job I don’t like, all in the name of life abroad.
    Hope you figure it out, or that those stupid companies realize you’d be a great hire!!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for sharing your take on things, Jenny. It helps to know that others have been–and are!–in similar situations. (And infantil–that’s another level entirely :/ )

      Hoops hoops, and more hoops–that is definitely an accurate picture of eking out a life abroad. Are you definitely planning on leaving Spain after this school year, then?

  15. My friends and I were in some kind of weird funk in SIngapore. We were all living there as graduate students, or underpaid research staff. I’ve just left Singapore for an extended period of time, and hadn’t fully figured out how to deal with our particular flavor of expat depression, but we did try to hang out and do affordable activities as much as possible. It’s tough to go out in Singapore because it is so prohibitively expensive on a student’s budget, but we made do. We still constantly felt like there was nothing to do, though. I try to remind myself what I love about my life and what I’m grateful for. Best of luck!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for sharing your experience , Chewy. It does sound like it was difficult to get into the Singapore groove! I’m glad you had a strong group of friends / colleagues–that does make things easier when times are hard!

  16. Sorry to hear that Spain’s got you down. I identified so much with your list of daily complaints. Sometimes it’s the little things that pile up and can really piss you off when the bigger ones are nagging at you. It’s only my second year in and I’m already tired of teaching English so I feel you there. I hope that an opportunity opens up for you very soon whatever it may be.

  17. Oh, and concerning the whole “why don’t you get a Spanish boyfriend?” nonsense- although it’s absolutely obnoxious and insensitive I have to say that even with a Spanish boyfriend they don’t leave you alone. Once while eating out with a couple of teachers and mentioning Javi in conversation they said to me “Oh, you have a Spanish boyfriend? Well, why don’t you get a Spanish lover too?” I think they must just see us all as young students who like to party and don’t take our relationships seriously…

    • Cassandra

      Ha, are you kidding?! That is craziness!! Now I want to know how many of those teachers have lovers of their own!

  18. Christine

    Thanks for sharing such an honest post about expat life. Sometimes life comes up and kicks you in the teeth no matter where you are and having people say, “well you are lucky to have 123” or “you live in xyz what’s the problem?” only makes you want to kick them in the teeth. LOL!
    Seriously, I think everyone goes through this to one degree or another sometime in their life and there is nothing wrong with feeling that way. Hopefully a string of great fortunate will come along… just take one day at a time, breathe and don’t forget to exhale. Here’s to good things to come.

    • Cassandra

      Christine, thank you so much for your kind words. Like you say, it’s important to remember that this sort of funk can happen ANYTIME, and ANYWHERE. Now I just have to spend a bit more time focusing on the positive. My next post will be more upbeat, I promise 🙂

  19. Ah, I feel you on the year-to-year teaching and not having a “career” by 28. I learned to love teaching but it just wasn’t my vocation. I only did it three years, but each time I swore it was the last one. . .I actually almost took another teaching job a few months ago but turned it down since there’s no point for me to continue the cycle. There were times in South Korea where I’d get really fed up with the country and what I was doing. . .I just tried to set a time limit on my moping, vented in a journal, and tried to get out and remind myself what I loved about Busan by exploring new or favorite parts of the city.

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for sharing, Elle–I can relate to your story so much! I feel like I *can* teach, and I don’t entirely dislike it…rather, I would prefer to be doing something else. Hopefully things will look up after this school year. You make a good point about getting out and exploring your adopted city to remind yourself of the positive side of things. This weekend I’m getting out of my funk and following this advice 🙂

  20. I’m so glad you shared this. there’s a wonderful camaraderie between expats in dealing with the hard times (and the super awesome times!). I hate that ‘silly foreigner’ crap and I remember being SO over Belgium, things that we were so in love with when we first moved there turned into bitterness. and now I miss it every day….well, I miss Europe. Brussels might take a little more time 😉 so glad you two have each other 😉 xxo

    • Cassandra

      Thanks so much for your warm response, Annie. It can be hard to stay excited about a place–that’s definitely something expats can empathize with! And–hopefully you guys can return for a European tour sometime soon 🙂

  21. I’m sorry you’ve been feeling down lately! The nice part about finally sharing how you’re feeling, is knowing that your not alone! Living abroad is hard. Just because it’s where we want to be at the moment, doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with all of life’s little annoyances, hardships and then some! Culture shock, homesickness, we have it all! Just know that you’re not alone and hopefully it will all work itself out soon!!! 😀

  22. aw, I FEEL YOU! I totally get you, and I think most expats would agree! It’s HARD to do this. To move to another country and try to make it work. It’s amazing too, of course. But it’s hard and emotional and sometimes biting. I’ve lived abroad in Spain (Granada), Prague, and Munich, and found things wonderful and amazing and frustrating and horrid about each place. (And yes, no soap and toilet paper was one thing that drove me CRAZY about Spain, too! lol) Thanks for sharing, and know you aren’t alone.

    • Cassandra

      Ha, I´m glad I´m not the only one who is bewildered by the lack of soap and toilet paper!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, I really appreciate it. It´s so nice to be reminded that other expats and travelers are in the boat 🙂

  23. Emily

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’m actually in the process or trying to decide if I want to move to Spain right now. I’ve been in New York for the past year and can totally relate to some of the same things you’re feeling. It’s hard not having a big support system wherever you live. I’m so excited about the idea of goin back to Spain (I studied abroad there) but I’m also terrified to leave my friends and family. I’m just adjusting to life/finding a good group of friends in New York after a year. It’s scary to think about leaving all that again, no matter how exciting the opportunities in Spain are.

    I hope things have gotten better since you posted this!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for your kind words, Emily! I’m glad to hear that you could relate to some of the frustrations–that’s life, right?

      It is exciting yet daunting to be on the verge of a big life change. I’m nervous to see what shape life will take after this summer, but I’m ready to find out.

      Your decision is also a tough one, with pros and cons on either side. Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

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