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Siebs no longer in Spain

I flew home from Sevilla on June 8. I’ve been back for just over three weeks, and in that time I’ve already found a job, bought a car and moved.

I’m relieved to be out of Spain. When I think about the past nine months, it’s like they never happened. I can only remember them as a single blurry image. The experience is so far removed from my life in the States, and I took so little from it back with me, that I don’t feel much different now than I was before I left. I’ve lost a little bit of my confidence and my courage, but that’s something I will rebuild.

I’m already feeling better to be back in my element, to have found a job where I will probably be respected and to be around people who aren’t merely fast friends. With the exception of a few important people, there is nothing that I miss about Sevilla. 

In the months leading up to my last day in Spain I started writing much more, and much more honestly, on what I thought and felt about the experience (and about why I had abandoned this blog). I wanted to write some kind of epic finale where I would be articulate and clever and say everything I wanted to say in just the right way.

Well, that never happened.

I have over 10,000 words scattered throughout different documents from each time that I tried to write my perfect conclusion. I spent entire afternoons that turned into weeks working on these compositions and then getting so angry at how lousy they were that I’d close my computer and forget about them.

I thought about trying now to write something new and reorganize my thoughts one last time, but it’s clear that I don’t need to—whatever I write, I’ll walk away from it disappointed I missed some crucial point or didn’t explain something just right.

So instead I went back and reread everything I wrote while still in Spain, and I took two sections that are most important to me. I’m posting them here because they’re still important to me, even if I didn’t say everything how I’d hoped to, and even if I’m worried that they’re lacking context. I also wrote a lot of disclaimers that have since been removed. Sometimes I’m so afraid to step on toes that I end up diluting my message into something meaningless.

The first section is mostly my criticism of expat blogging. Oh, and right, I’m publishing this on my expat blog. Take everything I say with a grain of salt; it probably goes down easier that way.

The second section is about everything.

Of the countless fellow language assistants (auxiliares) I met in Spain, I know maybe two that will agree with what I say below. I respect that other people had entirely different experiences than mine, but I’ve spent all year with these thoughts and I’m ready now to spit it out and say my piece. And no worries, because if you hate it, you’ll probably never have to see me again—if you didn’t guess, I chose not to repeat the auxiliar program next year.

Thanks to the people who read this thing for non-self-serving purposes back when I was still updating it, and thanks to the friends who did care. Because none of this babbling has to do with you.


March 2012

…I am living in Sunny Southern Spain and working a part-time job and living what some people define as “the dream.” Everybody asks: “Are you having so much fun? Are you traveling?” I’m often told: “I’m so jealous of your life!”

But this is not my dream. I am not fulfilled. I want nothing more than to abandon this city, because its appeal starts and ends with its aesthetic charm, and that’s not nearly enough to keep me satisfied. Though it seems to be enough to satisfy all the other Americans here, so I don’t know what my problem is.

If you read the expat blogs, you’d believe that everyone who comes here is worldly and spontaneous and adventurous and living life on the edge and drawing outside the lines and zigging when the rest of the world is zagging, and any other asinine proverb they can come up with.

They’re living for the moment and not for tomorrow and posting Instagrammed photos of the Guadalquivir River on Twitter, writing Facebook statuses about the high temperatures in Andalusia when it’s December and probably negative 20 degrees wherever the rest of their friends are. They’re blogging their “cultural reflections” that, upon deeper analysis, are thinly veiled racist generalizations. They’re telling you that the only way to really learn a second language is in the bedroom (*wink wink*), or the more demure might just blog endlessly about their loving relationships with Spanish boyfriends and husbands, without employing sexual innuendo.

They’re loading up their blogrolls with links to each other’s sites—to the competition’s sites—even though Sara in Segovia doesn’t really want Lexi in Lepe to get more hits than her. It’s proper blog etiquette. They’re linking to each other’s posts in their own blog posts (intertextuality bastardized), and they’re commenting on those posts almost as soon as they go live, buddying up with all their blogging neighbors to hopefully draw more visitors to themselves.

Camaraderie is important in the expat blogosphere. Without it, who would perpetuate the glorification of expat life? Eventually, everyone back at home would get tired of reading expat blogs. Our counterparts—the other 20-somethings with office jobs in Duluth and Cleveland—would grow bored of the way we wax poetic about life in Spain when they, on the other hand, are in Duluth in Cleveland. No expat blogger will say out loud that she feels superior to her friends living in small and mid-sized U.S. towns, but just because she won’t admit it doesn’t mean the superiority complex isn’t there.

Expat blogging is masturbatory, at best, and pathetic, at worst. Never have I seen a cohort of so many self-indulgent and self-congratulatory people. Like-minded people encouraging other like-minded people; it probably shouldn’t disgust me, but in a way it does. Plus, blogging from abroad allows us to paint a picture of a beautiful life that may or may not even exist. Some of the most popular Spain bloggers project an image of a lifestyle that seems too good to be true, and that’s often because it is, though most readers could never detect the difference from a world away.

A few examples: Maybe some bloggers’ romantic relationships are doomed and they can’t come to terms with it, but they still write about the top 10 reasons their Spanish skills have improved from being with a personal Don Juan. Maybe they’re underemployed or unemployed, unfulfilled housewives who married five years sooner than they would have if their boyfriend didn’t happen to be Spanish and if they didn’t want so desperately to hold on to that relationship (or, so desperately to stay in this country). Maybe they’re overworked and underpaid at jobs they don’t really enjoy. Maybe they have a college degree from the U.S. that means nothing abroad and did nothing to help procure the job they have now.

But we wouldn’t know that from their blogs, because the blog is a place to project a separate image to far-away family and friends and to convince the world that their daily routine is something pulled straight from an episode of House Hunters International.

I can’t buy into the expat blogging buffoonery any longer. I can’t read another Top (#) List of Why (Spanish City) is (Adjective). I can’t stand to see another sentence with arbitrarily bolded key words, another post with poorly executed headlines and subheads, a weak attempt at search-engine optimization. I will throw my laptop out the window if I read another back-and-forth Twitter conversation between two expat bloggers about how their Spanish boyfriends are actually quite good at English, or how they have the BEST recipe from their suegra (mother-in-law) for patatas bravas or crema catalana or I-don’t-know-what.

I can’t read another shallow blog post about how a girl from Colorado is “livin’ la vida Española!!!!” and loving the shit out of her 12-hour-a-week job as a faux English teacher in some tiny Spanish pueblo. This fulfills you? This is what makes you happy? This is all you want out of your life? I must be on another page, of another book, in another language, with a different fucking alphabet.

I’ll admit something; I wish I could be fulfilled by this. I wish this were all I wanted out of my life. I wish I enjoyed my job, but I’ve tried tirelessly to befriend my coworkers and fit in, to join in on the conversation, only to be rejected every time. I wish I could take it in stride whenever a Spaniard commented on my physical appearance, commented on my accent in Spanish, my accent in English… I wish I could laugh it off when my Spanish coworkers tried to “correct” my pronunciation of English words, because my American English is apparently wrong (despite the fact that I came to them through a program that exclusively provides North American language assistants).

I wish I could just smile every time I arrive for work just to be told, “Oops, we forgot to tell you, you didn’t need to come in today.” I wish I could then just turn around, get back on the bus and enjoy my day off. But instead I feel useless, I feel unappreciated, I feel angry and now, after spending my whole year this way, I feel bitter.

I’m probably breaking myself down with the amount of anger and resentment I’ve been harboring: towards my coworkers, towards Spaniards, towards my “friends” here, towards every expat that perpetuates this false idea of the beautiful life. Because now, because of the beautiful life myth, I have to defend my misery. I have to justify why I’m not living “the dream” in Europe, because everyone else has decided for the rest of us that this is what living “the dream” looks like. However, I repeat: this is not my dream.


May 2012

Sometimes, people at home see my Facebook persona and they tell me they want what I have. Similarly, I often catch myself clicking longingly through photos of friends who have settled into careers and more stable lives in the U.S. Don’t butcher my words, because I’m not implying that these folks have “settled” in the ugly sense of the word—it’s not “settling” to have consistency.

I’ve argued about this with other American auxiliares here. One girl told me, very matter-of-factly, that she never wants to leave Spain; she hates the American rat race, the emphasis on settling down and the perceived monotony of it all.

She is older than I am but insistent on not growing up. She equates a stable job with being an adult, and being an adult with being boring. She is afraid of becoming uninteresting, because who will read a blog about selling insurance in Boise?

But how long, I wonder, will she want to have this life abroad—the inconsistency, the lack of professional opportunities in a country with little to offer (unmarried) Americans other than meagerly paid, under-the-table work teaching English? If she says that’s not what she wants now, how long will she keep at it in the name of living in Spain? Or for the sake of proving a point (to herself, her parents, her friends back home) that she’s more adventurous and gutsy than the rest of us—that she’s sacrificing a familiar, comfortable life in her home country to live an exciting, superior one abroad?

I grew up convinced that one day I’d leave my hometown and never go back. There wasn’t anything wrong with where I came from, but it was the principle of the thing. Staying in Naperville, or even in the Midwest, would be settling, which was an ugly, antiquated concept. Settling was something girls did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, girls who didn’t go to college. Certainly it was not in the cards for a girl like me. It was below me.

I won’t necessarily spend the rest of my days in Naperville, but living in Spain has helped me understand where I come from on a new plane. Instead of running from home, vilifying it or even glorifying it, I can now see it for what it is: A place with its beautiful and ugly faces. Just like every place I’ve lived. To be in the United States is not a death sentence, and to be in Europe is not a dream come true—no matter what anyone says on her blog.

I’m inching closer to the end of my tenure as an auxiliar and I’m starting to write again, slowly. Looking back on this year as a whole—not on the individual pieces of it like, “the month I was depressed” or “the month I moved to a new apartment”—has made me want to write about it. I sift through old blog posts and journal entries, and all of them point to the same crisis and the same conclusion: I haven’t been happy this year and I haven’t accomplished whatever it was I thought I came back to do. My perception of Seville was clouded by the mental portrait I painted of the past, despite how many times I insisted I would return without expectations.

“The past isn’t quaint when you’re in it,” Margaret Atwood says in Cat’s Eye. “Only at a safe distance, later, when you see it as décor, not as the shape your life’s been squeezed into.”

I wish I had read that when I was 21 and finishing college, when I was spending every waking moment applying for grants to bring me back to Spain. I wish I had realized how all the aspects of Spain that I worshiped were also intrinsically connected to the negative experiences, too; but those recollections were inconvenient, so after distancing myself from them, they came to occupy space in my memory as décor.

I blindly loved this country from far away because I thought it loved me back. I believed this even when all signs pointed to “no”—signs like the difficulty finding legal work in Spain as an American, or the older Spanish man with a girlfriend who kept me on the side when I studied here, who reveled in my foreignness and my youth and, most importantly, my impermanence in this country and in his life. What I mistook as me being special for snagging a mature, European man was in fact a prime example of my youthful—and American—naïveté. Regardless, the memory of that relationship became romantic décor embedded into my perception of Seville.

But this moves beyond my own experience. American students have flocked here en masse for years, and most claim they fall in love with this beautiful city, this fascinating country, this living piece of history. But, ojo: Spain never needed us the way we needed it. There could be one million Americans here in search of the proverbial dream or there could be none, and Spain will prosper, Spain will crumble, Spain will carry on or it will fail without any regard for its ephemeral expats (or our blogs).

Spain isn’t going to cure our depression. It’s not going to make hard decisions for us. It’s not going to offer us an effortlessly exhilarating life, brimming with adventure. It’s not going to find us a boyfriend. It’s not excited to have us here the way we’re excited to be here. Worst of all, Spain isn’t sympathetic when we arrive in search of the proverbial dream and leave empty-handed. Besides, it isn’t Spain’s fault. Our visas will expire and we’ll go home and the world won’t explode, even if we feel it exploding in our own self-centered universes.

I fought where I came from since the minute I decided as a child that I would leave Naperville behind and never return. I fought until finally I had to swallow my pride and admit defeat: admit I was wrong.

Living in Spain is not superior to living in my home country by the sole virtue of it being Spain, or Europe. Before I came here, living in Spain was the end, but now I see that Spain was only the means to some painful learning and growth. I’m going home with a sense of relief, a sense of finally being able to breathe after suffocating under the implication that “going home is failing.”

I don’t believe I’m failing—no, sir; as far as I’m concerned, I’m diving off the side of the Titanic and swimming to shore before this country capsizes or I capsize in it, whichever comes first. The girl who refuses to go home, the one I mentioned before—I know she thinks I’m a failure. I am weak, she believes, because I could only last here a year, and she plans to stay indefinitely. It’s okay though; finally, I’m at peace with other peoples’ judgments (at least with regard to my decision to leave Spain). I’m going to go home and fail, on the auxiliar scale of success—so here’s to jumping into failure wholeheartedly.



29 Responses to “Siebs no longer in Spain”

  1. Lauren, this is excellent. I’ve never lived in (or even visited) Europe, but this resonated so deeply with my experience in another glamorous paradise of the Spanish-speaking world, albeit one that only requires a domestic flight to reach. Brava, senorita, for having the courage to address something few others would even admit to feeling. Good luck in your new job and welcome home.

    Posted by Patrick | July 1, 2012, 10:13 pm
    • Patrick, thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it. And I think the sentiments I felt in (and toward) Spain are probably similar to the way some people feel when they move to Iconic U.S. Cities and find the experience a little less fulfilling than what they’d hoped for. It’s interesting (and somewhat reassuring) to hear that others feel the same way in different places. Thanks again.

      Posted by Lauren | July 2, 2012, 10:37 pm
  2. From my expat blog to yours…I keep telling myself you’re not writing about me, but you very well could be for Paul J’s sake. I can’t say that my experience abroad has been negative or that I would give it up in a heartbeat, but I appreciate your honesty and bravery at putting it all out there. My life as a “real” person is nowhere near the level of excitement, but I agree with you on a lot of levels: the Spain of study abroad is not the Spain of adult abroad.

    I don’t know, maybe you’re slamming me, but we can still get a beer at Jimmy’s and be obnoxious about it. And yaay job!

    Posted by Cat | July 2, 2012, 2:22 am
  3. I think you’ve got a point: living abroad in Spain, or anywhere, is not easy. There’s the ‘glam’ side, and there’s the side that you’ve mentioned above – underpaid jobs, visa issues for some of us…..but there are other people who do become quite happy in their adopted city – I know lots of them in Barcelona, they’re not bloggers, they’re all sorts of people and they have good jobs. The idea, which you touch on, that you HAVE to fall in love with the city you adopt abroad is a sham. You don’t have to love Spain, or wherever, and if you don’t, for god’s sake MOVE ON. And keep moving until you find what you’re looking for. For you that was going back the US; for someone else it might be going to Brazil – I don’t know, but agree with you that we have to keep it real.

    On blogging, well, there’s a lot of personal blogs out there and that serves one purpose, but there are also blogs that aim to be useful travel guides providing advice to people who want to travel – Nomadic Matt (http://www.nomadicmatt.com/) is a good example. I think you’re a bit harsh on bloggers, but I see the truth and humor as well.

    Good luck in this next chapter of your journey!

    Posted by Reg of The Spain Scoop | July 2, 2012, 2:48 am
    • Hi Reg,

      First of all, of course there are happy expats; there are many genuinely happy people who have found their niches in places far away from their native countries. And of course nobody should feel that they can’t abandon a place (or a job, or a person, or any situation) that doesn’t make them happy. Of course we are all free to move on, as you put it. And yes, for me, moving on meant going back to the U.S. For other people it could be going to China.

      But the bottom line here is, and what I said from the very beginning, is: “I respect that other people had entirely different experiences than mine, but I’ve spent all year with these thoughts and I’m ready now to spit it out and say my piece.” I just needed to say my piece, and that’s what this is. The existence of happy people in Spain did not negate my unhappiness in Spain. And I don’t believe that we *have* to fall in love with any place to be happy there; the whole point was that I went back to Seville based on how much I once loved the city, but then discovered that the city on its own wasn’t enough. Returning to Seville didn’t change the fact that I was unhappy in other, more important aspects of my life (namely professional and social aspects). So that’s the point. Not that expats absolutely must fall in love with their adopted cities. Though you’re right, the suggestion that an expat needs to do that is indeed a sham.

      As for my thoughts on blogging: I had no intention of being excessively harsh, much less humorous; just honest about something that nagged at me all year long. I love blogging and I’m passionate about its utility for individuals, businesses and for the journalism industry–but I still think niche blogging is (almost always) masturbatory no matter how you spin it. My comments were not intended to be cruel, but you could say they were intended to challenge. That’s the problem with these self-congratulatory blogging communities; nobody questions anything that anybody else says or does, they just continue to re-Tweet and link and leave fluffy comments that don’t say much of anything. If the commenter even read the full post to begin with. Anyways, if I said something funny, I guess I’ll take it. My attempts at humor often fall flat, so if I had a surprise success, even better.

      Thanks for the comment, Reg.


      Posted by Lauren | July 2, 2012, 2:45 pm
  4. My dad once said to me, “How many times do you have to get hit on the head to realize that Spain JUST doesn’t want you”. As I worked as an English speaking nanny, my Paraguayan co-worker (the live in housekeeper) who couldn’t bring herself to spend 20 euros on a pair of cute shoes because she saved and sent home every centimo back home to her husband and 3 children, just couldn’t seem to “get me”. She didn’t understand “por que” I was in Spain, with a crappy job, without papers and far away from home. That same year, as I was attending a New Year’s Eve party with old high school friends in San Diego, I quietly listened as everyone started to catch up with each other’s lives…some were working for film production companies in Hollywood, others were studying medicine or going to law school…when finally one asked, “So, what have you been up to, Michelle?” Knowing I had recently quit my days as a waitress in Seville (getting paid 4.70 an hour, just started teaching English at a language school, still obsessing over my emotionally abusive Paraguayan ex-boyfriend (my old co-worker’s son), living with crazy roommates and still fighting to find a way to get my papers, I could here myself reply (without providing such personal details), “I’m teaching English at a language academy in Spain.” That guy, yeah, the one that was going to law school, exclaimed, “Wow, you’ve got the most successful life out of all us!!” And I awkwardly smiled and replied, “Trust me, it’s not as glam as you make it out to be.” To be honest, as I’m nearing 7 years in Seville this summer, 7 1/2 if you count the semester I studied here, all I can say with certainty is that the past 2/7 years have been stable and the semester abroad was…well, magical (I mean, I did live within the walls of the Alcazar like a princess after all)…The first year back in Seville was only meant to be a 2 month vacation which turned into wanting to stay for a year, just a year…and every year since then I’ve told myself, “just one more year”. Now, seven years later, as a sweet Chinese woman is filing my nails and asking me in broken Spanish, “I love the USA…I have sisters there…their nail salons make so much money…I went and visited them, I love it…WHY…ARE…YOU…IN…SPAIN?” Yes, my simple trip to the manicurist stumbled me with a very interesting question. I told her that I like Spain and well, you know, my boyfriend lives here…As I sat there waiting for my nails to dry, I thought about it…how did I get here and how is it that I am still here? According to my 5 year plan which my dad loves to remind me about, Spain was just to be one of the first stops on my places to go…right before going to India and going into the Peace Corps. I do love this country. There is so much I love about it and it’s not necessary to get into those details. I can say the same thing about the USA. There are things I love and hate about it. The funny thing is, I feel more like a foreigner back home due to the the time spent away and yet in spite of the years I’ve been here, I am still treated like, and probably always will be a “guiri” here. I know of some expats whose experience here went more smoothly than mine. I never planned on this, I just stayed…and then fought to continue “staying”. When people ask me if I will be here for the rest of my life, I say I don’t know what will come of my future…plans are just flexible ideas meant to guide us, to be changed and sometimes even forgotten. Going home to the states excites me as much as it scares me…it represents a big change. It’s true that life in Spain has put some more obstacles in my way, but the happiness and turmoil I have experienced here could have easily happened at home too…it’s life. Just as RI was my home away from home for 4 years, Spain too has become home to me…just another way to divide my heart, even more. Thank you for writing a very smart, honest and heartfelt blog…I really appreciated it.

    Posted by Michelle | July 2, 2012, 2:23 pm
    • Mickey: Sorry this is so late, but I just wanted to say thank you for this comment and for all the heart you put into it. I’m so glad I got to meet you this year, and I only wish I had gotten to know you sooner.

      Posted by Lauren | July 6, 2012, 3:36 pm
  5. Hi Lauren,

    Just wanted to say that I have enjoyed your blog. Your carefully crafted posts are addicting and refreshing. The way you create your sentences, your choice of words, the inclusion of your disclaimers, seem to give me an idea of how you are really feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your honest blog posts. Congrats on the job…buying the car…and the move.


    Posted by Emily F | July 3, 2012, 3:35 am
  6. Excellent! I wish more expat blogs were like yours…real. I have stopped reading some just because of how perfect everything is. Life is not perfect so why pretend. Good luck to you!

    Posted by Still in Spain | July 5, 2012, 2:06 am
  7. Even though I didn’t share your experience and had an overwhelmingly great time in Spain, I 100% agree with this and I am so glad you posted it. This is why I keep reading your blog and deleted most of the other expat blogs from my Google Reader.

    Posted by Sarah | July 6, 2012, 3:31 pm
  8. This was a really great post. Sometimes, people from back home think you’re living the dream because they think you’re on permanent vacation or something. I think they forget that real life problems happen in fancy European cities too, no matter how beautiful they are for a few weeks or days. The “rat race” exists in Spain too – sometimes you just have to stick around long enough for the shiny facade of novelty to wear off.

    It’s funny when Spaniards learn I’m from California they sigh ‘Ahhh, California! That’s my dream destination. Why would you ever leave?” Everyone wants the ‘permanent vacation.’

    Reading posts like these, I’m glad I found a way to work in Spain other than Auxiliares.

    Good luck not ‘living the dream’ 🙂

    Posted by Jessica | July 9, 2012, 8:49 am
  9. Dios, what a depressing post!

    I read this and I can’t help but think what the hell happened to you in Sevilla to make you so bitter? It sounds like you had unrealistic expectations for your time abroad that when you failed to live up to them, things only got more negative. It’s like you are on point with so many things, but so far off on others. In my years in Spain I have shared so many of your frustrations, but I have found ways around it. I felt the exact same way as you last year but this year I changed my attitude and my expectations and I couldn’t have been happier. At the end of the day, experience is what you make of it, and it sounds like you didn’t try to build important relationships or find a way to make your life in Spain fulfilling. The fact that you can say that there is nothing about Sevilla you’ll miss just makes me sad that you failed to find even one thing about a place you called home for so long that you’d miss.

    And being unhappy and dissatisfied with your time in Spain isn’t enough, you have to go and criticize all the other expat bloggers?! and just because this experience in spain is satisfying to someone else, who are you to criticize someone else for finding happiness in an experience where you failed to? You’ve made sweeping generalizations and extraordinarily derogatory comments about people and their experiences which you neither know the full story behind nor why they’ve made the choices they have. Who are you to judge so harshly and bitterly?

    I could go on and on. Honestly, this is the first time I have read your blog and honestly, I don’t feel sad that I missed it this year. In years abroad in Spain and expat blogging, this is the first time I have ever commented negatively on someone’s post. I hope your life with your new job, car and apartment in the US is more fulfilling than your life in Spain.

    Posted by Liz | July 10, 2012, 5:26 am
  10. Thank you for sharing this honest account. Were you depressed when you began this program? I agree completely with the idea that simply living in a certain place will not “cure our depression” or “make hard decisions for us,” but perhaps acknowledging any pre-existing personal issues could help to put your feelings in context, if this was the case. I think there is a huge benefit also to being flexible enough to make use of any situation “for what it is” – whether it be in Spain or in the US. Thoughts?

    Posted by Tiffany | July 10, 2012, 1:24 pm
  11. Each of us does the best we can- I know that Lauren did, and would not dream of faulting her for not ‘getting’ whatever it is we’re supposed to out of this. I had some terrible things happen to me, and would be a liar and a fool to say I was able to superarlo and seguir adelante- saying I survived is about the best I can do, and it’s too wearisome to be ashamed of that any longer. Things are far too grey to even come close to putting them in black and white terms. Olé tú y tus huevos, Lauren.

    Posted by Also an aux | July 10, 2012, 2:27 pm
  12. Hello friend from Sevilla – the first time (for you :)) I know we haven’t kept in touch, but I needed to tell you that I am profoundly relieved to read this post. It’s not that I am happy to hear of your experience being negative – it’s because it gives me permission to declare that my own was negative. I did not love Sevilla when we were there, or even like it all that much. This has always been clear to me, and I’ve always tried to make it clear to other people, but it has first and foremost been a struggle making it clear to myself why exactly that was. I came to Spain with grandiose expectations of study abroad, including mastering the language, and I was absolutely pummeled when this did not happen immediately. I struggled with feeling inadequate in the language and inadequate in my own ability to make that “dream experience” I had foreseen for my study abroad experience happen, and it broke my heart that I couldn’t. Your strength and deep reflection are so evident through this blog, and the relief you must feel to be home is not one to be ashamed of – it one of increased gratitude for and awareness of where you’ve come from, and there is great value in that. Be well lauren 🙂 – Liz

    Posted by Liz McIntyre | July 31, 2012, 8:11 pm
  13. Excellent post! thank you for sharing your story, it’s an inspiration to me.

    Posted by Sandy Allain | August 1, 2012, 1:24 am
  14. Understood that you don’t share the enthusiasm that your fellow auxiliares and others had, and in many cases continue to have, for Spain – fair enough. What I don’t understand is the need to criticize and belittle other bloggers in the process. It makes you come across as petty and bitter.

    Posted by Sally | October 22, 2012, 4:26 pm
  15. I absolutely LOVED this post. This was genuine, honest, real and sincere. It was actually refreshing to read this because I think so many people dream and idealize what it would be like to live abroad, how much different (read: better) their life will be and all the adventures they will go on, fall in love, etc. And many bloggers (at all I have stumbled across) make it sound SOOOO amazing and magical and all this happy, positive, great experience that us back home could only dream of.

    I seriously wish there wore more expat bloggers like you – who can talk about the good things, but also be honest about the bad things, too.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by jolina | January 19, 2013, 12:31 am
  16. Haha brilliant, I for one am pretty tired of the relentless cheeriness and narcissism of expat / travel blogs… and this sentence is one I’ll cherish for a while! “Expat blogging is masturbatory, at best, and pathetic, at worst. Never have I seen a cohort of so many self-indulgent and self-congratulatory people. Like-minded people encouraging other like-minded people”.

    Sorry it didn’t work out for you in Seville, but these things I believe are circumstantial… like anywhere you have to have the right job, meet the right friends/partners and these are things where luck plays a large part. You shouldn’t regret going of course… you tried it, didn’t enjoy it so much as you thought, and now for something new.

    It’s hard for Americans to really develop their careers in Europe unfortunately (visa situation etc) so I guess for you guys it’s the adventure only… when it sounds like you needed more.


    Posted by Duncan | February 25, 2013, 5:00 pm
  17. I don’t know if you still check these comments, but I somehow stumbled upon this post last September, before starting my first year as an auxiliar. I read it and it made a big impression on me, but I didn’t really get it. Why couldn’t you turn around and be happy for a day off when they didn’t need you at school? Why was everything so negative? Six months later and I still think about this post all the time, and now I totally get it. My experience hasn’t been all negative, but I’ve definitely had my fair share of feeling useless and unappreciated.

    Posted by Ashley Duncan | April 2, 2014, 12:25 pm
    • Hi Ashley, I do still see the comments as they come in. Interesting to hear your perspective. I’m not glad you’ve had a less-than-great experience for part of your time abroad, but it certainly broadens your perspective to go through the motions and see the auxiliar experience for what it’s worth; which includes both the good and the bad. The most vocal, belligerent critics of this post are people I’m happy to dissociate from. I think the type of person who is unconditionally happy to be sent home from work is simply a type of person I don’t understand. That’s not who I am. I need to feel like I’m doing valuable work, and for most of my time as an axuiliar, I didn’t feel that way. I wasn’t there just to botellon and soak up the sun. I wish there were a way to word that that didn’t sound quite as high and mighty, but that’s sort of the jist of it. I’m always happy to hear from someone who got something from this post (and even from the people who hate me for it, because I find them fascinating). It’s been almost two years since I moved home. I’m glad I had the auxiliar experience, but I’m also glad I didn’t try to stay after it ended.

      Posted by Lauren | April 2, 2014, 12:42 pm
  18. I dig this post.

    I also did the auxiliar-writing-a-blog thing, and I definitely only wrote about fun happy things (after a while it was just a permanent place to house travel recaps for my family) and I found that in the times that I was actually, really, 100% overjoyed to be there, I just wanted to keep it to myself!

    Sure, I was sad to leave–I loved Madrid a lot and made a handful of really great friends who I still manage to see from time to time–but now that I’ve been away a few years I can daydream about visiting, but I don’t know if I can imagine living that life anymore.

    Anyway. Nothing constructive here, just wanted to say something.

    PS – Naperville? I came back to Chicago. Hi, neighbor.

    Posted by Shana | April 2, 2014, 3:04 pm
    • Hey Shana, thanks for commenting. Do you mind my asking how you found my blog? After I posted this in 2012 I watched the half angry/half supportive comments roll in before all but abandoning the blog. I’m really perplexed by people still finding this post, but I also think it’s kinda cool.

      To your point, I will definitely visit Spain again (when I have the $$$). Everything I loved about Spain—as a tourist—is still intact in my mind. But no way I’d go back as an auxiliar.

      Posted by Lauren | April 2, 2014, 3:10 pm
      • Kaley tweeted a link to it yesterday!

        That’s such a good point, all of the great things are what I think about. I never think about the times when I was broke (most of the time) and homesick (some of the time).

        Posted by Shana | April 3, 2014, 9:17 am
  19. Lauren, I’ve just seen this for the first time. What a brilliant writer you are. Am so impressed by the way you shape your sentences, syntax and sentiment. I know what you mean about self-congratulatory travel or expat blogs. I’m a Scot who’s been living and working in Barcelona for over three years now, maintaining a blog on and off in that time. There is a pressure to live up to what people back home believe is ‘the dream’. The reality in Barcelona is that I was robbed three times (once violently), suddenly made redundant the week before Christmas, landed very ill and alone in a Spanish hospital for two weeks and almost raped on my own balcony. All in the space of 14 months here, alone. Moving to Spain and surviving the experience has not been an easy ride, and I’m buggered if I’m going to pretend otherwise on my blog to fulfil other people’s expectations. I think the key is, you will know when it’s time to move on. I did when it came to leaving Scotland and I will again when it’s time to leave Spain. Thanks so much for your honestly.
    All the best,

    Posted by Julie Sheridan | August 3, 2014, 8:21 am
    • Hi Julie, thanks for the comment. I’m still flabbergasted whenever a new person stumbles upon this aging post. I’m also glad to hear you’re OK in spite of the challenges you’ve encountered in Barcelona. I agree that knowing when it’s time to move on is key–and that’s not something anyone else can help you figure out, which was hard to grapple with when I was still in Spain. Anyways, thanks again for the kind words!

      Posted by Lauren | August 7, 2014, 3:46 pm
  20. Hi Lauren,
    In January I’m moving to Seville for a minimum of 4 months. Now that I’ve made that decision I’m starting to read other people’s opinions (arse about face maybe, but that’s how I roll ha!) I’m just wondering how you got on in terms of improving your Spanish in amongst all those pesky Andalucian accents? And whether you know of any great radio stations/singers/movies I could or should be using to prepare for that accent?

    Posted by Louise | December 5, 2014, 1:27 pm


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