In our post about the government we mentioned that it was our last time ever applying for a visa in Spain. This comes after a very long summer of discussion, research and tough decisions. Part of the reason we were so quiet over the summer was because we spent probably 500+ hours researching graduate degrees, teaching licenses, new countries and opportunities to stay in Spain/Europe. We took long walks and had long, long talks about what we want, value and need next. Ultimately the decision came down to stay or go. And if we go, where?
Stay in Spain?
We’re currently living (and teaching) in Europe the easiest way possible for Americans. Americans can’t really work in the European Union. There are laws that say the EU has to try to hire within the EU before hiring outsiders. Sure, Americans do get work but it is difficult. So we’re here on a student visa and getting paid through a student grant. Obviously this isn’t a “real” job but it’s what we wanted and needed after Korea. We left Korea after 3 years because we felt tired, overworked, underappreciated, and unsafe (at times, more on that later). Spain said “we will ‘pay’ you beans… but you’ll be living in Europe” so our overworked, underappreciated but wealthy asses said “hell yeah! We’ll just do it for one year. Live off some of our savings and have fun for just one year!” 2 years later with another year on the way we’re scratching our heads asking ourselves, “weren’t we supposed to leave?”
At this point it wouldn’t be responsible for us to keep living off our savings and getting paid student grants.
Well in May 2020 we will have been legally in Spain for 3 years on a student visa. After holding a student visa for 3 years we could convert it to a work visa and get real human jobs. This conversion is the best way to circumvent the whole Americans-can’t-work-in-Europe. Because instead of starting from scratch “I want to work” we can convert what we already have, “I would like to stop studying (with the student visa) and start working.” Theoretically it means we’re “highly qualified” since theoretically we’ve been “studying” in Spain for the past 3 years.
We could even convert the work visa into a residence permit. You can’t do this with other visas so this is a very rare opportunity (for us as Americans). This would all mean real money, real jobs more opportunities to settle down and less paperwork. It could also be converted to permanent residence card (or even citizenship) which would give us free reign over 28 countries of the EU. This is a perfect dream: to be able to live and work in amazing new places without all the hassle of extra paperwork and sponsors every time we move.
The opportunity for a work permit/residence permit can only be harnessed if we convert our current student visa. So if we gave this up (the visa and 3 years of physical presences) and moved we would have to restart the clock. So if we left and wanted this opportunity again we would have to come back and hold a student visa for 3 more years to get back to where we are right now. Of course we could try to just enter on a work visa but like we said above this is fairly difficult for Americans to do. Especially with our current qualifications.
We really, really want this. We love Europe and the ability to have a residence card or permit to give us more free access to 28 countries is probably our major end-goal in life.
And there it is. The big but….
- But we would have to FIND jobs that would be willing to work with the paperwork.
- But we would be stuck until we got the paperwork completed (at least 7 more years).
- But we couldn’t travel outside of the EU for very long, generally, without resetting the clock.
- But we couldn’t teach (outside of Europe) after it was all done.
Sure we could teach or live anywhere in Europe after 7 years. But are we ready to stay in Europe for the rest of our lives? Or at least the next seven years. It’s “only” 7 more years to put down roots but that’s a long time. The solution to the problem, citizenship would sacrifice the one thing it would take away- our status as “Native English speakers holding an English speaking passport”. Meaning that working abroad would be difficult. So Europe for the rest of our lives? We want this but maybe not yet. Maybe this is too early.
Leaving Spain right when we became eligible to have this rare opportunity is a super difficult decision. It feels like we’re throwing away the past 3 years. It feels like this because we are just throwing away an opportunity I’ve wanted for at least 10 years. Now that it’s at our fingertips there are doubts if this is the right time. But the day we board a plane and leave Spain we will throw it all away.
What else could we do?
We thought about it a lot and we want to keep teaching. And within 5 years we want to get officially certified (finally) as teachers. So we began looking at building our savings back up to afford the eventual school/licensing.
Our eyes keep turning back to Asia. Asia has the biggest English market right now; it pays the best; it’s also super interesting. Spain is simple and predictable and at times we miss the old weird things we could do in Asia. We’re in the mood for the old weird shit we used to do in South Korea. Eat acorn jelly and live octopus while being stared at. Be blissfully foreign and never feel pressured to fit in because we’re not really welcome to fit in. Asia’s modern and weird and fun. You work hard but you play hard. Also someday we will be too old for Asia, both for hiring standards and age limits. So we should see it while we’re young.
So we looked at the big, most obvious opportunities.
China/Hong Kong/ Taiwan
We looked into Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. A lot. Unfortunately Taiwan and Hong Kong want licensed teachers. So China (mainland) it was. Chris even started learning Chinese. I didn’t have any interest in China but holy crap, if I’m in the mood for something different then China is my best bet.
A couple things stopped us.
One: the program began to look a little sketchy. No one was talking about it. It’s either so small no one is blogging about it or Chinese censorship has stopped people from talking about it. So that’s disconcerting.
Reason 2 (and this is huge) China and Hong Kong are not super great right now, and Shenzhen is just North of Hong Kong. Everyone (falsely) thought we were going into a war-zone when we moved to South Korea. But moving to Shenzhen would probably be riskier than moving back to Korea, depending on how the whole Hong Kong thing turns out. China is also a bit of a villain to the rest of the world.
But above all, the fact that we could literally be banned from entering China just for saying “China is a bit of a villain” means that we would never want to live there.
I know, insane. Go back? But Korea was a special place for us for 2.5 years. Then for .5 years it suddenly wasn’t and we were suddenly very, very unhappy. Like a flip of a switch. But for more than half of the time we were there it was great money and good fun. It was comfortable (until it suddenly wasn’t).
3 things happened to lead to us leaving Korea on bad terms.
- MERS outbreak of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. Korea prided itself as a culture where everyone cared about each other. A family-based culture with no individualism. In reality sick assholes who had a deadly disease would sneak out of quarantine to go golfing, shopping, or to Starbucks. They made the outbreak worse just because they wanted to play golf. This selfishness literally killed people. It caused a major panic among people (especially foreigners living there -should we leave while we still can?). Ultimately it made it clear that Korea didn’t have a good handle on disasters.
- The earthquakes While we were there, Korea had their first earthquake in years but also the biggest in centuries. Korea’s response was minuscule and laughable (safety videos showing outdated and false information). We didn’t feel safe after MERS but seeing what could happen if a natural disaster happened was the nail in the coffin. No one likes to feel unsafe (even if its just in your head), so it began gnawing at us.
- We got burnt out. We played by all the rules. Work late without pay? Done. Come to dinner and stay until midnight twice this week? Done. Literally write a kids report for him and cheat on a college application. Done. But there were never thank yous, only the expectation that we would do it again. And better next time. Give an inch, they’ll take a mile (and humans do this, generally, not just Koreans). So we burned ourselves out. Combine that with feeling unsafe and unwelcome and the culture shock hit hard.
One day we just woke up and thought holy shit: we are not in the right place. So we didn’t renew for a 4th year. We learned a lot from this. About saying no; being culturally sensitive (or not); pushing through culture shock (or not); and choosing hills to die on (or not).
Korea was just doing Korea. Nothing bad there. But Korea is changing at break-neck speed. I have confidence that they’ve made changes regarding safety since they have always moved at a lightning pace. If we went back we would also know how to combat and prevent burnout. It was a personal problem and we would know how to deal with it on our end, as well as knowing what not to do to dig ourselves into a hole with work and coteachers.
Korea’s got the money. It’s got our old haunts, old adventures and familiar foods. And we won’t make any stupid mistakes because we’re old pros. Plus the job was great. I miss the job immensely. I liked teaching there (more than I do here) and I miss my students.
Japan is somewhere we have never even considered before. To teach in Japan we (thought we) would have to go through JET. JET is the biggest, best teaching program probably on earth. So naturally it has something insane like an under 25% acceptance rate. We have 6 years of experience and more certification than JET wants. Our odds might be okay. But you have to physically go interview with them in the USA. We couldn’t rightly fly across the world just for an interview that has only 25% chance acceptance. The odds were not worth the $2,000+ flights. They only interview once a year, too, so we couldn’t fly to the USA right in the middle of the year without losing our positions here.
While researching Korea we found a different program. This is a “dispatch company” where we would actually work for a company and be sent to public schools. This is different than what we’ve always done (work for the government in their public schools). This could bring many changes for us and we aren’t sure about that.
But let us tell you about Japan. We’ve gone 3 times and all 3 times we’ve never felt more like human beings. We slept better, ate better, felt better and just were better – we felt more at peace. I felt something I didn’t know I was carrying around lift off of me. People were kind and gentle to everyone else. No one was in other people’s business. Even with an insane population we have were never touched or pushed like in Korea or Spain. Our perceptions we had on multiple vacations to Japan is not the same as living there. Obviously. But it’s ticking every single box we have of what we want for ourselves and the future.
And sure they will have xenophobia and SARS/MERS and earthquakes but Japan actually has rules and follows them. After the 2011 earthquake you can see how collectivist they are and not just for appearances. They’ve learned from safety disasters and improved everything- thus we wouldn’t feel unsafe constantly. In short it feels like a good match.
So it’s a junction. Do we save Spain for when we’re old? Leave and give up what we could have had? I try not to put too many eggs in the future basket. You never know if you could get sick or hit by a car. I’ll save for my retirement but I don’t like waiting until I retire just to feel fulfilled. If I want to do something I should do it now while I still have my original knees. So are we putting off Spain?
Spain is something we’ve wanted for over a decade. But it’s a large commitment that will take immigration lawyers, money, endless job hunting, moving (within Spain), and physical presence in Europe for a minimum of 7 years. But after that we have what we’ve always wanted.
We miss the weirdness of Asia. Let’s live while we’re alive. Asia doesn’t even like older teachers so it’s an opportunity to take while we’re still young. So it’s a very hard decision but we’re going to leave Spain. So where to in Asia?
China is right out, and as they say in Hong Kong – “Don’t trust China, China is asshole.” Taiwan would be awesome, but we aren’t qualified. And Hong Kong is probably not the best place to be right now.
Korea would be familiar and an easy move. I could get on a plane right now and know exactly what I’m doing when I arrived. That feels comforting as international moves never get easier.
Japan is an amazing country (from what we’ve seen). It would be a new program that would be difficult to adjust to at first and it pays a little less than Korea. But it’s a new country filled with new experiences and adventures.
We’ve been talking about it since December 2018 and have spent the past 3 months researching options and possibilities. This hasn’t been an easy decision and we doubt it constantly.
But we’ve made our decision: We’re going to Japan.
We were keeping it a secret until we knew for sure, and as of yesterday we were officially accepted/hired. We’ll be leaving next year. This is a long post so we’ll tell you more at a later time. For now, thank you for coming on this blog journey with through our difficult decision.