Home Advice Knowing When to Call It: How I Made The Hard Decision to Leave Europe

Knowing When to Call It: How I Made The Hard Decision to Leave Europe

by Jackie Dreyer
How to know you're ready to return to the US after living abroad.

I never thought I’d move back to the U.S. I guess living in Europe for almost eight years will do that to a person. I’ve lost track of the times I confidently and without hesitation said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t picture it,” when friends or family asked if I thought I’d ever go back to the States. The quality of life I discovered in Spain and the experiences and exposure to so many new things that I was having in Europe turned me pretty anti-living in America, despite the U.S. being home to so many people I loved dearly and where I spent the first 22 years of my life, and I was steadfast in my convictions. That should give you an idea of the profoundness of the internal struggle I started to battle with when I began to tap into these feelings that creeped from my subconscious mind to a starring role in the forefront of my thoughts. 

Pondering among Colorado’s peaks

Three girls sitting on a rock on Lost Lake and surrounded by mountains in Nederland, Colorado.
Two friends and I took a moment to enjoy the views after a hike outside of Denver up the Hessie Trailhead to Lost Lake in Nederland, Colorado.

I can easily pinpoint the first moment I started to have a change of heart. The company I worked for created a work exchange program in-between the Seville office and the new secondary office we had recently opened in Denver, Colorado. I applied for the first exchange and was legitimately excited at the prospect of getting to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family in the same year for the first time in God only knows how long. I got accepted and moved to Denver in November of that year alongside a friend—now lifelong best friend—and fellow colleague in another department. We lived together in the perfect long-term Airbnb in the basement of a beautiful home owned by a fantastic couple with three big dogs that was within walking distance of work—and, more importantly, near an epic brunch place.

What I saw as an opportunity to see a new part of the country, visit my family and get some extra Wisconsin time in, hike some mountains, do some excellent thrifting, and live close to and spend time with one of my best friends from middle school (who had moved out to Denver years prior) turned into a free trial run of what living in the U.S. would be like again. I slowly started to rediscover things I really liked about the States. I went back to the Midwest twice; a friend from Spain, who now lives in California for work, and a friend from Chicago, who I met in Spain, came for a weekend of fun; and my mom came out for a girls’ weekend. I developed a great fondness for Denver, and even now, despite the altitude playing games with my body, I’d consider moving there in a heartbeat.

The start of the battle royale

There was a return ticket to Seville for early January 2018 with my name on it, though, and Denver was great, but Seville still had me under its thumb. I headed back to sunny Spain, got into a new relationship, and thought everything was coming up roses—until life decided to throw me a few intense wake-up calls. One situation after another caused my professional and personal happiness to take a nosedive, including, but not limited to, temporarily losing one of my best friends, a quickly-turning-toxic romantic relationship, and serious health issues in my immediate family. 

It wasn’t the first time something bad had happened back home while I was thousands of miles away, and it’s never been an easy thing to deal with. Regardless of how helpful or not having me home would have been, the physical distance alone—and all the overthinking that comes with it—is enough to drive anyone mad. Deep down, I could feel that it was starting to wear on me more than before, in a way that even multiple trips home to be physically there would not be enough to remedy. It was as if there was a tiny little person with a tiny little ax inside of me, steadily chipping away at my happiness and my belief that Spain was my end-all-be-all. Falling away so slowly, in pieces so small, it took me almost a year and a half to recognize it, but once I did, I couldn’t unsee it. 

I was so confused. I loved Europe, Spain, and Seville. I loved the friends I had made, who had become my family and main support system for so many years. I loved traveling and seeing new countries. I loved living in a place that prioritized a healthy work-life balance. I loved walking everywhere—to run errands, to see a friend, to go to the gym, or simply to wander aimlessly. I loved how everyone spent their time outside together rather than cooped up inside their houses. I loved the cafés I was a regular at and the people who owned them. I loved Spanish food and having easy access to fresh seafood. I loved getting dressed up every spring in my flamenco dresses for the very traditional (and very fun) Feria de Abril, or Seville Fair. I loved living an hour’s drive from the ocean. It’s a boundless list that I will never be able to finish.

It was as if there was a tiny little person with a tiny little ax inside of me, steadily chipping away at my happiness and my belief that Spain was my end-all-be-all.

Flying towards my feelings

Early-evening blue skies and boats anchored on Lake Michigan, with the Milwaukee city skyline in the background.
As I waited for a friend to arrive at the South Shore Beer Garden in Bay View, I had to take a photo of this quintessential Milwaukee evening on Lake Michigan.

And, vamos, I still love all of those things, and I always will, but the scale had finally tipped in the opposite direction. I can identify that exact moment, too. Last spring, I started to feel consistently unfulfilled and unhappy at work. I was discouraged by the lack of new job opportunities that were available. I was getting increasingly more frustrated—on both a legal and financial level—with having to fight so hard to stay in the country I lived in that I loved and supported. 

But what can always make you feel better? Travel, of course. I had a long weekend booked in Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands that ended up being the type of trip people write movies about. My parents gave me the best birthday present of all time and flew two of my best friends from home out to celebrate my 30th with me. I got to go home to Wisconsin for my annual visit, which coincided with my good friend’s wedding, where I got to see old friends I haven’t seen in years. 

And that was the moment—that last trip. Everyone knows that summertime in the Midwest is unmatched; from the weather to all of the activities and festivals, the buen ambiente is palpable. It was the end of August, and I was holding on tight to all of Milwaukee’s goodness. I could feel unbridled happiness spreading through me in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time, and it felt incredible. The morning of my flight back to Spain, I woke up in tears. What…? I was so sad about leaving. For the first time, I didn’t want to go back; it just didn’t feel right.

It ain’t over until it’s over

About a week after returning from that trip, I put in my two weeks at work. Less than a month after returning from that trip, I had my last day at work. About two weeks after quitting, I started looking for a new job and developed a complete aversion to looking for jobs in Spain. I began to look “out of curiosity” at jobs in the U.S., specifically back home in Wisconsin, and peruse apartment rental websites to “see what was out there.” I started freelancing remotely for businesses in Spain, and later the U.S. Roughly a month after quitting my job, I had made up my mind, no more dilly-dallying—I was moving home. 

Even still, I needed time to convince myself to start telling people. I had to be absolutely sure that this was the plan, because what if I changed my mind after I had said something? I couldn’t bear the thought of breaking my loved ones’ hearts all over again. It took me quite a while to be able to voice the decision, even to my best friend in Seville, who I tell everything to, including the stuff he probably never wanted to know. 

Almost a full month after that, I started telling everyone else. I didn’t know how to do it, I didn’t want to upset anyone and knew I would, and I didn’t want anyone to project their own thoughts and feelings onto this wildly difficult decision that I had finally made peace with. Some people naturally did, but I was pleasantly surprised that everyone who really knows me expressed nothing but love and support. A lot of them even said they saw it coming, which was both shocking and touching. 

Looking back, I am so grateful I quit my office job when I did, because it gave me the time and space to really work through those feelings and thoughts and get to the important conclusion that I got to. It allowed me to thoroughly enjoy Seville in a way I hadn’t been able to for a long time—giving me time to slowly but surely say goodbye to the city with leisurely breakfasts in the sun at my favorite cafés, midday strolls around the city, and drop-of-the-hat plans with friends to soak up as many last moments together for now as we could.

Breaking the news back home

Before I officially decided to move back, I had already booked what was meant to be a surprise trip home for Christmas. Living so far away for so many years, the number of allotted vacation days, coupled with the price of international flights, meant flying home at Christmas was typically out of the question, and more than one trip home a year was a rarity. My mom finagled the surprise out of me, though, so I decided that I’d wait until I was home for Christmas to spring my big news on them. Wrong—she eventually got that out of me, too, but hey, at least we had plenty to celebrate this holiday season.

From the outside, it may have looked silly to come home for Christmas, only to move back to Wisconsin approximately three weeks later, but it ended up to be the perfect setup. Being home for the holidays allowed me to pretend like it was as if I were already back and living there—trying Wisconsin on for size again, one last time, “just to make sure.” I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it went great, as I write to you now from my new sofa at my new apartment in Milwaukee. However, the process of getting from my old sofa in Seville to this one was easily one of the most intense months of my life, and I want to help alleviate that stress for other people. Are you considering a move back to the U.S., too? Give me a chance to make your life easier, and stick around for a start-to-finish breakdown of how to facilitate an intercontinental move.

AUTHOR BIO: From Wisconsin to southern Spain. Bilingual writer, editor, and translator. Never not looking for a great cup of coffee. That friend who stops to pet every dog.

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