(This is) 23. /ˈtwɛn.tˈθɹi/ n. The age of indecision. 1 year out of college, 2 years legally drinking, 3 years left on your parents’ health insurance, 4—60 years till you know what you should be doing with your life. 

Great news, everyone! A piece I wrote aired on the radio yesterday! “This is 23” was on KQED, Northern California’s NPR station, on a program called Perspectives. It was my third time recording a piece for them (this piece and a version of this piece also aired), and going into the studio always feels like a very grown-up, “I’ve made it” experience. An usher brings me a glass of water and I get to say things like “testing, testing.”

This piece was inspired by the rush of emotions I feel being back home after 9 months teaching in Spain. The plan is to return to Spain in August to teach for another year, this time to Barcelona and children ages 0–3 (!?!?!). But being back home has made me seriously question if I want to leave again. So if you’d like, read (or listen) to the piece, and then help me decide my future plans by voting in the poll below. 

This is 23

(You can listen to the recording here, but then hurry back and cast your vote!)

A year ago, as a college senior, I entered my school’s Career Services department so a computer program could generate a life path for me. I told it I was interested in languages, writing, and an absence of cubicles. It yielded 17 results, all of which disappeared once I raised my salary requirements above minimum wage, and said I wouldn’t mind dental coverage.

Eager to dodge the suggested jobs, I chose another route entirely. I moved to Spain to teach English.

It was a good year; my students learned some important phrasal verbs, and the difference between ‘bitch’ and ‘beach.’ I, in turn, appreciated fine wines and a slower pace of life, and gleaned some crude Spanish slang not published in textbooks.

But now I’m back in Marin, trying to figure out my next step without Career Services’ astute software.

There are only two options, but the boxes to check seem more nuanced this time.

Do I move to San Francisco, close to family and friends whom I never realized I needed so much until a year spent apart? I could pursue my dream of writing, though in light of the tech culture, I’d inevitably edit copy for some start-up marketing tablets to dogs. The pay would afford me a partitioned pantry in the Tenderloin, but still, I’d be here. Home.

Or do I return to Spain for another year, where the novelty has worn off but at least my work schedule allows for siestas. I don’t relish the idea of teaching English to drooling toddlers, but as a travel and language lover, it adds up on paper. Starting from scratch overseas yet again is as hard to stomach as Spanish blood sausage, but then again, who turns down Barcelona?

The Career Services software needs an updated algorithm. I’m a writer, not a Google engineer, but I imagine it’d be an average of the following: glorified Instagrams of cured ham minus Facebook rants about Spanish bureaucracy; clicks per minute on the SF Craigslist housing page; unique monthly visits to my blog, to see if writing is a real option; and the cash I’d dish out on transatlantic flights versus Uber rides across the city.

Leave out salary requirements so as not to skew the data, and the results would tell me the only thing I really need to know at twenty-three:

Should I be here, or there?

Readers, you tell me!!

(Some background before casting your vote):

It’s easy to think, why wouldn’t you go back to Spain?!? But maybe, just maybe, 2 years is enough. I’ve done the study abroad and the work abroad, so maybe I should do the whole work-in-the-U.S. thing?

I can honestly say that this past month in California has been the happiest I’ve felt in at least a year (er, coincidentally, the time I’ve been in Spain). The combination of family, friends, clear blue skies, friendly Americans, San Francisco hills and coffee shops, and many many hours devoted to writing has made me a happy camper, and put into question why I would drop everything to move overseas again. Although I enjoyed my time in Bilbao, it was certainly a mixed bag. (I wrote this humorous post when I was SO over things there, though the “mixed bag” comes from more than just rain.) I don’t necessarily feel pressure to “start a career,” but I do think I should start working in something I love—writing/communications/translation related—rather than corralling kids and speaking English at a rate of one word per minute. Plus, starting from scratch in Barcelona—no apartment, no friends, new colleagues, unfamiliar surroundings—seems utterly exhausting.

So that’s all an argument for staying put.

The argument for leaving again is just a four-syllable word: BAR-CE-LO-NA.

(Also a 20-hour work week, ability to travel, and lots of juicy material to write about while I’m abroad.)

What would you do, in my shoes? And feel free to elaborate in the comments below! Thanks so much for any advice. 

Should I move to San Francisco or Barcelona?

View Results

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  • Adrian Estrada

    ¡Quédate en España!

    You will be participating with Meddeas this upcomming year, right? Let your readers know how it goes! I’m considering teaching through that program after Auxiliares de Conversacion.. Hey, do you know if Meddeas provides US citizens with health insurance?


    • Hey Adrian,
      Thanks for weighing in! I think I’ve decided to return to Barcelona for sure, and you’re right, I look forward to writing about a program that not many people know is an option. And unfortunately, no, Meddeas doesn’t provide health insurance—you have to buy it (mine cost around $300) in order to get your visa.

  • So… I voted for Barcelona. However, I felt like maybe I should clarify something first: I don’t think a location can make you happy. I mean, living in Barcelona is going to be great, of course! You’ll make friends ridiculously fast (Barcelona is full of Americans and other international people), you’ll love the sunshine, the sea, you’ll work on your Spanish and you’ll travel around (Tarragona is just a quick ride away, and so is Andorra, Girona, the Pirineos, etc).

    Here’s the thing, though: you should go to Barcelona to work on something you actually love – if it’s not teaching kids, then look for something else! Or start by teaching kids while you look for something else.

    Basically: Barcelona is not going to make you happy just because it’s Barcelona, if what you will be doing most of your time is not what you want to do (and doesn’t take you anywhere closer to your ideal career).

    • Great advice, Katharina! A large part of why I want to go to Barcelona is because it will afford me the time to continue writing, and provide great content that I probably wouldn’t have by working an office job in San Francisco.

  • I don’t think you can make a wrong choice. You are debating between two world-class cities. Do whatever makes you happier. There is no bad decision here. (That being said, it it were me, I’d spend a year in Barcelona and see as much of Europe as possible.)

    • Very true, Mindi, it’s really a win-win. The location of Barcelona is a real draw to be able to see more of Europe, you’re certainly right. Hmmmm……

  • As much as I wanted to be Europe-biased and tell you to go to Barcelona, but I think it’s important to follow you’re happiness. If I felt so much better at home than I do in Germany, I probably wouldn’t keep living here, but the fact is that I feel amazing here.

    On the other hand, Barcelona could be an incredible adventure, fabulous new start, and further kick on your writing career. Home will always be there. Can’t wait to hear what you choose!

    • Good point—it’s also possible I feel really great at home because it’s basically summer vacation and I have no responsibilities. I eat great food my parents buy, sleep in, visit friends every day—probably wouldn’t be as glamorous with an 8-6. Good things to keep in mind…Plus just because I wasn’t in love with Bilbao doesn’t mean Barcelona can’t offer me something different :) Thanks for your sage expat advice!!

  • So I seem to be in the minority it seems, but I absolutely love Barcelona and was so upset when I found out there was no way I could live there. I opted to go to Madrid instead which I never liked when I had visited previously, but now it feels like home. SF will always be there but the chance to live abroad won’t. And as Cat says, you can always come back home if you’re not happy! Best of luck with your decision, both cities are wonderful :)

    • Glad to hear that Madrid feels like home to you now! I think it’s often overlooked when compared to Barcelona, but so many people fall in love with the capital city. You’re so right, SF isn’t going anywhere. Thanks for weighing in!

  • Go to Barcelona (like Pedro, it’s probably one of my least-favorite cities in Spain). I nearly chose Chicago over Seville, and can’t even begin to imagine what I would have missed out on. It’s ten months, and you can always come back home!

    • Too true, 10 months is nothing. And I can always cut out at Christmas, haa. How WEIRD to think of what would’ve happened if you hadn’t stayed in Seville….no new house, no Novio, no COMO consulting, no endless tapas…. ;)

  • Pedro1312

    Barcelona is overrated, i really dislike it.

    having said that, you must do what makes you happier at the moment whatever the costs may be….don’t do what others say, don’t follow the path others have followed, don’t do what is supposed to do or what is supposed to be correct.

    go to SF if you feel it as Europe is not going to dissapear and you can do it later.

    anyway, i would never have chosen Barcelona, which is rubbish! (my football feeling has just appeared, sorry) haha :-)

  • Architect Ingels

    I’d say go out into the world. You would eventually want and even need to come home to roost. But that time is a while away.

    If you don’t go out now, tomorrow may be too late… Take this opportunity you have and go discover what the world has to offer. It will help you grow! And you don’t have to stay in the same job, you can do something else too if teaching toddlers is becoming uninspiring… but travelling and experiencing new things will broaden your horizons in so many ways.

    I can say this because I’m one who had the opportunities to do so but chose to be around family, even though at that time they didn’t really ‘need’ my presence but we all ‘wanted’ to be around each other. But now I often think about the many missed opportunities to experience the world. I still have them now, but now there are considerations of my being ‘needed’ here aging parents, et al. So I have to think about it more carefully… and options sometimes tend to get limited as life situations change.

    I’d say, do it now while you still can, and then come home to roost, richer for your experiences and satisfied that you’ve savoured the wide world!

    • Thank you so much for this….it’s true that the time is ripe to take advantage of travel, while I’m relatively free of responsibility. Really great advice, and all these comments have me leaning towards returning to a year of adventure and travel.

  • The career services software gave you two choices, but really your possibilities are endless. I think you probably know in your heart where you really want to be – follow that feeling and you’ll make the right decision.

    • Man I should have included that line in the essay!! Ha! And I think you’re right. I’m definitely leaning one way at this point…

  • Maya Martinez

    I absolutely HATE saying this because you know I love the travel and adventure, but I voted for SF. I seriously don’t think Barcelona itself can compensate for “teaching English” to snotty 3 year olds. Barcelona is overrated anyway. You said it yourself, San Francisco is the most beautiful city you’ve ever seen.

    • MAYA! I would never have expected that from you, haha, seeing as you’re gearing up to move to Spain yourself… I’m so curious to see if you’ll be in a similar boat in a year! (But….in a year we’re moving in together in the city, and that’s a fact.)

  • Les

    This is what I’m inferring Jenny – the perks of Spain are good but the overall life in SF makes you happier. Maybe it’s time to find work doing something you like more than teaching kids. I’m all for the traveling, you know that. But there are many different places to go and to see. Ideally you could be a travel writer for a publisher based in SF who funds your trips!
    But I lovingly support whatever you choose……

    • Hey Les, thanks for weighing in! Ideally, in a dream world, an SF travel company would fund my trips indeed. I may need a few more years of experience under my belt, but I’ll DEFINITELY aim for that goal.
      Whatever I decide, I think a Happy Hour is awaiting us, either in Barcelona or in SF (or alternatively, SB).

  • I say you haven’t REALLY lived until you’ve joined a traveling circus. So until that happens, we can’t get through another day without your Instagrammed pics of spanish pork products!

    Seriously, follow your dream and commit to your passion. Success has a way of finding happy people.

    • So my third option is….join the circus? Haha Brad, I think that’s more along YOUR style of travel. I’ll watch from the sidelines with a glass of sangria.
      Love that last line. Really inspiring.

  • I lived abroad from 23-26 and loved it! My vote is for stay abroad and enjoy the experience! :D Can’t wait to see what you have planned!

    • Thanks for the input, Chanel….were you ever ambivalent during your time abroad? Or did you just think, NYC (or wherever) will be waiting for you when you returned?

      • For me I felt that NYC would be waiting for me when I returned (and in fact not much had changed in the actual city; the biggest thing that I hated was missing out on my friends and families important life events).

  • Beth

    I completely agree with Anne! Spend one more year abroad while you can. I think you’ll regret it if you don’t! Either way I’m looking forward to seeing where you end up and following along!

    • I think I’m leaning that way. You can let me know your final thoughts once you hit Barcelona in a few days (weeks?) :) Scope out an apartment for me while you’re there?

      • Beth

        I’ll be there next Wednesday! It’s the last stop on our trip, so I hope it’s awesome :)
        I’ll see what I can find for you haha

  • Katie Aune

    I only wish I’d been in a place to make this kind of decision when I was 23. Go for it now. No decision is final. If you move back to Barcelona and hate it, go back to San Francisco. Or somewhere else. Ayngelina Brogan recently wrote a post about what she’s learned through travel and #1 was that no big life decision has to be a final decision – it’s just a decision until the next big life decision comes along.

    • Wow that is a GREAT way to look at it. And so true. I’d expect nothing less coming from the great fountain of wisdom and knowledge that is Ayngelina. Thanks for sharing that with me—and I agree, in the grand scheme of things it’s a fantastic decision to have at 23.

  • lindsaypunk

    Man, I thought I was only doomed for one quarter-life crisis – but as it turns out, you can have several! (So, you know, you have that to look forward to :P)

    If there’s anything I’ve learned through the ones I’ve had thus far, it’s that you need to learn to listen to your gut and do what makes you happy. Where do you think you’ll be happier? Where do you think you’ll best be able to do the things you want to do? (e.g. write, not be piss poor, galavant around foreign lands). There’s nothing worse than doing something because you feel you *have to*, when it’s not truly the thing you WANT to do.

    Another thing to consider is opportunity. If you choose Option A, will Option B still be viable further down the road? Would you be giving up some awesome opportunity by choosing one over the other?

    I’m torn on the vote, but I think only you can make this call for yourself. No matter what, I’m eager to see what happens next for you! :D

    • Anne

      DUDE Lindsay – I also have had several quarter-life crises (see my latest post haha) and I really, really echo what you said about listening to your gut and doing what makes you happy. *cough SF*
      You the bomb, girl!!!

      • lindsaypunk

        Now, if only I could follow my own advice! Easier said than done :(

        Right back atcha, sista! :D

        • Anne

          You are living it, girl! One foot in front of the other… :D

    • Ha I hope this post doesn’t come off as too whiny, because it’s a pretty good quarter-life crisis to have.
      Good advice about listening to the gut. Mine is currently telling me I need ice cream, and also that, ya, I’d probably kick myself if I didn’t take advantage of opportunities to live abroad while I’m young.
      But when I do move to SF, I’m dragging you out of NY and we are getting an overpriced but rent-controlled apartment one block down from Anne.

  • Anne

    Hahaha! Dear twin…

    a) I love this post.
    b) You’re on the radio. You’re famous now.
    c) How cruel to make your readers choose between two of the very finest cities on this planet.
    d) Can my readers also help me make life decisions please!?

    The way you’ve phrased it in the poll, I’d say you’d be a giant ball of sad regret if you passed up a year in BCN. And this is coming from the girl who is so firmly planted/obsessed with your other option.

    You’re 23. Get your fine behind to Spain. SF (and I) will be here, girl! Can’t wait to visit/follow along.