Should I stay or should I go?
January 15, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Do I choose financial security over liking the country I live in, if I can't have both?

To put it as briefly as I can:

I was born and raised in the US by parents who immigrated from... let's call it Krakozhia. Since last year, I work from home in Krakozhia for my US-based employer, and earn my same US salary. I'm a dual citizen.

This is great, because:
- The cost of living for me here is like 20% of what it is in the US, so I can squirrel away quite a bit of money (no small feat these days). If I cut costs even more aggressively I could probably save %75 of my income.
- I work from home, which can have downsides but is largely pretty great.
- My parents (I'm 24) and most of my extended family are in this country, and I appreciate having them.

As to what's not so great:
- I really, really do not enjoy day-to-day life here in Krakozhia. I hate the air pollution, the crappy electronics, the music, the everything. I wouldn't miss it if I were gone for good.
- I have zero friends or social life here, and not for lack of trying, but it's just 100X more difficult and less enjoyable here, for a whole 'nother list of reasons (such as religious conservatism, which doesn't sit well with this atheist). It's terribly lonely.
- I'm a 24 y.o. female, and imagine what it would be like if by 30 I had a decent amount of money set aside, but no friends, social life, or relationship to speak of. Can't say I look forward to that future.

So... part of me wants to throw caution to the wind, and go back to the US (even if unemployed) to whatever part of the country interests me, so I can enjoy the place I live in (and find a friend/boyfriend who can sustain whole conversations made up of nothing but Simpsons references, which don't fly in Krakozhia). And yet, another part of me thinks I'd be a damn fool to pass up the kind of financial/job security that, these days, is getting harder to come by. I'd sure hate being back in America and lonely and broke (instead of just lonely). The most practical solution is to find a way of enjoying life here, but that's been exceptionally difficulty (not even a single fellow American within like 200 miles of me that I know of).

Suggestions? Anecdotes? Thanks!!
posted by Foggy Notion to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to your employer and asked them if you can be transferred to a job in the US? Maybe not immediately, but maybe in a year or whatever?
posted by Segundus at 8:16 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

How would you be unemployed if you moved back to the US? You say you presently have a job working for a US company?

As to the environment in which you live, don't consider how much money you earn right now at 24 but how much money you can earn further down the road. It sounds like, from your description, the US would be more friendly to your labor prospects years hence; therefore, I would choose it over your home country.

Especially if you have no social life there and find it hard to make friends.

But then I am a native born US citizen so it is easy for me to give this advice.
posted by dfriedman at 8:18 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you tell us what your work experience is? Because honestly, a hard working 24 year old with (what sounds like) a couple languages and a couple of years of professional experience of something, really shouldn't have trouble finding a decent job in an American city.

I'd worry less about job security and more about your 20's being a good time to be finding your life partner - go where that's likely to happen.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:22 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Segundus:
Have you talked to your employer and asked them if you can be transferred to a job in the US?

I haven't brought it up yet, mainly because they would be fairly upset at the prospect of losing a site abroad. And, I didn't much like the city I worked in there. That, and, the amount I earned with them was actually just so-so in the US (but goes a very long way here), and I certainly couldn't save up thousands a year.

But then I am a native born US citizen so it is easy for me to give this advice.

I'm a dual citizen, US-born, and can come and go as I please, thankfully not an issue!

Can you tell us what your work experience is?

I do something in translations, and was a liberal arts major from a decent college. So, I'm well-suited to those jobs that liberal arts types do well in, which are fairly scarce. But maybe things'll improve eventually? Though, probably not enough that I'd ever be able to save like $15k a year like I do here.
posted by Foggy Notion at 8:28 AM on January 15, 2012

Best answer: If I were in your shoes, I would start right now aggressively saving money for a year (at that 75% income rate you mentioned above) and aim to move to the US at 25. That's not throwing caution to the wind if you spend that year actively researching jobs, places to live, etc. and are completely ready to move responsibly at that time. Even though your grew up in the US, you may find a difficult transition ahead of you. Perhaps start looking at places in the US where there are significant populations of immigrant Krakozhians. You may find friends your age with similar experiences, which makes for quick common ground.
posted by juniperesque at 8:28 AM on January 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I agree with juniperesque, and after that year tell your employer you'd like to move back and continue to work for them. They might be upset but if they like you (work really hard during that year!) then hopefully they'll find something you can do stateside. With a pot of savings and a salary that pays your living expenses already at 25 you'll be all set.
posted by hazyjane at 8:41 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look on this as temporary, and as an experience that is teaching you what you want and where you ultimately want to be in life. Such things are good to figure out in your early twenties, though painful in the short run, not the least of which because of the family ties you have.

My mother emigrated from Germany with her family when she was six. She always had a bit of trouble knowing where she fit - was she German or American. Then, my father had the opportunity to work in Germany for several years when she was in her early thirties. Once she actually lived in Germany, she really finally realized that she was American culturally, not German, and that that was where she ultimately fit best. She found this realization really eye opening and liberating and felt she could appreciate the good parts of her background without having it as her whole identity, and could carve out her own identity independent of her background, family, etc..

So, it seems to me that this experience living in Krakozhia has given you the same basic insight, and has helped you clarify what you want. You need to realign your thinking a bit and look on this as a temporary situation, despite your parents and relatives in Krakozhia. You are working abroad with the goal of this experience being temporary, and your goal should be both to save as much money as you can, and also to garner work experience and other skills that will ultimately aid you in getting a position either in the U.S. or in a country that fits you better.

Don't quit and leave Krakozhia without having a job to go to. Start trying to think of what types of jobs you could ultimately aim for, and try to boost the skills you have to position yourself better to get them. If you want to stay with your current employer, again try to work toward making yourself more valuable to them by the skills you garner while in Krakozhia. It should help your morale a bit to work toward a goal and to think of this situation like a study abroad kind of thing ... only temporary.

Also, there have to be at least some American or other foreign expats in your city. Try finding some activities that enable you to interact with people who are also perhaps feeling out of place in Krakozhia the way you are.
posted by gudrun at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The situation you are in is long-term unacceptable but has short term appeal. The danger is that you'll keep saying to yourself "just a little longer" and then wake up one day and realize you are now old. (And I don't mean old, "not a kid any more" - I mean old "people my age have grand kids.

So, everything juniperesque says about research and savings, but pick a deadline for yourself. And think seriously about expenses beyond rent and utilities. Particularly a car and furniture and such that you'll need shortly after you get back.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:56 AM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

While what juniperesque and hazyjane make good sense, you can add one more thing to do in this extra year - start looking at where in the US you'd like to move to, what current costs are like, how much would you need if you were hypothetically unemployed for a whole year and if your extra savings by age 25 don't cover that amount but say 4 or 6 months more does or some such number, then be open to the need to stay on a little more. But once you give yourself a goal for which you're choosing to continue living in this location, it will make the interim time easier also to bear with.
posted by infini at 8:56 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd save like fuck for the next 2 years and then look at other opportunities in the US.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing everyone: save up like crazy while you can and spend effort researching and planning your future return, set yourself a deadline and don't come back without a job or a plan. You're young and will still have lots of time to make meaningful relationships even if you stayed away 2 or 3 years. I know from experience this can feel like forever, and the frustration of feeling you're wasting your "life-building" energy living in a country where you know you're not going to settle long-term. But, you're nowhere near 30 year and having a nice amount of savings will allow you to pursue education when you get back to make you more appealing to employers, or take low-paying, career-building positions without stressing too much. Also, it allows you to do these things in order to try out new fields if you're still figuring out your career.

In the meantime, I encourage you to make the most of your family's company, travel in your region and maybe even experiment with online dating or keeping in touch with old friends via regular emails to fill some of that social void (maybe it might lead to real friendships or relationships in the U.S., or not, it might just help keep you sane.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:43 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another thought - contact old friends from the states, tell them what you're up to and say something like "the cost of living here is great - but I'm going to go crazy if I stay here too much longer and ask how they feel about where they are. People will tend to be more responsive if you're planning a next move than if they feel like you're begging them to set you up with a job and they might clue you in to things you wouldn't have considered on your own.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:51 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I moved from Luxembourg to the UK in my mid-twenties cuz I hated it there. I make a LOT less money here than I would have done over there, but I wouldn't ever move back (well, or I'd have to get really desperate). I do think sometimes that objectively I made a stupid choice, but meh. I love living here and, at least to me, that is worth way more than financial security (much to the chagrin of my mum and grandmother). Ultimately it's a very personal choice tho.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:20 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Start saving; and then arrange a transfer back to the US within your current company - the idea would be to have you here and employed while you look for a better paying/better located job, which would be worlds better than quitting and then looking while you're unemployed.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:41 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Save now. Save as much as you can.

Pick an arbitrary or symbolic deadline to leave -- perhaps 26?

Instead of simply moving back to the US, take your money and travel the world OR do something that will further your career in a meaningful and lasting way. If I were you, I would do both.

Travel for 6 months, then go to grad school or do an apprenticeship.
posted by cior at 11:46 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I echo the suggestions for staying put for another year or so and saving like crazy.
Establishing a healthy nest egg is hard and having it will give you more freedom in the long run.

In the meantime you can explore/plan your move back to the states. You might want to consider on-line training if it could improve your job options. You have the time and it would increase your network.

Have you considered starting a blog about the country you are in? Your background and language ability puts you in a nice position of being able to demystify much which travelers find confusing. Posts on regional/seasonal foods, explanations of how produce shopping works, best way to travel from point a to point b, interesting towns outside of the usual tourist areas, etc. Research for this project would orient you to exploring more of the pluses. Answering readers questions could put you in touch with new people. It could even turn into a chance to lead day or weekend tours and be able to interact with new people face to face.

Ultimately the most important thing is to make a plan. Without one you will feel discouraged. Once you have a plan things will feel hopeful and the satisfaction of working towards the future will make the year or so fly by.
posted by cat_link at 12:30 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

- I'm a 24 y.o. female, and imagine what it would be like if by 30 I had a decent amount of money set aside, but no friends, social life, or relationship to speak of. Can't say I look forward to that future.

30 is still pretty young. (I'm not just saying this because I'm 29. :)) But maybe, as others have said, don't wait until you're 30. Save very aggressively for 2-3 years if you can stomach it that long. Moving back to the US with 15-45k in the bank will make being unemployed while you look for a new job much less of a burden.

Lots of 20-somethings head overseas without their friends or family to work or volunteer for a couple of years, and yeah they miss out on social lives as you have. It can be tough, but rewarding in its on right. Don't worry too much--you are still young enough to start over completely. You'll just have a leg up with all the cash you're banking now!
posted by asciident at 12:57 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with everyone above - it's all about getting the right mindset. You could tell yourself that you're 'working in a place you hate because you might be unemployed in the US'. But that's just going to make your stressed and miserable. Reframe it - you are saving heavily for a limited period so that you can have a fantastic life from 26/27 (or whatever) onwards. Combine that with getting/stay in shape physically, culturally and mentally so when you go back you will be ready to jump into the dating pool with lots of confidence.

I've lived in places I didn't love for the money and it was miserable at times, but I knew I wasn't going to be there forever and had a fairly clear path out. As others have said, you need to be saving for some specific goals (even if they change down the line). A trip around the world? Enough money to set yourself up securely in the US city of your choice? Some sort of training course that will enable you to jump up to the next rung of the career ladder?

In terms of making the most of where you are, you do need company. Maybe there really are no other foreigners within 200 miles of where you live, but even if there's just one sweaty 50-something German engineer, s/he could be a real lifeline for blowing off steam about day-to-day annoyances. And somewhere there's got to be other young people who feel the same about your country as you do. Where do they meet? What are their hobbies? Failing that, how long does it take to get to the nearest big city with other non-Krakozs? Can you make the trip there regularly as a mental health break? Sorry, I'm sure I'm making it sound a lot easier than it is, but you mentioned air pollution and I can't think of anywhere industrialised where there aren't pockets of life.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:33 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ack, how'd I put this in human relations...

Thank you for giving me some perspective, filterites, you've inspired me to see the bright side! There's plenty here I hadn't completely considered. It's probably worth it to stick it out for a couple of years and work on some real, concrete plans for the future back home later on, America will still be waiting for me. And thanks for sharing about your mother, gudrun, that is pretty much exactly what it's been like.
posted by Foggy Notion at 2:00 PM on January 15, 2012

I had a thought for finding like-minded people to vent with while you're in Krakozhia: Use the internet to find other atheists. They must exist, they probably just don't talk about it for fear of judgement. Perhaps there is an atheist club somewhere you can get to once a month just to blow off steam and meet people are are likely to be more socially liberal. Another option would be to look for liberal political youth groups or something, if that's a safe thing to do where you live. Or maybe movie clubs? Some other kind of club where the members might be more interested in American culture. You might find people you have more in common with in settings like that.
Good luck!
posted by JuliaIglesias at 3:57 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've spent 13 of the last 15 years in Korea after wandering the planet for the decade before that. I don't really have any great love for living here, but it has provided some degree of financial security.

Some things I gained from the choices I made, some things I gave up. In the end, as with all things, you need to decide what you really value, and how much, and weigh your decisions accordingly. And also to realize that whatever decisions we make, the outcome is as much dependant on our mindset about our lives as the details of our daily existence.

If I'd come here in my twenties, there's no way I would have stayed for this long, but I am married, I am less interested in wandering and socializing than I once was -- not at all, basically -- and the quiet life both my wife and I prefer isn't really very dependant on location.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:21 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there any kind of expat community where you live now? In most major foreign cities, there are places where folks from abroad congregate and speak English and reminisce about peanut butter and talk about the Simpsons and whatnot. If such a thing might exist in your city, see if you can find out where it might be. I'm not saying you have to stay where you live now, but if you decide to stick it out for a while, it might be more fun to have other Americans to share it with. And I bet they'd be delighted to hang out with an American who also knows more about the local culture than they do.
posted by decathecting at 6:43 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: About clubs and expat communities: very good suggestions! Though, I've unfortunately not really been able to find much of anything online after much searching. Not a single expat forum with a mention of an area near here, or groups I could join in that aren't strictly for the college students here. Have to keep looking, though, surely something of interest will come up eventually.
posted by Foggy Notion at 11:21 PM on January 15, 2012

Are there any nicer cities in Krakozhia that you could move to? Or if it's a small country, any countries around Krakozhia that are better? That way you would be able to be in the region... Hmmm.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:13 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Ms. Moonlight, that's certainly a possibility to improve things! I seriously consider it, the only limitation being that my entire extended family is in this spot and would frown upon it, to say the least (a young woman in a strange town with no family around is generally going to be found out pretty quickly, somehow, and sadly may not be entirely safe). Living on a whole 'nother continent is oddly less risky than moving to another town in the same country.
posted by Foggy Notion at 4:24 AM on January 16, 2012

Best answer: After thinking about this a bit, and considering your answers and the answers of others, I will throw a few suggestions your way.

I think cat_link has some good thoughts about a possible travel or other blog. You could also decide to focus on something specific. A local blogger in my area decided to ride and blog about all the subway and bus lines in the area, for example. Are there any regional specialties, food, music, folk crafts, traditional foods, etc. you could get interested in and blog about?

If there are no existing expat groups in your city then you may need to start one! (Simpsons dvd viewing???, English language book club ????, you just want something likely to appeal to like minded individuals.)

Also, can you take a class or two at the local university? It would have the dual effect of getting you some further training that might help your career, and also would give you access to university facilities and activities.

Start doing some things based on the idea that you will be leaving the country in a year or two. So, perhaps, work on a family genealogy with photos, and also maybe oral history stuff by interviewing the elders in the family. Put it all together for yourself and other family members. Start gathering recipes of your favorite stuff. If great aunt x always brings a special dish to family events then you want to know how to make it. If, like with a lot of people, there is no written recipe, then work with them to make it and write down the recipe and maybe film the making as well. Put together a family cookbook out of what you get. (My grandmother's multiple layer cake recipe died with her, to my mother's and my eternal regret. I'm so glad I got Mom's potato pancake recipe and made it with her a few times.)

You could try volunteering somewhere. Even a country without a tradition of volunteering usually has something like Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Is your city big enough to have an American embassy, consulate, or any official outlet that might be able to use some translation help? If not U.S., how about any other English speaking countries - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland?

My cousin-in-law has worked for the Peace Corps for a number of years in some pretty remote areas sometimes (Rwanda!). Her husband is along for the ride, and some of the suggestions above are based on things that he has done in various countries over the years.

In addition to what I mention above, he has gotten in to digital photography and gotten really good at it. He blogs in a way, but only privately, sending periodic group emails and photos to friends and family He also has done some bird watching/photography (even cities have birds). When he has lived in highly religious countries he has photographed churches/mosques (at least the exteriors), since some of the architecture and ornamentation are quite spectacular. You don't need to be religious yourself to respect and document the architecture/traditions.

Anyway, these are some thoughts on what you might do while you are still in Krakozhia but saving your money and positioning yourself to move on.

Oh, and when you do leave, be prepared to be homesick for the place and your family ... this is part of the deal when being bi-cultural. At least these days it is much more easy to stay in touch and go back and visit. (When my grandparents left Germany, they had no idea if they would ever be able to go back, there was no email, transatlantic phone calls were in their infancy and not really feasible for poor immigrants, and and indeed it was 26+ years before they could swing getting back there, and many friends and relatives had died in the meantime. Let's not even begin to mention the part about a World War where the home country was the instigator and enemy and was universally hated!)
posted by gudrun at 10:29 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, that's quite a lot of suggestions for making it a bit more bearable here in the meantime, thanks, gudrun. I should probably make the most of being with extended family all in one place, not to mention volunteering (which is a great thing to do in any case). Glad you could get that recipe :)
posted by Foggy Notion at 8:43 AM on January 18, 2012

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