Should I return from Europe?

I lost my great expat job. Now I'm proofreading e-mails. Maybe it's time to come back to the States

Published August 18, 2009 10:18AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

After graduating from college, I had the lucky opportunity to spend a year working in Europe. It was an amazing time: I made some of the best friends of my life, traveled throughout the continent and picked up some language skills. The job was not perfect but it was a dream first job: I was able to be creative every day, was allowed to do work according to my ability and performance, and was treated well by both my manager and my colleagues. It wasn't something I took just so I could live abroad; it was a "real job" in my field of interest (media, communications). Unfortunately I was working for a company hit hard by the crisis so my contract wasn't renewed, but I was so hell-bent on extending my positive experience that I found a job in another European country with another large multinational.

Now I'm three months in, and I really can't stand my job. First of all, my current role wasn't at all what I signed up for. Second, I'm not challenged intellectually. I have already talked to my manager, her manager and the head of H.R. about giving me more challenging work (or even just more work in general -- I'm underused). Nothing has been done and my suggestions were not taken seriously. I'm still proofreading e-mails.

Here's the thing: I already have plane tickets to come to the U.S. for Christmas, and I could just use that opportunity to stay for good. I'm thinking of grad school. I'm thinking of moving to New York and being a part of this newfangled media revolution. I'm thinking of anything that will give me a life where I'm asked to use my brain.

Other than work, my life is worry-free -- I already have a great set of friends, a comfortable place to live, a fantastic city to call home, and a country with friendly locals.

In general I like living abroad -- I meet lots of interesting people I wouldn't otherwise and it's great fodder for writing material (so far just a hobby of mine). The only downside is that constantly moving around means I don't have roots anywhere, but at 23 I'm not so concerned about that yet.

My main concern with returning is that I may never have the chance to live here again, at least not while I'm young and relatively free to move. I've noticed that many expats past the "reasonable age of settling down" have a harder time adjusting to life in a foreign country, so I'd rather do this while I'm young. Plus, I really hate to pass up the chance to learn another language.

Should I call it quits and return to the motherland or try to stick it out across the pond and hope the situation improves?

Young Expat

Dear Young Expat,

Imagine a computer with access to vast histories and probabilities, to unmapped areas of cause and consequence, across countries and economies, across time and dimensions, attuned to particles, waves and forces too subtle for us to recognize but which must be factored in if we are to know the future.

Imagine, in fact, that this computer can actually mimic life functions -- not only mimic life functions, but perform them; that it can orchestrate and direct and maintain life functions, amazing as that seems.

Imagine that this thing is something like your brain, except that we can no more deduce your brain's functioning by observing from outside any more than we can deduce the functioning of a microchip by looking at the microchip. We must experience its functioning. We must obey, experimentally at least, its directives to test its amazing powers.

Imagine this computer is within you. What would it tell you? Where would it direct you? Would it tell you to stay in Europe? Or would it suggest -- as it apparently already has, in its way, by offering you some ideas -- that your next step is to return to the U.S. for Christmas, apply for grad schools, and move to New York -- not necessarily in that order.

Why is it telling you to do these things? Could it be that while you have been having a good time this unfathomably complex and fast computer has been doing the calculations? Could it be that it has already tapped into its sources and provided an answer?

Let's assume that while you have been busy, this computer has been watching, has taken note of movements in the air too subtle to feel on the hairs of your arm but significant enough to affect your future, and it has the best possible answers to your question.

It is your on-board computer. I would listen to it. It may take you off the beaten path. But trust it. It's done pretty well so far.

It will not be right all the time. There are forces in the universe beyond all calculation. There is accident. There is the unknowable: Storms grow with incalculable complexity out of the sun's anarchic power.

But we do the best we can with our models and our forecasting.

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Listen to your on-board computer. It's telling you which way to turn.

Got a tough decision to make? There's stuff in here about that.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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