Monday, January 20, 2014

Spain from the perspective of a Spanish immigrant

Nowadays, the issue of the forced emigration of the young, educated people in Spain is in the forefront of everyone's thoughts. It is almost always seen as a tragedy, a sign that the country is on the verge of collapse, that we do not know how to keep this ship afloat and now the young generations, those that truly make up the future of the country, are compelled to move on and seek a future elsewhere. I myself am one of those exiled, and this has allowed me to be able to compare first-hand the Spanish society with others that are considered to be "more successful".

A year and a half ago, I was given the opportunity to leave Spain to study in the United States, thanks to a scholarship that I received. Unlike many, I did not see myself as being forced to leave, but more as an experience that would allow me to complete my academic training, learn English, become familiar with one of the world's largest super powers, meet people and have a good time. Nevertheless, now that I am abroad, I have not returned to Spain for the same reason that so many others allegedly want to leave for. According to many people, I am very fortunate. I did not always agree with this, but little by little, I am realizing that they are right.

This is not Spain
During the first few weeks after my arrival, I was the type of person that defended my country as the best country in the entire world. It shocked me when people did not know Spain, or when they only did because of certain clichés that always were the same: Was I a fan of Real Madrid or Barcelona?; the running of the bulls in San Fermín; and the fiestas.

All the while, I was in my own bubble, boasting about our food, our customs, our parties and our weather. I sometimes even felt pity for them, that they had not had the opportunity to experience anything so authentic. Their society appeared so superficial to me, so focused on work that personal relationships fell to the wayside.

To me, they seemed so backwards and nonsensible on certain issues. The subject of the legality of firearms surprised me a lot. During my time there, several incidents occurred in other cities in the country in which there were shootings and killings in schools and other public places. To me, these seemed as if they should be the final straws that broke the camel's back. It was obvious that there should be a ban on guns! It was then that I discovered that many Americans continued to defend the right to bear arms with arguments such as, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people", or "We should be focusing more on the issue of mental health than on the prohibition of firearms.". All of it seemed so ridiculous to me.

Even the university disappointed me a little. The quality of the professors and students did not seem to be that much better than of those in Spain. The university was like an ecosystem that consumed their entire life: there were student groups of every type imaginable, campus events every day, people proudly dressed in t-shirts and with accessories sporting the university's logo, an incredible football stadium, a movie theatre, bowling alley, etc. There was a lot more money and resources being used. But in regards to the quality of the education, it seemed comparable to Spain. I have always said that when I was offered my current job, it was thanks to what I was taught in Spain, not in the United States.

I counted the hours until I could return to Spain for Christmas. My family, my friends, my customs. My mother consoled me by telling me it would only be for 9 months. I want to make clear that it was not because I was having a bad time, but simply because I missed my home and country so much. Besides that, I have always been a nostalgic person.

"Well yes, Spain is in crisis and there is no work, but how well they live there. The Americans don't know what they're missing. We work as hard as we play. The newspapers talk about corruption, things that were poorly done, errors from the past that we are paying for today. Just because there were a few idiots who didn't know how to run the country in the last few years, does not mean we are not still a good country. We'll get out of this."

Finally I arrived back in Spain and spent a memorable Christmas break there. The whole world was waiting for me, and I for them. I was the prodigal son come home, everyone asking me about the United States, wanting to know about this country they only knew of from movies. I arrived with my vision that "the United States is overrated".

I returned to the U.S. for the second semester. I had to study and work a lot, but it was much easier because I already had my group of friends, I was more accustomed to the country, and the weather finally started improving. At the end of June, I presented my final project for the master's degree. I enjoyed my last few weeks there and then left for Spain. I enjoyed a marvelous summer, passing the time in the company of friends and traveling. This was when my thinking began to change and I started noticing certain defects in the Spanish society, in ways that favored the American society. "Perhaps my country isn't so perfect".

Starting my job
At the beginning of October, I moved to my new city of refuge, Seattle, and began working in my current job position. Things still reminded me of Spain, but not with such force, nor do I still think of returning in the near future. At first, it seemed unbelievable to me that when I asked certain people if they were excited to return to Spain, they said no. How could they live without our beer, our paella, our ham or our parties? But now I am starting to see the greatest weaknesses of our country in respect to other societies. They are more respectful of their civic duty, attentive to their obligations, among other things, and have a strong sense of what is right and wrong. They do not share the same common way of thinking we have in Spain, of "I will take advantage of the situation as long as I can, I don't care what is left for others", or at least not as much.

More and more I come to think that Spain is nothing more than a tiny little country, happy with all of its peculiarities. I no longer feel as if it is the only world, or even my world. If we really want to be the best country in the world, as many claim, there are a few things that need to change, and I'm not just referring to political changes, but to the society as a whole. Because after all, our politics are just a reflection of who we are as a society, and that's something we need to come to terms with sooner rather than later.

For starters, we have very little ambition in Spain. We are very critical when our politicians mess something up; "Because of them, I'm out of a job!" we begin to denounce at 1 am with a drink in our hand. But of course, the next morning, we will not be getting out of bed before 11 am. We all want a stable job without complications. The idea of choosing a career path, learning as much as we can, working to gain experience, aiming higher and higher with our goals…that implies too much effort.

I've come to realize that if Spain is at the bottom of the rankings for education, it is not so much because of the quality of the universities and information they impart upon us, but has more to do with the attitudes of the students. This is going to be a very unpopular opinion, but it's true. The average American student is forced into debt just to pay for their university education. Even though this leads to a lot of inconveniences, it gives them an important advantage: it makes them more responsible and mature. It's common for them to have several part-time jobs, while at the same time continuing their studies, volunteering, and maintaining a social life. They're not in the habit of waking up later than 8 am, and their goal in college is to gain as much real-life work experience and as many relevant internships in the field as they can before graduating. Most of these jobs are not even paid. Unfortunately, I can't help but smile to myself every time I hear a story about a Spanish student who had to work to pay for their education. Personally, I have never met a single one. A student in the United States can graduate from the university with an average debt of 30,000 dollars, easily. Instead of complaining about it, they work to pay it off. One could argue that in Spain, we don't have as many job opportunities. The truth is, they have them because they earn them every single day.

The three months of vacation that the Spanish students take would be scandalous for an American student. If they are not looking for courses in foreign universities to go abroad and learn another language during this time, they are seeking out internships or summer jobs in this field or that. Or even traveling, which can always be an enriching and enlightening experience.

Furthermore, there's a general lack of entrepreneurial spirit among Spanish youth when searching for work. We lack the type of attitude that says, "If there's no work in my city, I'll move to a bigger one. If I don't know how to do the type of work that's available, I'll learn it. Even if I have to move to a different country, well then I'll learn English." Unfortunately, the attitude we tend to find in Spain is one of, "It's the politicians' fault that I don't have work", and that's the way it remains.

The world is ever more connected and growing smaller all the time. We are a country with a lot of culture and charm. Why don't we export it? We could easily sell our good qualities in any part of the world. But obviously, it's much more convenient to continue waiting on our doorstops for the crisis to expire and for a divine messenger to come offer us the job of our dreams.

Maybe we just need that little push of motivation to fully believe in ourselves.