a better life abroad?

Sheltering in the States

Crisis-hit Spaniards are increasingly finding that America is still the land of opportunity But only the well prepared will find all that they desire

Arantxa Cayón, above, moved to Washington DC in 2011.
Arantxa Cayón, above, moved to Washington DC in 2011.C. G.

Data from Spain's census show 78,000 Spanish residents in the United States in 2013. This conservative figure represents a 57-percent increase since 2008. But data handled by the US Census Bureau raise that number to more than half-a-million.

Many of these Spaniards live in Washington DC. The following are five stories of Spaniards who came here after 2008, year one of the economic crisis.

Félix Monguilot was born in Cartagena, Murcia province, 34 years ago, and has been living in DC since 2011. A student of art history, he arrived in the city on a scholarship from the Culture Ministry and has now obtained a Samuel H Kress Interpretive Fellowship, which allows him to work for the department of Italian and Spanish painting at the National Gallery of Art. "Working and living here entails facing major differences with Europe, on health or bureaucracy issues, for instance," he notes.

But Monguilot does not hesitate to recommend coming here to anyone who might be thinking about it. "They might have the chance to work in their field of expertise, although they also have to accept that living here means making sacrifices. And it takes a really high level of training and studies."

Spain has a lost generation; people will settle where they are working now"

"I got here after getting an offer from the Panamerican Health Organization for a position I'd been working toward for the last five years," explains Arantxa Cayón, 41, who moved to Washington in 2011. "This is the second time I have left Spain; before this I worked in Mexico. I returned to Madrid in 2010 for family reasons and to obtain a master's degree in public health. I worked for a few months, then got this opportunity.

"To me, the main advantage of living in the US is being independent. When I returned to Spain I had to move back in with my parents, while here I make enough to live on my own," she adds, walking beside the canals of Georgetown University.

Not everything is rosy, of course. "There are many moments when you feel all alone; it's very hard to meet people here, and when you need some company the most, like when you get sick, it is very hard to find support. Likewise, it's tough being far from your relatives when one of them gets sick."

Yet Cayón is ruling out returning to Spain for now. "I would rather keep progressing professionally here," she says, although she is not ruling out seeking opportunities in Latin America if the doors were to close on her here.

People with an average degree have a hard time finding a job in the States"

To future expats, she has the following words of advice: "First, look for a job. Don't come on the off-chance of finding something; prepare for it, seek out whatever it is you are good at, and above all, be prepared to deal with frustration."

Sonia Villapol, a 35-year-old neuroscientist, was born in the Galician village of Bretoña. She now works for the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine in Bethesda and for the National Institutes of Health. She came here in July 2010, looking for a job opportunity after living in Paris. In her case, personal circumstances had a lot to do with the decision to move here with her husband and four-year-old daughter. "My husband is American," she explains.

"I am a scientist, and for me as for many others like myself, labor conditions in Spain were not ideal. Over here you have lots of options. They respect education and training, and they value us. Spain has a significant problem with this brain drain; we will not be content with returning to a lower level."

Villapol believes that leaving is the best option for young Spaniards with professional ambitions. "They shouldn't wait for the country to change; they will have to change first before Spain itself can change. Their resumes are their letters of presentation. And of course you need to show enthusiasm, because there is a very competitive market out here with lots of people coming in from abroad."

Anna Domingo is a business specialist who liaises with multilateral organizations for Delegación Acc10, an agency of the Catalan regional government. She arrived here in 2012. Her partner, Raúl Blanco, is a computer engineer who has been in the US for a few months. Domingo was transferred to DC by her Barcelona-based company, with the same conditions, "although the working day is more concentrated here."

Raúl decided to quit his job to join her. "It was a bit complicated because of the visa issue; it took me six months to get a resident visa and four more for the working visa," he explains. "But I've been pretty lucky - I've already had three jobs. I've been a science teacher, I've taught Spanish, and a week ago I started working as a computer engineer."

"I think that working abroad is a very beneficial thing. Any experience we gain here will be very valuable, but something needs to happen in the Spanish job market before we can find the same jobs and the same salaries we have here," says Domingo. "We've been in a crisis for five years and things don't seem to be getting any better, so I believe there's going to be a lost generation; people will settle down in the countries where they are working right now," says Blanco, before adding: "The first thing someone should do if they want to come to this country is gather information. There are lots of different visas and you need to know which one you need for each case."

Vanessa Moreno is in the US out of love - and out of a job, too. "I got here in December 2012 with my partner; he found a job here and I've been trying to get something, but I am running into some hurdles. First, there's the visas. Either you come with a work visa, which is very hard to get because normally they give them to people with a lot of experience, or else if you don't have one and you don't have a lot of experience, the US is not the right place. It's really hard to get sponsored," says this young woman from Seville.

"People with an average degree, not too brilliant, let's say a normal one, are going to have a hard time finding a job in the US, because it costs companies money to train you," adds Vanessa. "An option for these people are cultural exchanges to help them improve their resume and learn a language. It's a very good option and you can stay here two years, although afterwards you cannot return to do the same thing.

"And then there are the people with university degrees and PhDs in engineering and science, who do have a place here," she concludes. "To both groups I would say: first look for a job in Spain, because coming here on the off-chance of finding something is very difficult."

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