Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spanish Quicksand

"You have to get out of here. There's nothing in Spain for you. Spain is a big bar". I discarded my father's wise words with my typical millennial arrogance, as I kept on browsing at potential homes in my hometown, León. I could make it anywhere I proposed myself to; and I would pull Spain out of its deep crisis out of sheer willpower and idealism. Back to my home search, I found three very acceptable choices to set my royal headquarters on:

Option 1: a 300sqft attic with a big living room and separate bedroom and office. Only 300€ per month!
A rural setting, 10 minutes from downtown. Downside? I'd need a car... and a septic tank.
Fantastic location, garage, and easy to divide and sublet. Expensive, but a good bet for the long term.

A few days after my decision, I was told option #1 (the safest, most practical one) was being withdrawn from the market. My father had all money tied up in the upcoming Lion Beer Festival, as I did with the recent Mercedes Gelandewagen export adventure. I could not live in my father's spare room forever, so I started one of the most demoralizing endeavors to ever grace these times: a job hunt in Spain. I started with the local classifieds, inquiring on anything from English classes to car washes. In four weeks I got zero replies. I followed on to personal contacts, which led me to a company that could offer me an unpaid internship with the option of a job "when the capital starts flowing in from investors" —which, to this very day, hasn't.

In order to reduce my anxiety and not be a burden to my father, I re-packed my scarce belongings and rode two hours North to a shabby vacation property that my family has had for over 10 years in Gijón. That way I could take the time to step back, take a deep breath and apply for jobs in and out of Spain. I had not given up the ghost just yet.

Gorgeous coastline of Gijón, during peak season. In the cold months I have it all to myself!
This tiny apartment looks WAY better than it is. Kitchen, bedroom and bathroom are not shown.

As I fixed the numerous imperfections in the property (broken furniture, leaky toilet, suspicious stains, blinds, lamps, electrical sockets, bathroom fixtures...), I spend a good part of six months applying to hundreds of jobs locally and abroad, including all of the following:
—English tutor
—Art teacher
—Graphic designer
—Hotel receptionist
—Interior decorator
—Cruise ship dishwasher
—Onboard cook 
—Automotive exporter
—Jewelry sales assistant
—Light/Sound guy
—Phone telemarketer
—Live show performer
—Art auctioneer
—Car salesman
—Tour guide
—Radio host

In total, I wrote personalized cover letters for close to 280 different positions in 10 countries, mostly abroad, and not including the computerized systems that offer the chance to apply for more than one position. Amongst all this hard work —and the occasional hike or dip in the sea—, I was offered the chance to help my father organize the all-new 'Lion Beer Festival.'

Proud of my newly acquired forklift operation skills!
All the hard work is starting to look like something at this point...
As a cashier, I soon learned about all the germs in money: got a terrible cold afterwards!
Over 3,000 people attended in 4 days. A most rewarding experience!

Back in Gijón, the lack of answers was starting to get to my nerves. At a certain point during the job search, I became so demoralized that I did not even bother to get out of my pajamas or open the blinds. During the worst months, I was so obsessively consumed in the job search I only got out of the house to gather some groceries once every week or two. I did not talk to anyone outside of Facebook —all my good friends were abroad—; my five o'clock shadow grew into a spiky, unpleasant beard; my mind began wandering places and becoming paranoid. Still, day after day, I kept sending a minimum of five to seven resumés to online sites, corporate emails, and local classifieds. Four months applying, and not a single positive answer. My mental health began to be affected. I not only understood the detrimental effects of solitary confinement, but a simpler, evident truth: online job hunts are mostly POINTLESS. And then, I got an email.

Somewhere in September, I was contacted by a Japanese Eikaiwa group called AEON. Their mission was to recruit and train potential English instructors for Japanese academies. I was beyond excited for the opportunity, and even though it did not offer any guarantees, I took a good chunk of my savings and swiftly booked a flight to London.

A scarce 10 minutes from my hostel! Hadn't been in London in more than 10 years!
The first round of interviews was a huge success. I found with great surprise that, from a group of impeccable native English speakers, I had been selected for a second round of personal interviews. I was heading for the win. As I stepped into the interview room, the two polished gentlemen asked me a few personal questions and requested a test lesson. Unfortunately, the structural stiffness of my previous teaching background backfired on me and soon proved to be major handicap on any ability to be trainable in their system. My accent was hard to hide as well. I was greeted with a firm handshake and a cordial smile, and left the room knowing that perhaps I wasn't the candidate they were looking for.

A solitary tube —subway— station past the Thames.
Setting priorities straight on what should be one of London's landmarks.

Not everything was lost. I did some highly concentrated sightseeing and called a couple potential employers directly. I also had the magnificent opportunity to talk to my friend Dimitrios, from Veloce Classic, the very man to discover, acquire and sell Onassis' Lamborghini Miura.

Upon my return, I knew that solitary confinement was NOT an option anymore. I pleaded my father to return to León to keep busy —and sane— with any task I could do for him, from running into banks to taking out the trash. Anything. The brewery was still a year away, so there would be nothing to do in any aspect until mid-2014. My father took pity on me and invited me back to León, where after four to five visits I finally found a decent apartment for cheap. By the end of the year, I got a visit from a very special friend from my PanAmerican trip, Blanca, who I guided on a gastronomical tour of everything that Spain's fine cuisine has to offer. Within a week I gained close to twenty pounds, and a lot of the happiness that had lost since June.

Not much to look at, but central heating was a major selling point.
Shortly after signing the lease and working all the minor quirks in the apartment, I quickly found an English-speaking roommate: a charming Irishman with a quiet passion for Guinness. As well as gaining a friend, my rent dropped to a very reasonable 215€. Soon my father started coaching me on certain things that could save him some precious time in the mornings, and found my sanity restored in no time.

Mind you, my hometown is GORGEOUS.

Every morning, I bag up the ice for use in the evening cocktails, take out three buckets of trash and make sure the shelves are well stocked with liquor. Then, once my father is up from a busy evening at the bar, he gives me specific orders for bank and administrative errands. My evenings are reserved for sporadic graphic design gigs for local concerts or DJ sessions. Calm indeed.

- - - - - - - - - -

And sure enough, when it rains, it pours. Within the first two months of 2014 I have gotten three very interesting job offers that I am currently exploring. One of them may take me to Miami; the other, may relocate me to Dubai, and the other may get me involved with Tesla cars.

This European Life is back in the game. And together, we are going places again!


  1. Try # 2 :

    Glad to see you're still out there and working hard Miguel .

    Keep going forward and us in the loop .


  2. I can't imagine how hard, and maddening, it must be to want to succeed in a society that is completely against you. And how exciting to have the opportunity to work with Tesla cars. I'm glad things are going better for you than they were. Thanks for writing, and best of luck to you!!