Working habits, Spain and Unemployment

I started working and earning my own money at the age of 16, when I became a lifeguard. Since then, I have always had some type of job, paid or voluntary, but often both at the same time. I consider myself as a ‘juggler’ because when I’m in the UK I seem to be doing a dozen different things at once – this past year at university alongside studying I was working as

  • a team member organising international parties
  • a proofreader for two companies (one paid, one voluntary) and
  • a basketball referee.

When people asked me how I managed to do all these things, I just said that it was easy as I organised my life with a diary and chose things that fitted into place in my busy schedule…and did them!

Anyway, now I am settling slowly (everything on these enchanting islands seems to happen slower) into life in the Canary Islands, working in a small school assisting in English and PE classes. I love the people I work with and the children are very amusing – they don’t know that I speak Spanish so are challenged to find the words in English to communicate with me. For example, a girl in year 3 (aged 7/8) was trying to ask me if she had spelt the words correctly on her worksheet, she didn’t know how to say this in English so her friend helped her out, picked up her sheet, showed it to me and asked “Perfect?”. It wasn’t the right way to ask if she’d written it correctly, but it shows how children can use their mind to think of ways to communicate with the vocabulary they already have and still get the meaning across without the use of a Spanish – English translator on a smartphone. I will talk more about the school next week.

The mornings at school are great but the school finishes at 1.30pm and I have the afternoons and evenings free. I was browsing the public announcements on a website dedicated to La Palma, looking for things to do in my afternoons besides going to the beach to read and I saw an advert for a waitress in a local restaurant. For a split second I thought that would be a great way to earn a bit of money, fill my afternoons with productive activity and improve my Spanish in a working environment (as in my current workplace if I speak Spanish it needs to be a whisper in the staffroom, so the children don’t catch me out). Then I remembered the sad situation that Spaniards are in.

Everyday on the news there are new figures, interviews and studies about the level of unemployment throughout the country. It has been in an economic crisis for many years and the last I heard, youth unemployment (aged 18 – 25) was 56%. I admire the Mcdonalds recruitment team as the first Mcdonalds on the island of La Palma will be staffed by a team of young people with undergraduate degrees when it opens next week; but at the same time it is sad to hear that the only place that an engineer graduate can get a job at is in a fast food restaurant. The Mayoress of Madrid is being ridiculed for her heavily rehearsed speech in English to convince the IOC that Madrid was the perfect venue for the 2020 Olympic Games, but with the loss of the right to host the Olympic Games, Spain also loses thousands of work opportunities for its citizens.Image


I immediately closed the tab with the waitress job offer and remembered how one of the values of Project Trust’s placements is the fact that the volunteers never take a job that a local person could do. There are thousands of unemployed people in the Canary Islands and I have no right as an English exchange student to be taking up a position that a local person could and should have. I am receiving the Erasmus grant, financial support from Student Finance so why do I need to be working in the afternoons, simply because I’m bored? Basically…I don’t.

The fact remains that I am still a bit bored in the afternoons and I would like to meet more people and do something other than read and wander around the two main streets of Santa Cruz. After a few days thinking it over, I realised that being a native English speaker and giving private English classes is not something that many (or any) Spaniard can do. So I placed an advert on the page advertising English conversation classes to young people and I am waiting to see if anybody takes me up on the offer. I hope that other Erasmus students in my position (especially those in Spain) can also see and realise that the majority of jobs advertised should be left for locals whilst the country is in an economic crisis. How often do the British people complain that nationals from X or Y country are coming to the UK and taking all of our jobs? 

As an Erasmus student (and other students that go beyond Europe) I think that we should be responsible whilst we travel to other countries for a few months of our degree. A table waiting job that earns an extra €200 pocket money a month could be somebody’s gas and electricity money.  We have to think in the place that we are going to and how our presence affects the people whose country, food, culture and language we are sharing. The final word of my last sentence is key, sharing.



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