Como indica el título, ya estoy a medio camino de mi estancia aquí en los EE.UU. No me puedo creer que llegara aquí a mediados de agosto y ahora sólo me queden 3 meses para terminar. Ha sido una travesía con sus altibajos, como cualquier otra travesía que merezca la pena mencionar, ¿verdad?
Apenas una semana después de mi llegada, me soltaron en frente de mis nuevos alumnos. No es que fuera mi primera experiencia como profesor, puesto que ya había trabajado como profesor de idiomas en varias academias en España, mientras iba estudiando de un lado a otro. Sin embargo, era mi primera vez como profesor universitario, en un país extranjero, con compañeros, estudiantes y un sistema universitario desconocidos… Emocionante! Me gustan los desafíos. Soy de esa clase de personas. Le puse mucho empeño casi todo el tiempo, intenté que mis clases fueran entetenidas e instuctivas al mismo tiempo, intenté huir de la gramática, aunque no del todo. Había que reforzar la base, animarlos a hablar, a cantar a Juanes, debatir, escribir… osea, engancharse con una asignatura que o bien era opcional ( y supuestamente un Sobresaliente fácil) o bien era obligatoria (para los especializados en Lengua Inglesa o en Estudios Internacionales). En España, no regalamos sobresalientes tan fácilmente. De hecho son bastante poco frecuentes. Si consigues un Notable, eres bastante afortunado. Pero aquí las cosas parecen diferentes. Son clientes que se pueden perder… Es una cuerda floja de la que no se puede tirar demasiado fuerte. Es lo que tiene lo privado (aunque lo llamen Public University). Así que acepté ser geneorso y poner buenas calificaciones, a cambio de que trabajaran realmente duro. No pierdo nada por poner sólo notables y sobresalientes. Pero tenían que ganárselo. Después del primer examen, suspender dejó de ser un tabú. Les daba la oportunidad de recuperar y de mejorar si querían mejor nota: pero tenían que alcanzar el nivel. Muchos estaban en el nivel intermedio con contenidos de básico sin saber… Después de muchos reveses lo conseguimos. Aprobaron todos, aunque unos 6 de 30 con un aprobado. Algunos pocos abandonaron el barco. Pero desde luego, ya no darán por sentado un Sobresaliente en español.
Al final del semestre llegaron las valoraciones de los estudiantes… de todo. Primero, me di cuenta de que la mitad de ellos no se dignaron a opinar. Esto es como lo de las elecciones y las abstenciones, ¿verdad? ¿Cómo se valoran? Y de los que sí lo hicieron, dieron o muy buenas calificaciones, sin explicar por qué, o muy malas, quejándose de lo exigente que era y lo difícil que era. Y algunos comentarios eran claramente ofensivos…. los estudiantes pueden ser muy cabrones, pero bueno, así es la vida. No se puede gustar a todos, ¿no? Con todo, me parecen bien estas evaluaciones. Está bien tener una crítica y poder aprender de ella. Sí me sirvieron para ver lo que les había gustado y lo que no. Ojalá este sistema existiera también en mi universidad en España. Espero que el siguiente cuatrimestre sea mejor… Ya veremos.
Así las cosas, este nuestro cuatrimestre es totalmente distinto. Me siento mucho más cómodo y tranquilo. No es que sea un experto, ¡pero cómo se nota la experiencia!. He cambiado la estructura de mis clases, intentando encontrar el equilibrio entre la parte cultural/ divertida y la parte ‘aburrida/gramatical’. Y se les nota en la cara cuando paso de hablar de la situación política en España, con sus casos de corrupción, a hablar de los verbos reflexivos o de la particularidad del verbo gustar en español.. Aquí se aprenden los idiomas quizá de una manera más interactiva, y con menos peso del escrito y de la lectura. Hay mucho material audiovisual, gramática automatizada y mucha conversación: y muy poca lectura. No se se lee nada. ¡No lo puedo comprender!
No obstante, no todo es negativo. Estos estudiantes son por lo general muy trabajadores. Casi todos estudian y trabajan paralelamente. A los 18 ya están fuera y se buscan la vida. Todo lo contrario al contexto español (recuerdo ser uno de las pocas excepciones, y no siempre). También es verdad que el mercado laboral no es el mismo, aquí sí tienen trabajo para emanciparse y pagar esas tasas astronómicas para los bolsillos de cualquier estudiante de Europa o incluso de Latinoamérica.
Ahora bien: ¿cuál es el siguiente paso? Ya os conté que por primera vez en mi vida había pensado en emigrar -legalmente, claro-. Pero, siendo sincero, estar en un lugar tan pequeño y con menos de 25 mil habitantes (más de la mitad de ellos estudiantes) y sin mucho que hacer… No tengo muchas ganas de quedarme aquí. Sería posible quedarme en una ciudad más grande y con más ambiente, pero eso implicaría encontrar una empresa que apoyara la extensión de mi visado, dentro de la misma categoría, en otra oportunidad laboral similar… La otra posibilidad es hacer un máster de dos años, con la opción de cambiar mi estatus a trabajador después, ya con un título estadounidense. Y qué quieren que les diga: después de dos licenciaturas y un máster en España, no estoy para otro máster. Uno ya va para los 28 y quiere tener un trabajo decente adecuado a su preparación… No me convence del todo. Por otra parte, echo mucho de menos a mi familia. A mis amigos. Estar en un país que entiendo y sé dónde poner los pies. Ya sé que soy un afortunado por no tener que estar desesperado y aceptar lo que sea. Lo sé. Pero todavía tengo ganas de volver.
Dicho esto, ahora entiendo por qué los africanos que residen aquí están sobrecualificados. Es una condición para poder quedarse (es un hecho, comprobadlo). Un ejemplo claro es el otro único profesor africano que hay en mi Facultad: licenciatura en Togo, otra más en Francia, luego otro máster y doctorado en EEUU… Dios bendito. ¡Son más de 15 años de formación universitaria! Bueno, si a él le sirve… De momento ya he comprado el billete de vuelta… aunque la puerta está abierta. Ya os iré contando.
As the title suggests, I have already the halfway of my stay here in the US. I cannot believe I arrived here the last mid-Augost and currently only have 3 weeks left in here. It has been journey with ups and downs, just like every journey worth mentioning, right?
Barely one week after my arrival, I was pushed in front of my new students. It was not my first time as a teacher, since I had taught foreign languages before at several academies back in Spain, while studying here and there. But it was the first one as university teacher, in a foreign country, with unknown colleagues, students, university system… Exciting. I like challenges. I am that kind of person. I did put a lot of effort most of the time, I tried the make my classes entertaining and informative at the same time. Running away from grammar, yet never being able to go without it totally. The basics. Encouraging them to talk, to sing, to discuss, to write… in other words, to be engaged to a subject that was either elective (and supposedly an easy A) or mandatory (for English and International studies majors). In Spain, we do not give As as easily. They are actually pretty uncommon. If you get a B, you are quite good /or lucky. However, it seems that things are different here. So I agreed to be generous, but in exchange, they need to really work hard. Many of them had never failed a Spanish exam… until I got there. Failures and reassessment became no longer taboo. If you wanted a B or an A, you got the opportunities to reach it, but you had to actually achieve the level. And most did. Few quit. But they never took an A for granted after the first exam.
… And then comes the students’ reviews/evaluations: when I realized that about half of my students did not bother giving feedback… come on, what about me not correcting and grading your compositions? And those who did: awarded an A, with no explained reason, or they complained of the hardship and demanding of the instructor. Students can be very mean… I guess we cannot be loved by everyone, right? I especially remember a student’s review saying that she/he experienced anxiety for a subject was NOT even mandatory for her/him, because I was too demanding. Come on! Anyways, It’s good to have an instructor evaluation of some kind… better than nothing. I hope our reviews at my Spanish universities were kind of similar. I did learn things and got ideas to improve. Let’s wait for the next one…
So this semester is another story. Of course I am not an experience instructor, but I do feel more confortable and at easy. I have restructured my classes and intend to be balance between the ‘cultural-fun part’ and the ‘lingusitic-boring part’. They can interchangeable, but that’s boldy how student see it. You can read it from their faces, when you say, now let’s stop talking about the new political panorama in Spain and its many corruption scandals; and let’s talk about reflexive verbs and the particularity of the verb ‘gustar’… Language is taught differently here. Less focus on grammar, writing and reading, and more on talking and interactive communication. I can abide the 2 last ones, but Reading. We must read to learn the internal structure of languages, to learn how to write, to develop so many dexterities…
However, not everyting is negative, at all. I have found students to be generally respectful and committted to their studies, and their JOBS! Most of them work and study: this almost the opposite of the Spanish case. And they leave their parents’ home way earlier, at 18, while in Spain, some still wander from dad’s bedroom to the kitchen at 30! Obviously: the job market is not comparable, but even when it was…; and second, tuition fees cost a fortune! unthinkable for a Spanish (and I would dare saying a European or Latin American student: Argentina, Ecuador or Mexico to name just a few, have university access for free).
Now: what is next? I told you that for the first time I thought about migrating and staying- legally, of course. But, to be honest, living in such a small place, with less than 25 thousand inhabitants and very few distractions… is not very fun. Also, in order to stay and actually have an opportunity to find a job later, I would have to take another master’s in the US. That means: two more years studying while teaching as a TA (a bittersweet figure in the US highe ducation system). Am I desperate to stay?: No. Do I think that I need another master in Education after the one I got in Spain? No. At least not yet. I mean, I am going to turn 28, with 2 bachelors and a master, how much can someone over certify himself before deserving a decent job? I guess it also depends on your specialty. The case is, I want to work. My temporary visa does not allow me to do unless I am sponsored by the exam kind of the enterprise I work for right now… And, I miss my family. Deeply. And the country, the ability to know where you are, how things work and where to put your feets… Maybe I am just too fortunate and I can choose to migrate or not. Anyways, no wonders why the African immigrants in the States are overqualified, standing as the most degree holding immigrants in the US (check it out). The only other African teacher (naturalized American) at the university actually is a clear example: bachelor’s in Togo, another bachelor’s in and master’s in France; another master in the US, and then a predoctoral program, and then a Ph.D. This means, more than 15 years os university studies… Really? Well, if it works for him…
I have already bought my return flight ticket… just in case. The door is open though…
Dear friends, after almost one year, here I am again. A lot of things have been going on since my last post in December 2014.
First, I finished my master’s in Madrid, found a temporary job as an English teacher and got to work at the Ministry of Health of my adopted country. Could never have imagined! It was short, but I am sure they did like my classes and had good impression of my work.
After that, I accepted my new challenge. It was back in March, while working at one of the African Film festival I have collaborated with along these last 3 years, I received a call from my alma mater university telling me that I was selected for a job-scholarship to teach Spanish at an American University! Wao! It seemed that I was going to make it after all. I had applied for the same programme one year ago, but was shortlisted and ended up the first in the waiting list. So, yeah. If you have read earlier post, you might remember that this is something I had always wanted to do, as a way to improve my English and also cause, we translators love travelling and enjoying our target language within context! I was not allowed to do it before because I did not have the Spanish citizenship, and therefore couldn’t apply for similar programs sponsored by the Spanish Government, even if did fulfill the requirements and all… But finally, life shows me as always, that if you really want something and work for it, you end up finding the way. Even us, those who were born to poor parents in poorer countries, us children of immigrants who dangerously migrated to earn a better living.
So, after the paperwork and saving some 2000 dollars + some help from my family, I took the flight for Northern USA. And here I am. For the first time, I am fully aware that life is giving me good rewards for the efforts my family and I have made these last decades. Apart from being able to send most of the cousins who live back in Central Africa to school, I can save some money for myself. I want to save some 10 thousand euros to open a chain of African restaurants in the biggest cities of Spain… among other dreams.
But, there is a but. I have travelled to richer countries so far, either as a student (in the UK) or as a tourist (to France, Germany or Italy), but this is the first time in which I feel like I may become an immigrant in a place. I mean, the truth is that despite the English language industry boom right now in Spain- which would guarantee me at least that I won´t end up starving, especially after the master in Education-, there is a huge unemployment rate in the country (over 25%). A social tragedy that affects mostly young people (< 50%) and underqualified people who used to work in the construction sector (as my father). That’s why I have had to keep on studying ever since I finished my first degree in 2010. I took another degree, took a working gap year from college and went back again to take a master. I can’t know if I would have found something this year in a high school there or not.
On the other, fully of this reality, and also because they believe I don’t have the same opportunities in Spain in spite of my education, my family has been throwing the idea of staying in the USA on the table. Not as an illegal migrant, of course not, hopefully there is not need for that. But, they want me to find my way and make a good living in the USA. They kinda have that idea that everything is better here, or at least much better than in Spain. The truth is that I don´t know what will be my next step. One thing has stricken me here. At the University in which I work, there are many professors and professionals from all over the world. Something really difficult to find in Spanish universities, where there is a sickening spread of endogamy and clear corruption in job appointments. And also, I had no problems coming to teach Spanish here, although it wasn´t my mother tongue (but really works as such) and I do not hold a Spanish passport. Even border’s agents were very kind and welcoming to me. It’s not like that in the most of Spanish airport regarding Africans. Was it because I come from an European country? Or because I come as a graduate professional to work? Does this make me any different from other migrants who did not have the opportunity to study two degrees? I guess it’s a different story. I´ve heard similar harsh on Mexicans and other Latin American citizens. Such is the world right now.
But yeah, I will stop beating around the bush and say that I am so happy and conscious of my life path right now. I am fully open to what life has ready for me to go for it.
And, finally, I must confess, that for the first time I am having a second thought about going back to my home country and try to improve things getting myself into politics. I know it’s dangerous and a temptation to corruption, but really, this world wandering opens my eyes. For the first time since a long time, I feel like a proper immigrant. I mean, this time I came by my one feet, there is always some African nostalgia in me. I don´t know why. I am a rebel heart. During recent years there has been like a spark of revolution within the African youth, championed by the Senegalese movement “Y’En a Marre”, which spread to Burkina Faso and other francophone countries. I have been following the moves and achievements and I feel like there is a historic moment about to happen and I want to be part of it. Dictatorships and kleptocracy are, I think, the biggest one to blame regarding current state of misery in our countries. Politician who apply heartlessly the neoliberal measures of the IMF and the WB, who favor free trade capitalism widely when other countries subsidize their companies and farmers, they build enormous burocracy and complex systems to hide their blatant corruption and unlawful enrichment… meanwhile, their people are emigrating, dying in the sea and wandering around the world. Most of the time, in very different conditions that I do. And I feel profound sorrow for my people. Sorrow that low and middle class have to rent and sell their goods to send their children abroad, as a prospective breastfeeder for the whole family. Such was the case of my family. Both my father and mother came from poor families, who once had a profession and could save enough money to migrate, did not have a second thought. I wasn`t even aware of what was going on. Today and thank them and I cry at the same time for this faith many people are forced to admit. So, yes. There is a little something burning within my heart. But I want to be well prepared and have something to contribute with. I am so happy that the candle was lighten within the continent first, that it didn´t come from outside. Let’s work for a better future. My next specific goal is to have the next university graduate among my family. On the road!
Good luck and strength, dear friends. May your wishes be accomplished.
Life has shown me that my fate is within my hands and the pathway I choose to take. I hope you are doing well and you will keep on working hard without cease in order to achieve your vital goals and spread good vibes around you.
Well, today I would like to talk about something common to other people of African origins in wealthier countries: citizenship and what it implies.
As you may think, I hold an African citizenship – the one my father passed to me. Since I have lived in Spain for much more than 10 years, I could (and can) change my original citizenship to get the Spanish one. This is not mandatory, of course. Until now, I‘ve been living as a permanent resident here. Anyway, this means that I have almost all the rights with very few exceptions.
But not small exceptions: As a student, I had the same rights of movement, scholarships, grading, living, etc., but as a professional, there is a clear positive discrimination on the behalf of European citizens. For example, last year, in order to improve my language skill and have some time to think about my professional career, I wanted to apply for a year-long Teaching Assistantship abroad, but was not entitled to due to my nationality. Also, I cannot vote, be a teacher in a state-owned/funded school, work for the Administrative apparatus, nor other publicly ruled institutions here or in the EU. I can only work for private companies, and only those that do not require a Spanish passport for international jobs. So, yes, this is serious. Of course I can also work as a freelance professional, certainly.
To be fair, I do not blame the Spanish authorities here, they are simply protecting their interests. I do not feel completely discriminated against, as I can change my nationality and have full access to all these things if I want.
However, the truth is that I was okay this way. Being an African citizen and holding a long term residency in Europe was quite right for me. It reflects both parts of me, and also, I don’t feel completely Spanish, or only African. Dual citizenship would be perfect, but none of my tree prospective countries would provides this, for now. And, some people would say that I just want to accumulate everything, and they may be right. But I think that it will ease some realities that will increase more and more as Africans move and the world moves.
Moreover, I have the feeling that if I leave my current citizenship for a European one, I will be rejecting part of myself. For many people it is not a big deal, though. It’s a practical matter. I disagree. It‘s much more than a practical process. iT has important political implications as weel. On both sides. Spanish citizenship would offer me free access to a whole continent’s labor market, yes. But, yet I will still be African, and black. And I outline this because I am aware that race is still an issue in Europe and worldwide.
And also, I really care about my continent of birth. I was born there and have my people there. If I was sure that I would have a normal job there, I would go. I mean, we all know that life can be hard there, I see people leaving each year. But I don’t really see immigration as a solution. Only in few cases. Tourism is something completely different.
But, who will remain there to make it a better place if we all abandon? Who will respect us abroad, if we leave our original land in the world in the hands of many corrupt politicians and there acquaintances? What kind of message will we send to our children and grandshildren?
I support freedom of movement, but there is not such a freedom when people have to emigrate for economic and political reasons. The feeling of being a third class citizen in a foreign country is not comfortable for anybody, and this is how many African migrants may feel today. I feel like renouncing to the nationality life gave to me is like abandoning my duty to contribute to the continent. And this may be innocent, as it sounds like I think of myself as a savior, but I really think that we should all contribute to stop this tragedy that keeps stealing innocent lives of our people along the borders.
Our future is in our hands and hearts. History teaches us that we can change our circumstances and soften our burdens; we should learn from others and apply.
This being said, it is also true that African citizen do not give me many advantages now. With my current nationality I can’t go to more than 20 countries over the world. I need visas even to visit other African countries (another proof of useless leaders). Also, If I go back home, I would restart as if I were a foreigner and deal with the whole political system that makes me sick. Honestly. I can’t stand knowing that my representatives are selling the country to fill their pockets and saving the profits in foreign banks while people are suffering to get basic needs covered. And you may say that corruption is everywhere… yes, but the kind of corruption I saw last time I went back home was a daily and normalized thing, present in every aspect of daily life.
Another reason is that Spanish civil servant is very powerful and they apply pressure in order to decrease competition on the labor market. It’s logical, in a certain way.
For example, Spain is currently in need of well- qualified English teachers, but they prefer to hire national people with an ‘Intermediate level’ rather than native ones, because civil servants would and do actually complain, as they did last in year in Madrid. I understand that people want to work, but do we have to sacrifice education quality for this? How is this country going to improve? There should be another way. It seems like everything needs to be subsidized by the state. This protectionism applies to many other economic fields.
I don’t really know what to do. And also, being a homosexual doesn’t help to imagine a good future in Africa. I have read some terrible news about this for years. Sometimes I just believe that life was so generous to me by putting me ‘in safety’ in a country where this is a not a curse or a crime. But, again, how can I blame anybody if I don’t fight for the things I believe. How can we really change something from outside? Wouldn’t they say we are ‘Un-Africans’? That we want to apply Western standards in Africa?
Honestly, I don’t want to impose western laws anywhere, I know this is a cultural view that needs time to change or not. External pressure does not really help on this. The only think I need is a neutral place where I don’t feel like a ‘criminal’ only on the grounds of my inner thoughts and personality. I believe and know that I did not choose to be black or gay or straight. I don’t think I should be applauded for this, but nor do I think I should be judged as a criminal and ‘un-natural’ sinner. Nature cannot create unnatural beings. As I see, If God had wanted me otherwise, I would have created me otherwise. Well, even this is only another aspect to be taken into account. I dream bigger.
I just want the opportunity to contribute to change things for the better. Even if this means I have to sacrifice personal interests for a while. History is made on sacrifices and struggles. And we Africans are raised on the importance of the collective achievements. As a philosopher said, I am because we are.
To cut a long story short, I guess I hesitate to give up because I did not choose to move out, I was moved by my parents. And we cannot really renounce to something we never had, can we? I may need that opportunity to experience what I renounce, or not.
What would you do if you were in my shoes?
Bilbao by day
First of all, I would like to thank you people, who share my thoughts and experiences far beyond Spain. Above all, I write this because I think that us, the African Diaspora in the world, we should unite and share ideas and experiences in order to improve our situation where we live and, and therefore, where we come from.
Yes, I’m kind of Pan-Africanist. Viva Nkwane Krumah!
Secondly I would like to give you some quick insight on my Spanish daily life today.
This week I’ve been studying African History at University, and can see that even in the academic world, people still think of African people as children they can patronize; they look at this continent as a chaos that can hardly stand over its feet. It’s sad and dreadful. But, they won’t bring me down.
I have decided to drop off one of my small jobs at the end of May, because I need to focus on my university papers and final exams. People would say that, it’s a privilege I should not take, specially bearing in mind the current figures about unemployment rate in this beloved country. Newspapers report today that we have reached more than 6 million people in dole. It’s scaring!
It’s scaring for young people who are graduating along these years. They say that, for the first time ever, Spanish population has decreased. More than 200 thousands people flew away last year. And immigrants are returning home, especially those from Ecuador. But also, many people who chose to settle in Spain years ago, are re-emigrating to other European countries such as France, Germany or Norway– and of course the UK.
I can swear that in these recent years I have seen so many African people leaving Spain for France or Belgium that I’m not really surprised of these figures. From my inner circle, 5/12 people of my relatives have moved to France. Only those who were really ‘rooted’ here remain.
In a broader scale, many immigrants, mostly from Latin American countries, get the nationality and then move to another country taking profit as their new status as European citizens. Such is life down here. And you would read comment of Spaniards complaining about this. I can’t understand their point.
From the recent national census, I have also learned that from the overall 5.5 million foreign people who live in Spain, non-European citizens are over 60%, that’s to say, more than 3 million people. From these people, African descents are still the smallest group, and we are highly represented by Moroccans.
So, some people who ask why I leave my job within this context… Well: I’m gonna be double-graduated in a few months. I have managed to study away from home by taking 4 small jobs, the so-called “minijobs”. They pay very little, so I have had to work as an English teacher for almost illiterate adults (3hours/week) and as an extra-curricular activity for school kids (3 hours/week) or as an occasional interpreter-translator (hardly)… And I volunteer as a Spanish teacher for foreigners, that’s my non-profit contribution to the community. That’s to say: 6-7 hours/ week. And I should be grateful, they say, as I got a job and I do not have to beg for charity. Well, all I see is that taking these jobs was a way to pay my bills while living and studying out of home. Done. I needed to discharge my mum. She’s done enough. All I see is that I have accomplished my part of the deal, I was the best student of my High-school class, I successfully finished a University degree, I managed to learn a new foreign language more or less– to enhance my possibilities in the labour market, but all I can do is to accept jobs like these to survive or leave, as many friends of mine do. My best Spanish friend has just accepted an offer to work as an Engineer in Italy. There is no job in the construction sector here, no more. It’s sad, indeed.
Barcelona by dawn
But, I also think that we should be able to keep our expectations high. I’ve been in more than 10 different jobs during my short life; I worked as a basketball referee, as a private lessons teacher(Philosophy and History), a trainee journalist, a trainee translator, an Interpreter, a French teacher, English Teacher , Spanish Teacher, shop retailer, and so on.
From now on, I can keep on studying, which is maybe one of the best things to do in a short term, but I don’t see the need to get a doctorate nowadays apart from being a university teacher… I can also start working as a freelance journalist-translator meanwhile I decide if I wanna be a teacher of Spanish abroad or French teacher in a State funded Secondary School, in order words: a civil servant. Being a graduate civil servant still worth it, they pay well enough to live above the average, but we don’t know how long this will be possible, due to the tough economic crisis and the more than likely future bailout of the country’s economy. I’m happy I could prepare myself to work in so many professions and in different countries. I never imagined languages would be so crucial in my life.
As you can see, Spain today is difficult. But, as I always say, they won’t bring me down!
PS: If it doesn’t work as it should, then I may announce you my emigration process in a year. Who knows?