Word of the day: Bica, an 11-year old black (graying) lab was the most loved member of my host family. When one of us walked into the apartment, the entire lower half of her body would wiggle, an outlet for her uncontainable joy. In the evenings, as we were watching our nightly game show, she would sit at the foot of an armchair, and wait for one of us to give her an encouraging pat on the bottom. That was her signal to jump up and snuggle into whoever was sitting next to her. “Mimosa” my host mom would tease: “all she wants are snuggles”. Mimosa, a classic mix of champagne and orange juice, can also mean “affectionate” in Spanish. It can be used to express a permanent or temporary affectionate disposition.
If you want to live in Spain, your definition of success should not be solely financial or professional. Spain will provide you with ample opportunities for a fulfilling work-life balance, with an emphasis on the “life” component. Personal fulfillment is easy to find, but professional fulfillment may be more elusive. According to my coworkers, young professionals are continuing to leave Spain in search for higher salaries, leaving those who stay to work long hours. And, given the relaxed attitudes that permeate Spanish culture, these longer hours may not even bear fruit. At my internship, I felt the pace of work was negatively affected by Spanish customs. Sure, two hour lunches are fun, and promote team morale and bonding, but at what cost to productivity? Is the trade-off ultimately satisfying?
Bearing this in mind, ideations of professional success in Spain seem to be similar to those in the United States. This perception is likely shaped by the fact that I am interning in a research center, and my coworkers were all PhD students. In the academic sphere, achievements are universal, with common markers of success being a published paper, a teaching position, an advanced degree, etc. One of my coworkers achieved a milestone of success this week, when he defended his dissertation of his novel participatory framework analyzing the Water Energy Food Environment (WEFE) Nexus. Attending the defense, after reading and revising his thesis, was an observational study in transforming a complex thesis, with quantitative and qualitative components, into an hour-long presentation. Given that my writing is consistently in want of brevity, this was very helpful to see.
In addition to working towards their PhDs, my coworkers were simultaneously working for the research and development center, CEIGRAM. So, I was able to observe their habits as employees as well as scholars. Overall, my coworkers were efficient and highly effective. They tended towards independence due to the research-heavy nature of the work, but they knew each other very well. They spent time eating lunch with one another, and getting to know each other on a personal level, even playing in a paddleball league together. This level of familiarity in a workplace is common in Spain, and is key to success. The Spanish feel that getting to know their coworkers is a requirement for professional collaboration. Besides this cultural difference, my coworkers found success by problem-solving, meeting deadlines, and being detail-oriented. In other words, there are common work habits that produce favorable outcomes.
Personally, I found success as a Spanish intern by effectively mimicking the habits of my coworkers, with the exception of any habits that could have limited my productivity. For example, once I realized that my supervisor had chosen to forgo one of our weekly meetings, I asked my coworkers if I could help with one of their projects. This led me to continue collaborating on their projects, which were more valuable than the scope of tasks I was able to complete on my own. If anything, I will return to the U.S. with a conviction in my approach to life. Among my friends, my approach to life is perceived as being “chill” or even “directionless”. The fact that I value a work-life balance is novel in the U.S., a country where work is glorified, and professional advancement and wealth are highly valued. My time in Spain has affirmed that a lot of other people don’t want work to be the most important part of their lives. There are people who embrace joie de vivre, and who are passionate about their enjoyment of all experiences that life has to offer. They just live across the globe. Maybe I’ll go join them someday.