Ramón Medrano Llamas finished the first cycle of Computer Engineering the same week that Lehman Brothers announced its bankruptcy in 2008, marking the beginning of the economic debacle that shook the world. As the long shadow of the crisis loomed and Brussels sharpened its scythe, he saw two paths open up before him: “It was either staying in Spain chaining temporary training contracts or going abroad.” He chose the latter and continues abroad. This engineer from software Half-Leonese, half Asturian, end-of-degree award for his academic career, he belongs to the generation of those who left to find a life during the Great Recession and never returned. She has been in Switzerland for a decade, she is 34 years old, has a job at Google and, according to her account, already before the age of 30 she had a job, bought a house and had the first of her two daughters.
-Is your life late?
– Not to me, but the price to pay has been to be outside of Spain, I had to come here to do it. I dont complain. I always tell my wife that we have been very lucky.
Although he does not protest about it, because he considers himself lucky, the coronavirus has made him not physically see his family since Christmas 2019. “My wife and I thought that the responsibility was not to go.” It is part of that price to pay for living abroad, as well as the feeling of being uprooted. “Being young,” Medrano said in the message he typed from Switzerland to the number that EL PAÍS enabled for this series, “is being and not being.” “Having left Spain, the country that has given you so much, out of professional necessity in 2010 and after ten years, not having roots here or there. It is that a pandemic comes to you and you do not know how or when you are going to see your grandparents because they close the borders. It is voting in a lonely ballot box at the consulate. It is for your daughter to speak to you in Swiss German and eat the ham soaked ”. He was also trying to put into words a paradoxical feeling: “While you have a professional, personal and financial success that you would never have expected, you would change a lot to return.” It is not traumatic, but it is always there, lurking. And it makes you make seemingly contradictory decisions. He looks at jobs in Spain on a recurring basis, but at the same time he has started the procedures to obtain Swiss nationality.
Summer has arrived in Zurich, the sidewalks vibrate with clean blond Europeans and a Porsche, a vintage Mini and a Range Rover cross over there. Medrano reels his life as he guides through these same streets where the opaque headquarters of Mirabaud coincide, the bank in which the king emeritus hid 65 million euros, and a little further, on the edge of the lake full of boats, the hotel where they stopped in 2015 to the FIFA giants for corruption. The conversation inevitably leads to the differences between this land and the country of origin. Switzerland, with 60,500 euros of income per capita, and a dark face that should not be overlooked, is one of the richest states in the world; if it belonged to the EU, according to 2020 figures from Eurostat, it would rank third, only behind Luxembourg and Ireland (also with a strong dark side). The Swiss income per person is almost three times higher than the Spanish one (22,350 euros), and a gulf also separates the data on youth unemployment: around 6% in the small Alpine confederation compared to 28% in the kingdom of the peninsula.
The clocks work in both places at different rates: the Spanish hand delays. Sitting on a terrace, Medrano calculates by eye that the delay for his generation colleagues in Spain is approximately five years: several of the friends and colleagues who stayed are now considering having children, when his oldest girl is already four and a half . The delay was perceived as soon as he landed in Switzerland for the first time. It was 2010, he came to spend a few months on an internship at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. They already paid him 2,700 Swiss francs a month (about 2,500 euros), above the average salary in Spain, and he had not even finished his degree.
As soon as he finished engineering, in 2011, he returned to CERN and learned in the international environment of physicists and researchers seeking to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the god particle. He made good friends with other southern Europeans, with whom he shared the feeling of indignation that was igniting in Europe and followed the news of the rescues. In 2013 she considered going home, then mired in a hole of unemployment. They offered him, as he recalls, about 39,000 euros for joining the ranks of Telefónica I + D, a more than decent salary for the time. But the proposal that came to him from Google in Zurich tripled the Spanish one. I was 26 years old. He started out as a “programmer junior”And today he leads an international team in charge of solving critical incidents in the authentication of users and passwords.
Dressed in a T-shirt that reads “Power PC”, Medrano thinks about it when asked what conditions would have to be met for him to decide to return: “Economically, to have a comfortable standard of living. And a position with the flexibility of now, in which they value me for what I do, not for office hours ”. He and his wife, also Spanish and a computer engineer, have reduced their working hours to 80% to combine taking care of their daughters. Every morning Medrano takes the oldest to school and the youngest for a walk, with the laptop in the cart in case a problem arises; He doesn’t Google until one o’clock, and then he sits down at the “hot desk” they have set up in the bedroom.
Medrano believes that they will probably end up coming back, but at the same time acknowledges that the more time one spends away, the more difficult it is to take the step.
Estefanía S. Vasconcellos, co-author of We will return: oral memory of those who left during the crisis (KO Books, 2016), explains that those who appeared in his book had similar ideas. “They would not return at any price,” says this journalist at her home in Brussels, where she, who is 32 years old, now lives the life of an expatriate: she works for Podemos in the European Parliament. The book cites a 2013 study by the sociologist Amparo González Ferrer that estimated the official number of Spaniards who would have emigrated as a result of the Great Recession at 225,000, although the real figure, according to the sociologist, would be close to 700,000 people . Many of them, qualified people between 25 and 34 years old and with a support network. “The majority of those who could left,” sums up Vasconcellos.
The journalist believes that the 2008 crisis meant a “certain loss of innocence” in which “we became aware of the brutality of an economic system that was already leaving people out, but which then dragged many more.” She reached the edge of a cliff, as she sees it, although a horizon was still looming “that could get better.” The pandemic has opened a new abyss before the youth. “When you were already getting up, they hit you on the back of your neck, and you ended up with your hands on the ground,” describes Vasconcellos. In his opinion, the current crisis has not changed what existed, but has accentuated the inequalities and problems that we were carrying. “Today the social elevator is a little more frazzled.” Even having a job “no longer guarantees you out of poverty” in Spain. The idea has been installed among young people that “the only thing that can be done is to resist, and if you are resisting you are not advancing”, he concludes. “Those who were 12 years old in 2008 are now 25. They have known a permanent crisis.” He demands that we be able to imagine “other better futures, not just contain the arrival of a worse one.”
Medrano sums up the stark situation by applying a simple funnel theory. “We, the millennialsWe have eaten the crisis of 2008 and now it is ”, he says sitting on the terrace facing the lake. Generation Z, in 2008, were in high school. If we are already late, they are going to accumulate. This is like a funnel…. If nothing is done ”. And that’s where the computer scientist sees some hope: “I’m optimistic. This time it gives me another feeling, if you look at the response from Spain and the EU ”. There is no debate on the euro, he says, nor is he considering throwing out Greece, and Brussels has approved a millionaire recovery fund that will allow, in theory, to bet on changing the productive fabric, towards digitization and the green economy. “We will have to see,” he adds. Another unforeseen blow can always come in 10 years, he says before saying goodbye. It is already close to seven o’clock, dinner time, and while the elegant Swiss have a wine at sunset, Medrano returns home, where the girls return exhausted from the pool.
Chapter 3. Opponents and emigrants
Testimonials | “Spain is an unfulfilled promise”
For many young people, opposing or emigrating are the only possible ways to escape precariousness in Spain. But they both have their tolls
Report | Natalia, a publicist, now wants to be a police officer
After years in the world of advertising and fed up with precariousness, uncertainty, stress and bad salaries, this 32-year-old woman decided to change course and embark on a competitive examination
Podcast | I live in Germany
Emigrating can be an option to get ahead, although there is a risk that the return will become impossible
Opinion | ‘Migration: the great challenge of mental health’, by Celia Arroyo
Not all people have the necessary resources to emigrate: you have to be brave, tenacious, flexible and resilient