Spain’s growing reputation as a tourism darling has jobs in the sector opening up like never before. After several years in HR, hispanophile Sarah Gemba moved back to her beloved Seville and fell into trip planning services.
She recently branched out on her own at Grupo EduTravel and has plans to get her Spanish citizenship. Read about how Sarah has coped with changing markets, an economic crisis and starting a family all while balancing a successful career in Educational Travel:
Name: Sarah Gemba
City and Comunidad: Sevilla capital
Job Title: Asesora de Viajes (Travel Advisor)
Why did you initially come to Spain?
I did a study abroad program through Connecticut College. As a Hispanic Studies major I was smitten with all things Spanish, and chose Sevilla as my destination to fully immerse myself in the culture. It was clearly an excellent choice! I loved it so much I stayed not only my Junior Fall semester, but also returned for my Senior Fall semester, in 1998 and 1999. I graduated college in 2000, and worked in the Human Resources sector (high-tech and food manufacturing, both with a focus on Spanish language) in Boston, MA for a few years before making the leap over the pond to live in Spain permanently in 2004.
How did you transition into your current position?
When I first moved to Sevilla in 2004, I began teaching extra-curricular English classes to children at schools through local academies. I was hired full-time in the travel industry by two fellow American expats at DiscoverSevilla (now called Discover Excursions), an agency that offers weekend excursions to study abroad students in Seville.
After a little over a year as General Manager and Tour Guide, I moved on to Spanish Studies Abroad to coordinate cultural travel programs. I worked at Spanish Studies Abroad for a decade and transitioned out when I had achieved Director-level status, managing custom educational travel programs for special clients and collaborating with our different sites in Spain and Latin America. My transition from company to agency proved fortuitous at a pivotal point in my career, and it was a mutual decision for me to join Grupo Edutravel as a Travel Advisor in May 2015.
What was the interview process like?
Grupo Edutravel and I (through my position at Spanish Studies Abroad) had enjoyed a successful client-vendor collaboration for a couple of years and so I knew exactly how they worked, and they knew how I worked. The interview process was merely a couple of informal meetings as we reached an agreement on how we would transition client accounts and work on securing new ones.
How are you legally working in Spain?
I have permanent residency and work permission, initially through my previous marriage to a Spaniard, and now “por cuenta ajena” based purely on my years of residency and work status. My husband and the father of my children and I are pareja de hecho but it’s not related to my residency.
Also, I am currently submitting paperwork for Spanish nationality, which will take a few years for approval.
How does working in your field in Spain differ from your home country?
It’s like comparing apples and oranges! The cost of living is so different that if you were to tell an American your Spanish salary, they would laugh in your face. You have to factor in the experience of working in another country, extended vacations and holidays, and the amazing living environment in Spain to come up with your total “package”.
In terms of culture, I have had my share of battling difficult working environments but ultimately used my solid personal work ethic to find a balance between Spanish and American ways. Due to the fact that I have two small children and plans to grow our family, a flexible work schedule has proven to be extremely important to me. I manage a fairly heavy workload on a reduced office schedule with a bit of dedication and organization. My current company recognizes that in this technological age it is easy to give this benefit to your employees and can even ultimately result in higher levels of productivity, as well as raising employee satisfaction levels.
What has been the hardest part of working or starting your own business in Spain?
Overall, it can be difficult to manage communications and meet expectations with superiors in a multi-cultural working environment. I have found that sometimes (and I hate generalizing) Spaniards are not 100% clear about communicating objectives or properly motivating employees to meet those objectives. In order to advance in my career, I mostly had to take the proverbial bull by the horns and make it happen on my own.
Any advice for non-EU citizens seeking a job outside of teaching?
I feel there is a lot of work in Spain outside of the teaching field, and especially in the tourism field. I have daily needs for native English speakers to work with my groups and even in office positions such as my own. That being said, many tourism positions have their foundation in education and so if you have a background in teaching languages to foreigners; that would definitely be a relevant, and positive, addition to your resume. Be creative in your job search. Networking is key, especially in Sevilla, so make a name for yourself in your field by exuding professionalism in all aspects of your life, and people will only have good things to say about you and will help you “echar cables”.
What are your plans for the future? Will you stay in Spain?
I have made my life here, and my husband and I plan on raising our children here while traveling the world! I hope to continue to grow my travel business by showing clients the best of Andalucía and striving to give them the best service possible.
Interested in travel in Andalucía and beyond? Sarah’s company’s website, EduTravel, is full of vacation tips and ideas, and you can reach her there.
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