"The first thing I did when I got to the U.S. was to volunteer for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008,” says Spanish actor Rafael Cebrián, who appears in the TV series Borgia. Enthusiasm for life in America is not unusual among Spaniards like Rafael who go to the United States: the land of Obama has once again become the promised land for the Spanish. 40,000 people left Spain in the first half of this year (a 44 percent increase over the same period in 2011), and more than 5,000 of them went to the United States. It’s the top destination in the Americas, and in Europe only the United Kingdom and France are more popular.
But in certain cases, the age, background, and education levels of many of these expats doesn’t match with the preconceived image you might have of those who would leave their country to find work. This fact creates a certain amount of astonishment in a society that never expected to witness this kind of emigration phenomenon among its young, educated citizens. Among the most popular blog posts on HuffPost Spain was one by a well-known scientist, Carlos Duarte, whose daughter, despite having an advanced degree, felt she had to leave Spain in order to have a future.
"In the U.S. there’s hope, and the feeling that you can achieve whatever you want,” says Rafael. For some, there’s a sense that those who don’t have opportunities in Spain may have a chance in the United States, and those who do have some in Spain will achieve even more in the United States.
Rafael is 23 years old, an established artist who lives in Los Angeles and rubs shoulders with celebrities. His life in the U.S. began with a scholarship to Brown University, where he received a topflight education. In the last four years, the number of Spanish students who’ve graduated from American universities has boomed, rising by 34.5 percent according to the 2012 Open Doors report.
The background of Spaniards in the U.S. has always been different from those who choose other countries. It’s a “very high” profile group, says the United States Embassy in Madrid. In addition to students, they primarily grant visas to advanced professionals and entrepreneurs who are going to the U.S. to start businesses.
Finding yourself an “expat” is common to the life and work of many professionals like Rafael who are in an international industry like film and TV. Take Borgia, for example: it’s filmed in Rome and Prague, and is directed by Tom Fontana, who is American. It is a French-German co-production, shot in English, and among the international cast, Assumpta Serna and Rafael represent the Spanish contingent.
It’s the same with The Impossible, an English-language Spanish movie by director Juan Antonio Bayona, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, which was filmed in Alicante, Spain and Thailand. Indistinguishable from a Hollywood production, the film was a box office hit in Spain.
Rafael’s band, The Monomes, did the soundtrack for Spain’s other big box office hit of the year: Tad, the Lost Explorer. “Why conceive a project just for the national market? The rest of the world is there for a reason,” said Enrique Gate, the director of Tad, in an interview.
As international 20-somethings like Rafael know, technology is their way to help break down physical rather than mental boundaries. Rafael rehearses with the band for which he’s a drummer via Skype. Over the summer they did a 70-concert tour -- including Rock in Rio Brazil and other festivals -- to introduce their second album. Rafael also hosts a radio show in Los Angeles -- when he’s not there for recording, he just works remotely.
This post was originally published on HuffPost Spain.