05 July 2013

Tapas and Brain Drain

Last May, I was in Barcelona for a few days. I followed a friend's recommendation when it comes to having tapas, so I visited this place along Rambla de Catalunya. I was seated by myself, and a server was attending to me. I noticed that his English had an accent that was different from when a Spaniard would speak it, so I asked where he was from. He turned out to be from the Philippines.

Well, the tapas were great; I treated myself to a bottle of Viña Sol and some tapas. It was the best meal of my trip, so I came back the next day, which happened to be my last night in the city. Manolito (that was the server's name) was my server again, and once again, he took good care of me. I learned that he has been in Spain for 16 years now. When he was in the Philippines, he was a nurse. And yet in Spain, he's a waiter in a fancy tapas bar.

One would ask how that is the case. Perhaps being a waiter in Spain is better, as it earns him more money, perhaps enough money to be able to send back to the Philippines. One would wonder why the Philippines is like that. There are so many people trained in professions like nursing, and yet they opt to leave the country and take jobs that are not in their field of specialization, simply because doing so would earn them more and be more beneficial.

Yes, the Philippines is suffering from a brain drain. Can one fault the people who leave, when the society doesn't make it lucrative for them to stay? We are all selfish, and we will all seek the option that will benefit us the most. Even I am not an exception. Why am I trying to practice my career in a foreign country? Because there are no resources in the Philippines; universities have no money to set up labs, there are no foundations that would be willing to provide money to scientists as grants, and so on.

I never realized that two meals in a fancy tapas bar would lead to a series of philosophical monologues. I gave him my business card and told him to contact me in case he finds himself in Berlin. Somehow, this trip I did in Barcelona highlighted this issue of migration. I met a few Filipinos in the service sector here, as waiters and as workers in the market. And if you're in Parc Güell, you'll see Indians selling souvenirs, in a way that is not legal, as they can pack up and leave in a few seconds the moment they see that policeman walking around.

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