So Émilie, how did you end up working in Madrid?
I studied a Master’s Degree in Art History at La Sorbonne, in Paris. As part of my courses, I did an Erasmus year in Madrid two years ago and fell in love with the city.
I had to complete an internship to obtain my second Master’s Degree in Management of Cultural Institutions and decided to come back to Spain. I want to work within the intercultural exchange field and Madrid offers a lot of interesting opportunities.
In your opinion, what makes Madrid special when it comes to culture?
There’s a real sense of innovation here and a lot of exciting projects in terms of photography and contemporary arts. Madrid is a modern, dynamic and open city, with plenty of rapidly changing institutions. I sensed this when I studied here and this is the reason why I decided to come back. Spain is slowly recovering from the crisis and the cultural field is quickly evolving.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Alliance Française?
Our mission is to promote French language and culture around the world. The first Alliance Française (AF) opened 130 years ago – we now have offices in 137 countries. In Spain, there are 20 Alliance Française centres spread throughout the country., and we are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our centre here in Madrid.
French classes form our main activity, they are open to companies and to the general Spanish public. We also offer cultural exchange programs, sending Spanish youngsters to host families in France.
The AF network mainly targets Spanish citizens rather than French expats, but we also collaborate with expats willing to set up cultural projects in Spain for instance.
What does your job at the Alliance Française in Madrid involve?
Starting in September I will work as a cultural coordinator, developing the AF brand and overseeing our different projects throughout the country.
For now, I am still interning within the department for culture and communication in our Madrid agency. My job mainly consists in working with Spanish institutional and cultural partners to set up different cultural projects.
The other aspect of my work includes advertising the AF’s events and activities internally and externally.
What sort of cultural events does the AF organize in Madrid?
For the past four years, we have been holding an annual international photography competition, together with the Pilar Citoler foundation. This year, a retrospective exhibition was set up to honour the past winners, as part of the PhotoEspaña Festival.
We are also working on a new exhibition for September, entitled Les murs entre les hommes (The Walls between people). It will take place at El Matadero (on Madrid’s Manzares River) and feature the work of a photographer who travelled the world, focusing on the notion of 'walls' – be they geographical, social or political ones.
We hold many other cultural events highlighting music, cinema or even comic strips. The Alliance Française in Madrid is part of the European Union National Institute of Culture, which enables us to collaborate with several other European cultural institutions in Spain.
Has the economic situation in Spain affected the AF’s work over the past years?
We have witnessed an evolution in the profile of Spanish people willing to take French classes. The French language has a certain prestige which makes it attractive to the public, but now more and more people want to learn French for professional purposes.
What advice would you give to expats willing to move to Spain?
English isn't that common here so I think speaking Spanish is crucial. It depends which sector you would like to work in. We have 57 people working in our offices, and there's a mix of native Spanish speakers and native French speakers but most of us are bilingual.
Human contact is crucial in Spain, thus speaking the language is really important, as is taking initiative.
How big is the expat community in Madrid and do you think there is some sort of "expat bubble" here?
The French community expat community is really large. People are attracted to the Spanish way of life and living environment. It is the top destination for Erasmus students and it looks like a lot of individuals who come here either stay or return later, as I did.
What are the striking differences with France in your opinion?
At work, the organisation of the day is different and it has been a bit difficult to adapt myself. The working days are quite long, lunch break isn't until two or three in the afternoon and it lasts for quite a while.
Otherwise, I find that working in Spain is more relaxed, less oppressive. For instance, collaborating with cultural institutions has always been easy and fruitful.
Are you thinking of going back to France in the future?
At the moment, I can really see myself settling in Spain in the long-term. My main objective is to gain some useful experience here, get some training and obtain some interesting opportunities to evolve professionally.