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EDUCATION

Ten really great reasons to take a Gap Year in Spain

With welcoming people, and a fabulous climate, loads of options for study, travel and leisure, Spain is a brilliant place to spend all or part of a Gap Year learning Spanish and soaking up the culture.

Ten really great reasons to take a Gap Year in Spain
Photo: Mihtiander/Depositphotos

Here are ten very good reasons why:

1. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with 410 million speakers.


Photo: Racorn/Depositphotos

It is an incredibly useful language to learn, and picking it up in Spain is a springboard into Hispanic culture. The Spanish are delighted when you make an effort to speak the language, and will give you praise, encouragement and an enthusiastic response, even if you make mistakes. Having a good level of Spanish will make you more attractive to future employers, open your mind to another culture and way of life, and open doors to employment and adventure.

2.There are lots of great opportunities to work and study.

Spain has excellent language schools, sports academies and clubs, choirs, orchestras, independent startups and opportunities for millenials. If you have a skill, the passion and enthusiasm for what you do will carry you a long way, and make you loads of friends and contacts.

3. The people are known for being welcoming, friendly, and family orientated. 


Photo: Monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

Spaniards are always pleased when they discover that you have chosen to come to Spain, and will give you lots of opportunities to practise your new language skills, as they are often very inquisitive. “I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain”, said George Orwell, and we know he was right about lots of things. If you are lucky enough to stay with a Spanish family, you’ll soon find out that they’ll out-mum even your mum!

4. It’s a really cheap place to be a student


Photo: Morenovel/Depositphotos

Rent and food are good value. In a list of 100 European cities, the cost of living in Spanish cities is low according to Expatistan (Barcelona 36, Madrid 47, Bilbao 55, Valencia 58, Malaga 64, Seville 65) over London number 4 and Bristol, number 16. A small beer will still only set you back €1-€2 in the back streets, eating out is cheap, and in a few cities, it’s actually free, as tapas are served at no extra charge with drinks!

5. It has the highest number of public non working holidays per year of any European country.

The Spanish even have a word for an extended long weekend (‘puente’ , a bridge) which runs into another public holiday in the following week: it’s called an ‘‘acueducto”, literally, an aqueduct. It’s a great place to work, because you get more holiday.

READ MORE Spain's public holidays in 2018: Official list

6. Diversity within one nation


Photo: Pablofdezr1984/Depositphotos

The regions of Spain offer something for everyone; the languages (5 of them!); the climate, from arid desert and breathtaking beaches in the South, the sunny Mediterranean, the windy Atlantic, the paradise islands of the Balearics and the Canaries, the green mountains of Asturias and the Pyrenees, and cooler weather with great waves on the Northern coasts. There are bustling cities, towns steeped in culture, and sleepy villages. With so much variety on offer, you’re bound to find somewhere that’s perfect for your year abroad.

7. Something for everyone

The arts, culture; music, sport; the Spanish are fanatical about all of these; there is so much more than flamenco and football to Spanish leisure time. You’ll be able to find others who have embraced the things you love, from windsurfing to street art, from hillwalking to horticulture. Spending time with people who share your passions and interests is the best way to improve your language skills, and will build you a group of ready made friends.

8. Bizarre and fabulous cultural experiences are part of everyday life


Seville's April Fair is something to dress up for. Photo: AFP

Each town and village has its own, and they are as rich and as varied as the country itself. From herds of sheep parading through Madrid to men leaping over babies, each festival has fascinating and strange origins that will give you a window into Spain’s soul.

READ MORE 12 Epic fesitvals to attend in 2018

9. Spain is one of the most tolerant and accepting countries in the world

Spain has a more open attitude towards migration, the role of the EU, homosexuality and different family structures. In short, it’s a great place to just be yourself!

READ ALSO: Five reasons why it's good to be gay in Spain

10. You’ll never be short of visitors from home


Photo: Kasto/Depositphotos

Everyone will want to come and visit, and with so many low cost flights into Spain, it’s easy for them to do so. You’ll have a great time showing friends and family the hidden side of this rich and varied country and its culture, and your parents will see that a Gap Year is a really worthwhile investment in your future career and independence.

If you’re considering a Gap Year to improve your Spanish, have an amazing time, and ensure your CV stands out from the crowd, just get in touch with Emily at The Language Gap.

She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and local contacts worldwide to take the stress and uncertainty out of planning your time abroad, initial consultations are free.

 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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