07 November 2019
Category : Interview
FIIAPP Expatriates: Pilar Fernández
"You see things with a different perspective, what cooperation looks like in the field, and it all adds up - you learn and expand your way of seeing things"Photograph by Pilar Fernández
Pilar Fernández, coordinator of the ICRIME project, tells us about her experience as a FIIAPP expatriate, her adaptation to El Salvador and her daily routine in the country.
How long have you been in El Salvador? What has your adaptation to this country been like?
I landed in San Salvador on June 4, so I have spent more than five months coordinating the ICRIME project, which is funded by the European Union, AECID and the Central American Integration System (SICA). In the project, managed by the FIIAPP, the main objective is the reinforcement of investigation units, forensic institutes, and criminal investigation networks and procedures in the SICA.
As for the adaptation, it has not been very difficult since previously I had lived for a few periods of 3-4 months in San Salvador, between 2013 and 2017. Therefore, I already knew the city, how to move around the country, who to call to take a taxi, where to go shopping, what to visit, etc. In addition, friends here, both Salvadorans and Spaniards, always affectionately make you a new “welcome plan“.
What has been the most difficult aspect to adapt to, and the easiest?
Although I have lived in San Salvador in previous years, it is still difficult to get used to the great storms and the tremors, as they call earthquakes here, since we are in the ‘Valley of the Hammocks’ for good reason and there are continuous ‘tremors’.
From another side, due to security issues, going for walks is tricky, and getting around the city on foot, especially after dark. Not having that freedom of movement is hard to get used to, since in Madrid I walked a lot.
The easiest things for me were the logistical issues of finding an apartment to live in for almost three and a half years. Thanks to my friend Xiomara, before arriving in San Salvador, I already had photographs of different apartments to choose from, because she took the time to visit them. In three days, I saw all the apartments and signed the rental agreement.
Do you have any special experiences or anecdotes about your arrival/adaptation to the country?
Well, certainly the arrival in San Salvador was somewhat rough, since we left Madrid airport three hours late. This was because the plane burst a tyre before entering the taxiway. So, we returned to the starting point at the airport, fire fighters came and in the end we had to change planes. But the aircraft’s alarm systems worked…
Also, as the flight goes via Guatemala, when we went to land at La Aurora airport in Guatemala City, they told us that we had to keep circling in the airspace until a big storm passed… so another 40 minutes late… So, all-in-all a 24-hour trip.
So, you had lived in El Salvador before?
Yes, I had the experience of living in the ‘Tom Thumb of Central America’. I was managing two projects on issues of Central American regional integration and democratic security with SICA. Since the headquarters of the General Secretariat are in San Salvador, I moved here for different periods over five years.
What is your work like, your daily routine? Is it very different from the routine you had in Spain?
We are working at the headquarters of the Directorate of Democratic Security (DSD) of the General Secretariat of SICA. So the daily tasks in the office means being in contact with the DSD team that carries out the overall coordination of the project. In addition, being in the same building facilitates communication and work with the people who make up the Spain SICA Fund, an instrument of Spanish Cooperation that also implements other results from the project.
The team is now fully formed with two main specialists, the project manager, the three local people from El Salvador and myself as project coordinator. So coordination between the teams, with the Delegation of the European Union in Central America and with the beneficiary institutions, is vital to achieving the project results.
After leaving the office there is always a short time to share with friends, attend an event at the Cultural Centre of Spain in El Salvador, do some sport or rest. So the routine is a bit similiar to the one I had in Spain.
What is your relationship like with the FIIAPP team in Madrid? And with your colleagues in El Salvador?
The relationship with the FIIAPP team in Madrid, with Esther Utrilla, Sonsoles de Toledo and Cristina de Matías, is close and daily. In fact, with Esther, due to the seven-hour difference between Spain and El Salvador, we leave one another WhatsApp messages to keep ourselves up to date, in addition to emails. I am also very grateful for the support of my colleagues in the Strategy and Communication area, Iosu Iribarren and Laura Ruiz. As well as Sara Ruiz from HR.
With respect to my colleagues in El Salvador, we have integrated quite well, we are gradually getting to know each other. Both Mariano Simancas, project manager and Lola Moreno, main expert and myself, are new to the FIIAPP, so we are learning together about the application of the internal procedures, and how to approach the implementation of the project. And of course, I have a great opportunity to learn about forensic topics and criminal investigation with them, since they have a vast and wide experience. So I’m very happy, because professional enrichment is guaranteed!
How would you rate your experience of working as a FIIAPP expatriate?
I value it positively. It’s a test, a calculated challenge. Having to leave your country, your city, family, your friends, that comfort zone – it’s not easy. But it means an evolution in professional and personal development.
You live outside Spain, and you also make a small family almost 8,700 kilometres from Madrid. You see the things that happen in our country, in El Salvador and in the Central American region from a different perspective, and you experience cooperation in the field, and this all adds up – you learn and expand your way of seeing things.
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