But I Don’t Want to Leave

There is no doubt that Puerto Rico is a beautiful place to live in. Wonderful tropical weather year round, many beautiful beaches just a stone’s throw away from just about anywhere. There’s always a party or celebration going on nearby, keeping things light and festive, and yet there are places where there’s a quiet serenity and awe-inspiring locations. So the question is, “why are so many Puerto Ricans moving out of the island?”

Truth of the matter is, Puerto Rico is in a great decline, fiscally speaking.  The recession hasn’t been kind to the island and the unemployment rate just keeps increasing. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is at 14.7% as of October 2013, the highest point this year. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for graduates to find jobs centered on the skills they’ve developed in Puerto Rico. El Nuevo Día (The New Day), conducted a survey back in January 15 through 17, 2013, that out of 7,000 participants, only 11% have never thought of leaving the island and that out of all of the participants, 62% of them have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little reason to stick around in Puerto Rico after obtaining one’s bachelor’s degree. Puerto Rico doesn’t have enough job openings to accommodate all of the new graduates nor does it offer incentives for them to stay. To make it worse, US companies like Microsoft, DC Public Schools and Boston Scientific, have recruiters regularly visit events like the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Annual Job Fair and lure some of its best students away with internships or offering jobs as soon as they graduate.

Despite all these tempting offers and difficulties in staying, some students really do want to stick around the island. Take for instance, Hector Rodriguez, an undergraduate UPRM student that is studying psychology and is a semester away from graduating. He is also the president of the Gamer’s Guild (GG) in the UPRM and is quite popular amongst the members for his characteristic enthusiasm and willingness to listen and help out.

Hector Rodriguez shortly after the interview in front of a short notice Gamer’s Guild event.

“I’m majoring in psychology and I hope to specialize in clinical psychology.” he said calmly, a far cry from his usual, excitable public persona, “I’ve just always found it interesting how the human mind works and what makes people tick.” He went on to mention that he’s planning on continuing his studies here and earn his doctorate’s degree in clinical psychology and open up his own clinic.

Since he’s planning to open his own clinic, one gets the feeling that he realizes the difficulty of getting a job in Puerto Rico compared to employing himself instead, so I went ahead and asked him about his thoughts on his own job market. “Well, that, like pretty much every other job, it’s difficult to open up your own clinic. But it’s slightly easier because I don’t have to depend on the way the job market currently stands, but it’s still difficult in that I need my own money to start it up and to get the money I need to have a job, a difficult position to be in,” he said confidently. Though his smile wavered at the end, he quickly joked about planning to win the lottery before earning his doctorate to pay for everything.

Despite his confidence and upbeat demeanor, even he seems to recognize the difficulty in sticking around. So, why is he staying in Puerto Rico? “The one reason I’m not leaving Puerto Rico is because of my family. Originally I had planned to leave for the US, but, well, things changed.” Clearly it was something of a downer to him, but he was quick to recover and talk about the other reasons. He’s really appreciative of the beauty of nature in Puerto Rico as it helps him feel at peace wherever he goes, especially places that have been preserved well.

His last reason is what caught my attention the most, though. He gave me a melancholic look, but his voice sounded of one who still held hope, “There’s still this slight hope that things will get better. I mean, sure, it’s a little messed up and statistically speaking, it is proven that it’s pretty bad, but there’s always that bit of a silver lining makes people hope it’ll get better.” He’s not the only one with this sentiment, though, as another student echoes something similar.

That student is Hiram J. Bracero, another UPRM student who majors in civil engineering with a specialization in water resources. He is also another member of the GG and while he is not part of the staff, he is quite dedicated to and supportive of the group. Quite excitable and easy to spot in a crowd, somewhat tall and full of energy, if Rodriguez isn’t around he’s usually the one to bring up the motivation. “The thought of designing and constructing something out of my knowledge of technology has always been thrilling to me, though the only difference from when I started is that I wanted to specialize in structural design at first.”

Hiram Bracero taking a small break from studying to participate in an event.           

Bracero hasn’t planned everything out yet for after graduation, he’s taking it in more or less in stride. “Next semester I’ll start working on all the paperwork for my master’s degree application. On the other hand, I want to be able to find a job regarding civil engineer before I start my master’s degree. If it is not possible to find it, then master’s degree right off the bat it is.” He’s quite jovial about the matter and seems to be prepared for any possibility ahead of him.

Even though he seemed carefree about it, he is well aware of the scarcity of opportunities of potential employment for his specialization. “There are barely any constructions going on apart from Department of Transportation’s projects. It is even harder to find jobs for water resources analyses and designs, since it is a specialized job that is done previous to public or private infrastructure projects.” He has clearly done his research and is prepared to take his chances. But just why is he taking these chances? He has to, his sense of duty and professionalism won’t allow him to leave like this.

He was no longer smiling, and bitterly, he talked about how he dislikes the idea. He understands and actually agrees that the problems in Puerto Rico merit the young people looking for an opportunity, to just leave and find them, but that he personally can’t do it. His bitterness seemed to be aimed at Puerto Rico’s poor state. “As a civil engineer, my job is to find solutions to everyday life problems in the civil aspect of life. What does it really say about me as a professional if I just leave an island that is having a hard time due to lack of innovative ways of infrastructure, energy-saving technologies, etc. As an engineer I can’t feel right with leaving the island without at the very least trying to make something of my time here, something meaningful.”

Leaving Puerto Rico at this point seems less like a choice and more like a necessary evil that very few students find a way around. Students have many reasons to stay and quite a few want to, whether it is due to family ties or due to a sense of obligation to their home land or any reason in between. If nothing else, with determined students like these, as Rodriguez said before, “there’s always still hope”.


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