The one with the job hunt fiasco

A while ago a friend sent me a job posting for an IT support position which required a good level of English and Czech or Slovene language. Finding a job in Uruguay that doesn’t require Spanish is not easy and there are a few companies that officially work in English, but to find one that requires Slovene was hard to believe. If true, I felt I just won a lottery, since I know only one other Slovene guy here and he’s the one who sent me the advertisement.

Over two months passed and I forgot about it until I got a call out of the blue. I don’t pass around my phone number lightly, so if it’s not a call from a friend or a family member, it’s either from a recruiter or less likely a telemarketer. Recruiters sometimes speak Spanish and that happened in this case, which threw me off for a few moments until I realized it what was about. Until she mentioned Slovene, I had no idea regarding which job was this for, since I routinely send applications and quickly lose track of them. Most don’t even bother to reply or notify you once the position has been filled, making exact tracking almost impossible task.

close up of human hand
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Anyway, I was skeptical from the start, because there used to be a country called Czechoslovakia, which (during the “communist spring” starting at the end of 1989) split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The latter is more known worldwide and often confused with Slovenia, which used to be part of former Yugoslavia. Logic dictates the job add should say “Czech or Slovak”, but I was sure that will get cleared up right away. I gave it a go, even though I felt the chances they were actually looking for Slovene are very small.

The recruiting company ran with the Slovene language, which was what they got from their customer – a huge multinational technology and services company. I didn’t question it further, because the email I got from the recruiter was in English followed by the same text, except in Slovene (humorously translated by Google translate). I accepted an interview at their office, which went well and then a follow-up interview at the actual company the very next day. Once I got there, the person responsible was not present, so I talked with three of her coworkers. The one taking the lead immediately asked me to confirm I speak English and Slovak. I said yes to English, but no to Slovak. “I speak Slovene,” I explained. She had to confirm over the phone which language they actually need. Then they asked how big the difference is and if I could manage to speak Slovak. I explained even though both are part of the Slavic language group, they are not similar enough to easily manage. They finally got the picture when I said it’s probably like Spanish and Portuguese.

They asked me to list my experiences and languages in case they have a different opening and kindly escorted me out. I’m hoping something will come out of this, but I left with a reassured old life lesson when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In conclusion, I can add that even though this whole process was not a walk in the park, since my wife had to cancel some work appointments in order to stay with the kids on such a short notice, having two interviews two days in a row, I could easily see similar ignorance happening in European HR department. Some of my friends have no problem mixing up Uruguay with Paraguay, except, of course, both use Spanish as the official language. Then again, Paraguay is actually bilingual and more people speak Guarani (90%) than Spanish (87%). It doesn’t take much effort to study Wikipedia a bit to educate yourself. South America is, with the exception of Brazil, by and large, a Spanish speaking continent. And similar to North America, where English rules, I noticed a comparable attitude and a way of thinking that must somehow be influenced by monolingual society, which simply doesn’t come in contact with another language on a daily basis. Practically all of the media (news, music, radio, movies, TV) is translated and dubbed into Spanish, which eliminates the necessity to learn another language for most people. Distances are vast and traveling is expensive, so most people stay close to home.

For example, if you study medicine in Slovenia, you will get at least half of the study material in English. In Uruguay to become a doctor, you do not need to know a word of English. That fact was shocking to me, especially since this particular field is constantly changing with new research and findings from all around the world. But there is so much material available in Spanish (since most of the material comes from the USA where Spanish represents a significant market share domestically and internationally), an average doctor really doesn’t need it.

If anyone would like to know more on this subject feel free to contact me and I might write more about my thoughts and experiences in Uruguay through European eyes.


After publishing this story I’ve noticed the new posting for this job asking only for English and Czech languages. It seems someone learned a lesson and took more sure approach.

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