By Jonay Suárez, Head of Marketing at Wibbu.
Someone pulls up on a bicycle. They park it up against a tree and head towards us, smiling with a radiant light that this cloudy day desperately longs for. We find ourselves at a coffee shop in Shoreditch with Nerea. The plan was to ask her about how she learnt English. But Nerea doesn’t speak about that. Nerea speaks about what humans are capable of, and how we can turn our dreams into reality.
Nerea, tell us, how long have you been living in London and why did you come here?
I’ve been here for six years. I came to improve my English – more specifically, to understand it better. I had been to Poland on the Erasmus programme, but I was still struggling with English, particularly when it came to communicating with people from the UK.
I also chose London because I used to work as a model in Spain, and London is one of the main fashion hubs in the world.
What were you doing previously in Spain?
I worked at Citibank for three months. It was there where I realised that working for a bank was not my dream, and so I began looking into moving to London.
Could you already speak English when you arrived here?
Yes, I spoke a little. I would say that I was at an intermediate level. But the most difficult thing was understanding the language. I had a long way to go in terms of perfecting and understanding other accents.
What difficulties did you face when you first arrived?
You know something that happened a lot? When I was going to flat viewings, I would call to ask for directions, but I could never understand what they were telling me! They would explain the directions, but I just couldn’t find the houses! I spent hours trudging around in the rain trying to find them. I simply couldn’t do it.
I also went to a casting audition for a music video because I thought that they were looking for female dancers and models. When it got to me, they asked, “Which song have you prepared for today?” I replied, “I’m sorry… What do you mean?” They said, “Well, we’re auditioning singers.” I told them that I had come as a model, but if they really wanted me to sing then I would sing! I had no idea how to sing, but I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity. I was brave, and I gave it my best shot. As I didn’t know any songs, I took my phone, searched for a song by a Spanish band, and started to sing in Spanish. And guess what… They picked me!
And it all happened because of a misunderstanding! I suppose that when they called me they must have said that it was a singing audition, but since I didn’t understand them, I just went for it!
What did you do to improve your English?
The first thing I did was to take the First Certificate exams to consolidate my grammar. And then I did things that I enjoyed. For example, I began writing a blog and recording videos in English. I pushed myself to do interesting things in English – things that I already liked. That made a big difference.
We know that you worked at a big investment firm here in London. How did you get that job?
Well, it came at a time when I had lots of jobs on the go, but none that was stable. I was doing bookkeeping for an estate agent, I was modelling, and I was also teaching Spanish.
It was incredibly stressful. After a year of doing that, I was exhausted. I never knew how much money I was going to earn. So there was a moment when I had it in my mind to go back to Spain. I told myself that if I couldn’t find a job within one month related to what I had studied, then I would move back.
But one day, in one of those serendipitous life moments, I was walking in the rain around London Bridge and I started speaking with a man about how bad the weather was. The man began asking me the usual questions: what was I doing here, where was I from etc. And amongst this, he said I could maybe work at his company.
He suggested that we go to speak about it over a coffee. At first, I found it a little peculiar, but as it was already 5pm and it was just a coffee, I accepted. There was something about that man and that situation that reassured me. Miracles do happen from time to time, and I think this was one of those times.
When we got to the coffee shop, the man began to describe the job to me: I would be working at a large financial company, I would get to travel all over the world, I would be on a good salary etc. He then gave me his card and told me to take a look at the website. He said that if I was interested, I should send him my CV.
To my surprise, when I checked out the website, I saw that it was the second largest company in the trading world. I sent over my CV there and then, and they called me to arrange an interview. After three interviews, they hired me!
I remember when I walked into the office on my first day. 300 English people and me. I immediately asked myself, “What am I doing here?” I knew nothing about this world! But I told them that I was a fast learner and that they would see this. They gave me a three-month probation period and they then offered me a permanent contract.
So how did you go from there to setting up your own company?
I often had to eat out with our clients. They either spoke about banking or politics, or they simply didn’t speak at all! Some were quiet, but since I was very into human psychology and often read about life coaching, I would begin asking them questions about their problems and I would try to find solutions. Anything to get them speaking!
I tried to help them and to coach them without them noticing. Suddenly, what started off as dull dinners turned into something that I loved because it involved coaching. It was then that I realised that this is what I wanted to be doing, and so I took the plunge.
I wanted to inspire people around the world, to contribute and to share my knowledge. I wanted to be reassured that people were waking up each day feeling inspired, with a mission at hand, and with their lives perfectly aligned with what was most important to them. That is why I set Smiles For The world.
What do you see as the advantages of being an entrepreneur?
Having the freedom to do what I genuinely like, and the satisfaction of starting up a project that is mine: something that contributes to the world and has been created by me.
I don’t believe that human beings are machines that need to go to work from Monday to Friday from 9 till 5. I don’t believe in this because there are days where you don’t want to work, days where your body asks you to stay at home and rest – and this is natural. It’s part of being human. And being an entrepreneur, although it depends on the stage of your company, allows you to do this, to be more natural. You’re able to listen more to your body and your mind.
I also think that as an entrepreneur you can contribute more to the world and help people around you. Much more than you would do working for others.
“I also think that as an entrepreneur you can contribute more to the world and help people around you. Much more than you would do working for others”.
How has the work that you’ve created through your company been received by British people?
Very well. In fact, many who take the courses and come to the coaching sessions are British. I think that British people see in me what they want to achieve: being more sociable, seeing things in a positive light etc.
I help them feel more secure about themselves, to be more open, and to improve their ways of communicating with others. It’s a bit of a paradox that a Spanish person who isn’t a native English speaker is teaching British people how to communicate! But that’s the challenge. For me it’s a personal challenge that I really enjoy.
What is your secret for maintaining a positive attitude?
The secret is to be responsible for your mood, for your life, for your career. We have a tendency to expect the world to just give us things for free and to expect other people to come and save us.
You can always do something to change your life. If you are in a job that you don’t enjoy, you are there because you have put yourself in that situation. There are ways to change these things.
Instead of saying, “I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to change things,” it is better to say, “I am going to learn to do it.” When you take personal responsibility for your own life, when you become more invested in it and you start to look for answers, that’s when you realise that there are solutions for everything.
“When you take personal responsibility for your own life, when you become more invested in it and you start to look for answers, that’s when you realise that there are solutions for everything”.
What would you say to someone who doesn’t think that their English is good enough and who doesn’t think that they’ll ever learn it?
I was never interested in English growing up and I also couldn’t understand why I needed it. My mum helped me (not least by doing my homework for me) because I really didn’t like and I just couldn’t make head or tail of it.
But everything changed after I came to England for the first time for a three-week intensive language course. It was there that I realised that with English you can speak to anyone in the world! And since I was so interested in anything and everything related to people, I thought that English would open up doors for me. The most important thing for me wasn’t English itself, but the opportunities and the possibilities that would arise because of English and the ability to communicate with anyone in the world!
For someone who doesn’t think that English is for them, the first thing to do is find a motivation to learn the language.
You need to find a strong motivation. A driving force. As soon as you find solutions, the excuses begin to die away. They no longer exist because you are pouring all of your energy into finding solutions.
When you speak English, it alters your reality. The world is suddenly yours. There are no boundaries. You are free to go anywhere in the world and you will be understood. You will be able to speak with and do things for other people. That is extremely powerful.
“When you speak English, it alters your reality. The world is suddenly yours”.