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What makes Faro special for you,
Macarena Lasierra Alcaide?

It’s summer temperature in Faro. We’re in downtown Faro when Macarena Lasierra opens her door to us with her big smile. It’s a typical Algarve house, white and fresh. After climbing some stairs, we discover a well decorated house. And we are invited to climb some more stairs until we reach the roof top. A view with a palette of whites and greens. A bit of Ria Formosa landscape. A round table with an awning over it around which we sit. To talk about Maca’s volunteering experience in Contextos, and how it shaped her career, as a Product designer now.

You are an ex-volunteer at Contextos, our cooperative. What led you to start volunteering?

During university, I started to think about the fact that I basically spent all my life studying. When I did my Erasmus, I started to meet people that were doing the Erasmus+ and other volunteering programs, similar to what you’re doing now (ESC). I was enjoying being outside of Spain and meeting new people and cultures. I felt I needed a break. So, I started to think about something like that. After my first internship in The Netherlands, I came back to Spain and the pandemic hit. Everything became digital, I was in my house and worked on doing editorial design for people that wanted to self publish their books, but I was missing something. So I thought that could be a good moment to try volunteering, it felt like something I wouldn’t be able to do in some years ahead. That’s why I applied for Contextos. I had a friend that was also volunteering and sent me the application through Facebook. I applied and then everything started.


Now, with your volunteering experience, what can you say volunteering means to you?


For me, volunteering is helping for the sake of helping. Without claiming anything in exchange. And getting inherited benefits from that in a way. Because you learn a lot, you meet wonderful people, and you get a lot of insights that are actually very useful for your life. In three words, it’s about: Culture, Empathy, and to Engage.


“Volunteering is helping for the sake of helping.“


What did your experience in Contextos, for example, bring you?


Contextos volunteering program was very related to what I studied. So for me, it fit very well because I wouldn’t get too far from the path I wanted to follow in my life, which was Design. A lot of programs offer volunteerings for other kinds of activities that are not so related to digital. That’s why that one fitted perfectly for me. As a Product designer, it helped to develop problem solving skills, broaden my horizons and gave me lots of feedback on my approach to design from everyone involved.


Do you feel it shaped your career?


Yes, 100%. It was key for everything I did after. Your experience is everything you’ve done: internships, jobs, projects, volunteerings. Volunteering experience is also work experience, especially if it’s related to what you want to do. After my time in Contextos, I was skeptical whether my experience would be interesting for my future job applications. But I tried and I shared the projects I did there, and it was well received. I think it’s very positive to see that you’re not only working and studying, but that you’re looking for more things. It can show that you have flexibility, that you’re open minded, that you want to try new things, it shows adaptability too. And bringing all of these digital abilities from Contextos to my future projects was very useful.



Now you’re a freelance designer, right?


Yes, I’m a freelancer and also a Product Designer for a Digital Studio. I was a Graphic Designer in Contextos but after that, I transitioned to UX Design and Web Design, which feels more like what I want to be pursuing. It’s very much connected to the idea of understanding how people think and feel when you interact with them or when they interact with other things. And I like that a lot. But yeah, I’m a freelancer and I’m still working on graphic and editorial projects.


You work remotely. How do you balance your personal life and work while traveling?


For me the question would be more towards: how would I balance my life if I had to go to an office? I see more the other way around. This is the easy way that fits who I am and what I want to do. A lot of people started to work remotely with the pandemic. And I believe this is one of the positive outcomes from it, probably one of the best things. Because it allows you to do what you want, still get an income and do it from anywhere in the world, which is amazing. My work doesn’t require me to travel a lot to other countries. I can do everything from my house. If I visit the office, it’s because I want to. So, it’s quite nice and easy to balance. You don’t have to spend time going to work or getting ready. You end up saving this energy and using it towards things you actually enjoy. There is a lot of screen time involved, but you compensate for it with more time outside, exercise and disconnection time. You obviously miss people. But you can get a train, a flight, you can go and see your friends or colleagues. When I was in Contextos, we had the second wave of Covid, and we had to stay in the house. We couldn’t go to the office. And no one was prepared to be working from home. That was the first time I had to stop being in an office and start doing the same things from my house, which was a bit challenging at first. I didn’t have my workstation set up, a good wi-fi connection, a home-based routine. That is the challenging part. But once you get that sorted, it’s just fine.


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What brought you back to Faro? Do you feel a special connection with the city?


Yes, I feel a special connection with Faro. I’ve been in different countries before and I could never imagine myself staying there for longer. I was living in a place for six months and then six months again. And I just keep looking for somewhere where I actually could feel: “I like this place and I want to be here longer”. When I came to Faro, it was my first time living in a place by the ocean. I think that was a big part of it, but also the weather, the people, the vibe. There’s something about the city having lots of nature nearby. There’s the Ria Formosa, the forest, the beach, and I enjoy every single bit of it. But there’s another side to it. When I finished my volunteering in Contextos, I had a problem in my life that made me have to go back home, sadly, like from one day to another, and literally stop everything I was doing for months. Somehow I felt I needed to come back to Faro to heal, because it’s the place where everything started. I don’t know how to phrase it, but I felt like I needed to come here and claim it back. Spending two years so far, the first year here became a journey of recovering, putting my ideas together, figuring out what I want to do and what I want to be. And that’s the main reason Faro is quite important to me.


How has your experience living and working in Faro influenced your creative process or professional ambitions?


You definitely learn a lot while working in Contextos and that’s inspiring. But you get inspired about everything you see and at the end, you are a product of what you see every day. It’s not only about what you consume in terms of food. It’s everything. It’s what you see, what you smell, the people you hang out with. So, I think making this conscious decision of “I want to be here because I like what I’m surrounded by”, it helps you to be more inspired. Also, it was far when I decided I wanna transition to Product Design because, actually, it was being in Contextos and getting a bit more experience and time in the field that gave me the idea of wanting to help, create and bring solutions to life in a different way. I also discovered that I’m very functional. And I wanted to balance that with my creative skills. So, I guess it inspired me to make that change.


“You can always find something bright everywhere. Even in a difficult time.“


As a digital nomad, what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?


To be honest, now, I’m very comfortable and find myself in the conditions I was trying to find for a long time. The challenging part is when you first decide you want to be a digital nomad and you need to find a way to do so. So for me, the challenge was to find a job with no much working experience beyond my previous internships in the middle of a pandemic. All the companies had to reorganize, and some fired a lot of people. How do you find a job at that moment? If you have been working for five years before Covid, it’s probably easier. But it’s not very easy to start finding jobs when you don’t have experience adding the circumstances. I think that was the challenge. Because you cannot be very picky. I first needed to find a place that allowed me to work from Portugal, so I did and it was cool, but not perfect because I would have to go back to Spain at some point. Then I found a place that allowed me to work remotely, but I couldn’t leave my country, which was Spain at that moment. So that wasn’t ideal either. Then I finally started to work for a company that allows me to be anywhere I want, and that feels just right. That was the challenge: to go through all that process of finding the job with the conditions you want. For me, it’s very important and amazing that I can do this Design for life, but I would say that 70% of the rest are the conditions, the people you do it with and how you do it. I wouldn’t be happy if I just had a Design job, but the conditions and company didn’t match my working philosophy, which is: If I want to be here now, why wouldn’t I if I can do my job remotely?


What advice would you give to aspiring digital nomads?


I think everyone should try. If you can, you should do it. I’m telling it to friends, I told my sister, I’m recommending it to everyone. Actually, I wish I did more after. I had to focus on my career when I finished, but who knows, maybe one time I’ll just apply again to one of these programs. Because it’s very nice and you meet lovely people!



European volunteering is discovering a full package. Foreign people, being in a different city, share an apartment with strangers probably… How was your experience?


When I started volunteering at Contextos, there were not many Covid restrictions. So we had a lot of plans to do events, interviews and projects such as People of Faro – more involving being in contact with people. When Covid second way started, we were four people stuck in the same house, in the center of the sunny Faro! We couldn’t go out. You suddenly find yourself locked up with 4/3 people. It is quite interesting because then dynamics change inside the house. You’re together all day and you start to organize a bit better how you’re gonna do things. Because otherwise it’s just gonna end up in conflict! I think we did pretty alright. For me it wasn’t as difficult because I was doing digital work. But let’s say for the photographer it was a bit more complicated because we had a lot of days of not having work. You start with the intention to help and do a lot of things, but then you find yourself not able to. So, we started to have ideas. Internal workshops inside our house for other people to join with the cameras. And we will do things like this to keep things going. We couldn’t do this outside, but at least we could teach each other things that we could apply later on in the future.


You needed even more creativity, right?


Yes! We started to make a magazine, creative workshops and lots of things inside the house. It was a bit complicated at first, but we knew we were in a pandemic, and we knew that something like this could happen. So still, with all the problems we had, I don’t regret anything. I think it was a great idea to come here. We were still able to go out for exercise. So going out for running or cycling in Faro, when Faro is completely empty it’s impacting. In a way you feel very lucky. So it was a nice experience in a way, considering the circumstances. You can always find something bright everywhere. Even in a difficult time. So we were still doing things in a different way, I guess. How else can it be done when there’s no people allowed in the streets?


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Can you share a song that reminds you of the city of Faro, for us to put on our Spotify playlist?


The song that I was listening to all the time when I was here. And it’s still one of my favorite songs now. It’s actually from French DJs: “Gengis” by Polo & Pan.


© Photos by Anja Kloss