Santiago Oviedo, a lanky 24-year-old from Madrid, is on track to get his master's degree in physics this fall. He dreams of becoming a researcher, probing the origins of the universe. But, Oviedo probably will not fulfill his dream at home.
Because of education spending cuts and Spain's downward economic spiral, Oviedo plans to emigrate to Britain, France, the Netherlands or Germany to get his Ph.D. and work at a company that lets him do research. He's afraid he may never work or raise a family in Spain.
"I don't want to go away forever, but looking at the situation how it is now, maybe that will happen," said Oviedo, who heads to every Madrid anti-austerity protest he can fit in between studying. He blames politicians for immersing Spain in its misery.
Young Spaniards are leaving the country in droves in hopes of a brighter future. Their counterparts in Ireland, Italy and Portugal also seek better jobs in other countries. Many of the emigrants blame austerity measures for crushing their countries' economies, but advocates for free enterprise say too much regulation has stifled growth throughout Europe.
In Spain, government-funded scholarships and grants for doctoral study and research have evaporated in the austerity drive that has reduced budgets for scientific research and caused waves of layoffs.
Spain's unemployment rate for people under 25 has risen to 53 percent.
On top of education setbacks, Spain eliminated its Ministry of Science and Innovation last December to save money, making it a division of the Economy Ministry. This spring, university students and teachers led a tide of protests against the education cutbacks.
"The economy is terrible," Oviedo said. "A couple years ago we had a really good public health and education system, but now they are destroying it all. When I have children, I don't want them to live here if they don't have the things I have enjoyed."
When Europe's financial crisis hit full speed, the number of Spaniards in their 20s and early 30s leaving the country increased by 52 percent - from about 12,500 to nearly 20,000, according to government statistics. Young and talented Europeans from other hurting Eurozone nations - Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal - also are abandoning home for stronger European countries as well as former European colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Top destinations are Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Across the border from Spain, Portuguese young people are heading to Brazil and Angola for work. According to statistics based on consulate and embassy registrations, this trend accelerated after Portugal received a bailout of public finances last year. Portugal's prime minister suggested that unemployed teachers should consider working in former colonies.
In bailed-out Ireland, emigration has become a defining national characteristic. More than 76,000 people left last year, representing 1.7 percent of the population. They joined 200,000 who have departed since 2008 at the end of a property boom-gone-bust similar to Spain's.
The Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, New York, reported that the influx of newly arrived Irish jobseekers has multiplied six times since 2009.
Brian Whelan, 28, moved to London from Dublin two years ago after being recruited to work on the Irish pages of the Yahoo news site. Several of his Dublin friends are living outside the country to earn a living.
"Irish people are not having any difficulty landing jobs abroad," he said. "It's often the best and the brightest who are going abroad. Some of the best trained and most able young people are leaving because Ireland can't afford to keep them."
Italy, whose crumbling economy may soon require a bailout, has seen rigid labor laws and chronic cronyism force highly skilled young people abroad. The country's statistics agency reported the number of Italians with college degrees living abroad rose from 8.3 percent in 2001 to 15.9 percent in 2010.
The long-term impact for these countries could be a dying competitiveness as they lose many of their best and brightest.
In addition to the financial crisis, the notoriously strict labor-market regulations in western Europe have caused persistently high unemployment and prevented restructuring efforts that might alleviate unemployment.
Ricardo Caballero, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believes part of the reason for the historical success of the U.S. economy is that its businesses and labor markets have had the flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances.
"That level of churning requires individual companies to make countless decisions in which success depends not merely on good judgment but also on appropriate institutional and contractual frameworks in the economy as a whole. Without those frameworks, employers lack the stability to make reasonable plans and the freedom to exercise their judgment," he said in an article published by the American Enterprise Institute.
And despite Oviedo's conviction that his government's austerity measures are to blame for Spain's woes, J.D. Foster, a fiscal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, says he's only partly right. European governments have to cut spending so that they can continue to pay their bills. But combining austerity measures with massive tax hikes only reduces, or in some cases completely wipes out, private business profitability.
"In a strong economy with more opportunities to adapt, the immediate damage done by some of these tax hikes may be modest, and so government can expect some pickup in revenues along with the pickup in joblessness," he wrote in a recent blog post. "In Europe's economy today, workers and businesses can adapt only by going idle, and so there is little or no pickup in revenues to justify the increase in unemployment.
Gayle Allard, an economist with Madrid's IE Business School believes that countries like Spain could benefit from the exodus if young emigres eventually return, bringing back better work and language skills that could help improve productivity.
"If they come back it will be for the good of the country," she said. "If they don't come back, this is a tragedy."
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.