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The Break Fellowship - Unethical marketing sponsored by tax-payers money

Updated: Apr 30

The following piece is a long-ass one. I’m writing and publishing it knowing that very few of you would stick through the end. And still, it’s important for me to share my experience about a program that has supposedly a very high ranking, but not a lot of negative feedback available online (if at all). With so many raving reviews (allegedly), future Breakers or ones who consider joining need to know about the not-so-glorious parts of it too.

4 months ago, I saw a post on one of my communities’ feed - The Break is now taking last-minute applications for its upcoming spring cohort. Having applied before (and have not gotten in), I thought I’d give it another chance.

ICYMI, The Break is an EU-funded program for women entrepreneurs who reside in Europe (but not in Spain). On their website, it’s marketed as A 7000€+-worth fellowship for young businesses, solopreneurs and freelancers (less than 5 years in business).

Remember that “grateful” part for later, will ya?

In their own words, The Break is:

“A once-in-a-lifetime journey to build an international network of 1000 women entrepreneurs, develop key skills, boost your business and immerse yourself in a 27-day* work retreat in Spain. The Break Fellowship is compatible with your work agenda.”

Only that description has nothing to do with the experience that I had.

(*Let’s start with the fact that my “experience” lasted 25.5 days if I’m being picky)

Before I dive in, you need to understand a few key points:

  1. As a nomad, I have no problem sharing a room with multiple people for long periods of time. As long as they don’t snore and can be somewhat considerate, I’m completely fine with it.

  2. As to writing this piece, I’ve been running my business for almost 3.5 years.

  3. I’m well aware that everything I’m about to share is a “first-world problem”, and that on paper, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been accepted into such a program.

  4. Knowing that the program might be intense, I cleared my decks and wrapped up multiple projects before I arrived in Madrid the first time around. I had very little client work planned to focus on during those 3 weeks and set (what I thought had been) very realistic goals to achieve during my participation in the program.

  5. Last but not least, this piece is based on my experience alone. When asking other Breakers, many of them have enjoyed their time tremendously. In fact, I know that some Breakers from my own group have taken so much from this experience, while others share the same thoughts and feelings I have about it all. I can’t speak, and I won’t speak on behalf of anyone else (although I am quoting others who have agreed to be quoted for this piece and their experiences).

The Before

Back to mid-February.

Soon after I filled in my application form, I got an email with an interview invitation. A few days later, I sat in my room in Valencia and talked about my business and what I could bring to the table.

The screening process, much like the marketing itself, has raised my suspicion.

And I’m not the only one - many women (freelancers, that’d be important later on) told me, voluntarily, that they questioned whether they were the right fit for the program. They even raised it in their interview. Some of them even declared it, instead of formulating it in the form of a question. They still got in regardless, which was the program’s way of reassuring them that they were.

One woman I co-lived with also asked her interviewer for more information about the program. She only received that information weeks later, when she’d already committed to the program.

A few days later, I got an email that informed me that I passed the interview and got in. No additional steps. At first, I was sure someone was pranking me. That email didn’t have my name on it, so at the very least, I thought it could have been a mistake.

The first email I got about getting selected to “The Break” didn’t contain my name. I thought I was catfished.

A day later, though, I got the same email with my name on it. Both acceptance emails demanded me to sign those T&Cs and upload a shitload of personal documents that state my personal and business situation within 5 days.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the passport I applied with this time was helpful to my acceptance. The first time around, I applied with my Lithuanian passport and didn’t get in. The second time I applied, I used my Israeli one and got in. Both are small countries, and only one of them is in the EU. Coincidence? A planned scheme? I still don’t know, and probably never will.

The process that followed my acceptance was communicated very poorly, and was almost always done at the very last minute. I’m talking about emails with mandatory events the day after tomorrow popping up suddenly and hour-long forms I had to submit with less than two days’ notice. That was a red flag that I could identify from day 1, but I wanted to believe it would get better.

It never did.

On our very first group meeting, with almost 400 women in the Zoom room, we were informed about the time commitment that the program requested from us, for us to become official graduates. Later on, I discovered part of that information on their website, but not all of it. It may have been a part of the application process, but frankly, I didn’t remember it. I also never received a copy of my application form, so I had no way of tracing it. Long story short, I did not feel as if I knew about it before I agreed to take part in it all.

Another red flag that I somewhat consciously chose to ignore.

But at the time, that didn’t help my full-on panic attack:

60+ hours of webinars, mentoring sessions and group meetings, most of which were supposed to be squeezed into 2.5 months (before the in-person experience). Most of which must be attended live, because our time is tracked. Without it, you can’t graduate.

In a way, I was lucky. My “project” wasn’t an extracurricular thing, and I didn’t have to juggle a part-time or a full-time job while being in Spain. I don’t have bosses to answer to or times that I must be “online”. So the fact that my business and its growth was the only thing on the agenda for me made things easier. I also don’t have kids or other commitments, so if I could only squeeze in filling in a silly personality test at 1 am, that’s what I did.

But I digress.

Where was I? Oh right, the full-on panic attack.

I wasn’t the only one.

Multiple new and old friends who got into this round of the program texted me frantically on Whatsapp during that first Zoom meeting: “What?! Where would I fit 60+ hours in my hectic schedule in the next 3.5 months???”.

It was easily a part-time job. Most of those webinars were scheduled between 16:00 and 18:00. Sometimes twice a week, occasionally three times a week. So if you’re based in Europe but working with clients in the US, you’re very much screwed.

Again, it was made very clear to us from the very beginning that we needed to attend those webinars, The Break School, live, so our time could be tracked.

It wasn’t entirely clear if re-watching the recording later (let alone at 2x speed) would be counted (and if at 2x speed, are you only credited for one hour?). The opinions of my fellows on that matter were (and are) as divided as any country’s current political map.

There was a lot of confusion in that first webinar, again, mostly due to very bad communication from the organizers’ side.

At first, I really felt for them. It’s not easy to answer repetitive questions from almost 400 women, on a live session or otherwise. Especially when most of those questions were pretty annoying, had to do with a personal case, or simply weren’t the sharpest questions in the toolbox.

As someone who could figure out some things by herself, the only questions I had weren’t very obvious, and were not answered in those webinars. So I sent a couple of those questions to the organizers by email.

To this day, I have never received a reply to those emails.

And I’m not the only one who had experienced that.

Again, initially, I felt for the organizers. Answering hundreds of emails every day while trying to arrange it all is near damn impossible.

But let me also throw into the mix an interesting fact: this cohort was the third (!!!) one that was organized. Even though it was significantly larger than the previous ones, this wasn’t their first time at the rodeo. Then, when you consider that the EU allocated around 7 million euros for this entire project, you can’t help but wonder why didn’t they hire another person or two (if not more) to take care of the Breakers' peace of mind.

Or where did all that money go, or on what. I still wonder about that.

Back to the webinars, or as they call it, The Break School.

Here are just a handful of the topics we were “taught”:

  • Strategic Design for Business Innovation - Design, solving the real problem

  • Finances for Entrepreneurs

  • Pitch Deck, Investor Deck y Pitching

  • Building your Marketing Strategy with Positive Communication outputs

  • Alliances, networking and stakeholder communication

  • The new digital economy based on Blockchain, DApss and the metaverse

  • Sustainability- Carbon print how to set the pillars of a sustainable business

( - Spanish spelling and all, this is exactly how those webinars showed in my calendar).

As you can see #1, it was a mix of very basic topics for beginners and very advanced topics that some couldn’t even understand or had zero interest in.

As you can see #2, most of the webinars were aimed toward projects that needed funding, or it’s a major part of their future viability. So much for freelancers, eh?

What you cannot see #1, however, is what a complete waste of time those webinars were. They were definitely not suitable for intelligent and somewhat business-savvy women who run a business for more than 2 years. In some cases, especially when it came to marketing strategy, I could easily teach those webinars myself (and I’m not trying to brag here).

What you cannot see #2 is how unempathetic those webinars were, in my opinion, to those beginners. Specifically during the pitching webinars, we were “taught” how to pitch our ideas and encouraged to volunteer and give it a shot ourselves - mind you, we were just “taught” how to do that minutes prior. The lecturer, if you can even call her that, always had “feedback”, but I found it to be very patronizing… Especially when some women nailed their pitches when put on the spot.

So the webinars were a huge waste of time and energy and a huge stressor for me. The chat section was always off the rails, and the conversations there ranged between questions about unclear webinar information (that were rarely answered or addressed by the organizers), and personal chats that made focusing on the webinar topics a nightmare.

At some point, I logged onto those webinars and immediately muted them. On some other occasions, I put it on and went out for a walk.

Yet again, I hoped that the in-person experience would be worth it.

And damn it, my gut feeling knew better than I wanted to believe.

To determine where we’d be staying, I filled in yet another form/personality test, that asked us about our preferences - what environment I’d like to be in? How do I feel about sharing a room with others? How do I behave when I’m around people with different belief systems/dietary needs than mine?

A few weeks later, during one of those group webinars, we were introduced to our host communities and group members (we were spread across 20+ communities all over Spain).

We were also introduced to the fact that while we were there, we’d be working as a team to solve a local challenge. We were all happy to contribute. But my excitement about giving back to the local community soon changed when I realized how backward and nonsensical our local challenge was (more on that later). Those group sessions were also when we had more specific questions answered, a few of them had to do with the house and the room-sharing situation. “You’ll be sharing rooms in pairs”, we were promised. Can you guess what really happened? I bet you can’t, really.

In between those webinars, we got (what felt like) dozens of emails that requested us to join groups across multiple platforms: Linkedin, Whatsapp, Circle, Google Classroom - the notification circus was on, and I was overwhelmed.

When I accidentally missed one of the too many emails with a link to join the Circle community, I got another email, a scolding one, a few weeks later: “You need to join the Circle community to take part in The Break. If you don’t, we’ll assume that you’re not taking this seriously and won’t be able to participate in the program”. That email arrived after I’d joined already many, if not all of the webinars that were scheduled until then (unfortunately). I join the Circle community and never opened it ever since.

To add salt to injury, aside from the webinars, we also had 4 online “mentoring” sessions. The first session was with one of our community facilitators, where I told him about my business, my objectives, and where I’m headed.

The upcoming sessions were hosted by an organization named “mentor day”. We were supposed to be matched to those mentors by, yes, yet another preferences form. The second mentoring session was about business analysis.

I had to, yet again, tell my whole business story to a new person, and talk about my goals, target market, and all of those shenanigans. My mentor in that session was a very nice Spanish woman who gave me a name of an interesting company to follow and advised me to give Instagram another chance (even though I explicitly told her that I tried that and saw no results, partially because some of my target audience isn’t there, and partially because as a writer, I couldn’t understand Instagram and didn’t click with it whatsoever).

My mentor for my 3rd and 4th sessions (finances and marketing, respectively) was a nice Argentinian accountant. That 3rd session was the first time during this whole program that I was on the verge of tears. It would certainly not be the last time.

During that session, we went through a 6-page form that The Break sent our way, with countless questions about our business viability, funds, and whatnot. To calculate those aspects, we were provided with links to specific articles - that were all in Spanish.

Doing all of those calculations was stressing me out. “I’m not going to do it, I don’t have the time to do it right now”, I told my mentor, holding back my tears, but I was still stressing about the thought that it was a mandatory form to submit to officially graduate. It was only much later after the fact that I learned that I didn’t have to submit this form. It was merely optional, a “helpful tool” for us to plan better.

The following session with her was all about marketing. Being tired of the amount of BS I had to endure up until that point, and being physically tired thanks to the world champion of snoring sleeping in my dorm room at the time, I showed up to this session and asked my mentor to show me her marketing plan, “to see it in action”. I ended up giving her a free consultation, which I found to be the best use of my time in this part of the program up until that point.

Having been in Spain already, I planned to get to Seville and get to Madrid (the meeting point, where we started and ended the fellowship) by train.

The program was covering our transportation, which I was initially grateful for.

But I didn’t get my train ticket until April 14th. The program itself started on May 19th.

It made planning in advance, especially in my case, much more challenging than I thought. I couldn’t book any hostels in Seville until I knew for a fact that I could catch a train from there… which made my accommodation booking more expensive.

At least both “mentor day” and the travel agency were answering questions via email. Considering that I never heard back from The Break itself, it was somewhat of a consolation.

But I was lucky in that regard - many of my friends had flights booked to be landing after the networking part in the opening evening of the in-person experience. Some of them had indirect flights booked with the most ridiculous layovers (that would pretty much guarantee them missing the connection flight).

The most ludicrous story was of a close friend of mine: her flight back from Madrid to Dresden (via Amsterdam) got canceled the night before departing. Panicked, she sent an urgent email to the travel agency, who in turn, tried booking her the following flight: Madrid -> Zurich -> Frankfurt -> Dresden. “Just book me a flight to Berlin and a train to Dresden”, she wept with frustration. “No can’t do”, was the reply, “we can book you the flight to Berlin, but you’ll have to take care of booking the train ticket and handle the refund from KLM”. She got home safe and sound but still hasn’t received her refund yet.

Remember that I mentioned that red flag about communicating things at the very last moment? I had no idea where I was supposed to get to in Madrid, what was I supposed to do after getting to the train station, where I’d be staying, or what type of room I’ll get (private? A dorm?) until a few days before I arrived in Spain’s capital.

I was relieved to get a Notion document the weekend before my arrival. The agenda for that single day in Madrid, on the other hand, sent shivers down my spine (more on that in the next section).

But with my train ticket booked, and no return flight booked (by choice), I was more than ready to see what the in-person experience was like. I packed my bags and hopped on a train from Sevilla to Madrid, and hoped to be wrong.

The During

“Who is your host community?”, one of the organizers greeted me after I checked into the fancy hotel that they booked for us for the night.

I gave her the name, and her expression changed dramatically. “Oh my god, you’re going to love it so much!”, she almost melted in front of me. “It’s one of the best host communities we have”.

Okay, that’s a good start, I thought.

I went up to my room and almost jumped with joy seeing it. I’ve never had such a luxurious room all to myself.

If anything else, having one night in this hotel room is worth it, I thought.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of events, networking, and insufferable noise levels.

… That’s simply what happens when you put almost 400 women in one acoustically untreated room. And then another. And another.

The opening ceremony was long. 2 hours long.

During one part, the head organizer asked us to turn to a woman on our side and tell her what it is that we needed for the next 3 weeks. “Boundaries”, I finally managed to find the right words. That was something I sure needed to work hard on maintaining, but I couldn’t imagine how much.

Some of the speakers were somewhat inspiring. At some point, facilitators from each host community went up on stage and read a 3-page long heartfelt letter from their hearts to ours. That was the only part of that ceremony that felt was truly genuine to me.

Next up, one of the main organizers went on stage and sarcastically bashed every speaker before her. When she was done being mean, she found a new target. “You need to be grateful to be selected and have all that money invested in your entrepreneurial journey”, she slurred. Even sitting down on that evening, I felt degraded. By all means, if you want to invest that 7000€ in a family in need and take me out of the program right now, do it, I thought to myself. I didn’t care for her attitude at all.

When she finished her slandering speech, she invited two women from previous cohorts to join her on stage. “It has literally changed my life”, said one of them, an elegant and well-spoken woman who is now running a successful business (according to her). She was impressive. I wanted to believe her. She described how she had joined The Break right after moving out of NYC (or was in the process of), and how lost she felt. How she found herself during this experience, and how, for the first time ever, she fully allowed herself to be, speak, and behave like her true self.

That part of the event was sealed with brave hugs between all three women. Something about the dichotomy between the organizer’s overall negative attitude and the openness and gratefulness of these two women felt misfitting. I couldn’t understand why my BS radar was going off the charts then.

Just before the ceremony ended, the head organizer got back on stage, holding some kind of a traditional Spanish ceramic vase. “I want you all to close your eyes and think of what you don’t want to take with you for the next 3 weeks”, she said. “And when you have it, hold it in your fist and raise your hand. Now open your eyes and throw that thought toward the vase and shout BROCCOLI!” (the “broccoli” part was an interesting analogy she used earlier about the structure of complicated vs. complex problems).

“Broccoli!!!”, the room shook.

To end the ceremony, ironically, we welcomed a Spanish government official with broken English to the stage. A man. “You can if you just believe in yourselves” was the gist of what he said, and my friends and I couldn’t help but cringe in our seats. At this point of the ceremony, I was so fed up with the BS, the self-adoration of the organizers to their efforts and overall program premise, and so existentially tired, that I couldn’t stop laughing throughout his entire speech. I wasn’t proud of it. But the tears streaming down my eyes were a good indication of what was to come.

But I was genuinely excited to meet my fellows and my facilitators in person for the first time. I had only met them through a screen and was curious to figure them out in real life. I was excited to meet other women from all over the world and hear their stories.

Between the endless networking, increasing FOMO, and organizational shenanigans, I got very little sleep that night. The next day was just as hectic: between 7 am and 12 pm, we needed to: check out, have breakfast, go to another networking session (1 hour), have another session with our own host community facilitators (1 hour), and have a picnic before hopping on a bus to our destination. I was a complete zombie.

As we were boarding the bus, the skies in Madrid started to be covered in heavy clouds. Rain poured out as we left the city.

The ride to the little town we stayed in lasted almost 6 hours, even though on paper, it’s only a 4-hour drive. Spanish time (and a small detour to drop another cohort at their place, and a long toilet/food break halfway).

We arrived in pouring rain, the clouds were so heavy that it felt like we arrived at a very late hour, even though it was only around 6 pm. We hurried inside with our luggage, where we were welcomed by a candle-lit buffet with tapas and drinks, and the rest of the local facilitators.

I was still very tired, I couldn’t get enough sleep on the bus, and traveling across the country twice in the span of less than 48 hours was a lot for me. Some Breakers had it worse with longer flights and much longer bus rides, I tried to remind myself, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

On the big table at the heart of the dining area, we found 14 envelopes with our names on them. “The owner of the house is traveling a lot this month, so he couldn’t be here in person to greet you”, we were told, “So he matched you and decided which rooms you’d be in according to the energy he got from your photos”. Sounds creepy? Cause it was. Which photos? Where’d he get them from? We never got a real answer to those either.

The house was impressive at first sight. A 3-floored Spanish house that is rented out throughout the year as a yoga retreat house. And then I discovered that I was about to share the biggest room in the attic with 5 other women.

Aside from our room, there was one room of 2 and two rooms of 3. So much for what we were promised.

All six of us stood in the room, looked around and at one another, and tried to make sense of this weird situation. Who gets which bed was our first real group task. The room was divided into a main area with 4 twin beds, and two cave-like rooms with very low entry doors.

“When do you usually go to sleep and wake up?” one of us finally said, and we started sharing our preferences. We had two night owls among us (one was yours truly), one who claimed to be waking up at 6 am every morning, and 3 others in between. One night owl and the early bird got the two cave-like rooms, thinking that this was the way to handle the multiple alarms at multiple hours situation.

At least we had an en-suite bathroom and toilet, I thought then. But that turned out to be a nightmare in itself because the entrance doors to the room and to the bathroom (that were placed side by side) were extremely loud.

I ended up taking the bed closest to both of those doors, and during that first evening, before even going to sleep I realized what a mistake that was. I approached the early bird of our group privately and asked her if she’d be willing to switch beds with me. “First one up, first one out”, I tried to explain my logic to her. “I prefer staying in that room”, she said without even giving it a second thought, “I like that little space to myself”, she said and sealed the conversation.

I walked up to our room extremely frustrated. With exhaustion clouding my mind, all I could think of was not getting any sleep in the next 3 weeks.

I didn’t participate in any of the group activities that night. I was too tired and frustrated. I went up and stayed in bed until the lights out.

As I was tossing and turning in bed, in the dark, tears of frustration and exhaustion streamed down my eyes as I was trying to fall asleep.

My dark thoughts from the previous night came into a reality - I barely slept, yet again. As a night owl, I couldn’t fall asleep until well past midnight, and every time someone went to the toilet throughout the night or morning I woke up.

But that wasn’t even the biggest problem. The mattresses we slept on were ridiculously soft. So soft that half of my lower body sank into it, and I woke up every morning at an obtuse angle. If it wasn’t so sad and infuriating, it would’ve been funny. My back was killing me.

The next morning, I caught up with what I’d missed the night before. Apparently, that well-spoken woman from the opening ceremony wrote a note to each community and handed it to each facilitator in Madrid. We were supposed to open and read it when we were alone. That note included her thoughts, yet again, on how life-changing this experience is, and how excited she was for us. It also had a few get-to-know-you questions that were part of a product she’s now developing in her business, the same one she’d worked on during her own experience just a few months back. “It was some self-marketing BS”, as one of my fellows described it to me while rolling her eyes, “we read one question and started talking. We never got to the second one.”

One thing that I would say to The Break’s credit is how well-matched our group was, on a personal level. You’d think that having 14 strong, independent women from different places and age groups under one roof would quickly turn into a hot mess, but we never had any big arguments or major problems once. Sure, there was some frustration here and there, but nothing too bad.

Professionally speaking, though, we couldn’t be more different from one another. Some of us had projects in the early stages, while others were running their own freelance businesses.

Anyhow, the next day was a Sunday, and one of my new roommates suggested that we changed the layout of the beds in the room. I was beyond grateful to not have to sleep next to the bathroom door right on my right ear anymore. Some other women took the liberty of exchanging their beyond-soft mattresses with harder ones that were originally placed in what was defined as “the yoga room”.

The house we stayed in was a big house in the mountains, secluded from pretty much everything (and almost anyone). Our facilitators managed to secure some cars for us, but we could only get those the following day.

So we spent that Sunday in the house. The rain followed us from Madrid and stuck around for almost the next two weeks.

The fridge was stocked for us for that day, but that sense of zero autonomy had only gotten worse in the next three weeks. The next day, 6 of us (“the drivers”, and yes, only 6 of them) got the cars for us all and then came back to pick us all up and drive to the coworking place our facilitators run.

That was the first time we really had to face the invisible labor of trying to arrange the logistics between the 14 of us. As someone who still slowly recovers from a recent burnout, that part was a nightmare. I found myself compromising more times than sticking to my own boundaries, and later wasting time and energy on getting mad at myself for doing so.

Other things we had to arrange were communal dinners and who cooks when, who gets to the coworking when, who joins which car, and who takes a shower when (considering that we had to share 3 showers between us).

Aside from our projects/businesses, we also had a packed schedule with events with the local community, more mentoring sessions, and countless other activities. And that schedule was not set in stone either, which made setting my own schedule very challenging too (I often joked that this part, along with so many others, was my own “local challenge”).

It soon became crystal-clear to me that the goals I set for those 3 weeks were unrealistic. Far from them.

That, the constant rain, being surrounded 24/7 by people, and not having a moment to myself to recharge, drove me to my first breaking point (pun intended).

In between jumping between events, the coworking space and the house, needing to fully rely on others just to get groceries or go places, and getting bad-quality sleep, by the end of week 1 I was exhausted. So exhausted that on Friday, I was crying on the floor. Literally.

We were in the midst of a visit to a local shoe factory, and I was so over it. Tears in my constantly-rolling eyes, one of my fellows saw that I was struggling and made an excuse for us to go out.

As soon as I sat on the wet concrete pavement, I started bawling. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was just so damn tired. The constant contact with people, my missing autonomy, not to mention how badly I slept.

It took me a good half hour to calm down.

It was much later on that I saw clear and similar lines between those 3 weeks and the 3 weeks of basic army training I had to go through when I was barely even 18. “They first break you down to later build you up”, I described the training’s philosophy to one of my fellows, and we both went into a wild laugh attack.

The lack of autonomy was so hard on me, that on the first day that the sun went out, I decided to walk to the nearest grocery store. A 40-minute walk, no biggie. My fellows offered to drive me at least one way, but I refused. To miss out on the first opportunity in nearly two weeks to be completely alone? No way!

But there was one motorway separating the neighborhood we lived from and that Aldi. I didn’t walk all that distance to give up now, I told myself, seeing the logo of the supermarket so close to me, and ran on the road alongside cars for a few meters. At the time, I didn’t care and almost enjoyed the thrill of it all. It’s only now that I sit down to process this experience as a whole that I realize that I chose to risk my life for a few minutes of autonomy.

While I was risking my life in the short term, my fellows were drinking and smoking accessively almost every day. If we were allowed to have weed in the house, I’m sure they would’ve smoked it too, happily. “This experience is life-changing for me”, one fellow told me with irony, “I’ll get back home as an alcoholic”.

Thankfully, I don’t drink or smoke, but that didn’t help me to focus on my business goals. I constantly felt sorry for fellows who had full-time or part-time jobs alongside the project they came to work on. It felt impossible for me to even do the bare minimum to move forward with my business. Instead, I focused on doing my very best to keep my sanity intact and not drive myself back to burnout city.

It wasn’t all this bad, though. During my in-person experience, I discovered, time and again, the wonderful women I lived with. They’ve all inspired me, they all made me laugh harder than I thought possible. They are and will be my life-long friends.

And then there was the local challenge.

As a marketer, I was mortified by the idea of us trying to solve a problem that might not even exist. We were supposed to understand why young people from the area don’t want to work in the local shoe factories. The groups before us have already decided on courses of action. We, on the other hand, developed surveys to be handed both to potential workers (future or present) and to industry representatives, to understand where the problem lies (if at all!). It was all done backward. I also found it very interesting how they brought a bunch of international women, who’ve seen the world and don’t necessarily live in our home countries (which was the case for most of us), to find ways of keeping the youth in the area. We weren’t the right people to handle this “problem”, and we certainly lacked the data to start and empathize with it.

When the host of our house (not to be confused with our community facilitators) finally came back from his travels, he walked in and out of our house unannounced and uninvited. At times, he grabbed some coffee from our kitchen and went back to his garden house. On another evening, he walked in and asked to take some of our dinner “for his son”. And then, before he invited a handyman to fix some of the most acute problems at the house, he also walked into our rooms to check those problems himself without knocking. Yes, not everyone was fully clothed then. It was extremely inappropriate.

When one of us confronted him about the mattress situation, he spat back: “I’m not renting out to you directly, I’m renting out to your facilitators”.

While most of the activities were “mandatory”, I chose my own adventure and decided to not join many of them on weeks 2 and 3. Mostly because it was hard for me to refocus on work when I jumped around so much (physically), and the fact that almost none of our events started or ended on time. I intentionally left space between those events and my meetings, knowing that time isn’t perceived in the same way, and yet, I had to reschedule a couple of calls that I simply couldn’t log onto. I felt unprofessional on top of the no-progress-made shame I had to face every single day.

On our last Friday of the experience, we had another B2B visit planned at a local institute. We were greeted by one of our facilitators, but this time, he held a large folder. “We got an email from the organization, and you need to sign these by hand”, he informed us when we approached him. This form was simply a logistical thing, us confirming that we have contributed enough hours to have completed the program. Usually, it’s done electronically, alone, but there was some technical issue that made it impossible. So there we were, reading a form that claimed that we got so much value out of being a part of The Break, and rating the overall experience from 1 to 4.

I read the form and couldn’t sign it as is. “Can I make changes to this?”, I asked him, “sure”, he replied.

Here’s an excerpt from what I eventually agreed to sign:

... opportunities for informal talks and mini-sessions that add *frustration* to the overall experience. The team providing me with session that focus on generating *stress and lack of focus* for her project. It would've been funny if it wasn't oh so true. I left the team's name out because they really tried their best.

The fact that he was there to watch us sign it added a lot of pressure into the mix. “Will you get in trouble if I marked ‘very dissatisfied’?”, one of my fellows asked, who was, in fact, extremely dissatisfied. “No, no, it’s okay”, he replied, always with a smile on his face. And still, she eventually marked “dissatisfied”.

The night before our last full day at the coworking session/local experience, we got a text on our Whatsapp group at 22:13: “Let’s all meet for a feedback session tomorrow at 11”.

At midnight, just before going upstairs, I found 4 of my fellows in the dining area. “We’re writing a list of things that we would like to talk about tomorrow”, they said. I joined them and added some things too.

You can see a part of that list here:

The next day, on our way to that feedback session, I agreed to volunteer to read that list and be the Negative Nancy. I didn’t care anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, our facilitators did above and beyond for us, with the limitations that they had. They really tried and were constantly available to us for everything we needed.

But the housing situation was the root of most of our problems.

They were gobsmacked when we shared that list with them at that session. “No one has ever had any complaints”, one of them told me later. They didn’t say it to upset me or invalidate my experience. I truly believe no one has ever complained before - be it the pressure of sisterhood or being grateful.

I hate to go into the whole gender thing, but I can’t help but wonder if the fact that this program has such a high rating (according to them, 8.75/10) is because women are socially expected and taught to be more accommodating and nurturing rather than speak our minds, for real. Even at the cost of hurting someone’s feelings, especially if they tried their best.

The worst part of “no one has ever complained before” was the feeling I got, that we’re “the bad bunch”. The ungrateful, spoiled, too-high-maintenance group. I don’t know how two groups before us have gone through the same experience and had nothing to report back. But in fact, I know that they weren’t even asked either.

The bus ride back to Madrid lasted, yet again, 6 hours instead of 4.

We checked into the same fancy hotel, and I immediately went to take a shower and wash the ride (and this whole experience) off of me. 6 hours later, the closing ceremony was due.

I signed the stupid thing days ago, I thought, as far as I’m concerned, I’m done. I planned on skipping the closing ceremony and going to dinner with some of my fellows, who showed interest in doing the same. I was famished. But they all bailed out of me last minute, thanks to the embedded pressure of sisterhood in this whole event.

What I didn’t see coming, however, was the endless videos and live reports from that ceremony from multiple of my fellows - both ones who’ve been in my group and ones who weren’t.

Cult-like motives from the second you walked in: the head organizer signing “Kumbaya, My Lord” as women were entering the room. Calling us “a family”. Women wooing as if their lives depended on it.

And then this happened on stage:

So many of my friends told me that being in this room felt weird. That they doubted whether they joined a cult, involuntarily.

I don’t know. But it felt and feels wrong.

The next almost-24 hours were full of networking, again. As if anyone had the energy for it.

When I asked my fellows how did they feel all along the last week of the in-person experience, all of them said: “I love every woman here, but I can’t wait to go home”.

The After

When I left that fancy hotel on Tuesday at 12:30, I couldn’t feel happier to be free again.

I’ve traveled to my Airbnb in Madrid, where I wrote a part of this piece, booked a well-needed massage, and started catching up with work and life again.

One of my fellows texted me a couple of hours later about an interesting conversation she had with another fellow. “If you come to this experience when your business/life isn’t at a great place, or if you’re only starting to piece together the idea of your project, you can get a lot out of it, because the only way is up. But if your business is already viable, you won’t make a lot of progress professionally here”, she concluded, and I couldn’t agree more.

It all boils down to this - Do I regret spending the past 3ish weeks as a part of The Break?

Hell yes.

As the friend who had her flight canceled told me: “The Break is a bunch of charlatans and incompetent people”. Her words, used with her explicit consent.

Despite meeting the loveliest people in this experience, I came out of it more tired, more drained, and more cynical than ever - and I suspect that it’d take me a long time to recover from it fully.

For someone who’s been in business as her own business owner for the past 3+ years, this program has hindered my business growth, because my business relies on me.

In my opinion, this program is not suitable for someone in a similar position to mine.

The lack of transparency, consent, and the straight-up lies I’ve been told for months without seeing things happen, make me disrecommend this program for any woman-identifying freelancer who’s been in business for more than 2 years and cares about both her business growth and mental wellbeing.

And here’s the cherry on top -

Believe it or not, I still have 4 events scheduled as a part of The Break School in two weeks. One of them, ironically enough, is about preventing burnout. HA! You bet I won’t be attending either of them, even at the cost of “not graduating” for not having enough hours logged (even though I certainly do), or “not getting access to the network of graduates”.

I find it ridiculous that the EU gives an astronomical amount of public funds for such a program, and I wish I could read more honest reviews about it before I joined.

If you got up to here and know anyone who considers joining the next cohort, feel free to connect us via Linkedin. I’d be more than happy to talk with them and tell them about additional parts that I left out of this piece due to its already preposterous length (and there are plenty).

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Thank you for sharing your feelings, Yuval.

It’s an honest and complete review from your perspective and I think it would be useful for people considering to join this program to have all the positive and negative reviews from it.

I couldn’t agree more with what you said about this program being more useful for someone just starting to build their business without much experience. For people with over 2 years of experience, it’s not super helpful but it could actually be detrimental for your growth.

I’m happy that it was helpful for some, for me, it really wasn’t, and I wish I also left sooner. I hope I will be able to find its benefits in hindsight. Maybe…



I’ve been at the same cohort as you. Generally speaking, I agree on the poor organization from The Break side. I had better situation with the location and had a lot of fun during my 3 weeks in Spain. It is important to have realistic review about the program online, but I find yours to be purely negative. Nice comparison of pros and cons would be a better and more fair solution.

I read your comments on why you didn’t leave; still, consider this challenge as a lesson that you need to walk away from the red flags asap. All the best


I am curious if you commented on any previous reviews of the Break complaining that they post merely positive reviews, and a nice comparison of pros and cons would be a better and more fair solution?

All the best, Rita



I was in your same situation and I’ve decided to leave all that bad experience after 10 days. Mentors were not prepared, they even didn’t speak english and the group was very low profile. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.


I am glad you left. I considering leaving on day 5 but didn't. It was definitely the worst program I ever joined, and the worst use of EU funds I've ever witnessed. By far the most creepy, feedback unwelcoming, emotionally manipulative, dismissive and problem denial program I've ever joined. That has some aspect of learning that such terribleness is possible, and how to see clearly why it's good to do good >> so that things don't welcome horrible experiences for some women.




Heya, sorry to hear about experience. But - You could leave at any point, no? ;-) I agree, yes, it could be more organized. I was losing it before going to Madrid and wasnt sure if I even get to the location. However, I went with the flow and got tons out of the experience. Would I go again? 100%.

Did it help me personally? Yes.

Did it help my business? Yes.

And saying 60 hours in 3.5 months is like a part time job? Come on ;-)

I heard this and maybe it will help if you hear me:

Someone asked me, are you happy?

I said, I am grateful. ;-)

Take it or leave it. Cu!


You can be grateful and still acknowledge that you joined a program that is terrible. It is really healthy to be able to assess things justly, and not have the need to enjoy everything just because it was offered to us.

About leaving at any point... Do you have any knowledge about how the nervous system works? Traumatic experiences are actually characterised by affecting a person's ability to leave. You can read about it and understand more of what goes on when one is having an experience that is so shocking to their system.

All best, Rita



I read a lot of hate and resentment in your post. I think your departure was positive for the program. Greetings


It's healthy to express resentment when an experience has been harmful. It's a shame that programs generate harm and don't take feedback on that reality, so they could show responsibility, be accountable, help the person deal with the consequences, and at least prevent more harm happening to future participants.

All best, Rita

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