By Hunter Mulich and Jeff Sandstoe
Tyler Cornfield was nearly six thousand miles away from home when he ran out of money. He had to make a choice.
The lanky SF State student, who majors in Spanish and creative writing, had been living in Madrid through the University’s International Program for almost a year. When the semester ended in May, most of the other students went home. Cornfield, whose pockets were penniless by that point, had time to kill.
“My flight wasn’t until July,” Cornfield said with a slight grin. “So I decided to make the best of it.”
Before the trip, Cornfield worked at SF State as a resident assistant in the dorms on campus and also as the chairman of the board for the Cesar Chavez Student Center in between classes. The adventurous musician, known as Wes Leslie when he’s sporting a guitar or freestyle rapping, decided Spain would be a fun place to study abroad and went for it.
But at that point in May, trapped in Spain without a work visa and with dwindling funds, he turned to teaching English under the table. By using the Spanish version of Craigslist to score clients, Cornfield was able to set up lessons in coffee shops and bars. The few extra Euros kept him traveling.
“I didn’t have any money,” Cornfield said. “I was just looking for the cheapest place I could go.”
And so with his last 17 Euro he bought a one-way flight to Poland. It was “the best bang for the buck.”
Cornfield still needed money to survive in Poland though, and this is where he got creative. He could have kept teaching his underground English lessons for a few bucks here and there, but instead he used his knack for marketing and took to the internet. With the help of a filmmaker friend in Spain, Cornfield put together a sort of modern day SOS broadcast – a video on YouTube.
In the video he used cheesy after-effects and a sarcastic car salesman approach to get his message across. He stood by himself in the streets of Madrid with a series of signs explaining his situation and asking for donations to continue his trip around Europe – the signs were a nod to Bob Dylan’s music video for the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” admitted Cornfield.
“The video was very over-the-top shameless self promotion,” Cornfield said. “I love marketing, I think it’s hilarious. But I have no respect for it.”
He wasn’t, however, just panhandling for money. With each contribution, Cornfield offered the donators special gifts such as custom postcards, short stories, limericks, or songs. He also made it clear that he was willing to do things such as giving himself a ridiculous haircut or getting a tattoo of the donator’s choice on his butt cheek.
One of the more heartfelt things that Cornfield did was a ballad.