What’s life like for a Estonian in Venezuela – the other side of the story
“Living and working in South-America definitely sounds something very exciting and adventurous. At least for me it did, until I heard about international student organization AIESEC, that offers internship opportunities to students in more than 100 countries. As it was something exactly for me it took less that six months when I was already staring at the Carribean sea from the plane, thinking what have I done and hoping that the pilot will turn the plane back, because all I knew about the country I was going to was it’s president, famous soup operas and big number of Miss World’s. At the same time I was full of excitement, thinking already about my new adventures and experience that I’m going to gain.
Cultural shock which AIESEC people predicted was bigger than I expected. The reason was probably the fact that after exchange year in Spain I thought I had seen everything and didn’t think that Europe is just one part of the big big world. First days in Venezuela expecting that public transport has a schedule, streets should be clean, there are many shops and nice restaurants everywhere, I can exchange my money easily in official way, drivers respect pedestrians and traffic rules and bus driver is not supposed to smoke were quite rough.
The bright side was that I never got bored, because each day was full of small challenges, from taking the correct „carrito“ (carrito – about 30 years old American car that is public transport here. It picks you up if there’s a free seat and leaves you wherever you want. I like the flexibility here, because if you pay more, it can leave it’s official route for a moment and give you lift home. In Maracaibo, there’s more than 30 000 carritos and all of them look like a piece of art) to waiting for local people. But it’s worth to wait for the local people, because they are really hospitable and extremely friendly, especially with foreigners. As I’m not „gringo“ from the USA I’m even more interesting for them, sometimes it makes me even little bit gauche to enjoy the status of intereting foreigner (or Estonian prince as they say). Venezuelans are quite good at geography and history, so most of them know that Estonia is in Europe or it was a part of the former Soviet Union. It’s funny that always when I tell where I’m from they repeat Estonia, emphazising it like this:„E s s s s t o o o n i aaa?????“
For Venezuelans one of the most important things is their appearance, so while dressing up, they forget that in general they are just a little bit lazy and have a very relaxed life-style. Even poor people. with whom I share carrito every day, look really good. Unfortunately I can’t say that they care that much about their beautiful nature and streets, because there’s quite often a lot of rubbish.
Excuse for that is often politics, like for all the problems they have. Maybe that’s true. Politics is a hot topic here and Venezuelan president is very famous all over the world. He appears even in Estonian news at least once a month. As I come from a decent country where politics is very boring and most scandalous thing is when a politician is speeding or drunk I’m often quite impressed here. I even got scared once, when there was an international conflict between Colombia and Ecuador. Venezuela decided to get involved and sent it’s army to Colombian border. It was quite creepy to see trucks carrying tanks on the highway. Of course after 2 weeks the problem was solved and life was happy again. Friends explained me, that it’s very normal in Latin-America. Other things I don’t like about the politics is that often it’s hard to find milk from the shop, I can’t exchange my earnings to dollars and food is very expensive.
After different kind of cultural shocks I can relax at work.
Dictionary says that „mañana“ means tomorrow, for Venezuelans something got lost in translation and here it means day after tommorow plus „n“ more days. Most of the time units are calculated in different way, that’s one of the reasons why many classes are cancelled in the company where I work, even though it’s one of the most expensive companies in Maracaibo. But students who are coming to classes are in general very funny and friendly. On Fridays they even invite us to a bar that’s next to the school. So if you can manage one year without snow, black bread and sauna it’s definitely excellent experience. Of course I had many doubts before changing my easy and comfortable life in Estonia to a crazy experience in Latin-America, but what brought me here was a desire to experience something different and new, that makes you think out of the box and gives you many skills for life you would never get at home. And it’s much easier to do something like this when you’re young, without a good job and family. When I’m seventy years old I will look back to this experience and feel very happy. Certainly you improve your language skills and make many international friends which are priceless. In Venezuela you will also find out that there’s a solution to every situation, you just have to me patient and spry. If busy life in a big city causes too much stress you can always escape to beautiful Carribean beaches, mountains, desert, jungle or any most beautiful place you have ever
seen that Venezuela offers”.
Special thanks to Jurgen for allowing me to share this with others through my blog!