“If I could live in my country, I would”
A normal family WhatsApp group spams everyone with jokes, holiday pictures, and maybe some voice-notes, mistakenly sent by their grandmother. Mine essentially consists of political matters, text messages notifying others that there is milk in the supermarket or that electricity is gone. When it’s someone’s birthday, we send voice-notes. When someone is traveling, we send a text message saying we’re boarding the plane. When a newborn joins the family, we send pictures. We are living a virtual family life because our country is facing a terrible situation that has spread us around the world. As a family we are united, but we are physically apart from each other.
Venezuelans who are in still in the country suffer from a scarcity of food and medicine, violence, and a mediocre quality of life. However, Venezuelans abroad, also suffer from the situation of the country in a different manner, we are haunted by it. Even though each day isn’t a struggle, a single text message strikes fear in our hearts because something might have happened to our family or friends. We feel impotent in the face of the country’s situation because they cannot give the opportunity to others to go abroad, to save them from their daily strife.
It is as simple as it gets: If I could live in my country, I would. I did not move abroad to discover the world or to explore different cultures. I moved abroad because my country did not offer the opportunities I was looking for. And don’t get me wrong: I love traveling, but there is nothing like home. In any case, moving abroad is leaving your old life behind. However, I would especially like to talk about moving away from a third-world country.
It is economically taxing because the currency of your home country is usually worth way less than the one in the country you just moved to. If you were considered part of the middle-high class in your country, your new budget probably reflects the one of a lower class. And it is okay, because this is a sacrifice you are willing to make when you move abroad.
Thankfully, consumerism is not as important in Europe as in other parts of the world, especially as a student. Getting a haircut or going to the movies with your friends doesn’t seem as much of a necessity anymore. However, the hardest financial challenge you are going to face will not be your rent payment, but probably paying for the airfare tickets to go back home. Who thought seeing your loved ones would be so expensive?
Your finances will then also affect you emotionally: you won’t know when you will return to see your family and friends again. Their lives go on, the Skype calls will probably happen less often, and slowly, you will grow apart from your friends. When you’re not keeping in touch with your loved ones back home, it will also be difficult culturally. You have to live your daily life with people who are not accustomed to doing the same things as you, perhaps they speak a different language, eat different food at different times, have different values or a different religion, or they are more or less individualistic than you.
My country is a mess, but it used to be a nice mess. I had the opportunity to drive less than an hour to see the Caribbean sea. I could drive 14 hours to see the Amazon forest, and 6 to see the Andes. I could swim in a waterfall or climb the mountains on a weekend. Driving was harder than passing all the levels in Mario Kart, and eating fatty street food was probably the best meal you could hope for. When I moved to Europe, I had to adapt to an organized life. To a life in a place where things actually work. Here, talking about a dictatorship is not normal. Talking about the lines your family has to wait in at the supermarket to find food is not normal. Perpetually being fearful of receiving a message saying that one of your family members is kidnapped is not normal. Getting your phone robbed with a gun put to your head, is not normal. And it shouldn’t be normal.
Not every international student who comes from a third-world country suffers the same struggles that I do, but in a way, we all share the same feeling of being homesick. We acknowledge the effort that our families make to send us abroad, and are appreciative of the unique opportunity that has been given to us to receive a good education. Sadly, this is something that people who live in first-world countries don’t realize sometimes: there is always a story behind someone who moves abroad.
International students make more sacrifices than local students. Not that we want to be looked at in pity, but we do want some respect from the people who do not know how hard moving abroad is. There are just too many struggles, that others may not understand.
Whether you moved to Europe because the education or the quality of life is better than in your country or because your country is facing a war or other kind of crisis, it always comes to the same conclusion: If people could find the good opportunities they seek for when moving abroad in their own country, they would have probably stayed there and avoided all the difficulties of moving abroad.
Isabel Bonnet is a first-year communication science student. Her columns focus on Venezuela.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.