Life is full of unexpected changes for this former student from Venezuela
2017-11-01 15:50:00 -

By Chinedu Onyejelem

In recent years, Venezuelans have begun to rival Brazilians as the biggest student group at many Irish language schools. 


Among them at one time was Marianella Oropeza, from the country’s capital Caracas, who came to study English in April of 2014. Following a successful first year, however, Marianella was faced with the sudden shutdown of her school in September 2015 — losing the fees she’d already paid.


“As I was out of school, I worked full-time with the hope I could leave the country [when my student visa expired],” she says. 


Coincidentally, later that same month she discovered a Master’s degree in business administration but missed the admission cut-off. Undeterred, she enrolled for the following year in February 2016 and completed her MBA at Ibat College this past June.


“It’s another experience,” she says of the postgraduate course, and of her part-time work. “English wasn’t my first language, [which was a barrier while] working at the same time, as well as doing an internship, which was not part of the programme, to enable me to have practical professional experience.”


After her graduation, Marianella – like most international postgraduate students – expected to be entitled to a further one-year graduate visa, a programme that the State recently expanded to two years. But she says students from her college in her year only got a six-month extension. 


“I have been one of the unfortunate international students,” she laments. “My English language school closed … previously people that did the same Master’s as me got one-year graduate visa.”

Interesting experience

Marianella is currently looking for a new full-time job “but no luck so far. I attended one interview and I was told I was overqualified. I really don’t know why.” She hopes a course with the New Communities Partnership (NCP) will help in plotting her career path and reviewing her CV for the Irish job market.


Meanwhile, she is grateful to have less uncertainty about her immigration status.


“I currently have temporary Stamp 4 because I am engaged in a long-term serious relationship with a Polish man,” she says, adding that she hopes to get a decision on her full Stamp 4 status by December which “will enable meto live in the country and pursue my professional career or go into entrepreneurship.”


Despite her own issues, Marianella says she is more concerned about the majority of her fellow Master’s students, who may not secure work before their visas run out. “Many of them would have to leave the country by December if they do not get employment.”


If she could advice other immigrants about life in Ireland, Marianella says she would suggest some kind of orientation about the job market. “Better to be sure you’re doing something right before you apply,” she says. “No one gives you feedback for what you’re doing wrong or what could be better.”


She continues: “Try to highlight the richness you can bring from being a person from abroad, whether it’s language or whatever. Try to network as much as possible with as many people as possible whether work colleagues or ex-employers, neighbours – everyone you can connect with, because you never know who might help.”


Job concerns aside, Marianella believes that Ireland has been good to her. “I found people who are willing to help in many ways. It’s quite an open country. People have understanding and they try to help. I have liked Ireland, I have liked the people. It’s important to me that the people are good.”


She also notes how many of her Venezuelan friends have found “very good opportunities and they have made Ireland their home. Many of us have had very good experiences in Ireland.”


Her own recent engagement makes her experience in Ireland all the more positive, exposing her to the richness and challenges of other cultures like her fiancé’s homeland of Poland.


“It’s an interesting experience, exciting and funny experiencing getting engaged to someone of a different culture,” she says. “My future parents-in-law have no English and we are communicating through my fiancé’s brother-in-law, who has English, and through signs. I have learned some Polish too.”

Unrest in Venezuela

Most of all, though, Marianella is disturbed by the ongoing economic crisis and civil unrest in Venezuela, where even basic foods and medicines are going scarce. She can only imagine what her family back home is going through, especially with a huge increase in inflation that means a family of three now needs 13 times the minimum wage just to eat for a month.


Venezuela’s economy has been in free fall since the 2013 death of Hugo Chavez, who lead the country’s Bolivarian socialist revolution from the 1990s. Anti-government rallies backed by the political opposition have resulted in violence, looting, mass arrests and a rising death toll. President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to boost the economy have mainly resulted in the devaluation of Venezuela’s currency and the first petrol price crisis in two decades.


Marianella keeps in regular contact with her elderly parents and her siblings, and frets at the effect on their lives from the country’s current turmoil. 


“Malnourishment is growing fast, unemployment is growing, people are losing weight, getting sick and a lot of schools deserted because they are hungry, she says. “We are going through a very big health crisis - from the most basic medicine for colds to cancer to HIV. Violence is increasing in the country.”


Cancer hits close to home as her 73-year-old father, a former taxi driver, was diagnosed with prostate cancer some time ago. Expected treatment through the Venezuela’s national health service did not materialise, forcing the family to pay for medicines sourced from abroad. “People are literarily dying because they have no treatment,” she says.


Everyday life has been transformed for Venezuelans, who are even subject to supermarket rationing. “My mum has a special ID no which allows her to go on a particular day to shop,” says Marianella. “On that day, my mum queues from three or four in the morning in order to get a place in the queue close enough to get the opportunity to buy food. She could be queuing for six hours to see if she’d find food in the supermarket.”


Even Venezuelans in Ireland have found themselves caught up in the crisis. “The right of identity of Venezuelans living abroad has been violated,” she says, explaining how many of her compatriots are waiting over a year just for an appointment to renew a passport.


“I waited for eight months before I got my own passport – two weeks before my old passport expired. My personal opinion is that [the authorities] don’t really care.”



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