Mariana* left Venezuela in March 2018. Had she stayed for a couple of months, she could have attended her graduation, where she would’ve been recognized as an honors graduate due to her excellent academic performance.
She decided to put her peace of mind first. The country’s situation was weighing heavily on her, with electricity shortages of over 16 hours, long lines for fuel and food, and a constant feeling of dread every time she left her home due to the rising insecurity. Also, most of her family had already left the country, making it even harder for her to deal with the immense stress.
Mariana arrived in Atlanta, where she was welcomed by her sister. Her goal was to save as much money as possible before leaving for Spain, but as she spent more time in the United States, she started to see different opportunities. Plus, she met her current boyfriend, Lucas*, which made the case for staying in the U.S. even stronger.
During the first few months, Mariana worked as a taxi driver, Uber Eats driver, and even as a singer. She started studying for the first of four tests she would have to take to work as a doctor, too, with exhausting, neverending hours.
These jobs, she’d tell herself, were temporary, the means to achieve her ultimate goal. This way of life, however, proved to be unsustainable, as she would arrive tired from work and barely had any time to study.
As fate would have it, while she was forced to reconsider her decision, her boyfriend decided to leave the country. Mariana couldn’t go directly to Spain because she first needed to have her school documents, which she would need to validate in Spain, though, so she went to Colombia, where her mom lived, in October 2018.
She still had many reasons to be stressed—getting the documents from her medical school was terribly difficult and she needed an extension for her passport, which led her to deal with unscrupulous middlemen.
Lucas joined her at the end of November, and they were together in Bogotá until January 2019, as he couldn’t stay longer due to immigration issues. As a Venezuelan, Mariana was able to opt for a temporary stay and work permit that allowed to work at a call center (which she describes as “the worst job of her life”). During the weekends, she worked as an esthetician, having studied different procedures in this field.
Eventually, she was able to find a full-time job at an esthetic medicine clinic, where she thrived. She still had many reasons to be stressed—getting the documents from her medical school was terribly difficult and she needed an extension for her passport, which led her to deal with unscrupulous middlemen.
In March 2019, Mariana was kind enough to receive me at her home, after I had left Venezuela in the middle of a national blackout. After I decided to stay in Colombia, she offered me a place in her family’s house, a gesture I will be forever thankful for and a story I will tell on another occasion.
Finally, after months of dealing with Venezuelan & Spanish bureaucracy, Mariana was able to leave for Spain the following July. She arrived in Oviedo, where she reunited with Lucas and found work at a beauty salon.
The pandemic was an unexpected hit. Both Mariana and Lucas found themselves without a job, and had to move in with a third person to make ends meet; they spent three months unemployed, and by July 2020, their savings were almost non-existent.
When regional borders opened in Spain, Mariana and Lucas moved to the Canary Islands, where Lucas has family members. Mariana has been working at a nail salon since July, and she has now been promoted to supervisor. As soon as her medical degree is valid in Spain, she will be able to find a job on the island.
She plans to work for one or two years as a general doctor to get acquainted with the system and save up. Afterward, she’ll prepare for the test towards the next step: her medical residency.
Mariana and Lucas like the Canary Islands, where they can go to the beach anytime they want. The weather reminds them both of Latin America, and the people and vibe of the island make them feel at home.
*Mariana and Lucas are both assumed names used to protect the identity of the people in this story.