“Leaving Belarus is not emigration, it’s evacuation” – this Facebook joke regularly collects hundreds of “likes” and “shares” on the Belarusian internet. Is this humour based on the new Belarusian dream? We have picked six stories of young people that have made different choices. The first part of our article includes three of them who have chosen another country as permanent residence.
According to Eurostat, more than 2,000 Belarusians got a citizenship from a country in the European Union in 2010; this number slightly increases every year. The majority of Belarusians abroad keep their citizenship – today they are about 2.5 million people. Moreover, according to the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, more than 50% of Belarusian young people would move to another country if they had the possibility. The question is: would they later come back to Belarus?
Alesia Pritulchik, master’s student at Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany
I’ve been living in Germany for 5 years already. At the beginning I studied for one year in Osnabrück with a DAAD scholarship. There were many excursions, and one day we went to Düsseldorf; I was so impressed that I decided to do my master’s here. When I graduated from the Belarusian State University, I got another scholarship for a master’s degree, and I moved to Düsseldorf. At the very beginning I was planning to get this diploma and come back to Belarus; that’s why I chose the advertising sphere for my degree.
But after some years, I realized that I feel really comfortable here: the system of education is completely different; professors work with students more closely, and this communication is extremely useful. Moreover, German students have another attitude towards university: they know exactly what they want and work really hard to get it. In Belarus you can just get any higher education title, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll get a job in this area. In Germany things don’t work this way. I found my first job by myself; in fact it wasn’t very complicated. But now I’ve decided to change my specialization, because even if your German is good, it’s difficult to work in the advertising industry in a language that isn’t native to you. Right now I’m studying finance.
In order to feel comfortable, you have to learn the rules of life in another country. At first I didn’t understand many things about the German mentality, lifestyle and appearance. But then I started communicating with them, and now I have both Russian-speaking and German friends. So, nobody will help you to integrate – the only way is to improve your language skills and learn how to live in “the German style”.
In fact I haven’t moved because I was disappointed in Belarus. I’ve stayed here because I feel confident and comfortable. I don’t think that there is any sense in coming back now, I would have to start everything from scratch.
Lina Mihalevich, student at the Community College in Chicago, USA
About a year and a half ago I went to the USA for the “Work and Travel” programme and ended up staying here, at least for the next years, I think. It was my second time in the USA, and I realized that I would like to live here if I have the possibility. My friends helped me at the beginning to find a flat and to arrange the rest.
Now I am studying dietology at the Community College in Chicago and I have two part-time jobs; it’s not a problem, because I go to college only twice a week. My first work place is in a vintage clothing store and I do like it; but I also work as a waitress because the salary is really good – about 10$ per hour. In fact the education in my college is not so expensive, I pay 600$ per semester and it’s not a problem if you have a job.
At first the language was a problem, because it has not so much in common with the English that I was taught at school and university. The only way to progress is to talk more and more to Americans, and you’ll find out that people are patient and many of them are ready to help you with English. Now I have many international friends, there are no barriers for those who want to communicate.
I didn’t have any economical or political reasons for moving away from Belarus – I had a happy and prosperous life there. But I didn’t like the Belarusian mentality: you are supposed to make some standard steps in your life: enter university; get married after graduation; find a stable job; and raise children. I wasn’t going to be a part of this system, and that’s why I’ve chosen a more interesting country with unlimited possibilities. I feel better in a positive and open-minded society.
I’m waiting for changes in the Belarusian mentality, not in economy or politics, but probably all these spheres are strongly connected. On the other hand, I’ve never said that I’ll stay in the USA for all my life. Of course, I miss many Belarusian things and close people.
Artyom Pugachev, business consultant Düsseldorf, Germany
I moved to Germany in 2007 with a scholarship from the Hertie Foundation. In Belarus I studied international economic relations and always dreamed about studying abroad. When I went to the University of Bamberg, it was already my second time in Germany. I chose a degree in business studies, which is in fact close to my Belarusian specialization.
Working in Germany is a great, priceless experience that is impossible to get it in Belarus, where there are not so many international companies. For now I enjoy my stay here, and I think that any job in Belarus would be a kind of regress in my career. In my opinion, getting an education and experience abroad and starting your own business in Eastern Europe is the best scenario if you think about your own venture.
At first I consciously communicated mostly with Germans, because I had to improve my language, and that’s impossible if you are surrounded by Russian-speakers. Today I have friends from different places: they are Europeans, Belarusians, and Russians. I don’t choose them on purpose; it’s just a normal life.
In Belarus people often feel isolated: you don’t know much about the situation or trends in the world, because you are always deeply involved in your own problems. Here everything is different: the world is open to people, there are many political and economic discussions, you feel freer and you realize you are a part of something significant.
It seems that in Belarus the majority of people don’t have so many ambitions, they tend to find an office job and build a family very early. Europeans try first to achieve something in their professional sphere, to do something for self-realization and get the experience in different countries. I ask myself whether Belarusian young people go abroad because they can do nothing in their own country. I think that many people are waiting for changes and are ready to return if they see the perspective.
I’m sure my future life will be somehow connected to Belarus. But it doesn’t mean that I have to live there: there are many opportunities to work with Belarus without being there, e.g. direct investment or helping international companies to come to the Belarusian market.
But coming back is the exception rather than the rule. We have also prepared some stories of real people that spent a significant amount of time in Europe or in the USA, and decided to return to Belarus. Why? You’ll find out in the next part of the article: “We All Are Responsible For Things That Are Happening In Belarus”.
Author: Irina Peredriy from Belarus Project
Featured image: Gauge change in Brest, Belarus, by Timon91 on Flickr