Photo: Hernán Pirela

Tales of a Displaced Youth: Hernán

The story of this Computer Engineering student shows how many of us are learning to deal with uncertainty, not in Venezuela but abroad, under the combination of immigration laws and pandemic restrictions

It was 7:00 p.m. on a regular Friday in 2015. Hernán Pirela was dropping one of his friends home when they were intercepted by another car with three armed men. His friend had just left his car and the men took her, also trying to take Hernán. He managed to maneuver and avoid the criminals, driving then full speed all the way home. Hernán and his parents immediately called a friend with experience in dealing with these “express kidnapping” cases. After eight excruciating hours, Hernán’s friend was released. Their lives would be, however, forever changed.

Hernán was in the seventh semester of Computer Engineering, but the events of that night led him to make a drastic decision. He didn’t want to live in a country where he felt his life was in danger at all times.

Among his options was Ireland, one of the few countries where he would be able to study English and work at the same time. Plus, he had a couple of close friends over there, and he felt he would be able to learn the language quickly, as he wouldn’t be in contact with a large Latino community.

After a lengthy process of visa application, Hernán packed his bags and left in 2016. In Ireland, he faced the harsh reality of ground level work in a country where he had a very basic understanding of the language. Hernán would go to the English institute in the mornings and work the rest of the day in every job he could get, from dishwasher to assistant cook, pizza delivery boy, bar back, waiter, and more. At one point, he had up to four jobs at the same time. Hernán had always been comfortable with computers and he had worked in programming before, but now, he had to use his hands and face the cold Irish weather to make a living. Despite this, he felt a safety he had forgotten back in Venezuela.

It wasn’t meant to be. The government has rejected his application for a student visa three times and right now he’s on visitor status.

Hernán stayed in Ireland for almost three years, managing to save enough for a car and start working making trips to and from the airport. By the end of his stay, he had finished his English course and had a pretty good grasp of the language. However, finishing his college studies in this country wasn’t a possibility. With his student visa about to expire, he had a decision to make. His sister had left Venezuela before him, and she had established her life with her husband in Canada. Now that he spoke English, Hernán figured that a future in Canada might be for him. He arrived in May 2018, with the hope of getting a student visa and restarting his career in Computer Engineering.

It wasn’t meant to be. The government has rejected his application for a student visa three times and right now he’s on visitor status, which allows him to stay without the option of studying or getting a job. However, between 2018 and 2020, a lot of things have changed in Hernán’s life. Back in Ireland he had met Christine, a Korean girl he reunited with in Canada. Plus, Hernán’s parents went to Canada for a visit in September 2018, but as the situation became more dangerous for them and their business back in Venezuela, they decided to apply for protected status.

They now live with Hernán and Christine. As of now, Hernán doesn’t truly know what fate has in store. Before the pandemic, he was studying Korean as he and Christine were planning on leaving for Korea soon. However, they are now stuck in limbo, waiting for things to start moving once again. Despite the uncertainty, Hernán counts his blessings. He gets to be with his family after years without seeing them, and he doesn’t fear for his safety anymore. The future might be unknown but he cherishes his present and keeps preparing for what fate may bring.