Are Caribbean professionals longing for home….?

(My best read blog so far, originally posted on August 12th, 2010)

The Caribbean…..sounds like a dream destination to live and work.

At least that is what everyone I meet tells me. “Why are you living in Europe?” is one of the classic returning questions I constantly get.

Well, other than promoting my Home Island Aruba, I also enjoy the possibilities to develop myself professionally and as a person. My standard answer therefore is: “Aruba will not go anywhere and it will always be my home to which I can return at any time”. Still, for many people in Europe working and living in the Caribbean is still an aspiration.

Now that I am about 34 years of age, I start asking myself: “what would be a good age to return and actually work and live in the Caribbean?”. This possibility is a certain reality for me, so not such a far fetched idea.

One of the obstacles I find is that in The Caribbean, especially on the smaller Islands, the professional possibilities are limited. for most of the Islands Tourism is one of the main industries, next to sugar and other agricultural exports. Meaning that mid and top level managerial jobs are not abundant. Yet every year over 200 young students leave Aruba to continue their studies abroad. Many of them obtaining bachelor and Master degrees in various fields.

The local government stimulates this as it is good for the Island. constantly reminding us that we should come back and give back to the Island. They are concerned about Brain drain“. However, I am in a generation where we have a “Brain overflow”. On Aruba, in the year 2000, about 15% of the population has enjoyed a higher education (source: CBS Aruba; www.cbs.aw). This is still a bit lower than Europe and the USA, nevertheless, on a small territory with only 2 main industries and a limited amount of mid and top level positions, the competition is tough. Also keeping in mind that most of the jobs at the very top are usually filled by foreign professionals.

These last couple of days I did a small enquiry amongst fellow Caribbean Professionals about whether they would give in to lesser jobs in order to be able to live in the Caribbean or pursue a career with more possibilities to grow abroad. The outcome somewhat surprised me. Most of them were willing to give up their lives in the Caribbean for a career abroad. I have to mention that most wanted to retire back home of course. My surprise came from the fact that during our student times, most Caribs I met always indicated that they would return home as soon as they finished their studies. My conclusion here is that when one gets more involved with their career and the impact it has on their lives increases, the allure of living in the Caribbean fades away a bit. Maybe this is also influenced by the fact that in the Caribbean and Latin America we still battle with the “colonial mentality syndrome” (a psychological remnant from colonial times where everything/one from the mother country was better). But I’ll dedicate a separate blog on that interesting topic.

There is always the argument that maybe the narrow job market is a stimulus or indicator that people should become more independent and start their own businesses. With the Internet connecting even the smallest region in the Caribbean to the world, the possibilities are many. However, starting a business in a market-place with a limited supply of local (affluent) customers could be difficult. That’s when I hear a lot of people say: “well…focus more on tourism, there is a large and potential market”.

However, gaining experience and capital in order to effectively start your own business (some may say that this is just an excuse) is still popular amongst professional Caribs. Not to mention how popular culture romanticize career building in large western cities.  Movies, TV sitcoms and series are mostly based on life in  cities such as New York, Los Angeles, London etc.

In contrast to Western professionals, THESE are the dream destinations to live and work for professional Caribs. The big difference would be that we Caribs know both worlds. First our childhoods in the Caribbean, followed by our lives abroad studying and starting our careers. And after talking to my peers we all agree that we remain torn between 2 worlds, having tasted the sweetness of both.

I Guess the grass will always be greener at the neighbours…..

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