‘It takes a long time for Irish people to open up beyond surface level’

New to the Parish: Antonio Chinea arrived from Venezuela in 2008 and again in 2017

Antonio Chinea from Venezuela: He has found Dublin very different from the city he left nearly 10 years ago. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Antonio Chinea from Venezuela: He has found Dublin very different from the city he left nearly 10 years ago. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


When Antonio Chinea first moved to Russia he was only supposed to stay in the country for a year. The 17-year-old exchange student had spent 10 months in the small city of Kirov, nearly one thousand kilometres east of Moscow, when he decided not to return home to Venezuela.

“I was kind of unhappy during my teenage years and had this desire to run far away. Several other students in my school had gone on an exchange programme where you go abroad and stay with a foreign family. Most other kids wanted to go to the United States or France or England but I wanted something different so I chose Russia.

“It was more of an emotional decision than a rational one. I liked Russian literature and art. It just seemed so unusual. I learned basic Russian phrases and taught myself the alphabet before going.”

It wasn’t the first time Chinea had taught himself to speak a language. As a child he used books and dictionaries to learn English so he could figure out computer games. “I was curious about places all over the world so I taught myself English when I was about seven and had a pretty big vocabulary from a young age. I had no experience of talking to other people so when I went abroad I had this big pool of words to pick from but didn’t know how to put them together.”

After one year in Kirov, Chinea moved to Moscow where he applied for a scholarship to study international relations. He says his parents back in Caracas were supportive of his decision to spend another five years studying halfway around the world. “Moscow was harsh at the beginning and it took me a couple of years to get used to it. But of all the places I’ve lived abroad Moscow is the only other place that really feels like home.”

When he completed his studies, and after a brief stint working for the Venezuelan embassy in Moscow, Chinea moved to England where he found a job with a tech company in Swindon. He spent three years in the UK before setting his sights on Ireland. “Even before going to England I had kind of thought about Ireland. It was in the same way I chose Russia, just a feeling. It has always been in the back of my head so I started searching for job positions and booked a flight to Dublin to check it out.”

Chinea discovered a city brimming with opportunities for a young tech worker and decided to move over in 2007 when he was offered a job. “Dublin had a different kind of atmosphere back then, it was more sparkly. It was so vibrant and alive.”

Within a few months of moving, Chinea began losing interest in his work. He had a passion for photography and sound engineering and found his “corporate job” depressing. “I had for too long disregarded what I really wanted to do and was busy trying to meet other people’s expectations. I had a girlfriend, I had a well-paying job, I was living in Monkstown, I was planning to get married. I had the whole life plan but I was miserable.”

He also started to feel unwell and developed a strange sensation in his limbs. “I thought it was carpal tunnel or something like that. My arms felt really sensitive and whenever I picked up a knife and fork, it was like chalk on a blackboard. I guessed it was related to working with computers so I asked for time off to try and sort it out.”

After countless tests and appointments with Irish specialists, Chinea moved home to Venezuela. “The doctors here weren’t getting anywhere and I wasn’t getting any better so I decided to go to Venezuela for a few months to see if I would have better luck.”

I have lots of friendly acquaintances in Ireland but no real close Irish friends

A friend from school, who was now a doctor, carried out some tests and eventually diagnosed Chinea with a rare neurological condition called Lewis-Sumner Syndrome. He had to undergo a year of treatment to help rebuild the layer of protective fat around his nerves which had been broken down by the illness. He was surprised by how quickly he settled back into life in Caracas after more than a decade abroad.

“It’s funny because when I lived abroad I never pictured myself going back to Venezuela. But in a way I kind of wanted to go back. There was an unconscious need for a reconnection with home. Everything seemed to be fresh and open regardless of the whole situation in Venezuela. I managed to enjoy life there.”

Once he completed his treatment, Chinea did a course in sound engineering and began working freelance for TV stations in Caracas. However, in 2016 the work began drying up. “Suddenly the economy was hit and I was getting fewer contracts. There were some people who didn’t even pay me and several projects fell through. I always knew in the back of my mind that should anything go wrong I could always come back to Ireland.”

As Venezuela’s oil revenue dropped, the price of basic necessities like food and medicine began to soar. “Standing in line to get your food affects people socially because they enter survival mode. Society’s behaviour deteriorates and no one trusts anybody. People are just trying to fend for themselves.”

In March 2017 Chinea moved back to Dublin and found work in a tech company. He found a city very different to the capital he had left nearly 10 years previously. “There are more people on the streets, everything is more expensive, salaries are the same and taxes are higher. Don’t get me wrong, Irish people are very nice and want to help without you even asking. They do it on their own initiative; that’s very beautiful aspect of the culture here.”

Despite Irish people’s friendly nature, Chinea says it’s difficult “to make the step form acquaintance to real friendship. I have lots of friendly acquaintances here but no real close Irish friends. It takes a long time for Irish people to really open up beyond surface level interaction.

“I think I’ll stay here for a while, the people here are nice. But I’m still just feeling the ground and am open to moving somewhere else too.”