Interviews in a Pandemic - Alejandro
There is being productive during lockdown, and then there is Alejandro- setting up a whole face mask selling business in partnership with a factory back in his home country!
Hi Alejandro, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, my name is Alejandro Diaz, I am 29 and I’m from Guatemala. I like sports, reading, photography and businesses. I’m doing my MBA at the Maastricht School of Management.
Nice to meet you. So you’re from Guatemala, do you view this country as home? Do your parents still live there? Yes my parents and all my brothers still live there. I am the first one to leave to study abroad.
How often do you go back to Guatemala?
My MBA programme is just one year, so I wasn’t planning on going back during this year, but my parents were going to come visit. Due to the restrictions of the Coronavirus crisis I haven’t seen my parents since August.
Why did you decide to study in Maastricht?
Since I was a kid I was a fan of the Netherlands. They’re so good with import and export businesses, which always interested me. When I had the chance to do my MBA, I started looking at schools in the Netherlands, and even though I hadn’t been to Maastricht I liked the look of the city on google. I liked that it had a lot of history but is also transforming into a more modern place.
Would you say you've settled in? Do you like your life here?
Yeah, I like Maastricht a lot, even though its a small city its so international. With so many cafes and events and things to do. I came here with my wife, we found out when we arrived here that we like cycling a lot, so on Sunday mornings we go visit towns nearby. We are also very sporty, before the pandemic and the lockdown rules we used to go to the gym. Now, we like to once a day go for a walk, especially up St Pieters, or we try and find new spots. We really like our life here in Maastricht and we also feel at home.
Did you ever think about returning home at the start of the pandemic?
At the beginning, I was thinking about it, but since I came to the Netherlands I came with the motivation to take full advantage of studying abroad. I didn’t think too long about it, it just crossed my mind a few times.
What were the main reasons behind wanting to go home, even if you only thought about it briefly?
At the very beginning, I thought it would only be a week or two of quarantine, and then I realised it was going to be much longer. It would have been nice to stay with family. My father wanted me to go back, but my mother was more supportive.
In Guatemala, they started the restrictions at about the same time as the Netherlands, all the international arrivals had to be quarantined. Then they shut down the country with a curfew. At the beginning, my family was very scared about the situation, because hearing the president every day talking about the pandemic, and the restrictions is kind of scary, especially when you’re only hearing a president and not hearing a recognised doctor. But my family is staying positive. I don’t think that there has to be a fight between health and economy, I think that there should be a balance between these two.
I don’t think people completely understand that in Guatemala a big portion of the population lives day-by-day so if they don’t work (mostly self-employed and part of the informal economy) then they don’t have money, they could starve.
Ok, but you decided not to go back to Guatemala in the end. Was there something that stuck out as the deciding factor?
The biggest was probably that if I went back to Guatemala, the help that I would be able to provide was not as much as if I stayed in the Netherlands. Guatemala is a developing country and I wanted to see what I could do to help. So I got in contact with friends and family back there, and it was at that point that I found a factory that was closing because they couldn’t keep hiring their employees. However, one of the owners had the idea of manufacturing face masks. They switched their business model to keep providing jobs, and it was at that point that I wanted to help them from here. My wife and I made a webpage called facemasksnl.com which sells facemasks in the Netherlands made in Guatemala, so that they can save jobs and donate facemasks in Guatemala.
I have been learning Dutch and I liked the fact that here they are using the dialect. In Guatemala we have 22 different dialects, it was so interesting and cool to discover this here too. Because of it, we decided to ask the factory to make the face mask with the “Haw Pin” phrase to encourage Maastricht. There are also some with the Spanish phrase “Yo te cuido” which means “I take care of you”. That’s such an amazing thing to have done with your time in lockdown! How else do you spend your time?
Thank you! That is so nice of you. When my wife and I get up in the morning, we usually read and then we go and do some exercise, usually to St Pieters. I then have my online classes, and my wife does online advertising, so she works from home too. We also work with the facemasks, so its a balance between my studies and this project.
Whats been the toughest thing in lockdown so far?
I think of two things, the fact that my parents weren’t able to visit, I was so excited to show them Maastricht. And also not being able to see my friends and MSM staff, having more exposure to the culture of Maastricht. Even if we go for walks, we see people but don’t interact too much. What is the thing you are most looking forward to when lockdown ends?
Showing Maastricht to my parents! And also, on June 1st I was very happy to have a beer on a terrace.
Well thank you for your answers, and we have one last question for you- What would you say to new students coming to Maastricht in September? Any advice to pass on?
My recommendation would be to grab your bike and go for a drink or a picnic or something, and explore Maastricht and the towns nearby. There is so much to do! Enjoy the city!