Expat in Romania - Mario Ulloa (from Mexico): My first encounter with the country was both shocking and funny
As part of our Romania Appreciation Weeks campaign, we're inviting our readers to share their stories with us and tell the world what Romania means to them. Mario Ulloa, a Mexican who first arrived in Romania ten years ago, has decided to join our campaign and fill in the interview here. Below is his Romanian story.
Mario Ulloa has been living and working in Romania for about ten years. Plus, as a travel photographer, he has been enjoying the country's natural landscapes, with the Carpathian Mountains at the top of his "favorite places" list. He also likes the country's geography, history, and cultural heritage, and the local sweet bread cozonac.
But Mario Ulloa's first encounter with Romania, the country he says has brought back a sense of "home" to his life, was "both shocking and funny." He tells the story in the interview below, in which he also shares details about the things he likes and dislikes about Romania and what the country has brought to his life.
What is your name and where are you from, originally?
Mario Ulloa, and I'm originally from Mexico.
How long have you been in Romania and what brought you here? What is your main activity here?
This December, it will be 10 years since I first arrived in Romania. I originally moved here to work in the European Oil & Gas industry, but I'm currently part of an engineering consultancy company out of Aberdeen and a photographer traveling around the world.
Please describe your first encounter with Romania.
I think my first encounter was both shocking and funny. I remember I flew from Mexico on December the 3rd and arrived the next day here. Someone picked me up at the airport and drove me to Ploiești, where I stayed in one of the main hotels. I was tired and a bit anxious to start my first job outside Latin America the next day, so I was looking forward to reaching my room and trying to rest. Back then, I used to watch TV before going to bed, so, as I walked into my room, I turned the TV on and moved away to get my things out of my bags when I heard a familiar voice singing in Spanish. I look at the TV, and there was a concert announcement for the Mexican singer Anahí, and I thought that she was pretty famous at the moment and this made sense, and I turned back to my bags. Then, after some other publicity in Romanian, I heard Thalía speaking and watched again to find a Mexican TVnovela on the screen (one of 3 Marías, as we called them in Mexico: María Mercedes, Marimar or Maria La Del Barrio, I can't remember which one now) and now the TV got my full attention, and I was puzzled.
First, I thought they knew I was Mexican, and they wanted to make me feel welcome to Romania and set up a Mexican TV channel. After watching a bit longer, I realized this was actually a dedicated channel (Acasa TV) to TVNovelas from around the world, and I laughed at the coincidence and the thought that it might have been set up on porpoise. Right then, all the anxiety disappeared, and I knew everything would be OK in Romania.
Later, I learned the role of the Mexican TVNovelas on Romanian TV after the 1989 Revolution on how much they have influenced an entire generation.
What was your main challenge when arriving in Romania? How did you overcome it?
I admire Romanians' passion, dedication, and tenacity, but these also translate, most of the time, into resistance to change. I was surprised, and now I laugh, about how quickly you can get a "no" after you suggest or propose something new or different here. With time I learned to propose ideas closer to what people are used to or convincing people about the benefits of change and asked how they would go about it. Convincing people and listening to their ideas was the key to infuse changes in my work environment.
What has Romania brought to your life?
Romania has brought back a sense of "home" to my life, but this is strongly attached to a hard and difficult experience I had in Africa a few years ago.
After spending 8 months, against my will, in an African country, the first place I flew in was Romania. When I arrived at my flat in Bucharest, I finally felt relieved, and all the warmth and familiarity of the place, the city, and the country, made me realize this is home for me now.
How has Romania changed since you first arrived?
Oh! Romania has changed a lot! Especially in the last 5 years and mostly in Bucharest, where you can now find more options for entertainment, cafes, and restaurants. The city landscape has also changed with larger malls and shared office buildings. For example, this place I work from, Hotspot Workhub, is a great example of shared and flexible working spaces you did not find in Romania 3 years ago.
In my opinion, the country, in general, has shifted to an industrial and commercial hub for Eastern Europe with more IT services and entrepreneurial opportunities.
What are the three things you like most about Romania and why?
That is easy: geography, history, and cultural heritage, though, in a broader sense, these are all one, intertwined and related aspect of Romania. I'm fascinated by how two large natural borders (The Carpathian and the Danube river), which historically divided two completely different cultures (Christian and Ottoman), also helped developed this amazing and unique culture and country.
What don't you like in Romania?
I'm still not used to all the complaining (laughing). Don't get me wrong, complaining is a useful tool to improve things around, but complaining just for the sake of complaining without doing anything to change your circumstances is, for me, just a waste of time.
What is your favorite place in Romania and why?
The Carpathians. I know this is not just "a place" but a full landmark, but I love hiking and photographing its valleys, rivers, and peaks. I love the colors and changes with each season, especially during the autumn, where the foliage dresses in this amazing hue of reds, yellows, and ochres.
What is your favorite Romanian food?
Cozonac!!! I know this is not exactly a food but some kind of dessert, but I just like it so much. I'm actually in the process of learning how to bake it for this Christmas season.
(Photo source: courtesy of Mario Ulloa)