BY SHELBY JORDAN Carlos Colmenares, a freshman at New York University, is no stranger to the city life. Having grown up in Venezuela’s largest – and most crime ridden – city, his transition to New York has been smooth and liberating. In Caracas with constant robberies and kidnappings, Carlos, like most civilians, lived by strict rules and rigid curfews to stay safe. Even his family’s wealth was not enough to escape the dangers that plague his home city.
New York allows Carlos to walk alone through busy streets, stay out late with friends, and just enjoy himself without fear. He wants same freedom for the people of Caracas and hopes to use what he learns here at NYU to help those back home.
Q: In 2016, Caracas was named the most dangerous city in the world with crime rates and gang violence continuously rising. How have these issues changed the life-style in Caracas?
My mother, father, younger sister, and I lived in one of the nicer areas of Caracas, along with our long-time nanny. It is a beautiful city, lots of buildings, surrounded by trees and flowers, and located right in the valley of two big hills. But behind its beauty, there are some major issues. With the election of President Chavez in 1999, the country started its downhill. By 2016 everyone was in danger. Crime rates have skyrocketed, there is really no way to guarantee safety. We are scared, the people of Caracas are scared. It is hard to watch and hear about numerous robberies and kidnappings, of both close friends and strangers, on a daily basis.
Q: Has this affected your family personally at all?
Unfortunately, yes. My sister is 11 and has been robbed at gunpoint on two separate occasions. My mom was driving the car and my sister in the passenger seat both times. When cars are stuck in traffic it is very common for robbers to ride through the mess of cars on their bikes and point guns at the windows. My mom always told us to pay attention, stay alert, and don’t look at cellphones, but that’s not really a foolproof strategy, and my sister still got caught. My uncle and his family have also been kidnapped. He, his wife, and their newborn daughter were taken and separated and the kidnappers were demanding a hefty ransom. We were getting together the money to pay, but the police were able to find them before we handed over any money. After, my uncle and his family moved to the Dominican Republic to escape the danger, something many families have done.
Q: Did that influence your decision to study at NYU?
I knew I wanted to come to the United States. I have visited family in Miami every summer for over a decade now. I remember running through the city with my cousins and spending nights playing on the beach. I felt fearless. That was so new to me, and that freedom never got old. I also knew I wanted to study finance, and NYU provided the best opportunity for that. I visited New York before I made my decision. It was like the memories I had from Miami were exaggerated. The freedom, the confidence, and the sense of opportunity was amazing. That trip secured my decision, I would go to New York.
Q: Do you think the current U.S. political climate will discourage other international students trying to study in the US?
I think people are scared, not only people in the US, but everywhere. Many, including myself, come to the US with hopes of feeling welcome, feeling safe. Ever since Trump became president, I think people have been more cautious with their decision to study here. He has changed the way the United States is viewed internationally.
The freedom here in comparison to Caracas is liberating. And that is even with Trump as president. I am getting a better education then I could have even dreamed of receiving back home. I am thankful every time I can walk through the city as the sun sets, instead of rushing home or finding some place to stay until sunrise. I am so happy here.
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in the city?
I want to spend some time here post-graduation working in finance, but I will go back to Venezuela. I want to enter the political scene back home and do my best to help those that haven’t been as lucky as me.