On one of the Romanian developer forums I frequent a familiar question was raised - why do developers chose to leave Romania? This is a touchy topic here. After the fall of communism in 1989, and more especially after after joining the EU in 2007, there has been an exodus of sorts of people from Romania seeking a better life elsewhere. But mostly in the EU, the USA and Canada. This has had a tremendous impact on the country, both good and bad. It’s not the place here to explore this, but it’s important to note that this discussion is not as simple as it might be for an international audience.

Predictably the thread went into complaining of the many problems in Romania and extolling the virtues of $theOtherPlace. Since I’ve been an expat and now am an ex-expat I do have some opinions. I’ve shared them on the forum, but since I ended up writing quite a bit I also decided to post it on the blog in English.

I’ll be speaking about professionals here - doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, etc. People who would be doing well locally as well as in another place. But of course, there are other ways of leaving. You can go for unskilled work, as a diplomat, or even for nefarious purposes. I can’t claim that the blow applies for these circumstances, as I’ve no experience with them.

I think the best way of leaving is to go towards something. Another country where there’s something that attracts you in particular. Either the culture, the way of living, the economic possibilities, the IT industry, or even a particular job (for example, a lot of engineers leave to live in Zurich and work at Google, but Zurich wouldn’t be an attractive destination without the Google part), etc. Once you’re there, you should try to absorb as much of that place as possible. Eat what the locals eat, go where the locals go, make friends among the locals or at least among the other expats.

But the most common way I’ve seen people leave is to run away from something in Romania. Folks might be annoyed by particulars like their job situation, where they live, some unfortunate event in their life. Or they might leave because of the situation in general. Indeed the thread seemed to confirm this, as folks were very much focusing on what’s wrong here, rather than what would be good someplace else.

A couple of failure modes I’ve encountered are:

  • Thinking that everything is perfect in the $newCountry. This is looking at reality with rose tinted glasses. Because in reality every country or city has its problems. And some of them can be quite serious and life affecting. These shouldn’t be ignored just like you shouldn’t ignore them in Romania. Otherwise they will affect you. Brexit, anti-EU sentiment in certain easter European countries, anti-immigrant sentiment in certain parts of the US, structural financial problems, etc. These are the things that directly affect expats above and beyond all the things affecting the locals.
  • Thinking that the $newCountry is the same as Romania, but they just have more money. This is a sort of opposite of the first case. But realistically different countries differ by more than just their GDP or how their cities look. You might have too high standards (like thinking that if somebody was mean at some office with you this makes the country as a whole somehow bad), or you just might be in a bad part of that country (there’s Lambeth in London, and then there’s Kensington - both look better than the bad places in Bucharest but the deltas are quite different). Just as you moved from Romania you should seek out the good places in the new country you’re moving.
  • Thinking that only the bad parts of Romania will improve in $newCountry, but not other things. The classic example is someone moving to the UK or France or the Netherlands for the hospitals, roads, and jobs. But then finding out folks there are not as tolerant of racist or sexist remarks as they are in Romania. Or that they’re very serious about parking. Or that the costs of living are highr. So the upper-middle-class lifestyle you could enjoy in Romania is translated to a lower-middle-class one. Folks need to adapt here or they’ll soon go the route of “cancel culture” rants.

The truth is naturally somewhere between “$newCountry is better because the people are better” and “$newCountry is just a richer Romania”. It’s important to go with a plan towards something rather than just away from Romania.

Folks do choose to stay here and there’s some very good reasons:

  • They like it in Romania better than anywhere else. This is the most obvious reason, but somehow folks forget about this case for some reason.
  • A pathological subset of the former category is folks who can gain something locally they couldn’t in another place. Think of the owner of a company with fishy contracts with the Romanian state.
  • It’s good for them and their bubble. This bubble is expanding - Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Brasov, Constanta, etc look and actually are different in 2021 than 10 or 20 years ago. You can’t throw a rock in Bucharest and not find a nice coffeeshop, a hip restaurant, some new development, or even a new hospital or road. Even the traditional bad neighbourhoods are beginning to be gentrified.
  • They want things to improve here. I strongly believe that someone who could leave but chooses to stay, pay taxes here, buy things here, complain here, etc helps the community. Let alone if they get involved in local administration or politics. Conversely, leaving reduces the capacity of the country to get to the next level. I don’t mean to be preachy here - you need to optimise for you - but “romanian citizen living in Canada but complaining about the bad stuff in the country” isn’t a good look.
  • They have a family (part 1). If you have a family, and especially one with small children, it’s much harder logistically to move. If one of the spouses does not work in a field where it’s easy to find a job in $newCountry, then things become even harder. So it’s not so clearcut anymore. Of course, in this case you’ll have schools to complain and compare with.
  • They have a family (part 2). OK, you’re out in $newCountry, and everything is fine. But only for you. There’s family, siblings, friends and relative who are still in Romanian. They’ll run into the issues you were leaving because at some point. You might convince the young folks and even help them “escape”, but it’s very hard for the older ones. It’s not a great feeling being in such a position. Not that you could help if you were closer, but it’s something.

Anyway, this has been a more rant-y piece than the usual fare here. I’ll be back with something lighter soon.