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#AbstractaStory Romina Bernal Romero, Immigration and Uprooting

She reconverted to the IT industry and migrated from Paraguay to Uruguay in search of a better future for herself and her children. Two years later, with a stable job and a promising future, she is on trial to bring them to live with her in the country that sheltered her.

By Natalie Rodgers 

Romina’s story is tough. It is necessary to say it, without hesitation, because it is unimaginable for those who cross her path today without knowing anything about her life. Positive, almost vibrant, thriving, and enterprising are just some of the words that define this young woman who has been through so much and continues to move forward.

She was born in Asunción, Paraguay, but has been living in Uruguay for the past two years. As soon as the pandemic hit, she lost her job in her country. She had been working in the tourism industry since she entered the labor market, but with the closing of the country’s borders, the agency where she worked closed its doors, just like so many other tourism businesses. 

A single mother with two small children to care for, she lived moments of deep uncertainty and bewilderment. When would the borders reopen? When would tourism be reactivated? And when could she go back to work in what she knew how to do and what gave her a living? There was no end to the questions.

Romina was not passionate about her career in tourism, but it was an activity that she knew well and allowed her to support her household. Practical and a dreamer at the same time, she had long been looking for a job reconversion in order to feel professionally fulfilled, improve her economy and offer more possibilities to her children. 

At the time she lost her job, she was starting her studies in software testing remotely at the Software Testing Center (CES), which depends on the University of the Republic of Uruguay. It was hard to afford, but she was making it work. Everything changed with the pandemic: without a job, her reality became that of an unemployed woman with 2 children to support and 1 international course to pay for, which was very complex but at the same time “promised” her a better future.

Why did she choose software testing? At the time, Romina was in a relationship with an Uruguayan. A Systems Engineer, he saw in her many qualities needed to work in the IT industry and suggested she look into testing. She started researching the subject and was very curious. Surprisingly, her boyfriend had been right. But now she didn’t know how to continue. She felt her projects and dreams breaking down, in the middle of a pandemic with a totally uncertain future. 

“I was very scared. It wasn’t the present moment that scared me, but the uncertainty. It was the worst time for tourism and I had been working in that field since I was 18. I didn’t know how to get ahead, it was a horrible time.”

A One-Way Path

Waiting passively for everything to “work out” was not an option. And there wasn’t much time to think about it either. She needed to resolve the situation, but without losing focus on the long term. Continuing with her job reconversion seemed to be the best alternative at the time. 

“We talked with my boyfriend, who is now my husband, and we thought that looking for a job for me in Uruguay could be a great opportunity since the country is very good in technology and is the first software exporter in South America. My husband had the idea that unemployment in the area was non-existent, and that there was a need for more people than there were, and that encouraged us,” Romina said.

Romina with her children, along with her current husband and his children.

She was determined, she saw no future for herself and her family in Paraguay. But at the same time leaving to forge a new path meant moving away from her children for an indefinite period of time. “They stayed with their father. It was very hard… They were 4 and 6 years old respectively at the time. I explained to them that I was traveling to look for a better future and that I was doing it for them. And they packed their suitcases with me,” Romina recalled, between tears.

Crisis? Yes, but Also an Opportunity

“A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born from the dark night. It’s in crisis that inventiveness is born, as well as discoveries made and big strategies. He who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome.” 

This famous text on crisis is often attributed to Albert Einstein, although it is not possible to say for certain where it comes from. Its meaning has a profound significance in Romina’s life. Although she would undoubtedly prefer not to have had to suffer, she knew how to appropriate tools to always keep looking at the long term and move forward.

“I didn’t have anything secure when I left, but I saw a spark of light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t know when I would see my children again. It was an apocalyptic situation to emigrate. I don’t even know how to describe what I felt. I was moving forward one second at a time and as best I could, because it was not optional to stay there without a job. I remember telling my children: “Mommy is going to study and get a job. We’re going to be together, we’re going to work it out,” she recalled.

Step By Step

Romina had clear objectives: to finish the testing course and get documentation and a job. The date of September 14, 2020, is engraved in her mind. On that day she took the first commercial flight between Paraguay and Uruguay. “There was one passenger per row. I traveled with gloves, a face mask, face shield, and the crew members wore suits that looked like astronaut suits. The airport was empty. It was surreal, desolate. But even more so because I was heading to an unknown world, without my children.”

Romina on her trip.

In December she finished the testing course, sent CVs, and read about software testing. It was from Parque Del Plata, a seaside town located in the Department of Canelones, that she read the book  “Introducción a las Pruebas de Sistemas de Información”, authored by Federico Toledo, COO of Abstracta. 

Only one month later, in January 2021, she got a job as a tester. She put a lot of effort and, little by little, she achieved the long-awaited stability. At the end of 2021, she and her husband recycled a house he inherited in Montevideo, and everything began to take shape. With a stable job and everything she needed to get ahead, Romina formally filed a lawsuit to obtain custody of her children and permission to live outside her country. 

Why did you resort to legal proceedings?

Because it is necessary for them to be able to travel to Paraguay without problems in the future, but especially to make everything clear with their father, who is the one they have been living with since then. I talk to my children on the phone three times a week, not because of his goodwill, but because I was able to get a court decision to do so. Even from a distance, I suffered psychological violence from him.

In what way?

I separated in 2018, I was able to cut off a toxic relationship that way. He comes from a very Catholic family, but not exercising true Catholicism, he never really respected me. To make it clear, when our first baby was born, the first night, he went to sleep at his mom’s house so he could rest. I had no say in my own children’s affairs, he and his mother were in charge. When I decided to separate, the psychological violence started: he manipulated me, chased me in his car, and took my car keys. Through words and these types of actions, he would only let me return home if we did it together. It is precisely because of all this history that I need to do things in a legal way.

Romina, in the construction of her current home in Montevideo, Uruguay.

What happened in this regard after your departure?

We signed a document with a notary public in which I explained that I was not abandoning my children, but that it was something temporary. However, when I sent the papers to bring them with me, he answered only 3 months later and with a lawsuit in which she asked that they take away my parental rights and that they put a restraining order on me from my children. Fortunately, the court responded that his request was not justified.

Then I asked to be able to see my children during the trial, which is for custody and permission to live abroad, without having to beg. Finally, in June 2022, the judge decided that I cannot take my children out of Paraguay for the duration of the trial, but that I have free access to see them there. At that time, I was starting to work as a tester at Abstracta, a world leader in software testing, and I wasn’t effective there yet!

How did you solve it?

I talked to the CEO of the company, Matías Reina, to see if there were any possibilities for me to go to Paraguay to see my children and work temporarily from there. The answer was immediately positive and we immediately started looking for strategies to make it all work. In July I was able to travel and spend time with my children, with the certainty that I would be able to return and see them whenever there was a possibility. I felt a huge relief. 

How did it impact your life to start working at Abstracta?

Abstracta’s support was a pillar for me at a time when I needed it most. Knowing that I could go to Paraguay for a month and work without risking my source of income was a light. Having the freedom to talk about your problems and have them help you find a way to benefit everyone was a drastic change in my life. June and July were months of acceptance of the change. I was able to enjoy life again after so much.

Working at Abstracta makes me feel valuable, and that despite everything that happens I can continue to fulfill my dreams. That there are challenges that transform for the better. I feel accompanied. I tend to talk openly with my peers and my leader about things in my personal life that I have never shared in any other workplace, not to mention that there were many people who approached me to tell me that I could count on them. That support gives you freedom and security. 

Romina proposed herself as moderator of an Abstracta event in July, and it was a great success.

Why are you interested in externalizing your story?

My emigration was very hard. It was one of the hardest things I decided to do in my life. I don’t regret it, but emigrating is far from being rainbows and sunshine. I want this to be known because I am sure there are many migrants who need to know. It is normal to have a hard time migrating. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions that can involve ugly processes. I want to make all this transparent because I think it helps to normalize it, to understand that it is not the end of the world, that there is a way out, and that it is important to know how to hold on to it. 

What was yours?

There were many important milestones along the way, but without a doubt Abstracta impacted my life in a beautiful way because without all the well-being that the company provides me, I would probably still be at a completely different point. Today I enjoy life, and I have the tools to fight for what I long for. 

Everything bad that happened to me, in the end, opened doors. Paraguay has a very slavish culture when it comes to work, often not compatible with study and development, especially for women. And much less with motherhood.

Romina with part of her Abstracta team.

What are your future plans and dreams?

I’m studying two careers! In July 2023 I should receive my degree as a web programmer from ORT University. After that, the idea is to continue for one more year to receive the degree of Information Technology Analyst. At the same time, I am taking a degree in Multimedia Design. After that, I would love to revalidate subjects to finish my degree in Systems. On a personal level, all my energies are focused on bringing my children to live with me. My lawyer says there may still be a year and a half to go before the trial. But the process is becoming agonizing. 

Are you getting help along the way?

I am being accompanied by the mental health committee of the Spanish Association. It seems to me that the most responsible thing to do is to seek help to accept. That way the path becomes a little more bearable. Having the support of Abstracta, being able to talk with my peers, my leader and the People Care area also helps me a lot. In September I was able to see my children again and that is changing the maternal paradigm in them: they were able to revalue my role as their mother, so undeserved by their father. Today they see me differently. I feel that I managed to reach a little spark of light that I saw in the distance and I clung to it. Today, after so much, I breathe again. And I dream of living with them again, taking them to school, caring for them. To be together.

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