Juan Maldonado Pimentel’s decision to move to Ireland began with a joke with international colleagues. Working as a financial consultant in Panama, he got to know Irish co-workers by collaborating with them on projects.
“We started chatting, and then it started probably as a joke. They would say ‘Why don’t you join our team in Ireland?’ but then the question became more serious and they said ‘No, seriously, you should join our team in Ireland’,” he says.
“And me and my wife always wanted to have a European experience. The interaction was so nice and natural that I thought this might be the right step – professionally and personally. So here we are.”
Maldonado Pimentel was born in Venezuela. Having lived in Panama for most of his life, he moved to Ireland last October. He has lived and experienced many countries in his 31 years, but Ireland is possibly his favourite.
Irish culture is not that different from Latin culture. I noticed something, in Irish culture, there are things that are keystones. I think those values are very much alive for Latin people
“I was born in Venezuela. Lived in Nicaragua. Panama is my home because that is where I spent most of my life, but I went to college in the US, and then for work I had to live in the Dominican Republic and Mexico so I have this mix of different cultures and I love it,” he says.
“Moving to Ireland is probably the capstone of that. It came as the most pleasant surprise. Just like myself, Ireland is full of people from everywhere. Since I moved, I have known people from India, countries from Latin America; it’s like this melting pot of different cultures that is brewing.”
Despite the distance between Panama and Ireland, Maldonado Pimentel says there are similarities between the two countries.
“Irish culture is not that different from Latin culture. I noticed something, in Irish culture, there are things that are keystones: family, religion (sort of), community and friends. I think those values are very much alive for Latin people,” he says.
“We don’t drink Guinness, we drink a different beer; we don’t drink whiskey, we drink rum or tequila, but other than that I think we are very related.”
He says the cultures of Ireland and Latin America have been tied together for hundreds of years.
“If you look into the history books of South American countries, you will notice there is a strong Irish influence as they were fighting for independence,” he says. “Even some Irish fighters went to South America to fight for our independence. If you look into Venezuela, you have Daniel O’Leary, who wrote most of the story we know today. He was from Cork. There is a history that ties us together and also culturally I believe that to be true.”
It is impossible to have a pint of Guinness in a pub in Dublin on your own. Someone will come and ask you something and you’ll have a conversation
Panama, he says, is a beautiful country, privileged by its geographical location.
“You can go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in the morning and catch the sunset on the Pacific on any given day. This is not an overstatement, I did it before,” he says.
“Panama is a country that is fantastic. Sunny, as you can imagine. We have a little bit of a rainforest, so when it rains, it really rains. The Panama canal is ... mind blowing.”
One of the biggest challenges he faced after moving to Ireland was the reduction in daylight hours during winter.
“You’re used to pretty uniform days when you’re close to the Equator. You get the same sunlight day after day. And then you realise [in Ireland] you’re only getting five to six hours of daylight on a good sunny day, and that goes on for two to three months,” he says.
One of his greatest pleasures since moving to Ireland is discovering how friendly the people are, he says. Irish people “go above and beyond” when trying to make new arrivals feels welcome, he believes.
“It is impossible to have a pint of Guinness in a pub in Dublin on your own. Someone will come and ask you something and you’ll have a conversation. Or, because we live in a small village within a huge city, my barber knows me. He’ll say hi through the window. I go into the butcher on the corner, and he knows what I like. That sense of community and welcome that I feel really represents the friendliness of Irish people,” he says.
I’m getting a bit better at hurling now. There’s still a long, long way to go
The biggest example of friendliness, he says, was when he and his wife were moving house and carrying their belongings in bags. One bag was filled with pots, pans, cups and plates. The bag broke.
“At least two or three people came over to help me, and one of them was like, ‘I have an extra bag, take it’. And they just helped us and then went on. That sort of thing makes a huge difference.”
Ireland has given him a lot, he says, particularly new opportunities. One surprise was finding a love and passion for a new sport: GAA. It is a “real value” to the country, he says, that unites people of all ages and from all places.
“I am obsessed with hurling now. I really look forward to my training sessions on Fridays. That’s probably my best two hours of the week. I really enjoy it. It’s not an easy game, it’s not an easy sport. It’s probably one of the most complicated sports that I’ve ever tried, and this is coming from someone who played baseball for many years,” he says.
“But I feel like that is something that really helps you transition, not only because you’re exercising, but also because you get an exchange of ideas and meet new people. I’m getting a bit better now. There’s still a long, long way to go. I joined the Ranelagh Gaels and I just think hurling is great.”