The other day a friend of mine, who is doing her MBA in the United Kingdom, was telling me all about how difficult it is to get an internship in the financial sector these days. I was kind of surprised when she mentioned this because, to be honest, I had not given a lot of thought to the correlation between the crisis and the job/internship search process until that moment. As crazy as it may sound, I knew about the crisis (I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s all over the news!), for me it was more like one of those things that you know are out there but which don’t affect your life directly. When I realized this, I told my friend that the crisis was not having such a strong effect in Colombia, because even though people were talking about it almost everywhere, I had not really heard about anyone getting laid off or not being able to find a job… or at least not more than usual. She then told me: “the difference is that we are Colombian… we are used to living in a crisis so that’s why we don’t notice it.” That’s when it hit me: the degree to which the crisis is more or less real for someone is related to the difference between how his/her life used to be before the crisis started and how it is now… it can be a matter of perception. Hence, for people living in developing countries like Colombia, the difference may not be as big as in developed economies, and thus the crisis may not be perceived as strongly.
Since my friend and I had that conversation, I have been paying more attention to the economic analysis of Latin America as a region, to find out what the perspectives really are. For example, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has updated its forecast for the region, saying that its economic growth will fall to -0.3% in 2009. According to this forecast the countries that will be worst hit are Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica and Paraguay, and the rest of us will either experience zero or positive (but low) growth. It seems that most Latin American economies are well prepared to face the crisis, although not-so-pleasant surprises may come along the way as 2009 reveals itself.
Additionally, I started to pay more attention to the news, and one day I saw them talking about the rising unemployment rate in the country, as well as the decrease in sales and production, among other somewhat “frightening” facts. But right after this news was presented, some other non-crisis-related news was presented as well, and voilá! No more crisis feeling. What is it about Colombia? Is it just that we’re used to high unemployment rates and an unstable economic situation? Are we not conscious of what is really happening, or is the real situation not that bad?
With all these unanswered questions in my mind, I can’t help but be grateful that there’s not some general paranoia or or contagious pessimism in my country. Even if the situation ahead of us is really bad, what good would it do to stress about it? It’s more productive to focus on the good things and keep on working towards our goals as a society, like achieving good levels of quality of life for all people (crisis or not, these levels are just not good), or bringing peace to every corner of our region. I don’t know how “real” this crisis is… all I know is that in countries like mine, where normal times may be times of crisis in more developed countries, we need to keep focused on improving no matter what the “real” circumstances are.