Montaser H. Abou Zahr,

The first time Montaser went to Russia he was forced to go by his parents – and he hated it! He was calling them up and asking to go home to Peru after day two. The second time he went, however, was by choice. When I interview him, he has just arrived home from Russian language classes and, after our conversation he will go and attend to his own projects. In his spare time, he tutors English and Spanish to Russian students. This is all on top of the Bachelor’s in International Relations that he is currently studying in Moscow. “I have to keep moving!”, he exclaims.

His father’s example seems to be an important inspiration to him. Montaser clearly admires what he refers to as his dad’s “entrepreneurial spirit”; originally from Lebanon, Montaser’s father built his own highly successful tobacconist business in Peru after a “miserable” experience of working in Duty Free, earning a meagre salary, and realising he wanted so much more for his family. Like his father, Montaser says that he could never settle to work 9 to 5 for somebody else; he wants to be able to take control and work to his own schedule. So how has Montaser followed in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps?

Montaser had already worked abroad for a couple of years in Canada when he decided that he wanted to return to Russia to study. In Canada, no one really talks about their cultural heritage as they’re all Canadian, Montaser explains. By contrast, he found Moscow to be a city that celebrated diversity: “in Lima I felt alone because I was half-Peruvian, half-Lebanese. Here in Moscow, everybody is half-something, half-Ukrainian, half-Armenian, half-Kazak.” Things were still very difficult at first, as he didn’t speak any Russian. Compared to the relaxed nature of the Latin American people, Montaser found the Russians to be quite harsh, and, with the language barrier, often felt like people were screaming at him. “You need a lot of patience,” he tells me. Eventually, after he had started learning Russian, he began to connect more with the people. They only seem harsh when you don’t understand what they are saying, he assures me.

His healthy appetite for languages – he speaks fluent Spanish, English, Arabic, good Russian and is currently learning Italian… – is definitely part of his success. His commitment to picking up new languages has not only helped him to make friends at university, but he argues that it is also very important for networking and business. When doing business with Russians, even making the effort to speak a few words in their language can make a big difference, it really opens people up, Montaser advises.

Montaser proves to me what it really means to be an entrepreneur when I ask him about the current political difficulties between Russia and Europe. Rather than being negative about the tensions, Montaser affirms, “Crisis is opportunity.” With the new sanctions between Russian and European trade, Montaser is looking into the potential opportunities that may open up in trade and commerce elsewhere. He is particularly interested in potential exports from Peru to Russia. Being an entrepreneur, I realise, is all about making a positive out of a negative, or, as Montaser says, “Crisis is opportunity.”

Finally, before he rushes off to put into practice the “entrepreneurial spirit” that he has clearly inherited from his father, Montaser offers a final piece of advice to those aspiring to launch their own venture abroad: “Don’t be afraid. You have to stop worrying about what others might think of you and just go ahead and talk to people, be confident. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You never know until you try.”


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