By Natalia Zurowski
Disclaimer: An asterisk (*) denotes a name change. We do not disclose the real name of the individuals we meet in order to respect and protect their privacy, unless otherwise noted.
I was attending a casting a few weeks ago in Hong Kong and met a boy named, Max*, a nineteen-year-old from Belarus. We were standing and waiting for the client and we looked at one another's portfolios and realized we were with the same agency. It was a scene that was reminiscent of typical child-like behaviour in pre-school classrooms where two children who wear the same colour sweaters instantly connect. We spoke briefly at the casting and found out that our next casting was the same one so we decided to go together. During that time, I asked him about how he started modelling.
He was originally cast to walk for Saint Laurent in Paris, but was unable to fit the clothes because he was too slim. I remember as he was telling the story he looked crushed – understandably so – but he brushed it off and continued to tell me his story.
After his brief trip to Paris, his agency sent him to Tokyo for his first real trip abroad. He fell in love with the city – as most models do – even though he didn't earn any money. Now in Hong Kong (his second trip), work is stable and the potential to make money this time around seems promising.
What I was more curious about however, was about what his life looked like in Belarus. He explained how life back home was difficult and how many people continue to struggle. That even if he worked a 'normal' job at home (e.g. a sales associate), he would hardly make enough money to live off of. Instead, he put university on hold and opted to take a risk and travel to Asia to pursue modelling.
When I asked him if modelling has been worthwhile for him so far – financially speaking – he said, “I don't know.” I remember how taken aback I was when he said that because he said it with such confidence without the slightest hint of anxiety. Here was this young boy willing to take a gamble or, as I called it, “Belarusian Roulette.”
What struck me the most however, was how taking a chance on finding success in the modelling industry was considered to him to be more valuable than actual currency. Instead of working at a shop back in his hometown earning a stable – albeit small – income, he saw the potential of earning money overseas as more profitable; despite the lack of any financial guarantee. Without money, all that he would be left with is a passport full of stamps, life experience, new friends, and a lot of beautiful memories made. Which right now, judging by his optimism – or what some may call naivety – seems more valuable to him than any sum of money.