When I left Austria, a couple of years ago, I left behind a number of contacts and a few friends; I did not break down camp without saying anything at all, but the way I left was rather … abrupt.
Back then, I knew that those I wanted to stay in contact with, I would somehow manage to stay in contact, even if it would come down to me having to write (actual) letters. Luckily, at the time, Skype emerged, a great tool which made things so much easier.
A couple of days ago, one of the contacts from my past got back in touch with me: we had a little chat about how things were going in our respective lives, but soon stopped talking again, knowing full well that our sense of curiosity was satisfied and neither of us really intended this to be a Hollywood-style reunion.
Be that as it may, the incident got me thinking and piqued my interest as to what my former classmates and roommates (I attended a boarding school for a couple of years) were doing.
Turns out that just about everyone I had a good relationship with did (or: does) something interesting and worthwhile: one has become a(n) (in)famous painter, the other keeps winning competition after competition, yet another one has gone on to help people in Africa and then there is a girl who turned model.
Interestingly enough, everybody I did not have a good relationship with, ended up doing nothing “big” (note that I judge this by my own standards and the amount of information that is available on the ‘net) or worth mentioning: some went into retail and some went into the hospitality sector, but all in all they all seem to be leading a pretty uneventful life.
Please note that there is, of course, nothing wrong with that and I am in no way looking down on those people or judging them in a negative way, but I, myself, crave for a more interesting life.
One of my close friends mentioned that I seem to be very selective as far as my friends go; that I only choose to invest time and friendship into those (few) individuals where the relationship would be a mutual giving and taking, a system where both parties can contribute to the other person’s life.
Looking back, looking at the things that my “good” friends did and do, looking at my current friends, I think that it is safe to say that there is a certain truth to me being selective, yet, at the same time, I find that all my (past) relationships have been very rewarding, in one way or another and I would not want to miss any of them.
A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me if I ever regretted moving from Austria to the Netherlands and basically leaving everything behind – the short answer? No. You will want to read on if you are interested in the long answer.
First, let me preface this entry by explaining a few things: I moved to the Netherlands in the summer of 2002 – it was more or less a spontaneous decision after having been there only once (and enjoying it) a couple of months earlier.
Normally, with big decisions, I tend to consider all the advantages and disadvantages, I weigh my various options and try to look at the big picture and disregard all small details that are not important for the overall decision.
Not this time though, when my parents first approached me in the fall of 2001 about moving internationally, I was reluctant, I knew little about the country or its customs, I did not speak one word of the language and, childish as it may seem, the one thing I could think of first – broadband Internet was not going to be available for at least a year at the very address I would be living at.
All in all, quite a hand full of reasons to tip the decision in favor of simply staying in Austria, but as always, there were also a few reason that would be able to, at least, balance the whole thing out:
First of all, Austria still has a conscript army where you are supposed to spend (waste?) ten to twelve months at, while getting paid little and seeing all your (female) friends move on to their sophomore year because they are not required to join the service.
Now, I will not say that I am a pacifist, but I do not see the point of me shooting vintage rifles, throwing hand grenades and crawling through mud all day long. Yes, it’s free physical education, paid for by the man and certainly a great way to condition yourself both physically and mentally, but at which cost? Being harassed days on end because you did not complete an obstacle course in the required time? No, thank you. I will just go to a gym and pay for it myself.
That and of course the fact that many drill instructors have enjoyed a lower education than me and still behave like they fought in both Wars and helped tip them in “our” favor. I do not have a problem with authority, I realize that there is a definite need for leaders and followers, but some things simply do not work for me.
I am not much of a patriot, I realize that, but then again I never claimed that I was one. I see citizenship as a, I guess the right word would be, attribute, that can benefit someone (or not) and I would like to think that by paying taxes and behaving like every good citizen should, that I have done a lot for my country.
There are others that are more willing to join a service and sacrifice themselves for their country, but I am not one of them. I do, however, have an insane amount of respect for every soldier that actually fought in a war and had to take another person’s life to protect the very country I am in.
Apart from the army issue, there was also the longing for change. I always wanted to spend a year abroad, just pick up a new language on the go and experience another country by immersing myself into their culture and therefore making it, at least partially, my own.
The Netherlands provided me with all that – a good education, a new country and a new language and best of all: no army I would be required to join after high school.
Obvious advantages aside, the Netherlands also were host to a number of other things that would be important for me later on, after high school – such as a good higher education that focused on new media. Yes, there are colleges and universities like that in Austria, but they do not have the same national status as the college I am studying in right now and prestige, somehow, still matters to me.
Back to the future, it has been five and a half years since I have moved here. As always, there have been the good times, the bad times and then there have been the great times: in the past two years I have personally met some of the people I admire, such as Kevin Kelly and Dick Hardt, I have talked to people that made millions on the web and lost them in the blink of a second. I have talked to some of the most influential people of the Dutch media scene and I had (and have) the pleasure of working with some of them.
I have given speeches in front of huge audiences on topics I care about and even though both cases were rather ad-hoc, I like to think that I did perform quite well.
The Netherlands, for me, were and are a catalyst of sorts: after moving here I acquired new clients, nay friends that taught me a great deal about going about business. I have met generous people that helped me by sharing experiences and interesting information with me and I have worked with people that showed me the works and I am thankful for that, because I believe that I would not be who I am today were it not for their intervention.
Business things aside, there is one issue that keeps coming up, an item that many people cannot and will not disregard as lightly as I did: friends.
When moving internationally, you are basically sacrificing friendships; sure – there are trains and planes and cars and you could visit them (or they could visit you) every now and again, but one way or another, the friendship is going to change.
Well, let me say this: real friendship transcends borders. There are a few people in Austria I still have contact with and those are people I consider true friends. Not only because we shared many things in common back “then”, but also because we still have regular contact and try to keep the other in the loop, which is good enough for me.
I have not been to Austria in more than five years now and every time people ask me when I will be going back, I have to give them the same answer: I do not know if that will happen any time soon, maybe not ever at all.
In closing, let me state that if someone were to ask me what the best decision was that I made in the last decade, I can say, with absolute certainty, it would be moving to the Netherlands and I do not regret it at all.