Teachers used to tell my parents I day dreamed too much. They seriously thought I was destined to fall behind.
Some thought I had severe ADD. They believed I had a reading/writing impairment. Therefore, I couldn’t compete on the same level as the rest of the class. So when I was in 5th grade, they put me in a slower paced reading and writing class for younger children. Ironically, I write for a living now. But what did they know I’d become? Once a teacher called Einstein stupid. Guess that teacher was right, said no one.
When I’d go on these daydream tangents, I’d travel through faraway lands. Sometimes I’d vicariously imagine what life was like through famous figures in history books. Or imagine I was the female version of a Indiana Jones hopping over Earthquakes cracks and jumping undercover in desert cities and trekking through the rainforests or Sahara. Doodling/drawing on every piece of paper I could find, I’d sketch out my explorations or write out snippets and even create archetypes like Mallory, the traveler. She was an idea I had in 5th grade in order for me to escape. In 3rd grade, I created a book about African countries and memorized almost all their names. Like many kids, I dreaded being strapped to a desk and force fed standardized learning. I didn't necessarily act out in a rebellious in defiant way, but rather I was painfully shy and gravitated towards the arts. And I also hated Math. It hurts my brain, still ;)
Foreigners from my childhood
The first time I met a foreigner I was in the first grade. She was a little French girl named Wendy. I still don't know how that could be a French name, but okay. The first time she took me to her home, she showed me her Grandfather’s junk drawer which was filled with souvenirs and forget-me-nots. It was fascinating for my 7-year old self to see and touch foreign stuff like an art deco poster and French advertisements torn from an old newspaper. After we played and scavenged for treasure, I then became hungry.
However, it wasn’t quite dinner time yet. Like any little kid, I asked Wendy to ask her mother for a snack. Her mother only spoke French though, and I don’t think many French kids eat snacks before dinner. But what did I know? I remember her mother's perplexed expression not knowing what to do with me. So she reached in her empty cabinets until she found some cookies. I'm sure her mother was preparing a freshly cooked dinner. Convenient snacks are simply a "no-go for a traditional French diet, I assume. Unfortunately, I was a mean little girl and decided to unfriend her. I don't remember the reason, probably something stupid. I think she wanted to play jump rope with another girl and I couldn't accept that. We never said goodbye and my parents told me that she moved to Sweden. I still feel this little remorse for what I did to her. I never really forgot her.
Henceforth, I tended to befriend any of the exchange students in my school, like the immigrants or the kids from different states. From the Russian/Ukraine girls like Anya and Maria, a Polish girl named Katja, to the Pakistani girl who sadly moved away in 6th grade and couldn't dance hiphop with me at the school talent show. And this girl named Mackenzie from Idaho. They all left impressions on me as a child. Even the foreigners who were not so nice to me like Igor from Russia who ripped up my papers and threw Doritos inside my desk. He acted out due to the fact that America was probably the most confusing place to him and he had trouble speaking English. But we were only 9. I forgave him anyway haha. I still, to this day, have this inclination towards “different” or “unfamiliar” things and people.
Life changing experience - Greece
My childhood dream was to visit Paris. I wanted to see Monet’s gardens. But my Dad had better plans instead. He took my mom, my brother and I to Greece to meet my deceased Greek grandfather's family. From my 10-year old self perspective, nothing would ever be the same. I was hooked. I had this burning desire to travel to Greece again and other parts of the world.
Fast forward 15 years later, I moved to Amsterdam.
Ok, moving to Amsterdam was no walk in the park. Actually, I first moved to Dusseldorf for an internship at 23, but let's cut to the chase.
I don’t own a car. I commute by bike or tram. I lost some weight. And about 28% of my income goes to taxes & I have a comfortable salary*
Decent/livable is relative, subjective term depending on your lifestyle. Also, lifestyles depend on country, city, etc. I say decent salary because for me, I consider decent when I can pay all my bills in Amsterdam and still save a bit of money. However, if you were to compare this salary of US standards in high-income metropolitan cities like Boston, NY, San Francisco, DC, this salary wouldn't save me any money. Period. Rather, I'd have to live at home and commute.
And I get a lot of questions on why I moved to Europe.
The number one question I get from internationals is,
“Why are you here?” or alternatively, “why aren’t you in the US?”
It’s definitely an icebreaker. Normally, in the US, when we first meet someone, we ask, “What do you do?”
In America, your “work” defines you.
Every time I meet someone new, I can’t just tell them what I’m doing. I have to justify why I’m here. And I’m starting to realize my answer does change when current affairs go in one direction while my own priorities in life go to another. But I always had one reason consistently to sum it up:
I don’t want to run the rat race.
Then, when people start to open up to me, I get a series of questions or statements like:
“Man, I’d do anything to live/work in the US”
“Salaries are high in America, so ^^ why are you here? ^^”
"It must be easy for you to get a visa in Europe. Cause you're American"
“Guess what Trump tweeted/did now?”
“The US is HUGEEE…”
“You like guns? Why are you guys so crazy about guns?”
“Americans are so fake” Mostly Dutch people have said this to me, bluntly and directly. Sometimes I dish it back to them and say, WHY YOU GUYS ALWAYS EAT SANDWICHES? :P
“Americans are so dumb” (usually not directed to me, I hope, but to the general population of the US, sadly).
The two last statements, I’m getting used to hearing. Lately, I've been excusing myself from participating in political discussions because some people are on their high horse and tend to beat me down when I'm not too happy current affairs in America now. I'm tired of talking about it. That's why I'm going to write about it. First, let me just quickly reveal why I get this, “Americans are so fake” thing.
In terms of being “fake” I can understand why the some people perceive Americans as fake. For example, we consider it normal to ask, “how are you?” From waitresses, your neighbors, co-workers and strangers in general, asking “how are you?” is another friendly way of saying “hello.” It’s customary to ask. Usually, we don't expect a soap opera of feelings to pour out of you, but whatever your answer is, it's your choice to express yourself or not. Most people say “good” because the interaction can happen fast, for example, in a check out line. Others open up with casual small talk. And sometimes, people really talk. At least we have that option. It's harmless. And you don't need to justify anything. It's just what we do.
East coast-something upbringing
Ok. I grew up in the fast paced, tri-state area between Boston and DC. It's also always been historically and still today, one of the most industrial areas of America. But the older I became, the more I realized that everybody is running in this imaginary “rat race” with no finish line to cross. Unless of course, they strike it rich or famous. But some rich and famous still think they don't have enough.
I was born into a generation that has low trust in institutions, like corporations, the job market, political parties, religious institutions, education, justice system, etc. I'll give you a quick personal anecdote to explain.
It's around 6am and our garage door opens. It's my father leaving for work. I’d jump out of bed to wave him goodbye on his way to Philadelphia. He’d wave back with a sleepy smile. One morning, he didn’t leave and while I was getting ready for school I asked my mom why he was still home. My mother pulled me aside and whispered, “Sweetie, your dad is gonna stay home for awhile, he lost his job.”
She paused for a moment before replying. “Greed. You’ll understand when you get a little older.”
From then on, that it was the beginning of the end. My parents constantly got laid off from big corporations. Mom jumped from contract to contract with no benefits anymore like a full-time employee. Sometimes my parents collected unemployment. Soon my dad became "outdated" and "old" or "overqualified" according to corporate America. But they were hustlers, fighters. They didn't fuck up, foolishly overspend money, or mistreat me. I never went hungry and always had a roof over my head. I'd give them the world if I could.
When I got a bit older learning more about the world (from outside sources) I would start to question, what is this supposedly “Greatest Country on Earth”? The middle class, aside from the poor, was and still is in decline. Those long-held ideals of getting a college degree, a one-way ticket to getting a good job and building a decent middle class lifestyle, like buying a house, having 2.5 kids, with a dog just didn't seem applicable anymore. At least, for the millennial generation. Arguably, there are other reasons beyond economics why my generation doesn't stay with jobs, buys homes, cars, gets married later in life, delays family planning, etc. That's not my main point here.
Right after the 2008 crash, I remember coming home from college in October to see the evidence of a collapse. Construction of housing developments suddenly stopped. Foreclosure and “FOR SALE” signs on every corner. Some of my classmates dropped out of college because their families lost everything and they could no longer qualify for taking out a loan for school. Kind of sad when a classmate of mine begged my father for money once. When I look back, I thank the universe and my parents for selling the house just before the crash. My life would be radically different otherwise. For starters, I probably wouldn’t have a higher education degree.
My Europhile, rose-colored glasses
I came to Europe filled with these idealized, dreamy, rose-colored glasses, cliche-filled expectations. Picturing myself in the cafes, not looking at my smartphone, people-watching, slowly sipping my coffee, meeting friends, doing art or “finger-painting,” as my friend calls it, writing a travel blog or book, or just being a dreamer. I wanted to detox from all that superficiality, consumerism and noise in America where the land of “schedules” rule and families and friends are brushed aside. In America, being busy is normal and spontaneity for life! Isn't really accepted... I still have that European lifestyle image embedded in my head and I try to live for it.
Many Americans, including my parents, have never taken as much time off as Europeans do (for vacation, sick leaves, maternity, all the above). And it's a priviledge that in the Netherlands, we get 4 weeks paid vacation. It's also the minimum by law. As an employee, you are entitled to a vacation bonus as well! They have a 13 month salary scheme in most European countries, where the 13th month is like your vacation bonus. Wow so not only can we take time off, but we get our money set aside (8% month) for us to spend it on vacations! Meanwhile, America is the only industrialized, 1st world nation that doesn't have official vacation laws on any paid time off. What a sad and very unhealthy life! Likewise, there's a cultural issue here. Americans are afraid of losing their job if they take any time off. Our work hard mantra has lead us to unhealthy, unhappy and short-lived lives. A tragedy, indeed. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/07/america-vacation-workaholic-culture-labor-day
It’s normal for Europeans to get a free or low-cost higher education. And I admit. There were many times when I’d get jealous of the European interns who'd tell me they got a free Master’s degree back in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, etc. But that’s the whole point of taxes right? They pay for things society needs. When internationals ask me how much debt I owe, I tell them to pretend that it’s like a car loan, just multiple that by 6 more years plus 6% interest. It’s okay. It’s normal for American students. Unfortunately.
Bills & Other Basic Human Needs
Now in Amsterdam, I never spend more than 1/3 of my income to rent. Living in Boston, though, more than half of my income went to rent. Here I can afford groceries, health care, and a generous paid vacation. I rarely see people living on the streets. And overall, indeed, the quality of life is much better here. But to each his/her own. This is my subjective view. And while there are so many other small reasons why I left America, I don't think we have the time to read them all. That's a mystery for you to ask me later.
Until next time, keep exploring and please leave a comment below to reach out.