Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Knowing What You Want:

I’m currently on a train to heading toward Maastricht. Ah, glorious Maastricht. Land of less than 118,00 people, who feel the need to pull together and give themselves a separate identity from the rest of the Netherlands, because of many reasons. But mainly because they're distanced from the rest of the country. And their religion. And they even have their own dialect (which they like to think is a language): Limburgs. Fascinating. But I’ve been going to the Maas for work every other week, which will just continue indefinitely. Fun in a way, but at the same time, it also pulls me away from Amsterdam. But the Maas is beautiful. I remember a period where I thought taking trains throughout Europe was sexy and exciting and fun. It still can be if I'm in the right mood, but now it's more of a: 'I need to get here, so I take the train to get there, sort of thing'. But it still beats having a car, any day. Why would I want to lug around a boat sized lump of metal on wheels, and pay for it to sit there? I so enjoy not driving here in Amsterdam. (Because I have no car!) 

The other day–as Amsterdam is currently covered in ice and snow–I said to myself while cycling, as my bike was sliding around and the freezing cold wind (thanks for the lovely breeze, North Sea!) was piercing through my hands: is this where I'm meant to be? That is, exposed to the elements and cycling to a design studio I'm not quite sure is the right fit, just yet? Shouldn't I be on the subway to my studio in Manhattan, or riding the tram to my studio in San Francisco? I’m realizing the average salaries of Europeans, are somewhat smaller, when compared to those of the USA. A friend recently explained it so eloquently:

I wrote to him: ‘Why does America teach you that you can go to college and then get a degree and a salary and that everything will be ok, without telling you that you'll probably have a very large of money to pay back in student loans? Then again, most people fresh out of college don't move to Europe and stick with their American paycheck. Europeans just don't make much. Hmm.'

He wrote back: ‘John, the problem with your situation is that you went to college in the USA (because you're a USA citizen), and you have a student loans now (thankfully the digits are low). Here in the USA we're expected to make enough money to pay that back, and live; which most people do (well, when we're not in an economic recession/depression we do). In the glorious land of Europe, they make a lot less than Americans, but their tuition is always paid for. It's just a simple trade off. Most of the Europeans I know that have college trained skills (I have friends who live in France, England and Italy: they are designers, web programmers and architects) would much rather live in the USA, because they'd get paid at least 20% more than they're making now. They envy our system. Isn't it funny that I, and many other Americans (including you) envy the Euro system, yet they envy our capitalism (though many wouldn't outright admit it)?! It's so strange that we all want what we don't have. It's the thrill and the allure of the exotic, no matter the situation.’

How is it that friends are always so right with these sorts of matters? (Update, December 2012: Or so I thought, at the time.) Money certainly doesn’t make you happy. It can buy you lots of nice things, and it also enables you to travel and access certain places, people, and things–it is a vehicle for the acquisition of objects, and power, and relationships. Yet maybe life in the USA can be a bit in excess, compared to that of the the rest of the world. Which isn't easily realized when living there. This is totally a modern-day, first-world sort of issue I'm currently discussing, by the way. I realize this could be much worse, as well. But when growing up in the USA, students of higher education are just automatically taught that after graduation they progress to the next sage of life (work) and make money and live. Then again, they stay in America. I have friends who graduated at the same college as I, and still don’t have jobs–even though most graduated about a year and half ago–I have no idea how some of them are getting by–as in the USA most private loans payments kick in exactly six months after graduation. And if you don’t have a job, well then, you can’t pay your loans back, now can you?

I imagine some of my friends, who I know have massive amounts of student loans, still don’t have jobs and their six months have definitely passed. I’m sure their parents are helping them. Or they’ve delayed them due to unemployment, which is possible. The odd thing about having a profession in the real world, is realizing that grades don’t matter anymore, and no one is going to tell you how good or bad of a job you did in the academic sense of the words; it’s all about business–which is something design school certainly doesn’t teach you. Money doesn't buy happiness–though it certainly can buy many tangible things. I have been more happy this past year then I have been in a long time. And I live in a beautiful city, where I can always countless people, places, and things to entertain myself with, whether it being laying in the park and reading a book next to a canal (which happens many times in the summer months on my weekends, and I love it), browsing through markets, or sitting next to a canal in the center, watching the world go by, or sitting in the window of one of my favorite cafés, sipping cappuccinos or nibbling on a sandwich, with my nose in a book. This list is endless. I’m happy in this city. It does something to me. It's elevated me to new heights. Even without the extra Euros on my bank account that could potentially be there should I, now, be somewhere else; working in finance, for instance. There’s always another side of this city to explore. And I love that. The tiny city of less than 800,000 that some how never ceases to keep giving. And giving.

What really does upset me sometimes is that I could easily move back to the USA and make quite a bit more money than I do here in Amsterdam. Then again, I didn't go to a design school to become a plutocrat; I did it because I love design. But even if I had more money, what would I do with it? Travel to Europe? Buy a car? Pay more money for my health insurance? Buy a house? See more of the United States? (Which aren’t going anywhere anytime soon). Or perhaps I would travel, outside the USA, all the time. But it still amazes me to this day that I found a position in Amsterdam last year, during that whole 'the world is crumbling to bits because of the economic recession' bit that we experienced in late 2008. Which was apparently much worse in the USA. But I did take to Amsterdam quite quickly. My little home on the North Sea. I absolutely love living near the ocean. Beaches here are so breathtaking. In summer, in winter. Yet I imagine life is always in your own hands, and you control and direct where it is you’re going. Perhaps, as a non-native Dutch, I will always be at a slight monetary and cultural disadvantage in Amsterdam. Or maybe not. But that’s ok, because in the USA, there is no Amsterdam. And Amsterdam is my home.