Impressions of a repatriated ex-pat

So, in my last blog post, I discussed the difficulties of saying good bye to my adopted country and all my friends. Today, I’m going to give my first impression of being back home and how things feel different than when I left.

I moved to a part of Austin, I’m not really familiar with, I’ve been on many of the major streets in the area, but not the specific neighborhood I’m in. The first time I noticed anything I was walking my dog during the morning rush hour, and there were so many cars, so many cars with one person driving them. These weren’t your small compact cars like I would see in Europe, most of them were trucks. This to me was really different, because for the past year and a half there were few if any trucks or jeeps around Eindhoven. In the Netherlands a driver pays taxes based on the weight of the vehicle. That and gas costs around $8/gallon as I’ve mentioned before. These two combined changes vehicle selection and pushes people to drive smaller fuel efficient vehicles. Of course there were less bikes on the road. Even though the neighborhood I’m has bike lanes on every street big enough to use them. There are few bikes. I did not see many. Most of them were on a single street and many of them were obviously being used for exercise rather than transportation.

There are significantly less grocery stores in the city. In Eindhoven, Ablert Heijn’s (Dutch version of HEB or Giant Eagles) were all over the place. They were about as common as Star Buck’s in the US. However, this was driven by the fact that customers either walk or cycle to the store. It would be extremely frustrating if the closest AH was over 3 km away which is much more likely in Austin.

Aside from these I have a strong feeling of saying “Dank je wel” (Thank you) whenever I get a receipt from someone. I kind of got it ingrained in my head, that and saying “Alstjebleft” (Please/Enjoy). It’s also strange to be at a coffee shop (cafe) and not have people looking at me for speaking English when they first sit down.

I probably will always look at the US in a different perspective than I had before. I think this is a good thing. There is a lot of waste and excess in the US culture. The Netherlands showed me that the US way isn’t the only way, is not the best way and adapting ideas from both cultures could improve a lot of things.

Good Byes are never easy

On Saturday I had a going away party in Eindhoven. I’m moving back to Austin tomorrow. I have made some absolutely amazing friends. Friends that have expanded what I think about the world, how the world works and about countries that I never thought I’d make friends from.

It’s been an interesting experience. First living with 7 roommates from all over the world. Walk down stairs and understanding nothing because everyone is speaking Spanish or Urdu. I would then go to class and during the breaks or after class I’d be surrounded by Dutch. With all this going on you’d think I would have done a better job picking up the languages. I know a bit of Dutch, enough to say simple things like “Ik spreek geen Nederlands” or “Spreek je Engels.” Dutch is a hard language to learn because, well it’s a hard language and because nearly the entire country is fluent in English to a level that I can have an in depth discussion about nearly anything.

My friend Greg was telling me that there’s something of a psychological theory related to how Ex-pats adjust to an area they live in. He says that it’s like a parabola. You start out really excited and happy, everything is new and you’re learning a lot. Eventually, the things that were new and interesting become frustrating and just different enough to make it desirable to go home or to be surrounded by people from your culture. It’s easy to understand why there are enclaves of people from the same culture. My Colombian and Mexican friends had the similarity of their languages and a few people that bridged their cultures. I didn’t have anyone from my culture that I was close with, and seeing the closeness of my friends it some times made it even harder because I was essentially adapting to two different cultures at the same time.

During this time, I had to do some growing and try to figure out how to deal with it. I of course continued to throw myself into the two cultures by hanging out with my Dutch friends and my Latin American friends during my first year here. Eventually, after hitting bottom you begin to adjust and accept things are different and figure out ways to work within the system. Things definitely got easier when Brian and Greg moved over here as they are from the US.

I’ve learned so much while being here. Through my education, from my friends from different cultures and just being in a totally different type of place. I’ve learned that I can adapt to truly different and stressful situations. It made me appreciate what I have back in Austin and I think that I’ll be a better friend and husband than I would have been otherwise. I’m more patient and less prone to say rash things. I think that I’ve grown a lot and I can’t help but say it’s because of the support of my friends here and Davianne back home.

Good byes are hard, especially when you know how much of an impact on your life your friends have made. I’d like to thank you all for being in my life and I look forward to continuing to keep in touch. Hopefully I’ll see you in the US and the next time I come to Europe. I also look forward to visiting your countries too!

Denouncing Rush

My friend sent me this email. If women’s rights matter to you, then please read on.
Sandra Fluke is a classmate of mine.  You may have heard of her.  She’s an inspiring woman who worked with victims of domestic violence before coming to law school on a public interest scholarship.  She is the woman who was supposed to testify before congress on birth control but was blocked by republicans.  This was the congressional hearing about birth control in which no woman was allowed to testify.  The statement she had planned to make was later publicized.  Rush Limbaugh completely misrepresented it, called her a slut, and demanded that she post sex tapes online.
Even if you do not believe that birth control should be accessible for contraceptive reasons, or even life-saving medical reasons, I hope you do find it unacceptable for Limbaugh to defame a woman and lie about her testimony. Limbaugh is attempting to bully women out of speaking and create positive publicity for himself. Sign this petition if you want it to backfire on him.  http://dccc.org/pages/denounce-rush
Please forward this to anyone you think would be interested in signing.

Biting the hands that feeds it

Yesterday I read an article which explained that a Republican Congressman berated the head of the National Science Foundation for high gas prices. This is pretty distressing because it shows a clear lack of understanding of the goals of the NSF, the role of industry in innovation, consumers and the policies the Republican party and the US government has in place in regard to fuel usage.

First of all, the NSF is an organization that funds cutting edge research that expands the frontier of science. The goal is not to pick winners at that early of a stage. Picking a technology specifically to reduce the cost of fuel would be that. The goal is to pick the best ideas in a broad range of topics and fund several ideas within the same topic to get competing technologies and research groups. They groups can look at the same problem with a different perspective and lead to very different results, which together could lead to a huge break through (if they each don’t get their own break through or the same one). The goal is to create variety. I’m sure there are tons of projects that are focused on creating alternative fuels and increasing the efficiency of our combustion engines. However, the research isn’t going to be commercializable for 10 to 15 years. That’s just how long it takes. The research we’re funding today will be driving our economy through the next decade. 
If the Congressman wants a better target to go after, he should look to the car companies. There has been research for a large number of years on engine technology, however not all of it has been used to actually improve efficiency. Some times it’s used to increase the power of the vehicle. They do this because that’s what the consumer wants. Americans love their big powerful cars. There’s no reason why my mother in-law NEEDS to drive the extended Tahoe, but she does – she feels safer in her “Battle wagon.” However, the vehicle gets very low gas mileage, which of course is a double whammy when the prices increase. Huge tank and high prices make it expensive. The more gas the vehicle uses the higher the prices will be going. In Europe the gas prices Americans are complaining about are absurdly low. In the Netherlands it’s something like $8/gallon, around $3 of that is in taxes. However, in those countries there are much more fuel efficient vehicles because they have to be. Many of those countries don’t really want people to be driving.
The same car manufacturers that complain about putting minimum fuel economy standards on cars are able to meet higher standards in Europe. The US government could easily play a role in increasing the standards for new vehicles. They may not be doing enough. Continually increasing the standards with higher gas prices will increase the incentives for manufacturing those vehicles. Especially if the US government provides a customer for those cars. This would ensure that the car companies will be able to sell a minimum number of the vehicles without fear of a complete flop of the technology.