In just a few days I will be getting on a plane and flying halfway across the world. My destination: Perth, Western Australia, where I’ll spend the next three months doing fieldwork for my Master’s thesis.
This is not my first time moving to a faraway location, and yet I still feel overwhelmed by everything – tickets, visa, housing, etc., etc. But I’m still doing it.
I was 11 when I took a bus by myself for the first time – almost a pensioner by Lithuanian standards – and that was one of the scariest experiences ever. I’m 24 now, my flight miles wrap around the Earth twice, and in the last six years I’ve lived in four different countries. When I meet new people and have to explain this complicated story (Lithuanian but studied there and there and there), I always feel a bit uneasy, as if I’m bragging. I probably am a bit, but I also feel that it was really a matter of me taking the opportunities that presented. That 11 year old in me is still freaking out but I wouldn’t change these experiences for the world.
That’s why early last year, when I was just getting to know my course mates, I was surprised by their reluctance to even consider moving abroad. I’m talking about Dutch students, who were quick to complain about there not being any jobs in Forest and Nature Conservation, but when I would suggest possibly looking at opportunities in other countries, many seemed very against the idea. I, of course, understand that that is not for everyone – it is after all not easy to uproot yourself, leave your family and friends, and start somewhere anew.
However, I’ve also met quite a few older Dutch people who did just that. A few months ago I received a parcel and it turned out that the delivery person lived in Lithuania for years. My very own grandparents hosted a Dutch student in the early days of our Independence. I love telling the story of how he and I were learning Lithuanian at the same time (we still communicate in it to this day). The Dutch are definitely a nation of travellers - so what has changed then?
My home country is losing people to emigration at an enormous rate. And yet I feel that that is a good thing. The changes of just the past half-decade caused mostly by those who came back after years abroad are huge. Leaving, if just for a little while, lets one look at their own country from a different perspective. For young Dutch (or Lithuanians or others) it might also provide an opportunity to think outside the box and where they could eventually fit best in their home society. And that is worth a few freak-outs.
Kristina is a second year student MSc Forest and Nature Conservation. She is from Lithuania and previously followed a bachelor in Ecology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. During that time she also went to the University of California – Davis for a year.