Through New Eyes, Story Six

Croatian Rugby Team

Croatian Rugby Team

“Travel is the only thing that makes you richer”How many of you have heard those words spoken or read those words somewhere before? How many of you have heard the quote and merely brushed it off, putting it in the basket of age-old clichés, right next to the “You only live once” and Get rich or die trying” (bad example) expressions of the world. You may have heard the quote a million times before, never really soaking it in and taking it for what it’s really worth. You see, to people like me that live for the adventure, to those who are constantly seeking and searching for the next best thing and whose only goal is to have an incredible, astounding, and down-right wild story to tell, we have first handedly seen how rich we’ve become from the memories we’ve made and the awe-inspiring things we’ve seen during our travels. For those people who constantly wish to absorb everything this world has to offer, the world will never be enough. We will always want to experience more and more, never ceasing to be amazed at the richness and fullness we feel after having been a part of something larger than ourselves. We may even agree that the quote holds some truth to it, but only a small number of us actively pursue the greatest wealth offered in this world; the wealth of travel.

For my sixth installment of my “Through New Eyes” project, I am featuring someone who has seen and experienced how great the gift of travel is. Having been born in the United States, Mike decided long ago that he was going to see the world, no strings attached. So, one day during Junior year of high school, Mike applied to Bond University in Australia, and well, you could say the rest is history. Now, after completing his undergrad in Australia, joining a travel rugby team in Croatia, eating chicken feet in Japan, drinking 40-year-old brandy in Malaysia and now living in Dubai completing his Masters of Science (Oil & Gas Management), it’s easy to understand why Mike wants to continue his adventures in traveling the world, without having the slightest thought of coming home.

Here is his story, in his own words…

So you’ve lived all across the world. Have you always been interested in traveling or was it something that just kind of happened?
I guess growing up, every person has some fascination with travel and the intrigues that go along with it. I always had the urge to travel but was limited due to school, sport or work. During high school, you start thinking about where to go to uni (university). I was reading a magazine about unis and there was a section about studying abroad on it and Bond University caught my eye. The school was located on the Gold Coast in Australia and had a beautiful looking campus and offered business programs. I knew I wanted to study finance and international business but really didn’t have an idea where I wanted to go. I just finished Year 10 at Ignatius and quit all sports I was doing to focus on other things. I then thought, why study abroad for a semester, why not just do my whole degree there. I enquired through a representative who was recruiting students in the USA and told him about my marks and testing scores. He said I would get in no problem (entry to Australian universities is quite simple and straightforward) I remember during the first week of Year 11 I was sitting in a St. Ignatius classroom and decided I was going to this university. After 5th period English I left the school and went straight to my mums work and told her I was transferring to SHS and I was going to graduate early (because of the number of credits I had accumulated in Middle School and Ignatius) and then pissing off to Australia. I was a very rash 16 year old you could say and was quite independent so within a few days I was enrolled to Strongsville and was on track to graduate after year 11. I applied after the first semester of year 11 and within a week, got the acceptance to Bond Uni. I graduated during 2006 and was enrolled to start the first semester of 2007 at Bond. Australian universities start in January or February. I was attracted to Bond because it would only take 2 years for my bachelors. For a normal Bachelors in the world (outside of North America) it is 3 years for a typical bachelors degree. They don’t waste time with liberal arts studies and I knew what I wanted to study and didn’t want to waste my time or money taking bullshit classes for a year. Bond studies 3 semesters a year so breaks between semesters are only 3 weeks and there are 3 semesters a year so this suited me. So January 3rd, 2007 was the first time that I left the USA, going to a place which was 10,000 miles away with no one I knew.

So Australia was your first big move abroad to study. Tell me a little about your school, Bond University.
Like I said first place I ever went to overseas was on the Gold Coast, Australia. The Gold Coast is about a 50 kilometre stretch of coastline just south of Brisbane in Queensland. It is known as a tourist hotspot with clean beaches, good nightlife and a multicultural centre. To be honest, I have ever heard of the area before I saw Bond. Coming to Bond, I knew no one except the person that recruited me who was a former student there. Bond, at the time, was almost a 50 50 split between domestic and international students. Going there, I met people from all over the world and opened my eyes to more cultures from around the world.

How long did you live there for?
I spent my first two years in Australia studying at Bond. The first year I stayed in the country, and only returned back to Cleveland during the December break. 20 hours of flying is not exactly the most fun thing to do. The university had quite a lot of American study abroad students and I was one of few full time Americans. However, leaving the country I did not want to mix with too many Americans. I made friends with quite a few British, Canadian and Australian students. Joining a local rugby club as well helped me get to know a lot more people on the coast. Most of them were kiwis (New Zealanders) who populate the Gold Coast. Kiwis can come to Australia without a visa and can live and work there. At the time, the money and jobs were a lot more plentiful in Oz than NZ. After I graduated, I applied for a graduate visa to stay in Australia to gain working experience. Seeing what was happening in the States at the time of 2009, staying in Australia where wages were quite high and unemployment only at 4%, it was a smart move. For example, working in the Food and Beverage Department for the university as a student, I was making over 20 dollars an hour. Wages were quite high in Australia but a lot of things (mostly bad things) were quite expensive. Petrol (Gasoline) was between 1 and 1.40 dollar a litre so that equates to between 4 to 5.50 a gallon. A carton (24) of beer was between 40 and 50 dollars and a packet of cigarettes was 10 dollars when I got there and 17 dollars by the time I left in 2012. This did not stop many Australians as Australians know how to have a good life and saving money is not a major concern. The lifestyle and quality of life in Australia is uncomparable to that of the USA. I worked for the university I went to as an Admissions Officer working with Middle Eastern and European students. However, after five years, I wanted to take a break and go to Europe for a little ‘gap’ year.

Your family is from Europe, correct? What part are they from?
Mum’s parents are from Croatia and that influence was always there growing up. Going to Croatian weddings, eating Croatian food, drinking Croatian rakija was all standard whenever we went to baka’s (grandmum’s) house. I knew that Croatia was planning on joining the EU so in 2009, I decided to apply for Croatian citizenship through my grandparents. I gained Croatian citizenship after a year and have a Croatian passport now. While playing rugby in Australia, one of my mates whom I played with always was of Croatian descent. He had the opportunity to go over and play for the Croatian national team. This always intrigued me and since I never went there, I wanted to take a little gap year. Gap years are quite popular with Australians where they go travelling for a year after high school and before they go to uni. I feel that Americans don’t do this because many are pressured to go straight to university and blah blah blah. I got in touch with one of the local rugby clubs in Zagreb (Croatian capital) and went over there in March 2012. The club paid for my rent, food and beer which was cheap as chips compared to Australia. Going to Croatia for 9 months was a great decision. I met family that I never met before and did some great traveling throughout Europe. Making homemade rakija (brandy) with my family in the country was always a good time. Driving around on tractors and getting to know them was a great experience. They didn’t have much in terms of money and possessions but every time I visited, they always put on a full spread. I made the Croatian national team for two campaigns and did traveling to Slovenia, Serbia, Switzerland, Andorra and Lithuania. Rugby is one of those things where you can go anywhere in the world and someone will help you find a club and whatnot. So many of my friends in Australia have gone and played in the UK or Ireland for a season or two and all have loved it. I will discuss more down below!

So after you initially moved abroad, did you come back to the States at all?
In the past seven years I have been home only two times. I went back for four weeks during the December break in 2007. The other time I went home for 6 months from May 2009 to October 2009. I was working at a job I did throughout high school and wanted a little break from Australia. It is funny that when I originally went to Australia, many of my friends could not believe that I would leave the states to go to uni. I received some scholarship offers from American universities and received nothing from Bond. However, after I finished uni after two years and did some travelling between 2008-2009 (NZ, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand) all of them became strangely jealous. After this stint back in the states, I returned back to Australia for the next 2 and a half years.

Alright, so after Austrailia, you moved to Croatia. What did you do there and how do you even hear about the opportunity in the first place?
As I said before, I was working as an Admissions Officer at Bond Uni. I was living in a house with a coworker and another person as well on the Gold Coast. The money was very good and the lifestyle was very relaxed so coming back to Oz was the right decision. In Croatia, I shared a flat with one of my rugby teammates and another person as well. We lived in Trešnjevka which was about 2 kilometres from the centre of Zagreb which made everything quite convenient. Zagreb is a traditional eastern European city with a lot of old history and architecture. Coming there for the first time was definitely nervous and not speaking the best Croatian was going to be a challenge. However, almost everyone from our generation spoke English way better than I spoke Croatian which was good and bad. I wanted to work on the language as it is part of my roots but everyone spoke English when needed so I didn’t work on it as much as I wanted it to. Zagreb is not as glitzy as London or Paris but it is quite easy to get around and Croatians are quite friendly as well. Being a country for only 20 years, Croatians are very patriotic and are quite strict in their ways. I met most of my friends though rugby but it was easy to meet people when going out. Croatian girls are quite easy to approach and love a good chat and want to hear about you which was always a bonus. Balkan girls are quite fun and a lot more easy to get along with than western girls so that worked out as well. For people who don’t know too much about Croatia, the coastline is among the best in the world. And also having over 1,100 islands that belong to the country, the island scene is unreal. Croatia is one of the fastest growing gems of Europe and recently joining the EU will boost the country even more. Even though half of the country resent the EU and who knows how long it will even be around for. I was in Zagreb for 9 months and got to do some amazing travel with rugby and on my own as well. I will talk about more places down below as well.

And now you are living in Dubai. What exactly are you doing over there? How did you come to the decision that Dubai was the place where you wanted to be?
I am currently based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I am sure when people hear of people, they think of big glitzy buildings and large shopping malls. However, it is more than that. I don’t know if you can tell me another city in the world that has over 200 nationalities. And considering, Dubai was just a desert forty years ago, they have evolved into a global hub. Positioned quite well between Asia and Europe, Dubai serves as a middle-men to a majority of the world’s population. Studying in Australia, I met my best mate who is British but has grown up in Dubai because of his family. I had the opportunity to visit him two times in 2009 and once in 2011 and after Europe, I decided that was my next place to go. There are chances in Dubai that you will not find anywhere else in the world. There are opportunities in every sector and if you can work and market yourself well, anyone with an education can acquire a position here. It is one of the safest cities in the world I have ever been to. For example, you can leave your car running in a carpark all day and the only concern you will have is how much petrol you have wasted. Of course, there are some issues that many westerners have to deal with. It is an Islamic society and you must respect cultural values. However, Dubai is quite liberal compared to other Islamic countries or cities. Some of the world’s best nightclubs and parties are in this city and tourists from all over the world flock here. You do have to put up with 50 C (120 F) summers but you soon get used to it. I am currently working with an hospitality supplier dealing with hotels all across the country. I am also completing my Masters of Science (Oil and Gas Management) through correspondence from the University of Liverpool in the UK. I felt that gain GCC experience, this will help me when I complete my studies and shift into this industry. Having a group of friends here before I moved here definitely has helped me a lot because many people come to this city and do not know many people. The working conditions here for westerners are second to none and the tax-free salaries help as well. At this point in my life, there is no other place I would rather be to work.

How long have you lived in Dubai? How did you go about finding a place to live?
I came to Dubai after doing some traveling for five weeks in Southeast Asia. I would have loved to stay in Croatia but there are very little opportunities there. I was speaking to a good mate of mine from university and he said that I should come out there and gain some GCC experience. Considering what my masters is in, I thought that would be the next best move from my end. I have been in Dubai almost one year now and you gain a different perspective of it if you work here than if you come to visit here. There’s a main website called Dubizzle.com which is sort of a Craigslist for everything. Cars, electronics, apartments or jobs are all listed here and it is one of the most populated websites in Dubai. I found a flat-sharing room in the Marina end of the city. Unfortunately rent here can be quite steep as rent continues to climb and climb after the recent 2009 crisis here. For example, I share a flat with three other guys (all of whom are good to live with btw ) and my rent is roughly 950 USD a month. Of course everyone would like to have their own place but at the time, it is not feasible.

Tell me about the craziest/random thing that you have experienced while living abroad.
Unfortunately all of my random and crazy stories usually involve copious amounts of alcohol. Being invited to a Malaysian wedding, where I was the only westerner, and drinking 40 year old brandy with the groom’s father. Walking out of a Thai back-alley pool hall at ten in the morning in Phuket. Going straight from a Malaysian nightclub to the airport at 7 am for a 20 hour flight. Or planning on just having a quiet drink while on holiday and before you know it the sun is coming up. I figure that I am best just to live in the moment but also to be safe at the same time as well. Many times when I go somewhere, I meet up with friends that I have there so that helps out a great deal as well.

What was the coolest thing you’ve eaten while abroad?
There are a couple of interesting options. I have had chicken feet in Japan, Tarantula in Cambodia, Snake in Vietnam and Camel and Crocodile in Australia. I am believe of you have to try everything local so that is what I try to do. To me, Malaysia is the best place in the world for food. No matter what time of the day it is, you are able to get food in Malaysia. With the wide mix of cultures, there is something for everyone as well. My favourite breakfast item is called Bak kut the which is a pork fat and meat soup. Talk about a good breakfast!

What has been the hardest part about traveling so much and not living close to home?
Leaving everyone and everything you have known before definitely is the hardest part. I was a pretty independent 18 year old but even I felt a little homesick at first. After a while though, I got used to the fact and kept myself busy. Making new friends as well made things easier too. Having so many forms of communication now also makes things easier to stay in touch with family and friends. Missing big events like family/friends weddings and funerals definitely hits hard as well but this is the choice I have to make while living abroad.

Do you ever have friends/family that come and visit?
I have had three good childhood friends from Strongsville come to visit me in Australia. My dad and sister came out to visit me in 2007 during my first year in Australia. And last year when I was in Australia for a month, my mom and sister came to visit me. I have not been home since 2009 and haven’t seen much of my family since then.

How long do you see yourself living in Dubai for? Do you think you are going to stay there for a while or do you already have the itch to travel somewhere different again?
At the moment, there is no other place I want to be for work. However, with my masters, I am willing to go anywhere to get into the industry. Whether that is around the Middle East, Africa or Russia/CIS. I would like to stay in the middle east but I will not limit myself to another move. It would also be nice to stay in Dubai due to the liberal lifestyle and the fact that several of my good friends are here.

Do you see yourself coming back to America?
Going to uni in Australia was the initial move and the ball just kept rolling along from one place to another. You only live once and after a while overseas, I realized that I do not really want to return to the USA. I don’t see myself returning there to live but who knows what will happen down the road.

What has been the most significant thing you’ve learned while living abroad?
Don’t limit yourself. Don’t have anyone tell you not to do something. Always have an open mind when it comes to going to a certain place. Some people doubted me when I first left and I guess that is also the American mentality when it comes to traveling abroad. However, several years later, everyone wants to hear and see what I have been doing. I have always kept an open mind on the world and you need this if you plan on visiting and living in different countries. Also, not everywhere is like home. Things across the world are different and people need to realize this instead of complaining about how it is not like home.

What are you experiencing as being an American overseas? Are people welcoming to you, or do they treat you as the “ugly American” people occasionally perceive Americans to be? What have you learned are people’s perceptions of Americans?
I have received a wide range of view from people over my travels. Some people that I have met love Americans and some people really do not fancy Americans at all. I have met a lot of people who have said that they have traveled the USA but they would never live there. Also a lot of them see some resentment towards Americans who come to their country and then complain how it is not as good or some things are different from the USA. I feel that most Americans do not have an open mind when it comes to going to another country and this in turn leads to bad feedback from foreigners. I haven’t really been proud of my American roots and do not dwell on them at all when I go to another country as I try to soak up local culture as much as I can. I never plan on returning to the USA to live so I usually don’t argue when someone has something bad to say about the USA. I don’t view myself as truly that American anymore and the only thing holding me to the country is my passport.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
To be honest with you, there is nothing that I would have changed. Considering when I left the USA when I was 18, I have done and seen more than people will do in their whole lifetime. I don’t hold any regrets because if you them, then they will haunt you. I prefer to live in the moment and always look ahead as compared to looking to the past.

Mike!

Mike!

Bond University

Bond University

Queenstown

Queenstown

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A huge shout-out is due to
my good friend Amanda for making this happen. I owe you a bloody mary, or three:)

The World is Not Enough credit: http://tiffanytravels.com/