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Youth in migration - New perspectives from outside of Europe

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Default profile picture Babel Wien


Vi­enna at­tracts many eco­nomic mi­grants, as we very well know. A large city with mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties like Vi­enna, how­ever, also at­tracts young tal­ents look­ing for new hori­zons and chances at in­ter­na­tional re­al­iza­tion from the whole world. The 30 year-old law stu­dent Michael Harpen from the USA is just one such ex­am­ple. 

Author: Christina Hitrova

Interview with Michael Harpen

When did you ar­rive in Vi­enna ?

De­cem­ber 2011, just be­fore Christ­mas. So I have been in Vi­enna for 13 months now.

What are you doing here at the mo­ment ?

I orig­i­nally came here as an in­tern in the UN and de­cided to stay to fin­ish my ed­u­ca­tion here so I’m cur­rently a stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Vi­enna. My first uni­ver­sity de­gree was in Chem­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing and now I’m fin­ish­ing up my law de­gree.

And you are going to grad­u­ate in Vi­enna ?

It’s a bit com­pli­cated. I will get my de­gree from my Uni­ver­sity in the United States, but I am study­ing here as an ex­change stu­dent.

Are you try­ing to find a job in Aus­tria at the mo­ment ?

No, ac­tu­ally I would pre­fer to find a job ei­ther in the in­ter­na­tional pub­lic sec­tor or in some in­ter­na­tional pri­vate sec­tor com­pany.

Do you want to stay in Aus­tria ?

I would pre­fer to be some­where in a large in­ter­na­tional city with a di­verse cul­tural back­ground and many op­por­tu­ni­ties, both pro­fes­sion­ally and so­cially.

Do you have any mo­ti­va­tions for mi­grat­ing to­wards Eu­rope in gen­eral ?

To be hon­est, the ini­tial rea­son why I came to Eu­rope was specif­i­cally just to do the in­tern­ship in Vi­enna. I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly wildly ex­cited about mov­ing to Eu­rope. That being said, now that I’ve been here for just over an year, I cer­tainly have en­joyed being here in Vi­enna and have been able to ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fer­ence be­tween here and back home and am in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties here or in an­other in­ter­na­tional lo­ca­tion.

So for you it is not so much an eco­nomic mi­gra­tion. You are look­ing for dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties. It’s not be­cause you can’t find a job in the USA.

The thing is that there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties in the US, but for some­one like me who is in­ter­ested in the in­ter­na­tional sec­tor, it’s best to go where the op­por­tu­ni­ties are. And I think the big cities for iwork specif­i­cally in the in­ter­na­tional sec­tor will be New York city, Wash­ing­ton DC, Paris, Vi­enna, Geneva, Nairobi, maybe Bangkok. So it’s im­por­tant to be will­ing to be mo­bile if you are in­ter­ested in an in­ter­na­tional pub­lic or pri­vate sec­tor job.

Com­par­ing the US and Aus­tria, if you would imag­ine a per­fect coun­try, what would you com­bine from both?

This is ac­tu­ally the third time I’ve lived in a dif­fer­ent coun­try. First I lived in the US, then I lived in Japan and now I’m here in Aus­tria. I have to say that there is no such thing as a per­fect coun­try to live in. There are good and bad things in every coun­try. If I have to take things that I like or dis­like in the US or here, I would say that per­haps I like that… I think in the US we have a nat­ural sense of a bit more am­bi­tion. It’s a dual sided coin. In the US we tend to be a bit ag­gres­sive in try­ing to ad­vance our­selves pro­fes­sion­ally and ca­reer-wise. On the other hand, I think we are will­ing to work too-hard and sac­ri­fice our fam­ily time and so­cial time with friends, so I do ap­pre­ci­ate the Eu­ro­pean life-style in that re­spect. But on the flip-side I do miss that am­bi­tion and “killer in­stinct” that many Amer­i­cans have. That’s why I’m in­ter­ested in an in­ter­na­tional pub­lic sec­tor job, be­cause it can be both an am­bi­tious ca­reer which can im­prove the world, but it can also be a bit more laid-back than, say, work­ing in a big law-firm in New York city, for ex­am­ple.

Have you sensed any dis­crim­i­na­tion or prob­lems with in­te­gra­tion in Vi­enna ?

It’s hard to say be­cause as an Amer­i­can com­ing here in Vi­enna, I al­ways ex­pected to be on the out­side look­ing in. I enjoy being here in Vi­enna, but I’m not look­ing to as­sim­i­late and be­come an Vi­en­nese or Aus­trian cit­i­zen. So I ex­pect to be treated like an out­sider. My Ger­man skills are not the best so I am not look­ing to be­come an Aus­trian. I am cer­tainly en­joy­ing my time here, but I can’t say I am ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any sig­nif­i­cant dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Are you look­ing to live here very long term ?

It’s hard to say. When I came for the in­tern­ship, I wasn’t plan­ning to stay­ing longer than my 6 month in­tern­ship and then my 6 month in­tern­ship turned into a 9 month in­tern­ship which turned into doing a study-abroad se­mes­ter here. I have many friends here in Vi­enna, some local, some in­ter­na­tional, and I did make some pro­fes­sional con­tacts here, dur­ing my last 13 months and I do enjoy the life-style here and, if the op­por­tu­nity arose, I would cer­tainly like to stay.

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