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.