During the first part of summer 2017, I was able to participate in a two-month study abroad term in western Europe. Words cannot describe how excited I was to be there and experience a culture entirely different from my own. However, my excitement and awe for Europe will not be the focus of my writing today, instead I will focus on the stark difference between the importance of work, social media, and technological advancements in America and Europe.
While I was across the pond, many things struck me. One in particular was how inaccessible the digital world was in Austria compared to America. For example, many homes and establishments (such as cafés and restaurants) didn’t have Wi-Fi, offices and homes didn’t have a printer, desktop, or even laptop available, and businesses didn’t accept credit card, only cash. Now, Austria is nowhere near to a third or even second world country, so not having these things be a priority in the average “Austrian home” was odd to me. As I expressed these observations and thoughts to my peers, some agreed that the lack of connection was an inconvenience, but one of my good friends made an interesting point. He said, “I don’t think they are behind for not having access to what we have back home – they do have it. I think they are just choosing to be behind: They leave work at work, and home at home.” This statement stunned me, but at the same time, spoke so much truth.
In Austria, work is work. Many people go to school to be a cashier, textile artist, farmer and so on, and when their work day ends, their life begins. In a sense, this lifestyle could be refreshing: leaving the office at the office and not being stressed out when you are relaxing from a hard day’s work. But on the other side of the token, that lifestyle could be so unfulfilling. Here in America, we go to school to get degrees in what we are passionate about, not things that just make ends meet. For many, work is life, passion and purpose. When they leave the office, they feel accomplished and fulfilled, not drained and relieved. So the concept of people “choosing to be behind” and leaving work at home is foreign to the American business world. When we think of work, we think of something we love, not just something we have to do. Now, I know this isn’t the case for everyone who works, that many still look for their passion in life and in the workplace. But that is the goal: to love what you do and to never get tired of doing it.
It is no secret that America and Austria are very different for many reasons. We value work, urgency and technology differently. We see our purpose in life through all different kinds of lenses. However, we do share one thing: we aim to have a purpose, a fulfilled life, and as long as you get to that point (regardless of how), then you have found what you’re looking for.
Throughout and at the end of my trip, I learned to take a step back, to enjoy and appreciate where I am, and the privilege I had to be there. I also learned to be grateful that my work is something in which I can find purpose, something I love to do and something that I see as a huge part of my life rather than a separate part of my life.