Colin Owen

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Colin Owen

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How a four-year commitment became a lifelong dedication

“Having lived in London all my life, I suddenly found myself standing on the steps of my cleared-out house, watching the removal van containing all my belongings drive away. ‘Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?’ I was moving to Eindhoven, knowing very little about the city and life in the Netherlands.”

How did this come about so ‘suddenly’? “Of course, it wasn’t as sudden as I make it seem now. Even though you prepare for a major life change, which is what moving abroad is, it feels sudden when the moment finally comes and there’s no turning back. But I was a single guy with no commitments and ready for a new adventure.”

“But let me take you back a little. I had for Philips in the UK for a number of years, and I’d achieved my Master’s in Business Administration from Birmingham University. I was part of a European project team and the head of that team was based in Eindhoven. He was looking for a new person to fill a permanent position in Eindhoven, and I was looking for a new opportunity. However, he needed some sort of commitment from my side. After all, Philips had to invest in housing and moving costs, among other expenses. I told him I was willing to commit to four years. That was back in 1999.”

That’s twenty years ago. What happened? It’s almost like the Eagles’ Hotel California. ‘You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!’ “Well, life always has surprises in store for you. You never know what the future will bring. When I left England, family and friends were worried that they’d hardly ever see me again. After I explained that Eindhoven is actually nearer to London than, let’s say, Manchester or Newcastle, they found my move less difficult. That said, if it hadn’t been for an accidental run-in with a beautiful woman in the Philips parking lot towards the end of my four-year term, I probably would have returned to London in 2003.”

A beautiful woman! We’d like to know more. “Marielle was working for Philips at the time. She’s Dutch but has an international background too. We started chatting, meeting up more and more and, to cut a long story short, we got married in 2006. You know, it all worked out so well. I really enjoyed living in Eindhoven from the moment I got here, and if you find the woman of your dreams in the city you’ve started to call home it’s simple mathematics really: you stay here!”

What did, and do you like about Eindhoven? “I never feel threatened here. My perception is that there’s a lot more street crime in South London. I love cycling, which is very dangerous in the UK. I just find Eindhoven a better, safer place than England, especially South London where I grew up. This is an easy country to live in, and a great country to bring up kids. And if you want a change of scenery, Belgium is just twenty minutes away, Germany forty. What I also like is that everyone is happy to speak English. Soon after I got here, I had some trouble with my car and took it to the garage. I asked the mechanic if he spoke English. He didn’t say, ‘yes I do.’ He answered, ‘of course.’”

Is there anything British that you miss? “I don’t get homesick, and I go back two or three times a year anyway, but I do miss British pub culture. The pub is really the centre of the village. Eating a Sunday roast, watching the football, having a pint with your mates. Then again, I like the terrasjes here, which you don’t find so much in England. Probably most of all, I miss the mountains. I love to go trekking through the British countryside.”

What’s your life like nowadays? I now work for Signify, which is the former Philips Lighting company.  More importantly, Marielle and I are the proud parents of Thomas, 11, and Michael who has just turned 10. We live in a nice, quiet part of town and the boys both go to the International School. I speak English to them, and Marielle speaks Dutch, so they are perfectly bilingual – but when it comes to football, they support England of course.”

Have you got any advice for newcomers? “Yes, look for help settling in. Especially with the basics and the bureaucracy – housing, buying a car, social security number, opening a bank account, taxes. Things like that. Don’t waste time and deal with stress over things that people are trained to help you with. Get all that sorted and enjoy your time here!”

Text: Joost Pool

Photography: Eddie Mol

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