New to the Parish: ‘When I come back to Ireland it feels like home’

An Amsterdam native with an entrepreneurial spirit caught the travel bug before landing in Dublin. He has had a love-hate-love relationship with the city

Alain Buffing grew up in Amsterdam and moved to Ireland in 2014. An avid traveller it is his goal to visit every one of the 196 countries in the world before his 30th birthday. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Alain Buffing: arrived from the Netherlands, 2014

Alain Buffing’s goal is to visit every one of the 196 countries in the world before his 30th birthday. Four years ago he had visited 18 countries. Now he has seen 85.

“It’s probably because I need a goal, something tangible to work towards,” says the 28-year-old, who speaks Dutch, English, German and Spanish. “I love making lists and making resolutions. I love picking up new languages, exploring new cultures.”

Buffing, who was born and grew up in Amsterdam, says he has always been curious about different nationalities and backgrounds. “My father’s company was in Amsterdam west, where all the immigrants lived. We had lots of Moroccan and Turkish immigrants. I remember as a kid – I think I was five – I was in the car with my dad on the way to his work. I saw these women walking down the street in headscarves; I’d never seen that before and I was intrigued.”

After his parents divorced when he was 10, Buffing relied on his sense of humour and ability to act the clown to overcome the turbulence at home.

“I started out as a very ambitious student but then I became more interested in being the funny guy in class. It was out of insecurity. I was a teenager. I didn’t really have the money to buy the cool brands, so I was like, I’d rather have the cool jokes and make people laugh.

“Once you’re the funniest guy in class you can never be really heard,” he says. “I see that now looking back on it.”

Buffing had access to marijuana from early in his teen years. “Dutch society is very liberal, especially when it comes to drugs. In the Netherlands it’s very normal that by the age of 14 you’ve already had your first marijuana joint. When you’re 16 you can legally get it, but then, once you can buy it legally, it’s not exciting any more.

“Amsterdam is just very laid-back. I remember with my granny we would go around the markets eating waffles and French fries. We would bike everywhere. My granny had five bikes; my brother and I called her ‘the dealer’.”

By the time he had finished high school, it was clear Buffing had the family’s entrepreneurial gene. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had run a grocery delivery service for decades, and Buffing was eager to follow in their footsteps by setting up his own business. He studied marketing and entrepreneurship at university in the hope of moving into advertising.

However, without the financial support of his parents, Buffing struggled to meet the costs of student life. He began bartending to pay the bills. “This massively delayed my studies. Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I was either working till 6am or going out.”

Travel company in Thailand

As part of his studies, Buffing spent six months working with a travel company in Thailand. There he began to reassess his life choices. “In Thailand I was on my own, in a different time zone, no friends there. I had to build up my whole life, and that’s when travel got me.

“I had this feeling I had to catch up, that I had wasted 2½ years of my life in bartending.” However, working behind a bar had allowed him to develop his social skills and overcome the insecurities he had carried from his teen years. But he had caught the travel bug and he set the goal of seeing every country before he turned 30.

After graduating from university, Buffing moved to Germany where he began working for a fashion PR agency. He quickly lost interest and decided to take a different route in life. He set himself the challenge of learning, creating or experiencing something new every day, while recording every step in an online blog.

“I did some very funky stuff. I sold 80 per cent of my stuff. I went hitchhiking in Austria. I took art classes. I went to a German nudist beach. I’m not sure I had a clear goal; I just wanted to develop myself.”

Once the project ended, Buffing went back to southeast Asia to work with a travel organisation, but after a few months he realised he wanted to return to Europe.

“I made a list of 20 cities where I wanted to live or work, including Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Berlin and Dublin. I found out Dublin was a technology hub and that’s when I started sending out resumés to companies like Twitter, Oracle and LinkedIn.”

In March 2014 Buffing arrived in Ireland, ready to start work at Salesforce, a cloud computing company in Dublin. His relationship with Ireland started off as love, descended into hatred and finally climbed back up to love again.

“It’s very easy to live in Ireland because you can walk everywhere and the people are friendly and chat to everybody. But I had a feeling I was too much in my comfort zone. It was a personal struggle where I felt I needed to go to a new city and meet new people again. I worked my way through that, and now it feels good because I’m travelling so much and when I come back to Ireland it feels like home.”

Negative reputation

Buffing says Dutch friends and family are pleasantly surprised when they visit his new Irish home. “Dublin doesn’t really have a very positive reputation in the Netherlands. I think it’s because people always think it’s grey and very rainy, which is not necessarily true.”

“That’s why my friends and family are so impressed, because they have very low expectations and when they come here they’re blown away by these hospitable, very friendly people.”

Buffing loves the sarcasm in Irish speech but has noticed Irish people tend to be quite insecure, a failing they deal with through their relationship with alcohol.

“I think in Ireland it’s more important to have a good story than good looks,” he says. “Humour is very important in the Irish culture. Irish people are also so humble and that makes it so charming for me.”

  • We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com
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