Born in Israel, raised in Canada, now living in Austria – from beatnik to bohemian, in the very best way. Lika takes us on her journey of reinventing herself over the years.
My parents are from Ukraine — the Soviet Union back then. I was born in Israel and when I was three, my parents decided to start a new life in Canada. So we moved around the globe as a family of five. The following years we lived in different places. I grew up in the city but when I was 13 we moved to a farm just north of Vancouver, along the Sunshine Coast. I was really into farming and different ways of existing on the planet. So when I finished school I joined a Wilderness Awareness Program in the States for a year. It was a lot about animal tracking, bird language, and connecting to yourself. I think what I took from it the most – especially during the dramatic years of being a late teenager – was how to be with yourself and that you have to learn to be with yourself before you can be with nature.
I think it originated from the time I spent at the farm. When we moved there I went to school for two years only and then did homeschooling for the last two years, because I would skip school so often. My teachers were concerned I was doing drugs. But in reality, I would stay home, milk the goats and make dinner for my parents when they came home from work. And for them it was fine. They eventually said: “As long as you are studying and have all your assignments done – stay at home, milk the goats, make us dinner :)“
I think there is more than one answer to that. Neither of my siblings lives in Canada anymore. My sister has lived in Finland for ten years now and my brother is in Africa – in a country, I never remember the name of – so maybe it is genetic. For the other answer, I need to go back a bit: Originally I had traveled to Austria for physiotherapy. Up until a few years ago, I hadn’t been considering physiotherapy. I was always closer to natural health and herbal medicine. I imagined a life in a community in the woods, weaving baskets, collecting mushrooms, and making herbal tea. To pursue that lifestyle I traveled all over the world to volunteer at farms. After that, I decided to travel across Canada. I hitchhiked and randomly asked vendors at markets if they needed help and if I could crash at their place for a day or two until I found my next ride. A very different from the life I am living now in Austria!
With my backpack, and my shaved head, and my piercings, not being showered, and randomly getting into people’s cars … yes! I felt I really needed to do that. Despite traveling so much and being amongst people most of the time, I spent a lot of time alone and I was with my thoughts a lot. Before I went on that hitchhiking trip – and it ties back to why I am here in Austria – I thought I would meet young people and I would get into their hippie van and we would somehow end up in Southern America. That never happened. I was surrounded by people who were much older, it was old ladies that picked me up and told me, I shouldn’t be out here alone. Or really nice families with children. And on the farms I went to, it wasn’t young people brainstorming together, it was very much grounded spaces and people.
One year. I was coming from the West Coast and made it exactly all the way through to Halifax before winter hit. I spent six months there. I was working at a cafe and it was really hard surviving by myself. It’s really hard working and making enough money but also having enough time to enjoy yourself. I tried so many different ways of achieving my goal, which was this idea of gardening and living my life the way I wanted to live it. By that point, I had seen a lot of people who were living the life I was seeing for myself and they worked really hard. You could tell from their bodies. Sure, it was a lifestyle that was rewarding but also one that would beat you down. Working in Halifax over the winter I started to realize, maybe I need to find another way.
My parents got divorced and my dad decided to keep the farm. I wanted to get my stuff out of there, so it would be easier for him to make his life decisions. And I felt that it was a great excuse to go back to the farm, and also kind of the last bit of hope of making that lifestyle work. There were three houses on the farm, and as it was just my dad and me, I thought about opening a Bed & Breakfast plus doing the farming. It is such a beautiful property with ponds and creeks, hilly and open and wonderful and forested – it has everything you could possibly wish for. But after a year I realized I needed way more money to start the project than I was making at that moment. With trying to fix things on the farm, there was no way I could be ahead. The moment you made one step forward you took two steps back – and being just by myself was really difficult. Also seeing my colleagues at the cleaning company, I was working part-time for, opened my eyes. They were around fifty and looked really old because they’ve been cleaning their entire life. And I started thinking: ‘Oh my gosh, that’s gonna be me one day! My back’s gonna hurt, my ankles are gonna hurt, every bone in my body … at 50! That’s too young!!’ That gave me the impetus to look around for other things that I would enjoy, that would also be stable and realistic, and would help me build that foundation so I could live a lifestyle I like.
It’s a nice thought! And luckily for a few, it works. A few years ago, I was a really left left left left crush-the-government hippie – no rent, no borders, no showers! But I really let go a lot of that, because in a way it also didn’t get me anywhere. I was just struggling.
Yes, when I read about physiotherapy it sounded like a job I could enjoy where I could also have a life outside the professional world. I had a couple of prerequisites: It had to be a bachelor’s degree and it had to be either affordable for me or I had to be able to get a loan in that country. Because, in Canada, a physiotherapy degree is incredibly expensive – even though I could have gotten a student loan, I didn’t want to start my life after graduation with $ 100.000 of debt. So I looked everywhere. I looked in France, in South Africa, in Holland, Spain, South America, you name it. I remember my mum, who has a medical background as a nurse and was really helpful in the search, mentioning Austria at the very beginning, but I ignored that and kept going. After months of looking through various university websites – which are terrible by the way – I finally circled my way back to Austria and found FH Joanneum. Their website got me! Before you could ask a question it had already the answer to it – which was such a relief to me after searching so long and really struggling to find enough information. I didn’t know anything about Austria, I didn’t even look up Graz before. I just bought my ticket. That’s how invested I was into physiotherapy, bachelor, get your shit together – let’s go 🙂
I was super stressed out because it was really hard getting here with all the documents – Austria loves its bureaucracy – and just one week before my flight I found a room. Getting here was exciting but also I had no expectations. l had an image in my mind of what it might look like and I was thinking of something like Switzerland: it’s green, it’s cool, it’s clean. I arrived in July and I remember it was one of the hottest weeks that year. When I was in the taxi from the airport to Griesplatz I was like “Oh. It’s hot, it’s dirty and it smells funny.” Coming from Vancouver, which is super clean, not a cigarette but insight, no garbage on the streets, I was in shock for a week. My course didn’t start until September and I didn’t know anyone and I was just here at Griesplatz, which is not really representative of Graz. But then the city grew on me. I love it, NOW.
No, totally typical. The only thing that wasn’t typical: I already knew where I was going and I had invested so much into the future. It was a lot of months of hard work, research, and money for all the paperwork. Such a commitment was new for me. Before that, since I was 18, I hadn’t spent more than a year in a place. I was always mixing up projects and ideas. The general direction was always the same, but my focus points were different.
I think generally speaking I am a lot less wild than I thought I was when I was younger. I like nice things. Before, in some circles, that was a bad thing. Even though those are not your ideas, you maybe subconsciously start to believe that as well. But I like nice materials, I like nice wine, I like fine dining. I also like to be a slob sometimes and that’s ok, everything’s ok. Before it was all or nothing – now it’s more balanced. And I actually think it is a healthier way of existing. It opens more doors for me because it is more open-minded.
It wasn’t all that clear to me, because I wasn’t even accepted into university yet. The school gave me the opportunity to learn German. I had two years to do that and then sit the test. It was still a huge risk that I was taking. When I finally took the test and opened the first page … I didn’t understand anything. At first, I panicked. A moment later I was peaceful and relaxed because I thought ‘I don’t have a chance, you might as well have a little bit of fun with this.’ Surprisingly, I was just under average on my test. Complete luck. Absolutely just pure luck. Still, not good enough for physiotherapy. But now I wanted to stay! I was running around in circles figuring out legal ways to stay in the country until I got an email from the university saying I was eligible for nursing school. And suddenly all the puzzle pieces came together. My mum and my sister are both nurses. In the back of the head, I wanted to do something different, but I couldn’t escape my genetics. It is a terrific fit.
No, they put me on a waiting list. That put a lot of pressure on me for that summer because when you have an expiry date on your visa, “maybe” is not good enough. Your hands are tied, you can’t do anything, you can’t leave, you can’t go. I finally got the green light a week before my visa expired. It was just enough time to get all the paperwork I needed for my visa and start.
Both I guess. It was the first place and the first decision in a long time that I didn’t want to run away from. I was committed to what I was doing in my life. Usually, when things get hard, I bail. I’ll leave and it is easy for me to start over. I’m really good at that. This was the first time I didn’t want to do that. When things got hard, it didn’t even occur to me to bail. I felt like it was my home. And, actually, I felt like that almost from the beginning. (Almost, because when I ended up at Griesplatz, I was doubting myself for a few weeks 🙂 ) I think it was meant to be. It felt right coming here and I knew that this was something I had to do. Maybe because I’m named after an Austrian lady …
In Israel my parents were neighbors with an elderly couple from Austria, Francisca and Emanuel. He was an engineer and she was a translator from German to Hebrew. They never had children. When Francisca passed away Emanuel came over – he knew my mum was a nurse at the hospital – and asked if she knew anyone at the hospital who was expecting. He said that he would love to name a child after his wife since they didn’t have any chance to pass the name on. My mum was pregnant with me at the time, so she said “me”. Shortly after I was born, he passed away as well. Since Francisca was not a Russian name and is really hard to spell, my parents didn’t know what to call me. They were playing around with different names they could call me. When I was 7 months old, I became Lika – they took the first two letters of Lydia – my grandmother’s name and the name my parents originally wanted to give me – and the last two of Francisca and glued them together. Emanuel actually made a lot of things that happened in my life financially possible. We actually knew very little about them, but I still have some of their documents and photographs. I would love to do some digging and find out where they were from exactly in Austria. So even if I knew in the back of my head my name-giver was from Austria, I never gave it any thought. I never intentionally looked at it on a map. I had zero information – and yet here I am. I don’t know if it is fate or destiny, call it what you want, it was meant to be.