According to my former history teacher Mrs Buurman you can really understand an American by asking two questions: ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Where are you going?’. Jaimini answers my first question with the kind of easy storytelling you might expect from an American. “My mother is from Guatemala. She went to the United States to study and make a better life for herself. My father is a software engineer from Enkhuizen who followed the American Dream. They met in Fairfield, Iowa, of all places; a city with a population of ten thousand. They fell in love and then they had me. That's my story!” laughs Jaimini.
Jaimini Boender | Indoor soccer | E.S.Z.V.V. Totelos | TU/e | Eindhoven | Computer Sciences | Master's of EIT | Iowa | aged 26
Anyone who has ever seen a film featuring the Midwest will be familiar with its vast plains, the slightly lonely feel of the place. Iowa is a medley of cornfields and tallgrass prairie, where the wind is always battering your face. This is small-town America. A rugged environment thousands of miles from the allure of Hollywood, both literally and figuratively. “Although Fairfield has ten thousand residents, it still feels rural and remote. We lived close to the center but even so we had more than half an acre of land, including an orchard. For the rest, there’s corn and hightech companies; therefore Fairfield is nicknamed ‘Silicorn Valley’, cute, huh?”
If Iowa's unforgiving land climate couldn't keep Jaimini's feet planted firmly on the ground, his parents were certainly up to the task. The life lesson: nothing just happens, only hard work will get you a dream job and a Homecoming Corn Queen. “Because my brother and I were home-schooled by our mom, she shaped our study ethics. Although my mum is a bon viveur, she taught me that it takes discipline and obedience to get work done. She is the youngest from a large working-class family of seven children and was the only sibling who was able to go to university; the whole family made that possible. That's why she took her education very seriously.”
Jaimini’s father personifies Calvinistic capitalism in its purest form. “Above all, he taught me to discover opportunities and then to work hard to build something and keep it going. As a hobby he once started growing pawpaws, a mango-like fruit. Another time, fuelled by a sense of romance, he started making jewlery for my mother. Then he recognized these as business opportunities and started selling them at trade fairs. As a selfmade man he is still busy remodeling and expanding our house. Naturally I'm ‘free’ to pitch in and help,” says Jaimini with a wink.
To compensate for his lack of classmates, Jaimini started playing soccer at the age of six. “At home I played mostly with my brother, I learned to play piano or I did handicrafts. In Fairfield there were sometimes activities with other home-schooled children, but through soccer I made really good friends. It was typical kid soccer: twelve little boys swarming like bees around the ball. At first I was a little bit shy. Only when they asked me to join in did I get the courage to go out on the pitch. My first steps inside the lines felt like a dream - like, now things are going to start to happen!”
Thanks to his limitless dedication and Popeye-like work ethic, Jaimini made rapid progress as a soccer player. “I played soccer for both my hometown club and my high school. I also did running and played chess, but soccer was my passion. We trained two hours a day and hit the gym as well. I was preoccupied with every aspect of soccer, right down to the tiniest details. In fact, the sport respresented my personality; I was able to show what you can achieve with discipline, hard work and dedication. The first reward was that I was given the position of playmaker and at the age of sixteen I was already playing on the local U18 team.”
Playing soccer helped Jaimini give contours to his adolescent self. “American football is ‘king’ in the United States. Soccer is an alternative sport; it is for the hipsters. As the soccer-playing son of immigrants, with my slightly imperfect English, I stood out from my classmates. What's more, because my best friend came from Taiwan, they sometimes thought I was Asian. I thought it made me more interesting and embraced it like as an asset. To be honest, it was my ‘in’ with girls,” says Jaimini.
Even when I was a kid I used to dream about the Netherlands: the land of my father and, especially, the land where soccer is the number one sport
After high school, Jaimini found himself facing Mrs Buurman's second question, a matter that all Americans have to solve: ‘Where am I going after high school?’ “I really wanted to play soccer at college, and I had the talent, but I didn't think it was a smart move to put all my eggs in that basket. If you get a scholarship you have to train hard and I was worried that my studies would suffer. I know, it is un-American to be rational about dreams - but I'm not a typical American.”
More than anything, Jaimini wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean right away and study in the Netherlands. “Even when I was a kid I used to dream about the Netherlands: the land of my father and, especially, the land where soccer is the number one sport. But because high school in the Netherlands takes a year longer to complete, it seemed sensible to me to first get into a US college and then take the leap.” Eventually Jaimini chose the university where his parents had met: Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield. A university where the focus is on self-discovery, self-development and Transcendental Meditation.
“My parents were interested in meditation and spirituality. Although my mother had a Catholic upbringing and my father is Protestant, we weren't a religious family. While we used to go to a kind of liberal Catholic church and my mother prayed to angels, ‘keep my Jaimini safe’, the church played a marginal role. Meditation, on the other hand, is an integral part of my parents' philosophy of life and it has also shaped me. I went to Maharishi University partly to please my parents and partly because I was curious about what other students were doing with meditation.”
Meditation is like an intense soccer match: you aren't thinking about anything, because you are completely in the zone
Meditation for Jaimini is a way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. “You are always busy and there is always something to do. Meditation helps you to relax and get control of yourself in a healthy and sustainable way. It offers the chance to reflect on what is going on inside yourself. I use a twenty-minute meditation technique and during that time you are conscious but you let go of your thoughts. You are awake, but not busy doing something; it’s a different type of rest than sleep. It is like what I experience during an intense soccer match: you aren't thinking about anything, because you are completely in the zone. I don't know if it helps me to study, because I've always meditated. My classmates told me they found it took away the pressure of studying and that I was lucky to have been raised with meditation.”
Sports offers Jaimini another form of escape that he can enjoy for years. Since he has been studying at TU/e, he has been playing indoor soccer at E.S.Z.V.V. Totelos and taking part in high-intensity interval training at the Student Sports Centre. “Totelos is a nice association that combines performance and sociable fun in a great way. High school soccer was too serious at times; you were almost a soldier defending the school. Because I am completely in the zone during a match, I never get stressed by indoor soccer. I play to let something happen; whether we win or lose is a side issue. The only pressure I feel is the pressure to be myself during a match. I want to yield to all my character traits, including competitiveness.”
“In my daily life I keep my competitiveness hidden because it is an unpleasant trait. I want to be sociable and kind; to smile and have friendly chats. A soccer match offers the right arena to let my mean side show: the desire to be better than someone else and to beat that person. In a soccer match it is okay to behave a bit like a monster. Your teammates demand this attitude and your opponent expects an ‘agressive’ adversary. Of course, I don't want to hurt anyone physically, but if you make someone lose, in some way you are hurting that person. Everyone has the trait of wanting to hurt another person, unfortunately some people express it in daily life or at other unsuitable moments.”
“Soccer is a fantastic sport for figuring out people. It is interesting to see how soccer players react under pressure. Do they remain sportive or do they lose their self-control? Do they start trash-talking their opponents or do they maintain their dignity? Who is a leader and who is a follower? That's why I like sport that involves being in the zone. That's also why I only ever played 5-minute chess; super short matches played at breakneck speed. And yes, a smart chess strategy is another way you can hurt people,” grins Jaimini. “Sport is a good preparation for real life.”
Talking about the future: let's go back to Mrs Buurman's second question: what does Jaimini plan to do with his Data Science degree? “I really don't know yet. There are two strategies: work hard and earn as much as possible in a short space of time to pay off my student debt. In Chicago, for instance, you can earn 75,000 dollars a year working ten-hour days, but you have only ten days vacation. Or I can start out slowly in the Netherlands with forty vacation days and take holidays in Costa Rica.” The dilemma: carry on working Calvinistically or finally start enjoying yourself? “I really don't know…”
An American who doesn't know where he is going- now that's not a typical American.