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Netherlands veteran and truck driver visiting Billings shares relief of life abroad

'You gotta talk to a lot of people to get so many perspectives. That’s how you shape yourself.'
Posted at 7:31 PM, Feb 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-02 21:31:19-05

Editor's Note: Both Parts Unknown and This American Life are journalistic efforts that highlight the underhanded wonder of the everyday. Reporter Marcus Cocova, being motivated by these works, aims to discover similar stories which, at a glance, may seem commonplace to those who tell them.

Elie Cuik is a veteran from the Netherlands. Now in his mid-20s, he is a European truck driver, an open road lifestyle which he said keeps him looking out for adventure. His wanderlust brought him to Billings, where he began 15 days of travel across the United States, going from Montana to Texas.

"If you just stick around town with people you know, yeah sure, you can be stable that way. I don’t think you get a lot out of it soul-wise," said Cuik when asked why travel is important.

The traveler attributed his impulse to explore to his father, who is adopted and of half Māori (native New Zealander) and half Taiwanese descent.

"I guess it's in the blood that I’m wandering," said Cuik.

He said his father, who is also a veteran, recently attempted suicide.

"It’s kind of hard to get (my dad) to talk about how he feels. Men in general have a hard time doing that," said Cuik.

For veterans, suicide and struggles with depression are all too common, and according to Cuik, can stem from difficulties adapting to life after the military.

“It’s the brotherhood (found in the military). It’s the friendships you make. The people around you would really fight and die for you … and (civillians) will never understand what that’s like," said Cuik.

His father now stands near the center of Cuik's desire to see the world and connect with people. Military service or not, he said the best thing one can do is get their feelings off their chest.

“I think you should just get it out. To, at least, someone; even a total stranger. That’s something people have forgotten to do. Just have a deep conversation with a total stranger," said Cuik.

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