What brought you to The Netherlands?
I completed my Ph.D. in geography and tourism in 2012, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and I was looking for a job closer to my parents, who live in Romania. I wanted to live at least in the same geographical area, in Europe. So I applied for jobs where I thought my chances to get a job would be higher: the Netherlands, UK, the Nordic countries. It just happened that I got the earliest reply from the Netherlands, together with a very attractive compensation and benefits package, so I decided to accept their offer. The offer came from a university of applied sciences in Deventer, the Saxion University of Applied Sciences, for a senior lecturer position.
How was the beginning?
The beginning was interesting, full of energy like any beginning in a new place. I lived in Deventer for a year, and afterward I moved by choice to the role of assistant professor at the University of Groningen, with a Rosalind Franklin fellowship to do research in the geography of tourism in conflict areas.
I am curious by nature. Deventer is a small, charming place, and I liked it very much. I started to take courses to speak the Dutch language, of course, at a beginner’s level. As I’ve mentioned, the beginning was good, wonderful, I liked it, and I have pleasant memories of my first year in the Netherlands, in Deventer.
Did you have a cultural shock?
No, no, I cannot talk about a shock. Before the Netherlands, I lived in other 7-8 countries, so I cannot say I can still be surprised by a place, a city, or a culture. The Dutch culture seemed welcoming to me.
One difference: I’ve noticed that many people smoke in the street. Coming from the US and New Zealand—especially in New Zealand, tobacco products are not exposed on the shelves and people smoke much less in public. Here, my impression was that people smoke very much and especially outside, in the street. This was surprising to me and I still remember it.
How do you look back on this period (in The Netherlands)?
My Dutch experience is positive; professionally, my work was acknowledged with an [n.b., highly prestigious] NWO VENI grant, which has a 10-12% success rate. Due to my work, I got interviewed by Volkskrant, Het Parool, Dagblad van het Noorden, etc.
This public attention offered me the possibility to disseminate the results of my research to a larger audience. Socially, I got support to buy my first little house, with my own money.
How do you feel in Dutch society?
The Dutch society can be very welcoming if you have the modesty to adhere to their lifestyle on the bike, sustainable and practical.
I followed Dutch-language courses, but I don’t yet speak the language fluently and, although I get along well with my Dutch colleagues, I cannot say I’ve made very good Dutch friends or that we spend our weekends or holidays together. Yes, the Dutch are welcoming and friendly, but it takes time for them to make friends with you, and it only happens if you speak their language fluently, know their traditions, and so on. I have Dutch friends and colleagues, and Dutch neighbors, and we visit each other but not too often.
I had a telling experience with the Dutch society when buying my house. It is very interesting that, despite the fact that I don’t speak the language very well, I managed to buy a house and sign all the contracts very easily. This is because I was offered bilingual documentation (Dutch and English), with the warning that Dutch version takes legal precedence. It is a welcoming society, very supportive.
Where’s home for me? For me, home is in all 8 countries where I have lived. I’ve always traveled with a Romanian passport, and this won’t change. I’ve never chosen another citizenship, another passport. But I haven’t lived in Romania since 2001, so the term home is, for me, pretty fluid. My roots are in Romania and will always be in Romania.
What’s success to you?
For me, success cannot be measured in the size of the bank account or the number of cars. I don’t have a material understanding of success, but I have to be also critical of my own statements and add that I have a good and stable salary, a roof above my head, and I don’t have a car only because I love the environment too much to pollute it this way… Well, all these make it possible for me to say that success for me is something intangible: to do what I like, what motivates me, something that also helps the others.
Success is to discover your talents and know how to use them for the benefit of a community, no matter what community it is.
What’s your relation to the Romanian community in The Netherlands?
I welcome and support any project that aims to bring Romanians closer in the Netherlands. This brings not only emotional and individual benefits to those who want to socialize with their peers but also collective benefits, namely the image of Romania and of Romanians in the Netherlands.
What’s your advice to people who would like to relocate to The Netherlands?
I wouldn’t dare to give the advice or to push more Romanians to leave Romania. However, I’d say: if you do leave Romania, come here with modesty, understanding, and an open heart.
To me, it mattered a lot to be well educated, and many doors opened and I had enough opportunities due to that. So I think this should be my advice: invest in your education, and look for opportunities to continuously develop yourselves and your vision for a better future. We say in Romania “if you have an education, you can make it anywhere” [n.b., “Ai carte, ai parte”]. Countries that are more developed economically – the UK, the Netherlands, France – confirm that education takes you places.
I felt great in the Netherlands. I am currently in the UK, in Leeds, but I will continue my collaboration with my Dutch colleagues and it is likely that I will return to a different position or through another fellowship. I would not close the door on the Netherlands. My story continues now in Leeds, but part of me will always be in Groningen.
What’s your most cherished project?
My project closest to my heart is to cultivate peace, understanding, and socio-cultural tolerance of diversity, through travel and tourism.
Note: Listen to Professor Dorina-Maria Buda explaining the power of tourism and emotions to build bridges of peace, to build connections rather than disconnections in these times and places of turmoil and conflicts.
Interview by Claudia Marcu and Alexandru Iosup
translation by Alina Marginean
photo’s from personal archive, edited by Alexandru Matei