How did you come to the Netherlands?
I left Romania in January 2008, with my Dutch husband. We lived 8 years in Romania. He found a new job in the Netherlands. It was like an adventure: let’s go and see how it is over there. For me, it was beneficial to get to know his culture better and step out of my comfort zone. I had a good, well-paid job in Romania, in a nice team, recently a mother; our child was barely 1 year when we left Romania. Shortly, we left because of the family, I followed my husband.
How was the beginning?
As any step outside your comfort zone. It was difficult because I left unprepared. I left carried by my love for my husband and for my family, I visited my Dutch side of the family many times, on holidays… but it is one thing to visit and another thing to live here because you are confronted by many things: the language, the daily life that changes completely. In Romania, I had a very rich social life; I landed here with a newborn and I stayed inside. My husband was at work during the day, and I was forced to start again, get to know and understand this society. So, it wasn’t easy, it was a real adventure. If I look now back, I can say that I am satisfied because I am surrounded by beautiful people, of various nationalities, people that are my friends.
Did you have a cultural shock?
Yes, of course! Anyone who wants to immigrate should consider this shock: you need to know better the country where you want to relocate. Like said, I had a one year and a half baby who slept during the afternoon and, around 17, we went out for walks. The streets were empty. This was a big shock for me because, in Romania, this was the time when people went outside for a stroll in the park. Here, with Maite hand in hand, we walked the streets and tried to take a peek through the curtainless windows while wondering where the children were at that hour, what people do and why the streets are empty. Later, I found out that this is the time when dinner is prepared. At 18:00, sometimes even at 17:30, people sit down for dinner. It is true that not always both parents are there but the children are definitely seated at the dinner table. I was very much taken aback by this. When you do not have a child in childcare or at school, you cannot know who society works. Everybody kept telling me to be patient, that integration takes about three years, that when my child would go to school, I would get to know other parents. And again, for me, this felt strange because I already had a Dutch family, I thought I was ok, but it wasn’t like that…
How do you relate these days to your environment?
After 8 years, I can say that I feel home but there are moments when I miss my country and family very much, I miss my friends who still live in Romania, I miss certain things that I cannot rebuild here. I believe I am a happy case because I can show off my many good friends around me, even solid friendships, of the kind that I enjoyed back home in Romania. But, there is always a longing that I find it difficult to explain.
I have learned to love the Netherlands and to appreciate it. I like that I can bike, that I can see my kids at lunch, I like that there are various things happening around me, many activities, events; you only need to be present, open and ready to get involved. I like to do volunteer work, there are so many things that can be accomplished through volunteering, I like that people take care of each other, they take an interest. To speak of this, the first person that came to ask how I was and how I felt in this country was a neighbor lady, from my previous neighborhood. Now, we are friends and she has been a real support for me all these years.
What is it that you do not like here?
All the planning, the agenda. I am the kind of person who does not use an agenda. For me, things happen spontaneously and disorganized. An attitude that puts me in difficulty because, here, people plan everything. You cannot propose them something out of the blue… they will tell you that they cannot honor a spontaneous invitation because they have another appointment planned. Well, I cannot get used to this planning although I can see the good side of it, of course… it’s just that this is not how I function. This has to do, obviously, with my structure.
I know that you are involved in the activity of two Romanian schools, in The Hague and in Amsterdam, where you teach children Romanian. Could you call this your most important project?
Yes, very much. I have always loved working with children, ever since I was a child myself. There were many kids at our house (kids of the neighbors, of friends, etc.), our door was always open; besides, I have two sisters and a brother that I took care of when I was younger. Now, I have three kids, at my turn.
When your partner is of a different nationality, you get questions on how you raise your child, in what language, how you educate him or her, what your plans are for him or her for the future, etc. For me, it was very important to speak Romanian to my kids because this is the language that makes me feel best and express myself the best, it is a part of who I am. My husband speaks Dutch to them and we talk English to each other so our kids are now trilingual. Personally, I have very much wanted to have space where people with Romanian roots be able to speak their language, play and socialize with other kids, understand that they are no different than other kids, that this language is part of them and brings them many benefits.
I started a cooperation with the school in The Hague in September 2014, with the club of the European Patent Office, a club that in the meantime has become a foundation. I have started with a class of eight kids, and now I have almost 20. I speak with kids with ages from three to seven. It is a personal satisfaction for me to see an increasing demand of Romanians who arrive here and realize the importance of their mother tongue and want to preserve and share it forward with their own children. Later, I started my collaboration with the school in Amsterdam, a school that belongs to the Foundation of Romanians for Romanians. I was glad that this school was founded because there were many kids from Amsterdam that could not deal with the distance to The Hague for the weekend classes. Kids enjoy coming to classes and this makes me very happy. It is a weekend activity and you have to keep them motivated.
I believe this increasing demand is due to you. I know that you have a certain approach, adapted to the needs of the kids from here. What do you think?
Well, I cannot say it is only due to me. It is a complex of factors. It is clear that the person in front of the kids needs to show enthusiasm (I don’t lack that!) and the way he or she expresses himself or herself and gets the kids involved is critical. Kids feel you; if you tell them something you don’t believe in, they feel you and you lose them, they no longer listen to you. Of course, my approach plays a part in this but there are also other important factors: the commitment of the parents, the trust they give you and the kids themselves. It is a mix of play and pedagogy, a very important combination that involves also affection; it is a method that makes them learn and contribute, with affection, to the class. Then you can say you have achieved your goals.
What does success mean to you?
For me, the definition of success has not changed after I arrived here. For me, success has never been connected to material gains but to a certain contribution that I can bring to the community I live in, in society, in the country where I live, in my particular case a contribution to the country that I left behind. Through my Romanian classes, I give something back to Romania. Success to me is the satisfaction in my heart and my generosity towards the kids, first of all.
I believe it is useless to ask you how you relate to the Romanian community in the Netherlands. Your deeds speak for themselves…
Yes, I am very active in this community, by means of these Romanian classes. I am happy to see how this community comes together. This community has not been present so far. When I got here, I didn’t have the feeling that there is a community. Three years ago, it started to take shape and Romanians are very open to the concept of community and to doing things together. I believe that now we are starting to learn what a community is. I believe that, after all the communism years, it was necessary for each of us to take their time and realize that we need to act together. The community has its role and importance in our own personal development process. Nowadays, the concept of community comes by default, it is not imposed by anyone. And it depends on the people present here, in the Netherlands, and on the circumstances. There are certain people who arrived here before 1990, others who came during the miners’ incidents in Romania, people who came in anger and mad and who kept their distance from the meaning of Romania. But there are also younger people who came here to study or found a nice job, they left Romania from a position of wealth and arrived here under good circumstances and are proud of their identity; they look at things in another way.
What’s your advice to someone who would like to come to the Netherlands?
Read about this country and what’s going on here, know where you’re going, where you bring your child to school, how you want to raise your child, do not forget you are Romanian and you speak Romanian, that it is important for your child to speak your language, be proud of your nationality and accept it as such.
An interview by Claudia Marcu
translation by Alina Marginean
Photo-portrait by Cristian Călin – www.cristiancalin.video
photos from the personal archive, edited by Alexandru Matei