How did you end up in the Netherlands?
If I recall it well, I’m here since 1999, so about 19 years. How did this happen? Before the Netherlands, I lived for a few years in Crete, after a short student life in Romania. There I met my current wife, a Dutch woman – we both worked on the island. Ours is a long and beautiful story. We decided to move to the Netherlands for the sake of our children.
How was the beginning?
Pretty difficult. I got here and … our Johnny has no Dutch language skills, no work permit … if you can recall those times, you could not even travel without a visa. I started at the bottom, got work as a carpenter in a company that built luxury yachts and boats. I learned this craftsmanship from my father, who used to be a carpenter. These were very difficult and uncertain times. I didn’t know whether I would get my residence permit to live in the Netherlands, because [n.b., at the time] being married was not enough to get a permit, a work-permit was also needed. Because carpentry was a rather specialized craftsmanship, I managed to get a work-permit and I went on working for the same company for another 5 years. Meanwhile, I learned the language, which was an essential step. I’d give this advice to everyone who wants to move abroad: the first thing you need to do is learn the language. This is the only way to learn the habits of the people and see them exactly as they are.
Then, I worked for a company that specialized in crafting sails and marine canvas for boats, but during the whole period I was actually fascinated by computers. This was also the time when online marketing started, so this was how I started earning my first Dutch guilders online: by selling online products of various parties. Financially, I lost more than I earned, but I’ve learned a lot. I knew this was the future and I was on the right path. The first website I made, which I think had great look and feel, was actually commissioned by this crafting company I was working for at the time.
Meanwhile, my son was born and I managed to get the Dutch citizenship, which meant I was free to choose what I wanted to do. So, I founded immediately my own company for computer repair and related services. In 2006, the luxury boat industry got hit by a crisis, perhaps the first industry hit by the economic crisis. I told my boss that he can lay me off – I knew layoffs had been planned – so I started with my adventure with Ghio web design & web services.
I’d like to mention a very relevant aspect, which put me on the map, so to speak. In 2006, when I got laid off, I had to go to the office for unemployment and retraining. I went there with a plan and told them I don’t want to be placed in any other employment, because I had a business plan. So I only asked how they could assist me with that. So this is how I started following lots of specialized courses – professional web design, Photoshop, and all the others you need for this profession. I developed alongside my clients and their needs. This was my luck, that I was there at the very beginning of this industry. And that I kept on learning.
I’ll go back to my initial question: how was your interaction with Dutch society at the beginning?
It all developed naturally. Here, if you get along with the people, this is how it happens. Punctuality is very important. Everybody sees and emphasizes the qualities you have. I’ve made friends very quickly and the transition was great, much easier than in Greece.
I like that the Dutch people – at least, the ones I know – are open, full of life, and, when a problem appears, they discuss everything openly. This is a very important aspect. In Romania, it is very challenging to have an honest discussion with anyone, whereas here, this just happens naturally, without people pointing their finger at you. You don’t have to solve a problem by yourself.
I love the people of Romania very much but, to be honest, I never felt home there. Whatever you want to do, you are under the influence of the system.
This does not mean that it was easy here. Nowhere in the world it is easy, you need to work hard, persevere, and have a bit of luck.
What makes me especially grateful is my personal development throughout these years. Probably, if I hadn’t been here, it would not have happened. In other words, I am happy with my life and I am happy with what I do. I’d like to emphasize this: it has nothing to do with material aspects.
Why do you think it would not have happened elsewhere?
First of all, I’d mention the daily peace you enjoy here. If you have peace, you can think of beautiful things and what you can do better for yourself and for your family. You have more time for yourself.
What does success mean to you?
Success for me is not something material. If, during a single day, I succeed in making one or two or three people smile, this means I have achieved my goal. Small victories lead to bigger victories.
How do you relate to the Romanian expat community in the Netherlands?
If I can help, I do it gladly. My meeting with Cătălina [n.b., Negru, the co-founder of the RomPro foundation] during Ștefan Hrușcă’s concert, two-three years ago, resulted in a collaboration with RomPro. I understood they needed help with their online presence, so I made their website, and I still help them maintain it and do everything else necessary for it. It is a tremendous community, with highly capable people!
I have to say that until my meeting with Cătălina, for about 15 years I lived in the Netherlands without any contact with the Romanian expats, besides my sister who lives in the same village. There are not so many Romanians in Friesland [n.b., a province in the North of Holland]…
What’s your advice to a Romanian who’d like to move to the Netherlands?
Make sure that this is what you want. The idea that “I’ll go there to earn some money and then I’ll just go back” is very outdated. If one has good intentions and is eager to work and is willing to adapt to a new culture, one will have a 100% chance of success.
We have cases that bring shame to our country abroad, but there are also many Romanians abroad who are very much loved by everybody. But this is the same for every nation, we’re not the only ones in this situation.
An interview by Claudia Marcu
Translation by Alina Mărginean, proof-reading by Alexandru Iosup
Photo-portrait by Cristian Călin – www.cristiancalin.video