What brought you to the Netherlands?
I came here in the summer of 2006 and, maybe it sounds like a cliché, but the reason why I came was my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time. He was here, in the Netherlands. It’s a very funny story, which started on the internet. When I started talking to him, I didn’t know he was Romanian, we were discussing in English up to the point when we asked each other where we’re from and then we switched to Romanian.
I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. I came here without any fear or regret, for something really special. That’s how I felt back then. Of course, I did have some reservations, but I trusted that everything would be OK with the two of us. A decision like this, which is pretty serious, to move to another country and be with a person I didn’t know very well yet, probably has to do with being young, I was only 19. I was studying sociology at the University of Bucharest and I managed to finish the first year before coming here. And here we are, now, we have a very good relationship, I’m still head over heels in love with my husband, and I think this is the most important thing. In other words, it was love that brought me here, but not for a Dutch man, but for a Romanian.
What kind of reservations did you have before coming here?
I was thinking more about the step I was about to take, about leaving the country. In my entourage many people were saying they wanted to leave, but that thought never crossed my mind. Then, I was thinking about my family, my friends, about what I had begun in Romania (the studies, ed.). I’m a person who likes to finish things and, from a certain point of view, I didn’t like the fact that I left without finishing my degree.
I came to the Netherlands and it wasn’t possible to continue my studies straight away, one of the reasons being the fact that I didn’t know the Dutch education system, that complicated structure, which is different from the one in Romania. I went to an open-day event at the Leiden University. From what I understood, I had to take an additional course, and then I could go to university. I went through all these steps and I managed to finish the International Public Management bachelor’s program at the Haagse Hogeschool (the Hague University of Applied Sciences, ed.). And it was very interesting, especially because I was in a very international environment.
What was it like in the beginning here for you?
I would say it was difficult because everything was new. Beginnings are generally difficult. On the other hand, I would say it was also easy because I wasn’t alone. You can achieve anything when you have someone near you, especially if that someone is your loved one.
It was difficult because in the beginning I didn’t speak the language, but it was also easy because everybody speaks English. I had a scholarship in the Netherlands and that whole process of becoming informed and applying was very intense, not always easy, but I managed to find my way.
When did you start to feel that it all became more simple?
That was the moment when I started to speak the language. During university, I worked at a foundation that was taking care of people with disabilities. There, I had to speak only in Dutch, at school I was using English, and, in the end, it was very good to develop both languages. The moment you speak the language, you also see greater openness in society. It’s one of the first steps to integrating.
How did you come to work for the Hague City Hall?
I’ve always wanted to do something for the society in which I live. The first step was to collaborate with the foundation I mentioned earlier, the one taking care of people with disabilities. I enjoyed very much offering assistance to those people and it was then when I realized how well organized such services are here, in the Netherlands.
Then, I began to toy with the idea of working in a City Hall or for a Ministry, somewhere where policies in various fields take shape. But how to find such a job without any experience? Someone recommended the traineeship program offered by the Hague City Hall. I read about it and I registered for an open-day event. That was two years ago. Like that, I learned how interesting the program was, but also that each year the City Hall receives 500-600 such applications for this program. At the time, I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances, but I said to myself that I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a try. A period of written tests, interviews, video pitches, and many other trials ensued. It all started in February and in August, when I was in Romania, I learned that I was selected for the traineeship program. And I’m very happy about this chance. I appreciate a lot the importance the Hague City Hall gives to diversity and the fact that those working there have to reflect the city’s inhabitants.
I’m already close to finishing this program. During the first year, my role was Project Manager and I had to take care of different projects dealing with keeping the city clean. I now work at the Department of International Relations, where I was planning on working from the very beginning. For instance, not long ago, there was a delegation of several mayors from Romania, it was a visit organized by the Association of Municipalities in Romania. It seemed a special moment, to be able to speak Romanian at the Hague City Hall. I had a feeling of pride.
What have you learned from the Dutch society?
Here, I feel there are no limits, the sky’s the limit, as the saying goes. It’s all up to you and the chances that you create for yourself. I feel free to do what I can, without having the feeling that I give up too much of what I am.
What I’ve noticed is that the Dutch are real professionals, unlike in Romania, where any Uncle Gică is a Jack of all trades, and a master of none. Here, there are experts in various fields, from roadwork to management, you can find experienced people who know their job. In turn, I also feel encouraged to develop as well as possible.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned how to say no. In Romania, we justify ourselves very much: “I couldn’t come because I had to do this or I had to go there.” Here, everything is very simple, you just say “I can’t come” and that’s it.
I’ve learned how to plan my time, including my holidays, and it feels very good like this, I like it. And I like something else: seeing everybody dressed to the nines on their bikes. And that’s what I do, as well: every morning – if the weather is nice, it doesn’t rain or if it’s not freezing – I go to work on my bike, wearing a skirt and high heels. It’s very energizing, especially in the morning, listening to the birds, the air is fresh. There’s even a stretch of road that I find very inspiring – the Peace Palace, I cycle past it every morning. It’s the most beautiful way to start your day!
What is it that you dislike here?
In the beginning, it was hard to understand their really straightforward manner. I had the tendency to take everything personally, but now that doesn’t bother me anymore. Now, I appreciate this direct approach. And everything I see here, I somehow adjust to my own way of being, to my own cultural heritage with which I came here.
What is it like to work in a Dutch public institution?
I find it very interesting. For instance, thanks to the role I currently have, I find myself in a rather political environment and in local government circles. I’m very close to this process, quite literally: behind the next door from mine is my deputy mayor’s office. As a trainee at the City Hall, I have a special status, all doors are open for me. It’s enough to send an email and say “Oh, I find what you’re doing very interesting and I’d like to meet for a cup of coffee, if you have the time.” and everybody will say “Yes.” Like this, I managed to meet many directors from a lot of departments. I also have many training courses that focus not only on my professional development, but also on my personal one.
It’s very interesting to see how this institution works. There are 8000 people employed here – yes, it seems a lot, but many of the services are decentralized. On the one hand, I’m in a very Dutch environment, but on the other, it’s also very international because there are so many people of different nationalities that work here.
What does success mean to you?
To me, it means a balanced life, but a balance that you decide between family, career, health. Of course you have to think about the future, but don’t lose the present moment. You can anticipate as much as possible, but don’t forget to live in the present.
What kind of a relationship do you have with the Romanian community in the Netherlands?
I have to say I was pretty reticent and it wasn’t a priority, either, to interact with the community. I find the process I’m going through interesting. In the beginning, I was very critical towards Romania and I was making many comparisons between what I saw here and the situation back home – why can’t it be like this also there, look how it’s like this in the Netherlands and not the opposite etc. For instance, I was on the bus one day and I saw somewhere that a stretch of pavement needed to be fixed. The next day the pothole had disappeared and I wondered how that was possible, how come that pothole was discovered so quickly. So, I was continuously comparing Romania to the Netherlands.
Now, I’m different, I’ve started taking Romania’s side and I make a case with things that happen there and don’t happen here. Now, I don’t compare anymore, I’m no longer as vehement. And I’ve started to participate more in the events of the Romanian community in the Hague. Now, I also have a little boy and I want him to know as much as possible about Romania, and to interact here in Romanian. On Saturdays, we go with him to the Romanian School in Amsterdam, which offers a workshop for the youngest kids – Vlad is not even three yet. Later, we’ll take him to the (Romanian, ed.) School in the Hague. At home, we speak with him in Romanian, but he’s also learning Dutch because he goes to kindergarten.
Where is “home”?
Home is here, in Scheveningen, where we live. I feel at home here, but I’m never going to rule out a possible return to Romania. Somehow, I’d like to do something for Romania. And I still have time.
What would you advise a Romanian who would like to come to the Netherlands now?
It helps a lot to know what you want when you set out. Spontaneity is good, but a plan would be very useful. It’s known that there are a lot of opportunities, it’s known that there are many means to get informed about integrating, you just have to know what you want. And, of course, you should be willing to do something for the society in which you live.
Interview by Claudia Marcu
Translation by Mihaela Nita
Photo-portrait by Cristian Călin – www.cristiancalin.video
photos from the personal archive, edited by Alexandru Matei