What brought you to the Netherlands?
In short, I came here to study, but the journey was slightly more complicated. I wouldn’t say I arrived only once, but three times. There are three distinct beginnings, each with its own story. The first one was a love story, the second I’d call it a story of quests and rediscoveries, and the third one – the current one – is the story of striving.
The first period began in 2003, when my wife got a scholarship in Brussels. I wanted to be near her, so I also had a look at several study programs in my field, as close as possible to Brussels, and I got accepted at the University of Eindhoven. That’s why I call this a love story, because I followed my wife. But it was also love at first sight upon arriving in the Netherlands: I appreciated how clean it was, the precision with which the sidewalk curbs had been placed – that was one of the first details I noticed –, ultimately, everything was great.
We thought back then that the distance between Eindhoven and Brussels was relatively short and it would allow us to continue our studies and, at the same time, to see each other as often as possible. However, we discovered relatively quickly that there are no direct trains between the two cities, in spite of the distance being relatively short. And because we didn’t have a car back then, since we were students with tight budgets, we got to hitchhike frequently. Now, looking back, I’d say it was a very beautiful period, during which I discovered a different side of the Netherlands than in the corporate and academic world. I don’t know if you realize this, but in the Netherlands it’s not that usual to hitchhike. We were the only ones on the highway entrance, but we were used to it ever since our student days. Well, I think we must have taken the Dutch by surprise, because we never had to wait more than 15-20 minutes. So we got to discover that side of the Netherlands in which people took the chance of picking us up in their cars, and like this we got to learn many beautiful and interesting stories.
At the end of that study program – Professional Doctorate in Engineering – that took two years and nine months to complete, we chose, however, to go back to Romania. And we returned, only to discover that something had happened to me while in the Netherlands. I had been exposed to a different way of relating to technology, to a different way of thinking about what it means to be a good software engineer. I began to understand in a broader way the relationship between technology and society, between technical, philosophical, and ethical aspects, and I had several conversations with various professors of philosophy of technology from universities and study programs in the Netherlands.
At some point, while we were in Romania, I got a phone call from one of the coordinators of such a program, offering me the possibility to do a master’s in the Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Twente. This was the second beginning, in 2007, which I would call a time of quests, but also of rediscoveries. From a professional point of view, for me it was a change from the software industry, in which I was active back then, to the philosophy of technology. After this came the PhD at the University of Maastricht, which allowed me to bring together my two backgrounds by continuing to research in the field of the philosophy of technology, but applied to IT issues in society. I’d say that this period came to fruition after having defended my PhD, followed by receiving in 2017 the Early Career Award from the Society for Philosophy and Technology.
About half way into my PhD, however, the striving period – as I called it – began, which doesn’t have anything to do with my professional journey, although it has influenced it: our twins were born and, without going too much into detail, I’ll only say that they both have a medical issue. It’s been a struggle of ours, as a family, but at the same time, it’s also a time of accomplishments and rediscoveries, perhaps precisely because we’ve happened to find ourselves in a situation that requires us to strive.
Looking back at all these years, what’s it been like?
I would say they’ve been beautiful, but challenging years. They were years of quests, but also of rediscoveries; of flourishing, but also of maturing. Yet, the constant thread running through all these years was the question regarding identity, the issue of relating to what the Netherlands entails, while at the same time relating to what Romania entails. I still don’t know if I have the answers, but at least I’m trying. What I can say is that during all these years I’ve experienced two broad reference categories. In one of them, the Netherlands represents a temporary space, while Romania is the reference point, and situations are valued in terms of “Here it’s worse, back there it was better.” The second model is the one in which “Here it’s better, back there it was worse.”
I recognize in my own attitude parts of both ways of relating, but I think that during all these years I’ve tried most of all to find a model that includes what’s best from both places. My metaphor for this reference model is that of a bridge between the two spaces. In fact, this metaphor is rendered in the way in which we’ve tried to set up the Romanian School in Eindhoven.
We’ll get to the School in Eindhoven in a moment. First, I’d like you to tell me where home is.
Home is on this bridge I mentioned, between Romania and the Netherlands. Try to picture it between the two spaces. Because Romania is an emotional, cultural, and intellectual space that is no longer defined only by its geographical borders. It’s a bridge with two strong piers. Living elsewhere than in Romania compels you to relate both to the environment in which you find yourself and to the one where you came from. From this tension that we’re all confronted with there are different models that emerge. I find myself on this bridge on which the tension becomes fruitful – this tension ensued as a response to a series of hesitations and questions about where we come from, how we relate to the Netherlands, and what Romania means to us. I didn’t want to choose one side over the other – the models I mentioned –, in the one people cut themselves off completely from Romania, while in the other people always make their emotional getaway to Romania, because the weather is bad here, because the food doesn’t compare, because our tomatoes are better, etc.
Is the Romanian School part of the foundation of this bridge?
I would say that, based on how each of us contributes – because this isn’t just my project, it’s a community thing –, we’re trying to sustain ourselves without antagonisms on the two bridge piers. That means that we’re preserving the Romanian cultural identity without creating a conflict between it and the Dutch environment. Even more so, we’re trying to import elements from the Dutch organizational culture, from the practice of team spirit and of a job well done, and apply them to how we operate at the Romanian School.
This year, the School celebrates six years. It all started not only out of the community’s discussions, but also out of the need to interact with children. One of the aspects the School is concerned with is helping children understand the culture, the language, and the way of thinking not only of their parents – us –, but also of their grandparents. And now, after six years, we notice how many children that have enrolled at our school have managed to or are now in the process of understanding the differences in a balanced way. They’re able to live well in the Netherlands, without forgetting their Romanian roots. On the other hand, the School also has a social role for children. They’re not just pupils, they’ve become friends. During recess they like to socialize and some of them are good friends also outside school hours.
What have you learned from the Dutch society?
It’s hard to say, precisely due to the countless transformation processes I’ve gone through during this period. What I can say, however, is that I appreciate this open attitude, this trust in the future that exists here, which is much more striking here than in Romania. Then, I appreciate the well-known Dutch frankness, although now I am able to say that even in the Dutch environment there is a diplomacy of what’s tactful to say and what mustn’t be said.
How do you view your decision to stay here?
As I was saying, 15 years ago, we weren’t planning on doing this, which is why we even went back to Romania. And even now I can’t speak in terms of staying here. I’m pretty serious about that bridge I was telling you about. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think about it from a geographical perspective. Sure, I live and work here, I do research, I give lectures, I’m well rooted in Dutch society, both professionally and through my children. Emotionally, however, I don’t think in terms of “here” and “there”. I’m really trying to stay on this bridge. And I feel good like this.
What does success mean to you?
I don’t really tend to use this word. The concept brings to mind a social construct, and in this respect the criteria that make it up are rather external, determined by others. That’s a bit risky for a life strategy. I prefer, instead, that my reference points be fulfillment and the satisfaction of a job well done. Like this, success seems to be rather an effect, which is more or less short-lived and which comes and goes. Of course, philosophically speaking, there is no strict division between personal and social space. In this sense, I’m glad every time my students or the children from the Romanian School thank me. So I could say that I’ve been successful as far as the children are concerned. Likewise, I’m happy to see my own small children taking their first steps or saying their first words. These are also personal achievements.
What would you advise a Romanian who would like to come to the Netherlands now?
It’s hard to give advice because every situation is different. And I don’t really like to give advice. I would say, however, that everyone should ask themselves why they want to leave. Even if they don’t have all the answers, they should at least do this philosophical, introspective quest. From my experience, I can say that it’s very nice to live in the Netherlands and, at the same time, it’s very nice to bring the Netherlands to Romania and vice versa.
Interview by Claudia Marcu
Translation by Mihaela Nita
photos from the personal archive, edited by Alexandru Matei
Photo-portrait by Cristian Călin – www.cristiancalin.video