Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“It takes time to befriend a Dutchie“
Last November, after more than a year in the Netherlands, Alba went through a rough patch. She had a breakdown, thinking: ‘I don’t belong here’. She packed her bags and her father started looking for a Master’s programme for her in Seville. Poised on the edge of the ‘deep end’ she’s been jumping into all her life, she looked down and thought: ‘No. Not this time; I’m staying.’ So she unpacked her bags.
It was the right decision. A month later, she found an e-mail from a coordinator at Utrecht University in her mailbox. ‘Where’s your application for that Master’s, Alba?’ Ha! Proof that someone wanted her to stay. The Dutch can be fairly austere, she’d discovered (“You guys are hard!”) They can be really kind, Alba explains, but it’s all so polite. “As soon as you start to get close, they withdraw. In Spain, the first thing you do is ask someone round to eat. Over here, it took seven months before someone I was working with at café De Beurs asked me round for dinner. During my first year in Utrecht, most of my new friends were exchange students staying in the same SSH complex De Sterren as me. I only met three Dutchies. There’s a clear divide between students from Utrecht and newcomers like me.” Alba gets it. “In Spain, my Spanish friends and I didn’t go out of our way to meet the new Americans in our dorm either. Now I know what’s it’s like to feel alone in a new city. It’s something we should all be aware of.”
Now, eighteen months later, Alba’s circle of friends includes three people from Utrecht. One of them supervised her group during the UIT week in her first month here. “That took time too.”
Everything’s fallen into place
Although her Dad was proud that his daughter had pressed on in November, he was also sad that she didn’t come home. Her parents miss her, but not as much as her brother Javi. “He’s my favourite person in the world. We Skype every week and WhatsApp every day. If I’d gone back, I’d have gone to live with him in Madrid.”
But Alba will be here for at least another two years; she finished her Bachelor’s in October and is applying to do that Master’s degree in Neuroscience. Luckily, she’ll be able to study in the room she’s about to move into on Hopakker – she’s had enough of moving from one temporary address to another. Alba also spends four hours a week practising Dutch in a class: ‘Gggggezelligggg.’ A language barrier only makes things more difficult.
“Everything’s fallen into place. Things are going well and I’m glad I stayed. What’s more, I’ve got time to analyse all you Dutchies now. I’ve discovered that music is an important part of the culture. The Spanish aren’t too fussed about music, but TivoliVredenburg is packed out every Friday! It’s quite fascinating. Music is emotional, so maybe it’s a way for you to get in touch with your feelings. I’ll get to the bottom of it sooner or later…”
Motto: ‘You win some, you learn some’
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.
Article by Fenna Riethof.