Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“Utrecht locals aren’t that different from Macedonians“
She’d expected a country of flowers but instead, got a country of choices. In 2004, at the age of 19, Ana came to Utrecht to study Communication Management. The supermarkets, the range of products, the freedom of choice… it reminded her of Macedonia during her childhood, when it was still Yugoslavia, communism reigned and ‘we had everything’. But this was as far as the similarity with her home country went.
As she readily admits, Ana came from a small world. She’d never seen a person with dark skin, for example. “I spent an entire Dutch lesson studying the facial contours, hair and eyes of an Asian student!” (Ana is now a huge fan of Asia, particularly Asian cuisine, and frequents Toko Mitra on Lange Viestraat and Tai Soen in Hoog-Catharijne on a regular basis). On returning to the Macedonian capital Skopje a few years later, she found herself at odds with her old friends. Ana had developed an opinion, about politics for example. Her friends said: ‘We don’t mesh anymore, you’ve changed too much.’
Ana had Dutchified. “In Macedonia, everyone talks at the same time, full of passion and conviction. It can be great fun; Macedonians are warm and charismatic, but I realised that the level of discussion is higher in the Netherlands. Your opinion counts, people listen to you. This took some getting used to.”
Ana feels comfortable with Dutch broad-mindedness. She’d always felt a bit different, even from her twin sister, who stayed in Macedonia. Although they miss each other, strangely enough the distance has made them closer. Ana has made a lot of new friends; she met her best friend during her first year here. “She’s from a real Utrecht family. Utrecht locals are a friendly bunch, not that different from Macedonians.”
Made her choice
To Ana, the Netherlands is a performance-driven society. On returning to Utrecht after a Master’s degree in England, it took her a long time to find a job as an accounts manager. Three years later, she again had trouble finding a job. In 2013, she took another degree, this time in occupational psychology. “Looking back, this difficult period was a blessing in disguise. I was finally able to concentrate on my personal development instead of my intellectual development. It got me thinking about my values. ‘Achieving’ and ‘competing’ weren’t among them. I wanted to work on my own happiness and that of others. So I opened a coaching and yoga school Jiva in Hoograven and started travelling.”
A yoga vacation in Nepal in 2015 awakened Ana’s spirituality. To be more precise, it was the serious earthquake there, which killed thousands of people and fundamentally changed her outlook. Ana was evacuated to a beach in Thailand, where she tried to come to terms with what had happened. It’s been a long process but she’s fine now. “This experience confirmed everything I´d just learned: never lose sight of what’s important to you.”
So in this country of choices, Ana has made hers: she hopes to help individual people from Utrecht (and perhaps even groups), to stop thinking and start feeling. “It’s what they deserve.”
Motto: ‘Home is where the heart is’
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.