Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

It’s getting easier to discover new places in Utrecht

(c) Robert Oosterbroek

“Sixteen years ago, my mother, step-father, brother, sister and I arrived at Schiphol airport. My mother had fallen in love with a Dutchman (now my step-father) and we had come to visit for a few months. We were wearing shorts and flip-flops. That was the first time I’d seen snow”, says Anna Rahmat. She laughs. “And we’ve been in the Netherlands ever since.”

Anna had never heard of the Netherlands. Her mother had told them that they were going for an extended holiday to learn about their step-father’s native country. Later, Anna came to understand that the ‘holiday’ was a way of finding out whether she liked the Netherlands. Anna was eight when she boarded that plane, so she didn’t realise what was at stake. Her home changed from Kuala Lumpur to Huizen. She soon made friends at school, and they taught her Dutch. At secondary school, she became fascinated by another language: Spanish and everything that went with it. Anna is someone who follows her heart, so when people advised her against starting a teacher-training course in Spanish in Utrecht (would she find a job?), she took no notice. She now teaches Spanish in a secondary school in Culemborg.

Recognise the opportunities of the ‘unknown’

Anna moved to Utrecht for her Spanish course. She loved the parks and Kanaalstraat with all its different cultures. The Bakkerswinkel became her favoured spot for coffee and cake, De Zakkendrager was another firm favourite and LE:EN was ‘fabulous’. But she was always on the look-out for new places. That’s more fun, says Anna. And she’s finding it easier in Utrecht. Despite her Malaysian roots, Anna feels completely Dutch. She considers herself lucky that she’s able to pick up languages and adapt to new cultures quickly. These days, people seem afraid to learn about other people and cultures. “Don’t focus on the dangers of the unknown; recognise the opportunities. That’s the way to get on in life.” Asked what she considers to be typically Dutch, Anna takes her time before answering: people in the Netherlands focus too much on the future. In Malaysia, people tend to live for today.

This summer, Anna is planning to return to Malaysia for the first time in thirteen years. She and her girlfriend want to rediscover the country where she was born. She expects to see a lot of changes, particularly in terms of tourism. “Malaysia seems to have become a popular holiday destination over the past five years. You never used to hear of people going there.” Anna thinks that her appearance will allow her to blend in in Malaysia, until she speaks that is…

Anna won’t be able to tell everyone about her girlfriend, including her family. Homosexuality is still strictly forbidden in Malaysia, and offenders face prison sentences of up to twenty years and whippings. Anna: “Such a pity, but I can’t change opinion in an entire country on my own. Although not everyone is comfortable with it here in the Netherlands, homosexuality is widely accepted. That’s definitely one reason I’ll be glad to be back in Utrecht.”

Name: Annabilla Rahmat
Place of birth: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Date of birth: 23 March 1994
Motto: ‘Create opportunities and then make the most of them’

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.

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