Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“I discovered the nicest place ever biking through Leidsche Rijn“
High in the mountains of Nepal, a guy she hardly knew ran to the nearest village and back to fetch medication for Claire Allen (27). The Australian is still embarrassed by this story. “We were on our way to Everest Base Camp, which is a really difficult journey. I developed serious asthma and the doctors didn’t have the medication I needed. They nearly had to send for a helicopter. It’s all a bit dramatic, isn’t it? Luckily, we had Jeroen.” He didn’t hesitate, but ran to the next village to pick up the medication; the doctors had to stay with Claire. His actions saved her life. “I think it was really heroic, particularly when you consider that he comes from Eindhoven, which is below sea level”, says Claire.
The event brought the two adventurers closer together. In fact they had so much fun that Claire abandoned her plans to spend time teaching English in Japan. She explains: “It was a ‘now or never’ job; I wanted to go to Japan to experience a new culture. But Jeroen was also ‘now or never’. He wasn’t interested in a long-distance relationship, so I thought why not try the Netherlands? That’s a new culture too. So no, there was never any doubt.”
Claire is known to her friends as ‘yes-man’ because she always says yes. “You’ll never do anything new if you keep saying no. I’d never have made it to the Everest Base Camp, for example.” She blames her adventurous nature on her roots. “I was born and bred in the most isolated city in the world: Perth, Western Australia (WA). It’s so far from anywhere that you don’t get the latest trends until they’re over. The locals fondly call the city ‘Perth Wait Awhile’.”
Sheep in suburbia
So in December 2016, Claire found herself in Utrecht instead of Japan. On the darkest day of the year. She and her knight in shining armour were temporarily living in Amersfoort while looking for a house in the city of the Dom Tower. Dusk broke around dinner time and Claire suddenly thought: what am I letting myself in for? But then she saw how lively the city became; the food in Lebowski was delicious, Domplein was picturesque and the canals reflected the lights in the trees.
“We found a lovely apartment in Leidsche Rijn, where I now work as a babysitter. The kids are teaching me Dutch. It’s a great place to live, particularly for families. I cycle through Máxima park with ‘my’ children in a crate on the front of my bike. I think I’ve probably swallowed more flies than is good for me.” Just biking around, they discovered ‘the nicest place ever’: a field with a flock of grazing sheep, smack in the middle of an apartment complex. “So weird, right in the middle of suburbia. But super-fun. We sit on a bench eating our sandwiches, watching the animals.”
She’s noticed that Dutch children are different from children in the rest of the world, certainly Australian children. More confident. “It’s because adults take them seriously. I like the way people talk to them rather than at them. And then there’s this: here, it’s normal for you to help someone else’s kids with something. In Australia, the parents would be offended. They’d think: ‘Are you trying to say that I should have done that? That I’m a bad mother?’”
Yes-man doesn’t regret not going to Japan. She eventually wants to work as a nurse in the Netherlands. But until then, she’s determined to become more ‘Utrechts’, which seems to be working out well; she’s already said yes to climbing the Dom Tower three times. Piece of cake after climbing Everest.
Name: Claire Allen
Place of birth: Perth, Australia
Date of birth: 31 October 1989
Motto: ‘Grab every opportunity; saying no won’t get you anywhere’
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.