Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“I learned Dutch from watching television”
Eric was not badly off in Cameroon. “We didn’t live a life of luxury, but there was little to complain of. You don’t need much when you live there.” Eric always read a lot, was keen to learn and was curious about the rest of the world. That led him to come to the Netherlands to study in 2000. His plan was to return to his native country after graduating, but things took a different course: his then girlfriend became pregnant with twins. He learned Dutch along with his children, partly by watching Dutch television.
After a few years, the young family moved from Delft to Alphen aan den Rijn, where her family lives. It was not exactly the place Eric had dreamt of. He felt more at home in Lombok, where he later went to live with the woman who is now his wife. “Different nationalities live here and there are shops selling exotic products. That surprised me after Alphen aan den Rijn,” laughs Eric. “Utrecht is small but full of life. You can do a lot here. My wife and I go out often, to restaurants, the theatre or to concerts.” Eric now lives happily in De Meern. He still has to settle in completely, but the neighbourhood is great for children and there is plenty for his three-year-old daughter to do.
Getting used to Dutch people was a particular issue for him at first. “Dutch people are friendly, but sometimes too honest and too direct. My first wife, for instance, couldn’t stand the fact that I didn’t talk about certain things, but I hadn’t been used to doing that. If you marry someone from a different culture, you can expect to clash eventually,” Eric thinks. That certainly happened in his first marriage. A few years ago, Eric was suffering greatly from stress and he and his wife split up. “I’ve always worked hard to get ahead professionally, perhaps because I don’t come from here and I felt I had to prove myself. After a while, it became too intense and I had to stop working.” Eric has a different job now and feels more relaxed. “I had to take a cut in salary, but I have a better life. It took a lot to reach that point and I don’t think I would have got there if I hadn’t had children. I would have just gone on and on.”
Eric tries to go back to Cameroon every year, to his father and the rest of his family. “I want to support my family and I try to help them as much as I can, such as with rebuilding my father’s house.” Eric explains that all sorts of things are happening in African countries, not only in Cameroon. “Things are getting better and there is a lot of building going on. That’s not only good for the families concerned, but also for society. It is part of the positive changes that are gaining momentum. There’s still plenty to do, but Cameroon is a country with plenty of opportunities.”
Name: Eric Ntchao-Nounga
Place of birth: Douala, Cameroon
Date of birth: 31 May 1971
Motto: ‘I always want to be the best version of myself and make the most of life.’
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.