Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“The city comes alive when the sun shines”
“When I say that I come from the Caribbean, people always ask: Curaçao, Aruba or Bonaire?”, explains Harlee Richards. But Harlee comes from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a country consisting of 32 islands in the Caribbean, only nine of which are inhabited. Saint Vincent is the largest island. “The strange thing is that our country has more contact with former British colonies such as Trinidad and Barbados than with the Dutch ABC islands. We know that they’re there, but we don’t have much to do with them.” Conversely, Harlee has noticed that Europeans know very little about Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. “In fact so little is known about my country that a customs official at passport control once had to Google it because he didn’t believe that my passport was real!”
Harlee came to the Netherlands in 2016 to take a Bachelor’s degree programme at University College Utrecht (UCU). “I passed my Bachelor’s degree last year and decided to stay to take a Master’s. I’d already been through the culture shock of the move, and I finally felt at home in Utrecht.”
She continues: “Everyone here is so closed off, cold and isolated that I never know whether I can be friendly or not. You can walk around the city all day without speaking to anyone. That just wouldn’t happen at home. People talk to you whether you like it or not.”
But Harlee has noticed that people in Utrecht love the sun. “The city comes alive when the sun shines. Everyone sits outside, which is something we never do at home. It’s sunny all the time there, so we try to stay in the shade. I went home for the carnival one summer. It’s the biggest event of the year, more like the Brazilian carnival than Dutch Carnaval, and I was not used to being in the sun. I burned so badly within three hours that I ended up in bed with sunstroke.”
There a few other things that Harlee had to get used to in the Netherlands. “I come from a community-based country. We have very strong ties with our parents. I ring mine every day, for example. It’s sign of respect: my parents are so important that I make time for them every single day.”
Harlee thinks that in the Netherlands, you can be surrounded by people without being noticed. “I’ve made a habit of smiling at at least one person whenever I travel by train. A smile tells someone that you’ve noticed them. You never know what people are going through. A smile is the very least you can do.” Drinking coffee in coffee bars is another habit that Harlee has picked up here. “We have a few pubs at home, but you’d never see people drinking the amount of coffee that people drink over here.” It’s now become a firm habit, and 30ML is her favourite haunt. “I think that coming here so often is a sign that I’m gradually becoming Dutch.”
Name: Harlee Richards
Place of birth: Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Date of birth: 19 August 1996
Motto: ‘You never know what someone is going through. A smile is the very least you can do’
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.