Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“I’ve become too direct for Colombia”
Liliana moved to Leuven in Belgium from Colombia in 2005 to take Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering. In 2006, she started her first Dutch job in Rotterdam and moved there with her Belgian husband. Liliana laughs: “The Dutch are so open. I’d already experienced a culture shock when I moved to Belgium, but the Dutch are much more outspoken than the Belgians.”
Liliana moved to Utrecht in 2008. “I used to travel a lot for my work and wherever I was going, I always seemed to pass though Utrecht. So that’s where I looked for a house.” She chose a nice location in Wittevrouwen on the advice of her colleagues. When she had children, she wanted to work part-time like a lot of other Dutch mothers. “Part-time work doesn’t exist in Colombia. Mothers in Bogota commute three hours a day to and from their workplace, where they work for eight hours. They hardly ever see their kids.”
Liliana changed when she had children, rediscovering her old core values: “I reconnected with my love of Colombia, fashion and sustainability.” She gave up her job as an industrial engineer and started her own company in designer bags made by single mothers in Colombia. “I have a ‘mummy day’ every Wednesday. I take my four and seven-year-old sons out for lunch and then we do something. We love exploring the city. Last week, we went to the kitchen gardens near Galgenwaard, where we picked fruit and played in the playground.”
Deciding where your loyalties lie can be tricky for expats. Do you want to return to your native country or do you feel more at home in your new one? Liliana went through a period thinking that she wanted to return to her family in Colombia. “I’d even been offered a great job that met all my conditions. But I kept making mental lists of the things I’d miss about the Netherlands: biking, the healthy lifestyle, the no-nonsense mentality. I realised that I’d become too Dutch to go back. So when I go back to Colombia, I enjoy seeing my friends, the music, the good food and the colourful streets, but culturally, I don’t fit in anymore. I’ve become too direct for the Colombians.”
Liliana speaks fluent Dutch, but still has an accent. “I had to speak Dutch from day one because I was giving presentations to employees in the factories that I advised about improving their processes, for example. I wasn’t confident about speaking the language and I certainly couldn’t express myself in the way I was used to. But then I made a conscious decision to view language as a tool. I would just use it and people could let me know if I made mistakes.” She doesn’t have a problem with it nowadays. “I can understand the jokes and nuances better, but it will never be perfect.” Her attitude inspires other migrants. “If I give a presentation and they see that I make mistakes even with my qualifications, it gives them more confidence.”
Name: Liliana Rengifo
Place of birth: Bogota, Colombia
Date of birth: 27 April 1979
Motto: ‘Never wait for the perfect moment. Seize the moment and make it perfect’
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.