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

– article by Fenna Riethof

Leidsche Rijn is a good place for my girls

(c) Fenna Riethof

Martin Zemp wants to stay within the sight of Olivia (5), who is having a swimming lesson in the Fletiomare pool in Leidsche Rijn. He wants her to be able to see him, because she still finds swimming a bit scary. His other daughter Sophie (7) is having a lesson in another pool, out of sight. The family moved to the Netherlands from Singapore last summer. They’re still trying to get into a daily routine. Saturday morning swimming lessons, like they had in Asia, help. “We had our own pool there”, explains Martin. “The girls miss that, and all the time we spent outdoors.”

Before Singapore, the family spent a few years living in Malaysia, where Olivia was born. Sophie arrived while they were in Vietnam. Martin and his wife (who has roots in Vietnam herself) have spent a total of ten years living in South-East Asia. Their first international adventure began when they’d been together just 2.5 years.

“We met at a party given by a mutual friend six months after I’d moved to Rotterdam for work.” His firm’s head office was based there. It was a great opportunity for someone who’d been wanting to leave Switzerland for some time. “Not because I didn’t like it there. I just wanted to broaden my horizons.” He had a ‘typically Swiss’ upbringing: “In a hillside village near a forest, with my brothers and a dog. I wanted to know what else there was.”

After two years in the Netherlands, Martin returned to Switzerland for a year with his beloved, but soon realised that he didn’t want to stay. When she was offered a job in Vietnam, he made sure (as he puts it) that he got one too. In the years that followed, the couple used the same strategy to coordinate jobs in another two locations.

Everything close by

They always knew that they would return to the Netherlands one day; her family lives here and they wanted their daughters to grow up in a stable environment. Leidsche Rijn had everything they were looking for: a school with international connections, a safe environment and plenty of opportunities for recreation.

When asked what he thinks of Leidsche Rijn, Martin answers: “It’s practical.” Behind him, a mother sitting quietly at the table goes into a fit of coughing. She looks away quickly. “It’s practical”, he repeats. “That’s positive. I can be at Utrecht Centraal station in no time and we don’t need to bike too far for a good restaurant. The Hooge Weide restaurant is one of our favourites. The staff there have learning difficulties. The food’s good and the atmosphere’s friendly.”

Once the girls emerge from the changing rooms after swimming lessons, Olivia proves to be shy, but Sophie has a long list of things she likes about the Netherlands. Okay, the ‘swimming pool with loads of slides’ was actually in Switzerland, but she loved the Railway museum. “It’s like being in a real train, but you’re not!” Olivia liked the Miffy museum, says Martin. Sophie has another tip: “If you want to have a birthday party, go to Castellum. They hide things and you can go off looking for them.” Martin explains: Castellum Hoge Woerd is a replica of the Roman army camp that once stood on that spot. It has a café and a petting farm. “We still have a lot to discover in Utrecht itself, but I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.”

Name: Martin Zemp
Place of birth: Lucerne, Switzerland
Motto: ‘I haven’t got one’

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.

Click here to view the other articles.