Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“In Haiti, everyone called me white”
Sandrine has lived in Utrecht for eleven years, arriving in the Lombok district when she started her degree programme. It’s still an important place to her: “It always feels like home whenever I go. I’d like to live there again one day.” She likes the diversity of the people. “There are so many different nationalities in Utrecht, and this is what you see in Lombok. It’s great that people can just get along with each other.” Sandrine now lives in the city centre, on Oudegracht. “It’s got a different vibe: more urban, more tourists. It’s still multi-culti and diverse, but in a different way.”
Sandrine is Dutch, but was born in Haiti. Her parents adopted her when she was eighteen months old. She has always been fairly relaxed about this, partly thanks to the help her parents gave her and her brothers and sisters. But things really fell into place during a long stay in Haiti. “I spent a month working there, with my mother. I felt like a tourist, so I decided I’d like to live there for a while.” A year later, Sandrine took a break from her studies and went to Haiti to spend six months working as a volunteer in a children’s village.
“Everyone said: ‘You’ll feel at home there.’ But I didn’t like it at first. I couldn’t speak the language, everyone called me white. I didn’t really get to grips with the situation until I realised that I’d have to do things my way. Only then could I let the experience wash over me.” Sandrine stayed in her native country for six months. “I met two Haitians and learned the language. By the end of my stay, they said: ‘You’re brown on the outside and white on the inside.’ It was like finding the missing piece of the jigsaw; I’d been given the key to my inner self. The trip did a lot to boost my confidence.”
“Day-to-day life in Haiti is totally different from the Netherlands, in both the positive and the negative sense. I love the hustle and bustle on the streets, with stalls selling clothing or fruit everywhere. But Haiti is a very poor country. A lot of children can’t just be children. On my second trip to Haiti, I realised how absurdly rich we are in the Netherlands. Everything is so well-organised. We can go wherever you like and we live in relative safety. In Haiti, I was taken everywhere by a chauffeur”, explains Sandrine. “After having visited Haiti, I realised how important human rights and emancipation are to me.” Sandrine originally planned to work with children with special educational needs, but eventually opted for a Master’s degree in Youth, Education & Society. She now works at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, in the field of direct emancipation. “I need to feel a sense of purpose in my work and everything I do. This job fits the bill.”
Sandrine is convinced that she would also have been happy if she’d stayed in her native country. “My life might not have been as easy. I’ve got a safety net here and a promising, positive future.” She explains that the Haitians are determined people. “They’ve been through a lot in the past few years: disasters and political problems. But they just keep going. Haiti was the first country to triumph over slavery. That’s really something to be proud of.”
Name: Sandrine Veening
Place of birth: Haiti
Date of birth: 26-07-1990
Motto: ‘Never underestimate how much you can mean to someone, however insignificant you may feel‘
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.