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
“I have a bitter-sweet relationship with Utrecht“
Yosri was eighteen years old when the Tunisian Revolution broke out in December 2010. It signalled the start of a wave of revolutions in the Arab world. He and his family demonstrated against the regime that had been in charge for 23 years. The demonstrations were peaceful, and the president stepped down on 14 January under popular pressure.
“That’s when things started to get messy”, explains Yosri. “All sorts of new problems arose. People in other countries, such as Libya, started rebelling. We were shocked to hear that they were using weapons. I thought: what have we started? Violence and weapons have never been part of my life.”
Yosri had always planned to study abroad, but the idea suddenly became even more appealing. The economic climate in Tunisia was far from ideal so a degree in ‘economics and business’ seemed a good option. “Not so I could rescue my country single-handed”, he says with a smile. “Nothing romantic like that. I was mainly doing it for myself, but I also realised that perhaps one day, I could do something for my own fine country.”
He applied for a programme at Lund University in Sweden but ducked out two weeks before his course was due to start. The lack of daylight, the cold climate – Yosri sometimes felt down in Tunisia and was afraid of what Sweden would do to his state of mind. The next year, he turned his attention to the Netherlands. That seemed like a better prospect. He wasn’t keen on countries like France or Canada, where they spoke French like they did at home in Tunisia. The Netherlands was affordable. He was offered a place at Utrecht University.
“I have a bitter-sweet relationship with Utrecht. It’s a fantastic city and the people are kind and open-minded. As is the way in the Netherlands, everything is safe and well-organised, but that sometimes has an adverse effect. Being comfortable means that you lose touch with your survival instinct, which is what happened to me. At first, this made me start questioning what we’re all doing here – questioning the meaning of life. That may sound a bit down and yes, I suppose I was down. But I should add that I was living in a room measuring 6m2, studying hard and had little to distract me. I felt less free than I had done in Tunisia, where I came from a fairly privileged middle-class family.”
He started writing his thoughts down, reading about philosophy and producing his own electronic folklore music. “And there you have it again: difficult times inspire you!” He found a bigger room with nice flatmates. Being a social animal, he made friends easily, both Dutch and international. At parties, for example. He went to various events, including Pieces of Tomorrow in TivoliVredenburg where classic meets pop. Friends of his parents introduced him a Dutch family with two sons, where he often goes for a meal. “I have a very diverse group of friends.”
Yosri is doing well. He graduated last summer. “I now work for an American company. I sometimes do a DJ set at Poema or VrijMiBo, but I’m more into producing. I’ve already been in touch with a few record labels.” He isn’t planning to return to Tunisia yet. For the time being, he’s happy with the busy Vredenburg market, which reminds him of home.
Name: Yosri El Ouni
Place of birth: Sousse, Tunesia
Date of birth: 25 February 1992
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.