The Spirit of Openness in Rotterdam
Two weeks ago, America elected a president who deliberately stokes fear of foreigners in people.
This June Great Britain voted to become isolated from other European countries.
Those events are the most prominent examples of a recent development that is deeply frightening me. How can people not appreciate diversity and openness to others? How can anybody who has ever needed an open door or a helping hand reject others who do?
In times where we have to hear news like these, it’s especially important to be aware that there still are open-minded, welcoming people. And that it’s always worth going out to see what you haven’t seen before.
I just came home from my afternoon class at university. In my group we are twelve people, coming from ten different countries. Nearly all of my fellow students have – like me – decided to leave their home country this summer and come to the Netherlands to study here.
When I first came to Rotterdam I was overwhelmed by its openness: Its physical openness – the harbour, the broad Maas with its massive bridges, the wide skies. The openness of how ideas seem to be turned into reality quickly – the tall and modern, sometimes slightly odd buildings, the Markthal where foods and people from allover the world meet. And the openness of the people who live here that made me feel welcome right away.
I live on the south side of the Maas river, in Feijenoord. When I moved in with my two roommates, our new neighbours, the owners of a Turkish pub downstairs, a Kebab restaurant and a Turkish bakery next door helped wherever they could – without even knowing us. The other night, when I came home late from uni the owner of Shoarma, the Kebab store downstairs, offered me a free dinner to take upstairs. “You look tired today”, he said. When there is a parcel from home that I hadn’t been able to receive in the morning it waits for me at Shoarma. It feels so good to have caring neighbours when you go somewhere new, especially in a neighbourhood like mine where people sometimes wrinkle their nose or look surprised when I tell them where I live (“Really? You live in the south? Is it safe over there?”).
Maybe, one reason my neighbours have been so warm and welcoming since the beginning is that they know – either from their very own experience or from that of their parents and grandparents – what it feels like to come to a new country.
Not only my new neighbours made me feel at home right away. The university gave me a great start with the legendary Eureka week in August. I was amazed by the interest and friendliness of everyone – and the willingness of all Dutch students and university employees I met to speak English in their own country so that us internationals could understand them.
Before I came to the Netherlands I had promised myself to start learning Dutch as soon as possible. However, it turned out to be harder than I had expected: Many of my friends are international students too and those who are Dutch speak excellent English and are willing to do so.
The fact that I am writing this article is another perfect illustration of how interested and open for cooperation with internationals my Dutch fellow students are. Diversity and different opinions seem to be seen as an enrichment rather than as a threat at our faculty– an atmosphere that I greatly enjoy. Starting with the awesome freshmen weekend this summer, members of our faculty association have always made me feel welcome and I am looking forward to the year of writing for Credo lying ahead!
By Minou Gandras