Campus Columnist finalist

Am I Dutch now?

Hundreds of kilometres away from Utrecht, in a foreign country that actually speaks my mother tongue, I say to new friends at dinner, “Gezellig!” No one has any idea what I mean.

Dose of homesickness
A year ago, if you were eavesdropping on my conversation at a cafe, you would have heard how bland I found local food, my frustration at encountering racism, the frankly ridiculous price of bananas, how long it takes to get a beer… You get the picture, the list goes on. I was fresh off the plane from South Africa and finding difference at every turn. Add to this a heavy dose of homesickness and I was dishing out critique at every new Dutchism I stubbornly butted my head against.

Luckily for me, my Dutch housemates had the patience of potato farmers and they now tease me about my old intolerances, never holding flushes of frustration against me.

In just over a year, I went from arriving in The Netherlands and comparing everything to ‘home’ (South Africa), to doing the same-ish thing at my exchange university in the UK. But this time, I’m on team Holland. I can’t boast about Utrecht enough: our cycling infrastructure; public transport that is reliable; the open-minded culture; decent working conditions in horeca; stroopwafels; stroopwafels; and stroopwafels.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still confused about how the Dutch had a monopoly on the spice trade for 150 years and then overnight forgot how to use them. And I haven’t gotten over Zwarte Piet—although I do recognise that I’m more desensitised to South African displays of racism and The Netherlands is not neccesarily worse, just different.

But, after spending two months abroad with other English speakers I can honestly say I can’t wait to be practising my Dutch again. I’m also looking forward to reuniting with my gorgeous blue stadfiets, and being back on roads where the cyclist reigns supreme. Tea hasn’t been the same without stroopwafels and now I’ve got a whole new country to compare things to.