“I could feel his eyes telling me that I don’t belong here.”
Within the first few months of moving here, I had the stunning realisation of the manner in which an ethnicity works in different contexts. Growing up in Belgrade, nationalist and neo-Nazi movements had never touched me as deeply as they do now. Their dislike for people belonging to other ethnicities and societal groups was never targeted at me, since I was a native and part of the middle-class in my own country. The ignorant teenager that I was never felt moved enough to deeply think about the subject. At least, not until I moved here, and encountered someone appearing to be part of a far-right movement in Amsterdam. I remember walking down the street when I saw him walking towards me. I had never been so aware of how I looked or who I was up until that moment. Short with dark-brown hair, never in a million years could I pass for what is seen as stereotypically Dutch. I could feel his eyes telling me that I don’t belong here. His body language only enhanced the unsaid societal power-equation imposed on me in that moment. That was when I realised that I did not belong to the majority anymore, and that lead to an enormous shift in my perspective.
When I started studying Sociology in Dutch at the University of Amsterdam, I lost count of how many times I thought about how easy life would be if I was just Dutch. How easy it would be if I did not have my own way of speaking, if my native language never got in the way of learning a new one. If I never had to ask the other person to switch to English in order to continue the conversation, if I could just say and remember all these words and phrases. How easy it would be if my brain never got tired of speaking a language that was not my own!
It was not about being Dutch instead of Serbian; it was just that at times it seemed life would have been better if I had moved to this country as a blank piece of paper, ready to imbibe the Dutch language and culture in its entirety. It was times like this when it felt unfair that the knowledge and capabilities I got from my home country could not be useful in this context. At the end of the day I never wanted to be Dutch, I just wanted everything to be easy.
“Even when I found it easier to be someone other than myself, I couldn’t.”
Where you come from will always form the basis of your personality, and attempting to change that is a pointless thing to do. Even when I found it easier to be someone other than myself, I couldn’t.
What I did not realise when I started having all these new experiences was that this was an important time to build integrity and self-confidence. It would have been very easy to say “Well, if I don’t fit into your world, then you don’t fit into mine either!” as I sailed off into the sunset with my non-Dutch friends, pretending that I did not care. However, it wasn’t the right way to go.
You can argue that it is completely acceptable to stay in your niche. However, what I found to be more constructive – albeit more challenging – is to push your thoughts and ideas forward, and in that way determine what people focus on when it comes to you, instead of letting them choose themselves.
Nevena Vračar is a Bachelor student of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. Her columns focus on studying abroad.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Amsterdammer.
Hi there! My name is Nevena and I am a 22-year-old student currently in the second year of a sociology bachelor at the University of Amsterdam. I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I’ve moved here about three years ago. I am a part of the opinion section of the Amsterdammer and my columns focus mostly on my experience as an international and studying abroad.