The day I started to embrace my homelessness

When I arrived in Amsterdam two weeks ago, my first purchase was a Frida Kahlo candle. I had my new resolutions in mind, you see. Moving to a city of painters can be quite inspiring, not to mention intimidating. While lighting my candle I promised myself to create daily; to paint my joys and sorrows and to write in coffeeshops pretending that I am Gertrude Stein in exile. The moment I got off the train, Amsterdam wasn’t as welcoming as I imagined it to be. I took a deep breath and whispered to myself: “what am I doing in yet another freezing country?” On a stormy evening, I miserably dragged my overweight suitcase, my guitar, and my yoga mat along the canals. All of this was far too familiar, because in the past four years, my life was all about fighting for survival in London. In a nutshell, my existence in the British capital consisted of saving every penny and avoiding the fact that I was living in that city. I remember trying to move to my university’s library so that I would never have to face the outside world of sweaty businessmen and racist flatmates.

[…] moving to Amsterdam felt like a fresh start

Nevertheless, despite the depressing weather, moving to Amsterdam felt like a fresh start. I am certain that Baudelaire would have loved Amsterdam and would have written great poems about the cosiness that you feel when you are lost in the tiny alleys between the gingerbread houses. The people, apart from almost running you over with their bicycles, are always smiling on the cycle paths. It seems to me that every Amsterdammer is having the time of their lives, no matter what they are doing.

To all my fellow newbies in Amsterdam: besides admiring Vincent’s magnificent paintings and watching the super stylish people of all backgrounds and ages, let yourself be taken away by your own inner happenings. Yes, it is precisely the right time to become existential and ask yourself the all-important question of “who do I want to be?” For my first Master’s class, I had to prepare a brief introduction, explaining who I am and what I identify with. My thoughts went off the rails pretty quickly. “Who am I?” I wondered, while squatting on floor of my friend’s place (that housing shortage is very real). I am the little devil, the feminist, the hippie, the witch, and the three passports that I own. In Europe I am the Eastern European, in Ukraine I am the foreigner, the European. I am a citizen of the world who is a victim in one part of the globe and a predator in the other. Cursed by the original sin, I am Eve, Kali, and Medusa. I am the six languages that I speak and all the countries that I have been to. I am an artist but also a plagiarist of all that I have read, watched and listened to. I say, I am you and you are me and that is all there is. For now, I just defined myself as homeless, walking around Rembrandtplein with a sign saying “Looking for a flatmate or a tenant? I am looking for a home!”

I met a guy at a bar who said that he spent a year being homeless in Amsterdam and that it was the best year of his life. So I started to embrace my homelessness.

I met a guy at a bar who said that he spent a year being homeless in Amsterdam and that it was the best year of his life. So I started to embrace my homelessness. I was thinking of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe and how they too were squatting at their artist friends’ places in New York. I decided that all of us homeless youngsters camping in tents and caravans are part of the second wave of the Lost Generation, making history. I have immersed myself into my new life, allowing myself to reinvent myself while I can. I think of all those who are currently homeless in Amsterdam, of the friends who are freezing in tents or in that former prison that the university calls “student accommodation”. I feel a great solidarity. One day, once we will have a room of our own, these will be stories that we tell and moments that we miss; the in-between existence that some of us are leading is part of the adventure and it is only the beginning.

Kate Ivanova is a Master student in Comparative Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

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“Cheap or student-friendly restaurants? Like finding a needle in a haystack” : Crashing into Amsterdam’s reality

Living in Amsterdam has been one shock after another. Over the course of my life, I created a perfect image of The Netherlands in my mind, especially because I come from a corrupt country that is permanently stained by its communist past. Choosing to study in Amsterdam was undoubtable from the beginning.

After arriving to Amsterdam for my studies, I quickly realised that these utopian visions were completely unrealistic. One of the starkest differences between my imagination and reality was the idea of internationalism and the extent to which Amsterdam embraces international students. Turns out that the Dutch are almost as proud of their language as the French. Any basic service is always in Dutch. I can’t even access internet banking without having to resort to Google Translate.

Finding a student job -a necessity for many- is also very difficult, as almost every employer will require you to speak Dutch. Last year I got lucky and found a job, however, I still felt quite uncomfortable at times when all my colleagues didn’t talk to me just because I couldn’t speak Dutch. Don’t get me wrong, the Dutch are some of the sweetest people I know, but it is off-putting when there is little effort to get along with internationals. Of course, I am not creating a stereotype or saying all Dutch people are like this, I’m just judging by my experience so far.

One of the reasons I chose to study in Amsterdam was because I viewed it as student oriented, a perfect mix of a small community student life and the big city. But if that were true, why is it so hard to find housing? International students face a massive list of restrictions for something as basic as finding a home. If you aren’t one of the lucky few to receive housing from their university, you may just become homeless. Many of my friends faced this harsh reality. Universities provide housing almost exclusively to first year students, which leaves the rest of us with some very difficult options.

Finding an apartment is virtually impossible – the ratio of apartments that allow students to available apartments in Amsterdam is 1:10. If you do find an apartment, it will be way out of your price range. Finding a room isn’t as hard, but finding good roommates really depend on how lucky you are. Even if you get lucky with your roommates – you will probably live outside of “The Ring.” Student hotels can be a good choice if you don’t have anywhere to stay, but they’re fully booked right from the start. What we do see is students staying at hostels for weeks, or staying on a friend’s couch. This makes it even harder to manage a full course load and to get the most out of studying in Amsterdam. Besides housing, options for students here in Amsterdam are quite sad. Cheap or student friendly restaurants? Like finding a needle in a haystack. Student discounts? Only in galleries – and I’m not going to spend every weekend at a gallery. Dutch universities are accepting more international students than ever before – this country has to start accommodating these students.

“I learned a lesson here and I’m sure others have felt the same”

On top of all this – why does it have to rain almost every other day? Every season is depressing because of the lack of sunshine and the constant rain. Winter here is especially terrible – very cold nights and dark mornings. I personally blame the weather for missing every morning lecture. However, whenever the sun pokes through the dark clouds, I can’t help myself but be super happy. I soak every moment up – Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in the sun.

I learned a lesson here and I’m sure others have felt the same. Despite the let-downs, the misgivings, and the weather, I love this city. The year I spent living in Amsterdam has made me feel better about myself, gain confidence, and grow into who I am. I’m at a wonderful school, finally studying what I want, with perfect friends by my side. It’s now clear that paradise was not what I needed when I got here – what I needed was to face reality and learn to live with it.

 

Lucia Holaskova is a second-year Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

I’m French. Am I a migrant, too ?

My grandparents or great grandparents on my mother’s side did not all stay in Venezuela their entire life. My grandfather had Italian origins and studied in both Spain and Mexico. His adoptive mother spoke several languages and had lived in  the Netherlands, Curaçao and Trinidad before going back to Venezuela. They were citizens of the world in a time when traveling was not as common as it is today. On my father’s side, my grandmother had to travel to different countries in Europe during World War II, and kept traveling later in life, when she raised her children with my grandfather around Africa.

I was born in France, but grew up most of my life in Venezuela. I’ve lived in the US, the Ivory Coast, and now the Netherlands.

I am French because of my father and Venezuelan because of my mother. This is how I see myself: I am neither French nor Venezuelan, I am both.

My sister competed for the Venezuela Equestrian Federation in Venezuela and internationally, but her nationality was never doubted. In a parallel world, if I would have followed a path in any professional sport and decided to compete as French, my nationality would probably not have been doubted either.

And that’s because I’m white.

Both my sister and I fulfilled the stereotypes of the countries we would decide to represent. The only difference between us, and the French players who won the World Cup 2018, is that we are white and they are not. So, now, they are called “migrants.”

Think about it. If Paul Pogba would have decided to play for the Guinean football team, like his brothers, would you have considered him a French migrant? Probably not. Is it because of the colour of his skin, or because you have the power of judging his level or “French-ness” or “Guinean-ness”?

Calling someone a migrant for having an international background is being ignorant towards all the wars and deconolinizations that happened during the last century. It is also being ignorant towards the world you are living in right now: everyone is becoming a citizen of the world. Almost everyone has their roots spread around the globe somehow. We have lived in different places and defined ourselves accordingly.

The players of the French football team have parents or grandparents from African countries, but they have decided to represent France during the FIFA World Cup 2018. They are like me: they are neither “African” nor French. They are both. They are not migrants in France nor, let’s say, migrants in Nigeria or Cameroon. They are both and we should accept this.

Stop calling them migrants or call this an “African victory.” They have decided to represent France. They played as a team, representing France by choice. France won. And France, like every country around the globe, is not made of a single origin. We are from everywhere.

And the players are French, too.

 

 

Isabel Bonnet is a Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

“Starving artists”: choosing happiness over success

Ever since I was young, I was taught to use my talents and potential in order to work the system in my favour. However, in order for it to have any meaning, everything has to be in a certain format validated by a diploma and made marketable.

If I were a writer, I would have to be a professional one, striving to write books people would want to read, or columns in a magazine or a newspaper with a big name. Otherwise, I would be a “starving artist” and I would never amount to anything. If I am good at what I do, money and status will come, and if I am not, I will probably never matter. My work may be appreciated years after I die-if that even happens- but no one strives for post mortem fame.

“I get very few questions about whether this actually makes me happy and what these columns really mean to me.”

Since I started writing my column, many people have asked me if I get paid and if it’s good money. I get very few questions about whether this actually makes me happy and what these columns really mean to me. When I say that I really enjoy having an outlet for my thoughts, when I tell them how much I am growing, and how much I enjoy trying to improve my own work, it almost seems meaningless to them. I feel as though because I am taking things as they come, looking to make myself happy and not only to boost my CV, I lack focus and have no goals. Why am I writing so diligently every week and not demanding anything in return?

Everything I do in life, it seems, needs to have a definite purpose or needs to profit me somehow, otherwise I am wasting my time. How will I ever manage to build up a set of skills and compete in the labor market if I keep wandering around living my life? It seems as though I am not productive if I am fine with where I am and not constantly looking into the future. Everything, from my creativity to my relationships, needs to have a label, a purpose, and needs to fit into a certain category in order to be “worthy” of my energy.

The truth is, the more I make decisions that bring me in touch with my personality and myself, the happier I become. I have spent years getting my grades up, trying to get into good schools, quantifying my talents and proving myself. I have done truly crazy things sometimes in order to establish myself in an environment that would later on enable me to live a “good life.”

“[…] I was bringing myself down so much in order to be successful in a conventional way, it became very obvious that it was not worth it anymore.”

I have often envied people who could do better than me, and spent my days trying to find a way to become like them. I would refrain from writing in my free time because it would use up the energy I needed to put into work. Most of this has made me miserable. I developed anxiety, I’ve felt lonelier than ever before, and in spite of all the support I got from family and friends, I’ve never felt more lost. It came to a point where I had to stop for a second and really think about what I was doing, because I was bringing myself down so much in order to be successful in a conventional way, it became very obvious that it was not worth it anymore. I was striving to be this sensational person who will never cease to amaze the world with all the things my mind can do. Instead, it became hard for me to live with myself. I needed to realize that my passion would drive me to do things even if I don’t make a list of goals, and that my talents would get me exactly where I needed to be in life.

I’ve learned that drive and motivation can have a healthy and an unhealthy form. Only after I stopped going against myself in a very destructive way did I begin to slowly recover and feel alright again. This lesson was always passed on to me as an elective, and it was up to me to make it a priority.

 

Nevena Vracar is a sociology Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam. 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.

Going home: it’s not that simple

“If I could live in my country, I would”

A normal family WhatsApp group spams everyone with jokes, holiday pictures, and maybe some voice-notes, mistakenly sent by their grandmother. Mine essentially consists of political matters, text messages notifying others that there is milk in the supermarket or that electricity is gone. When it’s someone’s birthday, we send voice-notes. When someone is traveling, we send a text message saying we’re boarding the plane. When a newborn joins the family, we send pictures. We are living a virtual family life because our country is facing a terrible situation that has spread us around the world. As a family we are united, but we are physically apart from each other.

Venezuelans who are in still in the country suffer from a scarcity of food and medicine, violence, and a mediocre quality of life. However, Venezuelans abroad, also suffer from the situation of the country in a different manner, we are haunted by it. Even though each day isn’t a struggle, a single text message strikes fear in our hearts because something might have happened to our family or friends. We feel impotent in the face of the country’s situation because they cannot give the opportunity to others to go abroad, to save them from their daily strife.

It is as simple as it gets: If I could live in my country, I would. I did not move abroad to discover the world or to explore different cultures. I moved abroad because my country did not offer the opportunities I was looking for. And don’t get me wrong: I love traveling, but there is nothing like home. In any case, moving abroad is leaving your old life behind. However, I would especially like to talk about moving away from a third-world country.

It is economically taxing because the currency of your home country is usually worth way less than the one in the country you just moved to. If you were considered part of the middle-high class in your country, your new budget probably reflects the one of a lower class. And it is okay, because this is a sacrifice you are willing to make when you move abroad.

Thankfully, consumerism is not as important in Europe as in other parts of the world, especially as a student. Getting a haircut or going to the movies with your friends doesn’t seem as much of a necessity anymore. However, the hardest financial challenge you are going to face will not be your rent payment, but probably paying for the airfare tickets to go back home. Who thought seeing your loved ones would be so expensive?

Your finances will then also affect you emotionally: you won’t know when you will return to see your family and friends again. Their lives go on, the Skype calls will probably happen less often, and slowly, you will grow apart from your friends. When you’re not keeping in touch with your loved ones back home, it will also be difficult culturally. You have to live your daily life with people who are not accustomed to doing the same things as you, perhaps they speak a different language, eat different food at different times, have different values or a different religion, or they are more or less individualistic than you.

My country is a mess, but it used to be a nice mess. I had the opportunity to drive less than an hour to see the Caribbean sea. I could drive 14 hours to see the Amazon forest, and 6 to see the Andes. I could swim in a waterfall or climb the mountains on a weekend. Driving was harder than passing all the levels in Mario Kart, and eating fatty street food was probably the best meal you could hope for. When I moved to Europe, I had to adapt to an organized life. To a life in a place where things actually work. Here, talking about a dictatorship is not normal. Talking about the lines your family has to wait in at the supermarket to find food is not normal. Perpetually being fearful of receiving a message saying that one of your family members is kidnapped is not normal. Getting your phone robbed with a gun put to your head, is not normal. And it shouldn’t be normal.

Not every international student who comes from a third-world country suffers the same struggles that I do, but in a way, we all share the same feeling of being homesick. We acknowledge the effort that our families make to send us abroad, and are appreciative of the unique opportunity that has been given to us to receive a good education. Sadly, this is something that people who live in first-world countries don’t realize sometimes: there is always a story behind someone who moves abroad.

International students make more sacrifices than local students. Not that we want to be looked at in pity, but we do want some respect from the people who do not know how hard moving abroad is. There are just too many struggles, that others may not understand.

Whether you moved to Europe because the education or the quality of life is better than in your country or because your country is facing a war or other kind of crisis, it always comes to the same conclusion: If people could find the good opportunities they seek for when moving abroad in their own country, they would have probably stayed there and avoided all the difficulties of moving abroad.

 

 

Isabel Bonnet is a first-year communication science student. Her columns focus on Venezuela.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Isabel Bonnet is a 21-year-old second-year student in communication science at UvA. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Amsterdammer. Before its creation, she worked as a photo editor at the Independent Florida Alligator and did an internship at Le Monde.