Four students from abroad talk about how different it is being a woman in the Netherlands and in their home countries. Did they experience a big transition?
‘There is a huge difference between Indonesia and the Netherlands’, says Ginevra, an Italian Media student who has lived in Indonesia for the past ten years. ‘Being a foreigner in Bali is tricky. During the time I lived there, I never felt at home. I could barely speak the language and never felt at ease. One thing that always bothered me was the catcalling in the streets. That happened a lot while walking with my mother or my sister. My local Indonesian friends never got this treatment.’
Men here do not assume that you need help with your bags just because you are a woman
‘I grew up in the United Arab Emirates’, says Charlotte, an Indian girl who left Dubai to study Psychology in Groningen. ‘I think there are huge cultural differences. Dutch girls are raised with the same sense of independence as boys. They view themselves as equally capable. In the Netherlands, men do not assume that you need help with your bags just because you are a woman. Of course, they lend a hand if asked, but they never assume you cannot do the job yourself. Back home in the UAE, they are believed to need assistance in situations like these. Girls are raised to think that they are not as strong as their male counterparts.
‘Another thing I have noticed is that girls, myself included, are considered to be less assertive and confident. They must avoid the risk of sounding bossy, manly or overconfident. Boys are not held to the same standard. They are rather encouraged to be vocal about their thoughts and opinions. That is of course a double-edged sword, as boys back home were not encouraged to share their emotions as much, especially if they were negative.’
Women must avoid the risk of sounding bossy, manly or overconfident.
‘The difference between how a girl is treated here compared to my country is very big’, states Ana-Maria, a Romanian student in Creative Media and Game Technologies.
‘First of all, I feel more safe here. In Groningen I am not afraid of going out alone at night. Males are more respectful. I can see a good level of equality between genders. There is a smaller chance to get harassed and if that is the case, other people will stand up to help. In Romania, you are supposed to work out such things for yourself.’
‘Having arrived in the Netherlands, I began to feel a little more secure and confident.’ says Anna, an International Business student from Kaliningrad. ‘In Russia, I repeatedly noticed annoying glances in my direction. Older men made me feel uncomfortable, because I didn’t know what to expect from them. I love pretty dresses, trousers, and generally stylish clothes. But dressed that way in public, I felt very uncomfortable and insecure. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I noticed that no one here cares about how you dress or how you put on your make-up. I love how free you are here to express yourself and not be afraid of judgment.’
So would any of them prefer to stay in The Netherlands after graduating? ‘I do not think I would’, says Ginevra. ‘Even though it seems like a place with a lot of job opportunities for young people, it is still very limited. As a foreign student I can’t get a normal job as for example a cashier or delivery person. Another reason is because laws are changing and it is much more expensive for foreigners to get a permit.’
You can take a person out of a place, but you cannot take the place out of the person
‘I have lived all my life in Russia’, Anna says. ‘The Netherlands is a great place to live and study. But still, you know, there is this expression: you can take a person out of a place, but you cannot take the place out of the person. This is the case with me as well. All people that are dear to me, all my favourite places and all my memories are in Russia. I would not hesitate to go home at the first opportunity. But with exactly the same pleasure I would continue to live in the Netherlands.’
‘It is a very difficult question to answer’, says Ana-Maria. ‘On the one hand, I wouldn’t. I love being here, people are nicer, the system is better organized and you can make yourself a living even as a young person. But on the other hand, Romania is my home. My family lives there. In my culture we tend to be very close to our loved ones. And as I’m also a mountain lover, Romania has some of the nicest natural parks. Moreover, the Netherlands is my fourth country to live in, after Romania, the UK and Denmark. The feeling you get once you move to a new place is unique. I would like to experience life in a few more countries before I decide where to settle.’
So which lesson or inspirational quote would they tell their possible daughter? Ginevra is not even sure she wants kids, but if so, she does have an important lesson. ‘She cannot love anyone until she learns to love herself through and through. Another lesson I learned myself and would want to pass on is, asking for help is hard but necessary and it does not make us weak.’
‘I would like to tell her that she is not expected to always look pretty and presentable and have to always be palatable to others’, Charlotte says.
‘Growing up I was taught to always look put-together, rid myself of body hair, any signs of tiredness through make-up, sit a certain way, speak with politeness and grace and act according to what was expected of me purely because I was a girl. These same expectations were never enforced as strongly on my brother and cousins. I would also like to make sure she is always aware that she is equally capable as the boys around her and that anything they achieve, she can too.’
‘Do not be afraid to dress, wear make-up and live the way you want’, Anna says. ‘This is your life. It should not bother anyone. You do not owe anything and anyone but yourself. You owe yourself to live this life so that you don’t regret anything you’ve ever done.’