International Almere is an English speaking organization whose aim is to connect and build essential social networks with people who understand the unique situation of being a foreigner in this modern Dutch city.
An interview with Connie Koorevaar-Goeks. (2nd Part)
- Do you notice more or less foreigners coming to Almere?
- Each year more and more are coming, but this year already 3 people have left. I was asked lately whether or not we see a seasonal shift and we don’t have that since ours are more family oriented and most of our companies hire with year contracts. Mostly it’s the younger group that leaves.
- Has life for expats in Almere changed the last two years?
- I really can't say life for most expats has changed much in the last two years, but it's changed immensely since 2007, when the government enacted the new law requiring all non-EU residents to prove they're integrated. If they couldn't, they would need to take classes. This produced a frenzy for information from the expat community from those that had already been through it. This need for information drew some expats out that had "integrated" into Dutch society but had no proof and were eager for information. Myself being one of these. The hot topic in the expat community since 2007 is inburgering [integration]. And probably, will remain so for many years to come, especially now, that the Dutch government is trying to pass laws to make people pay for their own inburgering [integration].
- How do expats experience the financial crisis?
- I don't think that expats are hit any differently in the financial crisis than the Dutch, however, that said, their positions are more fragile. If a company downsizes and one or more of those employees are expats, they may end up having to leave the country, whereas a Dutch employee would just need to find a new job. Also there's a benefit for those with the 30% ruling and that means they have that much more money to spend that could help the economy to recover. Economies do better when money is being spent and if no one in the country is spending that will cause the economy to worsen, so in some ways, expats can actually help during a financial crisis.
- Do you think expats have trouble integrating into Dutch Society?
- Also I'd say the question should read more like: " Do the Dutch and expats have trouble with the expats integrating into Dutch Society?".
Firstly, English speaking expats have a difficult time integrating due to the Dutch's love of "practicing" their English. If anyone speaks to a Dutch person in Dutch, then there's never a reason to change to any other language that I can see, unless one of the two are having trouble understanding each other.
Secondly, there can not be discrimination. The Dutch government/people should not accept from their government, nor their people's, any form of discrimination towards anyone, including foreigners. Creating a hostile environment for any one expat group is still felt by all the expats. This sort of behavior creates a blacklash which leaves no one wanting to integrate in the society and a nasty taste in ones mouth toward the country.
Thirdly, I would say that integration is a two way street, but if people would rather NOT let someone in, then integration is impossible, no matter how much the expat works at it. If people do not want to share their customs and cultures and learn new ones, then no integration can take place.
Fourthly, I think the definition of integration in the Netherlands is seen more as cloning, or making someone Dutch. That's impossible. What people have grown up with and that which are their cultures and customs should not be destroyed so that the Dutch ones take their place. That's not integration.
As an expat we bring who we are with us, and trying to delete that and replace it with something else is very disheartening. If the integration was seen more as melding or restructuring maybe, it might be more accepted by everyone. As an American, I'm not giving up my culture and customs. I'm finding ways to still practice these important practices within the framework of my life here in the Netherlands. If I can have both worlds successfully, then I can call myself integrated.
- IA has recently been in Expatica Fair “ I am Not a Tourist” in Amsterdam. How was the experience?
- We found our experience at the Expatica Fair to be excellent mostly because it was our first time being there as stand holders. We were very excited about it and were not disappointed by how busy we were talking to so many people, sharing our vision of Almere and discussing our joy, International Almere. We did our share of selling Almere as the beautiful place it is to live and work. We found it to be a fantastic experience for us and we are looking forward to do it again next year.
- Had IA any kind of sponsorship?
- WTCAA sponsored Expatica and with that sponsorship came the stand, which they graciously shared with the two international schools (the International department of Letterland and the International School Almere) and us.
- What were the main questions you needed to answer?
- We were asked mostly about jobs, people seemed very desperate to find a job, secondly was housing and thirdly, surprisingly, some people had no idea what Almere is or where Almere is located.
(to be continued)