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Russian-Style Holland

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Russian-Style Holland

22.12.2014

The author of “How to Strike Root in Europe: Practical Aid for Residents and New Arrivals” and an expert of higher education programs quality control Anna Prijdak has been living more than 20 years in Holland. During this time she has gone a long way from a regular student to teacher of the University of Hague and did not stop at that. Anna shared with us her experience of adaptation to a new environment in a foreign land.

— When people ask me how long I’ve lived in Amsterdam, I answer: three bikes. In other words, the time is measured in stolen bikes – this is just a local joke. Me and my wife have already had two bicycles stolen from us, wrote a Dutch resident Eduard Bespalov in his blog. There is a wide gap between the tourist Amsterdam with coffee-shops, museums and the Red Lights District and an everyday city and its habitués. The image of the city with a super-relaxed atmosphere compromised only by numerous cyclists (do not even try to walk over their lane!) probably remains relevant only for novices. Perhaps for this reason the city of tulips is one of the most typical cases of the joke about tourism and immigration.

Please tell me, when and how did you land in Holland and what were your first impressions?

I landed in Holland in the early 1990s, when I began studying at a local university, so my first impressions had to do with the educational institution. They were most positive and I was never disappointed afterwards. Even having a very poor command of Dutch, I experienced no problems in my communication with teachers and students. Both helped me to strike root, since I was the only foreign student at the department of English studies.

Were you then familiar with nostalgia?

I never felt any nostalgia, because I frequented Moscow and often received my loved ones and friends in Holland. Even now I share my time between two homes. Unless I had this opportunity, Id hardly have left Russia.

How long did it take you to accommodate?

I had psychological problems with adaptation only in Russia, when I entered a linguistic university after school (it was then called the institute of foreign languages). There were many students and I did not notice any attempts on the part of teachers to use an individual approach, the tuition was largely based on the conveyor belt principle. In Holland there were small groups and teachers remembered our names. The doors of their offices and the deans office were always open to us. All requirements were absolutely understandable and every question of ours was answered clearly. It was more comfortable for me to study there compared to Moscow. There were some practical problems, of course, related to household life in a new country: I had to grasp the taxation and insurance system as well as utility payments and bills. In the second year I had to spend a whole semester in England this was part of the compulsory curriculum. There I also had no problems with clarifying the rules of the game at the university, but it certainly took me some time to clear some formalities and to have my household life properly arranged.

Big Russian communities are known to exist in America, Germany and Israel. Is there a similar community in Holland?

The entry of foreigners to Holland who are not EU citizens has always been limited, so Russians are fewer here percentagewise than in the countries you mentioned. A residence permit is possible for students and highly skilled specialists. So while there are some Russian forums on Dutch web-sites as well as Russian clubs and Sunday schools in big cities, people on the whole are more isolated. I think this can be explained by the fact that those who come here with student or work visas and specific plans are too busy.

Comparing what was happening in Holland 20 years ago with what is going on now, has anything changed in the lives of Russians? Do you see any changes in recent years?

Of course, this depends on personal disposition, but on the whole Russians have become more independent and adapt faster. This can be explained by the fact that life in big cities of Russia now is almost undistinguishable from that in European cities. The goals have also changed: while earlier they came to study and stay here (and I was no exception), now they come to acquire new professional experience. It is also rewarding to see Russian women marrying Dutch men out of love, rather than the need to sustain themselves and their children from the first marriage.

I remember hearing the following phrase from you 10 years ago: Russia is populated with people and Holland with the Dutch. Have you changed your mind to this effect?

Could I have said that? Then my opinion has definitely changed. Holland is populated with normal people. I am amazed by their attitude to animals: there is not a single homeless dog here. People are outgoing and ready to provide enough information about them in order to find a common subject for conversation. They do not believe in manual administration and tune up all processes so that they could function independent of the boss. For instance, the insurance system works excellent and after the flood or fire all people insured (99.9% of the population) get worthy compensation, regardless of whether this city will be visited by the head of state or not.

You have rich teaching experience. Please tell us in short what our Russian citizens should be prepared for if they decide to study or complete their education in Holland.

You should be ready for many tuition forms to be different from those youve got used to. Thus interactive studies are much more common here, than classical lectures. The teacher is traditionally asked many questions and the subjects she suggests are actively discussed. Students more often perform their assignments in groups, rather than individually and teamwork can be rated as seriously as its results. If you feel uncomfortable in the beginning, bear in mind that the forms of tuition normally mirror your future professional activity. Engineers developing novel technologies often do not just work in groups, but also team up with economists and marketing experts, to make the product of their joint effort in higher demand and competitive on the market.

You authored a wonderful guide titled How to Strike Root in Europe: Practical Aid for Residents and New Arrivals. I read the following phrase in the summary The book is addressed to all who are quick off the mark. Why did you decide to invest your time and effort in this project?

Once in London I got into a conversation with my old friend from Moscow. This was quite an independent woman speaking fluent English, but she often used the phrase hostile environment. It turned out that she meant all the British without exception. When I started paying more attention at how our compatriots narrate on their experience abroad, I noted that the process of the unfamiliar world perception rouses fear in many of them. This emotion is a standard stage of adaptation to new living environment, but this stage should not drag on too long, since in this case we may start blaming the external environment for our failures.

This difficult stage will take less time to pass if we realize that the behavior of any groups, including the residents of European countries, is not messy or unpredictable, but lends itself to analysis and forecasting. I suggest some suitable models with this purpose in my book. The second reason is that my friends from Russia often asked me standard questions about education, healthcare, real estate, etc. It seemed reasonable to me to systematize my own experience in order to give practical advice on these and some other issues.

Anna Genova
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