I have doubted whether to write this. But after talking with different (international!) friends, I’m going to do it anyway because something has to change. Let me start by saying internationalization is enriching to me: you can learn a lot from people with a different cultural background. Working with a diverse group of people can help you to look at a problem in different ways and find more creative solutions. I have always had many international friends and I still feel blessed with all that diversity around me. But in the last two years things have been going way too fast here in Eindhoven if you ask me. I no longer recognize my city as a Dutch city and feel less at home here than before and I will explain why.
I don’t mind speaking English at work: I consciously chose an English-speaking organization. I don’t mind speaking English with my friends, I also knew that from the beginning. But now that I am also addressed in English on the terrace, in the supermarket and at the gym, I notice that I am getting a bit ‘on edge’. Speaking your own language on a regular basis and being surrounded by people with the same cultural background has a lot of influence on feeling at home and feeling connected. That balance is now disappearing.
I understand that the labor market is tight and that staff is wanted everywhere, so the requirements are also becoming less strict. But I notice that sometimes I just want to be Dutch. Especially when I can ‘relax’ I just want to follow a sports lesson in my native language. Order a dish or asking about the ingredients in my native language. I see how fast my city has grown, especially with international students and expats. But I also see how little room there is left for people who earn less money. Students desperately looking for a room, but we keep recruiting them. People who work hard in cleaning, behind the cash register or in the catering industry but can barely afford a studio, let alone find one. And all the foreigners who come to us to ease the labor shortage are in my opinion little stimulated to learn Dutch. I don’t want Eindhoven to become a second Amsterdam. Then of course you can say, leave if you don’t like it here. But that feels unfair. I think we should put the brakes on for balance and pleasant living in a city like Eindhoven. Recruiting people for economic growth should not be allowed to continue indefinitely if these are the consequences.
And learning the language is an essential part of better integration, also in the interest of the internationals themselves. In my work I have often heard from them that the Dutch are so difficult to connect with, somewhat distant, closed people. Yes, I can imagine what they mean. We already have our circle of friends here, they have to start over. But at the same time it certainly becomes easier to connect if you speak the language. I noticed this myself when I lived abroad. I also made an effort to learn Arabic at the time and it helped me a lot in connecting with the local people. In addition, I would also consider regulating the housing market to keep room for those who earn less but do have very important jobs such as healthcare workers, cleaners and teachers, although that list is much longer.
The joke is; my international friends understand me. They understand that sometimes I also want to be Dutch for a while and speak my mother tongue. They want that too. It is logical that people (also) gravitate towards people from their own cultural background. That offers recognition, comfort and peace. There’s a time to get out of your comfort zone and a time to get in. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has these feelings lately. Reach out and maybe we can brainstorm together for great ideas to make this city feel like ours (again).