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“Language is Culture”

My name is Roberta, I am Italian. I came to Almere in 2017 from Australia. I live in Almere Poort, and this is my story.

I grew up in Tuscany, in Italy, in a small town on the seaside. I had a very happy childhood with a close-knit family and a lot of friends. I have always loved writing. I worked for a local newspaper while studying, then, after graduating in Classical studies, I managed to become a journalist in Milan, but I wanted to travel. I went to London, Cape Town, Brussels, Beijing, before ending up in Australia for 6 years. After my second daughter was born in Brisbane, my husband and I decided to move closer to the family, and he accepted a job in Almere. For me, this was the Netherlands: a way to return to Europe and to allow my children to spend more time with our families. 

We moved to Almere in October 2017, and at the beginning, we struggled to adapt to the weather, after having spent years in sunny Brisbane. For several months at her preschool in Almere, my 2-year-old daughter was the only one refusing to go out at playtime, complaining that it was too cold. 

I cannot really compare Italy, Australia, and the Netherlands, but I can compare my life in the places where I lived. Language has always played a major role for me, probably because it is essential for my job. In Brisbane, I sometimes felt limited compared to native English speakers, but I could easily do everything without any problem. In Almere, so many people speak English well, but to fully integrate as a family we would need to speak Dutch fluently, and we don't. I have learned a little bit of Dutch - enough to read emails and to do what I need, but not enough to have a proper conversation or to speak it at work. Still, we manage to have a good life even without speaking Dutch: my daughters attend International School, traveling around Europe is very easy, and we have a lot of friends, most of whom are ex-pats (or married to ex-pats). This also means, though, that we often see people around us leaving the country. It gives me the feeling of constantly being in transit.

I would like my daughters to learn Dutch, but my priority is that they maintain and keep alive their Italian. In my opinion, language is culture, and I want my kids to feel connected to us and to their families back in Italy, without losing their roots. This is part of the reason why I am working at present as an Italian teacher: it is a job that I like, but it also gives me the flexibility to stay with my daughters after school and to help them and other Italian ex-pat children learn how to write and read in Italian.  

I find Almere a very easy place for families, with a lot of woods and parks where we can walk in nature. We have a bakfiets, museum cards, we often try to explore and see new places at the weekend. Sometimes I still find it hard during the winter, but last year I could walk on the frozen lake and I loved it. Also, I like how kids in school here have outside playtime in all kinds of weather and how they are allowed to splash in the puddles when it is raining. In the place where I grew up, in Tuscany, the weather is generally better, but often schools don't allow children to stay outside if it is raining or if it is cold. I was also surprised to see how practical our Dutch neighbors are, how they foster independence in their kids, allowing them to cycle on their own to school and in the neighborhood. 

I do not see myself getting old in the Netherlands, but I don't know where I will end up. I am not sure it really matters. After being an ex-pat for more than one-third of my life, I am aware that there is no perfect place, but that every place gives you something important. 

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Photos, Interview and Text: Lyla Carrillo Quan - van der Kaaden
Text Revision: Babette Rondón
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