Things people ask me:

What’s the hardest thing about Nederlands? Grammar, nope. Speaking, nope (so long as the people I’m speaking to don’t get caught up on my outrageously fantastic accent). Listening, tricky but not the hardest thing. Nope, nope, and nope. None of the usual language-learning-nightmare suspects. The most difficult thing about Nederlands is actually the inability to express emotions in a language that my heart simply has not yet embraced and certainly not conquered. Example: over the last few months I’ve found myself in the position of having to write condolences to friends and family members of friends lost without a clue as to whether or not my sympathy for their loss was properly conveyed. I searched for equivalents, found translations, put those words on paper, but they were mere forms which rang hollow in my mind. Does intention in translation come over or count? The importance of language is horribly underrated, I’m afraid. It’s not just words and structures used to convey meaning, it’s an integral part of our system and our whole “being”. Joy, anger, sadness, sympathy, fulfilment, gratitude … frustration – when I feel them, I “feel” them in English. Sure, people will say that they understand how that is, but until you’ve had to function like that for some time, you really don’t know. Unavoidable misunderstandings, wrongfully hurt feelings, confused transmissions – better to keep quiet, I guess, or play numb. Anyway, just some food for thought. Be kind, you never know ♡

“They said I wasn’t _______ enough”

Wow, thank you Carey Mulligan or the Guardian or the forces of the universe for putting this particular article, one I’d not normally read, front and center this morning.

I hope you won’t mind if I make a few adjustments:
the film = what you do
women = foreigners
on-screen = in everyday, real life

Or however the day calls for one to adapt this age-old struggle for women, minority groups, marginalised communities … “Not _____ enough” for the norm (whatever that means). Just remember (and never ever forget) that “it’s important” and “these moments add up”. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Here, there, it’s everywhere

A wonderful article and important read. I’ve seen and felt this for years here. There are too many social workers (well meaning, warm-hearted but inadequately prepared and pathetically under supported) being asked to do the job of integration and language learning experts – and believing that all newcomers require one particular kind of help that can only come in the form of their social service position. It’s not working and newcomers are finding themselves desperately trying to climb out of ruts dug for them by the very people responsible for ensuring their prosperity.

And all the while the podiums being offered to international newcomers (any and all of them) are in so many cases still being built (and censored) by the very wardens of this “achterstanddenken” – making real, meaningful change slow, if it’s able to happen at all. But what do I know: wrong passport, “inferior” diplomas – training – experience, and this accent!!! Different in this town = less able and foreign … well, just forget about it.

So much work to be done!

Intercultural Competence 101

Are you the food you eat or the music you listen to? Is your language what makes you you? What about a traditional dance performed by your ancestors, is that you? No? That’s not me either. In fact, I’ve yet to meet anyone who would define their existence so shallowly – no local, no newcomer, not here, not in England, not in France, not in America. No one, no where. You see, all human beings, like diamonds, are multi-faceted: more facets = more sparkle.

So, you want to know why your project/program/activity for “mensen met migratie achtergrond” isn’t working out the way you thought it would? You want to know why your “doelgroep” isn’t flocking to a project custom-written for them??? This!!! What’s above the water, that’s the eas(ier) stuff, the obvious. What’s below, that’s where it really gets interesting … and, yes, challenging. But, if you’re truly interested in welcoming all into your organisation, then you need to be willing to dive deeper and invite all as they truly are – not as some checklist dictates they be and certainly not as tokens framed by your contact-comfort-level. It’s elementary really … elementary, yet … here we are. #buddysvoorvlamingen

Here were go again: 2021

— the 2019 follow up to a 2016 thought —

Samen met “Nederlands, Nederlands, Nederlands” gaat “werk, werk, werk”. Zonder werk in Vlaanderen ben je niemand. Het maakt niet uit hoeveel jaren ervaring, hoeveel diploma’s, hoeveel kennis je hebt: jouw eerst dag in België is jouw eerst dag professionele ervaring en dus het is bijna onmogelijk op dit moment hier een job te vinden in een sector waar je kan en wil werken.

Ik ben een van de gelukkiger mensen, toch moet ik hindernissen nog altijd overwinnen. Ik hoor het al “Je moet niet overdrijven, het is niet zo erg … “. Heb je het zelf moeten doen? Nee? Dan weet je echt niet hoe het is. Daarom is het zo belangrijk dat “nieuwkomers” (ja, gebruik van dat woord is een discussie voor later) hun ervaring delen met elkaar en met de mensen die beslissingen maken over ons toekomst (werk, taal, leven in het algemeen) anders zullen het nooit veranderen. Pointing out a wrong is not being ungrateful or disrespectful – shared knowledge is a shared future and we have the other side of the story. Be kind, always ♡

People, not projects

If you’re planning to use “kwetsbare mensen” as your project doelgroep, it goes without saying that you are also planning to implement all the necessary ethical checks and safeguards to ensure your “kwetsbare” participants’ well-being and best-interests (fundamental rights) are protected … right? And I’m sure everyone’s considered what it actually means to get legitimate informed consent from anderstaligen … right? Social Science and Humanities Research Ethics 101, though I imagine the rules transfer easily to socio-cultural projects, no?

Just sayin’ … what if?

What if … what if, what if, what if???

What if people considered “different” (read that as: don’t look – sound – worship – eat – dance – dress – whatever like you … ) were viewed more often as the individuals that they are rather than project potential, targets and performances for enhancing the diversity of an organisation (read that as: to solve a widespread lack of diversity problem being reinforced daily by archaic and inherently discriminatory organisational systems and structures)?

Though perhaps well-intended, there is a:

1) troubling trend of reducing the intricate and complex make up of a person’s existence as a “newcomer” (I don’t know how to help you read this, here 3 days or 30 years, doesn’t seem to make a difference) to nothing more than language proficiency and work status, eliminating the other, far more defined facets of their experience – the focus being on correcting an inflated (usually for political purposes) deficiency rather than tapping the actual potential.

2) misguided, only slightly veiled “hoe meer exotisch, hoe beter” box-ticking principle being applied to so many things diversity these days, which puts us at risk of actually dividing further and excluding more.

Diversity includes but is not limited to nationality, language, color, religion, music, food, etc. However, diversity is, by pure definition, absolutely inclusive. Every single one of us adds to the wonders of our diverse world, each in their own way. We all know this truth. Yet, with all our best intentions, we’re still failing to implement it. We need to make diversity as everyday as it already is right outside our doors – every single day. We need to seriously start considering what effect pointing out every chance we get just how “other” people are has on the individual and the greater community. What is the (true) focus and why? Who (really) benefits and how? What are the unintended consequences for those being “showcased”?

I agree, there’s a fine balance. It really doesn’t feel like we’ve found anything close to that balance yet.

A second “what if”, what if we also stopped thinking we were somehow in a position to rate another’s (read this as: often times a complete stranger’s) “cultural-worth”? I mean, it’s kind of arrogant to make oneself judge and jury of another’s interesting-factor or their potential?

So, anyway, just a few of the great challenges we face: How do we get people who have been and continue to be kept out IN without forever pointing out just how “out” they were and how “other” they are???  … without asking them to be grateful that they’re now being let in by those who have been instrumental in keeping them out??? … and without requiring them to abide by a set of rules they had no hand in drafting for a game they have very little chance of winning??? How do we celebrate the stunning beauty and all the rich delights of world culture and heritage without creating the sfeer of a modern day zoo humain??? How do we make sure everyone’s story has a place at our ever growing table – not just those who fit the project-funding-specs du jour??? How can we ensure and encourage people to tell the stories they want and need to tell, not just the ones we want to hear (read this as: feel comfortable hearing)???

Be kind, we’re all in this together ♡