My husband thinks I am a fake Chinese person, while I think he is a fake Irish person. In fact, we are more or less the same, just like many other ordinary people who live their everyday lives. I consider myself a global citizen, and home is where I live.
By Fan Ding
During the past 11 years, my home has been located in Leeuwarden, and it has been a complicated journey for me to truly recognize its beauty. This is a personal story that involved a paradigm shift in order to fall in love with where I live.
I used to be a complainer who spent a lot of negative energy on regret and guilt. Especially when it came to where I live, it seemed like there were only drawbacks about this small town: the weather is too rainy and windy, the winter is too long and dark, the center is too quiet and boring, the town is too limited and unfashionable, the people are too strange and impolite, and the food is too simple and unappetizing.
“I was not open to adjusting to the living environment”
That mindset blocked me from enjoying life and eventually led me into a depression. The truth is that I was not comfortable with the unknown, and I was not open to adjusting to the living environment. I was used to living in mega metropolitan cities, and I failed to value the unfamiliar. Perhaps more importantly, I was not able to appreciate the quality of life here in the north of The Netherlands.
My heart and mind changed after a New Year’s Eve party back in 2013. I had been living in Leeuwarden for a couple of years by then, and after having had probably a little bit too much to drink, I was slowly walking home with my sober husband. That slow walk gave me the opportunity to take in my new “views”: the old houses, the cute bridges and the canals suddenly looked extremely authentic, and the diverse street art offered a modern touch to the city. As we passed the Blokhuispoort, a former prison built in 1498, it looked like a castle warmly lit by golden light. I thought it resembled a Disney theme park, even though I have never been to one.
It convinced myself to reset my mind and focus on the meaningful aspects in life. What did I have to lose? I cannot change the weather, but I can manage my mood.
Quality of life
Quality of life is good here in the north. It takes me 5 minutes to get to work by car (traffic is almost non-existent), 10 by bike, and 20 on foot. Imagine the commute time I save daily compared to living in a large city. Leeuwarden is fairly small with easily accessible shops, cafes, restaurants and museums. The air is fresh and parks and nature surround the city. Housing is relatively cheap: my friends pay about two to three times more to live in Amsterdam with similar standards.
Although there are more internationals moving here, the relatively intimate nature of the community encourages people to meet up often and help each other out. Like anywhere else in the world, meeting new people is never easy: the best way is just to join group activities and small events where you can open up and talk to others who have common interests. And despite the stereotypes, the locals are not just farmers. I have met many energetic, friendly, creative, down-to-earth and kind people here.
Healthcare and childcare are extremely well organized compared to many other industrialized countries in the world. Dutch school systems are diverse and offer equal opportunities, and quality of education is fairly high. As a lecturer working in higher education, I highly value small group teaching and interactive learning. The philosophy of social constructivism emphasizes the power of sharing and promotes interaction. The students are treated as young professionals and independent thinkers. Subsidizing EU students’ tuition fees makes higher education available to pretty much everyone.
Finding any authentic foreign cuisine here is admittedly a challenge, but I find myself enjoying cooking at home more and more. I don’t have to spend long hours at work, so I can spend more time with my family and friends.
Life is simple and peaceful here, and the quality of life is outstanding in my opinion. What more could I really want? It may sound overly rational, but thinking my way through it has helped me overcome some of the emotional difficulties of being an immigrant. Looking back, I feel like I was imprisoned by my own way of thinking: by focusing only on the most superficial layer of existence, I was keeping myself from enjoying everyday life and taking the beauty of Leeuwarden for granted.
Now, I feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment with where I am. I know I would miss this place if I move again in the future: I definitely consider Leeuwarden a home sweet home.