Juan Gonzalez Cordona: ‘The Dutch taught me that it’s okay to say what you’re thinking’

    To what extent does your heritage determine your future? We investigate this question in a series of interviews with Avans students with a migration background. International Business student Juan Gonzalez Cordona: ‘I understand what “home” means but I don’t know how “home” feels.’

    Why did you move to the Netherlands?
    ‘I moved to Germany when I was a teenager. My best friend Wessel, who is Dutch, wanted to study in the Netherlands and believed that Avans would also be a great university of applied sciences for me to study at. By that point, I had moved so often already that one more move wouldn’t make much of a difference. Now Wessel and I both study at Avans.’

    In which other countries have you lived?
    ‘I was born in Colombia in a town near to Cali. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, after which my sister and I went to live with my grandparents on my mother’s side. My father didn’t want to care for us and my mother emigrated to Spain by herself. When I was 10 and my little sister 8, she brought us to Spain. It took some time to adjust, but football helped me to make the transition. I was able to quickly make new friends because I played football at a high level and spent a lot of time with my team mates. My sister had a more difficult time getting used to the new place and spent a lot of time on her own.

    Once we had both finally settled in our new home country, my mother decided that it was time to move again. We emigrated to the USA, which was a really difficult transition to make. In Spain we could at least speak the language; this wasn’t the case here. But I once again found my bearings through sports, although this time it was athletics. After just a few years in the USA, we moved again. This time the destination was Germany, and this was the most difficult country to get used to. I felt that the people were rude and distant. Not everyone was like that of course, but in general that was how it felt.
    In Germany I could play football again, but I felt that the supporters didn’t like foreigners too much, and that was really difficult. When my mother wanted to move again to Switzerland, my sister and I stayed in Germany. I was only sixteen years old at that time.’

    You lived by yourself when you were just sixteen?
    ‘Yes, I didn’t have a choice. At least I had Wessel and his family who became a surrogate family for my sister and me. We were even invited to go with them on a skiing holiday.’

    Do you resent your mother for having moved so often?
    ‘No, never. Of course, it was incredibly difficult, but she was always there for us. Perhaps she wasn’t there physically, but she always made sure that we had everything that we needed. Without her, my sister and I wouldn’t be able to study today.’

    What impact have all these moves had on you?
    ‘I sometimes feel that I don’t really belong anywhere, as if somehow my identity is incomplete. I understand what “home” means but I don’t know how “home” feels. At the same time, moving so often has had some positive results as well. I am independent, social and I’m always open to new experiences. My grandmother used to say: “you should adopt all the positive characteristics of the people in the country where you live.” And that is something I always try to do. Because I am always exposed to different customs and traditions, I can choose which ones suit me and then try to integrate these qualities into my own life.’

    What do you think about the Netherlands?
    ‘In the beginning I felt that the Dutch were distant and not exactly enthusiastic or welcoming. But I have come to appreciate a few things about the country, like Dutch directness. Communication is always efficient here, and people are more likely to be honest. The Dutch taught me that it’s okay to say what you’re thinking, while this is something that some of my family in Colombia struggle with.’

    What can the Dutch learn from the Colombians?
    ‘Colombians are very passionate. If they like something, they’ll show it. I feel that people take their level-headedness a little too far here, as if it’s uncool to show what you’re feeling. They could learn quite a lot from the Colombians in this regard.’

    Have you been confronted with racism?
    ‘I haven’t, but I see it happen around me. But I don’t get upset about the way most people think about migrants. Instead, I try to place myself in their shoes. People who have racist ideas are often scared themselves or feel disadvantaged somehow. I try to understand that, even though I don’t agree with them.’

    Queen Máxima said that there is no such thing as a Dutch identity. What do you think about this?
    ‘I agree completely. The Netherlands is a melting pot of different cultures, beliefs and lifestyles that cannot be summed up by a single identity.’

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