Expat Voices: A Ukranian living the dream in the Netherlands

Expat Voices: A Ukranian living the dream in the Netherlands

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Now I have discovered Holland I see this country is the most challenging place for me to experience for some time, says Ukrainian Inna Melnyk.

Name: Inna Melnyk
Nationality: Ukrainian 
City of Residence: Amsterdam
Date of Birth: 16-7-1981
Civil Status: Single
Occupation/study: University of Amsterdam International Relations. Internship at Interbrand, Zintzmeyer & Lux.
In Amsterdam since: 2004

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I graduated from the Department of International Information at the University of Kiev before going to Switzerland to study business and hotel management. Afterwards, I had my first internship at Interbrand, Zürich. My second internship at Interbrand was after my studies at the University of Amsterdam.

Just after my graduation from Kiev University I started a PhD project at the same institution and partially it deals with he topic  "Country as a brand". So, while travelling I have been thinking about how we can make a brand out of the country.

For instance, Switzerland sells itself with chocolate, banks, watches, etc. and Holland with flowers, education, research and the logistics industry. People know if they want to buy good chocolate they have to buy Swiss.

But it also works the other way around: Switzerland is a good country because their chocolate is good, their banks are reliable and their watches are unique. What is a country really like and how does it sell itself? To invest in this means to show country's unique sales proposition. This I got to know even more while living in the Netherlands.

Language

I didn't experience language shock in The Netherlands because my German was already very good. Dutch is quite close to German but much simpler! I also felt comfortable with languages. I was brought up with two mother tongues in the family: Ukrainian and Russian.

What I notice about Dutch is that the sentences are very short. In the Slavic languages there are many more descriptive words and we speak with many more clauses. Dutch is very direct.

I also noticed that Dutch is spoken loudly; you cannot say something slowly or softly. You must be direct and loud! I don't mean this in an aggressive way, just louder and more distinctive.

The Dutch themselves are very open and curious, but in a limited way. They like to give their opinion and they are interested to hear yours, but deeper things like friendship and relationship are not so easy to discuss. Ukrainians go much, much deeper and I miss that contact here.

Sometimes when I look at Dutch people's faces I have the feeling that they are continuously analysing and planning: "What happened? Why did it happen? What is the lesson for me?"

They look at the past and the future as well. I'm more inclined to analyse the past rather then also being pragmatic and looking forward.

Family

People with the Slavic mentality, like Ukrainians, are very family-orientated and are not so readily inclined to travel abroad. It was of course forbidden to go abroad for a long time because of the Iron Curtain.

I noticed the Dutch travel all around the world; they are very curious. Nowadays more Ukrainians are also going abroad - but the reason is often to earn money.

As far as the family is concerned, we take care of our children until we die but in Holland there is more distance between parents and children. The Dutch raise their children to be very independent from an early age. 

The way a professor treats his students in Ukraine is also different. You are taken care of, as you are by your parents. Students in Holland are much more motivated and show more initiative.

I find the Dutch cuisine a bit limited; Ukrainian food, on the other hand, is great. It is not spicy or greasy and we use a lot of vegetables. I miss it!

The shops are fairly much the same here as in Ukraine, as is the shopping 'hysteria'. The only thing is that most of the people there can't afford to buy a lot. I see that the people here are very focused on cheap things and 'bargains'. In Ukraine 'cheap' makes people suspicious. Here, however, you can get really good stuff for very low prices in shops like the Hema.

Holland is a wealthy country but people don't show off. Everybody drives a good car and things are more or less equal. In Ukraine there is a greater difference between the rich and the poor. People also show off more with, for instance, limited-edition cars.

Beautiful people

Holland is the most beautiful nation I have ever seen with regard to its people: the men are so handsome and the women are beautiful! The Dutch are a good mixture of every nation of the world, but the country still has its uniqueness and originality.

I find the clothing very stylish here, at least in Amsterdam. You can afford stylish, fashionable brands and people find this very important. They want to look good and they follow fashion closely.

I think that the people are very courageous in the way they dress - not conservative at all. You can wear whatever you want - people really dare to wear!  My friends from East European countries and I have changed since we have lived here - we also dare much more.

This attitude also appears in their behaviour: they dare to think about things, they dare to say them directly and they dare to change their opinions.

In Ukraine we had the revolution one year ago and things have also changed, maybe not significantly but it is the start. A good thing though is that people dare to speak out!   

For myself, I can say that I changed a lot here. I have become more optimistic and realistic; I have grown up! I would like to stay here as long as I have an interesting opportunity in the academic field. I would also like to have my own business in the consultancy or communication fields.

My dream was to live in another country for a while but now that I discovered Holland I can see that this country is the most challenging place for me to experience for some time.

6 January 2006

Inna Melnyk told her story to Nicole van Schaijik, who owns and operates Talent Taaltrainingen (Dutch Language Courses), based in Amsterdam. (Tel: 020 420 66 59 or email: info@talent-tn.nl).

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