When I met Ludmila for the first time, she looked shy and tired. She did not dare to speak Dutch and was trying to make friends in a Russian-speaking community. She told me that she admired Dutch women who dared to dress in bold bright colours. She always wanted to do the same, but was afraid to look ridiculous. When we met a year later, she was wearing an extravagant suit with large flowery pattern. She confidently ordered her coffee in Dutch and told me that she did not have much time: her watercolour painting class was about to start soon.
“I grew up in a social environment where not many choices were available. I was always doing what was expected of me, what I assumed was my duty. I had responsibilities, not choices. When you are younger, nobody teaches you how to be yourself. At some point you have to do what you want and stop being a victim of the circumstances.
I retired at 55 and married at 59. When you are making a step to change your life, new possibilities present themselves. I am now learning to enjoy life and to do what I want for myself. It is important to make peace with your own life. But you have to dare, to take a risk, to make a step into the unknown.
In the beginning, I felt lonely without speaking the language. You are just observing how people enjoy their life, but you can’t participate in it. For me, it was always my social environment that was giving me energy. When you move to a different country, you are thrown in a totally different environment, and you have to learn how to move around, how to be social, how to find energy and to enjoy life. In the beginning, you feel isolated and perceive this new society negatively. You don’t notice good things, you only notice things that are different and therefore annoying. Now I start looking positively at things that were irritating to me in the beginning. I am now ready for the changes.
The biggest mistake some migrants can do is to come here trying to change other people. The Dutch are satisfied with their life and they don’t want to change. There might be better places on Earth, but if you are ready to change something in yourself, you start appreciating what you have now. If you don’t concentrate on yourself and your uniqueness, but instead observe the life around you and try to find positive things, you’ll learn to live ‘here and now’ and will be more satisfied with your life.
Your culture is your roots. If you don’t pull up these roots, if you keep being attached to your old soil, then you can never grow and flourish in a different soil. If you want to accept the important things in your life or discover something new in yourself, you need to be open to change. I don’t know what will happen to me in the future. But it does not matter, because I am now open to changes.