“Every new day at school was worse than the previous one. Children moved from ignoring me, to making fun of me, simply because I wasn’t from the Netherlands and I couldn’t speak the Dutch language.”
Mirto, is a 24 year old woman from Kerkira, Greece. She has been living in Amsterdam since the age of six. Today she is attending a Master’s degree in Computer Science in the University of Amsterdam.
“My parents decided to move to the Netherlands in 1996. They were offered a better job there which would provide them a better salary. They thought that, since I was very young, moving abroad wouldn’t be a problem for me,” said Mirto.
She was very excited when her parents told her that they intended to move to the Netherlands together. In addition, they promised her a nice big house to live, a new school and new places to explore.
As Mirto is trying to recall her first impressions of Amsterdam she smiles.
“I was overwhelmed when we arrived in Amsterdam. The city was totally different from Kerkira and that, in my little eyes, was pretty amazing. However, the first months for me were horrible.”
Mirto and her parents lived in a cheap hotel during the first months, as the house rents in Amsterdam were unaffordable for them at that time. The dream of the big beautiful house, that her parents had promised her, started to fade day by day.
“I will never forget those first months in Holland. I was very disappointed. I was facing racism at school since the first day, and after school I had to return to the hotel and spend the rest of my day there studying. I can still recall the picture of the cold and unfriendly room we stayed.”
However, the next few months turned to be more encouraging for Mirto. Her parents finally managed to rent the big house they had promised her.
But Mirto was still having a hard time. She clearly remembers that one day all of her classmates were playing games out, in the school’s yard and when she approached them and asked them to join the games they went back inside, to the classroom.
“It was one of the worst days of my life. I was very young, I felt sad and I couldn’t understand why they were so mean to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I wasn’t from Greece, but from Germany, would they treat me like that?” It was that day that made her realize that the only way to earn the other kids’ sympathy was to learn their language. She had set her goal.
“I think after 8 months I started having small conversations in Dutch and that made my life easier. I started developing relationships with my classmates and children stopped making fun of me. It was the first time since I moved to the Netherlands that I was almost happy.”
Being away from Greece was the major reason she wasn’t totally happy. Mirto never stopped thinking of Greece.
“We are visiting Greece every year during the Christmas and summer holidays. I also applied for Erasmus in one of the Greek universities. You know, even though I was raised in the Netherlands, Greek blood runs through my veins and this is never going to change. I am dreaming of moving back to Greece one day.”
Neither the economic crisis in Greece nor her life in Holland acts as a deterrent factor for her plan of moving back home.
“I read about Greece every day and I watch not only the Greek news, but others as well. I know how the situation is there. Most of my friends are unemployed for years. However, I am dreaming of going back in my country and trying for a better future. I want to fight for a better future.”
Mirto doesn’t dream of moving back to Greece only because she is Greek but also because the racism’s problems are still real for her. Today in a different form, as she is no longer the child that asks her classmates to join the game and they deny, but a woman who is seeking to enter the Dutch job market.
“Although I speak Dutch sometimes better than my native language and I have studied in Amsterdam, I still find it difficult to find a job here. I think for me the problem is that I’m not a real Dutch. Racism in the Netherlands is worse than the economic crisis in Greece. And that makes me miss my country more.”
At that point I had to ask her what she misses most about her country.
She takes a deep breath and smiles. She sends me a picture.
“My beloved island. This is what I miss most. And this is what makes me willing to fight for Greece.”
By Valia Papadopoulou