Saimira in WonderNetherlands
My name is Saimira Tola. I am from Tirana, Albania and I currently live and work in Rotterdam. I graduated Law in Bulgaria and Radio Broadcasting and Journalism from the same University. After my graduation I returned to my home country Albania, where I defended my Attorney title and worked as a lawyer and journalist until 2006.
I moved to The Netherlands after I met my husband and decided to live together. The first year of residence I had no right to work, therefore I used that time to learn the Dutch language and in 2007 I began working for a Dutch company in a multinational and multicultural environment. That and other experiences that followed served me tremendously but meanwhile I missed my profession terribly. I enrolled at Erasmus University and in 2012 graduated LL.M. in International and European Public Law after which I took some time to figure out the next step.
It was during this time that I discovered my interest on EU integration issues related to lawyers, their professional future and their place within the European job market. My mission to help other lawyers overcome similar struggles as mine began with an inner desire to contribute to professionals from the entire region reconnect to their noble profession and build a professional identity in line with the highest values and principles of the EU.
My vision was materialised in 2016 with the establishment of European Legal Research & Training Network, an organization dedicated to the gradual and full integration of lawyers from Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia).
At the same time, I began writing my first trilogy, ‘The girl from the land of the eagles’.
Aside from the above, today, I continue to work with my clients here in The Netherlands with consultancy, advisory and coaching matters related to their legal issues.
My first impression and admiration
My first impression of Holland was the fact that it was very flat. I could see where the sky and land came together and that was a unique feeling but also slightly frightening. As to Rotterdam, I was impressed by the modern and multicultural environment. It felt as if I landed in the future, something I fell in love with since the very first moment.
The things admire about Holland are mostly related to the mentality and perception of life, because that was the part that I was struggling the most in my own country. In general, there are few things I have embraced and enjoy from the Dutch.
Albania raised me but Holland made me.
I came to the Netherlands with a heavy luggage of emotional and mentality issues that I was never able to process in my own country. Here, I discovered that there was another approach to life, the one where you can take your time to heal from the past, dream and work towards becoming a better version of yourself and be free. In the past thirteen years I learned how to be myself, something for which I will always be grateful.
Things must be earned, they are not handed out.
This is very important to me because when you come from an over protective culture like mine, you often end up having expectations from everyone but yourself. The inability to fit in and adjust but also to find a place in the society is seen by many as a problem of the country they live in. However, in Holland I was taught that the only person you need to have expectations from, is yourself.
The straight forwarded mentality
When I first moved to The Netherlands, I was offended by the Dutch direct way of addressing me. I took it personally and I didn’t handle criticism well. I found the Dutch too straight forward and lacking tactic in communication. Slowly, I began to understand that all was constructive criticism, a way of telling me what areas I had to work on. So instead of feeling offended I had to take advantage of. Today, we pay coaches to engage in such evaluations with us, yet I still do it for free with a Dutch person and asking them what they think of me.
Dutch know how to say NO
I was raised and grew in a ‘peoples pleasers’ culture where people find it hard to say no. Others opinion matters a lot in my country, and it was hard for me when I came to Holland to let go of that. It took me a lot of work with myself, support from my husband and courage to remove the old patterns such as the (in)ability to reject something or someone just because it didn’t fit my interest.
Am I Dutch?
You can’t move to a country and pretend you are part of it, not unless you are born there. But I feel more Dutch now than I felt ten years ago. Not because of the citizenship or for the years that I live here. I feel Dutch for the person I have become in this country. Based on all the above qualities that I have embraced and made a part of my life, I would say I am on my way of fully becoming Dutch.
Nature and history
My favourite places in Holland are basically everything that contains history and when nature is combined with it, it’s perfect. Like Kinderdijk, Noordwijk, Katwijk and many others.
In Rotterdam its hard to pick a place, I like the Oude Haven, Cubic Houses, Erasmus Bridge and basically everything that tells me a story about this amazing city. Most importantly I love what it represents: The courage to stand up even when you are destroyed. Rotterdam was one of the cities bombarded completely flat by the Germans and yet, when you look at it today, you are amazed by how fast and how beautifully it recovered from the past. The strength it represents inspires me.
My favourite Albania
Albania has a rich culture, nature and history even though it’s a small country. Aside from a great combination of tradition, good food and hospitality you can find spectacular views of beaches and mountains. If I had to choose from my favourite places it would be a combination between the proud nature and the historical cities like Kruja, Berati, Gjirokastra, Pogradeci, and Thethi, Ksamil, Llogara, where beauty is in perfect harmony with nature.
What do I miss in the Netherlands?
Missing things is a matter of time. In the beginning when you leave your country you miss everything. The three things that I miss the most are my family, the weather and the social life. Of course, since they are interconnected, they cover a big part of my life but as it always happens, I balance them with other things.
Struggles in a new country
Starting life all over is more than packing your bags and buying a ticket and its not just related to a wish and desire to improve your life. It brings responsibilities too.
First, it’s about courage to start all over but also ability to face the new challenges in another country even when things don’t fit your expectations and desires. A new country teaches you that you must fight harder to find your place in a society that not always is prepared and designed to welcome you.
The second struggle is to adjust and fit the new culture and mentality which is also not easy. You need to be open minded, tolerant and non-judgmental to accept what is asked from you in order to be provided with chances. We live in a ‘give and take’ society and therefore in a new country we first should give and then take.
The third struggle is letting go of everything that doesn’t serve you from your own culture to make place for new things. Unfortunately, not everyone is able and willing to do so, and we often realise that resistance will only prolong and complicate the process of feeling home. When we clench unto old habits and mentality issues that do not work in a new country, we are keeping ourselves in a pattern that slows our growth down.
Dreaming and Achieving are two separate things. The first involves a desire and the second action.
I came to the Netherlands with big ambitions and just as any young lady equipped with good education and high values, I dreamt of changing the world. Yet, as soon as I set foot in this country, I was in cultural and professional shock and even though I had two degrees, spoke four languages and an EU diploma, the first job I was offered was cleaning fish.
I often wonder what would have happened to me if I had said yes to that job, hence my first lesson in Holland was: Know your value.
Since the laws in every country differ tremendously, I had a big problem, not being able to even compete with Dutch or European lawyers. That wasn’t necessarily related to my lack of potential but to my lack of preparedness to fit in a job market I was not ready for.
I have always believed that no matter where you come from, you deserve equal chances but that was a belief I had to put to practice. Since I come from a country where life is not easy, I was trained to fight, and I knew no other way of achieving things but to fight for them. And that is what I did throughout all these years. What has helped me through my journey has been the combination of my principles which I never betrayed nor compromised, my determination and focus. I have been through many struggles, personally and professionally but I never lost sight of one thing: Who I really am. If I had betrayed myself for one second, I would not be where I am today.
My biggest achievements?
As a person, ending my struggle and fight with anxiety disorder after almost twenty years. As a lawyer, serving and impacting lawyers across the WB region to improve their future.
Flower in the vase
My tips for those who decide to leave their countries for a new life abroad is this:
You are like a flower in a vase that is torn out from its natural habitat and planted in another unknown soil. There are only two options for that flower. Either it will blossom, or it will die. That all depends on what you do to feed and take care of that soil.
Change is not easy, and it needs time, but if you want to blossom like a flower, you must keep investing, growing, competing, achieving and moving forward. No questions asked. The world belongs to those who dare and aren’t afraid to fight for what is theirs.
Watch also the introduction to the interview with Saimira here:
Read and watch our previous series of interviews with international women starting from a scratch their life in the Netherlands. In the interviews they share their experiences, tips and stories about their inspiring life which hopefully can help other women in the same situation and at the same time can promote the country of origin and the Netherlands.
Second series: in WonderLimburg/in Wonder Netherlands in an alphabetical order
Adina (Romania): ‘’I brought from Romania a lot of passion and determination and in Maastricht I was welcomed with support and opportunities for growth.’’
Chalida (Thailand): ‘’Things happen for some reason’’ Personal journey from Motherland to Fatherland
Elena (Latvia): ‘’The Netherlands and Limburg will always remain in my heart as one of the brightest memories’’
Marieke (Spain/The Netherlands): ”That makes the distance between Barcelona and Maastricht very small”
Michelle (Australia): ”We are really fortunate to have a strong community here in Limburg”
Nestar (Uganda): ’’Limburg is my new home. But Uganda is my roots and flows in my blood’’
Nino (Georgia): ’’I know that dreams come true only when you work hard and try to develop’’
Nurlaila (Indonesia): ‘’Never stop dreaming; finding your passion isn’t just about career and money. It’s about finding your authentic self.’’
Sara (Iran): ‘’From Tehran to Eijsden’’
Agnieszka (Poland): ‘’It is here where after a long search I have found myself’’
Céline (Canada): ‘’My new Chez Moi’’
Heide (Austria): ‘’The ‘music’ in both languages made the connection for me’’
Katalin (Hungary): ‘’What I learnt in Limburg is: stop running, slow down and try to enjoy life’’
Meghan (United States of America): ‘’While we never dreamed we would live here, now we dream of staying for good’’
Orsolya (Hungary): ‘’Maastricht is a potpourri of people, nations and moods’’
Sathi (India): ‘’Two lives in Maastricht’’
Silvina (Argentina): ‘’You have to fly to change languages in Argentina’’
Sonia (India): ‘’I was tremendously excited on starting this new episode in my life’’