Poli in WonderNetherlands
Interview with Poli Loman, from Korça, Albanian entrepreneur, founder of TravellingAlbania.com, teacher and former representative of the teachers´ union.
My name is Poli Loman. I come from Korça, Albania. I left my country when I was 21. I had finished school and had no official job at that time. I used to interpret and translate for foreigners (Christian evangelists) that visited Albania, most of whom I became friends with. This helped improve my English and widen my horizon. At 20 I fell in love with a Dutch guy who was doing there voluntary work, helping renovate the hospital of the city I lived in (Korça). After three years his project came to an end and we decided to go back to the Netherlands. He applied for a job and the Alrijne Hospital, in Leiderdorp and got a suitable position as a project manager.
Different walking tradition
I came to the Netherlands in November 1995 and it was rainy and cold. I remember looking out of the apartment we used to live in (near the hospital) and saw no-one walking. Just the main city road and a gas-station. Coming from a very warm culture, weather wise and people wise, I thought, what have I done? Where are these people? Why don’t they come out to walk? I used to bike to the shopping streets in Leiden just to see people walk. In my city, people usually take a stroll in the evening, parading through the main streets, and this was nowhere to be found in Leiden, but at the shopping street. The Dutch seem to have other walking traditions.
Wearing a jacket in June
My first year was a challenge in surviving skies full of clouds. Albania has more than 300 days of sun. One can imagine I couldn’t wait for spring to come. But then even after six months, even in June, I had to wear a jacket and carry an umbrella with me. Wearing a jacket in June never felt good for years. Now I’m used to it.
Can we trust a teacher that confuses ‘De and het’?
I picked up the language very quickly and was able to hold a conversation in Dutch within three months, but perfecting it is something else. In the beginning people are happy you can make sense in their language, but later on, when you think you are doing OK, they start looking for the ‘er’ and the ‘der’ that you are misplacing or forgetting to use. And the ‘de and het’ and all the pronouns associated with it, remain a disaster even after having lived here for 24 years. My students are allowed to correct me. Het is ‘deze methode’ mevrouw; niet ‘dat methode’. Weet u dat niet???? The ones that think that a teacher should never make mistakes give me a strange look. I intervene while establishing some self-esteem in the way I look at them. I have to get them understand, that that’s the reason why they should get their English right, and that my talents are soon to be revealed in a different field. In my mind, I encourage myself by thinking that I am doing so much better, compared to the beginning, when I said: ‘Jullie knikkeren niet, dus jullie snapen het niet.’ I still remember how they burst into laughing. Het is ‘knikken’ en niet knikkeren’ mevrouw. Yeah, teaching is fun.
Missing the sun and the serenades
What I miss here? The sun. The Dutch have a saying: ‘Voor niets komt de zon op,’ meaning everything costs money here. ‘I used to say to my husband: ‘This country is so much about money that the sun is pissed off from being left out of its share and doesn’t come out, so that all you ‘dutch-ees’ have to hold your holidays abroad.’ He would laugh at me and disagree.
I miss a bit of warmth in my neighbourhood. The society has turned very individualistic here. Everybody minds his business. I miss my neighbours in Korca, who come out of their houses as they see me approach and say: Poliiiii, are you here? and give me a hug and a kiss and invite me spontaneously to lunch.
And of course, as I was brought up singing the traditional serenades of Korça, in all the celebrations that we had, how can I not miss them now? When I sip a glass of wine in a bar, I often imagine myself having a walk in the hills that surround my city and think of my youth friends, the ones that really know me as I am. I have made many other friends, buts it’s not quite the same. I miss partying Albanian style too. That’s the reason why I am contributing in building up the Albanian diaspora network in the Netherlands. We have our own Facebook page and have organised several Albanian parties.
One spread on the bread
I can’t say that the Dutch are not generous, because they give so much to
charity, but I noticed that there is a difference in the way of welcoming people that come to your door. In Albania if you are a relative, or a stranger and knock at someone’s door during a meal, the Albanian will most likely invite you to sit at the table and eat with them, while the Dutch will have you sit at the couch, till they have finished their meal. I couldn’t get used to it. The Dutch have a specific way of educating their children. I see more borders, more control, and more teaching in making choices. I can’t remember my parents stopping me from eating a jar of honey in two days, although we were poor. Now we have all we need, and I see my husband teaching our children to only use just one spread on the bread. I don’t get it.
I love the Dutch and canals
I love the Dutch, as they are. Old ladies cycling back from the market on Saturday’s with a bunch of flowers in the back of their bike or placed in their front basket. Lovely! At the time I left Albania, cut-flowers were not sold in the shops and no old ladies would dare bike.
I like the fact that there are so many canals. The presence of channelled water makes the cities romantic. The traditional ‘Heren’ houses in combination with the canals’ is beautiful. It makes the atmosphere in the cities like Leiden, Haarlem, Amsterdam one of a kind. I love wondering in streets like that or discovering it from the boat, a different perspective. Leiden has become my favourite place, because it doesn’t have the crowds of Amsterdam, and one can visit museums and enjoy coffee in a different way than in the bigger cities. No metro, no fuss, just beautiful cobblestone streets and café’s. Try café ‘Waag’ or ‘Annie’s verjaardag’ for a drink with a view and a lot of charm.
Love my Korça
In my country I love the Albanian Riviera. The scenery is breath-taking! The drive from Vlora to To Ksamil is absolutely marvellous. The Village of Voskopoje in the Korça region is a favourite one too. With many old churches dating from the 1700 or earlier it should become a Unesco village. The traditional food they prepare, tastes superb, because everything is fresh and comes from their farms. But my Korça, with its many bars and restaurants, gets all my love. I advise two places there: The Vogue Bar for a cup of coffee or a drink and ‘Vila Cofiel’ for deliciously cooked traditional meals. While the first place is a youth sentiment, as my father used to bring me here during the communist time to have ice-cream with cherries, the other one is a new restaurant where they serve some of the best of wines and the live music during the weekend completes my picture of enjoyment as I toast my wine glass with that of my friends and relatives.
I sing the Wilhelmus from my heart
By now, I have lived longer in the Netherlands than in Albania. This country has changed me, opened me up to a wider and a more liberal way of living, with less taboos than where I come from. I enjoy the freedom I have in all the ways and try to contribute to the best of it with my skills and talents. Definitely, it’s my Netherlands. I sing the Wilhelmus and take pride in our national products (cheese, tulips, clogs) whenever the conversations take me there. I’ve had quite a career too.
Improving vocational education in the Netherlands
At 22, I started as a Helpdesk employee at an IT company in Amsterdam. I spent 10 years in the IT, qualifying for different certifications. I became the Microsoft System Engineer and later Trainer on all the Back-Office software.
When my children were born, I needed a change and a part-time job so, I became a teacher of Informatics at a secondary vocational school: mboRijnland. After a year they asked me to teach English classes, and I have been doing that for almost 12 years now. I was chosen twice as a representative of the teacher’s union and did that for two terms. I’ve participated in many projects that aim at the improvement of vocational education in the Netherlands.
While working, I completed two management studies: The bachelor ‘Higher management’ and the Master: ‘Change & Implementation Management’ at the Open University. I love to be challenged and this country has all it takes to achieve.
This year I took another challenge. I started a new company
called: TravellingAlbania.com. My beautiful
country once closed from the world, has opened up and is ready to receive
tourists. Albania is truly a hidden gem, a pearl yet to be discovered. With
unspoiled nature, pearly white sandy beaches, high imposing mountains and
hospitable people, it’s the place that should reach your bucket list. Albania
is many countries in one. In the south you feel like you are in Bora-Bora or
Curaçao, in the north in Switzerland and Norway. In mid Albania you go back 400
years in the Ottoman times. With a rich history, a communist past, three Unesco
sites, and now with an improved infrastructure, Albania is the emerging holiday
destination, the new Mediterranean love.
This is not only my opinion, Lonely Planet, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Travel Magazine advise it too: Visit Albania before it’s too late.
And I can put together an unforgettable journey for the adventurous and culture-thirsty among us. Private travel plans and group’s travels of any kind are my specialty now, because I know what my country has to offer like no other.
Starting from a scratch
Starting a life from a scratch takes a lot of perseverance. You must keep the hope alive that at some point you will gain all that you have lost by leaving in your country, many folds.
Accept that now you are a foreigner, and that you will be so till you die. That you will always have to accept that your language won’t be as fluent on busy days, that your mother-tongue is oh, so easy. If only these people could know how good we are at our own language!
Be prepared to be someone lower in career than what you would have been if you were in your own country. My management career somehow just didn’t come along. I applied for a few management functions, till now never got the job. My Dutch? My style? My Albanian Character? My lack of experience? A chance never granted? Who could say? I feel I hit the glass ceiling.
Go out and enjoy life
To the ex-pats I would say: Love life, as it comes, in the country you are. Embrace the positive things. In my view I should have had more pleasure and less achievements. Go out and enjoy life. Do sports in the Netherlands! The Dutch seem to me the best organised in the whole world when it comes in involving all generations in it! And write an article or two about it.