Interview with Orsolya Katalin Markozy from Hungary living in Genk.
My name is Orsolya Katalin Markozy and I am Hungarian. My adventure of living in a foreign country, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, dates back to 2006. My future husband, who is also Hungarian, was already employed at an international organisation when I met him in my hometown, in Budapest. I was still a student at University of Economic Studies therefore we started a long distance relationship. After my graduation I took the big step and I found myself living in a totally different culture with different mentality and …. different weather conditions 🙂
Although I had English and German knowledge I have to admit I did not understand a word in Dutch. I could not even separate the words or parts of a sentence from each other. “What a mess!” -I thought, and I started worrying about being able to ever learn this language. Luckily I registered to a good and intensive language course in Leuven, Belgium, organised by Katholieke Universiteit Leuven for students who want to proceed with their studies at the university in Dutch / Flemish. Basically the two languages are the same only the pronunciation and the use of some words, expressions are different. It took me six months to be able to go to interviews for finding a job. The Dutch do not make your life easier when it comes to trying to practice your newly obtained language skills; they easily respond in English, German or French. Even Spanish or Italian. Language is not a special skill it is how they were born.
A year later I was accepted at the University of Maastricht for a Master Programme that provided me with a lot of knowledge and great international and local friends. I also joined International Women’s Club in order to meet people and widen my horizon. This club turned out to be the best place for me; life full of activities, happy and various kinds of people from all over the world. National members help with useful information about the Netherlands, about traditions and habits. The active club members have a busy agenda for group activities and you can be sure each of them comes with a lot of laughter and joy. I have to say Maastricht is a potpourri of people, nations and moods. You can find very positive, happy and open locals as well as closed ones with rather negative attitude.
After living in a capital it was not easy to settle down in this small and silent city being a young woman with lots of energy. I had to get used to the fact that after 6 p.m. I do not see many people on the streets and I always have to bring an umbrella with me. Yes, the climate is pretty wet around here thanks to the proximity of the North Sea and the flatness of the country. The sphere of this little old Roman town is however magical. It has numerous national heritage sites that one can cherish while walking in and around the city. Walking in the city centre you do not have to worry about food as plenty of places offer their local or international cuisine. Heated terraces are very popular as people are obsessed with sunshine but due to the geographical circumstances sunshine is a rare visitor in the area. Despite this fact the Dutch like exploiting the rays of the sun: “terrasjesweer” means barbecue time. Supermarkets are full with bbq equipment and prepared “kant-en-klaar” food to make it easier for a great afternoon or evening with family and friends. The other place I fancy visiting is Valkenburg with its caves and meticulously maintained gardens. During my first visits many photos were taken only of the inhabitants’ gardens 🙂 Another favorite place is St. Pietersberg with its beautiful landscape, sheep and caves. When you are in Limburg you always see pasture-lands with cows and sheep, the scenery is lovely. One can find beautiful castles in the area too. Chateau St. Gerlach is one of my favourite with its magnificent garden and ancient rooms. It was built in the 12th century as a monastery but nowadays it is a popular and chic hotel and restaurant. Despite the fact that Dutch are not very religious at least 40 churches can be adored in and around the city. Most of them do not function as a church any more. I love sipping a cup of coffee and reading a book at the Dominicanen right in the middle of the city which is a bookstore that opened a few years ago. Kruisherenhotel offers a unique atmosphere for lunch or dinner as it is functioning as a restaurant. It is worth a visit for sure.
Different culture was mentioned before and I would like to make some remarks on this matter in general; One would think that if someone is European there can not be many contrasts among countries but this approach does not fit the reality. Moving to another country means that the expat has to cope with a lot of discrepancies that could be only tiny little ones like the tone of one’s voice, short words…etc. which can cause misunderstandings. The “Limburgers” always give direct and short answers to questions for example or express their opinions quite easily and simply which is not what I used to in Hungary for instance. These aspects need to be learned in order to not find ourselves in a tricky situation. 🙂 Another example is translating the phrases, idioms. You can have a big laugh most of the time.
Having graduated from University of Maastricht involved another change in my life; we got married, I was happily expecting our first child and we decided to move to the other side of the border, to Belgium. This is how I became a “Genkenaar”, living in Genk, Belgium. It is merely a 30-minutes’ drive from Maastricht but a different world again. The Belgian Limburg (as it is also Limburg) is quite different from the Dutch one. One can find nice family houses, villas with a big garden while in the Netherlands you mostly see “rijtjeshuizen’, detached houses, flats with almost no space for garden. Typical Dutch thing is the small balcony close to the neighboring balconies or terraces. On the Belgian side you see more greenery which was one of the reasons we moved away from Maastricht. The most popular place we love visiting is Bokrijk which is a huge territory with an arboretum, a skanzen and a spacious playground. Here you can spend a day walking and wondering at the beautiful and special plants, flowers, riding on bicycle and having a cosy picnic. Very close to the Dutch border you can go to Pietersheim which is also a spacious area with animals for children, playground and greenery for a nice bicycle tour. Not to mention the castle that provides a fascinating scene. With regard to the little city, Genk, it is a former mining area which produced brown coal that attracted various nations to immigrate therefore it is a melting pot for Italian, Polish, Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. The mines were active until 1966, the last ones were closed in 1988. Generations stayed and created a colourful community in this area. By visiting Genk means that you are never bored; the city organizes many events through the year such as “cosy Thursdays” (Iedereen Donderdagt) when the centre is transformed to a big lounge area and you can enjoy cocktails, live music and dinner, of course, during spring and summer. Thanks to the multicultural environment Italian and Turkish cuisine is very common and authentic so if you fancy trying specialties you will never be disappointed. Even if you prefer French or local Belgian cuisine Genk has tremendous restaurants for a lovely evening to spend.
Genk Danst is an event for dance-lovers. On this day you are introduced to the various dance schools and organizations and enjoy great performances.
May Parade (O Parade) is a unique annual happening that attracts foreign artists as well as foreign visitors. I bet you have never seen so many flowers and colourful costumes like the ones on O Parade 🙂
Genk on Stage invites guests for a musical evening with lots of national and international concerts.
If you think they only do that during spring and summer you are wrong; when in November you visit the above mentioned Bokrijk, you will surely be amazed of the colourful activities especially for children where local dance schools perform as well.
Last but not least I would like to mention Kattevenia, Kattevennen which is a forest for sport and nature lovers where you do horse-riding, walking on boardwalks across the forest or visit Cosmodrome for the ones who are interested in science and astronomy.
Yes, this is Genk. Although it is a multicultural city you will not experience the same attitude as in Maastricht; people do not respond in English when you try to communicate which allows you to practice your Dutch/Flemish better than in Maastricht 🙂
I hope to meet you on one of the events.
We would like to thank: International Women’s Club of South Limburg: http://iwc-sl.nl/ for their help and their contribution.