No More Culture Clash

‘When my daughter was three years old, we would sit at the dinner table and she would interrupt her father when he was talking. I would tell her to let him finish, because that is the norm in the context where I was raised’, Michaela Carrière says.

Her task is to teach people to recognize each other’s cultural values. It’s not always easy, but it's her dream job. ‘I was waiting for this vacancy for 17 years, so I love what I get to do here.’

Carrière was born in the Netherlands, but due to her parents’ jobs, she lived in countries such as Indonesia, the United States, India and Bangladesh during her youth and only returned to the Netherlands at the age of 35. Through her experiences, Carrière learned that what is considered a norm in one culture might not be a value in another. Since September, her job has been to pass the lessons in intercultural competence on to students of her own as project leader for Intercultural Competence and Communication courses at the Language Centre.

Differing norms

Intercultural competence is the ability to bridge differences between diverse cultures. ‘We are not only talking about dissimilarities between national cultures, but the competence can be applied to bridging organisational and interdisciplinary cultures as well’, Carrière says.

But it’s not just limited to communication. Perception about personal space also varies from culture to culture, and intercultural competence can help students to be aware of that.

‘By the end of the conversation, I had my back against the wall’ Carrière has first hand experience in that regard: ‘when I lived in India, there was an Iranian gentleman whom I had a lovely conversation with. But our perception of personal space differed. For him, it was acceptable to come a step closer, but for me, every time he was coming closer, I was taking a step back. By the end of the conversation, I had my back against the wall and I was feeling very uncomfortable, even though I liked what he was saying.’

The courses

Carrière will teach a variety of courses through the Language Centre, most of which aim to acquaint students with a different culture either when they are coming to the Netherlands or going abroad. Other courses intend to help students who have been living abroad to reintegrate back into their own culture.

For international students coming to the Netherlands, the courses are meant to help them understand the culture that they have entered and to help them adjust more smoothly to the Dutch academic system.

Differences in academic cultures from one country to the next can also result in problems. ‘For example, one of their most common mistakes is plagiarism because intellectual property is not attributed in the same way in all countries. As academics we have the responsibility to explain to them how we do things here.’


The assumption that all cultures adhere to the same values is something that could actually lead to academic and social failure for students, Carrière adds. And going abroad is not a guaranteed eye-opening experience for everyone: research conducted by Ariana Medina Lopez Portillo in 2005 found that only one-third of people who go abroad ever actually develop the ability to adjust to the new environment. The rest either remain exactly the same or even regress, becoming more negative about other cultures and developing strong stereotypes along the way.

‘As educators, we sometimes take it for granted that students will automatically develop intercultural competence and become global citizens when going abroad’, Carrière says. As such, open-minded students are the most suitable participants for the course: ‘If someone believes that everyone should be like them, then there is not much we can do.’

‘They are very fundamentally against their sense of rudeness or politeness’ But even among those students, teaching about broad matters like direct or indirect culture can be a struggle. She has a list of exercises to help her pupils recognize the differences between those behaviours, which can be a little awkward, but it’s useful. ‘After the exercises, we spend some time laughing about it because it is hard to do them, since they are very fundamentally against their sense of rudeness or politeness. But once they learn the way to do it, they are also in a position to choose how they would like to behave.’

Overcoming that view of what is polite or rude is crucial for internationals: it’s important for them to know that Dutch people are very direct. That way, ‘they can understand how being indirect is interpreted in this culture.’

Carrière’s classes are not lecture-based but focus instead on interaction with the students by practising differences in cultures, she explains. A range of activities is incorporated into the lessons, but they vary from course to course depending on the level of the students and the specific topic – or country – the course focuses on.

A simple handshake

People behave in different ways due to cultural diversity: sometimes, even a simple handshake could evoke judgment, as she explains. ‘A handshake in the Netherlands is quite steady and an expression of your individuality. When you give a soft and gentle handshake, Dutch people doubt the strength of your personality. That judgment is immediate and being judgmental means that you don’t acknowledge there are different attitudes and norms.’

Prior to taking this job, Carrière’s constant travel due to own career meant that she almost implicitly developed such intercultural competencies along the way. ‘I only found out later that there is actually an academic field and I was fascinated. When I started reading about competence, I was able to explain many things that I had unconsciously adapted in the past.’

Although she has been living in the same country for the last 13 years, she can only imagine herself working in a multicultural environment, despite the inherent challenges. ‘My profession has to do with values, so it can be really hard sometimes. But I was waiting for this vacancy for 17 years, so I love what I get to do here.’


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How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

We are all familiar with the words femininity and masculinity but each of us has a different definition for them. Is a man allowed to cry? Should women wear lipstick and seductive dresses? And who does the dishes at home? We went on the streets of Groningen to ask people how they define gender roles. 

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“I define femininity as an expression of confidence. When you wear lingerie you can feel confident. It makes you feel sexy for your partner and yourself.” – 44-year old lingerie sales woman

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“A man is masculine when he can understand and empathize with a woman. When he can show his emotions. If you want to cry, you have to do it. You shouldn’t think it’s not appropriate because you are a man.” – 49-year old street artist



How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

How do you feel about femininity today?

“It’s much better now. When I was younger my mother kept telling me that my life’s purpose was to have kids. That has changed now.”



How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

Who’s doing the household work at home?

“I’m lucky, my husband helps with everything. But he has no choice.” – 75-year old retiree

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What item in your store represents femininity for you?

” Sexy lingerie and sexy stockings.”

Who does the dishes at home?

“We both do the dishes. We are lesbians. And that’s a good reason to become a lesbian.” – 28-year old lingerie & sex toys sales woman

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What defines a man as masculine?

“The ability to make decisions.” – 63-year old retiree

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What does a man have to do to be masculine?

“Drinking beer and smoking cigars.” – 43-year old tattoo artist

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“A real man is a person who is not afraid to cry, care and show his feelings. Masculinity is a mask for fear. It is society’s fake image. Something that doesn’t exist.” – 45-year old erotic cinema and sex shop sales man

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“You don’t need a beard to be masculine.” – 26-year old barber

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?


“Tattoos are part of my femininity. It’s like jewelry.”

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What does a man have to do to be masculine?

“He has to be tender.” – 43-year old





Article by Valia Papadopoulou and Anna-Lena Sachs  

Pictures by Anna-Lena Sachs

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Who's Behind The Curtain

Some sex workers just sell the sexual act while others claim to offer “true love.” But whatever the proposition is, it’s for money. We talked to a prostitute and an ex-gigolo about their work in the Dutch sex business.

Who's Behind The Curtain

Ruby* came to the Netherlands from Romania when she was 18 years old. She is now 24 and has worked in several Dutch cities as a prostitute. Her parents don’t know her occupation.

At 11 a.m. on a Wednesday she was sitting on a stool, her legs up against the window, waiting for a client to arrive. Her room was heated up to approximately 24 degrees. She only wore a tiny black bikini and high heels.

In one hand she held her smartphone and in the other a cigarette. Every now and then she opened the window to throw a cigarette on the street. Next to the continuously mumbling TV was the air freshener but the lavender scent wasn’t enough to eliminate the smell of sex in the room. The thin, brunette, tough-looking girl kept gazing at the street through several thick layers of black mascara to look for customers.

Patrick is from Rotterdam and was a gigolo for five years. The 25-year-old started selling his services after sleeping with a woman who unexpectedly paid him for the act. It was as easy as that.

His confident voice and seductive eyes are only two reasons that helped him to get his job. The brown-haired man also appears as an honest, straightforward guy, who immediately makes others feel comfortable. His thin, tall stature worked in his favor as an attention grabber.

As most people’s only contact with Dutch sex workers is outside their windows, we decided to step inside and get our 20-minutes worth. We reveal the people behind the curtain.


How do you pick your clients?

Ruby: If I don’t like their face or if they don’t look clean, I don’t open my door. I also have regular clients; they always come to me.

Patrick: I never put a profile on the Internet and waited for the customers to find me. I always went to hotels and I found potential customers there, who were always women. So, I could choose whomever I wanted to. If she was not interesting or I didn’t like her I wouldn’t have accepted her as a customer.

How long are your workdays?

Ruby: I work every day from morning to night. Sometimes I don’t even sleep. My window is open 24 hours. Sometimes I spend the night here (points at the bed in the back of the room).

Patrick: I had one customer a day but the date could last from three hours up to three days.

How much money do you earn?

Ruby: I can’t talk about specific prices. But I can tell you I pay 700 euros to rent the window for five days. Sometimes I don’t have anything left after I’ve paid the rent. And I don’t have a pimp, I have to do it all by myself.

Patrick: For two hours my service cost 300 euros. It was quick money. You work for three days a week and earn approximately 1,500-3,000 euros. I am not saying it was easy but it was quick. If you have many regular customers you can live from this work.

How many clients do you have a day?

Ruby: (laughs). A lot! I can’t count them.

Patrick: Most of the time I had 3-5 customers a week. They were customers that hired me for three entire days and I also had regular customers.

With the Internet at hand it’s so easy to have sex, why do your clients come to you?

Ruby: Some girls don’t give their men enough sex. Other men want to try new stuff or they’re just exhausted from their life. For some clients it’s not all about “fucking,” they tell us about their lives. But most men are married or have a girlfriend. Sometimes they are really old.

Patrick: Most of my clients were hardworking businesswomen, who had no time for a relationship. A gigolo is a perfect match for a woman like that. She chooses whenever she wants me to come or leave. But I never worked with really old women, over sixty years old.

Do you have a relationship at the moment?

Ruby: I have a boyfriend. We met here (she pointed at the window), but he wasn’t a customer. He passed by the window and we started talking. We have been together for some years.

Patrick: I have a girlfriend.

How does he/she feel about your work?

Ruby: He has no problem with it.

Patrick: I tried being a gigolo and in a relationship at the same time but it wasn’t successful. When I told my girlfriend in the first week she said, “Ok no problem.” But then jealousy emerged and that’s when the problems started. I can understand if I were in a relationship with a prostitute and she would say: “I am going to work.” Then I would know exactly what was going to happen and I wouldn’t like it.

Do you ever consider leaving your job?

Ruby: Yes. I love kids and I would like to work with them some day. I can also imagine going to school again.

Patrick: I had to make a choice between life and work, because being a gigolo and having a relationship was a bad combination. It was my own choice. It’s been two months since I quit my job. I am happy with what I have but sometimes I miss my job. I miss the money and the lifestyle. Every prostitute knows what I am talking about. I am like on a rehab for a gigolo.


Many people would never consider an occupation in the sex business, simply because they can’t imagine what it is like selling sexual pleasure. But for Patrick, his job was about more than sex. He first had to establish an emotional connection with his clients. “I never sold sex. I am not a woman behind a window. When a woman hires a guy it is a different story. It’s about love, the feeling of true love.”

Patrick continues by explaining that most women want more than just sex. Some of his clients asked him to go on dates, and they even flew him into Paris and London for a few days to spend time together. Of course, his clients took care of the travel costs. This lifestyle stands in stark contrast to Ruby’s.

She believes that no female prostitute is in the business for pleasure. “I don’t feel anything when I have sex. I have no pleasure with clients. Some men even make me feel bad about my job.” She explained that some clients whisper weird phrases in her ears but by now she is used to ignoring them. For this reason, she refused to repeat them, leaving her interviewers guessing.

At the end of the interview, Ruby also had a question for us: “As normal girls, what do you think of us?”

At first we were speechless by the question. After stumbling over our words for 30 seconds out of fear we might insult her, we told her we could never do this job. An honest answer. We can’t imagine selling our body to please a man for 20 minutes and then moving on to the next customer.

*We had to change her name for privacy reasons.


By Valia Papadopoulou and Anna-Lena Sachs


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The Faces of Margraten

Sebastiaan Vonk, a master’s student of American studies at the RUG, is the director of The Faces of Margraten, a project to put faces to the names of thousands of American World War II soldiers buried in the Netherlands.

‘I adopted my first grave at the age of thirteen’, Sebastiaan Vonk recalls. ‘I feel like I have a really strong connection with that soldier, Corporal Lawrence F. Shea. He was only 21 years old when he died, almost the same age as I am. Sometimes, I think: what if I had to take part in the war? What if I had to fight? It is unimaginable.’

Cpl. Lawrence F. Shea, the first soldiers whose grave was the first that Sebastiaan Vonk adopted when he was 13. Shea was 21 when he died during World War II.

Cpl. Lawrence F. Shea, the first soldiers whose grave was the first that Sebastiaan Vonk adopted when he was 13. Shea was 21 when he died during World War II.

Vonk, a 22-year-old RUG master’s student of American studies, is one of the thousands of Dutch citizens who adopted and took care of a grave of the American War Cemetery and Memorial Netherlands, which lies in Margraten, a village in the south of the Netherlands. In that cemetery, 10,023 American soldiers who died in World War II are buried.

Memorial service

But Vonk’s association with Margraten goes even further. He directed the project The Faces of Margraten, which aims to tell the stories of those soldiers. ‘It is a project that started in 2014 out of my personal interest. Our mission is to give a face to every name. People submit photos of their loved ones through our website and we do research into who they actually were and what they did before the war’, Vonk explains.

The Faces of Margraten held a four-day memorial service last month to honour these fallen heroes once more, since the Netherlands celebrates the 70th anniversary of its liberation this year. During this tribute, all of the submitted photos were placed on display next to the graves and, for the first time, people could see the faces of their soldiers. The project was launched by the Dutch non-profit organization Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven (Foundation United Adopters American War Graves). Vonk is the chairperson of the foundation.

‘So far, we have matched only one-third of the graves, so there are still a lot missing. We know that we might not find all the photos in the end, but we will try to collect as many as possible’, Vonk explains.

‘Beyond our expectations’

He explains that he and his team, which consists of 25 volunteers, were aware of how important World War II is in the history of the Netherlands, but they were unsure how modern Dutch society would react to their project.

When the gates to the cemetery opened on 2 May, it became clear that many people still cared. ‘We saw people approaching the cemetery, cars parking and more people coming. That amazed us. The number of people who came between the 2nd and the 5th of May equals ten per cent of a year’s visitors, and that was totally beyond our expectations’, says Vonk.

According to Foundation United Adopters American War Graves, 25,000 people visited the cemetery during those four days.

The white cross headstone of Cpl. Lawrence F. Shea in the graveyard at Margraten.

The white cross headstone of Cpl. Lawrence F. Shea in the graveyard at Margraten.

‘People were very grateful for this tribute. Most people came to the cemetery just because the project was there. Many of them were curious to know if there was a picture of their soldier’, Vonk says. But even when the tribute was over and the photos were removed, that level of interest remained. Vonk and his team were inundated afterwards with questions and requests to place the photos next to the graves permanently.



‘People wanted to know if we are going to repeat the project. They must know that they can still see the photos of their loved ones in our online database, Fields of Honor. For practical reasons, the photos can’t remain in the cemetery permanently. But we are also afraid that if we do so, they will lose their impact. It’s like a hit song: when you listen to it over and over again, you will get sick of it in the end.’

The project’s impact continues to grow. It has been a month since the tribute took place, and people are still submitting photos. Over the last month, Vonk has received more than 100 photos.

He confesses that the way people are responding is somewhat overwhelming. ‘Even now, weeks after the project is over, people come and talk to me. I have been on television many times and people recognise me. But it is funny sometimes, because they talk behind my back and they usually say: ‘Hey, that’s the boy, that’s the boy”, Vonk says.


Although the project has been his number one priority since the day he initiated it, he has never forgotten that he is also a master’s student.

‘For me personally, it was really hard to follow the project and my studies. Even when I said that for two or three hours, I won’t reply to any e-mails and study, in the end, I couldn’t. The project is my passion. But on the other hand, I was very privileged since I had not only moral but economic support as well from my parents from the very beginning. It would be hard for me to volunteer and work at the same time’, Vonk says.

From now on, he will focus more on his studies but he says one thing is certain; he will repeat the project sometime in the future now that he has realised how important it was for a lot of people, including him.

‘I remember one man, he must have been in his 80s. He just came back from the graves with tears in his eyes, and he told me: ‘Finally, I managed to see that photo.’ It was the first time he had seen the soldier’s photo since 1945. Can you imagine? For me, this is testimony of the value many adopters attribute to seeing a photo of their soldier. For that reason, me and my team, we all share a great sense of pride that we have been able to complete this project.’


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An Unforgettable Experience

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Groningen, Alka Tiessink decided to travel for a year before beginning a master’s degree. While visiting the city of Pokhara in Nepal about a month ago, she faced the most frightening experience of her life.

‘We were meditating and suddenly, everything started to move. I didn’t know what was happening. It took me a lot of time to realize it was an earthquake. Although it was around one minute, I felt it like ten.’

After the earthquake, she found a safe spot and informed her father that she was fine. She was able to be in constant contact with her parents and they were often her only source for updates.

The days following the initial earthquake were also tense. ‘We were sleeping with the light on, doors open, and even wearing our shoes so that we would be ready to jump in and run. We practiced our way out day and night with shoes or flip-flops. I was constantly wearing my money belt with all my money, passport and insurance papers inside’, she recalls.

Alka tried to help as much as possible while she was there. She signed up as a volunteer at several hospitals, but by then, they were not looking for any volunteers. Despite her willingness to stay and help, her family pleaded for her to return to the Netherlands – six days after the earthquake, she abandoned her initial plan to stay for an entire month.

She and four other Dutch people who were also in Nepal stayed up all night and organized their trip back home. In the morning, they left all of their belongings for the locals and took a taxi to the airport.

Although they asked the taxi driver not to drive through the city centre, he overlooked their request and gave them a ride downtown. ‘He wanted to make us realise that we need to help them’, Alka says. ‘It was heart breaking to see him trying his best to keep us there. We saw everything you see on TV, but I felt happy that I saw what exactly happened. It feels like you leave those people, who can’t leave Nepal since it’s their home, with nothing.’ Today, Alka is safe in the Netherlands, but her thoughts are still with Nepal. She organised her own small-scale fund raising to help: she is sending the money directly to the people that she met there.

‘After a week of being home, I am slowly getting out of survival mode’, she says. ‘My body wants to sleep, but my mind is still awake. However, when things are shaking, with every kind of vibration, my eyes open wide. That’s something I still have.’


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Disaster in Nepal

Aftershocks are still being felt in Nepal following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Asian nation in April. For two Nepali RUG students and one alumnus who was there at the time, raising funds for disaster relief is a way to help, as well as to cope with the aftermath.

 ‘At first, I thought it might be a joke’, Pragyi Shrestha recalls. ‘I checked the news on the Internet, and it was true. I vainly tried to contact my family. There was no phone connection. I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. I was really scared and hopeless.’

Pragyi, a 24-year-old RUG master’s student in the medical and pharmaceutical drug innovation program, is from Kathmandu, Nepal. She finally managed to talk with her parents eight hours after the first earthquake hit. She says that those eight hours of unawareness were a nightmare for her.

‘When we finally spoke on the phone, my mother told me that everyone was safe, but I could still hear the fear in her voice’, Pragyi says.

In shock

Pragyi’s friend, Suruchi Nepal, is 27 years old and also from Kathmandu. She is currently a PhD student in medical microbiology at the University of Groningen, and she went through a similar situation.

‘I was in shock. I remember that I couldn’t sleep or eat for four nights in a row. How could I eat when I didn’t know my family’s situation? I felt helpless and alone’, Suruchi says.

Suruchi and Pragyi said that Nepal’s rural areas faced the most damage. The majority of those areas’ houses are made from mud and stone, so it is unlikely that they could have withstood such a strong earthquake. Both in the capital and outside of it, numerous historical landmarks and temples collapsed.

‘The most depressing thing is that we lost our people. But also, in one moment, our whole history turned into dust’, Pragyi says.

‘Our economy was already weak before the earthquake. Now, it is devastated. It was mostly relying on tourism and on our unique architecture. The earthquake struck both of them. We are a poor nation and now we have nothing. Our people just want to survive’, Suruchi says.

Nepal’s natural disaster didn’t end after the first earthquake. Several aftershocks followed, and a 5.7 magnitude earthquake occurred several days ago.

Process of losing

‘People had just started going back to their normal lives before the second earthquake. It was overwhelming for them. Now, fear is deep inside our heart every day. We lost so many things. It’s hard to accept it and the saddest thing is that we are still in the process of losing’, Suruchi says.

Nepal’s government was not prepared for such a disaster, Pragyi explains. People are disappointed with the way their leaders have dealt with the situation. Nevertheless, they are both proud of Nepal’s police and army. Those people risked their own lives and entered dangerous zones in order to help; some have even died in doing so.

The two girls thought that they also had the obligation to help.

‘Every time I would close my eyes, I would recall all those people crying for help. I knew I should do something. Going there wouldn’t be of any value, I have no skills or money to help the situation’, Pragyi says. They thought the best way to help from the Netherlands would be to initiate a fundraiser and use their own personal network to collect as much money as possible for the victims.

‘We are also afraid of an epidemic disease right now. Our professors Jan Maarten van Dijl and Han Moshage helped us to organize it. We placed Nepalese lunch in the hospital’s canteen in exchange for donations. Aat Wartena, who is responsible for the canteen, agreed to place it in the menu and everything went according to the plan. Thanks to those people, we felt like we are not alone anymore. We had moral support; they could feel what we were going through’, Suruchi says.

‘We designed a brochure, Call for HELP, and shared it through the Internet in order to collect funds. We use the people we know to spread our message. We are planning to send the money to two associations in Nepal and help them cover the basic needs of the victims. So far, we have collected around 5,500 euros’, Pragyi says.

As time goes by, people in Nepal are facing new fears. Monsoon rains will hit Nepal in June and July and make things worse for both the victims and the volunteers.

EPIDEMIC ‘Sometimes, it rains for a whole week. Imagine people sleeping outdoors without even a tent. We are also afraid of an epidemic disease right now’, Pragyi says.

‘Lack of wood makes it even harder for people to burn the bodies, and this can also contribute to a disease’s spread. Even when they bury the bodies, they are very careful because they are afraid of polluting the water. The situation is very bad’, Suruchi adds.

Both young women just hope that the country will recover soon. They are glad that people from all over the world immediately travelled to Nepal to volunteer.

‘I am thankful for all the support and positive energy I have received, especially from people here who are trying to help in every possible way’, Suruchi says.

‘I hope we will remain united as a nation in the next years. We are brave, and we will find a way to deal with it’, Pragyi concludes.

If you would like to contribute to Suruchi and Pragyi’s fundraiser, contact Suruchi at


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Dealing With The American Police

“I live in North Carolina, a place where every black person is very aware that you’re looked at as a criminal or a potential criminal,” said Traline DeMon Spencer, who is currently living and working in North Carolina. “So when I do get stopped I say “yes sir no sir”, I don’t make any sudden movements that could make them think I’m trying to reach a weapon.”

Racial profiling is real in the US nowadays according to statistics. President Obama has also admitted in public that the problem exists.

Traline mentions that he has been a victim of racial profiling by the police many times. He recalls the first time.

He was still a senior high school student when his father bought him an Audi as a present. As he explains, him driving his new car to school was more than enough to catch one of his teachers’ attention.

“She asked me how could I afford such a nice car and I basically told her to mind her own business. The very next day I got called to the principal’s office.” The assistant principal and a police officer were waiting there for Traline. They informed him that they had to search his car, as they had received a tip saying that Traline might be carrying drugs.

“I was scared. They told me they needed my keys and my permission to search my car. I said yes because I was scared. I had to sit in the principal’s office while they took a drug dog and went through my car. I knew I didn’t have anything to hide but still, I felt sick like I had done something wrong.”

Traline mentions that he had never got into trouble as a student, so for him it was clear from the beginning that the police wanted to search his car just because he is black. “At that time I had never even seen pot before. I didn’t even know what it looked like. My dad was a minister, so my sister and I were very sheltered in that way.”

Dealing With The American Police

The police found nothing in his car and he was allowed to return to his classes. However Traline was still very upset.

“I thought it was funny that my white friend Brad got a BMW a few weeks before I got my Audi and no one ever questioned him or suspected that he was a drug dealer.”

A few days later the principal apologized to Traline for what happened that day.

Nevertheless, he explains that after many similar incidents that happened to him he has lost his faith in the police.

“I don’t feel like police are there to protect me. I feel like they are there to find a way to arrest me or harass me. All of my white friends are being treated by the police in a different way.”

Traline says that he does his best to avoid dealing with the police. This does not mean that he is not frustrated by the way the police treat him.  He has to hide it, however, when he gets stopped by a police officer, as he acknowledges that getting upset it won’t make the interaction any better.

Despite the fact that he has found a way to deal with racial profiling he is not optimistic about the future regarding this social problem.

“I don’t see how we can fix a problem when they don’t see a problem at all. Until police departments and police unions and law enforcement admit it’s a problem, it will never get better. Right now only a few of them acknowledge that racial profiling does happen.”

For him only higher placed governmental agencies could force a change at the moment, since the police keep denying that there is a problem.

“There was a study commissioned in Michigan to look into racial profiling to see if it was a real problem or not. When the results came back officers couldn’t believe that they were racially profiling. I guess they thought black people were lying all this time when we’ve been trying to get their attention about racial profiling.”

Even now that a black president is in charge of the U.S., for Traline the time for change concerning racial profiling has not come yet.

Dealing With The American Police

“President Obama has spoken numerous times about addressing this problem, but he hasn’t proposed any legislation that will properly address it yet. If Obama lets this issue slide past him I think it will be one of his biggest regrets leaving office. He has been president for some years now but he didn’t do anything.”

Even though Traline is pessimistic about the future he does not consider that moving to another place could be a solution to his own problems at the moment.

“I don’t think moving would change things much. I moved to Ft Lauderdale after graduation and really liked it there. However, racial profiling isn’t just an issue in southern states. It’s everywhere.  But, I do worry about how my kids would be treated if I decide to have some.”


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Life in Gaza

“The war in 2014 was the most vicious of them all. I was afraid for my life more than ever. It was like bombs everywhere and there was no specific target,” said Mo’men Ashour, 21 years old, who was born and raised in Gaza. Ashour is studying English Literature in Gaza. Growing up in a city like Gaza was far from the childhood he was dreaming. For him every day was full of desperation and agony about what would happen next and when all the conflicts would end.

“When I was six I heard about the Intifada or the ‘Up rise’ in 2000.” The revolution of the Palestinians in order to claim their occupied lands is called ‘The stone up rise’, because they used stones in order to fight the invaders. “A lot of people died that time. And I was a little kid hearing people talking about it. And my biggest fear was that my turn will come and that me and my family would be dead. I thought the massacres of 1948 and 1967 would happen again and I would find myself obliged to leave Gaza. It is a heavy burden for a six year-old boy.”

Fear did not stop at the age of six for Ashour. It goes on and on up to today, as war has never stopped in Gaza. Bombardments are being repeated nearly every two years.

“Whenever I try to forget about it another dreadful thing happens to renew the sentiments of insecurity and fear. Aggressions in Gaza were repeated in 2008, 2012, and 2014. And thanks to God, I haven’t lost any family members. But I lost friends and people I knew and talked to. One of my colleagues lost his entire family.”

Ashour recalls what happened in Gaza back in 2008 vividly. By the time the bombings started he was at school. Suddenly, he heard a huge blast. The police station next to the school had been bombed and nearly 200 police officers lost their lives in seconds.

“It was a difficult experience. I heard a huge explosion and then people screaming. I wasn’t aware of what is happening till the teacher told us to go to the field. My brother was in the same school with me, my little brother. I ran like crazy looking for him and after 20 minutes, while the explosions were 50 meters away.”

Immediately after finding his brother he started looking for his little sister. She was in a school 5 meters away, but he was not able to find her. Thus, he decided to take his brother back home and return for her.

“I carried on looking for her between hundreds of students running in the streets. Luckily on my way home I found her with my mum who was going to look for us and we all got home safe. It was a traumatizing period because it was my first experience in such a thing. In that brutality 1500 people were killed.”

Despite the difficulties that he had to face since a very young age Ashour never gave up. He decided that he wanted to enter university and move on with his life, as he was aware that conflicts will continue in Gaza in the future.

“I still need to get my education and try as much as possible to pretend to live a normal life;which by the way is a lie because I will never have a normal life.”

Ashour never dreamed of studying English literature. His dream is to become an actor, but he does not even dare to say it out loud.

“In Gaza it does not matter what you like to do. When I graduated from high school I needed to choose a major to study. And I was very good in English; so I choose it. May my words in this famous language change my life.”

He describes his everyday life in Gaza city as tedious, dull, and boring. For him every day is a new disappointment as he is failing to find any ways to pass time. He captured the following photo from his window:

Life in Gaza

“See? Not even a single green land! There are no parks and everything is gray. I try to fill my time with self-activities and recently I started to learn guitar. Sometimes I go to the gym but the problem is that all the places with good entertainment require a lot of money which I can’t afford to pay, as unemployment rates are very high in Gaza. Almost 60% of Gaza’s graduates are unemployed over the last 7 years. I’ve been looking for a job for a year and a half as a translator but I can’t find anything.”

And as life goes by a new round of conflicts came to upset daily routine in Gaza in 2014. Ashour was at the barber’s when he heard the first explosion and right from the very first moment he knew that Gaza was dealing with a new war.

“Thank God the barber didn’t cut my neck. I went outside the barbershop and saw heavy smoke. I was depressed, every couple of years a war. Entire towers were bombarded and they simply vanished. In a moment a tower of 15 storeys was there and the next moment it was gone. The sky was red during night time. All sides of the city were on fire. I saw people marching their way to hospitals as a shelter to escape from this but a lot of people were killed and buried under their homes. An apartment, 10 meters away, was hit that day. A pregnant woman with her husband and their children died. I saw people taking the bodies out of the place. The war lasted for 60 days and 2000 people died at that time.”

Life in Gaza

However, for Ashour, life does not only include times of war. Like everyone he dreams about his future: a live outside of Gaza and a liberated Palestine.

“I want to travel” Ashour says. But he has been stuck in Gaza for 21 years, because he isn’t allowed to. “Obviously, Israelis and the Egyptians don’t allow us to travel, due to political issues. I can only travel for example in order to attend a college or become a member of a foreign organization. If I manage to gain a scholarship for a college it will be a miracle for me.”

Ideally, he dreams of finding a scholarship, and attending a Master’s abroad. Maybe even a PHD if possible.

“Every human has a goal to achieve” he simply remarks.

Nevertheless, Ashour believes he will come back one day. Even with the everyday difficulties in Gaza when there is no fighting, and despite the limitations of basic necessities: such as electricity; which is only available for 6-8 hours per day due to Israeli control of the area’s oil and power control.

“Eventually, it is my home and even if I go abroad I will return when I achieve my goal. I can’t get away from home forever. I have my family, friends, and my memories here. I have my soul here and if I go abroad my body will be there and I’ll leave my soul here.”


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A special fairytale

“We have to visit the swimming pool six times a week. Konstantinos has frequent medical examinations and has to follow a special diet in order to avoid immobilization caused by fattening,” said Despoina Komnimaki, mother of Konstantinos, a six year old boy. 


Konstantinos was born with a common heart problem. His mother explains that she already knew during her pregnancy that Konstantinos would later face heart problems. But, she and her husband were assured that the disease could be treatable through surgeries.

At a very young age Konstantinos went into surgery and got his heart fixed. The doctors assured his parents that he is going to recover completely, however today he is suffering from an orthopedic disease which cannot be treated with medication and which forces him to use crutches in order to be able to walk.

Konstantinos is suffering from the Legg Calve Perthes disease, which is a hip disorder that affects children between the age of 4 and 10. The main cause is that there is a disruption of blood flow and bones can die off or stop growing due to lack of blood.

“Unfortunately it is an insidious illness, which is perceived only when it has done great damage that is usually irreversible,” said Despoina.

A special fairytale

After Konstantinos’ parents were informed about the disease they were struggling to find a way to explain to him his illness and encourage him in the same time, as he was facing difficulties to sit in a wheelchair and use crutches. For that purpose, his mother decided to write a fairytale dedicated to his problems.

“I thought I could present a little heart with crutches and introduce it to adventures similar to those Konstantinos was facing. I started the fairytale and I saw that he liked it. The fairytale’s heart shared the same thought as him: ‘Are my friends going to make fun of me? Am I going to be alright?,’” said Despoina.

She also explains that her fairytale provided her with a platform to talk about the racism that people with mobility problems, including her son, face.

“We experienced a strong shock when we started to descend in the neighborhood with the crutches. People stared at him curiously, and we heard characterizations as ‘lame’. So the fairytale’s hero plays at the park, and faces similar problems but it uses the full acceptance of its friends and the power of love as a shield!” said Despoina.

She recalls that Konstantinos’ reaction to the book was positive. He was very happy when he first saw the fairytale.

A special fairytale

“He immediately identified himself with the protagonist and he was delighted with the successful outcome of the heart’s adventure in which the heart throws the crutches at the end of the book and walks again. Deep inside he is waiting for something similar to happen to him.”

The family’s daily life has changed a lot after Konstantinos’ syndrome, as he needs help to go to the bathroom or even to get dressed.

As Despoina describes it, Konstantinos is a lively child who wants to run in the school yard with the other children. This is the reason why she has to be present during the school’s breaks in order to make sure that he doesn’t neglect to use his crutches.

“Unfortunately, Konstantinos couldn’t take part in team games because of his disease, and I couldn’t ask his friends every time to sit down and play with him,” said Despoina.  She and her husband decided to become children again and play with him.

A special fairytale

“As it is impossible for Konstantinos to visit any playgrounds or parties, additional types of entertaining like theater or music became the first option for us. I think this will positively affect his mental development later.”

Konstantinos is now playing the piano and despite his orthopedical disease he takes part in swimming races.

Thinking of the future, Despoina wants to be optimistic.

“The doctors informed us that there is a big chance for Konstantinos to heal completely over time. They say it can take from 3 up to 8 years. We just need to be patient.”

When I ask Despoina for the future or if she would like to have another child, she responds negatively.

“A new pregnancy is impossible right now. But I don’t worry because I already feel like I have a full life. Besides that, we are in the middle of the crisis and the everyday expenses for Konstantinos are numerous. And the Greek government hasn’t help us with anything. But I want to be optimistic abour his and our future,” said Despoina.

A special fairytale


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Dutch or Greek: Moving Abroad

“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 Dutch.” 

Dutch or Greek: Moving Abroad

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 as they were offered a better job that 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.

“They promised me everything I wanted. For me it was more like a game, moving to a big city, to a different country, it seemed an amazing idea.”

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 by 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. Although her parents finally managed to rent the big house they had promised her, 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.

Dutch or Greek: Moving Abroad

“My beloved island. This is what I miss most. And this is what makes me willing to fight for Greece.”

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