It was January 2014. From the beginning of that month, I would have to commit to a Dutch language course, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, at a building called De Potgieter, located at a pretty square in Amsterdam West. I had finished a beginner’s course around one year before that. The municipality of Amsterdam, who was paying for my studies, had stated I could not postpone the attendance of the second level anymore. Otherwise, they would stop financing me. Sounded fair. It was a now or never situation, thus. I was hoping it’d work.
The ones of you, dear readers, who have attended Dutch classes after working hours know the toughness of this commitment. If you work around 40 hours a week and attend 3-hour classes twice per week, plus do the mandatory homework which will require 2 more hours of your week (at the very least), then you’ll be busy around 50 hours a week and there’s not much room for social life or romantic relationships. That’s scary stuff.
I already knew the teacher who was steering the wheel of that ship. I had finished the beginner’s level with her. Viola was in her 70’s, she was demanding, and she was the best. I’ve had other teachers but none could match Viola’s energy and experience. That made me hopeful. However, I also knew how my colleagues could play a part in my motivation, too. Until then, my experience told me that, most of the times, the range of people attending these courses was so diverse and random, plus everyone had such busy personal lives already, that there was not a lot of chance for cementing true academic partnerships, let alone friendships.
From day one I understood I had been lucky. This group was cool. Most folks were around my age, and they were in similar life stages. Most of them worked corporate, finance or IT. There were also two university students, a NGO project developer, a doctor, and the creative type (guess who). We all connected well. There was a group of Greeks that was especially fun. The course went well. My Dutch slowly progressed and I managed to stick to the classes and the homework. We had dinner together in a neighbourhood pizzeria, by the end of the course. Confirmed: it was a fun bunch. We started getting mentally ready for the third level of the course – the last one – that would lead us to our final exam, the Stadsexamen, which would grant us a document that stated our fluency in the language. I don’t know how I did it but I managed to pass all four exams that compose the Stadsexamen: Luisteren (Listening), Spreken (Speaking), Schrijfen (Writing), and Lezen (Reading). It was at that same time that I met a certain Dutchie, the Bosjongen, who would play an important role in my fluency in Dutch. Most girls in my class had Dutch partners, I was apparently following the trend.
Once we were done with our exams, it was time to bond. All of us had passed, and that sounded unbelievable. I feel that that was the moment when the magic happened. We finally had some free time for a social life, and I think we have started to realize how we enjoyed each other’s company just after the whole course was finished. By then, six girls were making dinner plans every couple of months – the Bulgarian, the Danish, the Greek, the Polish, the Portuguese, and the Swedish -, and that’s when we properly met each other. The Polish girl gave birth to a girl in the meanwhile, and her life became understandably busier. The other five have stuck together. Mariya, Ena, Nikoletta, Johanna, and me. And, to be honest, none of us had seen this coming.
The picture above is the memory of an evening we’ve spend drinking wine and singing. I had just arrived from my first trip to Mozambique, hence the tan, and I remember how the girls were super excited to hear all about it, and also all about that certain Dutchie that I was seeing more and more often. Life was sweet: I remember having this distinct feeling that a few solid friendships were being formed here, plus I was on my way to start a relationship that looked promising, AND I could already speak to him in his native language, which was a big deal for me.
By 2016 we had become solid. By this time a few changes had taken place. Three of us had split up with our partners, two had changed jobs, one had finished a degree, and the one who had been single the entire time had recently become a couple with a Dutch friend of mine, a match I could have never imagined (let’s pretend my open mouth in the picture above refers to that).
Among us we have a fitness girl, the entrepreneur, the artistic one, the NGO lady, and a corporate-finance: so yes, there’s a certain Sex and the City feel to this group. The five of us are pretty different, but the best thing is that we don’t try to mother or convince each other of our own ways. In fact, we feel that we complement each other. We cherish the diversity and, most of all, have fun with it. These labels I’ve manufactured for humour sake refer to what we do. What each one of us is blends in very smoothly with the others. We respect each other. We support each other in our journeys. We motivate each other. We uplift each other, without expectations. At the end of the day, we all want pretty much the same: nourishing friendships, fulfilment and love.
We are so lucky to have crossed each others path but, most of all, it is so special that we have always made time and space for these friendships. Even when we spend months without seeing each other, there’s always one of us that goes like “Girls, we can’t continue like this”. There’s always one of us that isn’t too busy or too afraid of taking the initiative. When we meet again we experience the same joy and the same connection as usual, but stronger every time. More humorous every time, as well. I am so so grateful for this ladies, for this bond.
I just noticed something. I have noticed that, in every single one of these pictures, I am smiling with all of my teeth (we all are). This doesn’t happen often. Only when I’m genuinely happy. Not everyone can make me smile with all of my teeth. Thank you, my dear, dear friends.