What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Juan and I am from Bogotá, Colombia, which is 2600 meters above sea level, so I miss the mountain views a bit.
What is your business or what do you do?
I’m finishing my PhD in Literary Studies, although I deal less with texts themselves and more with how people experience literature depending on technology, situation, their own background, etc. And after that, who knows! Maybe I’ll dive into public policy or write poetry.
When was the first time you were in the Netherlands? Was it fun? Was it an adventure?
In the summer of 2016, to start my master’s degree at the University of Groningen. Genuinely, one of the greatest adventures of my life, especially because of the friends I made and the good times we shared at parties, picnics, even the long library nights.
How long have you been writing for The Holland Times?
I wrote my first article by the end of 2017. So, wow, almost five years now! It was a piece on winter events for the 2017-2018 season, and I’ve had the good luck to write about so many interesting topics since then.
What attracted you to be a contributor to The Holland Times?
It seemed to me a refreshing publication, with relevant topics for the international community in the Netherlands and a lively writing style. I saw it as a great fit for me and an opportunity to write impactful, concise, enjoyable content.
What is the best thing about writing for an expat magazine with such a wide circulation?
As a writer, it’s an amazing opportunity to learn about different topics in depth, since each article requires a good deal of research. Hopefully some of that experience is translated to the readers as well.
Do your friends/family in your home country read your articles?
Yes. Although I show article drafts to friends in the Netherlands more often, especially when I need external insight on how I am approaching a subject or term.
What subject is your favorite to write about?
Environmental issues and developments. But I also enjoy it a lot when I get a chance to review a film. I mean, going to the cinema for work, right?
Is writing a hobby or an aspiration for you? Do you write for your regular job or studies?
Definitely an aspiration, as well as something I do on a daily basis for work and my studies. I believe every text should be both informative and enjoyable for the reader; that it should earn its place in the world, so to speak. It’s a responsibility I try to take very seriously.
Who is your favorite writer? What genre do they write in? Or are they a journalist, scholar, etc.?
John Steinbeck for novels and Wisława Szymborska for poetry.
What do you like best about the Netherlands?
The cycling culture and infrastructure. I come from a country where cycling as a sport is very popular, so the Netherlands is a natural fit for me in that sense. Oh, and also that everything here is made for my size. I’m 1,85 meters tall, so it’s very nice to be of average height for the first time.
What do you like least about the Netherlands?
When you’re cycling and the rain becomes horizontal.
Where do you recommend a new expat or visitor to see here in the Netherlands?
1. Every type of museum that you can. Seriously, there’s a very sophisticated sense of museography around here.
2. Summer festivals, but try to experience some of the ones in smaller cities as well; they’re a treat.
3. A cross-country cycling trip, or at least some rural cycling. It’s a very special feeling to watch the sunset from your bicycle on the Dutch countryside.
Best kept secret in your city?
The Groninger Forum, a world-class cultural venue in Groningen. There is also some fine dining in town; Schuitendiep Restaurant is a personal favorite of mine.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
I knew very little about the Netherlands before coming, all things considered; and I think I wouldn’t change that, because it has been a huge adventure of discovery and surprise. The newness of everything made it all the more special for me.
What are 1-2 things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?
Do try to learn as much Dutch as you can, even if not to achieve fluency. As rough as Dutch may sound at the beginning, it’s beautiful when you pay closer attention, and it’ll unlock a whole new world to you. As a poem by K Michel would say: “Ja! Ja! We ontmoeten, we groeten iedereen / Douane, wolken, rondvaartbootjes. / Lakens in de vind, meeuwen, lindebomen. / Muziek, atleten, streekgevechten. / Obers, lokale gebruiken, zebrapaden. Alles!” Which roughly translates to: “Yes! Yes! We’ll meet, we’ll greet everyone / Customs, clouds, tour boats. / Sheets in the wind, seagulls, linden trees. / Music, athletes, regional dishes. / Waiters, local customs, pedestrian crossings. Everything!”
Juan, thank you for the interview!
Written by Marla Thomson