Against the backdrop of the Dutch EU Council presidency, OneWorld.nl has sent Reinier Vriend on a mission to identify the everyday European values and concerns. In the interview series #ThisIsMyEurope he speaks with colourful individuals in and of the continent, trying to find out what ‘Europe’ means to us. This week he speaks with the Iranian-Dutch doctor in training Alaleh.
“When I think of Europe, I picture a map with all the countries on it. And I always imagine the border around it as well. It’s a place of progress. Research, education.” Alaleh Zamanbin (28) is a doctor in training and lives in Amsterdam. When she was seven, she and her parents moved from to the Netherlands. She’s been Iranian from birth, but over time has become European.
“What I appreciate about Europe is the opportunities I get here to develop myself, as a person but also professionally. What I like is that I can voice my opinions without having to fear negative outcomes. Those liberties I appreciate a lot. In my country of origin, that can be different.” Professional development is another difference. “The majority of Iranian women study, but afterwards it can be hard to find a job that matches their qualifications.”
Looking at her parents, Alaleh recognizes a practical mix of European and Iranian values. “I really enjoy seeing that they have a clear idea about what they appreciate from both cultures. From Western Europe they enjoy common sense, not getting stuck in dogmas, looking at what works and entering into a discussion. That’s what we’re used to here. They also add importance to being able to make personal plans without too much outside interference. They think that there should be more of that in Iran.”
I’m actually the Iranian cliché story: the good daughter who became a medical doctor
For her mother, it’s been hard to find a job after arriving in the Netherlands. “Having a civic integration certificate allows entry into vocational training and university education. But the track of a refugee is full of trial and error. If you’re a bit older by then, it can be hard to blend in. My mum has a fulfilling job now, but she’s never been able to expand herself, arriving as a grown up from a different country.” Now she’s very happy to see her daughter’s independence. “That’s simply how it goes, that’s what you find important when you have kids.” Alaleh laughs. “I’m actually the Iranian cliché story: the good daughter who became a medical doctor. In Iran they often call me ‘Madam Doctor’. People who know me use it as a joke, they know that I don’t like that title at all.”
Alaleh identifies for a large part with the Dutch identity. “I grew up around a lot of Dutch people and I have gotten to know the culture. I think that really helps to feel at home somewhere. If you don’t have that, that feeling of belonging will be less distinct." One example is openly discussing delicate subjects. “It’s normal for me, because I always discussed ideas with classmates and friends.”
But it’s a bit off, because Europe vehemently mixes itself in the outside world’s affairs
Alaleh sees a downside to all European liberties and development as well. “When it’s only goal is to serve the interests of Europe itself, it’s a problem. Europe has protected itself very well. Economically, socially. But it’s a bit off, because Europe vehemently mixes itself in the outside world’s affairs. The situation where all these rich areas fortify and protect themselves, has led to an unbalanced global situation. For these rich areas, the suffering they have co-authored remains an abstraction. Now that Europe is reached by so many refugees from the Middle East, we are confronted with our own mentality. When you speak to people who bear brunt of this global imbalance, you can sense their frustration.” Europe could be a pioneer in devising laws that can reign in the free market. “Europe is in the position to look for alternatives for the current model. Europe is rich and has the opportunity to think about these things. That’s the reason why we have to take our responsibility in that regard. And in the long run, we’ll have to move towards making agreements on a global level.”