By Christian Curré
Brainport as an umbrella term for the modern economy in Eindhoven region: Knowledge, Technology and Design, the self defined DNA of the city. First in the paean – even the Dutch government has recently reluctantly awarded its predicate and acknowledged its value – the much cherished expatriates are always acknowledged as the actual capital of progress. But is Eindhoven actually that open, smart and inspired with regard to expatriates as so often suggested?
This week, we make a short series on the position of the expat in Eindhoven. Read all the published stories here.
Just as the student culture in Eindhoven has been struggling for years with its visibility and involvement in the city, it is likewise not that obvious to come into contact with the knowledge workers from all parts of the world (with a clear emphasis on India and America) in a well-integrated manner. Students move their fraternity houses to the downtown, but that is not without a struggle because the student culture not always has a smooth relationship with the rest of the functions in a particular area. In that respect Eindhoven is quite different from, say, Groningen and Leiden. Expats come off even worse: they are everywhere, yet virtually invisible.
I myself, I live in the center of Eindhoven in an apartment complex with many different nationalities. The neighbors on the left and right come from India, which gives us a fascinating and involved glimpse in the ritual and festival calendar of – in this case – Indian Hinduism. In conversation with representatives of many cultures it strikes me over and over again that expats find that they are hardly dealt with seriously. They are being offered houses (especially high-rise buildings) that do not fit their residential preferences, they very often get service mail which is arranged only in Dutch (important, respond quickly!), there are hardly any specific cultural facilities that meet their needs (boring town) and certainly for the partners, there is simply not much to do or see (we draw mostly with each other).
This seems detrimental to the international base and aspirations of Eindhoven / Brainport. Of course, for the (local) government it is certainly not easy: you want to avoid to give the newcomers the impression that they are placed on an island and on the other hand you want to offer them places and opportunities to precisely suit the cultural background of those involved. In other words, you can never really do well according to the mores of politically correct thinking. But maybe we should let go of this spasm and just ask what their needs and desires are and then see how we can fit them best into the overall dynamics of the city. Initiatives galore: after the G1000 and the Condition of Eindhoven (Staat van Eindhoven) and the City Talks we now have a Social Summit and a meeting of Netherlands Tilting (Nederland Kantelt). However, the big problem with these meetings is that they … are only in Dutch.
The HUB and spouses programme are / were brave initiatives, but remain at the level of well-intended amateurism to be honest. Meanwhile, expatriate groups organize meetings for themselves here and there (unknown or misunderstood to the rest of the population). Surveying the field, we cannot talk of good policy if we want to take ourselves seriously as an internationally oriented city. If you seriously want to work with integration and cultural exchange and dynamics, you must first apply an inventory of adversarial and feedback, after which a pilot program should be organized enthusiastically and after that city and business have to be ready with an encouraging program which facilitates, communicates, subsidizes and organizes where necessary – as a booster so that it can be picked up by crossover coalitions of collaborating actors from different groups of society.
If internationalization facilities are represented only by the presence of a many-sided kitchen at ASML’s, English language modules at TU/e and Fontys, an international school and bilingual information booklets from the tourist office, we as Brainport still haven’t made much progress. The mainstream culture that is now being offered (cinema, fast food and retail) of course does not supply exciting, profound or applied accommodations of a diverse multicultural nature. Expats are ‘just ordinary people’, many years of anthropological observation and participation taught me, and they would therefore like to be taken seriously; not only in their economic but also in their social and cultural presence.
Picture: ASML PLaza