Sunday, July 20, 2014

I am Amsterdam:

Last night I fell asleep dreaming in Dutch–a first for me. I had spent most of the day in hanseatic-infused Deventer, conversing about everything and nothing, while the summer sun illuminated the sprawling garden that I was then submerged within. Having spoken in Dutch and having listened to Dutch non-stop for about eight hours; it was the ultimate language immersion–an intimate group of five. The day made me realize that, I do indeed speak Dutch, and quite well at that. No longer do I sit on the edge of my seat waiting with baited breath for each word to descend from the mouths of others. Oppositely, I instead sit back, relax, and listen with delight, knowing that, I'm present; I'm here; I'm aware of what's happening. My newfound status as a nearly fluent speaker of Dutch has caught me by surprise. It's not as if a switch has suddenly flipped, and the world of the Dutch language has unraveled before and around me. Rather, I've been learning, practicing, absorbing, and internally building my language skills, more or less, since I arrived in Amsterdam. The problem has always been connecting the newly acquired communication knowledge in my brain, with my tongue. Years went by without me being fully able to express myself to others, in Dutch. I sat in a limbo between Dutch-ness and English-ness, or more appropriately, American-ness. This gap between the mind and the tongue; it affects nearly all aspects of one's life during such stages of language learning. How frustrating not to be able to speak, correctly, to express a desire, a wish, a need, a hope, a dream. And yet how interesting, to now see that six years in the Netherlands was the turning point at which I wholeheartedly internalized the effects it has had on my identity. And yet perhaps none of this is true. Maybe, just maybe, I subconsciously kept myself from acquiring fluent Dutch. After all, when one is on the outside, looking inward is a delight; everything is new and nothing is left overlooked. Yet once on the inside, I'm learning, it's possible to both belong and to not belong; to be accepted and yet still be different; to be 'one of us', and yet not. I like that. It means that there's space for me in the Netherlands, as crowded as the country already is. This past week I received a letter–on behalf of the King Willem-Alexander–that states that my naturalization request has been approved. After six years of disconcerting experiences that have enlightened me as to the multitude of the ways in which one can be–and see–in the world, a new calm has overcome me: I am now Dutch. And I am Amsterdam.