Continuing the expat interview series on Orangesplaash, we have Sandhya Sanjana as our expat guest this week, sharing her entrepreneurship journey while embracing expat life in the Netherlands. Sandhya is an Indian vocalist who integrates Indian classical vocals with jazz and world music.She has recently recorded her solo album, Random Access Melody. [Check out the other interviews in the expat interview series on Orangesplaash]
OS: Where are you from originally? Where do you live currently as an expat and what brought you there?
SS: I was born and raised in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. I live in Amsterdam (but have also now and again lived in London in between) since 2001. I am married to a Dutch man.
I came to Amsterdam many years ago with my band DIVYA, which I had with my ex husband from India. We were based in Amsterdam for three months while touring Europe. I fell in love with the Jordaan area, especially the chimes of the Westertoren, the swans floating by on Prinsengracht and the quaint charming streets. I had a dream of coming back there one day. And then I married a wonderful Dutch man many years later.
OS: What is your profession?
SS: I am essentially a singer, trained in North Indian classical (Hindustani) singing since my early childhood. But I am a composer too, who writes her own material and also rework texts from traditional Indian works.
OS: What is the main difference (in culture/lifestyle) that you observed between your home country and your host country?
SS: Actually India and The Netherlands are as far apart as I can imagine two countries can be.
India is (or at least, has been) all about the family life, community and a sense of acceptance of life’s ups and downs as part of one’s karma. In The Netherlands, it is all about the individual, orderliness and hard work.
I love that, here, people are on time and take appointments seriously. Not so in India.
I love the fact that things function perfectly in this country - telephones, trains, planes, street cleaners, social security etc. Not yet, in India.
I love the fact that in India, one doesn’t throw anything away. One gets it repaired and only when it can’t be repaired any more, one still tries to recycle it. I detest the throw away culture here, which is a general trend in developed countries.
People are far more spontaneous about social contacts in India. One becomes friends quite quickly. Here, it takes a while before people actually open up and trust you.
People live in close proximity with one another in India. Therefore, there is too much prying and interest in each other’s business, which I used to detest while being brought up in a closed Saraswat community. Here one can be as private as one wishes to be.
OS: What do you like the most about your host country (something you would miss, were you to leave the country tomorrow) and what do you dislike?
SS: I love Amsterdam – the capital city of my host country. I can’t say that I quite love the rest of The Netherlands as much. Well, to be honest, I don’t know much about it, as I have only lived in Amsterdam. (I did live in Heerenveen in Friesland in the north. But I didn’t take to it at all, having moved there from Bombay, a crowded bustling city to the cold of that area.) I love that most of the nationalities live in Amsterdam, making it a colourful place to live in – in the widest sense possible. It has an open, tolerant attitude and one can be pretty much free to do what one pleases. I would miss this if I were to leave.
I dislike that the new councils/governments are trying quite hard, at the moment, to take away the freedom of this vibrant city and no one is really protesting. Perhaps if pushed into a corner, the people will have their say. I am quite convinced about that.
OS: How would you describe the locals? Do you have any local friends? How did you happen to meet them?
SS: The locals are, as I said before, a mixed bunch. They live in beautiful harmony and the term racial/cultural integration is best seen here. One look at the children who are amazing mixes of races and colours and how they live together amicably is quite wonderful. I do have a lot of local friends. Some of them I made by living in the neighbourhood. I meet them at our local pub. Some others I have met through my music. A bunch of them I have met through my Buddhist practice. We have meetings quite often and get together and chant. Those are some of my most precious friends.
OS: Are you learning the local language? How are you doing it? What would you advice those who are learning a language?
SS: I had to learn Nederlands as part of my “inburgeringscursus”. That was easy. I used only 300 out of the 600 hours given to me. The course was fun and interactive. We used CD ROMs to learn about the language, the customs etc. I had a wonderful teacher who gave me her utmost help to learn the language. Her musician son and I are colleagues and work together since those days! Learn the language, it’s very easy if you speak English. I know a lot of Amsterdammers will jump to English when they hear you hesitate in Nederlands! But continue speaking it, it will make you feel more “gezellig”.
OS: How do you rate your expat experience so far on a scale of 1 to 10 and why?
SS: An almost 10. I feel more at home in Amsterdam than anywhere in the world. I have lived in Bombay/London/Amsterdam. And Amsterdam certainly feels more like home than anywhere else at this moment. The only reason I don’t give it a perfect 10 is the weather! I could use a lot more sunshine and heat….but I do get away in the coldest months.
OS: What has worked for you, in terms of making your expat life a fulfilling experience. Please share at least one piece of advice with our readers.
SS: Whatever the reason for your being in the country you are an expat in, try and find all the positive things about it. I’m sure if you look with an open mind, you will find loads. Then go out and find those things around you. There’s no point in being somewhere and not liking it. Then you might as well move. A case in point was a friend who came from India. She was a singer and she complained about how she never got any concerts here in Amsterdam. She was here because her husband’s job made her move country each three years. She met a cousin of mine in New York a few years later and went on and on about disliking NYC and praising Amsterdam! To sum it up with the lines of a famous rock anthem: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
OS: Do you have any expat blogs or websites (any 2) that you would like to recommend?
Situated in the Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica is one of the holiest Catholic sites. The basilica is built in the Renaissance style and its facade with a giant order of statues is absolutely marvelous.
We visited the city during our trip to Italy in Easter last year and were greeted by a swarm of tourists and locals alike. We even got to see tulipsexported specially from the Netherlands for the decorations!