Otra Ciudad, Otra Vida

My parents and I in The Hague during their visit in September.

At Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, I walked up to the Passport Control Counter. I handed over my passport to the Border Security guard, and he asked me where home was. What he meant by the question was “Can you please tell me your Dutch address?” But, in true Claire fashion, I launched into a long story about how I’m a Canadian citizen doing a Masters at the University of Amsterdam but just finished three months of fieldwork in Ireland and how my sense of home has shifted with each place… He patiently waited for my story to end before specifically asking for my Dutch address, stamping my passport, and welcoming me to my “home”.

Is “home” a place or a feeling?

In mid-September, my parents came to Amsterdam to visit me for 10 days. It was a wonderful trip and I’m very grateful that they took the time to come visit me in Europe. We hugged at the airport and it felt like no time had passed at all. Before I knew it, we were eating at a café, drinking tea and coffee, catching up over family, friends, work and studies. We did lots of traveling together. We went to Maastricht, Eindhoven, Utrecht, The Hague, and the beach at Scheveningnen. We also spent several days in Amsterdam checking out the city’s gems like the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandtplein, the Tulip Market, Waterlooplein, the University of Amsterdam, Centraal Station, Oosterpark, and my “home” in Diemen. We took every mode of transportation imaginable: train, boat, car, tram, bike, bus, feet… It was a fully packed but incredible visit and I want to thank them again for coming. I wish my sister Marie could have been there, but I know that she will have her chance to visit someday.

↑ The Peace Palace in The Hague. Below, a smattering of photos from all the sightseeing we did as a family (in order, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Maastricht). ↓



I would not have changed a single thing about my visit with my family, but our tourism and sight-seeing did mean that I was slow to settle back in. I only started getting back into my Dutch routine three weeks ago. Everyday I make a little bit of progress with my Masters, but sometimes it’s a struggle to realize the progress I’ve made. Writing the thesis would be so much easier than creating an ethnographic film. In all honesty, I didn’t realize how much work it would be to consolidate the data, identify the overall message that I want to convey, create a storyline, connect different themes and weave visual metaphors throughout a 20-30min film. Above all, the footage that you have is what you have! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “I wish I had left my camera recording just a little bit longer”, or “Why didn’t I think to film that?” or “I regret not going to this event to get these images/sounds”… My creative muscles are being flexed in a way they never have before! I’m constantly experimenting with different introductions and chapters of the film. Contemplating which scene would be the best way to start the movie and how to tie in my experience at Glencree in the wider conclusions I’ve drawn from relationships and cultural identities in Northern Ireland. Like I said, it’s slow going but now that the ball is rolling I can see my ethnographic film taking shape (both literally and metaphorically).

Having a beer with my mom and dad in Maastricht for my dad’s birthday!
My parents in Maastricht.

It’s also been a struggle to balance completing my Masters thesis, starting a new online ESL job, and applying to jobs in the Netherlands. When people ask me what kind of work I see myself doing after my Masters, I say that I could see myself being passionate about three sectors in particular: multiculturalism education, immigration services (connection newcomers and locals), and peace and reconciliation work. Why? I realize now that each of these three sectors embody a commitment to building relationships and making the world safe for human differences.

Sometimes, I’m concerned that my desire to stay in Europe after my Masters is distracting me from my thesis. The truth is, I’m not ready to go back to Canada just yet. I will be back home with my family for Christmas and I’m sincerely looking forward to our Christmas morning tradition of French-Canadian crêpes for breakfast and unwrapping gifts under the tree. But I’ll be back in Amsterdam for New Years. I want to start my professional career in Europe and spend my 20s working and traveling. There’s so much to see and I want to experience as much of Europe as possible.

Which brings me to the question of “home” again. I’ve always considered my house in London to be my home, but hardly the city of London itself. I quickly fell in love with Ottawa and as early as second year I considered the capital city to be my “home” away from home (my original home still being the house I grew up in with my parents and sister in London). In the Netherlands, I call my living accommodations (one bedroom, one bathroom and shared kitchen) my “home”. Although I’ve decorated my room and love the view outside my window, it’s not the same homey feeling as my family home in London. Do I call my Dutch accommodations “home” out of habit? Out of convenience? In Ireland, I felt like I had two homes, a 200-year-old building in the mountains with my friend Pat and the small but mighty Kastle Kiernan in Greystones. So, does that mean that I have 5 homes? Can a person have more than one “home”, or will “home” always be one’s point of origin, like point (0,0) on a Cartesian chart?

Perhaps, in each city I’ve lived in I’ve had a different life and a different place to call home at the end of the day. It’s a place where you feel like you belong. When I say “place”, I don’t just mean a physical space, but also an emotional and mental state of safety and peace. Home is a state that follows you. Most recently, I felt a true sense of home and belonging when I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with my friends and classmates. I had mentioned this Canadian tradition and they were very eager to make me feel like I was having a true Canadian Thanksgiving. So there I was, making a roasted squash filled with homemade stuffing, at a friend’s place, surrounded by friends, giving thanks for the new home I’ve created in this new city. If any of my friends who shared their Monday night to make my first Thanksgiving away from home so special and memorable, I just want to say thank you for making Amsterdam feel like home.


I’m grateful for all the lives I’ve experienced so far, and all of the homes I’ve created with friends and family in all of the cities I’ve lived in. With any luck, I’ll live a few more lives and make a few more cities home before I settle down, wherever that may be. Until then, I’ll finish my Masters and set my sights on a career that will build relationships and make the world safe for all human differences.

Love, Claire.

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